Es Shabsosai Tishmoru

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Summary text


In this week’s Torah portion we read,[1] “Observe My Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary,” wherein the plural is used with respect to the Sabbath. This implies two Sabbaths, in accordance with the teaching,[2] “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, ‘If the Jews would only observe two Sabbaths properly, they would immediately be redeemed.’” This does not necessarily refer to two separate Sabbaths, though, for even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—which the Kabbalah[3] calls “lower-order Shabbos” (Shabbos tataah) and “higher-order Shabbos” (Shabbos ilaah).[4]

Based on the above, the statement can be reconciled with a parallel teaching in the Jerusalem Talmud:[5] “If the Jews had only observed one Sabbath properly, the son of David [i.e., the Messiah] would have come immediately.” The first teaching, too, refers to only one Shabbos, and the meaning is that if the two levels within each Sabbath are observed properly, we would be redeemed from exile. This is what is meant by the plural used in our verse: “Observe My Sabbaths.”

To appreciate this, it is necessary to understand the concept of Shabbos.

***Shabbos: Elevation of the Universe

Shabbos isn’t just a “day of rest,” as the popular expression goes. That would seem to imply that Shabbos is simply one of the days of the week, except that we observe it by taking the day off to commemorate G-d’s having rested on the seventh day. Under that scenario, even if we devote this time off to prayer and study of Torah, the day itself is just another day. In fact, though, that isn’t the case at all. There is something qualitatively different about the day of Shabbos, something that radically distinguishes it from the preceding six days of the week. And that is this: on Shabbos, the entire universe—our material world and all the spiritual realms—is elevated to a higher spiritual level; all the worlds enter into a higher plane of existence.[6]

In particular, the Torah study and good deeds we have performed throughout the week ascend heavenward on Shabbos. More technically, it isn’t quite the case that our weekday worship is directly elevated on Shabbos; it is simply not possible, because of its essential nature, for worship performed during the week to be included within Shabbos. However, within each weekday, there is a glimmer of Shabbos—an element, at least, of the radiance of Shabbos—and that is prayer.[7] Each day, at the time of prayer, the Torah and mitzvos we have performed that day are absorbed and ascend to a higher spiritual level. The prayers of each day of the week, with the Torah and good deeds that have been absorbed within them, are then included within Shabbos itself. That is why prayer is called olas tamid,[8] “a regular [i.e., constant, recurring] offering”—lit., “a regular elevation”—while Shabbos is called olas Shabbos, “a Sabbath offering”—lit., “a Sabbath elevation.”[9] Prayer, which is a regular, recurring event, is so called on account of the elevation of the worlds to a much higher level at the time of prayer[10]—just as Shabbos is called “a Sabbath elevation” because of the elevation of the worlds that occurs on Shabbos.

Yet the above concept—that Shabbos involves raising all of creation to a higher spiritual level—raises a question as well. It is fundamental to Jewish belief that G-d is omnipresent, as it is written,[11] “The whole earth is full of His glory” and[12] “G-d is the L-rd[13] in the heavens above and on the earth below.” As the Kabbalah states,[14] “there is no place devoid of Him.” In that case, what is meant by spiritual “elevation” of the worlds? Wherever they are on the spiritual hierarchy, G-d is already there; how can they get any higher? Yet the Torah itself—whose language is precise—uses the term olas Shabbos, which denotes actual elevation.

***Souls Descend into this World for the Purpose of Ascent

There is a well-known question concerning why our souls descend from heaven, where they enjoyed an entirely spiritual existence, to live life upon this lowly earth, invested within physical bodies and subject to all the pitfalls that entails. The answer given is that our sojourn on earth enables our souls to ascend, afterward, to an even higher spiritual level; the descent, great as it was, was for the ultimate purpose of even higher ascent.[15] The same question raised above can be asked about this teaching: if G-d is everywhere anyway, what is the meaning of souls “ascending” to a higher level?

The answer to this question as it applies to souls will help us to understand the answer with respect to Shabbos.

***Nature of the Soul’s Descent

To begin with, let us attempt to appreciate the nature of the soul’s descent. G-d created the universe and all its contents by means of the ten utterances detailed in the first chapter of Genesis (“Let there be light,” and so on); we likewise read,[16] “By the word of G-d were the heavens created, and by the breath of His mouth, all their hosts.” Thus, the process of creation is likened to speech. This metaphor applies to every created entity in the universe; even angels (the hosts of heaven) were brought into being by “the breath of His mouth.” By contrast, the Jewish soul is described as originating on a spiritual plane superior to G-d’s “speech”; it is said to have “arisen in [G-d’s] thought.”[17] The Torah’s metaphors are not arbitrary; they reflect the underlying reality of what is being described. Specifically, the contrast between speech and thought points up some essential differences between the rest of creation and the Jewish soul.

Jewish mysticism interprets the metaphor of the universe having been created by G-d’s spoken word in terms of the utter insignificance of creation as compared to G-d Himself. The faculty of speech in a person is a function of the soul; it is one of the three vehicles—thought, speech, and action—by means of which the soul expresses itself. But it is obvious that a single letter or word that a person utters is completely insignificant in relation to the total soul, which is expressing itself through that speech. The soul is not changed or depleted by the person’s speech; in fact, one could speak endlessly and not affect the soul. By telling us that creation derives merely from the “word” of G-d, the Torah is saying that all the realms, including even spiritual entities like angels and the life force animating them all, are nothing but a manifestation (ha’arah) of G-d, which, from the perspective of G-d Himself, is virtually nonexistent, utterly insignificant.

By contrast, the Jewish soul derives not from G-d’s speech, but from His thought, and is thus closer to G-d than anything else in the universe. Granted, thought itself is also insignificant before G-d, just as a person’s thought is merely a function, an expressive faculty, of the soul.[18] The soul can think endless thoughts and not become changed or depleted; any individual thought is utterly insignificant in relation to the soul itself. Nevertheless, thought is certainly superior to speech. This expresses the superiority of the Jewish soul over the rest of creation, for, as noted above, the metaphor is precise in all its particulars, as will now be explained.

We mentioned above that both speech and thought are vehicles through which the soul expresses itself. In the terminology of Jewish mysticism, they are said to be “garments” of the soul. Yet there are different kinds of garment. Speech is analogized to an outer garment: just as one does not wear, for example, one’s overcoat at all times, putting it on only when one wishes to go outside, so does one not speak constantly. In fact, it is easier for a person not to speak;[19] one only speaks if there is something one wishes to express to another.[20] Thought, on the other hand, is comparable to an inner garment that one always wears, even when alone; it is impossible to be without thought.[21]

One advantage of thought over speech, then, is that thought is constant. Another is this: just as the soul is eternal, so is the soul’s thought, for the relationship between sechel—the soul’s inherent intellectual faculties—and machshavah—the expression of that abstract intellect as actual thought—is such that the two are inseparable. Sechel and machshavah are described in Kabbalah as “two friends that do not separate,”[22] and are compared to “a snail, whose garment [i.e., shell] is of its very self.”[23]

Accordingly, the universe and all its contents—created through G-d’s word—are of limited duration. They came into being during the six days of creation, which was the “time to speak” alluded to in Ecclesiastes,[24] and they will eventually end after the six thousand years allotted for the world’s existence,[25] since there is also a “time to be silent.” The Midrash[26] adduces support for the proposition of the world’s temporal duration from the verse,[27] “all the days of the earth.” The Jewish soul, by contrast—having been created through G-d’s thought—is not of limited duration. It existed prior to the six days of creation, As our Sages teach[28] on the verse,[29] “They dwelt there with the king, in his service”: “[Prior to creation,] the souls of the righteous dwelt with the King—the King of kings—the Holy One, blessed is He; the Holy One, blessed is He, consulted with them and created the world.” and as stated in the previous paragraph, it is eternal.

One might ask, if the soul is derived from G-d’s thought, which is one with G-d Himself, how can we account for the fact that souls differ from one another in spiritual stature? Should not all souls be the same, just as G-d is Himself One? The answer is that the 600,000 general Jewish souls (which, in turn, divide further into branches, which themselves divide into countless sparks[30]) can be compared to the 600,000 letters of a Torah scroll.[31] The Torah, too, is the expression of G-d’s thought, yet contains numerous letters of different kinds.[32] Yet this does not negate its being associated with G-d’s thought—one with G-d Himself.

          In light of the above, we can better appreciate the immeasurable difference between the Jewish soul and the rest of creation. The question thus becomes all the stronger: what possible reason could there be that would justify the soul’s descent into this lowly, physical world? Every day, in our prayers,[33] we beseech G-d, Whom we address as “exalted from the time of creation,”[34] to have mercy on our souls, which descended so low—why is all this necessary?  As stated above, this inconceivable descent is said to be worthwhile in light of its underlying purpose: to enable the soul to ultimately ascend even higher. We must, therefore—now that we understand something of how profound a descent this actually was—examine just what is meant by the “ascent” that is said to justify it all.

***“Creator of Holy Ones, Praised Be Your Name Forever”

Specifically, we must come to understand the meaning of “ascent” relative to the spiritual level on which the souls originated in heaven. That souls ascend to heaven after completing life on earth is obvious; our question, though, was: since the souls were already in heaven to begin with, what is the meaning of the teaching that descending into this world enables them thereafter to ascend even higher?

To appreciate the answer, we need to understand more precisely the level on which souls originate. This is alluded to by the liturgical phrase,[35] “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name forever.”

The “holy ones” referred to are the Jewish souls. We find a similar usage of this term in the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, where (immediately after invoking [36] the angels’ praises of G-d) we recite, “Holy ones praise You every day, forever”—referring to the souls. This order is appropriate, as souls are superior to angels, and we are thus progressing from lesser praise to greater praise. Angels may be said to have bodies,[37] and thus to take up space; for example, the Talmud speaks[38] of an angel so huge its height is a five-hundred-year journey, and the Midrash mentions that[39] an angel can take up a third of the earth. It follows that angels are also bound by time, as space and time are both creations of G-d and are of the same quality.[40] That is why angels have a fixed time at which to sing G-d’s praise.[41] By contrast, souls are not bound by time or space; that is why they are referred to as “holy ones.” The Hebrew word for “holy,” kadosh, connotes apartness, separateness: souls, in their heavenly state, have no bodies and do not take up space; for that reason they are also separate and apart from the constraints of time. Thus, their praise of G-d—unlike that of the angelic beings—is not only every day, but also unceasing, as in the liturgical expression we are discussing: “Holy ones praise You every day, forever.”[42] This also explains the teaching that souls constantly ascend to ever-higher spiritual levels, as it is written,[43] “They will go from strength to strength.” This spiritual advancement is only accomplished by singing G-d’s praises,[44] and it is precisely because the souls are constantly doing so that they are always rising in level.

Another implication of the expression, “Holy ones praise You every day, forever” is based on the plural phrase “holy ones” referring not to many individual souls, but to many levels and degrees of soul. Since G-d Himself is infinite, there is no limit to the degree of G-dly comprehension the souls are capable of in heaven. In fact, “heaven” (gan eden) is defined by the spiritual bliss the souls experience from comprehending the G-dliness which is revealed to them there—referred to in the Talmud[45] as “the radiance of the Divine Presence.” It is over this perception of G-dliness that the souls sing praise. Each time a soul advances in its ability to perceive these G-dly revelations, it is said to ascend to a higher level of heaven.[46] There are thus an infinite number of degrees or levels of heaven,[47] each populated by souls of higher and higher spiritual stature. And all of these endless classes of souls, higher upon higher to the very highest degree—the “holy ones”—praise G-d unceasingly—“every day, forever.”[48]

Yet for all that, it is said of the souls, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name forever.” Even the loftiest of souls, on the loftiest level of heaven, can only sing the praises of G-d’s name, as opposed to G-d Himself, because that is all they can perceive. This is the meaning of the teaching[49] that in heaven, the souls delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence (ziv haShechinah), and not the Divine Presence itself. G-d Himself is utterly beyond all perception; it is only His radiance, what the Zohar calls[50] His “light,” as it were (as in the expression Or Ein Sof, “the Light of the Infinite One”[51]), that is manifest—even in heaven.

***The Metaphor of G-d’s “Light”

What we perceive as the light of the sun as it shines upon the earth and its inhabitants is utterly naught relative to the sun itself, its source. It makes no difference whatsoever to the sun whether its light even reaches the earth at all; if clouds block it before it gets here, or if some individual draws the curtain,[52] there is certainly no change effected in the sun itself. Similarly, the expression “Light of the Infinite One” describes a mere emanation (ha’arah) from G-d Himself, relative to Whom it is utterly insignificant. Yet even an emanation from G-d is G-dly and unlimited; the Or Ein Sof would completely overwhelm the finite, created universe if it were not prevented from doing so. Thus, through a lengthy series of contractions or concealments (tzimtzumim),[53] some glimmer, at least, of this G-dly light becomes perceptible to the “holy ones” described above—the Jewish souls.

This metaphoric distinction between G-d Himself and His light is the same as that between G-d Himself and His name, and that is why it is said that the holy ones praise—specifically—G-d’s name.

***The Metaphor of G-d’s “Name”

In the Midrash,[54] for example, it is taught, “Before the world was created, there was only the Holy One, may He be blessed, and His Great Name.”[55] These metaphors—G-d’s “light,” G-d’s “name”—all lead to the same end and have the same purpose: to understand the concept of the G-dly life force that animates all realms, and how it does not implicate G-d’s Essence at all. Each source simply expresses the same idea through its own terminology and metaphor.

Scripture itself expresses this concept in terms of a “name.” The very first mention of a name in the Bible is in Genesis 2:19, where we read that G-d brought all the animals and birds He had created to Adam “to see what he would call [them],” and that “whatever the man called each living thing was its name.” One may wonder: what was Adam’s great accomplishment in naming all the creatures? It seems obvious that whatever one calls a previously unnamed thing becomes its name; why does the Torah go out of its way to point out that, indeed, such was the case? However, the context provides insight into this episode. In Genesis 2:18, we are told, “G-d said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper as his counterpart.’” Then, in the next verse, we find the statement that G-d brought every living creature before Adam, who accurately named each. Finally, in Genesis 2:20, it is written, “Adam named every domestic animal, bird of the sky, and beast of the field, but Adam did not find a compatible helper.” Then the Torah goes on to recount how G-d created Eve.

The meaning of all this lies in the fact that in Hebrew, the concept of a name is much more than simply an arbitrary label useful for identifying something. As explained elsewhere,[56] the letters which form the name of a thing in Hebrew—the Holy Tongue—are nothing less than the conduits by which the Divine life force is transmitted to the thing from G-d, bringing it into being in its unique form and maintaining its existence as a discrete entity. Thus, a Hebrew name—by definition—expresses the spiritual essence of the thing named; it encapsulates the very life force that shapes its being. Adam, the actual handiwork of G-d, was so spiritually attuned that he was able to perceive the G-dly life force that defined each creature, and accurately identified each by the name expressing that spirituality: “whatever the man called each living thing was [in fact] its name.” And that clarifies the place of this episode in the creation narrative: G-d says that He wants to provide Man with a helpful counterpart; He brings every living creature before Adam so the man could gaze into their respective essences and see whether any were suitable; nothing on earth but Woman was a fitting counterpart to Man.

