The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that since the light and life drawn down from G‑d is infinite — Ein Sof, as its name indicates — therefore in order for this finite world to be created, the Divine light had to undergo a multitude of contractions (tzimtzumim). This was the only way that finite creation could proceed from the infinite light of Ein Sof; were it to have been drawn down in an orderly progression, finitude would have never resulted.
As will be explained later in this chapter, all these contractions were a result of G‑d’s love of the Jewish people and His desire that they have the opportunity to fulfill Torah and the mitzvot.
The Alter Rebbe will now describe these contractions in a general manner, and will conclude that just as G‑d “overcame all obstacles” because of His love for the Jews and created finite worlds and creatures, so, too, “as water mirrors the reflection of a face,” should every Jew overcome all obstacles and come to experience a love of G‑d. Moreover, just as G‑d brought forth His light into this world in a manner that transcended orderly and limited progression, so, too, should every Jew seek to serve G‑d not only in an orderly and limited fashion, but without limit, renouncing everything for the sake of his love of Him. Even limitations foisted upon him by the world’s very nature should not act as an impediment to his service of G‑d.
והנה אף כי פרטי בחינות ההסתר והעלם אור אין סוף ברוך הוא בהשתלשלות העולמות, עד שנברא עולם הזה הגשמי, עצמו מספר ומינים ממינים שונים
Even though the particular aspects of the nature of the obscuring and concealment of the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof in the descent of the worlds, descending as they do ever lower until this material world was created, are too numerous to count and are of many diverse kinds,
כידוע לטועמים מעץ החיים
as is known to those who have tasted of the “Tree of Life,” the Kabbalah,
אך דרך כלל הם שלשה מיני צמצומים עצומים כלליים, לשלשה מיני עולמות כלליים, ובכל כלל יש רבוא רבבות פרטים, והם שלשה עולמות: בריאה, יצירה, עשיה, כי עולם האצילות הוא אלקות ממש
yet in general there are three levels of powerful and comprehensive “contractions” giving rise to three comprehensive Worlds, each category consisting of myriads upon myriads of particulars. These are the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah — for the World of Atzilut is G‑dliness itself.
Since Atzilut is G‑dliness itself it is not considered to be created ex nihilo, but rather is called Atzilut, which means an emanation from and an extension of G‑dliness — an illumination which comes from G‑d liness itself.
וכדי לברוא עולם הבריאה, שהן נשמות ומלאכים עליונים, אשר עבודתם לה׳ בבחינת חב״ד המתלבשים בהם
In order to create the World of Beriah, which consists of the higher souls and angels whose service to G‑d is in the sphere of the intellectual faculties of ChaBaD which are clothed in them — i.e., G‑dliness is revealed to them in an intellectual manner, through the three intellectual faculties of Chochmah, Binah and Daat,
והם משיגים ומקבלים מהם
and they i.e., the souls and angels apprehend them and receive [influence] from them — from ChaBaD which illumines them,
In order to create a world whose creations are not wholly nullified to G‑d — as is the case in Atzilut — but are only capable of knowledge and comprehension (and it will be noted that comprehension entails an awareness of one’s own being, in that comprehension presupposes an entity who is comprehending),
היה תחלה צמצום עצום כנ״ל
there necessarily preceded a powerful “contraction”, as mentioned above.
A mighty “contraction” was necessary in order to ensure that the light of G‑dliness manifest in Atzilut should be hidden, and that only a “contracted” form of light should illuminate and create creatures of the World of Beriah, which are on a level of creation ex nihilo.
וכן מבריאה ליצירה
So, too, from Beriah to Yetzirah,
In order for the World of Yetzirah — a World far lower than Beriah — to be created, there again had to be a powerful contraction.
כי אור מעט מזער המתלבש בעולם הבריאה, עדיין הוא בבחינת אין סוף לגבי עולם היצירה
for the minute portion of light (“minute”, that is, in relation to the light found in Atzilut) which clothes itself in the World of Beriah is still in a category of infinity in relation to the World of Yetzirah, so that the light of Beriah had to undergo a powerful “contraction” before it was able to descend into Yetzirah,
ואי אפשר להתלבש בו אלא על ידי צמצום והעלם, וכן מיצירה לעשיה
and it is unable to clothe itself in the latter except through contraction and obscuration. So, too, from Yetzirah to Asiyah.
There, too, the light of the World of Yetzirah had to be considerably limited to enable it to descend into the World of Asiyah.
וכמו שנתבאר במקום אחר ביאור שלשה צמצומים אלו באריכות, לקרב אל שכלינו הדל
(An elaborate explanation of these three “contractions” is given elsewhere, in order to make them more accessible to our poor intellect.)
ותכלית כל הצמצומים הוא כדי לברוא גוף האדם החומרי, ולאכפייא לסטרא אחרא, ולהיות יתרון האור מן החושך
The purpose of all the “contractions” is the creation of the material human body and the subjugation by man of the sitra achra, to bring about the preeminence of light supplanting darkness — by having light replace darkness, and even more so when the darkness itself is transformed into light, at which time the preeminence of light is felt to an even greater degree. This is accomplished:
בהעלות האדם את נפשו האלקית והחיונית ולבושיהן, וכל כחות הגוף כולן, לה׳ לבדו, כנ״ל באריכות
when a person elevates his divine soul and his vivifying soul (a soul which receives its nourishment from kelipot, but through man’s service in Torah and mitzvot is elevated and incorporated into holiness, thereby elevating the souls) together with their garments of thought, speech and action, and all the powers of the body, to G‑d alone, as has been discussed earlier at length,
כי זה תכלית השתלשלות העולמות
for this is the purpose of the progressive descent of the Worlds.
