The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that every Jew has the ability to attain yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear of G‑d. This enables him to perform all the positive commandments and refrain from transgressing all the negative commandments. In the present chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain the two levels of fear of G‑d, yirah tata’ah and yirah ila‘ah, the lower and higher levels of fear respectively.
This distinction clarifies a seeming contradiction. The Mishnah first states: “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G‑d].” Wisdom must precede fear. But the Mishnah then goes on to say: “If there is no fear [of G‑d], there is no wisdom.” Fear must precede wisdom!
The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.
The Alter Rebbe also explains in this chapter that just as there are two general levels of fear of G‑d, there are also two general levels of love of G‑d.
והנה על יראה תתאה זו, שהיא לקיום מצותיו יתברך, בבחינת סור מרע ועשה טוב
Concerning this level of yirah tata‘ah of which it was said in the previous chapter that it is in the province of every Jew, which is [necessary] for the fulfillment of His commandments, in both areas of “Turn away from evil and do good,” i.e., in the performance of the negative and positive commands,
אמרו: אם אין יראה, אין חכמה
it was said, by our Sages, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.” If fear of G‑d is lacking, then one cannot properly fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.
ויש בה בחינת קטנות ובחינת גדלות
It (this lower level of fear) comprises a quality of “smallness” and a quality of “greatness”.
The quality of “smallness” describes the fear which is experienced as a result of a Jew’s innate fear of G‑d, and which is merely revealed through meditating upon matters that lead to the fear of G‑d. Since it does not result from contemplating G‑d’s greatness it is deemed “small”. The quality of “greatness” characterizes the fear of G‑d that results from contemplating G‑d’s greatness as it can be discerned from creation.
דהיינו, כשנמשכת בחינת יראה זו מההתבוננות בגדולת ה׳
This means i.e., fear has the quality of “greatness” when this category of the lower level of fear is a result of contemplation on the greatness of G‑d as it is perceived through His providing life to creation —
דאיהו ממלא כל עלמין
that He fills all worlds,
G‑d provides all worlds with vitality by vesting Himself in them. This life-force is attuned to the innate spirituality of the particular world or created being in which it is vested; the higher the world or created being, the loftier its life-force.
ומהארץ לרקיע מהלך ת״ק שנה וכו׳, ובין רקיע לרקיע כו׳
and from the earth to the heavens is a distance of 500 years,... and the distance from one heaven to the next... is also a journey of 500 years,
רגלי החיות כנגד כולן וכו׳
[and] “the feet i.e., the lowest level of the angels called chayyot measure up to them all...”
The lowest level of the chayyot transcends all the other levels.
וכן השתלשלות כל העולמות, למעלה מעלה עד רום המעלות
and similarly with one’s contemplation on the evolvement of all the worlds, one above the other to the topmost heights of the most spiritual worlds.
When a person contemplates and gains a deep understanding of the divine life-force that provides life to all worlds and spiritual levels, and hence achieves a fear of G‑d, then this understanding may be described by the term “greatness”. However, if this is the case, why then is this level considered part of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear?
The Alter Rebbe answers this by explaining that since this fear derives from contemplation of G‑dliness as it “fills all worlds” and thus is bound up with them, it is necessarily a lower level of fear. For this life-force is concealed in the worlds in such a way that they are still able to be aware of their own existence and being. As this level, the worlds merely nullify their being and existence in deference to their life-force. This is termed bittul hayesh, the self-nullification of a being that is aware of its own existence.
The fear which results from this contemplation can only belong to the level of bittul hayesh, and not the higher form of nullification known as bittul bimetziut, which is total and complete nullification of self. It is for this reason that even the fear which has the quality of “greatness” is still only on a level of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear. And this is what the Alter Rebbe now says:
אף על פי כן נקראת יראה זו יראה חיצונית ותתאה, מאחר שנמשכת מהעולמות
Nevertheless, this fear is called an external and inferior fear, yirah tata‘ah, since it is derived from the worlds i.e., from understanding the greatness of G‑d as a result of meditating upon the divine life-force which animates them,
שהם לבושים של המלך, הקב״ה, אשר מסתתר ומתעלם ומתלבש בהם, להחיותם ולקיימם, להיות יש מאין וכו׳
for they are “garments” of the King, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who conceals and hides and clothes Himself in them, in these worlds, to animate them and give them existence, that they may exist ex nihilo,....
Before the worlds were created they did not exist at all; they were in a state of non-being. Through their creation they became “beings”, entities whose existence could be experienced. This is the manner in which the divine life-force animates (and clothes itself in) creation: that created beings should be able to perceive themselves as existing entities which, nevertheless, are nullified to their divine life-force. Therefore, as explained earlier, this contemplation can only result in the level of bittul hayesh and not in bittul bimetziut, which is the level of yirah ila‘ah, the higher level of the fear of G‑d.
רק שהיא השער והפתח לקיום התורה והמצות
It is only that this fear serves as the gate and entrance to the performance of Torah and mitzvot.
For, as mentioned earlier, yirah tata‘ah leads to the performance of Torah and mitzvot. And it is concerning this lower level of fear that our Sages have said, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom”; fear of G‑d must precede the performance of Torah and mitzvot.
אך היראה עילאה, ירא בשת
However, as for yirah ila‘ah, a fear stemming from a sense of shame before G‑d’s greatness,
Fear of G‑d stemming from a sense of shame is similar to the shame and total sense of abnegation a person feels when he is in the presence of a truly outstanding tzaddik. His shame is not from that great man’s external and revealed powers, as would be the case when one fears a king.
