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Shiur Tanya Igeres Teshuvah Chapter 1 6 Tammuz 5772
Kislev 27, 5774 · November 30, 2013
Today’s Tanya Lesson
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 3

והנה כל בחינה ומדריגה משלש אלו, נפש רוח ונשמה, כלולה מעשר בחינות

Now, each of these three distinctions and grades — Nefesh, Ruach andNeshamah — consists of ten faculties1

כנגד עשר ספירות עליונות שנשתלשלו מהן

corresponding to the Ten Supernal Sefirot (divine manifestations,2 in which they originate and whence they descend.

הנחלקות לשתים

The Ten Sefirot are subdivided into two general categories.

שהן שלש אמות ושבע כפולות

These two categories are: three “mothers”, i.e., three of these Sefirot are termed “mothers” for they are the source and root of the other seven Sefirot, as a mother is the source of her offspring, and seven “doubles” — the seven divine attributes, called “doubles” inasmuch as each of the emotional attributes manifests itself in a twofold manner, as shall presently be explained.

פירוש: חכמה בינה ודעת, ושבעת ימי הבנין: חסד גבורה תפארת כו׳

Namely: Chochmah (“wisdom”), Binah (“understanding”) and Daat(“knowledge”) are called “mothers”; and the seven “doubles” are [the emotional attributes known as] the “seven days of Creation”: Chesed (“kindness”),Gevurah (“severity”), Tiferet (“beauty”), and so on, the other four being: Netzach(“endurance”), Hod (“splendor”), Yesod (“foundation”), and Malchut (“royalty”).

These seven attributes are known as the “seven days of Creation,” for it was through these seven attributes that G-d created the world. Each day’s creation came about through a particular attribute: during the first day Chesed was dominant, the second day Gevurah, and so on.

וכך בנפש האדם שנחלקת לשתים — שכל ומדות

Just as the Ten Supernal Sefirot are divided into two general categories, so, too, with the human soul [and its ten faculties]; they are divided into two general categories: seichel (“intellect”) and middot (“emotional attributes”).

השכל כולל חכמה בינה ודעת, והמדות הן אהבת ה׳ ופחדו ויראתו ולפארו כו׳

The [category of] intellect includes the three all-inclusive intellectual powersChochmah, Binah and Daat (ChaBaD), whilst the middot, which bear the same names as their corresponding seven Sefirot: Chesed, Gevurah, etc., represent the following emotions: love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth.

Love corresponds to Chesed (“kindness”), as they are, respectively, the internal (i.e., emotional) and external (i.e., practical) aspects of the same trait; the dread and awe of G-d correspond to Gevurah, as they are its inner aspect; so too the glorification of Him corresponds to Tiferet.

וחב״ד נקראו אמות ומקור למדות כי המדות הן תולדות חב״ד

ChaBaD (the intellectual faculties) are called the “mothers” and source of themiddot, for the middot are “offspring” of (i.e., derive from) ChaBaD.

At this point it would be worthwhile to explain briefly the function of the facultiesChochmah, Binah and Daat (abbreviated as ChaBaD), mentioned frequently in the coming chapters.

Chochmah is the first flash of intellect. It is the seminal and inner point of an idea. This seminal point of intellect already includes within it all the details and ramifications of the idea, but as yet they are concentrated and obscured. (This is analogous to a dot, in which the dimensions of length and breadth are not evident — all that is seen is the dot — although for the dot to exist it must certainly contain length and breadth.)

Chochmah is also called barak hamavrik — the intuitive flash of illumination which is the beginning of intellectual revelation. For instance, we may observe how a person striving to answer an intellectual question suddenly realizes in a flash of intuition that the question can be answered along a particular line of reasoning. At the moment of illumination he is as yet unaware exactly how the particular question is answered: he knows only that he has found an adequate solution to the problem.

Thereafter the faculty of Binah (“understanding”) comes into play. Through cogitation, Binah apprehends, crystallizes and clarifies the details of the idea which were obscured in Chochmah, until the whole edifice of the idea, in all its length and breadth, becomes manifest. For this reason the function of Binah is described as meivin davar mitoch davar — “to understand (or deduce) one matter out of another” — i.e., that which was previously concentrated in the obscure intuitive flash of Chochmah is now revealed and understood.

