והנה רצון העליון בבחינת פנים הוא מקור החיים המחיה את כל העולמות
Now, the Supernal Will, of the quality of “Countenance”, i.e., the inner aspect of G‑d’s Will, which is directed toward the ultimate object of G‑d’s desire, is the source of life which animates all worlds.
ולפי שאינו שורה כלל על הסטרא אחרא, וגם בחינת אחוריים של רצון העליון אינו מלובש בתוכה ממש, אלא מקיף עליה מלמעלה, לכך היא מקום המיתה והטומאה, ה‘ ישמרנו
But since it is not bestowed on the sitra achra at all, and even the “hinder-part” of the Divine Will is not actually clothed within it but merely encompasses it from above, therefore it is the abode of death and impurity (May G‑d preserve us from them!).
כי מעט מזער אור וחיות שיונקת ומקבלת לתוכה מבחינת אחוריים דקדושה שלמעלה הוא בבחינת גלות ממש בתוכה, בסוד גלות השכינה הנ״ל
For the minute measure of light and life that it derives and that it absorbs internally from the external aspect of Divine holiness, is in a state of actual exile within it — as in the concept of the “exile of the Shechinah [within the kelipot]” described earlier.
ולכן נקרא בשם אלהים אחרים
It is for this reason too that the kelipah is termed “other gods,” apart from the reason given above — namely, that the kelipot derive from אחוריים , the “hinder-part” of G‑d’s Will,
שהיא עבודה זרה ממש, וכפירה באחדותו של מלך מלכי המלכים הקב״ה
for it constitutes actual idolatry and a denial of the unity of G‑d, the Supreme King of kings — the Holy One, blessed be He.
The explanation of these two reasons is as follows: Every created being is animated by two types of Divine life-force. One is an internalized life-force, which is beamed to suit the character and capacity of each individual creature. It is this power that determines the character of each being; it becomes one with it and is felt by it — in fact, this internalized life-force constitutes its identity. The second type of life-force is of an encompassing, transcendental nature. It does not adapt itself to the individual character of each being, and is not clothed within it; rather, it animates from without, so to speak — from its own level, above the created being which it animates.
The kelipot, too, are animated by these two types of Divine life-force. The latter type, since it does not permeate them, does not conflict with their ego. The kelipot can thus consider themselves independent beings, even while acknowledging G‑d as the source of their vitality. They need not deny Him. With regard to this type of G‑dly life-force, the kelipot are called אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” only because they receive their life from the אחוריים , from the “hinder-part” of G‑d’s Will.
The kelipot cannot, however, acknowledge the former, internalized type of G‑dly life-force, while asserting at the same time that they are separate from G‑d. To do so would be self-contradictory; for, as explained, this kind of life-force constitutes the very identity of every created being. The kelipot therefore completely deny this life-force (and it is thus truly in a state of exile within them). It is thus with regard to this life-force that the kelipot are called אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” in the literal sense of the term — implying idolatry and a denial of G‑d’s unity.
This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:
כי מאחר שאור וחיות דקדושה הוא בבחינת גלות בתוכה, אינה בטילה כלל לגבי קדושת הקב״ה
For inasmuch as the light and life of holiness i.e., the internalized life-force are in a state of exile within the kelipah, it does not surrender itself at all to the holiness of G‑d.
ואדרבה מגביה עצמה כנשר, לומר אני ואפסי עוד, וכמאמר: יאור לי ואני עשיתני
On the contrary, it soars aloft like an eagle, saying: “I am, and there is nothing beside me”; or, as in the statement of Pharaoh: “The river is mine, and I have made myself!”
ולכן אמרו רז״ל שגסות הרוח שקולה כעבודה זרה ממש
That is why the Sages, of blessed memory, said that arrogance is truly tantamount to idolatry.
כי עיקר ושרש עבודה זרה הוא מה שנחשב לדבר בפני עצמו, נפרד מקדושתו של מקום, ולא כפירה בה’ לגמרי
For the essence and root of idolatry is that it is regarded as an independent entity, separate from the holiness of G‑d; idolatry does not imply an outright denial of G‑d;
כדאיתא בגמרא דקרו ליה אלקא דאלקיא
as it is stated in the Gemara that they of the realm of kelipah call Him “the G‑d of gods,” so that although they do not deny His supremacy, their statement nevertheless constitutes idolatry,
אלא שגם הם מחשיבים עצמם ליש ודבר בפני עצמו, ובזה מפרידים את עצמם מקדושתו של מקום, ברוך הוא, מאחר שאין בטלים לו יתברך
only because they consider themselves, too, to be separate entities and independent beings; and thereby they separate themselves from the holiness of G‑d, since they do not efface themselves before Him.
כי אין קדושה עליונה שורה אלא על מה שבטל לו יתברך, כנ״ל
For the supernal holiness rests only on that which is surrendered to Him, as explained above.
ולכן נקראים טורי דפרודא בזהר הקדוש
For this reason the Zohar calls the kelipot “peaks of separation” i.e., they are as haughty as the mountain peaks, and are thus separate from G‑d.
והרי זו כפירה באחדותו האמיתית, דכולא קמיה כלא חשיב, ובטל באמת לו יתברך
But this constitutes a denial of G‑d’s true unity, since His unity implies that “all is esteemed as nothing before Him,” and that all is utterly nullified before Him,
ולרצונו המחיה את כולם ומהוה אותם מאין ליש תמיד
and before His Will which animates them all, and which constantly brings them into being out of nothingness.
Arrogance, therefore, which is the aggrandizement of one’s own identity, is diametrically opposed to the surrender of one’s identity which is a corollary of the concept of G‑d’s unity. Arrogance thus represents a denial of the unity of G‑d, and for this reason the Gemara equates it with idolatry.
* * *
To summarize briefly the points made in this chapter: Through many and varied tzimtzumim the Divine Word brought into being kelipot and the sitra achra, who perceive themselves to be entities separate from G‑d. For this reason, G‑d’s Word is described in the Torah as speech, for the element of separation found in human speech (where the spoken word becomes separated from the speaker) is also present in the Divine “speech” of Creation. However, this separateness exists only in the perspective from which the created beings view their relationship with their source; from G‑d’s perspective there is no separation at all, for everything is united with Him and is contained within Him even after it is created.
With this, the Alter Rebbe concludes one step of the discussion begun in ch. 20. There he stated that in order to explain how all the commandments of the Torah are encapsulated in the two commandments concerning idolatry, it is first necessary to clarify the true meaning of idolatry. This in turn necessitated an in‑depth discussion of the meaning of the unity of G‑d, which idolatry denies. The Alter Rebbe has thus far explained that G‑d’s unity means not only that there is but one G‑d: rather G‑d is the only existing being. All else is as naught before Him. Thus, any feeling (such as the kelipot feel) of having an identity of one’s own, apart from G‑d, actually represents idolatry.
In the following two chapters the Alter Rebbe now resumes his discussion, explaining how the above concept of G‑d’s unity finds expression in all the mitzvot of the Torah.
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