Yet, even though the name of something is bound up with that thing’s essence, it is not the same as the essence. A person’s name, for example, has no tangible connection, and certainly no resemblance, to the person him- or herself. It is actually insignificant relative to the person him- or herself; it is only important for others—when one is alone, one has no use for a name. Still, in some mysterious way, the name represents the person to others, it calls that person to mind.

The same is true of the soul. Prior to its investiture within a body, the soul is not called by any name;[57] neither is a body without a soul called by name. A name only comes into play with respect to a soul within a body, because, as explained above, the concept of a name does not apply to the essence of a thing itself; it is only to express that essence to others that the name is used. In the case of the soul, its essence transcends the idea of a name. The function of the name is to bind the soul and body together, to express the vitality of the soul within the body.

This is a general principle: whenever a greater thing is revealed or expressed to a lesser thing, we can use the term “name” to describe that revelation or expression. The greater thing, the higher level, exists in its own right and has no need of expression; and the lesser thing, the lower level—by virtue of its limitations relative to the higher—is incapable of relating to the higher level on the latter’s natural plane. The higher level must be packaged, as it were, for consumption by the lower; it must be presented in the right way in order for the lower level to benefit. This transmission from higher to lower is a function of “name,” as we have been describing that concept, because it is not at all the higher level itself that is transmitted to the lower, but merely some aspect of it that conveys to the lower some inkling of the higher—just as someone’s name in no way “contains” that actual, physical person, yet somehow calls that person to mind in all respects.

It is not the soul itself that animates the body, then, pervading and enabling each of its 248 limbs with their own particular function; rather, it is a mere extension or manifestation of the soul that does this,[58] and which is rooted in and called forth by the letters of the person’s Hebrew name. That is the fundamental reason that a soul has no name before descending into a body: the very idea of a name only applies to the expression or radiation (ha’arah) of the soul throughout the body; the soul in its own right has no need of a name. Before descending into a body, this radiance, so to speak, of the soul was subsumed within the soul itself, where it was as naught.

Contemplation of all the foregoing enables us to appreciate with greater understanding what is meant by metaphors like the name of G-d. On the one hand, we must appreciate that the expression “G-d’s name” describes something truly G-dly, just as a person’s name reflects that person’s spiritual essence and is not simply arbitrary. On the other hand, just as someone’s name does not cause that person to physically materialize and is in no conceivable way literally connected to the person him- or herself, we should realize that G-d’s name is not at all the same as G-d Himself, relative to Whom His name is utterly insignificant.

Likewise, it will be understood that G-d’s animating and sustaining all realms, from the loftiest spiritual universe to this lowly physical world, is but a function of His name, not His Essence—for nothing could withstand G-d’s very Essence.

Before moving on, it would be worthwhile to add an insight drawn from the explanatory supplement (beiur) to this discourse.[59] A fundamental teaching of Lurianic Kabbalah is found in the work Eitz Chaim[60]to the effect that the first step toward creation may be thought of as G-d “making room” for the possibility of finite existence. We may think of this as G-d “clearing space” in which to make the universe—for, although G-d remains omnipresent (even within the cleared space), were His omnipresence revealed everywhere, nothing else could exist, by definition. Accordingly, G-d concealed His omnipresence so that the universe could exist within the resulting empty space, or void (makom panuy; chalal). The result was a “space” in which the Or Ein Sof (but not the En Sof, which is unaffected by all this) had been hidden from the perception of the beings to be created within that space—although it, too, remained essentially unchanged. In fact, even within the cleared space, a vestige or residue or impression (reshimu) of the Or Ein Sof remained.[61] It was now possible for created entities to exist within the empty space without being utterly overwhelmed by G-d’s all-pervasive omnipresence and dissolving once more into G-dliness.[62] This reshimu—residue of G-dly light—is not explained in Eitz Chaim itself, but in the work Emek HaMelech it is taught that it refers to letters (which constitute 231 “portals,” forward and backward[63]).

The meaning of all this—as well as the meaning of Eitz Chaim’s teaching that G-d’s light “withdrew”; after all, the metaphor of light is not meant in a spatial sense to begin with, and even if it were, G-d is everywhere, so to where could His light withdraw—lies in the nature of letters as vehicles for the transmission of ideas. The idea itself is intellect; it is a concept in one’s mind. Once that concept is conveyed to another, the second person also has the same idea; knows the same concept. How, exactly, does an intellectual concept travel? The answer is that it was formulated by the first person into words—which, of course, are made up of individual letters—and the combination of those letters somehow contains that idea. Anyone who hears or reads that particular configuration of letters will “get” the idea—provided that person him- or herself possesses sufficient intelligence. Einstein formulated his theory into the famous equation “E=MC2,” and almost everyone is perfectly familiar with those individual symbols. Still, most people could stare at that equation forever and just not “get it,” not understand the concept it expresses, because they themselves do not have the requisite ability.[64] The same applies if a person reads something in a language he or she does not understand. This is because the letters are not of the same stuff as the idea; they are fundamentally unrelated.

The key point about all this is that, even if the reader does not understand the intellect behind the letters, it is still there—that combination of letters still signifies the idea to a person able to understand it. Otherwise, however, the meaning is hidden; it is as though the idea is being withheld from expression to that person. This is the meaning of the mystical reshimu, the residue or impression left by the Or Ein Sof after it “withdrew” in the initial tzimtzum. Recall that G-d’s “light” and His “name” refer to the same thing.[65] Metaphorically speaking, the tzimtzum was G-d’s withholding of the meaning from the letters of His name—that is, from the vehicle through which the content would otherwise be expressed to the universe. The reshimu is the letters of G-d’s name thus deprived—from our limited perspective, from the perspective of the universe—of their content, but which, nonetheless, continue to signify the same thing.[66]

***Even G-d’s Name Transcends Creation

In fact, there is more to it than that, because actually, even G-d’s name transcends creation. It is written,[67] “Let them praise the name of G-d, for His name alone is sublime; its[68] radiance is upon the earth and heavens.” That is, even G-d’s name is too sublimely exalted to be the direct source of the universe’s life force. Instead, it is only the radiance of G-d’s name that animates the earth and heavens; a mere extension of G-d’s name, that bears a similar relationship to G-d’s name as G-d’s name does to G-d Himself—as discussed above.

The expression quoted earlier from the Shemoneh Esreh prayer[69]—“holy ones praise You every day, forever”—is part of a sentence that reads in full, “You are holy; and Your name is holy; and holy ones praise You every day, forever.” Based on what we have just said, the meaning of “Your name is holy” becomes clear. As stated in our earlier discussion, the Hebrew word for “holy,” kadosh, connotes separateness: such an exalted state as to be entirely apart from all mundane things. “Your name is holy” means that not only G-d Himself (“You are holy”), but even His name, is so supremely exalted above creation as to bear no relation to creation at all. That which fills the earth and heavens as the soul fills the body, animating each individual creation with its own unique share of G-dly life force, is only the radiance of G-d’s name—the “name of His Name,” one might say.

This is hinted at by our Sages’[70] homiletic interpretation of the verse,[71] “Come and behold the works of G-d, Who has wrought desolations (shamos) in the land”: “Do not read shamos (desolations), but sheimos (names).” The works of creation, from the highest realm to the lowest, could not withstand G-dly radiance directly from His blessed Great Name; G-d’s creative life force could only be channeled to the various works of creation through a series of intermediate steps, each of which only gives life to the level beneath it by means of its name, in the metaphoric sense explained above. Each created entity, whether an angel or a rock, thus receives its vitality in a measure appropriate for that being, through an endless series of reflections (or “names”) and reflections of reflections, etc.—yet, of course, they all ultimately originate from G-d.[72] (This accounts for the many differences within the various realms: each represents a unique expression of G-dliness, in which His radiance is manifest to a different degree.) The “works of G-d” are thus a function of His “names” in the land, the created universe. In the Kabbalistic work Pardes,[73] the phenomenon is mentioned of two Divine names containing identical letters, although one signifies a vastly higher spiritual level than the other. (One might think this should be impossible, since, as mentioned earlier in the main text, it is the letters of the name of a thing that deliver its spiritual life force—if the letters are identical, should not then the two things be the same?) See there for the reason.[74] Based on this, one can also understand how it can be that two people may have the same name but different qualities.[75]

Now, as explained above, a name is utterly insignificant, truly as nothing, relative to the essence of the thing named. All these successive reflections of G-dliness, these various names, are all insignificant relative to G-d Himself. A deeper meaning of the verse thus emerges. The specific Divine name in the phrase “Come and behold the works of G-d” is the Tetragrammaton, Havayah, which alludes to G-d’s ability to create something from nothing.[76] It is inconceivable that G-d Himself should condescend to create anything at all; before Him, all is insignificant anyway, completely empty of substance. That is why the Psalmist exclaims, “Come and behold the wondrous[77] works of Havayah—He before Whom even the most exalted creations are as naught; the blessed Infinite One, Who, by His mere Word, continually brings the universe into being from utter nothingness—in that He has, nevertheless, condescended to set what is really just so much desolation, just so much emptiness and insignificance, in the land, in the created universe!” This is possible because, as explained, the vitality of all created things does not reach them directly from G-d, but rather through a series of names, which are themselves insignificant—mere “desolation”—relative to what is above them.[78]

All this, then, brings out the underlying import of the phrase,[79] “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name”: that throughout the countless levels of spiritual worlds, populated by “holy ones”—souls—of higher and higher spiritual stature, all these holy ones, on even the very highest of levels, can praise nothing more than G-d’s name, not G-d Himself.

***“Something from Something” (Yesh MiYesh) and “Something from Nothing” (Yesh MeAyin)

The phrase “Creator of holy ones” hints at a similar idea. As mentioned elsewhere,[80] there are two basic paradigms for the way G-d transmits His influence into the universe. We have just explained that, in one sense,[81] there are countless intermediate steps between G-d and the end result of creation, i.e., this physical world. By the first paradigm, each successive stage is a reflection of its immediately antecedent level, such that the antecedent level is actually implicit within the succeeding level. As a simple example, if one says “the sky is blue,” it is certain that the person is expressing an antecedent thought that the sky is blue. The statement did not arise out of nothing; it did not absolutely originate with the speaker’s utterance. It was, instead, already contained (albeit in potential) within the thought. Conversely, the thought is implicit within the statement, so that a person who hears that statement can infer with certainty that the speaker had had such a thought. This paradigm is therefore described as “something from something” (yesh miyesh): each successive stage in the process of creation is not truly new; it implies an underlying antecedent level on the spiritual hierarchy. The contrasting paradigm, of course, is “something from nothing” (yesh me’ayin), in which creation or revelation does not express a preexisting antecedent, but comes directly from G-d.

Now, the entire order of progressive manifestation of one level of spirituality within the next, and that itself within the next, and so on—known as the Seder Hishtalshelus (“order of progression” or “chain[82] of descent”), the spiritual hierarchy of creation—follows the model of the ten Sefiros, or ten principal means of Divine manifestation. To facilitate our comprehension of G-dliness, humanity was created in the image of G-d,[83] and our own intellectual and emotional makeup is modeled after the Sefiros, and called by the same names. The very highest human attribute is intellect; specifically, within the intellect, the very highest, or first, faculty is the point at which new ideas occur to the person, seemingly coming out of nowhere. This is called chochmah in Hebrew.[84] At this initial stage, new ideas are but unformed glimmers; they must be developed and expanded until the person achieves thorough understanding. That next stage is known as binah (“understanding”). Even complete understanding, however, can remain an intellectual abstraction; it does not necessarily mean the person will do anything. When a person progresses to the next level, internalizing the knowledge so thoroughly that it actually affects one’s feelings and motivates one’s behavior, that is known as daas.[85] Along those lines, an idea can progress further, working its way through motivating the gamut of human emotions—each of which corresponds to a particular Sefirah—and ultimately finding expression either as a verbal statement or an actual deed. This final stage, at which the original idea is expressed beyond the person, is associated with Malchus, the final, or “lowest” of the ten Sefiros.

Again, all the above helps us to understand how G-d manifests Himself in the universe. The point at which G-d’s creative life force makes its initial appearance within creation—the very first stage in the creative process—is referred to as the Sefirah of Chochmah, similar to the mysterious way in which the very first spark of an idea springs suddenly to mind. The next stage in the manifestation of the G-dly life force of the universe is termed Binah, and so on, down to the point of expression on an entirely different plane,[86] corresponding to the Sefirah of Malchus (“Sovereignty”).[87]

It will readily be seen that the entire order of progression by which the universe comes into being follows the paradigm of yesh miyesh, “something from something.” That is because each successive stage is merely a development, an expansion, of the previous level: Chochmah is developed into Binah, which progresses to the point at which it “sinks in” and is internalized as Daas, from which point it motivates various emotions that ultimately shape its final expression. In theory, even the final stage—the actual deed performed as a result of that first glimmer of an idea—reflects the influence of and expresses all the antecedent stages, right up through the initial inspiration, Chochmah.[88] Put another way, all successive stages are already implicit within Chochmah. In this sense, it is stated,[89] “You have made them all with wisdom”—that is, all the works of creation were made manifest out of their implicit state within the Sefirah of Chochmah, Wisdom. That is the meaning of the teaching[90] that G-d could have created the universe, not by means of ten utterances, but by just one: all ten Sefiros are included within the first, Chochmah, about which it is said[91] (in answer to the apparently inconsistent fact that, in the Biblical account of creation, there are only nine explicit utterances), “[The phrase] ‘In the beginning’[92] is also an utterance. Indeed, the Aramaic Biblical translator Yonason ben Uziel renders “In the beginning” as “with Chochmah.” The foregoing is true also of the spiritual counterparts to these human characteristics.

By contrast, Chochmah itself is radically different. It alone follows the paradigm of yesh me’ayin, “something from nothing.”[93] It is written,[94] “From where shall wisdom be found,” which can be interpreted to mean that the Sefirah of Chochmah (“wisdom”) is itself derived from the lofty spiritual level known as ayin (“where,” or “nothingness”). This refers to the Source of creation, that great and unknowable “Nothingness” from which the initial creative spark of Chochmah springs, as an idea spontaneously occurs to a person out of nowhere. This is none other than the inconceivable Name of G-d that, as discussed at length above, is the Source of creation.

Now, it will be recalled that earlier,[95] we said that the Jewish soul derives not from G-d’s speech, but His thought, and is thus closer to G-d than anything else in the universe. Specifically, souls are called kedoshim, “holy ones,” since their source is the lofty spiritual level known as Chochmah Ilaah, G-d’s “Supernal Wisdom,” which is itself termed kadosh, “holy.” In light of this lofty status of the soul, we wondered what is meant by the teaching that its descent into this physical world is for the purpose of an even greater subsequent ascent: how much higher can it get? Yet now, in light of our discussion, we realize that even the spiritual level of Chochmah Ilaah, the source of souls, is merely a creation out of utter nothingness—it is literally insignificant relative to the name of G-d from which it springs.

And this is also alluded to by the phrase, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name”: for all that the holy ones, or souls, are so lofty, they are nonetheless merely creations out of utter nothingness next to G-d’s holy name, which is the limit of what they can praise.