After the person fully understands the idea with all its details and ramifications, he must then immerse himself in it, binding and unifying himself with it to the extent that he not only understands it but also feels it. Only in this way can he be affected by the idea; if his understanding points to the desirability of a particular thing, it will give birth to a love for it; if his understanding indicates instead the harmfulness of a particular thing, he will react with a feeling of fear and flee from it; and similarly with other emotions. The faculty with which one thus immerses himself in an idea is called Daat (“knowledge”), which is etymologically related to the expression,3 “and Adam knew (ידע) Eve,” a verb which denotes attachment and union. We now return to the text:

וביאור הענין: כי הנה השכל שבנפש המשכלת, שהוא המשכיל כל דבר

The explanation of the matter (i.e., of the three intellectual processes described above — inspiration, cogitation, and contemplation) is as follows: that intellectual faculty of the rational soul that first conceives any matter (i.e., the faculty which produces the seminal point of an idea and the first flash of illumination, as explained above)

נקרא בשם חכמה — כ״ח מ״ה

is given the appellation of Chochmah [which is composed of the two words] כח מה — the potential of “what is.”4

It is a faculty concerning which one can only pose the question “Mah?” (“What is it?”) — for at this stage the idea in question is not yet clear or comprehensible logically, since its details are still in potentia, emerging only at a later stage.

וכשמוציא כחו אל הפועל, שמתבונן בשכלו להבין דבר לאשורו

When one brings forth this concentrated idea from the potential into the actual, that is, when one cogitates with his intellect on the seminal point in order to understand a matter full well —

That is: when he ponders all the details which make up the totality of the particular idea in its length and breadth. “Length” involves the range of an idea; when one draws down a concept from a lofty level to a lower one (by way of a parable, for example) in order to make it more readily understood, he is “lengthening” it, giving it a greater range of accessibility, so that it will be more readily intelligible to a student. For a student whose capacity is more limited, one parable may not suffice; it may be necessary to provide a second parable to explain the first, thereby “lengthening” the concept still further downward. (As Scripture writes concerning King Solomon:5 “He spoke three thousand parables.” So great was Solomon’s wisdom that to explain one of his thoughts he had to give three thousand parables; one parable to explain the basic concept, a second parable to explain the first parable, and so forth, until ultimately giving three thousand parables — an extreme example of the “length” of an idea.)

The “breadth” of an idea means the multitude of details which the concept comprises, as well as all its ramifications. For example, the logic behind a halachic ruling in the laws of kashrut may also apply to laws governing financial disputes.

This is the meaning of the word לאשורו (“full well”) — understanding the intellectual concept completely, in both its length and breadth.


[Thus, when one cogitates on a concept in its length and breadth] and delves to its very depths

מתוך איזה דבר חכמה המושכל בשכלו

as it evolves from the concept which he had conceived in his intellect (i.e., when he apprehends in a detailed manner the seminal point of intellect, which prior to his cogitation was but a nebulous point of Chochmah),

נקרא בינה

this is called Binah. (Binah is that faculty which elucidates the details of any concept and apprehends it “full well” and “in depth.”)

והן הם אב ואם המולידות אהבת ה׳ ויראתו ופחדו

They (Chochmah and Binah) are the very “father” and “mother” which give birth to love of G-d, and awe (yirah) and dread (pachad) of Him.6

1. Elsewhere (e.g., Likutei Torah, Bamidbar 1a, 51b; Shir HaShirim 16d) the Alter Rebbe makes it clear that the soul does not “consist” of the ten faculties, but rather manifests itself through them, since the soul itself is essentially indefinable and indivisible.
2. The Ten Sefirot are more fully discussed in Iggeret HaKodesh (Tanya, Part IV), ch. 15 and elsewhere.
3. Bereishit 4:1.
4. Zohar III, 28a; 34a.
5. I Melachim 5:12.
6. Yirah means an awe which is felt for the most part intellectually. Pachad denotes a dread which is felt emotionally, in one’s heart. This is why at the beginning of the chapter, where the emotions are enumerated and explained in a general way,pachad precedes yirah, for pachad — the feeling of dread in one’s heart — is a truer emotion that the intellectual yirah. Here, however, when dealing with the emotions as they are born from the intellect, yirah precedes pachad, for only after the emotion is first formed in the mind, at which stage it is yirah, does it then descend to the heart, as pachad.
The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.
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Today’s Tanya Lesson
Likutei Amarim, Chapter 2

ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש

The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G-d above,”

“A part of G-d above” is a quotation from Scripture (Iyov 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly” to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known,1 some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse2 describing “great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens” is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase “a part of G-d above” in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly”, thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above.

