In chs. 39 and 40 of Tanya the Alter Rebbe spoke of the various worlds to which souls ascend as a result of their Torah study and spiritual service. Their level in each case is determined by the individual’s intention at the time: If the study and prayer were accompanied by love and awe generated by the contemplation of G-d’s greatness, they rise to the World of Beriah, the world of comprehension; if the love and fear are merely instinctive (inasmuch as they are inherent within every Jew), then the study and prayer ascend to the World of Yetzirah, the world of the spiritual emotions.
The Alter Rebbe also stated there that the Torah and spiritual service itself ascends to the Sefirot, which are the G-dliness of the worlds.
All this, however, applies only when the Torah study and the spiritual service are motivated by a kavanah lishmah, a pure intent born of a love or awe of G-d. If, however, this intent is lacking, such as when one studies Torah out of habit, this Torah study does not ascend to the Sefirot of the worlds. For the Sefirot are the G-dliness of the world, and “without love and fear they cannot [ascend and] stand before G-d.” Such a grade of Torah study ascends only as far as the chitzoniyut (the “external” aspect) of the worlds, where the angels abide.
Concerning this the Alter Rebbe quoted R. Chayim Vital, who states that Torah study that is uninspired by proper intent (kavanah) creates angels in the World of Yetzirah, while commandments fulfilled without proper intent create angels in the World of Asiyah.
(“Without intent” here means without an intent that stems from love or fear of G-d; it does not mean that there was no intent at all. For, as explained by R. Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the saintly father of the Rebbe, since angels comprise both form and matter, as the Alter Rebbe stated above, we must say that the Torah study that creates them has form and matter likewise. These are speech and intent, respectively.)
In any event, we see that Torah even without proper intent creates angels in the World of Yetzirah — and this it can do only by having risen to that world.
Now why should this be different from prayer? For prayer without proper intent remains mired below in this world. Why is it that when Torah study and prayer are performed with proper intent they both rise to the same world (whether Beriah or Yetzirah), while when they lack the proper intent, the Torah rises to Yetzirah and creates angels there, while the prayers remain below in this world?
This is the central question addressed in the following essay.
להבין מה שכתוב בשער היחודים, פרק ב׳
To understand the statement in Shaar HaYichudim, ch. 2,
Shaar HaYichudim of R. Chayim Vital (which appears in Shemoneh She’arim of current editions of the writings of the AriZal) is part of Shaar Ruach HaKodesh. The Rebbe once remarked in a talk, that the introduction to Shaar HaYichudim states that it is divided into several She’arim (Shaar HaNevuah, Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, and Shaar Tikkun Avonot). The Rebbe then noted the precision of the Alter Rebbe’s writings: In ch. 40 of Tanya he quotes a passage from Shaar HaYichudim and specifies that its source is Shaar HaNevuah, while with regard to another passage he simply cites Shaar HaYichudim.
In light of the above, clarification is needed as to why in ch. 40, when speaking of the angels that are created in the World of Yetzirah by Torah that is not studied lishmah (“for its own sake”), the Alter Rebbe cites Shaar HaNevuah, while here he cites Shaar HaYichudim.
דעל ידי תורה שלא בכוונה, נבראים מלאכים בעולם היצירה
that through Torah without proper intention, angels are created in the World of Yetzirah:
ושם הביא מהזהר, פרשת שלח, דלית קלא דאתאביד כו׳, בר קלא דאורייתא וצלותא דסליק ובקע כו׳
There [this source] quotes the Zohar, Parshat Shlach: “There is no voice lost [from this world], except the voice of Torah and prayer that ascends and pierces [the heavens]”; i.e., it does not remain below, but ascends.
והנה מכוונת התפלה נבראו מלאכים בעולם הבריאה, כמו מכוונת התורה
Now, through intention in prayer, angels are created in the World of Beriah, as with intention in the study of Torah.
Considering the results of one’s intent in avodah, then, prayer and Torah are thus similar: they both ascend to the same level, the World of Beriah.
ובלא כוונה, נדחית למטה לגמרי
Without proper intent, [prayer] is repelled utterly downward.
כמו שכתוב בזהר, פרשת פקודי, דף רמ״ה עמוד ב׳: גו רקיע תתאה כו׳
So it is stated in the Zohar, Parshat Pekudei, p. 245b, “Into the lowest heaven,...”
When prayer is not “as it should be,” i.e., when it is without proper intent, it is banished “into the lowest [of the heavens that govern the world].”