Can the souls somehow bridge that inconceivable gap; can they somehow—impossibly—reach higher and touch, as it were, something more?

If so, surely, descent into a physical body is well worth it.

***G-d Both Transcends Creation (Sovev Kol Almin) and Fills Creation (Memalei Kol Almin); Reward for the Righteous Will Be in the Future to Come

At this point, we are finally able to appreciate the nature of the ascent that souls experience after their bodily sojourn in this world. What is more, the explanation of this concept will shed light on another puzzling teaching of our Sages:[96] that “reward for the righteous will be in the Future to Come.”

The expression “the Future to Come”[97] refers to the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, which is to take place after the Messiah arrives. After all, if it referred to what is termed Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden; heaven, where souls go after leaving their physical bodies—it would be inappropriate to call it the future, since heaven exists in the present. Even now, souls are enjoying the bliss of heaven, where, as we mentioned much earlier,[98] they bask in the “radiance of the Divine Presence” and sing praise to G-d’s name. Yet this mere radiance of the Divine Presence is not the full measure of reward for the righteous—that is, for the mitzvos they have performed in this world. The full and appropriate reward for observing mitzvos will only come in the Messianic Future, when the souls have returned to their physical bodies once more. This is actually the “ascent” of the souls—yet how strange this seems! Why should the primary reward for spiritual virtue be held in reserve specifically until the soul is reinvested within a physical body?

The answer lies in the Kabbalistic teaching[99] that the blessed Infinite One (Ein Sof) both transcends all realms (Sovev Kol Almin) and fills all realms (Memalei Kol Almin).

The concept of transmission or bestowal of influence is utterly inapplicable to G-d Himself—His blessed Essence, as it were (Atzmuso Yisbareich).[100] We speak, instead, of the Divine life force that shines forth, that extends, from G-d to animate the worlds as the “Light of the blessed Infinite One” (Or Ein Sof); this is intended to capitalize on the distinction between light, which is what shines forth from the sun, and the actual sun itself, which does not extend anywhere. This is merely a physical metaphor; in more abstract terms, we can say that since G-d Himself is the Life of all life and the Sustainer of all life, the existence of life is automatically implied by this property, so to speak, of G-d.[101] This “creation by extension”—as a corollary of G-d’s Own inherent character (metaphorically speaking)—is a form of revelation, akin to radiance or light. This is what is meant by the Light of the blessed Infinite One.

This light itself has two[102] distinct aspects. On the one hand, nothing could exist without a measure of G-dly life force sustaining it; it is thus clear from the very existence of various creations that G-d’s life force, or light, pervades all things. Moreover, each created entity receives its vitality in a measure appropriate for that being—otherwise, everything would be the same. This immanent aspect of G-d within creation is called Memalei Kol Almin, that aspect of G-d’s light that “fills all realms.”

This is something like the manner in which the soul animates the body. Each of the body’s 248 limbs and organs[103] has a specific function and ability: the eye sees, the ear hears, etc. It is the life force invested within each organ that enables it to function in the manner appropriate to that organ, and this life force is attributable to the soul. However, this life force is not the soul itself; it is, rather, that subtle property we have described above as the “radiance” of the soul. The soul itself is described[104] as nishmas ruach chaim, “the soul (neshamah) of the spirit of life.”[105] It follows that the body must come to life when the soul is present, by virtue of the very nature of the soul as lifegiver.[106] But the actual soul is not what is invested within the eye so that it can see, or the ear so that it can hear, etc. These organs derive their life force, and even their specific abilities, from the mere fact of the soul, not the soul itself,[107] in the manner we have likened to radiance or aura. Another way of understanding this is through the metaphor of one’s name, which has been developed above. When a person is alone, he or she has no use for a name. To draw that person’s attention to another, though, the other person calls the first by name. Obviously, the first person is not absorbed into the second when called by name, but a connection has nevertheless been established. In a similar way, the body’s life force is called forth from the soul through the person’s name—more specifically, through the actual letters making up that name—but the name is not identical with the soul.[108]

And yet the analogy to G-d is (of course) inexact. To a certain extent, the soul does actually reside within the body, and is thus affected by what happens to the body. This is not true at all of G-d, Who is in no way “personally” clothed within creation, and Whom creation does not affect in the slightest, as we recite,[109] “You were the same before the world was created, [and] You are the same since the world has been created.” The Torah expressly states,[110] “I, G-d, have not changed,” because He is kadosh—separate and apart—and is not invested within creation in any way.

In fact, investiture within creation is not even possible for G-d’s light; it is only after numerous levels of concealment (tzimtzumim), filtering or dimming it, metaphorically speaking, that the Light of the Infinite One can be clothed within creation. Certainly, then, whatever life force is derived by the created worlds—higher and lower—is not G-d Himself (G-d forbid) but merely a manifestation of His “aura.” For this reason He is called, not “the One Who gives life to the universe,” but “the One Who gives life to life itself,” “the One Who sustains life”—because, in this context, the life of the universe is derived from G-d’s light, and G-d, in turn, is the One Who gives life to what is, relative to everything else in creation, this source of life.[111] That is why it is written,[112] “For with You is the source of life,” and not “For You are the Source of life.” Even the life of life itself—the Light of the Infinite One—is not G-d Himself, is not “You,” but is merely “with You,” insignificant relative to You Yourself.[113] This is similar to what was quoted earlier[114] to the effect that “before the world was created, there was only the Holy One, may He be blessed, and His name,”[115] which was, however, utterly as naught relative to Him.

Now, although G-d’s light is not identical with G-d Himself, it is nonetheless infinite, since it reflects G-d, Who is infinite. In this sense, the expression Or Ein Sof, which we have been translating as “Light of the Infinite One,” can also signify “Infinite Light.” It is called Shmo HaGadol, His Great Name. This is alluded to by the Aramaic expression, yehei Shmei Rabbah mevarach (“may His Great Name be blessed”), which we say during the recitation of Kaddish. The word mevarach, “be blessed,” also connotes “be drawn forth,” and the implication is that we want the spiritual level of G-d’s Great Name to be drawn forth upon the worlds.[116] The reason the universe, unlike the light, is finite, however, is that the various tzimtzumim, contractions or concealments, mentioned in the previous paragraph prevent the infinity of the light from being revealed.

The result of all these tzimtzumim is that aspect of G-dly revelation we refer to as immanent within creation, or Memalei Kol Almin—that aspect of G-d’s light that “fills all realms,” each receiving the precise measure of G-dly life force that uniquely defines it. The first glimmer of this filtered or contracted light is manifest within the spiritual level of Chochmah, making Chochmah the highest point in the spiritual hierarchy of creation, or Seder Hishtalshelus; from there it proceeds through numerous further contractions to the point where G-d’s immanent light is invested within even the lowest physical object.

And yet the entire Seder Hishtalshelus, the sum total of all that revelation, is utterly insignificant next to the Infinite Light in its natural state, so to speak, not as it is perceptible to us by virtue of being already invested within and expressed through the numerous individual entities of creation. To revisit what was said above, it is the life force invested within each organ that enables it to function in the manner appropriate to that organ: the eyes see, the fingers touch and feel, the stomach digests, the feet move—all these things allow us to perceive that there is life in those organs. But life is not sight; nor is it touch, nor digestion, nor movement. To say that life is sight, for example, would utterly fail to capture what life is, and would leave out virtually everything there really is to life. Life—in the abstract—cannot be defined at all; we can only describe what it does (life is what makes everything function or “live”; without life, everything would be dead) but as for what life actually is, who can know? Whatever it is though, we do know one thing: life is not sight, or digestion, or any of those specific manifestations of its presence within an organ. Life itself is abstract, and applies to all organs equally; in fact, it applies to all species equally; in fact, it even applies to plants. Perhaps[117] this concept is analogous to how G-d’s immanent light, Memalei Kol Almin—invested in and manifest through the various entities of creation—is insignificant relative to the light of G-d in the abstract, prior to its specific expression through individual entities. This “raw” light, as it were, by virtue of its being, after all, light, the manifestation of G-dliness (implying that there is something to be manifest to), is what allows for the possibility of creation at all—in principle—but without distinction as to what can be created. It is that aspect of G-dly revelation we refer to as Sovev Kol Almin—that aspect of G-d’s light that simply “transcends all realms.”[118]

The word sovev literally means “surround.” Yet it should not be supposed that the spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin merely surrounds all realms in the sense that it transcends them from above, but does not also pervade them completely. On the contrary, what is meant by the transcendence of Sovev Kol Almin is not spatial, but conceptual: it can be likened to[119] “a wheel within a wheel,” in the sense that the area of the circle of the smaller wheel is fully a part of the area of the circle of the larger wheel. That is, the outer wheel or circle has a certain area, and everything within its circumference is equally a part of that area—irrespective of whether we also define a smaller area as an inner circle within the greater circle. When one is referring to the inner circle, one may meaningfully speak of its own particular area, but with respect to the outer circle it is all the same: the contents of the inner wheel and what is beyond its circumference are, without distinction, within the outer circle.[120]

The same applies to a smaller sphere within a larger one. Since spheres are three dimensional, it is possible to use the terms “up” and “down,” “above” and “below,” in discussing them. But these are relative terms; they only have meaning if we assume a fixed reference point. If the reference is the floor, one might describe the top (itself a relative term!) of a sphere as “up” relative to the bottom of the sphere, and as “above” the bottom of the sphere. But if the reference point is the ceiling, it is the part of the sphere that was formerly described as the bottom that is now “up,” and “above” the part that was formerly the top. This may not be a very practical example when confined to a sphere in a room, but astronomers deal with this all the time relative to planets and the like in the void of space—there really is no objective up or down. Thus, if we speak of a sphere within a sphere, we cannot objectively say that the top of the outer sphere is “above” the inner sphere and the bottom of the outer sphere is “below” the inner sphere. Instead, from an objective standpoint, we would have to say that the so-called bottom of the outer sphere is just as much “above” the inner sphere as the so-called “top.” Put another way, those two points are equally “outside” of the inner sphere—without any distinction whatsoever as to “above” or “below.” The point is this: not only does the outer sphere “transcend” the inner in the same way as an outer circle transcends an inner circle (because, as in that example, the volume of the smaller sphere is entirely included within the volume of the outer sphere; the contents of a box within a room are just as much within the room as items not in the box), but there is also no difference in the degree or quality of the transcendence. This is the meaning of the verse,[121] “The Eternal G-d is a shelter [above], with [His] everlasting arms [supporting] beneath”: G-d is just the same “below” as “above.”[122]

Now, as stated, what differentiates Memalei from Sovev is that Memalei refers to the G-dly light as it has already been invested within specific creations through dimming or concealment (tzimtzum). Thus, by definition, it is no longer truly infinite, as in its natural state of Or Ein Sof, the Infinite Light. Accordingly, we can readily see that Memalei bears no comparison whatsoever to Sovev, which has not been limited by investiture within any specific thing[123]—not even to the extent that “one” compares to “one million.” Numerically, “one” bears at least some relationship, albeit a small one, to even the largest number, but relative to infinity, both one and the largest number possible are equally insignificant—the comparison simply doesn’t apply. Similarly, there is no comparison whatever between the finite, contracted light that extends into and is invested within the worlds—Memalei Kol Almin—and the Infinite Light itself—Sovev Kol Almin—that is not grasped by and invested within the worlds.[124]

Finally, then, we realize that this—inconceivable as it is—this is to be the ascent of the soul in the Future to Come, and why it is specifically through descent into a physical body in this world: Notwithstanding all we have said about the lofty stature of the Jewish soul and how it “arose in G-d’s thought,” how its source is the spiritual level of Chochmah Ilaah (G-d’s supernal Wisdom), we now realize that this is only an aspect—albeit the very highest—of Memalei Kol Almin. Likewise, we explained the phrase “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name” to mean that the soul, exalted as it may be, is nevertheless a creation out of utter nothingness, as it were, and the highest it can aspire to praise is G-d’s name—associated with Memalei[125]—its source. Yet the ascent will be the revelation of the light of Sovev Kol Almin that will take place in the Future to Come, at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. Open perception of this level, and the resultant bittul—utter absorption into G-dliness—this will entail, is the ultimate ascent of the soul, indeed. And it makes perfect sense, in fact it now seems almost obvious, that this will involve the body as well as the soul: since Sovev is “uniform, treating small and great alike,”[126] since Sovev knows no distinction between higher or lower, its open revelation affects everything—even this lowest realm of Asiyah, even the very substance of our physical bodies. To G-d, it’s all the same, and that is the level of G-dly revelation we will then experience.

This awesome destiny, this ascent, this revelation, is merited through one thing only: actual performance of mitzvos in this world.[127] That is another reason the revelation of Sovev should be manifest to souls within bodies. The purpose for which the soul descends into the body to begin with is to perform mitzvos, as it is written,[128] “today, to do them”—that is, now, in this physical world, is the time to perform mitzvos; they cannot be done in heaven, before the soul is born; nor can they any longer be done after the soul departs. This is also why each soul must be reincarnated until it has finally, over the course of all its lives, been able to fulfill all of the Torah’s 613 mitzvos[129]—it is only by means of the mitzvos[130] that this awesome revelation of the Future to Come is brought about.

***The Reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah Itself

          This is what is meant by the statement of the Mishnah[131] that “the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.” When G-d created the universe, He made something out of nothing; the purpose and foundation of all mitzvos is to make nothing out of that something. That is, we must take the physical objects and substances of this world and use them in the service of G-d, thereby nullifying their apparent status as entities that exist in their own right and demonstrating that they are, in reality, nothing but vehicles for G-dliness. This is exemplified by the mitzvah of tefillin, which contain physical parchment on which is written that G-d is One. Parchment symbolizes the created universe in all its multiplicity, Parchment derives from the spiritual level known as kelipas nogah,[132] which—precisely in order to enable us to elevate it into Oneness, as discussed in the main text—has the status of a separate entity in its own right.[133] and its use to proclaim the unity of G-d reflects (and effects) the elevation of all that diversity into G-d’s true Oneness. Thus, our Rabbis taught[134] that “the entire Torah is linked to tefillin,” since all mitzvos serve this function.

          Indeed, it is taught,[135] “The world stands upon three things: upon Torah, upon Divine service, and upon acts of kindness.” These three categories comprise all the mitzvos, and each of these categories illustrates the above:

          Divine service is exemplified by the sacrificial offerings in the Holy Temple. The essence of these rites was when the animal or bird of the sacrifice would be consumed by a heavenly fire that would miraculously descend upon the altar;[136] the physical sacrifice—“something”—was thus nullified and absorbed into pure spirituality—“nothing.”

          Likewise, acts of kindness are exemplified by charity. In order to earn money, one generally puts one’s all into the work; one gives it all one’s got. If, then, one turns around and gives that money, for which one worked with every fiber of one’s being, to the poor—to a person characterized as a “have not”; a person said to have nothing of his or her own (les lei migarmei klum)—that, too, symbolizes the negation of something to nothing. This is consistent with the principle that kindness is a trait of our forefather Abraham (chessed leAvraham), who was the very embodiment of bittul (utter humility; self-negation), as he remarked,[137] “I am [but] dust and ashes.”

