The Flight of Angels: Adam’s Sin, LaShon Hara, the Entrance of Death, Acquisition, Vanity and the Prophets’ Remedy

Posted November 21, 2017 by jacobspilman
Categories: Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness

Tags: , ,

As we mentioned previously, our minds cannot grasp the true nature of reality. The universe is inevitably larger than the stories and explanations we can conceive.  Our minds abhor and rebel against experiences we cannot explain.  Isaiah’s direct encounter with HaShem makes him realize how much of his being has been created with the self-delusions and false notions about the nature of reality that was shared by his society.  Prior to the prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had the ability to communicate with HaShem without the prospect of a psychic death.

To understand where all this started, we have to go back to the Garden of Eden and ask, What was the difficulty with Adam eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  At first glance, it would appear that this would be a good thing.  Why wouldn’t HaShem want us to know the difference between good and evil so that we could consistently choose good? Nachmanides writes:

 The proper interpretation appears to me to be that man’s original nature was such that he did whatever was proper for him to do naturally, just as the heavens and all their hosts do, “faithful workers whose work is truth, and who do not change from their prescribed course” [Sanhedrin 42a] and in whose deeds there is no love or hatred.  Now it was the fruit of this tree that gave rise to will and desire, that those who ate it should choose a thing or its opposite, for good or for evil.  This is why it was called ‘etz hada’ath’ (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), for da’ath in in our language is used to express will….  Commentary on Genesis, Genesis II, Bereshith: 2:9. p.72)

 After eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and subsequent generations lost the ability to see the connection of the created world with the source of all creation.  After the fall of Adam, humans began to choose what is good or bad through the lens of the temporal fears and desires of their bodies.   It is through this lens that we, the children of Adam, create the stories of our selves, the nature of the universe and the meaning of our lives.  So, we must ask what is the nature of this lens?  How is reality distorted?  Is there a corrective measure we can take to adjust our vision to the true reality of our lives?  Let’s go back and examine what happened in the Garden of Eden when the Snake spoke LaShon Hara (or lied) to Eve saying:

Even if God has said so, are you [really] not to eat from all the trees of the garden?  And the woman said to the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but regarding the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden God said: ‘You shall not eat from it and not touch it, lest you will die.’  Thereupon the serpent said to the woman: “You will not die so soon.  God knows quite well that on the day you will eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing what is good and what is evil. (Beresheit II,3)

 At first glance it would seem as if the snake was telling the truth!  Poor Eve was born practically yesterday.  Ostensibly, doesn’t the advice: “don’t believe everything you hear” make good common sense? Also, Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and didn’t die right then and there.  So the snake wasn’t lying about that.  Eve ate the apple and continued to live. The snake goes on to say: “God knows quite well that on the day you will eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing what is good and what is evil.”  Notice, the snake doesn’t say: You will become a God too.  Rather, he says: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing what is good and what is evil.”  This is the basis of the serpent’s deception.  As much as Eve might become like God, a human cannot become God.  Only God has all the information in the universe; and so only God sees the ultimate truth and can know the ultimate outcome as to whether an action produces good or evil.  As a limited, time-bound entity, Eve can never be certain of whether an outcome of an action is ultimately good or evil.  Eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil produces the certainty that we understand the outcome.  The certainty that results is the problem.

 So long as we interpret the physical world through the lens of human limitation and fear and anger, harsh judgment and accusations emerge.  We add certainty to this and the obfuscation of the true nature of the soul is complete.  With this certainty, the soul is fooled into thinking that it is subjected to the temporal cycle of birth, becoming, dying and disintegration and is separated further from the Source of All Souls. 

 Notice that the tree forbidden to Adam and Eve was not The Tree of the Knowledge of Good or Evil; rather, it’s The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The events of our lives are never good or evil; rather there is always good mixed in evil and evil mixed in good.  Our bodies exist in a continuous cycle of creation and destruction.  We exist because our individual cells are created in opposition to entropy.  When we age, entropy takes over and more cells are destroyed than live.  Our individual lives appear to be based on the cycle of creation and destruction.  However, we are certain of this because we have ingested the certainty of fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

In reality, since our consciousness is rooted beyond the created world, there is no death that is not part and parcel of life.  According to Nachmanides: 

But in the opinion of our Rabbis [Shabbat 58b], if Adam had not sinned he would have never died, since the higher soul bestows life forever, and the Will of God which is in him at the time of his formation would always cleave to him and he would exist forever, as I have explained in the verse,  And God saw that it was good.