כמו שכתוב: ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים

as it is written3 concerning Adam (whose soul was a comprehensive one, a neshamah klalit, in that it contained all the particular souls of subsequent generations): “And He (G-d) blew into his nostrils a soul of life”;

ואתה נפחת בי

and as we say in prayer concerning the soul of every individual Jew,4“You blew it into me.”

The significance of the verb “to blow” as it relates to the infusion of the Jewish soul is now explained.

וכמו שכתוב בזוהר: מאן דנפח מתוכיה נפח, פירוש מתוכיותו ומפנימיותו

It is written in the Zohar,5 “He who blows, blows from within him,” that is to say, from his inwardness and his innermost being.

שתוכיות ופנימיות החיות שבאדם מוציא בנפיחתו בכח

For it is of his inward and innermost vitality that a man emits through blowing with force.

Blowing tires a person much more quickly than speaking, as is readily observed, for it requires a greater exertion of effort and vitality. Hence, the fact that the metaphor of blowing is used to describe G-d’s implanting the Jew’s soul in his body signifies that this soul originates in the “innermost” aspect of G-dliness.

That the Jew is rooted in G-d’s innermost and essential being is indicated further by the designation of the Jewish people as G-d’s “children”, whose souls originate in His “thought” just as a child stems from his father’s brain, as the Alter Rebbe explains presently.

כך על דרך משל נשמות ישראל עלו במחשבה

So, too, allegorically speaking, have Jewish souls risen in the [Divine] thought,6

The Jew has his source in Divine “thought” — the innermost level of G-dliness. All other created beings, even angels, are rooted in and created by Divine “speech”. Speech is external in comparison with thought.

כדכתיב: בני בכורי ישראל

as it is written7 regarding the Jewish nation, “Israel is My firstborn son”;

בנים אתם לה׳ אלקיכם

and concerning Jews as individuals,8 “You are children unto G-d your L-rd.”

פירוש: כמו שהבן נמשך ממוח האב

That is to say, i.e., the significance of the Jew’s being called G-d’s child is that just as a child is derived from its father’s brain — his inner and essential being,

כך כביכול נשמת כל איש ישראל נמשכה ממחשבתו וחכמתו יתברך

so too (to use an anthropomorphism) is the soul of every Jew derived from G-d’s thought and wisdom.

The Alter Rebbe now takes this concept a step further. Deriving from G-d’s thought and wisdom actually implies that it derives form G-d Himself, as he goes on to explain.

דאיהו חכים ולא בחכמה ידיעא, אלא הוא וחכמתו אחד

For9 “He is wise — G-d possesses the quality of wisdom — but not with a wisdom that is known to us created beings,” because He and His wisdom are one,

וכמו שכתב הרמב״ם שהוא המדע והוא היודע כו׳

and as Maimonides writes,10 “He is Knowledge and simultaneously the Knower… Who knows and comprehends — through the ”Knowledge“…; [and He is that which is Known]” — G-d is also the subject of knowledge and comprehension, as Maimonides concludes.

This means that G-d’s wisdom and comprehension are totally different from man’s. In human comprehension there are three separate and distinct components: (a) the person’s soul, the “knower” and possessor of knowledge; (b) the power of intellect and comprehension — the “knowledge” — by which the person knows; (c) the subject of the knowledge — the “known” — such as a law in the Mishnah or a discussion in theGemara which is apprehended and known.

Concerning G-d’s wisdom, however, Maimonides states: “He is the ‘Knowledge’, the ‘Knower’, and the ‘Known’.” G-d is the means of comprehension — the “Knowledge,” and at the same time is He Who understands — the “Knower”, and is also that which is understood — the “Known”.

ודבר זה אין ביכולת האדם להבינו על בוריו כו׳

Maimonides continues: “And this is not within the power of any man to comprehend clearly”;

כדכתיב: החקר אלו-ה תמצא, וכתיב: כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם וגו׳

as it is written,11 “Can you find and understand G-d by searching?” And it is also written,12 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,” [says G-d]; and consequently “your” [human] thoughts cannot possibly comprehend “My” thoughts.

Since His wisdom is one with G-d Himself, as has been shown, it follows that the Jewish soul, which stems from Divine wisdom (as stated above), actually derives from G-d Himself.