          The same is true of Torah study. True, this involves G-dly revelations and spirituality flowing from heaven to the student—seemingly “nothing” to “something,” not the other way around—but this only comes about if one has first made oneself a fitting receptacle for those gifts, utterly batel (nullified) before G-d. In the Shema prayer, the exhortation to study Torah (“and you shall speak of them”[138]) comes in proximity to the idea that one must love G-d with all one’s soul.[139] Loving G-d with all one’s soul is interpreted[140] as meaning, “even if it means you must give up your soul”—that is, even if you must sacrifice your life for G-d. But if that is the interpretation, why did the verse not say “with all your body”?[141] The answer is that the verse is also intended to apply to the subsequent reference to Torah study: it is hinting that one should not allow one’s sense of self (“all your soul”) to interfere with the transmission of G-dliness. Instead, one’s attitude should be one of total bittul to the Torah and its holiness, in the sense of[142] “My words that I have placed into your mouth,” and[143] “I am the Mishnah that is speaking though your mouth,” and in the sense of what is written[144] of debates between the Academies of Hillel and Shammai to the effect that their respective statements are not their own, but literally “words of the Living G-d.” If one considers learning Torah to be one’s own accomplishment, one’s own words, nothing will come of it (except, perhaps, some book knowledge); it is only if one considers oneself an empty vessel into which the words of Torah can flow directly from G-d that the spirituality will descend.

          In sum, the purpose and foundation of all mitzvos is the negation of something to nothing, as it is written,[145] “G-d has commanded us to fulfill all these statutes, in order that we might fear G-d”: at root, the gist of all mitzvos is fear of G-d.

          Now, at present, all the above is figurative. The person is not literally nothing; he or she continues to exist as a separate entity, but simply defers to G-d. This is not like the state of true bittul that prevails in the spiritual realm of Atzilus,[146] in which all ten Sefiros are literally batel to G-d, the blessed Ein Sof. In that realm, although we can indeed speak of ten Sefiros, it is nevertheless said[147] that “He and the things He has caused to come into being (garmohi) are One”—that is, that the ten Sefiros are in a state of true, literal bittul to the Light of the Ein Sof invested within them. Thus, in the realm of Atzilus, the attribute, or Sefirah, of Chessed (Benevolence) is analogized to G-d’s right hand: in reaching out to help someone, the hand has a function of its own and is distinguishable from other limbs, yet it remains fully a part of, and is in no way separate from, the body itself. However, despite this disparity between true bittul and the figurative bittul that we can achieve in this physical realm, our bittul is nevertheless a necessary prerequisite for our attaining true bittul.

          This will come about through revelation of Sovev Kol Almin in the Future to Come. On the level of Sovev, there is literally no difference between the spiritual and the physical; between the Realm of Atzilus (the highest realm) and that of Asiyah (the lowest). Thus, even physically, here in the Realm of Asiyah, our very bodies, our own right hands—reaching out to give charity—will be literally, not just figuratively, batel to G-d; just as truly one with Him as is the Sefirah of Chessed in the Realm of Atzilus.[148] But this will only happen by virtue of the person having previously—in these pre-Messianic times—achieved at least the figurative sort of bittul that is the limit of our present capability, by actually reaching out and giving charity. The same applies to our own wisdom (chochmah) and brains becoming vessels to G-d’s Supernal Wisdom (Chochmah Ilaah)—in which is clothed the light of the Ein Sof—through the prerequisite of present-day Torah study, etc.

          Thus, the reward of a mitzvah really and truly is the mitzvah itself. The essence of all mitzvos is bittul, negation of something to nothing; and when we do that, the Messianic consequence, the reward, is true bittul, the ultimate bittul, wherein we will be really nullified to G-d—the true “Nothingness,” the Source from which all existence stems—through open manifestation of the Light of the blessed Ein Sof.

          And every Jew actually has this bittul; we each, after all, subject ourselves to G-d at least a little, according to our own degree. Some individuals do so by subduing their natural impulses in deference to G-d’s will (iskafya), while others succeed in transforming their natures entirely, to the point that even their natural tendencies are only for the G-dly (is’hapcha).[149] One way or the other, though, it is by virtue of this present-day bittul that we each have a share in the World to Come.[150] This also affords insight into the aptness of the teaching[151] that one who does not bow, as required, when reciting the Modim portion of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer will not be included in the Resurrection of the Dead. Bowing during Modim demonstrates deference and bittul to G-d, and one who refuses to do this evidences a total lack of these qualities. Since, as we have explained, the Resurrection of the Dead is a phenomenon essentially linked to bittul—it is only possible in consequence of the manifestation of Sovev Kol Almin, in the face of which everything is utterly batel and soul and body are entirely equivalent—it follows that one who has no bittul cannot experience this.[152]

***Bittul and Shabbos

          At this point—in light of all that has been said until now—we are finally in a position to understand the meaning of the concept that was mentioned at the beginning of this discourse: that there are actually two distinct levels within each Shabbos:

          As stated at the outset, there is something qualitatively different about the day of Shabbos, something that radically distinguishes it from the preceding six days of the week. On Shabbos, the entire universe—our material world and all the spiritual realms—is elevated to a higher spiritual level; all the worlds enter into a higher plane of existence. We now understand that this elevation does not refer to a higher location; it is not meant in a spatial sense at all. Rather, as with the so-called ascent of souls in the Future to Come, the elevation is a function of bittul: on Shabbos, all of creation is able to lose itself completely, to transcend the illusory appearance of independent existence, and be absorbed within the all-encompassing unity of G-d.

          The very word Shabbos signifies this. The Torah tells us,[153] “And He rested on the seventh day,” but this is difficult to understand: G-d does not get tired, so what is meant by saying that after the six days of creation, He rested? The answer lies in the Hebrew word used for “rested”: the verb vayishbos, “and He rested,” is derived from the noun shabbos. So, to rephrase the question, what is the meaning of the statement, “And He ‘shabbosed’ on the seventh day”? What, precisely, did happen?

          To understand this, we should note what has been explained elsewhere[154] to the effect that a person who focuses his or her attention on a certain task finds his or her faculties preoccupied with that task. The person may not, for example, concentrate on, or even hear, what someone else is saying because, for the moment, the first person’s mind and faculty of hearing are tied up. When the person completes the task, his or her faculties are freed up, causing a certain feeling of liberation and satisfaction. In a similar fashion, G-d concentrated or focused His Divine creative attributes during the six days of the week.[155] This is the inner meaning of the verse,[156] “In six days, G-d made [the heavens and the earth]”: on each day of creation, G-d called into play one of His six “emotional” attributes or Sefiros, known as His middos.[157] It required many tzimtzumim—contractions or concealments—for G-d’s attributes to be capable of expression within the created universe; during the six days of creation, G-d condensed or concentrated His Chochmah[158] and six middos to the point they could be expressed through the ten utterances[159] by which the heavens and the earth were created. On the seventh day, however, He rested, meaning not that G-d was tired, of course, but rather something akin to that just described: on the seventh day, Shabbos, all those Divine faculties invested within creation—comprising the entire life-force of the universe—were released from containment within creation, released from all those tzimtzumim, and rose back up to their source in G-d. This is why Shabbos is associated with Divine satisfaction[160] and why the universe is said to experience a collective elevation in spiritual stature on Shabbos.

          The above explains why, in the biblical         account of the six days of creation, the Divine name Elokim is used. The name Elokim signifies G-d as He restrains or conceals Himself through tzimtzum; as opposed to the name Havayah, which refers to G-d in all His unrestrained splendor. Thus, at the conclusion of the six days of creation, we are told[161] vayechal Elokim—“G-d [Elokim] finished.” The implication is that the tzimtzumim, concentration of G-d’s creative energies into creation, came to an end, and, like a person’s faculties when released from concentration, rose once again back to their source—G-d as Havayah, unrestrained and unconcealed, associated with Sovev Kol Almin.[162]

          That is why Shabbos is described[163] as “a Sabbath to G-d [Havayah].” Shabbos represents an elevation of the spiritual level of Memalei Kol Almin into that of Sovev Kol Almin,[164] and, consequently, the created worlds—which came into being through the tzimtzumim associated with Memalei—also rise: their status as entities that seem to exist independently of G-d is nullified and they are absorbed into His inconceivable “nothingness.” This is also hinted by the verse,[165] “I, Havayah, search the heart, probe the mind”:[166] Since I am Havayah—since I utterly transcend all, on the level of Sovev Kol Almin—heaven and earth, above and below, are all the same to Me; to Me, darkness is as light and nothing can be hidden; thus, although I am indeed G-d, exalted above all, I can nevertheless see into hearts and minds.

          That is also the meaning of,[167] “And the heavens and the earth were finished.” The Hebrew word vayechulu, “were finished,” connotes extinction or wasting away, as in the expression klos hanefesh, pining or longing to the point of wasting away from yearning. On Shabbos, the heavens and the earth were “finished,” their existence as independent entities, separate from G-d, was extinguished and they were elevated to a state of bittul to Him.

          All this results from the fact that on Shabbos, the transcendent spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin is revealed, rendering all of creation batel—as naught, similar to what was said earlier regarding the reward of a mitzvah being the mitzvah itself.

          The reason seemingly incongruous terms like “ascent” and “elevation” are applied to this phenomenon, despite the fact that G-d is everywhere, lies in the fact that there are two types of revelation of G-dliness. The first is exemplified by the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, about which it is written,[168] “and G-d descended [onto the mountain].” G-d is, indeed, everywhere, so this obviously cannot mean that G-d went from one place to another, such as from heaven “down” onto the mountain. Instead, the verse is to be understood as describing the manner of G-d’s revelation. This physical world does appear, at least, to exist in its own right, and one cannot openly perceive G-d here. That is not the case in the spiritual realms, where G-dliness is more evident. Thus, this world is considered inferior in that respect; it is “lower” not spatially, but in spiritual quality. The verse “and G-d descended” means that, at the giving of the Torah, the world remained as it was in that sense: it did not dissolve into spirituality; it still appeared to exist and to be governed by a natural order. Nevertheless—miraculously—G-d, Who can do anything, “descended” into this physical world; He revealed Himself here anyway. By contrast, the second type of G-dly revelation is that foretold by the verse, speaking of Messianic times,[169] “They will see eye to eye.” This refers to the opposite situation: the spiritual stature of this physical world will be raised up and made equal to that of the (formerly) higher realms, so that it will be natural for even the physical to perceive G-dliness. That is the condition alluded to by the prophecy,[170] “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d”: the physical earth itself will perceive G-d. (One can use the analogy of two people, one in a high place and the other in a low place. There are two ways for them to come together: the higher can  come down to the lower or the lower can come up to the higher.[171])

          These two paradigms of G-dly revelation are alluded to by the requirement that, when reciting certain blessings within the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, one must “bow at [the word] ‘Blessed’ and straighten at [G-d’s] name.”[172] Bowing—in which one goes from higher to lower—represents (and brings about) the flow of G-dliness from above downward, while straightening up is elevation.

          In conclusion, the expression, “a Sabbath to G-d [Havayah],” which we said in the text signifies an elevation of the spiritual level of Memalei Kol Almin into that of Sovev Kol Almin, means “elevation” in the second sense—that of “straightening at G-d’s name.” Certainly, nothing actually travels anywhere; rather, the very quality of Memalei is improved—raised—to the level of Sovev.

          Now, it was stated earlier[173] that there are two degrees of bittul. The first is negation of “something” to “nothing,” that is, where there is still something, but it recognizes that its existence is illusory and defers completely to its source—which, however, it cannot really grasp. We said, though, that this figurative bittul is but a prelude and a prerequisite to the revelation of true bittul, which occurs when the source—the actual “nothingness” itself from which all “something” derives—is openly manifest. This is none other than the Light of the blessed Infinite One as it is on the plane of Sovev Kol Almin, which is utterly inconceivable and therefore termed “nothing.” When this exalted level is revealed, the former “something” literally loses its independent existence and is subsumed within its source. This is true bittul.

          Again, the elevation that occurs on Shabbos is a function of bittul—and each of the two degrees of bittul just described can be found within Shabbos. That is what is hinted in the teaching[174] about observing two Sabbaths properly, meaning that even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—“lower-order Shabbos” (Shabbos tataah) and “higher-order Shabbos” (Shabbos ilaah). Each of these is so called based upon its degree of bittul.

***Lower-Order Shabbos (Shabbos Tataah)

          The concept of Shabbos tataah will be understood through a discussion of the mitzvah of Shevi’is—produce of the Sabbatical year, when land within the Land of Israel must lie fallow.[175] The Sabbatical year (Shemitah) is also a form of Shabbos (as, indeed, we are commanded,[176] “The land shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d”): after every six years of working the land, all agricultural activity[177] must cease for the duration of the seventh. Among the details of this is that any crops that grow of their own accord during the seventh year—even if they are on otherwise private land—are legally ownerless and are available to anyone who wishes to take them.[178] But a person cannot simply take a large supply and store it up for the rest of the year; one may only store Shevi’is fruits at home so long as they remain available also in the field, for foraging animals. Once a particular species of produce is no longer available to animals in the field, anyone who has been storing that species at home must get rid of it as well.[179]

          During the six years preceding Shemitah, a person works the land for his or her own benefit—this highlights one’s status as a yesh, a “something” in one’s own right. Once the Sabbatical year arrives, however, one is nullified, rendered ayin: a nonentity, someone with no more legal right to the property than wild animals in the field. Indeed, if he or she still has any Shevi’is-produce at home that is no longer available in the wild, he or she must literally purge such produce from the house. All this constitutes bittul: one is actually nullifying oneself as an independent entity.

          The fact that one’s status becomes equal to that of animals is also significant. The distinction between humans and animals—in fact, the four-level hierarchy of mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms generally—is a function of G-d’s immanent aspect within creation, Memalei Kol Almin, by which He infuses each individual thing with just the amount of G-dly life force to make it what it is. The Sabbatical year, however—like Shabbos itself—represents the manifestation of G-d’s transcendent aspect, Sovev Kol Almin, relative to which humans and animals are no different after all; it’s all the same to G-d. This is hinted at by the verse,[180] “O G-d, You save man and beast.” The Divine name Havayah, which we earlier identified with Sovev Kol Almin, is used here; the implication being that on the level of HavayahSovev—there is no distinction between man and beast.[181] When this level is revealed during the Shemitah year, the land and all within it are nullified and elevated into their source.

*** Higher-Order Shabbos (Shabbos Ilaah)

          All this, however, is a lower order of Shabbos, Shabbos tataah; it represents deference of something to nothing, but the something does not actually cease to exist. It may feel thoroughly deferential to its source, but, for all that, it’s still there. Higher-order Shabbos, Shabbos ilaah, refers to something more, something we have never yet fully experienced in this world and never will until the Future to Come: it is the actual, open manifestation of the spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin, in the face of which everything will literally be subsumed within G-d and cease to independently exist.[182] On Shabbos, which is termed[183] “a semblance of the World to Come,” a glimmer of even this sublime level shines forth.

