a guest post by Reb Dr. Moshe Neumann at Mystical Paths
The occasion of my son, Gavriel Nachman's bar mitzvah rekindled my wonderment about the phrase—"Baruch Ptarani M'Onsho Zeh. In my twenty-four years of working to come to Torah, I have often wondered about this phrase. It seems such a strange way to thank Hashem for the gift of bringing my son to the covenant of mitzvoth.
The Simple Meaning is a Strange Expression of Gratitude
There are two pshatim--simple meanings of the phrase. One is gratitude to Hashem for making the father no longer responsible for punishing his son. In other words, any punishment a child deserves comes from his father. Now that the boy has come of age, Hashem is responsible for that punishment. A second pshat is that a parent is punished for a child's misdeeds until the child is old enough to take responsibility. The father is grateful for being freed of that onus. Either way, it seems a strange way to thank Hashem for the gift of a son becoming bar mitzvah. "Thank You G-d for sparing me from punishment." Wouldn't it better to say, thank You for bringing my son to the covenant of mitzvoth? Why did our sages institute this phase?
Expanded Vs. Constricted Consciousness (Mochin D'Gadlut Vs. Mochin D'Katnut)
In our tradition, we are taught that every concept has a pshat tachton—understanding from a lower or constricted consciousness, and a pshat elyon—understanding from a higher or expanded consciousness. The highest consciousness is full awareness of Hashem's Presence which is called d'vekut. The lowest consciousness is absolutely no awareness of His Presence which is called shtut. For instance, higher love is the love of Hashem, lower love is physical love. Higher fear is awe of Hashem, lower fear is fear of being hurt or losing money, etc. And there are infinite levels in between. For instance, within the range of awareness of Hashem's Presence, there is also higher fear and lower fear—awe vs. fear of Hashem's punishment.
The most expanded consciousness is to realize that Hashem is running absolutely everything, like an unfathomable super computer. Everything is Divine Providence, down to the smallest detail. Every desire, every thought, every word, every action and every feeling of each of billions of people throughout history is Hashem's composition and orchestration. As a master composer puts together the different sounds of the different instruments, playing different notes of harmony and disharmony, melody and countermelody, rhythm and counterrhythm, so Hashem composes and orchestrates every detail of the entire universe into a cosmic symphony that, if perceived by a person would automatically nullify his physicality. In this consciousness, happiness is constant and is not dependent upon circumstances.
In the most constricted state of consciousness, a person believes he has total free choice and that everything is up to him. In this state, there is no awareness of Hashem running the show and a person's happiness is fleeting and dependent upon externalities.
Hashem designed this world to pull us into constricted consciousness. Think about it. We are born as helpless babies, totally absorbed with our physical sensations. At 8 days old, a boy is given a dose of pain which resonates in his subconscious the rest of his life. Even the Torah, it can be argued, is written in a way which encourages small thinking. For instance, instead of saying "Shabbat is an amazing gift and if you go beyond the boundaries of its laws, you are missing out," the Torah states, "If you don't keep Shabbat, you will be stoned to death." This emphasis makes us forget that, in the end, the soul gets rectified and enters Paradise. The Torah does mention the performance of mitzvoth as a labor of love, but the emphasis is on punishments. Thus, over the generations, humanity has been pulled inexorably into an ever-more constricted state of awareness. Hashem's Desire is that our lives should be a continual process of overcoming the tendency to become distracted by this world and reach ever-higher consciousness of His Presence.
"Baruch P'tarani" From the Perspective of Expanded Consciousness
Perhaps if we examine the statement, "Baruch p'tarani" from the perspective of Divine Providence, we can understand how it is indeed an appropriate vehicle of thanks. First, from the higher perspective, onesh, cannot be translated as punishment. For the pain that Hashem sends as onesh is not retribution, but a loving wake-up call to remind us that our highest good, connection to Hashem, d'vekut, lies in a different mode of conduct. Furthermore, from the most expanded consciousness in which one is aware that all actions are orchestrated by Hashem, even a misdeed is ultimately Hashem's orchestration. If so, how do we understand "onesh" and how do we understand the word patur. For, the meaning "to be exempted" works only in the context of free choice. What is the meaning of patur from the perspective of Divine Providence?
This world consists of three parts, olam- space, shanah- time and nefesh- being. A sin is a misconduct in one or more of these three aspects. For instance, a sin involving kriat sh'ma, lo alenu, could occur in shanah by not saying Shma at the right time, or in olam by saying it in the wrong place, for example in front of feces, ch'v, or in nefesh by saying the wrong words. Every sin is a blemish in one or more of these three aspects.
The gemara teaches that there is no such thing as committing a sin unless a ruach shtut-a spirit of foolishness - enters the person's consciousness. Simply put, a ruach shtut is a dose of constricted consciousness whereby a person forgets Hashem's Presence and, consequently conducts himself in a manner opposed to Hashem's Will. In a state of d'vekut, fully expanded consciousness, a person would never act against Hashem's Will. However all this is only from the perspective of free choice. From Divine Providence, one's awareness or lack of awareness of Hashem is Divinely directed. As the verse says, "Achon et asher achon v'richamti et asher arachem—I will favor whomever I [choose to] favor and I will have compassion on whomever I [choose to] have compassion." Hashem says, I will give awareness of Me to whomever I choose whenever I choose. When we are in a constricted state with less awareness of Hashem, it is only because Hsahem has "tied us up" as it were, and bound us to the constrictions of this world. For instance, playing with little children, how many of us have experienced a moment of saying, "Goo goo, ga ga," trying to make a baby laugh and really thinking of Hashem in that moment? Usually, in those moments, we are thinking of the baby and our desire to have it laugh or smile. Not of Hashem. An example of awareness of Hashem in that moment would be a realization that the goo goo ga ga is really an exchange and raising up of holy sparks between the adult and the baby.
Another occasion we are usually not so aware of Hashem is when we are disciplining our children. If we are not careful to maintain awareness of Hashem, our child's misbehavior will cause us to become so bound up in constricted consciousness that we respond in a way which pushes the child into more constricted consciousness as well. That is why the Torah teaches that disciplining children must never be done out of anger. For anger shows that the person has forgotten that whatever is happening is perfect, from Hashem, and only for the good. In truth, whether or not we have awareness of Hashem in these moments is ultimately Hashem's decision. If, in the moment, one is aware of Hashem's Presence, it is only due to Hashem's "untying" the person from the narrow perspective of this world—Olam, Nefesh, SHanah: which is the acronym of ONeSH. Happy is the person whom Hashem has released from being bound up in this world and experiences this world—all of it, its comforts as well as its discomforts--as Hashem's amazing creation.
Perhaps that is the ultimate meaning of "Baruch p'tarani m'onsho zeh". Kabbalah teaches that every event throughout life is a manifestation of spiritual advancement, whether we are aware of it or not. When a man's son becomes Bar Mitzvah, it is a great spiritual advancement for the father as well as the son in that they both now have a higher spiritual potential and greater capacity for freedom from the constricted consciousness of this world, each on his own level. Thus, the translation of Baruch p'tarani from a higher consciousness is "Blessed is the One Who has untied me, freed me (p'tarani) through the ascension of my son into the realm of mitzvoth, from the "punishment" of constricted awareness of the olam, nefesh and shanah of this world (me'onsho zeh)." Amen, ken y'hi ratzon!
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