והנה לקיום מצוה שאי אפשר לעשות על ידי אחרים, מבטלין תלמוד תורה, ואפילו מעשה מרכבה
To perform a mitzvah that cannot be delegated to another one forgoes Torah study,1 even [the study of] maaseh merkavah, the sublime Kabbalistic mysteries of the celestial “Chariot”,2
וכל שכן תפלה, שהיא בחינת מוחין ודחילו ורחימו שכליים
and beyond question one forgoes prayer, which is the state of intellect and intellectually-generated awe and love.
The reason is as we have noted; i.e., in order to extract and refine the sparks by means of the practical mitzvot, this being the purpose of creation.
ועוד זאת, שבאמת מאד גדלה וגבהה מעלות המצות מעשיות, וכן לימודם, על מעלת המוחין, שהן דחילו ורחימו שכליים
In addition, indeed, the standing of the practical mitzvot and their study, far transcends the standing of intellect, meaning intellectually-generated awe and love.
The mitzvot requiring action are superior — in their performance and in the study of their laws — not only because they fulfill the ultimate purpose of creation through the extraction of the sparks, but also because they bond the soul with G‑d.
כי הגם דכתיב: ולדבקה בו, על ידי מדותיו
For though the verse declares,3 “and to cleave to Him,” i.e., through [cleaving to] His attributes (middot),4
When one acts in a kindly manner, for example, he cleaves to the Supernal Sefirah ofChesed — and the Sefirot are wholly one with G‑d.
מכל מקום, איננו דבק אפילו במדות העליונות אלא במציאותן, ולא במהותן
still, one does not cleave to the essence (mahut) of the Supernal attributes but only to [the externality of] their existence (metziut),
וכמו שכתוב: ואנכי עפר ואפר
as it is written,5 “I am dust and ashes.”
This was stated by Abraham with regard to the glimmer of his soul that illuminated his body, in comparing it to its source — an irradiation of Supernal Kindness, as explained above at length in Epistle XV, in the name of the Maggid of Mezritch.
Abraham experienced such an intense degree of love (deriving from the attribute ofChesed) toward G‑d, that he was a “chariot”, a vehicle humbly waiting to be steered by the hands of its Driver.6 Nevertheless, he declared that his measure of love for G‑d was but “dust and ashes” relative to the Supernal attribute of Chesed.
To appreciate the analogy: A tree, originally composed of the four elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth, is burned. Losing its first three elements in smoke, it is reduced to its fourth element, mere ashes. Yet, though these ashes and the tree itself are of the same element, the ashes can hardly be compared to the original tree that was7a “beautiful to behold and good to eat.”
So, too, the attribute of kindness and love that Abraham possessed while his soul was in his body, cannot be compared to the attribute of Kindness which is one of the Supernal Sefirot.
It is thus to be seen that one does not cleave to the essence of the Supernal attributes but only to their external state, their state of mere existence.
וכל שכן באור אין סוף ברוך הוא, דלית מחשבה תפיסא ביה באורו והתפשטות החיות ממנו יתברך
This is all the more true with regard to the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, for no thought can apprehend Him in His radiance or the diffusion of the life-force issuing from Him.
כי אם במציאותו, שהוא שמחיה את כולם, ולא במהותו
One can only grasp His existence, that He gives life to all, but not His essence.
אפילו לעליונים, כמו שכתוב: קדוש קדוש קדוש ה׳ צבאות כו׳
This applies even to the supernal beings, of [whose praise] it is written,8“Holy, holy, holy is the L‑rd of Hosts.”
The above phrase is uttered by the Seraphim, angels of the World of Beriah. They perceive that even as G‑d descends to relate to created beings so that He is called the “L‑rd of Hosts,” He is kadosh (“holy”), a term which implies that He is separate from them.
לבד עלולים נאצלים משיגים כי אם בעילתו
Only emanated “effects” can conceive their “cause”,
The spiritual beings of the World of Atzilut are each an “effect” (alul) brought about by a “cause” (ilah) in the levels higher than themselves. These beings vest themselves in each other in turn, and at each level are able to comprehend the antecedent “cause” that is vested within them,
כפי הסדר שבעץ חיים, בהתלבשות הפרצופים
according to the order recounted in Etz Chayim, concerning the investment of the visages (partzufim).
Etz Chayim explains how the “visages” of the Supernal Sefirot of Atzilut vest themselves in each other. Each “effect” is able to comprehend its “cause” — the “visage” that is garbed within it.
אבל לא לנבראים, אפילו לנשמות דאצילות
This is not the case with created beings, even with souls of Atzilut,
Though the souls of Atzilut are Divinity, still, since they have become sundered from the vessels of the Ten Sefirot (as explained above in Epistle XX9), they are termed “created beings” and are unable to apprehend the essence of G‑dliness.
כמו שכתוב במשה רבינו עליו השלום: וראית את אחורי כו׳
Thus it is written regarding Moses,10 “You will see My hinderpart” — an external manifestation11 of the mere existence (metziut) of Divinity, but not the essence (mahut).
Thus, through the vision of his soul alone, as the soul gazes upon G‑d without the benefit of mitzvot, even Moses could apprehend no more than externality, not essence.
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