          These two levels—Shabbos tataah and Shabbos ilaah—are hinted at, respectively, by the two verses,[184] “He rested on the seventh day from all the labor that He had performed” and “for on it, He rested from all His labor that [He] had created.” To appreciate why, a bit of background information is necessary:

          As explained elsewhere and also mentioned in passing above,[185] there are four broad degrees of G-dly manifestation within the spiritual hierarchy of creation. These are known as the Four Worlds or Realms of Atzilus (“Emanation”), Beriah (“Creation”), Yetzirah (“Formation”), and Asiyah (“Action” or “Performance”). Within the spiritual Realm of Atzilus, G-d is so openly manifest that nothing can be said to exist independently of Him; all is clearly seen to be nothing but an attribute of G-d. Technically, within the Realm of Atzilus itself, the Or Ein Sof is manifest within the highest attribute, or Sefirah, of that realm, namely, Chochmah. All the Sefiros combine with one another,[186] and it is by virtue of Chochmah’s presence within all other Sefiros of Atzilus that the Or Ein Sof is manifest throughout that realm, rendering everything within Atzilus batel to G-d. By contrast, in the Realms below Atzilus—that is, in Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, collectively referred to by the abbreviation b’ya—things do appear to exist independently of G-d (as though such a thing were possible).

          At each stage within the spiritual hierarchy—all the way up to Chochmah of Atzilus—it is possible to attain an awareness of an immediate source (that is, the next higher spiritual level) and thereby become batel to that antecedent level, to lose all independent existence and become absorbed into the source. This is, in fact, a goal of our worship: to constantly rise from one level to the next, always aware that no matter how high our present level, it is, in effect, as nothing relative to the next step in our spiritual odyssey. Between each stage and the next on this “journey” is a state of repose, where we consolidate our gains and integrate them into ourselves until we are ready to move higher. This whole process reflects the spiritual dynamic of ratzo vashov, “running forth and returning,” that is integral to creation.[187]

          The constant striving and progression of ratzo vashov is hinted at by the juxtaposition of the end of Genesis 1:31 (“and the L-rd saw that it was very good”) and the beginning of the following verse, Genesis 2:1 (“The heavens and the earth were finished”). As explained earlier in the main text, the word “finished” implies bittul, pining away from longing for G-d. Thus, these two verses can be read together as follows: “The L-rd saw that it was very good that the heavens and the earth had been created in such a way that it was possible to achieve ongoing bittul, progression ever higher toward union with G-d.”

          Thus, throughout the Realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the goal is to ascend into the union with G-d that prevails in the Realm of Atzilus. Since b’ya are all the same in this respect—they all possess the illusion of independent existence—they are all included in the term describing the lowest world, Asiyah—the Realm of Performance. This, then, is the allusion of the verse, “He rested on the seventh day from all the labor that He had performed”: on Shabbos, all the lower realms, b’ya, rise up out of the category of “performance,” asiyah, and are absorbed into the G-dliness manifest within Atzilus.[188] The same applies with respect to Shevi’is and with respect to mitzvos generally, as discussed above—they all represent bittul of something to nothing. This is Shabbos tataah.

          However, Atzilus is not the apex of G-dly revelation. Within Atzilus, the Or Ein Sof is manifest within the Sefirah of Chochmah, but in fact, as stated much earlier,[189] even Chochmah of Atzilus is considered but a creation (beriah) out of nothingness relative to G-d. Put another way, there is an inconceivable difference between the Or Ein Sof as it is contracted and compressed within Chochmah of Atzilus and the Or Ein Sof in its natural state, as it were—the all-encompassing light of G-d that is Sovev Kol Almin itself. Relative to the latter level, even Chochmah of Atzilus is considered just another creation—and that is the allusion of “for on it, He rested from all His labor that [He] had created.” The concept of shabbos—rest—from even Chochmah of Atzilus and absorption into the transcendent Nothingness from which it sprang; the reward for the bittul associated with Shabbos tataah; the open revelation of Sovev Kol Almin that will take place in the Future to Come, relative to which there will be no difference between physical and spiritual, body and soul—this is Shabbos ilaah.[190]

***Shabbos Ilaah and Kesser

          Earlier,[191] the verse, “From where shall wisdom be found?” was interpreted to mean that the Sefirah of Chochmah (“wisdom”) is itself derived from the lofty spiritual level known as ayin (“where,” or “nothingness”)—which concept was touched upon again in the previous paragraph. It is important to remember that this transcendent Nothingness from which Chochmah sprang is itself merely the name of G-d, not G-d Himself, as was explained at length in connection with the liturgical expression, “Creator of Holy Ones, praised be Your name.”

          By the grammatical principle of gematria,[192] the word shmo—“His name”—is numerically equivalent to the word ratzon—“will.” The significance of this is that although Chochmah is considered the highest Sefirah—corresponding to the fact that it is the highest human faculty—there is a spiritual level that transcends even intellect, even Chochmah. This is the faculty of will, as illustrated by the fact that sometimes, a person just wants what he or she wants, regardless of reason. A person’s intellect might clearly understand a thing to be inappropriate for one reason or another, but the person just doesn’t care: will trumps, or transcends, intellect. Because of this, the faculty of will is analogized to a crown—kesser in Hebrew—since a crown, too, sits atop one’s head, encompassing it from above. And, just as a crown is not a part of the person proper, kesser is not reckoned among the Sefiros[193] but is viewed as transcending them. It is, in fact, the intermediate stage between G-d Himself and creation. This is exactly what was said in this discourse about the name of G-d, which is why “His name” is identified with the transcendent level of “will” or Kesser—which we now see to be the same idea as Sovev Kol Almin.

          G-d Himself, though, is—of course—not meant by the term “will.” He is the very One Whose will it is (Baal haratzon), not the will; the Luminary (Maor), not the light. He is utterly transcendent of everything, and certainly cannot be described (as is Kesser) as the source of Chochmah.

          Subject to that, then, we can say that on Shabbos, all the Worlds rise to the sublime level at which their own source—Chochmah—is in turn absorbed into its source, that is, the level of Sovev Kol Almin. This is an aspect of Shabbos ilaah.

          And this—Kesser—is associated with the quality of silence, as it is written,[194] “Bear with me a bit” (katar li z’eir), meaning, “remain silent while I finish what I have to say.” This is the inner meaning of the saying,[195] “A fence around wisdom is silence”: Kesser (silence; bittul) encircles and surrounds wisdom (Chochmah). And the association of silence with Kesser and Sovev Kol Almin—to which sublime level the universe is elevated on Shabbos—adds rich insight into a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud:[196] “It is written,[197]…‘A Sabbath unto G-d [your L-rd.’ This can be interpreted as though it read,] ‘Observe Sabbath as G-d [does]’: just as [He] rested from speaking [that is, from the ten utterances by which He had created the universe], so should you refrain from speaking….Rabbi Chanina stated, ‘[It was only with] difficulty that [the Sages] permitted [even] greetings[198] on Shabbos.’” Why, one might well wonder, would the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud suggest such an unusual practice, to the point that it was only with difficulty that they permitted speaking on Shabbos? However, as we now realize, it was entirely appropriate to consider such a thing, since the very nature of Shabbos is bound up with the concept of silence.[199]

***“My Sabbaths”: Both Levels of Shabbos Belong to G-d

          We now understand much more clearly what was stated at the outset: that the wording of the verse “Observe My Sabbaths” implies two Shabboses; even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—Shabbos tataah and Shabbos ilaah. Regarding both of these, one must bear in mind a crucial point:

          In striving to better oneself spiritually, in working to rise ever higher in the service of G-d, one is prone to think of oneself, when successful, as having accomplished something. One may look back at one’s spiritual progress and be proud of one’s achievement. However, it is taught[200] that even though we have been given free choice of our own—meaning that, if we do choose good over evil, we ourselves are responsible for that—nevertheless, if not for Divine assistance in the struggle, a person would not be able to stand up to temptation. Thus, one should always be grateful for G-d’s assistance in his or her efforts at worship; one should always be mindful that, no matter how high one has risen spiritually, if not for G-d’s help, he or she would not be there.

          With respect to Shabbos ilaah, it is relatively easy to remember this, since, after all, Shabbos ilaah is a manifestation of G-dliness granted from above—one cannot “achieve” it on one’s own. By the wording, “Observe My Sabbaths,” the verse reminds us that both degrees of Shabbos—even Shabbos tataah, which represents a person’s own deference to G-d—are really His. The Shabbos, or bittul, one achieves even on that level is really not one’s own, The danger of viewing even bittul as—paradoxically—one’s own achievement and something to be proud of is hinted in the verse,[201] “his concubine, whose name was Reumah.” The Baal Shem Tov taught[202] that the name Reumah can be read as the two words, reu (the plural command, “Look!”) and mah (lit. “what,” implying nonexistence or bittul; a degree of nothingness that can only be described as “what [is it?]”). In that sense, the phrase would mean, “Look! I am nothing! I have achieved bittul!” but a gift from G-d—and that is exactly how Shabbos is characterized by our Sages:[203] as a Divine gift.

***Tishmoru: A Gift Must Be Preserved

          Unlike something one obtains on one’s own, a gift cannot be easily replaced. Even if the recipient locates and buys another just like it, the replacement is simply not the same; it is not what was actually given. Therefore, when someone receives a fine gift, he or she takes pains to preserve it. The same applies to the gift of Shabbos and the spiritual levels it represents. To safeguard the spirituality inherent within even Shabbos tataah, we must avoid things antithetical to such Divine revelation. Even things we all struggle with—transgressions or imperfections like deceit and pride (which are so common they are described as constantly trampled underfoot[204])—are enough to impede the revelation of G-dliness to a person, as it is written,[205] “One who tells lies shall not be fit [to dwell][206] before My eyes,” and as it is taught (with respect to a proud person),[207] “I [G-d] and he cannot dwell in the same world.” This is all alluded to by the Hebrew word for “observe [My Sabbaths],” tishmoru, which connotes “safeguard,” “preserve.”

***“And Revere My Sanctuary”

          In sum, we have said in this discourse that Shabbos represents the elevation of Memalei Kol Almin—the Divine life force invested within the created universe—into the superior level of Sovev Kol Almin. Furthermore, we learned that the degrees of elevation associated with the two levels of Shabbos are gifts from G-d which should be safeguarded and preserved, as hinted by the wording “Observe My Sabbaths.” By contrast, the verse continues, “and revere My Sanctuary, I am G-d.”

          Usually, when we speak of the Sanctuary, we mean the Holy Temple, wherein G-d’s Presence resided within the world. This, however, was built by King Solomon and can thus be called the work of man. What, then, is meant by G-d’s Sanctuary, as it is called in our verse? The answer is: the Torah, as it is taught,[208] “The Holy One, may He be blessed, has no [dwelling place] in His world but the four cubits of Halachah [Torah law].”

          Just as the Holy Temple represented the drawing down of the Divine Presence to dwell—miraculously—within this physical world, so is the Torah the drawing down of G-dliness to the point it actually resides within us: we can know it, we can understand it, we can live by and embody it. The Torah is therefore associated with Memalei Kol Almin, that aspect of G-dly revelation that invests itself within each created thing according to its nature; each student according to his or her level of understanding.

          Now, as we know so well by this point, Shabbos is associated with the transcendent level of Sovev Kol Almin. Therefore, after telling us to preserve the Shabbos, the verse goes on to make sure we do not fall into a serious error. Since Shabbos is Sovev Kol Almin and Torah is Memalei Kol Almin, it is possible to wrongly suppose that the holiness transmitted to us through Torah is, in some way, inferior. One might even generalize and think that Torah study is not as worthy a use of one’s time as performance of mitzvos; that one should minimize one’s study and, instead, go about looking for mitzvah opportunities.[209] To negate this conclusion, the verse states “Revere My Sanctuary [the Torah, since] I am G-d.”

          The Divine name for “G-d” in this phrase is the Tetragrammaton, Havayah. Although, in the context of a verse quoted earlier in the discourse, this name was associated with Sovev Kol Almin,[210] in other contexts it is commonly linked to Memalei.[211] It is also significant that the verse says, “I [Ani] am G-d.” The point was made at length earlier that the name of G-d (even the Tetragrammaton, which is the holiest of the Divine names) is utterly insignificant relative to G-d Himself. Unlike any name, however, the word “I” signifies a level of identity so fundamental that it cannot be expressed as a name. And, unlike a name—which is only useful for others but unnecessary when one is alone—the word “I” is exactly the opposite: it can only be used by its referent; no one else can refer to another as “I.” Thus, the word Ani, “I,” represents G-d’s very Self, so to speak, higher than any name.

          In this light, the verse tells us, “Revere My Sanctuary [the Torah, since] I am Havayah.” Do you think that Havayah, the G-dliness expressed through the Torah, the G-dliness invested within every detail of the physical world—the G-dliness that is Memalei Kol Almin—is somehow less than G-dly? Do you think that you need not revere G-d as He fills all realms just the same as G-d as He transcends all realms? Just Whom do you think it is that is dwelling within you as Havayah? It is “I”: I am Havayah! It is none other than I—My very Self, higher than any name—Who nevertheless condescends to relate to you on your level; there is no difference in Me! Thus, revere my Sanctuary—revere the Torah and the spirituality of Memalei—indeed, since it is I.

          This profound and awesome concept is consistent with the expression,[212] Oraysa meiChochmah nafkas, “Torah comes from wisdom.” This seems to imply that the spiritual source of the Torah is G-d’s “Wisdom,” the Sefirah of Chochmah—a mere attribute of G-d (albeit the loftiest), not G-d’s very Self. Yet the word nafkas, “comes forth,” is used precisely: Chochmah is not the ultimate source of the Torah (which, as we have said in the main text, is actually much higher than Chochmah), but rather the stage from which the inconceivably lofty spirituality of Torah was able to emerge, to come forth, in revealed form, comprehensible and accessible to us. The Torah itself, though, is, after all, the explanation of the mitzvos, which are G-d’s Will—which transcends reason, transcends Chochmah. Indeed, the 613 mitzvos explicit in the Torah, plus the seven mitzvos enacted by the Rabbis,[213] equal 620—which, by gematria, is numerically equivalent to Kesser, the spiritual level associated with G-d’s Will and Sovev Kol Almin.[214]

          Finally, the reason the word tira’u, “revere,” is used with reference to the spirituality of the Torah—“My Sanctuary”—is that this level of spirituality does not remain in the transcendent abstract, but rather reaches down, openly manifest, and penetrates, sinks in, within one’s innermost self. This brings one to a state of awed reverence in the face of that revelation.

© 2014 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!

[1] Leviticus 26:2; see also ibid. 19:30.

[2] Shabbos 118b.

[3] Zohar 1:5b.

[4] See italicized material in Words of the Living G-d 1:29–30 and 43–44.

[5] Taanis 1:1 (end).

[6] See note 160 below and accompanying text.

[7] See Words of the Living G-d 1:43 n.30.

[8] See Zohar 3:247b; 2:260b.

[9] Cf. Numbers 28:6 and 28:10.

[10] See note 8.

[11] Isaiah 6:3.

[12] Deuteronomy 4:39.

[13] In Hebrew, the Divine names Havayah and Elokim are used: “Havayah is Elokim.”