 Know that composition indicates destruction only in the opinion of those wanting in faith who hold that creation came by necessity.  But in the opinion of men of faith who say that the world was created by the simple Will of God, its existence will also continue forever as long as it is His desire.  This is clear truth…. (Nachmanides, Genesis II, Bereshit 2:17, p. 75)

 

As soon as Adam and Eve eat from the Tree, they become afraid and it is fear that motivates Adam to hide from his Creator.  And, “measure against measure”, HaShem hides from Adam.  Although the Creator is omnipresent, HaShem now sounds to Adam as if His voice were “walking about in the Garden in the wind of the day”.  Even though God is omnipresent and omniscient, he nonetheless asks Adam, “Where are you?” Wouldn’t God who is omniscient and omnipresent know?  Why ask?  It is as if the Creator had decided: “Well Adam, if you hide from Me, I will hide from you.  It is from this time on in the panorama of human history that the Creator’s presence becomes increasingly obscured to mankind.  As we hide and deny the existence of God, HaShem becomes more and more hidden from us.

Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel.  Nachmanides (p. 87) points out that the Hebrew root of Cain is kaniti or I acquired.  Adam and Eve have been expelled from the Garden of Eden and now must work the ground to survive.  The ability to see God’s role in the provision of life’s necessities has been obscured and Adam and Eve fall prey to the illusion that they are the ones that alone must work to acquire their livelihood.   (Nachmanides, p.87) also clarifies the Hebrew root of Abel is Hevel — a hot dry wind, emptiness, usually translated as vanity.  In other words, desire gives birth to the craving for acquisition and unrefined free will gives rise to vanity.  This is precisely how children are born, narcissistic and motivated by the Id.  Indeed after God destroys the earth with the flood, HaShem says: “For the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Bereishit, 8:21)

From the Fall of Adam until Isaiah’s prophecy, humanity’s imagination stimulated by the body’s desire increasingly blotted out the direct perception of HaShem as the source of creation until only an elite few prophets had the ability to communicate with God even indirectly.  By the time we get to Isaiah, nearly all of humanity has built a false narrative that precludes HaShem as the direct source of their reality.

 Notice that both prophets, Isaiah and Daniel, prepare for their spiritual ascents by confessing their sins and the sins of their people to HaShem.  In order for God to reveal himself to the prophet, the prophet must confess and atone for their sins.  It is no mistake that the Hebrew word for repentance is “tschuvah”.  Literally translated, tschuvah is the word return.  When we repent, we admit the reality of our situation, the reality of our selves and because God is the Ultimate Truth, the Source of Our Creation is revealed. 

Advertisements

The Flight of Angels Part III: Psychic Death and Isaiah’s Encounter With Michael

Posted March 7, 2017 by jacobspilman
Categories: Angels, Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness, Uncategorized

Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the achievement] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim, whereas of Gabriel it is written: The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight etc. How do you know that this [word] ‘one’ [of the Seraphim] means Michael? –R. Johanan says: By an analogy from [the words] ‘one’, ‘one’. Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. A Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. In the time of plague, however, [the Angel of Death, too, reaches his goal] in one.

The line we are examining comes from Isaiah ­­­­6:6. Seraphim are proclaiming the Kedushah one to the other: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole world is filled with his glory. Isaiah’s response is to immediately confess: “Woe is me! For I am ruined; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” We could assume that Isaiah is inferring his own doom, from God’s words to Moshe, that no man can see HaShem’s face and live. But, Ashrei says that God will uplift those who are fallen. So then, why should the prophet be concerned?