Many Jewish philosophers13 rejected Maimonides‘ description of G-d as “the Knower, the Knowledge and the Known.” In fact they considered it erroneous to ascribe to G-d a description of any sort — even of the lofty level of intellect of which Maimonides writes — inasmuch as description implies limitation, and G-d is inherently limitless.

The Alter Rebbe therefore points out in this note that the Kabbalists agreed with Maimonides, with the qualification that his concept does not apply to G-d’s essence. For His essence is truly infinite — even higher than the inscrutable level of “Knowledge” that Maimonides refers to. Regarding His essence, those who disagree with Maimonides are correct in maintaining that G-d cannot be defined in terms of “knowledge”, since He transcends it infinitely. Only after G-d limits the infinite light of His essence through the process of tzimtzum (progressive contractions), and thereby assumes the attribute of Chochmah (“Wisdom”), — only then can it be said of G-d that He is the “Knower, Knowledge and Known.”


והודו לו חכמי הקבלה כמ”ש בפרדס מהרמ”ק וגם לפי קבלת האר”י ז”ל


The Kabbalists have agreed with him (that G-d can be described as “Knower, Knowledge and Known”), as stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.14

Even according to the Kabbalah of the AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory), Maimonides‘ statement stands.

The Kabbalah of the AriZal provides an even deeper insight into the limitlessness of G-d’s essence, higher than even that level of “knowledge” to which Maimonides refers. Still, even according to the teachings of the AriZal, Maimonides‘ statement is acceptable — with one proviso, however.

בסוד התלבשות אור אין סוף ברוך הוא, על ידי צמצומים רבים, בכלים דחב״ד דאצילות

This is so only when applied to the mystic principle of the clothing of theEin Sof-light — by means of numerous “contractions” (tzimtzumim) — in the vessels of the Sefirot of CHaBaD (חב”ד — an acronym of Chochmah, Binah and Daat — “wisdom”, “understanding”, and “knowledge”, respectively; the triad of Sefirot which represent Divine “intellect”) of the world of Atzilut (“Emanation”).

Through a process of self-limitation called tzimtzum (“contraction”), G-d manifests (or, in kabbalistic terminology, “clothes”) His infinite essence (referred to by the Kabbalists as Ein Sof — “the endless, infinite One”) in the Sefirot, which are His attributes. This manifestation occurs first in Atzilut; specifically, in CHaBaD of Atzilut— Divine Intellect. Thus, at the level of Atzilut, G-d can indeed be defined in Maimonides‘ terms of “Knower, Knowledge and Known,” i.e., intellect,

אך לא למעלה מהאצילות

but not higher than Atzilut.

Above the World of Atzilut the Unknowable G-d cannot be defined. Accordingly, in terms of the kabbalistic scale, Maimonides had nothing to say about G-d except from the World of Atzilut and “down”.

וכמו שכתוב במקום אחר, שאין סוף ברוך הוא מרומם ומתנשא רוממות אין ק׳ למעלה מעלה ממהות ובחינת חב״ד עד שמהות ובחי’ חב”ד נחשבת כעשייה גופניית אצלו ית’ כמ”ש כולם בחכמה עשית

As explained elsewhere,15 the Ein Sof, blessed be He, is infinitely exalted over, and transcends, the essence and level of ChaBad.

In fact, the level of ChaBad is regarded as being equally inferior asmaterial action in relation to Him.

Thus it is written,16 “You have made them all with wisdom.”

“You have conceived them all with wisdom” would seem more appropriate: conceiving, not “making”, is surely the proper function of G-d’s wisdom. “You havemade them all with wisdom” indicates however that to G-d, “wisdom” — the highest level within the Worlds — is as lowly as Asiyah, the lowest level.


The Alter Rebbe now addresses a difficulty arising from his previous statement that every soul emanates from Divine wisdom. Since all souls emanate from one source — Supernal Wisdom — it should follow that all souls are of the same level and rank. How then do the various levels and ranks found in Jewish souls come about?

ואף שיש רבבות מיני חלוקי מדרגות בנשמות, גבוה מעל גבוה לאין ק׳

True, there are myriads of different gradations of souls (Neshamot), rank upon rank, ad infinitum.

כמו גודל מעלת נשמות האבות ומשה רבינו, עליו השלום, על נשמות דורותינו אלה דעקבי משיחא

For example, the souls of the Patriarchs and of Moses our Teacher are by far superior to the souls of our own generations, [which belong to] the period preceding the coming (lit., the “heels”, i.e., the footsteps) of the Messiah;

שהם בחינת עקביים ממש לגבי המוח והראש

for [the latter souls] are like the very soles of the feet in comparison with the brain and the head.