[14] Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 57; ibid. Tikkun 70 (Zhitomir ed., 122b).

[15] This concept, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, 1698–1760, founder of Chassidism), is a common theme in chassidic thought. It is frequently expressed by the phrase “descent for the purpose of ascent” (yeridah letzorech aliyah), borrowed from an unrelated context in the Talmud (see Makkos 7b).

[16] Psalms 33:6.

[17] See Bereishis Rabbah 1:4. See also, e.g., Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar, 6a; Zohar 3:306b (supplements, tosafos). For further explanation of this concept, see, e.g., Likkutei Torah, Tzav, beg. 16c; Bechukosai, beg. 47a; Shir HaShirim, 17d, 19a.

[18] Note that in discussing the source of speech, the original discourse uses the expression klalus nefesh hamedaberes, here loosely rendered as “the total soul [nefesh], which is expressing itself through that speech.” Furthermore, the maamar expressly states that the created universe—which is derived from G-d’s “speech”—is as nothing next to G-d Himself. Here, in describing the source of thought, the language of the original is nafsho venishmaso, “his nefesh and his neshamah” [terms denoting two levels of the soul; nefesh was mentioned earlier in connection with speech, and neshamah is a superior level to nefesh]. The maamar says that thought is as naught before G-d, but does not mention, as it does with respect to creation generally, that the Jewish soul—derived from G-d’s “thought”—is as naught next to G-d.

[19] See Ecclesiastes 3:7.

[20] Note the aptness of this metaphor: expressing one’s thoughts to the outside—telling them to another person—requires the “outer garment,” speech.

[21] Again, the metaphor is apt: thought, the “inner garment,” is experienced within—in one’s own mind—expressing the soul to oneself.

[22] Zohar 2:56a, 3:4a.

[23] Bereishis Rabbah 21:5; beg. of Eitz Chaim.

[24] 3:7.

[25] See Rosh HaShanah 31a.

[26] Bereishis Rabbah, Noach, 34:11.

[27] Genesis 8:22.

[28] Bereishis Rabbah 8:6.

[29] I Chronicles 4:23.

[30] See Words of the Living G-d 1:207–9.

[31] If one were to count the letters in a Torah scroll, one would actually find 304,805—considerably fewer than 600,000. The discrepancy is only apparent, however: the “missing” letters are those that fall into the grammatical category of osiyos hemshech, letters implicit within a prior vowel. For example, the Hebrew vowel sign (nekudah) of kamatz includes an implicit, unwritten letter alef; likewise, the vowel sign chirik implies an unwritten letter yud. This principle is applicable to the letters alef, hei, vav, and yud, which are then considered present in thought if not in writing. (See Rashi’s comment to Kesubos 69b, s.v. yenucham kesiv.) It is the total of both explicit and implicit letters in a Torah scroll that adds up to 600,000, although there is room for uncertainty as to which specific letters are implicit.

[32] See preceding note.

[33] In the blessing of “yotzer,” the first of two introductory blessings to the Shema.

[34] I.e., exalted over the time of creation, as we have explained in the text: that creation comes from G-d’s word, but the soul, for which we are about to beseech mercy, derives from a level transcending even the six days of creation.

[35] See note 33 above.

[36] In the Kedushah portion of the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the G-d of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory’…‘Blessed is the glory of G-d from its place’…‘G-d shall reign forever; your L-rd, O Zion, throughout all generations.’” See, respectively, Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 3:12, and Psalms 146:10. (Note, though, that “holy ones praise You, etc.” is also recited in the silent Shemoneh Esreh, in which there is no Kedushah portion.)

[37] See Daniel 10:6, “His body was like tarshish [a type of semiprecious stone; see Exodus 28:20].” Likewise, it is written (Psalms 104:4), “He makes the winds His emissaries [or “His angels”]; the blazing fire His attendants.”

[38] Chagigah 13b.

[39] Bereishis Rabbah 68:12.

[40] See Shaar HaYichud VeHa’emunah, chap. 7 (p. 82a); see also note 44 below.

[41] Chullin 91b; Bereishis Rabbah 78:1.

[42] The Hebrew word used here for “forever,” selah, implies “without end.” See Eruvin 54a.

[43] Psalms 84:8.

[44] Cf. the discourse, Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis (Likkutei Torah, Berachah, 98a).

[45] Berachos 17a.

[46] As alluded to by the verse quoted in the italicized material above, “They will go from strength to strength.” (See note 44.)

[47] Although Torah literature generally speaks of only two levels—“higher-order heaven” (gan eden haelyon) and “lower-order heaven” (gan eden hatachton)—those are merely the categories revealed to us. In fact, however, there are countless individual levels, as mentioned frequently in mystical teachings.

[48] See note 42 above.

[49] See note 45 above.

[50] See Or HaTorah, Yisro, 834; Sefer HaMaamarim 5702, 75.

[51] E.g., Eitz Chaim. Note that Or Ein Sof, depending upon the context, can also be understood to imply “[G-d’s] Infinite Light”—i.e., the light Itself, like its Source, is infinite. See page *** below[it’s bet. nn. 112–113***]; see also Yosef Ives, Seder Hishtalshelus: Mavo LeSoras Hishtalshelus HaOlamos VeHasefiros Al Pi Mishnas Chassidus Chabad, 2nd ed. (New York: Heichal Menachem, 2010), 39, 367–68, and references cited there.

[52] These two possibilities are mentioned in the original. Note that the first is a so-called natural event that applies broadly to the world at large (or at least, to the region under the clouds), while the second is the result of a person’s actions and affects only that person (and anyone else in the house). This distinction also seems to mirror the wording used by the Alter Rebbe just above, “the light of the sun as it shines upon the earth and its inhabitants” (or hashemesh hameir laaretz veladarim). However, a deliberate act of drawing the curtains is not explicit in the maamar. The actual wording of the original is “or if it [the light] is blocked by the windows of the house” (oh sheyastiro chalonei habayis). It is therefore possible that all that is intended is a distinction between a blockage affecting many and one affecting few—without regard to whether a person has brought the blockage upon him- or herself.

[53] On this subject generally, see chapter 2, note 22.

[54] Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, chap. 3. See also references cited in Maamarei Admur HaZakein—Parshios, 572.

[55] This statement highlights an important point implicit in these metaphors: that the so-called emanation from G-d which we are calling His light or His name is not an emanation in the sense that it is directed at the created worlds; rather, it is a property, so to speak, of G-d, independent of anything else. (See n. 106.) This is a subtle concept and, in any case, any description or illustration will necessarily be inexact when applied to G-d. Nevertheless, perhaps some idea of what is meant can be had through the following two analogies:

   Many psychologists believe that human personality comprises five broad, fundamental domains. These may, to be sure, be either intensified or mitigated by life experience, but they are, at root, inherent characteristics of the person; they are the raw materials that life experience has to work with. For example, a person is either introverted or extroverted; this is a basic personality trait that can be observed even in newborns. Later experience may tend to make the person either more or less so, but the basic trait is always there as a natural characteristic of that person. Now—so the theory goes—each of the so-called “big five” personality dimensions includes several more-specific traits, such as warmth and positive emotions (facets within the broad domain of extroversion) and trust and altruism (facets of agreeableness). A person scoring high on the agreeableness dimension would tend to be more trusting, altruistic, etc.; a low score on agreeableness would mean the person has a less trusting or altruistic “nature.” Let us consider the example of a naturally benevolent person, someone for whom that trait is an inherent part of who he or she “is.” By definition, benevolence implies that one will act benevolently toward others, but the fact that the trait is present in the person’s essential character makeup means that he or she “is benevolent,” or “has the tendency toward benevolence,” in his or her own right—even if there were no one else in the world. If Adam, the first man, were benevolent by disposition, one would be conceptually justified in saying—even before anyone else existed—that the possibility of others was implied by that aspect of Adam’s own personality.

   For a more concrete example, let us take what scientists consider one of the four basic forces of the universe—gravity. In the abstract, when we speak of gravity, we are not considering what it attracts, we are not talking about gravitational force being actually exerted on another body, but are referring to the concept or the phenomenon of gravity per se. Gravity is gravity, in and of itself; it is a thing, a phenomenon, that exists and that can be described. Scientists do not clearly understand how gravity works, but, at least philosophically, the following statement seems true: by the laws of physics, an object with greater mass will have more gravity as a basic property of the object itself—independent of whether or not there exists anything on which to exert gravitational force. Yet, although gravity—whatever it is—may be said to exist in its own right, it is certainly inherent within the concept of gravity that it has the potential to attract, that is, to actually exert gravitational force. Theoretically, if we were to imagine an object with mass, an object having gravity, as the only thing in the world, we would still be able to conceptualize its potential to attract, because that is a property of gravity itself, whether or not there happens to exist anything else.

   When we speak of the Or Ein Sof or G-d’s name, then, we are, to be sure, not speaking of G-d Himself—in terms of His simple, undifferentiated Essence—but we are nevertheless referring to an aspect, as it were, of G-d, inseparable from G-d Himself and independent of anything else. This is what the Midrash means by the statement, “Before the world was [even] created, there was only the Holy One, may He be blessed, and His Great Name,” as will be elaborated in the text.

   (Before leaving this subject, a crucial caveat is in order, in keeping with what was mentioned at the beginning of this note that any description or illustration will necessarily be inexact when applied to G-d. This footnote has attempted to introduce a single idea only, which will be discussed further in the main text beginning with the section accompanying n. 106. Its purpose was not to deal in depth with the precise relationship between G-d and His light (or name)—in what sense and in what context the light is described as one with G-d, an inseparable “aspect” of Him, and in what sense and context it is distinguished. To avoid confusion, we must therefore reaffirm here that ultimately, G-d Himself is utterly One and undifferentiated in the simplest sense of the term. Unlike the examples given above (personality traits or the phenomenon of gravity)—which were characterized as inherent properties of the person or object—G-d cannot really be said to have “properties” at all, even the property of being the Creator or the source of “light.” Unlike a benevolent person, whose character trait could be expected to be actualized should another individual enter into the picture, and unlike an object with mass, which could be expected to exert gravitational force should another object appear, G-d is not compelled to illuminate despite His being the source of light. G-d is equally able to illuminate or to not illuminate, and it’s all the same to Him. For a more in-depth treatment of this profound topic, see the discourse Ki Imcha Mekor Chaim of the year 5666 (published in the collection of related discourses by the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch, 1860–1920) formally titled Yom Tov shel Rosh HaShanah—5666 and informally known as the “Series of 5666,” 179–87); for a concise summary, see Michoel C. Golomb, Kitzur Seder Hishtalshelus BeChisvei Chassidus Chabad (New York: privately printed, 2009), chap. 2 (esp., regarding the statement, “Before the world was created, etc.,” p. 25 n. 13).)

[56] Shaar HaYichud VeHa’emunah, end of chap. 1; for a summary, see Words of the Living G-d 1:176 n. 13.

[57] See the discourse on the verse Mi Manah in Likkutei Torah, Balak, 67c, discussing the verse (Genesis 2:20), “and Adam did not find a compatible helper” (based on the Ramban ad loc.); see also Likkutei Sichos 21:174 n. 12.

[58] As mentioned in Tanya, chap. 51.

[59] See Likkutei Torah, Behar, 43b–c.

[60] Shaar Iggulim VeYosher, anaf 2.

[61] Gloss at the beginning of the work Otzros Chaim.

[62] See chapter 2, note 22, from which the foregoing several sentences are quoted.

[63] See further in this italicized section, esp. n. 66.

[64] The example actually used by the Alter Rebbe in the maamar is that of the Talmudic commentary Tosafos. One of the twelfth-century authors of Tosafos, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shmuel (the elder), is often referred to by his initials, RI (pronounced “Ree”). The Alter Rebbe points out that an idea of the RI—which is pure intellect—is expressed in ink on parchment, physical substances that have no connection whatsoever to the RI’s idea. Yet a qualified student, someone with intelligence and the motivation to understand, can derive from these physical letters the very idea that was in the mind of the RI. Without those qualities, the student will not get the idea—will not understand the RI—no matter how familiar the letters are in and of themselves, because the letters are not identical with the idea and bear no essential connection thereto.

[65] See page ***.

[66] More technically, there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Each of these can combine with each of the 21 others in two ways: the letter in question followed by the letter it is combining with, or in the reverse order. This equals 231 letter pairs—“portals,” in Kabbalistic terminology—that can be read forward and backward.

[67] Psalms 148:13.

[68] The word hodo is the third-person singular masculine possessive form of the noun hod, and can properly be translated either as “his radiance” or “its radiance.” It is usually translated “His radiance,” referring to that of G-d, but is rendered here as “its radiance,” referring to that of G-d’s name, consistent with the interpretation to follow in the text.

[69] See note *** above and accompanying text.

[70] Berachos 7b.

[71] Psalms 46:9.

[72] See Tanya, part 4, sec. beg. Ihu VeChayohi, regarding the kav, or “beam” of G-dliness (see note 53 above), and the radiance of that kav, the radiance of its radiance, the radiance of the radiance of the radiance, etc.

[73] The reference is to the classic work Pardes Rimonim by the great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (known as the Ramak, 1522–1570), Shaar HaSheimos, chap. 1.

[74] The Pardes (see previous footnote) explains this based on the intent (kavanah) through which holiness is drawn down (e.g., by the scribe writing the Divine name) from the source spiritual level and invested within the letters, which serve as a vessel or container for that holiness. Depending on the quality of the intent, the identical letters will contain more or less holiness.

[75] Analogous to the concept discussed in the previous footnote, the Pardes explains this to be a function of the father’s kavanah when drawing down his child’s soul during conception.

[76] The root of the Divine name Havayah is the word meaning, “to be,” or “existence.”

[77] In the original, the Alter Rebbe intimates that it is a great wonder that the inconceivably exalted level of G-dliness referred to by the name Havayah should create and perpetuate the universe at all, as though the verse had read, “Come and behold the wonders of Havayah.” This may be a play on words, based on the fact that, although spelled differently and from different roots, the Hebrew word used in the verse, mifalos, “works” of G-d, and the word pelaos, “wonders,” sound alike.

[78] It is worth noting that in the homiletic exposition just presented, the words shamos (“desolations”) and sheimos (“names”) both signify the same thing conceptually—that relative to G-d Himself, the names by which the various levels of creation come into being are themselves nothing but desolation and emptiness. Cursory consideration of this (or another) Talmudic teaching may lead to the mistaken impression that it is merely a clever play on words, but the sages of the Talmud were much deeper than that. Here, the words of Rabbi Elazar (the author of this particular teaching) implicitly express all the profound concepts we have examined in the text—notwithstanding that, in fact, his statement in the Talmud was made in a context that, on the surface, appears unrelated. Another example of the profundity underlying such Rabbinic statements is the discussion (chap. 7, n. 19) of the teaching that the mitzvah to honor the elderly (zakein) refers to one who has acquired (zeh shekanah) wisdom. See also note 199 below.

[79] See note 33 above.