The human mind cannot directly grasp the true nature of reality. The universe is inevitably larger than the stories and explanations humans can conceive. However, the human mind abhors and rebels against experiences we cannot explain. Isaiah’s direct encounter with HaShem makes him realize how much of his being has been created with the self-delusions and false notions about the nature of reality that was shared by his society. Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, wrote about the notion of psychic death. Psychic death occurs when the individual experiences a spiritual revelation that so greatly overwhelms the individual’s understanding of themselves and their world that there is nothing left of their sense of self. At that moment, the individual experiences the total loss of the sense of self, which leads to the experience of panic or the fear of going insane. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing himself in great peril. the Tanya states that the soul is clothed in thoughts, speech and deed. Isaiah’s direct encounter with HaShem makes him realize how much of his being has been created with the self-delusions and false notions about the nature of reality that was shared by his society. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing himself in great peril. According to the Tanya, the soul is clothed in thoughts, speech and deed. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing the garments of his soul ripped away from him. He encounters an ego death and must reconstitute his ego, or sense of self, in line with his new understanding of the truth.

Indeed, in Isaiah’s vision, one of the Seraphim, presumably Michael, takes a coal from the tongs from off the alter and lays it on Isaiah’s mouth to purify his speech. It’s only then that Isaiah receives the ability to be a prophet. Why is it that such a dramatic purification is necessary? In order for us to understand these questions, we must digress and examine Adam’s sin as it relates to LaShon Hara.  But that will be for our next post!

The Flight of Angels Part II: Who is Analogous to Michael

Posted January 8, 2017 by jacobspilman
Categories: Angels, Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness

Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the achievement] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim, whereas of Gabriel it is written: The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight etc. How do you know that this [word] ‘one’ [of the Seraphim] means Michael? –R. Johanan says: By an analogy from [the words] ‘one’, ‘one’. Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. A Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. In the time of plague, however, [the Angel of Death, too, reaches his goal] in one.

There are two odd things about the structure of this passage. First, the phrase, “R. Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore” indicates that what comes next is a continuance of the previous discussion of the Ashrei. Yet, oddly, what follows is a discussion of the accomplishments of the Angel Michael over the Angel Gabriel! The last thing that the Ashrei discusses is the fact that the prayer, based on an acrostic does not have the letter nun; because God will lift up those that fall. What does God lifting up the fallen have to do with the accomplishments of the angels?

“Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim” is a verse from Isaiah (VI:6) where the prophet has a vision of God sitting on a throne with Seraphim standing above him. Interestingly, the name Michael does not appear in this passage from Isaiah. However, Chazal seems to be making this connection. Our text states:

How do you know that this [word] ‘one’ [of the Seraphim] means Michael? –R. Johanan says: By an analogy from [the words] ‘one’, ‘one’.

The second odd this is that an analogy is being made from the same word repeated twice. How can we understand this?

The name “Michael” in Hebrew can be understood as: Mi K’El or “Who is like God?” It says in the Holy Zohar:

Rabbi El’azar opened, “Lift your eyes on high and see: Who created these? (Isaiah 40:26) Lift your eyes on high. To which site? The site toward which all eyes gaze. Which is that? Opening of the eyes. There you will discover that the concealed ancient one, susceptible to questioning, created these. Who is that? Who. The one called End of the Heaven above, whose domain extends over everything. Since it can be questioned, yet remains concealed and unrevealed, it is called Who. Beyond, there is no question. (The Zohar, Matt, p5)

In other words, the Zohar uses the word Who as the name of the aspect of God that is as close to being God perceived in the creation without actually merging into the unfathomable aspects of God beyond the creation. And so, Michael is as close to the Unity as an entity can be and still maintain an individual identity and will without being merged with the Unity.

The Flight Of Angels: General Considerations

Posted December 11, 2016 by jacobspilman
Categories: Angels, Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness

Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the achievement] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim, whereas of Gabriel it is written: The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight etc. How do you know that this [word] ‘one’ [of the Seraphim] means Michael? –R. Johanan says: By an analogy from [the words] ‘one’, ‘one’ . Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. A Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. In the time of plague, however, [the Angel of Death, too, reaches his goal] in one.