Just as the life-force found in the soles of the feet cannot possibly be compared to that found in the head and brain, so too can there be no comparison between the souls of these present generations and those souls (here called the “head” and “brain”) of earlier generations.

וכן בכל דור ודור יש ראשי אלפי ישראל, שנשמותיהם הם בחינת ראש ומוח לגבי נשמות ההמון ועמי האר׳

Similarly, within each generation we find the same disparity amongNeshamot: there are those who are the “heads (the leaders) of the multitude of Israel,” so designated because their souls are in the category of “head” and “brain” in comparison with those of the masses and the ignorant.

וכן נפשות לגבי נפשות כי כל נפש כלולה מנפש רוח ונשמה

Likewise there are similar distinctions between Nefashot and Nefashot(the soul-levels of Nefesh), for every soul consists of Nefesh, Ruach andNeshamah.17

Just as the soul-level of Neshamah varies from one Jew to another, so too do the levels of Ruach and Nefesh.

Thus we see how manifold are the differences in the ranks of souls. Accordingly, we would expect similar variations in their divine sources — the greater the soul, the higher its source.

מכל מקום שורש כל הנפש רוח ונשמה כולם, מראש כל המדריגות עד סוף כל דרגין, המלובש בגוף עמי האר׳ וקל שבקלים

Nevertheless, the root of every Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah, from the highest of all ranks to the lowest — the “lowest” being those soulsembodied within the illiterate and the most light-minded of light-minded Jews, —

נמשך ממוח העליון שהיא חכמה עילאה כביכול

all are derived, as it were, from the Supreme Mind which is Chochmah Ila‘ah (Supernal Wisdom).

In order to help us better understand why the levels of individual souls vary so widely despite their common source, the Alter Rebbe now returns to the analogy of a father and son (used earlier to illustrate the description of Jews as G-d’s “children” who are derived from Chochmah Ila‘ah — G-d’s “brain”, as it were).

An explanation in brief: In the analogy we observe that the child’s entire body is derived from a drop of semen originating in its father’s brain. Yet the many physical components which constitute the child’s body are by no means uniform. They vary greatly, from the brain — the highest component— to the nails of the feet, the lowest.

These radical differences come about through the presence of the drop of semen in the mother’s womb during the nine months of gestation. It is this period of physical development that produces the differences between one organ and another: the more materialized a particular component of the drop becomes, the more it diverges from its original state and becomes an entity with its own unique physical characteristics. We thus observe that though all the organs share a common source, nevertheless in the process of development there arise differences as radical as that between brain and nails.

Another matter evident from the analogy: Though the nails are the most insignificant part of the child’s body, they are still bound and united with their first source — the father’s brain. For, like the other parts of the child’s body, the nails too receive their nourishment and life from its brain. Since the child’s brain retains the essence of its source (the father’s brain) and is thus constantly bound to its source, even the nails are therefore bound up with their original source.

The same is true regarding souls. All souls are derived from the same source and root, from Chochmah Ila‘ah. But the soul must descend therefrom through a multitude of Worlds and levels, before clothing itself in a physical body. It is this descent that creates changes in the soul’s level and differences between one soul and another, for one soul is affected by this descent to a greater degree than another.

The second aspect of the analogy too applies here. Although a soul may descend to the very lowest of levels, it is still bound up and unified with its original source inChochmah Ila‘ah. In the analogy, the nails remain bound to the father’s brain through their unity with the son’s brain. Similarly, these souls of the lowest level remain bound to their source in Chochmah Ila’ah through their attachment to the souls of the righteous and the sages of their generation, from whom they receive their spiritual nourishment. Even when in this physical world, souls of a higher level (analogous to the child’s brain) retain the spiritual level of their source — the level of “head” and “brain”; and through these souls even the souls of lower levels remain bound and unified with their source within G-d. This, briefly, is what the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain.

כמשל הבן הנמשך ממוח האב, שאפילו צפרני רגליו נתהוו מטפה זו ממש

[The manner of the soul’s descent] is analogous to a child who is derived from his father’s brain: even the nails of his feet come into existence from the very same drop of semen which comes from the father’s brain. How then were nails created from it?

על ידי שהייתה תשעה חדשים בבטן האם, וירדה ממדריגה למדריגה, להשתנות ולהתהוות ממנה צפרנים

— by being in the mother’s womb for nine months, descending degree by degree, changing continually, until [even] the nails are formed from it.