דאקרין צלותין פסילאן כו׳
“These [prayers] are called invalid prayers,” as the Zohar goes on to say.
ועיין שם פרשת ויקהל, דף ר״א עמוד ב׳: אי היא מלה כדקא יאות כו׳
Examine also [the Zohar,] Parshat Vayakhel, p. 201b: “If it is a seemly word...,” i.e., if a prayer is prompted by a proper intent, then the angel appointed as warden of prayers “kisses it” and elevates it.
Thus, prayer ascends only when it is propelled by a proper intent. If so, then since Torah and prayer are similar when they are performed with the proper intent, why when the proper intent is lacking is Torah still able to create angels in the World of Yetzirah, while prayer without proper intent is repelled into the lowest heaven?
אך ההפרש בין תורה לתפלה שלא בכוונה מובן מאליו
However, the difference between Torah and prayer without intention is self-evident.
כי לימוד התורה, הוא מבין ויודע מה שלומד, דבלאו הכי לא מיקרי לימוד כלל
For in the study of Torah without proper intent one understands and knows what he is learning, for otherwise it is not called study at all.
רק שלומד סתם, בלא כוונה לשמה מאהבת ה׳ שבלבו בבחינת גילוי
It is only that he is studying neutrally, without the intention of lishmah (“for its own sake”) out of a manifest love of G-d in his heart,
רק מאהבה המסותרת הטבעית
but only out of the latent natural love for G-d that every Jew harbors in his heart.
אך אינו לומד שלא לשמה ממש, להתגדל כו׳
On the other hand, he is not studying with an actual negative motivation, such as for self-aggrandizement or the like,
דהא לא סליק לעילא מן שמשא, כמו שכתוב בפרשת ויחי, דף רכ״ג עמוד ב׳
“for this [manner of Torah study] does not ascend higher than the sun,” as stated in [the Zohar,] Parshat Vayechi, p. 223b.
The Zohar states there that the verse, “What profit is there for man from all the toil that he toils under the sun,” does not refer to one’s toil in Torah study, for Torah is “loftier than the sun”; however, if this toil is undertaken “for self-aggrandizement,” it is also considered to be “under the sun,” for it does not ascend aloft.
היינו משום שמחשבתו וכוונתו הן מתלבשות באותיות הדבור, ואינן מניחות אותן לסלקא לעילא
That is because one’s thought and intent are clothed within the letters [of Torah] that he utters, and prevent them from ascending.
The ulterior motive that derives from the kelipot thus encumbers his words of Torah.
והכי נמי בתפלה שלא בכוונה, שמחשב מחשבות זרות
So, too, in prayer without intent, meaning that one entertains alien thoughts.
אלא מפני שכוונתו לשם שמים)
(But since his intention is addressed to G‑d,
He is, after all, in a state of prayer, except that alien thoughts interpose.
לכך יש לה תיקון בקל, לחזור ולעלות
it is therefore easily corrected, so that [his prayer] may once again rise to the state from which it was originally repelled,
כשמתפלל בכוונה אפילו תפלה אחת מלוקטת מתפלות כל השנה
when he prays with proper intention even one [full] prayer gathered piecemeal from the prayers of the entire year.
When on one day one passage of the prayers was read with proper intent and on another day another passage, and so on, and then all these passages are gathered together, thus constituting one complete prayer from the prayers of a whole year, then all one’s prayers throughout the year are elevated.
כמו שכתוב במקדש מלך, פרשת פקודי
Thus it is written in Mikdash Melech on Parshat Pekudei.)
We thus see that in one sense Torah without proper intent is superior to prayer without proper intent, for such Torah study creates angels in the World of Yetzirah, while prayer without proper intent is repulsed. On the other hand, when the lack of proper intent in Torah study is such that it prevents it from ascending, as in the case of studying for the sake of self-aggrandizement, then this is lower than prayer without proper intent.
For one proper prayer, or even a compilation of different prayers that add up to one prayer with proper intent, elevates all the other prayers of that year. With regard to Torah study, by contrast, even if one later studies with proper intent, this does not elevate his previous study; actual repentance is required. Until such time one’s Torah study is in exile within the kelipah which spawned his ulterior motive.
Nevertheless, since all Jews will eventually repent, for “No one of them will be rejected,” our Sages advise that “one should always study Torah and perform mitzvot even when they are not done for their own sake” — and, indeed, even if they involve an ulterior motive — for eventually he will achieve the state of lishmah, when he repents. This is explained by the Alter Rebbe at the end of ch. 39 of Tanya.