Adam Ki Yakriv Mikem
An adaptation of the Maamar found in Likutei Torah
With this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, we begin learning of the various sacrifices to be offered in the Tabernacle. The topic is introduced with the verse (Leviticus 1:2), “When a man will bring, from among you, an offering to G-d, [then] from the animal – from the cattle and from the sheep – you should bring your offering.”
Three grammatical oddities clamor for our attention:
1. The verse begins in the third person (“when a man will bring”), but for some reason switches to the second person (“you should bring your offering”).
2. What is more, the first part of the verse is in the singular, while the second is in the Hebrew plural: “you [people] should bring....”
3. Finally, the syntax seems faulty. One would expect the verse to say, “When a man from among you will bring an offering,” not “When a man will bring from among you an offering.”
However, by this unusual wording, the Torah has afforded us valuable insight into the workings of religious inspiration, and provided practical advice for how to make our inspiration last.
As a preliminary point, we must understand that although everything in the universe was created by G-d, not everything receives its spiritual life-force in the same manner. Just as, for example, a person might tend to an important task personally, but delegate something they consider less important to a subordinate, so too can we say, allegorically speaking, that G-d “personally” directs His creative life-force to our Jewish souls, but allows the rest of the universe to receive its spiritual energy less directly. This is a very superficial description of the spiritual dynamics of creation, but this topic has been explained at length elsewhere and need not be repeated here.
For present purposes, it is sufficient to note that every Jew has two souls. The G-dly soul (Nefesh ha-Elokis), is actually a “part” of G-d and is what we mean when we speak of the Jewish soul; the so-called “animal soul” (Nefesh ha-Bahamis) animates our physical bodies and tendencies.
The prophet Ezekiel described his prophetic vision of the heavenly hierarchy through which G-d channels His creative vitality to the universe (see Ezekiel chapter 1). In brief, he spoke of four spiritual creatures, three of which had the face of a different animal and the fourth, the face of a man; these creatures carried aloft “a likeness of a throne” upon which was “a likeness like the appearance of a Man” – a mystical reference to G-d.
Because it is so precious to Him, G-d transmits spirituality to the Jewish soul – the Nefesh ha-Elokis – from the lofty level of that supernal “Man” on the Heavenly throne. It is passed on to us here on earth through the intermediary of the “face of a man” carrying the throne. By contrast, our animal soul is not of such exalted spiritual origin: it is derived from a level (termed the “‘sediments’ of the ofanim”) subordinate to that of the heavenly creatures, and originates on the plane of the “face of an ox” carrying the throne.
The raison d’etre of our lives as Jews is that the G-dly soul should prevail in its struggle with the competing tendencies of the animal soul. This is accomplished when the Nefesh ha-Elokis contemplates the unity of G-d, as expressed in the Shema prayer (“Hear, O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One”); done seriously, this naturally leads to a genuine, heartfelt love of G-d that even the Nefesh ha-Bahamis shares – as the Shema continues, “And you shall love G-d … with [both] your hearts.”
Of course, it is quite a job to transform the Nefesh ha-Bahamis itself into a soul that loves only the G-dly in life, and follows the dictates of the Nefesh ha-Elokis in whatever it does. To this end, our sages arranged our prayer service to include the Shema’s two introductory blessings, for these prepare the way for the transformation of the animal soul. Specifically, the introductory readings before the Shema discuss how the heavenly hosts all sing G-d’s praises and proclaim their abject subjugation before Him. The ofanim and the holy creatures (chayos hakodesh) – the spiritual source of the animal soul – also engage in this praise and subjugation, and reading of this in prayer, and taking its message to heart, affects the earthly manifestation of these spiritual levels: it helps the animal soul as we know it within ourselves to likewise become subjugated to G-d. This is in accordance with the principle that to have a meaningful effect upon something, one must address the matter at its root, not merely superficially – or, in Kabbalistic terminology, “judgments cannot be ‘sweetened’ except at their root.”
And, in fact, the successful “conversion” of the animal soul uplifts the G-dly soul as well, as hinted in Ezekiel’s vision, wherein the heavenly creatures were carrying aloft the throne. For as we have explained, the “creatures” represent the spiritual source of the animal soul, and the “Man” on the throne carried aloft is the source of the G-dly soul.
Now, all of the above – that we are to meditate at prayer and develop such a love of G-d as elevates both the animal soul and the G-dly soul – is the ideal: we are to take the initiative and try our best to worship G-d ourselves. When we do so, G-d responds by helping us out and drawing us closer to Him. This manner of worship – our initiation of the relationship, followed by Divine reciprocation – is called isarusa d’l’sata – isarusa d’l’eila, “arousal from below [followed by] arousal from above.” However, the reverse is also possible: sometimes, a person is so entrenched in worldly routine, so unmindful of spiritual concerns, that they just don’t concern themselves with spiritual improvement, with drawing closer to G-d (G-d forbid). In His great compassion and love for us, though, G-d sometimes takes the initiative and, even without prior effort on the part of the person, sends that person a “wake-up call,” stirs them from their spiritual slumber and rouses them to get back on track. This is known as isarusa d’l’eila - isarusa d’l’sata, “arousal from above [followed by] arousal from below.”