Though the child’s organs all derive from the same source — the drop of semen which comes from the father’s brain — yet they develop into entities as radically diverse as the brain and the nails.

ועם כל זה עודנה קשורה ומיוחדת ביחוד נפלא ועצום במהותה ועצמותה הראשון, שהיתה טפת מוח האב

Furthermore: Although the drop has been so altered as to become the substance of the child’s nails, yet it is still bound to and united in a wondrous and mighty unity with its original essence and being, namely, the drop of semen as it came from the father’s brain.

וגם עכשיו בבן, יניקת הצפרנים וחיותם נמשכת מהמוח שבראש

Even now, in the son, the nails receive their nourishment and life from the brain that is in his head.

The nails derive their life from the child’s brain, which in turn retains the substance of its source, the brain of the father. Thus the nails too are bound up — through the brain of the son — with the father’s brain.

Evidence is now brought that the nails remain bound to the father’s brain:

כדאיתא בגמרא נדה שם : לובן שממנו גידים ועצמות וצפרנים

As is written in the Gemara (Niddah, ibid.18), “From the white of the father’s drop of semen are formed the veins, the bones and the nails of the child.”

According to the Kabbalah too, there is a connection between the nails and the brain, as shall be presently stated.

וכמו שכתוב בע׳ חיים, שער החשמל, בסוד לבושים של אדם הראשון בגן עדן

(In Etz Chayim, Shaar HaChashmal, it is likewise stated in connection with the esoteric principle of Adam’s garments in the Garden of Eden,

שהיו צפרנים מבחינת מוח תבונה

that they (the garments) were of “nails” [derived] from the cognitive faculty of the brain.)

וככה ממש כביכול בשורש כל הנפש רוח ונשמה של כללות ישראל למעלה

Exactly so, as it were, is the case with regard to every Nefesh, Ruach,and Neshamah in the community of Israel on high.

The soul, too, is changed from its original state by a process of “development” similar to the gestation which transforms the drop of semen; in the case of the soul, however, this process consists of a descent from World to World, and from level to level within each World, as mentioned briefly above.

The Alter Rebbe will now go on to state the details of this descent.

Specifically, the soul passes through four spiritual Worlds, in its descent from Supernal Wisdom to the human body. These “Worlds”, or stages in the creative process, are (in descending order): Atzilut (the World of Emanation), Beriah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation) and Asiyah (the World of Action). (They are written acrostically as אבי”ע, pronounced ABiYA.)

The function and significance of these “Worlds” will be clarified further in the Tanya; for the moment a brief explanation will suffice.

Atzilut (Emanation) is a World where the Ein Sof-light radiates, so that Atzilut is, in effect, G-dliness Itself “transplanted” (so to speak) to a lower level. (This takes place by means of tzimtzum.) For this reason, Atzilut is still united with its source — Ein Sof.

These two characteristics of Atzilut are indicated in its very name. The word Atzilut is etymologically related to two roots: (a) The verb לצא, meaning “to delegate”, as in the verse,19 “I (G-d) shall delegate something of your (Moses‘) spirit and place it upon them (the seventy Elders).” The verse is saying, then, that the spirit of prophecy possessed by the seventy Elders was merely an extension of Moses’ spirit, not something new, and separate from him. Similarly, the properties of Atzilut are extensions, on a lower level, of the Ein Sof. (b) Atzilut is also related to the word “etzel”,meaning “near” — thus indicating the unity of Atzilut with its source.

The World of Beriah (Creation), as its name implies, is a creation, not Divinity itself. It is the first creation to come about in a manner of Yesh Me‘Ayin — creatio ex nihilo; fromAyin (“nothingness”) there comes about a Yesh, a definite state of existence. Beriah,however, represents merely the passage out of non-existence; it is a state in creation which cannot yet be spoken of as giving rise to proper “existence”, definable in terms of form and structure.

Yetzirah (Formation) is the World where that which was created from Ayin assumes shape and form.

The World of Asiyah refers to the completed creation. Understandably, this completed creation is still spiritual. The final world of creation (“physical Asiyah”), comprising our physical world with all its creatures, comes into being only at a later stage.

Together, these worlds form the Seder Hishtalshelut, “the chain-like order of descent,” so designated because just as the lowest link in a chain is connected to the highest by means of all the interlocking links, similarly, in the Seder Hishtalshelut, the lowest level in Asiyah is connected to the highest level in Atzilut; all the levels interlock and flow from each other.