[80] See, e.g., the adaptations of the discourses LeVa’er Inyan HaMasaos BaMidbar (Words of the Living G-d 4:10, toward the beginning), and LeHavin Ma SheKasuv BaHaggadah, “Matzah Zo SheAnu Ochlim” (ibid., vol. 6 (holidays), also toward the beginning). For the reader’s convenience, the relevant portion of the latter source is quoted here:

On one level, G-d makes Himself known to us through a progressive order of revelation, analogous to cause and effect. That is to say, the spiritual source of a given created entity may be discerned within or inferred from the characteristics of that entity, as a cause may be inferred from its effect. In a chain of causes and effects, each effect is itself a cause with respect to the succeeding link in the chain: A causes B, which in turn causes C, etc. In theory, even the final link in such a chain contains an element of the initial link, since Z, the final effect, contains an element of its immediate cause Y, which in turn contains an element of its own immediate cause X (which element of X is therefore also implicit within the end result Z), and so on back to the initial cause A. To use a more concrete example, one’s intellect may possess knowledge that a certain thing is desirable. A person knowledgeable in painting and art, for instance, may know that certain factors are characteristic of great works of art and that a given painting possesses those features. This objective knowledge may motivate one’s emotions to desire the painting in question. And the emotional feeling of desire for that painting may be expressed in the person’s conscious thought about the painting and how to realize his or her desire to acquire it. There is a fixed order to this progression: one’s abstract knowledge of art would not directly give rise to thoughts of acquiring a particular painting, even if one is studying about that very painting. A necessary intervening step would be for the knowledge to first bring about a desire for that painting. Only then would it be worthwhile to entertain such thoughts as what would be the best manner of approaching the museum directors with a bid, how to raise the funds, etc. Thus, those thoughts reflect an underlying desire for the painting, which is in turn evidence of sufficient knowledge to know that it is desirable. This “cause and effect” manner of progression may be termed “something from something,” yesh miyesh. As it relates to G-dly revelation, it refers to the fact that G-d manifests Himself on a very sublime spiritual level, which in turn is reflected in a relatively lower level, and so on, progressively downward until the spirituality finds expression even in physical creations.

   The other mode of G-dly manifestation transcends the entire fixed order of spiritual progression (known as Seder Hishtalshelus), and may be characterized as “something from nothing,” or yesh me’ayin. Instead of the effect resulting from some preexisting cause, which in turn was the result of a prior existing cause, etc. (even if the ultimate first cause is G-d), yesh me’ayin is a direct manifestation of that incomprehensible level of G-d as He transcends the Seder Hishtalshelus, progressive manifestation. Thus, what is manifest in the end is not a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, etc., of G-d, but actually G-d Himself, directly revealed.

[81] It will be elaborated below that in another sense, G-d is present equally throughout all stages, so to speak, of creation; that on the highest levels on the spiritual hierarchy, or Seder Hishtalshelus, and on the lowest, G-d is present in equal measure.

[82] Hishtalshelus is derived from the word shalsheles, “chain,” and denotes a fixed, ordered line of descent, as in the English expression, “chain of command.” However, like all Torah-based expressions, it is exquisitely apt and precise—to the point that the physical characteristics of a chain mirror its underlying significance. In a vertically-suspended chain, the bottom of each higher link extends through the top of the next lower link; conversely, the top of each lower link reaches through the bottom of the next higher link. This symbolizes something of the way in which the lowest aspect of each higher spiritual level “descends” into, and actually provides the vitality for, the highest aspect of the succeeding, relatively lower, spiritual level in the “chain of progression” of the created universe—akin to the idea just mentioned in the text about each antecedent level being implicit within the next, and each lower level preexisting within that immediately preceding it.

[83] See Genesis 1:26.

[84] Chochmah is frequently translated as “wisdom,” but its technical meaning is as described in the text.

[85] Daas is frequently translated as “knowledge,” but its technical meaning is as described in the text.

[86] This could be either a lower spiritual realm or, on the very lowest level of the Seder Hishtalshelus, creation of this physical world.

[87] For a reference to the ten Sefiros in terms of “names” of G-d, similar to our discussion in the present discourse, see Words of the Living G-d 2, chap. 7. For a detailed description of the Sefiros and how they relate to one another, see Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1988), chap. 3.

[88] Put another way, all successive stages are already implicit within Chochmah.

[89] Psalms 104:24.

[90] Avos 5:1.

[91] Rosh HaShanah 32a; Megillah 21b.

[92] Genesis 1:1.

[93] The references section (marei mekomos) at the back of Likkutei Torah points out that the Alter Rebbe makes this statement in several places, based on the verse (Job 28:12), “From where shall wisdom be found”—as is about to be elaborated in the text. Possibly the reason this is noteworthy is that creatio ex nihilo—creation of something from nothing—is more commonly associated with the spiritual realm of Beriah (which is considered “something”) coming into being out of the realm of Atzilus (which is so thoroughly identified with G-dliness that it is considered “nothing” in its own right).

[94] Job 28:12.

[95] See p. ***.

[96] Avos 2:16.

[97] Le’asid lavo in Hebrew. A different expression, olam haba, means “the World to Come.”

[98] See p. ***.

[99] Zohar 3:225a.

[100] “Atzmuso Yisbareich eino begeder hashpaah klal.”

[101] See note 55 above.

[102] More precisely, the light has two aspects insofar as how it relates to the created worlds: that aspect that is immanent within the worlds (Memalei Kol Almin) and that aspect which transcends the worlds (Sovev Kol Almin), as will be elaborated in the text. However, see note 118, where it is explained that we may actually speak of three distinct aspects of the light.

[103] The Torah’s taxonomy recognizes 248 specific limbs or organs (eivarim) in the human body; the Mishnah enumerates these (comprising flesh, tendon, and bone) in Ohalos 1:8. Likewise, the body has 365 tendons or sinews (gidim); see Targum Yonasan—the Aramaic Torah translation written by Yonasan ben Uziel—on Genesis 1:27; Zohar 1:170b. According to Jewish mysticism (Zohar 1:170b; beg. of Shaarei Kedushah by Rabbi Chaim Vital; see also Zohar 2:25a; Makkos 23b; Tanya, part 4, 111b; cf. Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 30 (248 positive commandments are the 248 “limbs of the King”)), each of the 248 eivarim corresponds to one of the 248 positive commandments of the Torah, and each of the 365 gidim to one of the 365 negative injunctions. (The Talmud (Makkos 23b) also states that the 365 negative injunctions correspond to the 365 days of the solar year.) For an elaboration of this correspondence with respect to mitzvos as the “limbs of the King” (G-d), see Words of the Living G-d 2, chapter 11. For discussion of specific mitzvos and their correspondence with body parts, see Tikkunei Zohar, 131a–b; see also, e.g., Rabbi Elazar ben Moshe Azikri (1533–1600), Sefer Chareidim (Kunszentmiklós, 1935); Rabbi Yitzchok ben Tzvi Hirsch, Pri Yitzchok: Kollel Beiur Taryag Mitzvos BeRemez (Vilna, 1834) (available at 

[104] See Genesis 7:22.

[105] This can also be translated as “the breath of the spirit of life.”

[106] One must not fall into the error of supposing that this sort of thing is circular reasoning: the soul (or, depending upon context, G-d Himself) is, by definition, the source of life; therefore, life arises automatically as a corollary of that definition. True, if the objective were to prove that G-d is the source of life, it would seem more straightforward to observe that life exists and then infer from that the existence of a lifegiver (which could be an entity that took the action of bestowing life, not necessarily an entity that has an inherent property of being the source of life), than to reason—reminiscent of the so-called “ontological argument” attempted by various philosophers—that since G-d has the “property” (so to speak) of giving life, life proceeds from that. But in fact, the objective here (and elsewhere in Jewish mysticism where this subject is treated) is not to prove anything; rather, the objective is to teach us something. The Torah is the word of G-d, and when the mystical portions of the Torah describe G-d as the Source of life, it is not for philosophical reasons—G-d has no need to resort to philosophy in order to know Himself—but to suggest to the discerning mind the very metaphor we have discussed in the text: that G-d utterly transcends creation, and that the existence of the universe does not imply G-d’s “personal” involvement, as it were. Books do not arise automatically from someone’s status as an author; that would be circular reasoning, since the definition of an author is one who writes books. By contrast, the description of G-d as the Source of life does not depend upon the existence of life. Instead, it is an instructive metaphor used by the Torah for that intrinsic aspect of the Transcendent G-d from which creation nevertheless arises, and which is alluded to by expressions like “Light” of the Infinite One and G-d’s “name.”

[107] Note that the soul is not a homunculus comprising all the body’s limbs and organs in miniature, or even spiritual, form; it is (in this respect) a unitary entity. Nevertheless, by way of its radiance or name, each of those individual limbs and organs receives the appropriate life force from the soul.

[108] The metaphor of names and letters is elaborated at the beginning of the explanatory supplement (beiur) to this discourse, found immediately following the maamar in Likkutei Torah.

[109] In the section of the morning prayers preceding Baruch SheAmar, in the paragraph following the (first) Shema.

[110] Malachi 3:6.

[111] See note 113 below.

[112] Psalms 36:10.

[113] The different expressions used here can be confusing. In the main text, the expression Mechayeh HaChaim, “the One Who gives life to life,” was used in making the point that G-d Himself does not directly transmit His creative life force into the universe, but rather is the Source of the radiance or aura—the Or Ein Sof—that, in turn, is what animates the universe. In that context, the second instance of the word “life” refers to the Or Ein Sof, the Light of the Infinite One. By contrast, in saying that the Mekor HaChaim, the “source of life,” is merely “with You” and not literally “You,” we identified the Chayei HaChaim, “the life of life,” as the Or Ein Sof—the “source of life” that is merely “with You.” In that context, it is the first instance of the word “life” that refers to the Or Ein Sof, and the second instance of the word means simply life as we know it. All of these expressions are accurate in context. As the discourse goes on to note (in the continuation of this italicized section), the light is entirely subsumed within the Luminary—the Or Ein Sof is merely “with You,” in the same sense in which G-d’s name was with Him before creation. See the discussions of the verse, “For with You is the source of life” in the discourses VeNikdashti BeSoch Bnei Yisrael (Likkutei Torah, Emor, at 31d) and Acharei Havayah Elokeichem Teleichu (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh, at 19c–d), where it is clarified further that the aspect of the Or Ein Sof that is meant by “the source of life” is Memalei Kol Almin, which is also identified with the ziv haShechinah, the radiance of the Divine Presence. That is also why creation is called “something from nothing”: Memalei Kol Almin is considered “nothing” in relation to G-d Himself.

[114] See note *** and accompanying text.

[115] Note that the actual quote (which will be discussed again in the next paragraph of the text) was “His Great Name.” Possibly the reason the word “great” is omitted here is that this portion of the maamar is discussing G-d’s name, or light, as it animates the worlds in the manner of Memalei Kol Almin. As will be explained below, however, our maamar identifies the expression “His Great Name” with Sovev Kol Almin. See also note 116.

[116] At this point in the maamar, there is a parenthetical cross-reference to Likkutei Torah, Shelach, 48c (in the discourse Ani Havayah…LiHiyos [Lachem] Leilokim), where a brief explanation appears of what is meant by G-d’s “Great Name.” Note that there, this spiritual level is expressly stated to be superior to that of Sovev Kol Almin, which will be defined shortly in the text here. This seems to contradict the statement in the summary (kitzur) of this section of the present discourse (found in Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, 42c) that Sovev, although only G-d’s name and not G-d Himself, is nevertheless infinite and therefore called His Great Name. Possibly, this statement—which comes in the context of distinguishing Sovev from Memalei—is meant only in relation to the latter.

   In any event, in the teachings of Chassidus it is not unusual for a definition to be given, or a term used, relative to its context only. For example, in one discourse the spiritual realm of Atzilus might be described as the highest spiritual realm. That statement is perfectly true in the context of a discussion of the four broad degrees of G-dly revelation perceptible within creation: Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Yet the experienced student of Chassidus should not be overly perplexed to learn, in a different discourse, of levels far loftier than Atzilus, for G-d is indeed infinite, and there are discourses that treat of holy subjects of an order immeasurably beyond that of the four created realms. Another, more concrete example: If an important message is sent to the king, one might ask the courier, “To whom did you deliver the letter?” When the courier replies, “I gave it to the king himself,” the intent is to differentiate between the king and various ministers, servants, and other palace personnel. In that context, the king’s hand—his physical body—fully qualifies as being the king’s “self.” By contrast, if the king is having an earnest, soul-searching discussion with a close intimate such as the queen or the royal psychoanalyst, and he is asked, “What is your true self?” surely the answer would not be, “my hand.” Indeed, in that context, the king’s physical body would probably be his most superficial aspect of all. Thus, in Chassidus, even terms like “G-d’s very Self” and “the Essence of G-d” are often used in a relative sense. The cross-reference to the discourse in Shelach may well have been included for the express purpose of calling to our attention that the term “[G-d’s] Great Name” as it is used in our maamar (i.e., as a reference to Sovev Kol Almin as opposed to Memalei) is not intended in an absolute sense; in broader contexts, even Sovev falls short of that level.

[117] Note that all but the first and last sentences of this paragraph have been added in the course of adapting the discourse into English. Thus, the speculation, “Perhaps this concept is analogous…” is not part of the original discourse.

[118] Now that we have defined these levels, it is possible to explain that in fact, there are three, not two, identifiable aspects to the Infinite Light. (Although it is, indeed, infinite, it is merely G-d’s light, not G-d Himself, and thus can be categorized in this way. See references cited in Golomb, Kitzur Seder Hishtalshelus (see note 55), 23 n. 4.) Both Memalei Kol Almin and Sovev Kol Almin are defined with respect to almin; that is, whether G-d’s light is said to be “immanent within all worlds” or to “transcend all worlds,” we are still speaking of the light as it relates to the worlds. Conceptually, however, it is also possible to consider the light per se, without reference to worlds. From this perspective, we are speaking of the light’s relation to G-d: there is G-d and there is His light (which is One with Him) and that is all there is. “Worlds” have no place here.

[119] Ezekiel 1:16.

[120] In the present discourse, what is meant by “a wheel within a wheel” is not explained; what is stated here about the areas of the circles was added in the course of this adaptation. In the discourse Mareihem U’Maaseihem (Torah Or, Yisro, 69b), the metaphor is explained as follows: on one hand, the portion of the outer wheel that is on top of the inner wheel may be said to be “above” the inner wheel, and the bottom portion of the outer wheel may be said to be “below” the inner wheel. Yet this is irrelevant to the contents of the outer wheel, which are uniform throughout: there is no difference between what is above and what is below the inner wheel. To the outer wheel, above and below are the same.

[121] Deuteronomy 33:27. See Ibn Ezra ad loc.

[122] This is similar to the teaching of the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah, 68:9) that G-d is called HaMakom (lit., “the Place,” i.e., the Omnipresent) because “He is the location of the world; His world is not His location.” See also what is written in Likkutei Torah (of the Ari Zal), Ki Sisa on the verse (Exodus 33:21), “There is a place with Me.”