The ultimate purpose of all the descents from level to level and World to World is this physical world. It is here that a Jew is able, through his divine service, to effect the subjugation of evil and the preeminence of light supplanting darkness.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that just as G‑d’s love for the Jews “overcame all obstacles” that (as it were) stood in the way of creating this physical world, contracting His infinite light so that finite beings could be created, so, too, should every Jew respond in kind by overcoming all obstacles that hinder him from serving G‑d. Furthermore, his level of service too should not be finite but infinite.
והנה כמים הפנים לפנים
And “as water mirrors the reflection of a face”:
Just as water reflects an exact replica of one’s face, so, too, with regard to the “heart of man to his fellow man,” the love of one person to another results in the other person’s loving him as well:
כמו שהקב״ה כביכול הניח וסילק לצדדין דרך משל את אורו הגדול הבלתי תכלית וגנזו והסתירו בג׳ מיני צמצומים שונים, והכל בשביל אהבת האדם התחתון, להעלותו לה׳
As G‑d has (as it were) laid down and set aside, figuratively speaking, His great infinite light, and has stored it away and concealed it by means of three different kinds of “contractions” — and all this because of His love for lowly man, in order to raise him up to G‑d,
This means to say that G‑d created a world in which man may serve Him, and by doing so man is uplifted to G‑d. But how is it possible for love to bring about “contraction”, when love signifies kindness and expansiveness, while contraction and concealment characterize severity? The Alter Rebbe answers this implied question by pointing out that we find that love, too, can bring about contraction, as in the Gemara now quoted:
כי אהבה דוחקת את הבשר
for “love impels the flesh,” so that the flesh will not impede it. Thus, because of G‑d’s love for His people, He (figuratively speaking) set aside His great light and concealed it through many contractions, and so on. This being so:
על אחת כמה וכמה, בכפלי כפליים לאין קץ, כי ראוי לאדם גם כן להניח ולעזוב כל אשר לו מנפש ועד בשר, ולהפקיר הכל
how much more, and an infinite number of times more, is it fitting that a man also should relinquish and set aside all he possesses, both spiritually and physically, and renounce everything,
בשביל לדבקה בו יתברך בדביקה חשיקה וחפיצה, ולא יהיה שום מונע מבית ומחוץ, לא גוף ולא נפש ולא ממון ולא אשה ובנים
in order to cleave to Him, with attachment, desire and longing, without any hindrance, within or without, neither of body nor soul — hindrances from “within”, nor money, nor wife and children — hindrances from “without”. None of these things should hinder him from cleaving to G‑d. By renouncing them all he sets aside even his most important needs for the sake of his love of G‑d.
ובזה יובן טוב טעם ודעת לתקנת חכמים, שתקנו ברכות קריאת שמע: שתים לפניה כו׳, דלכאורה אין להן שייכות כלל עם קריאת שמע, כמו שכתבו הרשב״א ושאר פוסקים
This will enable one to understand the eminently reasonable explanation of the Rabbinic enactment (Mishnah, Berachot 1:4) ordaining the recitation of the blessings of the Shema: two blessings preceding it, and so on. For at first glance it would appear that they have no connection whatever with the recital of the Shema, as Rashba and other halachic authorities have stated.
In this, they are unlike other Rabbinic blessings pronounced over mitzvot, where each such blessing refers explicitly to the mitzvah itself (as for example the blessing “...to put on the tefillin”).
ולמה קראו אותן ברכות קריאת שמע, ולמה תקנו אותן לפניה דווקא
Why, then, were they termed “Blessings of the Shema?” And why was it ordained that they be recited specifically before it when they are in no apparent way connected to it?
The Alter Rebbe explains that the purpose of these blessings is to serve as a preparation to the Shema. The main objective of the Shema is attaining a “love of G‑d with both one’s inclinations” — so that not only the divine soul, but the animal soul and Yetzer Hara also come to love G‑d. And for this one must first meditate on the contents of the blessings of the Shema, which describe the self-nullification of the angels and other creatures.
Thus, the blessings preceding the Shema are indeed similar to other blessings. Just as the Sages instituted blessings to be recited before performing any other particular mitzvah in order to make the person a fit receptacle for the beneficent flow he receives from its performance, so, too, did they institute the blessings preceding the Shema in order for one to properly perform that mitzvah.
אלא משום שעיקר קריאת שמע: לקיים בכל לבבך כו׳, בשני יצריך כו׳
But the reason is that the essence of the recital of the Shema is to fulfill the injunction, “with all your heart...,” that is, “with both inclinations...” — that a Jew should love G‑d with the whole of his heart, even with his animal soul and evil inclination,
דהיינו לעמוד נגד כל מונע מאהבת ה׳
that is to say, to withstand anything that hinders [him] from the love of G‑d.
ולבבך: הן האשה וילדיה, שלבבו של אדם קשורה בהן בטבעו, כמו שאמרו רז״ל על פסוק: הוא אמר ויהי, זו אשה, הוא צוה ויעמוד, אלו בנים
For “your heart” alludes to one’s wife and her children, to whom a man’s heart is, by his very nature, bound. So have the Sages, of blessed memory, commented on the verse: “For He spoke and it came to pass,” that this refers to one’s wife; “He commanded, and it stood fast,” that this refers to the children,
I.e., it is G‑d’s command that imbues a man’s nature with the bond to his wife and children. These are “your heart,” the things to which his heart is bound — and they are not to hinder his divine service.
ונפשך ומאדך: כמשמעו, חיי ומזוני
and by “your soul and might” is understood, literally, your life and sustenance; they, too, should not act as an impediment to spiritual service;
להפקיר הכל בשביל אהבת ה׳
all are renounced for the love of G‑d.
Thus, neither the things found “within” — the animal soul and evil inclination, nor those things “without” — one’s wife, children and sustenance, should hinder a person from those matters which lead to the love of G‑d.