In the course of its descent from Chochmah Ila‘ah (Supernal Wisdom — the highest level in Atzilut) to the physical body, the soul passes through the entire Seder Hishtalshelut; and, as stated earlier, this descent produces the various levels of souls, just as gestation causes the drop of semen to be transformed into the child’s bodily organs, even to the point where it is formed into nails.

After this introduction, we return to the Alter Rebbe’s words:

בירידתו ממדריגה למדריגה על ידי השתלשלות העולמות, אצילות בריאה יצירה עשיה מחכמתו יתברך

By [the soul’s] descending degree by degree through the Hishtalshelut of the Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, from G-d’s wisdom,

כדכתיב: כולם בחכמה עשית

as it is written: “You have made them all with wisdom (Chochmah)”(i.e., everything emanates from Chochmah, which is the source of allHishtalshelut),

נתהוו ממנו נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי האר׳ ופחותי הערך

[through this descent] the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant and least worthy come into being.

Their souls were most strongly affected by this descent, and therefore they are on the lowest level. Similarly, all the various levels of “higher” and “lower” souls are determined by the soul’s descent through Hishtalshelut; some souls are affected to a greater degree, others less.

The Alter Rebbe now relates the second point in the analogy to our case. Just as in the analogy, the nails of the child are still bound up with their first source through their being constantly nurtured by the child’s brain, so too, in the case of the soul:

ועם כל זה עודינה קשורות ומיוחדות ביחוד נפלא ועצום במהותן ועצמותן הראשון, שהיא המשכת חכמה עילאה

Nevertheless (notwithstanding the fact that they have already become souls of the lower levels — the souls of the ignorant and the least worthy), they (these lesser souls) remain bound and united with a wonderful and mighty unity with their original essence, namely, an extension of Chochmah Ila‘ah (Supernal Wisdom),

כי יניקת וחיות נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי האר׳ הוא מנפש רוח ונשמה של הצדיקים והחכמים ראשי בני ישראל שבדורם

for the nurture and life of the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant are drawn from the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah of the righteous and the sages, the “heads” of Israel in their generation.

By drawing their nuture and life from those who represent the levels of “head” and “brain”, all Jews are bound up with their source in Chochmah Ila‘ah — Supernal Wisdom.

ובזה יובן מאמר רבותינו ז״ל על פסוק: ולדבקה בו — שכל הדבק בתלמיד חכם מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו נדבק בשכינה ממש

This explains the comment of our Sages20 on the verse,21 “And cleave unto Him” (concerning which the question arises: How can mortal man cleave to G-d? In answer, our Sages comment): “He who cleaves unto a [Torah] scholar is deemed by the Torah as if he had actually become attached to the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).”

This seems difficult to comprehend: How can one equate cleaving to a Torah scholar with cleaving to the Shechinah? However, in light of the above, this is readily understood.

כי על ידי דביקה בתלמידי חכמים, קשורות נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי האר׳ ומיוחדות במהותן הראשון ושרשם שבחכמה עילאה

For, through attachment to the scholars, the Nefesh, Ruach andNeshamah of the ignorant are bound up and united with their original essence and their root in Supernal Wisdom,

שהוא יתברך וחכמתו אחד, והוא המדע כו׳

(and thereby with G-d Himself, since) He and His wisdom are one, and “He is the Knowledge…”

והפושעים ומורדים בתלמידי חכמים

(22As for those who willfully sin and rebel against the Torah sages: How do they receive their spiritual nurture and life? Spiritual life and nurture flow only where there is a desire to nurture and give life. In answer to this, the text continues:

יניקת נפש רוח ונשמה שלהם מבחינת אחוריים של נפש רוח ונשמת תלמידי חכמים

the nurture of their Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah comes from the hind-part, as it were, of the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the scholars.)

Nurture from “the hind-part” can be understood by way of comparison to one who gives an object to his enemy — obviously, not out of a true desire to give, but rather due to some external factor. The grudging reluctance with which he gives will be reflected in his manner; he will turn away from him, tossing the object to his enemy over his shoulder. The same is true in the spiritual sphere. When spiritual nurture is given unwillingly, it is described as coming from “the hind-part” of the giver — an external level of nurture.

Nevertheless, even those who rebel against the sages receive some measure of spiritual nourishment from them. For every soul, without exception, must be bound up with its root and source, as explained earlier. The level of nurture they receive, is however from the “hind-part” of the souls of the sages.

