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Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52

Chutzpah. Whether Jewish or not, almost everyone knows this Hebrew/Yiddish word. The dictionary defines it as “unmitigated effrontery or impudence, gall, nerve, courage bordering on arrogance.”

But there is a much deeper understanding of the word, and it appears in the writing of 18th-Century Chasidic master Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezeritch, known as the Maggid (spiritual guide or guru) of Mezeritch. The Maggid wrote, “…you have even the tiniest bit of chutzpah, as long as you have any awareness of self…” According to him, “chutzpah” has everything to do with the false notion of a separate sense of self that keeps us from realizing our true Divine nature. To him, that notion denies the very existence of God. If God is, then there cannot be a self. Nothing can exist separately from That which is Everything.

The Rebbe’s powerful words follow the opening paragraph in this segment of his writing: “There is divinity in everything, and that is what sustains all being. The core of life of every being comes from the connection it has to the Origin of Thought.” What an eloquent way to name the Divine: “Origin of Thought”! He continues, “The foundation of the connection is that nothing exists without that life and that all of existence is nothing but that life, which is united to the Origin of Thought, in an indivisible unity.”

Rabbi Dov Baer connects this non-dualistic teaching to a commentary by Rashi on a deeply poetic verse in this week’s Torah Portion:

“He encircled him, cared for him, kept him as the apple of his eye; rising like an eagle from its nest, hovering over its young.” (Deut. 32:10b-11)

What caught the Maggid’s eye in Rashi’s commentary was the phrase, “…hovers above them, touching them but not touching them…” For him, we all live in a permanent state of “noge’a v’lo noge’a – touching and not touching.” We are in a state of “not touching” when the false self asserts itself as an entity distinct from its Source, pretending to be “not attached and connected” to That which, moment to moment, gives it its being. Yet this “not touching” is an illusion, an impossibility, a caricature of a God that would lack omnipresence. Affirming such a possibility by simply believing we are such a self is, for the Maggid, the ultimate chutzpah. We are in a state of “touching” when the delusion of “not touching” is totally eradicated and we know our being to be inherently “attached and connected” to the Oneness of Being. This the Chasidic masters called Bitul HaYesh, the annihilation of the illusorily disconnected self.

Sadly, this chutzpadik self of ours isn’t going to submit to its “annihilation” without a fight. That which makes-believe it is reading these words and responds to your name will resist vehemently, denying the truth of our sages’ teachings. Yet if “touching” is what we seek, how do we break free from the illusion of “not touching”? The Maggid gives us a modality of practice embedded in the name he has for God: “Origin of Thought.” Thoughts are where the chutzpadik separate sense of self exists. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. Any notion of an “I” is only conjured up by thoughts. As we sit in meditation and observe the coming and going of thoughts, the stories of “I” get projected onto the screen of consciousness. As we remain observing thought after thought, we eventually realize that “I” exists only inside an already-thought thought. And that means that “I” cannot be the thinker. And so we ask: wherefrom, exactly, do thoughts arise? And who thinks them? You can’t, obviously, answer these questions with yet another thought. But you can let the Maggid’s practice lead you a little close to “touching” Truth.