Before we address the specific ideas in this passage, let’s address some general ideas about angels.

According to Luzzato, God reveals himself to man as a Unity.   If this is true, then we must also accept that in order for free will to exist, man must exist as a separate entity from God. If this is the case, existence and consciousness then must lay on a continuum. The closer an individual comes to God, the more indistinct they become from the Unity. In other words, the closer the individual comes to the Unity, the more the individual sacrifices their form and will. The further away a person leaves the presence of God, the person becomes more distinctive, willful and less conscious of God.

What is an Angel? The word angel, (Hebrew: Malach) is often translated as “a messenger”. However, if God is omnipresent and omnipotent, why would God need a messenger to communicate or interface with us? When Moshe asks to see God’s face, God tells him: “You can not see My face, for man can not see Me and live.” (Shemot 33:20) Again, the closer to the Unity we become, the more we sacrifice our forms and will. God communicates through a Malach as an intermediary to allow the receptors of his message to retain their individual identities, forms and will. As we will see when we examine passages from Isaiah and Daniel, both prophets fear for their lives the closer they get to God’s Presence to receive their prophecies. Indeed, their exposure to angels, cause both prophets to fear for their lives.

Undoubtedly, there are other ways that God could have constructed the creation. Indeed, at the end of history, we are promised a time when man will be sufficiently spiritually developed to see the unity in the diversity, maintain our individual identities and be aware of God’s presence in the created world.

Notes On Ashrei: Part IV

Posted November 20, 2016 by jacobspilman
Categories: Talmud and Consciousness, Talmud and Prayer, Talmud and Sleep

Eleazar b Abina says: Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come. What is the reason? Shall I say it is because it has an alphabetical arrangement? Then let him recite, Happy are they that are upright in the way, which has an eightfold alphabetical arrangement. Again, is it because it contains [the verse], Thou openest Thy hand [and satisfies every living thing with favor? Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written: Who giveth food to all flesh! – Rather, [the reason is] because it contains both. R. Johanan says: Why is there no nun in Ashre? Because of the fall of Israel’s enemies begins with it. For it is written: Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise. (In the West this verse is thus interpreted: She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel). R. Nachman b. Isaac says: Even so, David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting. For it is written: The Lord upholdeth all that fall. 

The verse: “Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise.” is a quote from the prophet Amos. Rabbi Nachman ben Issac makes the point that King David, through prophecy, foresaw the fall of the nation of Israel because he writes in Psalm 145: The Lord upholdeth all that fall. As we mentioned in a previous post, David occupied the light house while Saul occupied the dark house. David maintained a constant conscious connection with HaShem while Saul lost the ability for prophecy. David was able to maintain his connection with HaShem because despite his grave sins, he never lost faith in God’s acceptance of the truly repentant. David is able to see past the sins of Israel to the times of redemption. Even though we sin, David is certain that he and the Jewish people will be forgiven.

Let’s also pause to examine how the notions of falling is expressed in a few different contexts. The notion falling is often associated with various states of consciousness. For instance, we think of ourselves as falling asleep. Indeed, during Stage 2 Sleep, the person may be aware of their environment, but as they are falling deeper asleep, the muscles of their body will relax and discharge energy, often resulting in an involuntary jolt of the musculature where the individual will experience the feeling of falling. Falling can also be thought of as a loss of spiritual state as in the Fall of Adam. Death or destruction is also referred to as a form of falling, as in a fallen soldier. Likewise, sinking or descending is another metaphor for Death. For instance, take Psalm 69 verse 2-3:

Save me God, because the waters have come until (the level) of my soul.

I have sunk into the mud of the depths of the water and the current has swept me away.

And again in verses 15-16 of Psalm 69:

Save me from that mud so that I don’t sink, so that I will be saved from my enemies and from the depths of the water.

Don’t let me be swept away by the current of water and don’t let the shadowy depths swallow me.

So then, these two phrases from our passage could not only relate to the destruction of Israel as a Nation by the Romans, but it could also allude to death of the individual.

Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise and She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel.