[123] To avoid confusion, it is important to clarify that in speaking of these levels—Memalei Kol Almin and Sovev Kol Almin—we are nevertheless referring to the state of affairs after the initial tzimtzum, or contraction, by which G-d allowed for the possibility of creation (see chapter 2, note 22). That is, although we said that G-d’s light cannot be invested within creation without numerous tzimtzumim, and that the necessarily contracted light within creation is Memalei Kol Almin whereas Sovev has not been limited by investiture within any specific thing, it is not the case that the contraction in question is the initial tzimtzum and that Memalei means G-d’s light after that event, while Sovev means G-d’s light prior to that event. The initial tzimtzum (tzimtzum harishon) was unique in that, unlike the countless subsequent tzimtzumim by which G-d’s light filters into even the lowest levels of creation—which subsequent tzimtzumim merely lessen or dim the light—the initial tzimtzum was an actual removal of the light, clearing it to the side, in a manner of speaking, to allow room for any existence at all. What preceded that is of an entirely different order—indeed, that phrase does not even do justice to it—from anything that followed it. For deeper insight into this subject, see the series 5666 (see note 55), 504–6 (three levels of light after the initial tzimtzum) and 510–16 (three levels of Or Ein Sof even before the initial tzimtzum).

[124] For more on all this, see Tanya, chap. 48.

[125] A parenthetical observation at this point in the maamar points out that the seven major names of G-d that, under Jewish law, may not be erased (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:2; Shevuos 35a) represent extension of G-d’s light into creation in the manner of Memalei Kol Almin. No matter how high a created entity may be, it is still a creature of Memalei and cannot reach beyond G-d’s name. By contrast, Sovev, which utterly transcends creation, is referred to (in this discourse) as G-d’s “Great Name”—see summary (kitzur) on p. 42c of the original.

[126] High Holiday Mussaf liturgy.

[127] In Hebrew: kiyum maaseh hamitzvos baolam hazeh.

[128] Deuteronomy 7:11.

[129] Tikkunei Zohar, 132a; Tanya, part 4, 112a; cf. ibid. 148b in the name of the Ari Zal (that the reincarnation continues until all the mitzvos are fulfilled with all three “garments” of the soul—thought, speech, and action), see Sefer HaGilgulim chap. 4; Shaar HaGilgulim 11, 15; Shaar HaMitzvos (introduction); see also additional references cited in Likkutei Sichos 18:192.

[130] It is explained in many other places in Chassidus that the spiritual source of mitzvos is Sovev Kol Almin. See, e.g., Words of the Living G-d 1, chap. 5; Likkutei Torah, Re’eh, 33a (the discourse Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li: Haroeh BaShoshanim, available in English at and to be published, G-d willing, in Words of the Living G-d, Vol. 6 (Holidays)).

[131] Avos 4:2.

[132] Lit., a “shell of luminosity”; a “shining shell or peel.” The expression is derived from Ezekiel 1:4. Kelipas nogah is the source of the physical substance of all that is not forbidden and that can therefore be used to serve G-d. See Tanya, chap. 7.

[133] See Words of the Living G-d 1:16–17 and ibid. p. 176 (in italics) for the symbolism of hides (from which parchment is made) as a metaphor for all that is profane, i.e., not sacred, in this world.

[134] Kiddushin 35a.

[135] Avos 1:2.

[136] See Zevachim 61b.

[137] Genesis 18:27. See also the discourse Eretz Harim U’Vekaos found in Likkutei Torah, Devarim, 17c.

[138] Deuteronomy 6:7.

[139] Ibid., v. 5.

[140] Berachos 61b.

[141] See Tikkunei Zohar 10a.

[142] Isaiah 59:21.

[143] Maggid Meisharim, beg. of Vayikra.

[144] Eruvin 13b.

[145] Deuteronomy 6:24.

[146] The highest of the four spiritual realms, or worlds. For a full discussion of these, see, e.g., Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1988), chap. 4; see also Words of the Living G-d 1: 203–4 (and, more generally, all of chap. 9 there).

[147] Beg. of Tikkunei Zohar.

[148] In Bava Basra 75b, the Sages taught that “the righteous are destined to be called by G-d’s name.” Rashi ad loc. explains this to mean that their name will be “G-d.” That is, they will be completely batel to G-d, just as are the Sefiros of Atzilus, so that, as with those Sefiros, they will be absolutely One with Him and will have no independent identity outside of G-d. In speaking of them, there will be no one to refer to but G-d.

[149] On iskafya and is’hapcha, see Words of the Living G-d 1:41 n. 25.

[150] See the opening statement of the mishnah at the beginning of the seventh chapter of tractate Sanhedrin: “All of Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is stated [Isaiah 60:21], ‘Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever, etc.’”

[151] Zohar 2:100a, 3:164a. See also Pri Chadash, Orach Chaim 113:4; Bava Kama 16b (Tosafos s.v. VeHu).

[152] For a discussion of the significance of bowing—bending the spine—during the Modim prayer, including additional insight into its relevance to the Resurrection, see the adaptation of the discourse Lo Hibit Aven BeYaakov, to be published, G-d willing, in Words of the Living G-d 4, chap. 7.

[153] Genesis 2:2.

[154] See Words of the Living G-d 2, chaps. 4, 7, and 10.

[155] See chapter 8, text accompanying note 80.

[156] Exodus 20:11.

[157] These are Chessed (Benevolence), Gevurah (Severity), Tiferes (Beauty), Netzach (Victory or Eternity), Hod (Glory), and Yesod (Foundation).

[158] The Sefirah, or attribute, of Wisdom.

[159] “Let there be light,” etc.

[160] The Hebrew word shabbos, often translated “rest,” implies the satisfying type of repose, the feeling of being at ease, one experiences after ceasing from labor. See Words of the Living G-d 1:29.

[161] Genesis 2:2.

[162] In note 125, mention was made of the fact that the seven major names of G-d that may not be erased are associated with Memalei Kol Almin. Since the name Havayah is among these seven, it may seem puzzling that the discourse here connects it with Sovev Kol Almin. Possibly the answer is in accordance with the comment in the references (marei mekomos) section of Likkutei Torah on the discourse cited in note 116 above (Shelach, 48c), in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek, addressing apparent ambiguity as to whether the name Havayah is G-d’s “Great Name.” That comment draws our attention to the verse (Exodus 34:6), “G-d passed by before him and proclaimed, ‘Havayah, Havayah,’” and cites the explanation thereon in the discourses VaYar Yisrael es HaYad (Torah Or, Beshalach, 61d–62a) and VeAsisa Tzitz (Torah Or, Tetzaveh, 83c; see also Words of the Living G-d 2, chap. 8) that there are two levels of the name Havayah, one higher than the other. Note that later on, toward the end of the present discourse itself (see p. *** [at or around n. 211***]), the Alter Rebbe discusses the name Havayah in the context of Memalei.

[163] Leviticus 25:2 (in the Torah portion, Behar, that is the subject of this discourse).

[164] See the discourse LeHavin Inyan Lechem Mishneh (Torah Or, Beshalach, 65d), adapted into English in Words of the Living G-d 2, chap. 4.

[165] Jeremiah 17:10.

[166] Lit. “the kidneys.” Just as the heart is said to be the seat of a person’s resolve (as in the expression “of stout heart”), the kidneys are considered the seat of suggestiveness (eitzah), “advising” a person this way or that. Thus, the kidneys suggest an action and the heart resolves to do it. See Radak ad loc.

[167] Genesis 2:1.

[168] Exodus 19:20.

[169] Isaiah 52:20.

[170] Ibid. 11:9.

[171] Note that this analogy, which is in the original maamar as well as several others (listed in the marei mekomos—references—section at the back of Likkutei Torah, beg. of Torah portion Vaeschanan), was used also in the previous chapter. See page *** with respect to our reaching up from below and G-d extending a hand down, so to speak, to pull us up.

[172] See Berachos 12a. The wording of a formal blessing begins, “Blessed are You, O G-d.”

[173] See p. ***.

[174] See note 2 above.

[175] This commandment is also found in the Torah portion of Behar, the portion in which the verse, “Observe My Sabbaths” (the subject of this discourse) is found.

[176] Leviticus 25:2.

[177] Excluding certain maintenance-related tasks.

[178] The person in whose field these crops are growing wild is no different in this respect from anyone else, and is permitted to take of them as well.

[179] Pesachim 52b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shemitah 7:1.

[180] Psalms 36:7.

[181] See the discourses VeHeinif HaKoken (Likkutei Torah, Emor, 36a) and VaYaachilcha es HaMan (Likkutei Torah, Eikev, 13c–d), where it is explained that it is characteristic of a beast (beheimah) to be utterly batel, as naught, before its master, and that this is because the spiritual source of beasts is the light of the Ein Sof associated with Sovev Kol Almin. This level is referred to as beheimah rabbah (the Great Beast), even higher than earthly man. (Cf. use of the term beheimah rabbah in the previous chapter, p. ***.)

[182] Throughout this discourse, and as recently as the previous paragraph (with reference to Shemitah), we have been saying that Shabbos is associated with revelation of Sovev Kol Almin. Yet now, we are apparently contradicting all this with the statement that, in fact, only Shabbos ilaah—to be experienced in the Future to Come—is the manifestation of Sovev, and whatever it is that we experience every Shabbos, and during Shemitah, etc., must be something less. The explanation lies in the two levels of bittul. For a full resolution, see note 190 below (which comes after certain additional topics are introduced in the text).

[183] Berachos 57b.

[184] Genesis 2:2 and 2:3.

[185] See note 146 and accompanying text.

[186] This statement is true with reference to Olam HaTikkun, the Realm of Repair; in the antecedent and spiritually superior Olam HaTohu, or Realm of Chaos, the Sefiros do not combine. For more on the Realms of Chaos and Repair, see Words of the Living G-d 1:200 and 209–12 (Tohu and Tikkun generally); ibid. vol. 2, chap. 4 (combining of Sefiros in those realms).

[187] This constant progression ever closer to G-d was carried out by our forefather Abraham, about whom it is written (Genesis 12:9) that he “traveled on and on toward the Negev [a reference to the ultimate degree of love for G-d, which Abraham embodied].” For a discussion of ratzo vashov in our efforts to draw ever closer to G-d, see the discourse VeChol HaAm Ro’im Es HaKolos (Torah Or, Shmos 73c) adapted into English in Words of the Living G-d vol. 2 chap. 5.

[188] Note that this happens automatically, as was described on p. *** in connection with G-d’s middos being freed up from concentration into the universe and ascending back to their source on Shabbos. However, we may note that for the full benefit of this elevation, one must strive to elevate oneself (as described in connection with ratzo vashov) during the week. This accords with the saying (Avodah Zarah 3a) “One who labors on the eve of Shabbos [i.e., during the six days of the week] will eat on Shabbos.” (It is interesting to note that in its original context, this Talmudic statement refers to the Messianic era: one who performs mitzvos in this world will reap the reward in the World to Come—the ultimate Shabbos.)

[189] See page ***.

[190] Earlier (n. 182), we noted the apparent contradiction between the many references to Shabbos (even the level of Shabbos we identified as Shabbos tataah) as Sovev Kol Almin, and the statement, on the other hand, that only Shabbos ilaah is truly the manifestation of Sovev. The explanation can now be understood, in light of what has been explained in the text about the realms of b’ya being batel to the manifestation of the Or Ein Sof found within the Realm of Atzilus. Sovev Kol Almin is, indeed, the undiminished Or, Light, of the Ein Sof. The Or Ein Sof is only present within b’ya by virtue of its investiture within Chochmah of Atzilus (which, in turn, is invested within all the lower levels). In that context, bittul of the various levels of b’ya to their source in Atzilus—to the Or Ein Sof which pervades that realm—rendering them all equally null, is associated with Sovev Kol Almin. However, that is so only relative to the bittul of b’ya to Atzilus. As has been explained, Chochmah itself is as naught relative to the undiminished Or Ein Sof, the G-dly light not as contained within Chochmah of Atzilus but, rather, in its “natural” state, before any contraction or concealment or investiture at all. This is Sovev Kol Almin in the true, objective sense of the term, not as a relative expression applicable within b’ya. (See note 116.) References to Shabbos tataah as Sovev Kol Almin are made with respect to the former, relative, meaning of the term; the statement that Shabbos ilaah is Sovev Kol Almin refers to the latter, objective, meaning, which will only be fully revealed in the Future to Come, but of which we get a glimmer on Shabbos. (This is hinted at by the verse pertaining to Shemitah (Leviticus 25:2), “The land shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d”: Shemitah is only a Sabbath relative to “the land”—a reference to Malchus of Atzilus, which is the source of b’ya. Within Atzilus itself, though, there is no elevation, no Shabbos, during Shemitah, because Shemitah represents only Shabbos tataah, the bittul of b’ya to Atzilus. This is the reason the maamar uses Shemitah and Shevi’is to clarify what is meant by Shabbos tataah.) See sec. 3 of the explanatory supplement (beiur) to this discourse, beginning at Likkutei Torah, Vayikra, 44a.

[191] See text accompanying note 94 above.

[192] Pursuant to which each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value.

[193] As they are reckoned “from top down,” i.e., beginning with Chochmah and descending to Malchus. There is another way of reckoning the Sefiros that is “from bottom up”—beginning with Malchus and ascending; by that reckoning, Kesser is included (and Daas is omitted), since Malchus and Kesser are closely related. For more on Kesser generally, as well as its relation to Malchus, see Words of the Living G-d 1:185–87 (in italics).

[194] Job 36:2.

[195] Avos 3:13.

[196] Shabbos 15:3.

[197] Exodus 20:10.

[198] Sheilas Shalom, lit. “inquiring after the welfare [of another],” e.g., “How are you?”

[199] This is yet another example of the underlying unity and interrelationship between the legal and mystical aspects of Torah. See note 78.

[200] Kiddushin 30b.

[201] Genesis 22:24.

[202] See Kesser Shem Tov (Kehot ed.), secs. 31 and 315; quoted in numerous places in Chassidus.

[203] Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbos 10:1.

[204] Avodah Zarah 18a; Rashi to Deuteronomy 7:12.

[205] Psalms 101:7.

[206] See Metzudas David ad loc.

[207] Sotah 5a; Arachin 15b.

[208] Berachos 8a.

[209] Whereas, in fact, except in the case of a mitzvah that will no longer be possible to perform later and that cannot be done by someone else (and except, of course, for unavoidable necessities of life, including work), the default behavior expected of a person is to study Torah. See Moed Kattan 9a–b; Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbos 1:2; Laws of Torah Study (by the Alter Rebbe) 4:3.

[210] See p.***.

[211] The Talmud (Menachos 29b) expounds the verses Isaiah 26:4 and Genesis 2:4 to signify that G-d used the letter yud of His name to create the World to Come and the hei of His name to create this world. For an explanation of how the four letters of the name Havayah each symbolize a successive stage in G-d’s transmission of His creative life force in a manner compatible with this created universe—the defining quality of Memalei Kol Almin—see, e.g., Words of the Living G-d 1:63 n. and accompanying text; discourse Haazinu HaShamayim (#1), Likkutei Torah, Haazinu, 71c (to be published, G-d willing, in Words of the Living G-d, Vol. 5, and available in English at See also notes 116 and 162 above.

[212] Zohar 2:121a; see also ibid., 85a.

[213] See chapter 6, note 85.

[214] See, e.g., Tanya, chap. 23 regarding Torah’s association with Sovev Kol Almin.