Having23 concluded that every Jew has a holy soul which emanates “from above” (from Supernal Wisdom), the Alter Rebbe now states that even the quality (the “rank” or “level”) of each individual soul is determined only by factors “from above” — spiritual factors, such as the soul’s above-mentioned descent through Hishtalshelut. No actions of this physical world can determine its quality and rank. The Alter Rebbe makes this statement indirectly by clarifying a quotation from the Zohar which seems to indicate the contrary.

ומה שכתוב בזהר ובזהר חדש שהעיקר תלוי שיקדש עצמו בשעת תשמיש דוקא

As for what is written in the Zohar24 and in Zohar Chadash25 that the essential factor is to conduct oneself in a holy manner during sexual union,

מה שאין כן בני עמי האר׳ כו׳

which is not the case with the children of the ignorant and their ilk who do not conduct themselves thus,

The ignorant — as the Zohar goes on to imply — draw down for their child a soul of a lower level, which seems to indicate that an action occurring in this physical world can, in fact, affect the soul’s level. Not so, declares the Alter Rebbe. The Zohar is not referring to the soul at all, but to the soul’s spiritual “garment” — as follows:

היינו משום שאין לך נפש רוח ונשמה שאין לה לבוש מנפש דעצמות אביו ואמו

this is because no Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah is without a garment which stems from the Nefesh of its father’s and mother’s essence.

וכל המצות שעושה, הכל על ידי אותו הלבוש כו׳, ואפילו השפע שנותנים לו מן השמים, הכל הוא על ידי לבוש זה

All the commandments that it fulfills are influenced by that garment — it is through this garment that the soul achieves its ability to affect the body and to perform the commandments involving physical matters;even the benevolence that flows to one from heaven is all given through that garment. Because the soul is so strongly bound up with this garment, the Zohar refers to the garment, in this context, as the person’s “soul”.

ואם יקדש את עצמו, ימשיך לבוש קדוש לנשמת בנו

Now, if the person sanctifies himself, he will bring forth a holy garment for the neshamah of his child, thereby enabling the child to serve G-d more readily.

ואפילו היא נשמה גדולה, צריכה לקידוש אביו כו׳

However great a soul it may be, it still needs the father’s sanctification at the time of intercourse.

אבל הנשמה עצמה, הנה לפעמים נשמת אדם גבוה לאין ק׳ בא להיות בנו של אדם נבזה ושפל כו׳

But the soul itself as distinct from its “garment” is not affected by the parents‘ sanctification; in fact it sometimes happens that the soul of an infinitely lofty person comes to be the son of an ignoble and lowly person.

כמו שכתב האר״י ז״ל כל זה בליקוטי תורה פרשת וירא, ובטעמי מצות פרשת בראשית

All this has been explained by Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, inLikutei Torah on Parshat Vayera, and in Taamei HaMitzvot on Parshat Bereishit.

Thus the physical world — of which the parents are a part — can in no way affect the soul’s spiritual rank. Even the statement of the Zohar that the essential factor regarding the state of the soul is the holy manner of conduct during sexual union, pertains only to the soul’s “garment”. The soul itself, with all its various levels, emanates “from above.”

——— ● ———

1. See Tamid 29a.
2. Devarim 1:28.
3. Bereishit 2:7.
4. Siddur, Morning Prayer; cf. Berachot 60b.
5. Not found in our editions of the Zohar.
6. See Bereishit Rabbah 1:4.
7. Shmot 4:22.
8. Devarim 14:1.
9. Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar.
10. Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:10.
11. Iyov 11:7.
12. Yeshayahu 55:8.
13. Including Rabbi Yehudah Loewe (Maharal) of Prague in his Gevurot HaShem.
14. Shaar Mahut VeHanhagah, ch. 13.
15. See, e.g., Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah (Tanya, Part II), ch. 9.
16. Tehillim 104:24.
17. See Zohar I, 206a; also Rabbi Yeshayahu Hurwitz, Shnei Luchot HaBrit I, 9b.
18. 31a.
19. Bamidbar 11:17.
20. Ketubbot 111b.
21. Devarim 30:20.
22. Parentheses are in the original text.
23. This interpretation of the following passage of Tanya follows a comment of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. This paragraph forms (for the most part) a translation of this comment.
24. See Zohar II, 204b; III, 80-82.
25. Bereishit, p. 11.
The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.

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