David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting. For it is written: The Lord upholdeth all that fall.

In other words, there is no nun is Ashrei. If we integrate all the ways of relating to HaShem in the Ashrei on both the level of body and soul, the nun drops out. There is no fall, there is no death because “The Lord upholdeth all that fall”!

Notes on Ashrei: Part III

Posted October 27, 2014 by jacobspilman
Categories: Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness, Talmud and Prayer

Tags: , , , , ,

R. Eleazar b Abina says: Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come.  What is the reason?  Shall I say it is because it has an alphabetical arrangement?  Then let him recite, Happy are they that are upright in the way, which has an eightfold alphabetical arrangement.  Again, is it because it contains [the verse], Thou openest Thy hand [and satisfies every living thing with favor?  Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written:  Who giveth food to all flesh! – Rather, [the reason is]  because it contains both.  R. Johanan says:  Why is there no nun in Ashre?  Because of the fall of Israel’s enemies begins with it.  For it is written: Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise.  (In the West this verse is thus interpreted: She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel).  R. Nahum b. Isaac says:  Even so, David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting.  For it is written:  The Lord upholdeth all that fall. 

The acrostic form of Ashre lacks the Hebrew letter nun.  The teaching of Rabbi Johanan is that the nun was dropped out of the acrostic because it stands for the fall (Hebrew: nophel) of Israel.  Interestingly, this is the same word that is the root of Achitophel we discussed in a previous post: (Hebrew: My brother will fall.)  (See The Heart of The Father, Notes on Talmud Blog Post Feb 2011)

‘Ahitofel’, this was the counselor.  And so it is said:  Now the counsel of Ahitofel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man inquired of the word of God.

As we mentioned in a previous post,

There are also two Achitophels. Achitophel and Mephiboseth.  There is Achitophel the advisor. Who is supposedly wise. But notice the passage says, Now the counsel of Achitofel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man inquired of the word of God.  The passage doesn’t say that Achitophel was correct in his counsel.  It simply says: “as if a man inquired of the work of God. Achitophel has the ability to inspire awe in his counselees; however, this doesn’t vouch for the helpfulness of his counsel.  The word Achitophel could be interpreted from Hebrew as Achi (my brother) tophel (will fall).  He prods others into action because he lacks faith.  The highest level of consciousness Achitophel has reached is a development of the mind.  He is the one that is so brilliant, he can embarrass David in the Hallacha.  However, the mind cannot provide faith or a clear connection with HaShem.  G-d and G-d’s will are beyond the grasp of mind.  The mind can only hold what is finite, it cannot hold the infinite.  The mind can only provide a shadow or a metaphor of reality.  If the mind is relied upon to be the sole judge of reality, my brother will fall.  (Notes on Talmud Blog Feb 2011)

In a similar vein, Hirsch, in The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, provides us with an enlightening exposition about a related word nophelim:

…the necessity of providing for the satisfying of physical cravings, which demand an increasingly large portion of the good things of the world, exalts again the animal in man; he sees himself only an animal, and deems his mind only a means of procuring the gratification of physical desires; the human in man sinks (niphilim).  That which could lift him up, the acknowledgement of God as the only Ruler and Father, and, therefore, of everything else as creature and servant, and consequently of himself, as well as servant and child, this acknowledgment has grown dim.  For as soon as man ceases to look upon himself as the empowered guardian and administrator of the earth-world, as soon as he endeavors to carry out, not the will of God, but his own will, and ceases to be servant of God; he sees no longer in the strength-endowed beings around him the servitors of Deity, but independent forces which seek possession, lust, and power, he has no eye any more for the law of the All-One whom they all serve, and the world divides itself for him into as many gods as he sees forces in operation…. He, therefore, desiring only possession and lust, becomes a slave of the beings from which he hopes to obtain that which he desires… until finally, recognizing the omnipotence of his passions, he deifies them; and furthermore… he soon ceases to look upon the pursuit of power and lust as bestial and unworthy of man, but deems it divine, man’s most worthy goal.

(N.D.) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, BN Publishing, NY. pp 50-52.

