V’hadarta P’nei Zakein

A translation of the Maamar found in Likutei Torah





“‘You shall honor the face of the elderly’ (Leviticus 19:32): [The Hebrew word for ‘elderly,’ zakein, allows for a play on words signifying] he who has acquired [zeh she-kana] wisdom [i.e., Torah knowledge].” (Compare the commentary of Rashi to this verse; also Kiddushin 32b.)

[What is the meaning of the term “acquisition” as applied to Torah? The word] “who has acquired” is [used in the same sense] as in the verse (Jeremiah 2:8), “they that grasp the Torah” – namely, one who grasps [it] in the memory center of the brain and upon the slate of whose heart it is constantly engraved. [In other words, the person has so thoroughly absorbed Torah knowledge, it so pervades his very being, that it is literally ever-present within him.] This is in accordance with the saying of our Rabbis, of blessed memory (Shabbos 114a; Kiddushin 49b), “Who is a talmid chacham [true Torah scholar]? Anyone who, when he is asked [about any] matter of Jewish law, [answers – even if the answer is found in an obscure source].” For then, it is a mitzvah to stand before him even at a time when he is not engaged in Torah [study].

[The reason for this is] because the Holy One, blessed is He, dwells constantly[1] within him, even when he is engaged in worldly matters, since the Torah is engraved upon the cerebral memory center within his soul[2] and upon his heart. And, “the Torah and the Holy One, blessed is He, are entirely One” (see Zohar, end of the Torah portion K’doshim, page 87b).[3]

For this [reason], every good-hearted man whose heart prompts him[4] and whose soul yearns[5] to cleave constantly to Him (blessed is He), and [who yearns] that G-d should dwell constantly within him without any interruption or separation ever, even for one moment, should acquire for himself the Torah in the cerebral memory center of his soul.[6] For then, even if he engages in bodily necessities, the Torah is of the status of “the Hidden Realm”[7] within his soul, for there shines within it [the letter] yud of the [Divine] name Havaye. [8]

That is why, in the Torah portion [beginning] Kadesh Li Kol B’chor,[9] it is written (Exodus 13:9) “and for a reminder between your eyes” – as is known.[10]

And with this [insight], a rationale may be understood for what is written in the Laws of Torah Study in the name of the Sifri: that it is a mitzvah for each and every one to know the entire Torah, consisting of all 613 mitzvos and their specifics, etc. Namely, [it is] to draw the light of G-d upon all 613 faculties of his G-dly Soul, in [all] their particulars.[11]

And [this is] in accordance with what is written (Song of Songs 4:7), “All of you is beautiful, my love, and there is no blemish in you” – [the expression] “all of you” is precise, for also the supernal source of this drawn-down [spirituality] is comprised of 613 [aspects], and is called “Man,” [as in the verse] (Ezekiel 1:15), “And on the likeness of the throne was a likeness of the appearance of a Man, etc.”[12]

[To summarize, we have said that, ideally, one should acquire a thorough knowledge of the entire Torah, for this unites one’s entire soul with “all” of G-d (in a manner of speaking).]

Yet, due to the stress of the times and the shortness of spirit; the [limited] intellect of the [person who would] grasp and the depth of the [material to be] grasped [it is difficult to succeed at the above. Therefore,] in any event, at least one should try to get the strength and fortitude to acquire and to engrave upon the cerebral memory center of his soul,[13] the five books of the Torah of Moshe [Moses], which he wrote from the mouth of the Almighty, for they are the source of all of the Written and Oral Torah in their entirety – as is known [in illustration of this point], that Rabbi Akiva used to expound piles upon piles of laws from each and every calligraphic flourish [of the special Hebrew letters used to write a Torah].

Only, they [the detailed laws of the Torah] are greatly concealed in the Hidden Realm. [Accordingly, one needs to acquire at least some openly revealed Torah knowledge as well.] And from the Revealed Realm – that is, the Oral Torah – in any event, at least, one should acquire and engrave [in the cerebral memory center of his soul] the Order of Kodshim,[14] which is called “Wisdom” in the words of our Rabbis, of blessed memory, and [which] atones for a person’s sins, as the Ari[15] of blessed memory wrote.

(And see what is written on the verse (Leviticus 19:32), “You shall rise before the hoary-headed, and you shall honor, etc.” at the end of [the discourse] beginning with the words (Song of Songs 1:5), “I am black and beautiful.”)[16]

Ó 2003 Yitzchok D. Wagshul. Please note that the foregoing is an informal translation by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this translation should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!

[1] An expression derived from ^^^

[2] The expression mo-ach hazikaron literally means, “the brain of memory,” and has been translated here as “the memory center of the brain,” or “the cerebral memory center.” Chassidic philosophy explains that every bodily faculty is rooted in the soul. Thus, we may speak of “mo-ach hazikaron, the cerebral memory center, sheb’nishmaso, that is within his soul” -- that is, at its root source in the soul.