Fearing a king only involves fear of his externality, which finds expression in his rule. (Generally, the more extensive the king’s domain, the greater will be the fear of him.)
The same is true of the fear of G‑d which results from contemplating the “garments” and revelation of G‑dliness in all worlds. It is therefore termed yirah tata‘ah, a lower level of the fear of G‑d, inasmuch as it does not evoke the same degree of shame and self-nullification as is evoked by recognizing the greatness of a truly righteous person. There, the shame and fear is prompted by the great man’s essence; the nullification and shame will therefore be total. Thus, yirah ila’ah is a fear which stems from a sense of shame when one is confronted by G‑d’s greatness.
ויראה פנימית, שהיא נמשכת מפנימית האלקות שבתוך העולמות
and an inner fear that derives from the inward aspects of G‑dliness within the worlds,
wherein the person is cognizant of the inward and essential aspects of G‑dliness and not only of the external qualities of G‑dliness which are clothed in all the worlds. The worlds are wholly nullified before this inward aspect of G‑dliness with a complete and total nullification, bittul bimetziut. Awareness of this higher level of nullification leads to the higher level of fear, yirah ila‘ah.
עליה אמרו: אם אין חכמה, אין יראה
concerning this level of fear it was said by our Sages, “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear.” This level of fear must be prefaced by wisdom.
דחכמה היא כ״ח מ״ה
For Chochmah is ko‘ach mah, the level of nullification which is termed mah (“What?”), as the verse says, “...and we are mah” — a phrase that expresses the complete and total nullification which is termed bittul bimetziut,
והחכמה מאין תמצא
and “Chochmah comes from ayin” (“nothingness”), for which reason Chochmah is ayin and nullity,
ואיזהו חכם, הרואה את הנולד. פירוש: שרואה כל דבר איך נולד ונתהוה מאין ליש, בדבר ה׳ ורוח פיו יתברך, כמו שכתוב: וברוח פיו כל צבאם
and our Sages said, moreover, “Who is wise? He who sees that which is born [and created].” That is to say, that the wise person is he who sees how everything is born and created from non-being to being by means of the Word of G‑d and the breath of His mouth, as it is written, “...and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts [were created].”
ואי לזאת, הרי השמים והארץ וכל צבאם בטלים במציאות ממש בדבר ה׳ ורוח פיו, וכלא ממש חשיבי, ואין ואפס ממש, כביטול אור וזיו השמש בגוף השמש עצמה
Therefore, the heavens and the earth and all their hosts, i.e., all of creation, are truly nullified out of existence within the Word of G‑d and the breath of His mouth — the level of their nullification is thus not that of bittul hayesh but of bittul bimetziut — and are accounted as nothing at all, as naught and nothingness indeed, just as the light and brightness of the sun are nullified within the body of the sun itself.
Once sunlight has left the sun one can perceive actual rays and illumination. However, when the light of the sun is found in its source, the body of the sun itself, it is completely nullified and does not exist in a luminous state; all that exists there is the source of light, the sun itself.
So, too, are all created beings nullified in their source, the Word of G‑d that creates them ex nihilo. When a person ponders this matter, it will so affect him that his nullification to G‑d will be at the level of bittul bimetziut.
ואל יוציא אדם עצמו מהכלל
And no man should except himself from this principle — from the principle governing all created beings, about which he understands that they are totally nullified to G‑d. He should realize:
שגם גופו ונפשו ורוחו ונשמתו בטלים במציאות בדבר ה׳
that also his body and Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah are utterly nullified in the Word of G‑d that created them,
ודבורו יתברך מיוחד במחשבתו כו׳ וכנ״ל פרק כ׳ וכ״א באריכות, בדרך משל מנפש האדם, שדבור אחד מדבורו ומחשבתו כלא ממש כו׳
and His Word is united with His thought... and G‑d’s thought in turn is one with G‑d Himself. Thus, the nullification is not only to G‑d’s Word, but is a total nullification to G‑d Himself, as has been explained above at length (chs. 20 and 21), by analogy with the human soul, one utterance of whose speech and thought are veritably as nothing..., when compared to the power of speech which is limitless.
Surely, one word pales utterly in comparison to man’s thought, which is the source of speech. Even more so when a single utterance is compared to the source of thought — the power of intellect or emotion, depending on whether the individual is thinking about intellectual or emotional things. Surely, then, this spoken word cannot in any way be compared to the soul itself.
There is, however, a difference between man’s speech and G‑d’s. When a human being speaks, the sound emitted from his mouth departs from its source and becomes a separate entity. G‑d’s creative speech, however, never departs — heaven forbid — from its source, that source being G‑d Himself, Who is omnipresent. Thus, divine speech is always found within its source.
It now becomes even more clear that G‑d’s Word, the source of creation, is truly and totally nullified to and unified with G‑d. Thus all of creation is completely nullified to G‑d.
וזה שאמר הכתוב: הן יראת ה׳ היא חכמה
This is what is meant by the verse: “Behold, the fear of G‑d, that is wisdom.”
For as explained earlier, the level of yirah ila‘ah and bittul bimetziut is the same as “wisdom”; it, too, is essentially bittul bimetziut.
אך אי אפשר להשיג ליראה וחכמה זו אלא בקיום התורה והמצות על ידי יראה תתאה החיצונית, וזהו שאמרו: אם אין יראה, אין חכמה
However, one cannot attain this fear and wisdom except by means of the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvot through yirah tata‘ah, which is an external fear. And this is what is meant by the statement, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.”
First must come yirah tata‘ah and the resulting performance of Torah and mitzvot; only then can one attain “wisdom” — yirah ila’ah and bittul bimetziut.
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