These two approaches are probably familiar to all of us. The internal struggle to overcome our baser tendencies and refine our natures, the effort expended in prayer, Torah study and mitzvah observance – these do have the effect of increasing our level of devotion to G-d and the inspired feeling we have in His service. On the other hand, even when not particularly spiritual at first, people are sometimes seized by a spirit of inspiration and feel more energy at prayer for a while, without any idea where this inspiration and religious feeling came from. In reality, it is the “arousal from above” bestowed upon them by the grace of G-d to arouse them from their preoccupation with worldly matters.
The difference between inspiration developed through one’s own effort and that which comes to a person “out of the blue” is that only the former lasts. By first refining his or her heart, his or her character, one makes it receptive to the G-dly inspiration to follow, such that when it comes, that inspiration takes hold in the person’s heart. This stimulates yet another round of refinement and preparation, eliciting still higher degrees of Divine reciprocation, and so on. By contrast, if the person has not first prepared the way, so that the inspiration sent from Above is merely external to the person, it will not take root within their heart and will eventually peter out.
It is to provide us with guidance and good advice for this situation that the Torah tells us, “When a man will bring from among you….”
Needless to say, G-d is not a “man” and has no resemblance whatever to any created being. The mystical concept of G-d as Heavenly “Man” is that, despite this, He deliberately expresses Himself in a way we can relate to (specifically, through the mitzvos of the Torah, which, as explained elsewhere, are called the “248 limbs of the King,” etc.); the “Man” on the throne is a metaphor for G-d in this anthropomorphic sense. In Hebrew, the words adam ki yakriv mikem (“When a man will bring from among you….”) can imply, “When the Heavenly Man – G-d – will bring you close [to Him].”
The word mikem, “from among you,” connotes “from your very selves.” This is appropriate, for the meaning is that G-d will draw close your very soul.
This explains the syntax of our verse. Were it to have said, “When a man from among you will bring,” the meaning would have been restricted to the simple implication of the words. “When a Man will bring from among you,” however, allows for the deeper interpretation presented above. Likewise, this is why “a Man” is in the third person singular, while “you should bring” is in the second person plural: the “Man” is an allusion to G-d (Who is One), but “you should bring your offering” is addressed to the Jews.
And what is the offering we Jews are to bring? It is “from the animal,” that is, our animal soul, or Nefesh ha-Bahamis. This is the Torah’s helpful advice to us: recognizing that sometimes G-d initiates the relationship and has to “draw the person close” to Him before he or she has attempted this on his or her own, and that this type of Divinely-granted inspiration usually does not last, the Torah suggests that in such a case (“When the Heavenly Man will draw you close to Him [first]”), then you should make the inspiration last by immediately acting upon it, developing and dedicating your animal soul, your worldly tendencies, to G-d (“from the animal … you should bring your offering”).
This concept is also hinted at by the verse (Song of Songs 1:4), “Draw me [close]; we will run after You.” This is an allegorical plea of the Jews to G-d, and here too, we find the first clause (“Draw me”) in the singular – since it is addressed to G-d – and the next – concerning the Jews – in the plural. First “draw us close to You,” then, we will be inspired and will immediately respond, not merely on the surface, but by “running after You,” by exerting our full efforts, including that of our animal soul, in pursuit of the spiritual.
The expression “from among you” is used because in truth, the G-dly inspiration sent to us by the “Heavenly Man” only affects the G-dly soul, not the animal soul. This is because the Nefesh ha-Elokis is actually a part of G-d Himself, and is responsive to such overtures. It is described as (Proverbs 20:27) “the candle of G-d is the soul of man,” and has an inherent, natural love for G-d that, even if “covered over” by the distractions of life in this world, nevertheless only needs to be touched off to flare into a roaring flame again. The Nefesh ha-Bahamis, though, which has so thoroughly descended from its Heavenly origin as to be comprised of both good and evil potential, and which is enmeshed with a person’s mundane, worldly tendencies and physical body, cannot be kindled in this manner. Accordingly, what G-d draws close is “from among you” – the Nefesh ha-Elokis only – not you in your entirety. It is up to us to do the rest, to work on and refine even the animal soul: “from the animal … you should bring your offering.”
As mentioned above, this is done by contemplation of G-d’s greatness, which leads to a love that encompasses even the Nefesh ha-Bahamis – provided the person has first made themself fit for this through forcing (iskafya) all three of the soul’s expressive facilities (thought, speech and deed) to express only holy things.