[3] The reference to Zohar 87b is in the original. See also Zohar I, 24a; II, 60a; and compare Tikunei Zohar 406 and 424.

[4] An expression derived from Exodus 25:2

[5] An expression derived from Psalms 84:3

[6] The Hebrew word used here for “soul” is nefesh. Compare the same expression used earlier (in the text accompanying footnote 2), in which a different word, n’shama, was used.

[7] See note following

[8] Kabbalah and Chassidus speak of the Hidden Realm (alma d’iskasya) and the Revealed Realm (alma d’isgalya) in various contexts. For example, thought – which is internal to the thinker and has not been communicated to others – is associated with the Hidden Realm, whereas, once a thought has been expressed as speech and thus made known to others, it is said to be of the Revealed Realm. In one sense, the Torah generally may be associated with the Hidden Realm. There is a well-known teaching (Zohar II:121a; see also there, 85a) that “the Torah comes from wisdom,” that is, that the spiritual source of the Torah is G-d’s attribute of chochmah, “wisdom.” Wisdom, like “thought,” is of the Hidden Realm, and is associated with the letter yud of G-d’s four-letter name, the Tetragrammaton (pronounced Havaye except when praying or reading the Torah). Thus, as stated in the text, a person whose memory is steeped in Torah, who has the Torah “resident” within him at all times – even when engaged in necessary worldly pursuits – has something of the G-dliness of the letter yud of G-d’s name shining within him always, even if only in “hidden” form while he is outwardly occupied with worldliness, for this (the letter yud and the G-dly Wisdom it represents) is the source of the Torah. Note, however, that in another context, we can speak of the Written Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographa) as the “Hidden Realm” and the Oral Torah (the entire corpus of Jewish knowledge, including the Mishna, Talmud, philosophy, legal codes, etc.) as the “Revealed Realm” – as in the text at the end of this discourse.

[9] “Consecrate unto me every firstborn”, Exodus 13:1-10

[10]. Kadesh Li Kol B’chor is one of the four Torah portions which, written on parchment in accordance with Jewish law, form the content of the leather boxes worn as T’fillin. Kabbalistically, each of these four portions is associated with a Divine attribute, corresponding to a particular letter of the Tetragrammaton, G-d’s four-letter name. The first of the four (in terms of its placement within the T’fillin) is Kadesh Li Kol B’chor, which corresponds to the Divine attribute of chochma, associated with the letter yud of the Tetragrammaton. (See, e.g., the adaptation of the discourse, Ve-Ahavta Eis Havaye Elokecha on the Torah portion Va-Eschanan (found in Likutei Torah 12d), and the source cited in the references to Likutei Torah, loc. cit.) As explained in footnote 8, chochma and its corresponding letter, yud, represent the Torah. Thus, it is appropriate that the portion of Kadesh contain a reference to “memory” (“a reminder between your eyes”) – since one’s goal should be to saturate one’s memory with Torah.

[11] As explained in an earlier footnote, all of a person’s faculties derive from the soul. In particular, the Torah identifies 613 specific faculties, each associated with a particular part of the body (thought with the brain, sight with the eye, etc.). These each stem from a spiritual function of the soul. These in turn correspond to the 613 mitzvos of the Torah; each mitzvah serves as the channel for the spiritual “nourishment” of one soul-faculty, and, through the soul, for the bodily faculties as well. Knowing the entire Torah, then, encompassing all details of all 613 mitzvos, unites one’s entire soul with G-d. (The term “G-dly Soul” refers to the Jewish soul which is “actually a part of G-d above,” a concept more fully explained elsewhere.)

[12] Song of Songs is an allegorical love song between the Jews and G-d. Just as a person is comprised of 613 aspects, as explained above, “nourished” through the mitzvos of the Torah, so do the 613 mitzvos themselves each express one of 613 specific manifestations of G-dliness, which are their Heavenly source. In this sense, Jewish mysticism speaks of G-d (as He manifests Himself through the 613 mitzvos) as the “Man upon the throne” of Ezekiel’s vision. Thus, knowing the entire Torah also implies being united with all of G-d as He manifests Himself through the 613 mitzvos.

[13] See footnote 6. Here, the word nefesh is used.”

[14] The Oral Torah is generally classified into the six Orders of the Mishna, each of which contains numerous individual tractates that deal with particular subjects. The broad subject matter of the Order of Kodshim is the laws pertaining to sacrifices.

[15] The great Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, known as the Ari Zal, or the Ari of blessed memory.

[16] This parenthetical reference is in the original. The discourse in question may be found in Likutei Torah, Shir Hashirim, 6c; the specific reference is at 7d.