From this perspective, Ashrei does not need a nun because when the individual lives in the light house and experiences the Unity, there is no fall.  However, as we mentioned in our first posting on Ashrei, the Ashrei is compared to Psalm 119, another psalm with an acrostic structure that guides our steps when we occupy the dark house and do not experience the Unity.  Psalm 119 does possess the letter nun.  Here is the passage for the letter nun in Psalm 119.

A lamp [Hebrew: ner] for my feet is Your word and a light for my path.  I have sworn and I will fulfill to keep Your ordinances that are righteous.  Afflicted am I exceedingly; O HaShem, preserve me in accordance with Your word.  The offerings of my mouth accept with favor, please O HaShem; and Your ordinances teach me.  My life [soul] is in my hand constantly, but Your Torah I did not forget.  The wicked laid for me a snare but from Your precepts I did not stray.  I have taken as my heritage Your testimonies, forever, for the joy of my heart they are.  I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes, forever, to the end.

Again, as we have discussed, unlike the Ashrei which outlines all the ways we can have a direct relationship with HaShem, Psalm 119 talks about how the study and practice of Torah leads to our protection and growth while we are not directly experiencing the presence of God in our lives.  Here, the verses of Psalm 119 discuss how to manage being faithful to HaShem in order to reenter the light house when we experience ourselves as “fallen”.

Notes on Ashrei: Part II

Posted October 21, 2014 by jacobspilman
Categories: Talmud, Talmud and Consciousness, Talmud and Prayer

Tags: , , ,

R. Eleazar b Abina says: Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come.  What is the reason?  Shall I say it is because it has an alphabetical arrangement?  Then let him recite, Happy are they that are upright in the way, which has an eightfold alphabetical arrangement.  Again, is it because it contains [the verse], Thou openest Thy hand [and satisfies every living thing with favor?  Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written:  Who giveth food to all flesh! – Rather, [the reason is]  because it contains both.  R. Johanan says:  Why is there no nun in Ashre?  Because of the fall of Israel’s enemies begins with it.  For it is written: Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise.  (In the West this verse is thus interpreted: She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel).  R. Nahum b. Isaac says:  Even so, David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting.  For it is written:  The Lord upholdeth all that fall.

The Rabbis propose and then rule out two rather odd reasons for the promise of the World to Come through the merit of reciting Ashrei.  First they offer that the Ashrei is written using an acrostic.  But, they point out that Psalm 119 has an acrostic where each paragraph starts with the letter of the alphabetical acrostic and begins each of 8 sentences with that letter.  Why would this be important?  Chazal obliquely invites us to compare the two psalms.  If we contrast the content of the Ashrei with the content of Psalm 119, we notice that unlike the Ashrei which outlines all the ways we can have a direct relationship with HaShem, Psalm 119 talks about how the study and practice of Torah study leads to our protection and growth while we are not directly experiencing the presence of God in our lives.  Let’s just look at the first paragraph of Psalm 119:

Happy are those who are pure in their way, those who walk with the Torah of HaShem. Happy are those who guard His testimonies with full heart they seek Him.  Also they have not done iniquity for in His ways they have walked.  You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently…

I will leave it up to the reader to examine the rest of Psalm 119 to verify that indeed, the entire Psalm talks about staying connected to HaShem in times of distress through the study and implementation of Torah.  In essence, if we use the metaphor of living in the light house as being in HaShem’s presence and the dark house when we do not experience God’s presence, the Ashrei describes the potential for our relationship with HaShem when we are living in the light house and Psalm 119 governs our relationship to HaShem when we are living in the dark house.

The next verse Chazal refers to is from Psalm 136.

Thou openest Thy hand and satisfies every living thing with favor?  Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written:  Who giveth food to all flesh!

When living in the dark house, one can perceive that it is HaShem who provides food to all flesh.  Humans do this for their pets.  But, this is a very different relationship than to one who lives in the light house where God opens His hand and satisfies everything with favor. Life in the dark house is experienced as arbitrary.  Ashrei teaches that when we are in the dark house, HaShem is directly involved with us in an intimate and loving fashion.