(A complementary interpretation of “from the animal … you should bring your offering” lies in what was mentioned above concerning the introductory blessings to the Shema prayer. Recall that the heavenly source of the animal soul is the spiritual level identified with the “face of an ox” in Ezekiel’s vision, and that by reflecting at prayer on how this spiritual level praises and nullifies itself before G-d, its earthly reflection in the form of the animal soul is also affected. In this vein, the verse is telling us that the way to subjugate the Nefesh ha-Bahamis is through its spiritual source in the “face of an ox” beneath the throne: the way to bring our offering and subjugate our Nefesh ha-Bahamis is “from [i.e., ‘by means of’] the [heavenly] ‘animal’.”)
Now, the verse actually says “from the animal – from the cattle and from the sheep – you should bring your offering.” This is because not everyone’s animal soul has the same tendencies to overcome. Some people are naturally aggressive and prone to anger; these are termed “cattle” after the bull, which charges and gores. Others are more like “sheep,” a docile animal that stands in the pasture and contentedly munches its grass. These people, although not violent, have a different bodily tendency to overcome: the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment for its own sake. Each person knows their own nature, and should offer up to G-d whichever “animal” – cattle or sheep – he or she knows to be required.
The verse, “Draw me [close]; we will run after You” alludes to all this. “Me” is singular, because it is only the G-dly soul that is first drawn close; afterwards, however, “we” – both the G-dly soul and the animal soul – will run after You.
This same verse goes on to state, “the King has brought me into His chambers.” In our context, the “King” refers to G-d, and His “chambers” are the Six Orders of the Mishna (which contains all the Torah laws of what is valid or invalid, pure or impure, guilty or innocent, etc.) This is mystically alluded to by the fact that the Hebrew word for “chamber,” cheder, is spelled with the letters ches, dalet and reish. These are the initial letters of the words chesed, din and rachamim, or “kindness,” “severity” and “compassion” respectively, which represent the G-dly attributes called into play in the determination of Torah law.
The phrase, “the King has brought me” is in the past tense. This hints at the teaching of our sages that when a fetus is in the womb, an angel teaches it the entire Torah. This gives the person to be born the ability to successfully comprehend the Torah throughout life, for he or she has already been exposed to it.
The point of all this is that the attention from G-d implied by “When [the Heavenly] Man will draw you close” comes from the spiritual level referred to as “Man,” which, as explained earlier, is associated with the Torah and its mitzvos. The 248 positive mitzvos of the Torah correspond to the 248 limbs and organs of a person, and the Torah’s 365 negative mitzvos, to the 365 blood vessels, associating the Torah (the “King’s chambers”) with the image of a Man. It is specifically through Torah study that we merit to be “drawn close” by the Heavenly “Man,” as the verse states (Psalms 145:18), “G-d is close [using the same word as in our verse, ‘draw you close’] to all those who call upon Him; to all who call upon Him in truth” – as our sages have taught “‘Truth’ is nothing but [a reference to] Torah.”
Finally, the ideas presented here can also be applied to the approaching holiday of Passover and the mitzvah of counting the omer – the 49 day period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuos, when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Passover, as discussed elsewhere, involved G-d reaching out to the Jews, who were floundering in Egyptian bondage, and pulling us out, drawing us close to Him without much prior preparation on our part. This parallels the idea of “When a Man will draw you close.” Immediately after this G-dly initiative, however, we are commanded by the Torah to offer the omer, a sacrifice consisting of barley – which is essentially animal fodder – and to count 49 days until Shavuos. The 49 days (also as explained elsewhere) represent the 49 distinct levels of our animal soul, each of which we need to elevate and refine before we can merit revelation of the Torah and its mitzvos on Shavuos. The omer sacrifice and count thus parallel the idea that as soon as we experience G-dly inspiration, we should devote our attention to refining and offering even our animal soul to G-d.
Both of these concepts, however – G-d drawing us close and our own offering ourselves up to G-d – raise up what was formerly on a lower level to a higher level. Regarding Shavuos and the giving of the Torah, by contrast, it is written (Exodus 19:20), “And G-d descended upon Mount Sinai.” This symbolizes an even loftier revelation: not merely something resulting from our having been raised up from below to a certain existing plane of spirituality, but the descent by G-d Himself (in a manner of speaking) from His utterly unreachable, unknowable level down to a new point of spiritual revelation to us. Whereas Torah study without prior drawing close and refinement of our animal soul elicits to us revelations of G-dliness from the spiritual plane of the Supernal Man (a level associated, as explained above, with Torah), Torah study after we have already been drawn close and already elevated our animal soul (i.e., the revelations of Torah made possible by Shavuos, which follows Passover and the omer) are of an order which transcends even that of the Supernal Man – about which superior level it is said, “for He is not a man.”
© 2003 Dach Holdings, Ltd. Please note that the foregoing is an informal adaptation by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the adaptation may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this adaptation should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!