In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe began to explain why the observance of the practical mitzvot is the ultimate purpose of Torah and of one’s spiritual service to G‑d. (This practical aspect is underscored by the conclusion of the verse, “For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.”) He explained that only mitzvot observed through action draw down the light of the Shechinah upon one’s animal soul and body (rather than upon the divine soul alone, as do the mitzvot performed only in thought and speech).
Yet this does not answer one question satisfactorily: Why is the illumination of the body and animal soul so important that those (practical) mitzvot which accomplish this illumination should be considered one’s primary objective?
The Alter Rebbe addresses this question in ch. 36. He explains that G‑d’s purpose in Creation is that he might have a dwelling place “in the lower realms”; specifically, in this physical world. In this world of doubled and redoubled spiritual darkness, His Ein Sof-light would radiate even more powerfully than it does in the higher, spiritual realms, through man’s transforming the darkness into light.
In man, the microcosm, the animal soul and the body are “the lower realms.” Therefore, the practical mitzvot which draw the light of the Shechinah upon them constitute man’s ultimate purpose.
Furthermore, through the practical mitzvot, and through their elevating effect on the body and animal soul, the material world in its entirety becomes a “dwelling place” for G‑d. (This, however, properly belongs to the discussion in ch. 37.)
והנה מודעת זאת מאמר רז״ל שתכלית בריאת עולם הזה הוא שנתאוה הקדוש ברוך הוא להיות לו דירה בתחתונים
In a well-known statement, our Rabbis declare that the purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms.
He desired that the essence of His Ein Sof-light be revealed as it is, without veil or concealment, amidst the lower creations. Our Sages use the word “abode”, or “dwelling place,” to describe such revelation. Just as a man’s home serves as an abode for his essence, so too, is this world intended to be an “abode” for G‑d’s Essence.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the phrase “the lower realms” mentioned above. He shows that this refers specifically to our physical world.
The explanation in brief:
The terms “higher” and “lower” realms do not denote degrees of respective importance in the sight of G‑d, or of closeness to Him. In G‑d’s eyes all the worlds, from the highest to the lowest, are equally insignificant; all are equally remote from Him. On the other hand, He fills the lowest world just as He fills the highest.
Thus, the terms “higher” and “lower” must be understood as a standard of comparison within the numerous worlds. They indicate to what degree G‑dliness is revealed in each individual world: the more revelation, the “higher” the world; the more obscurity and concealment, the “lower”. From this standpoint, our physical world is the very lowest, for here G‑dliness is most veiled and concealed.
In the Alter Rebbe’s words:
והנה לא שייך לפניו יתברך בחינת מעלה ומטה, כי הוא יתברך ממלא כל עלמין בשוה
But surely, before G‑d (i.e., in His sight) the distinction of “higher” and “lower” is not valid, one world is no higher than another, for he pervades all worlds equally. What, then, do our Sages mean by saying that “G‑d desired an abode in the ‘lower’ realms?”
אלא ביאור הענין
The explanation of the matter, however, is that G‑d desired an abode in that realm considered “lower” within the ranks of the worlds as follows:
כי קודם שנברא העולם היה הוא לבדו יתברך יחיד ומיוחד, וממלא כל כל המקום הזה שברא בו העולם
Before the world (any world) was created, there was only He alone, one and unique, filling all the space in which He created the world. Anything that could be conceived of as a “space” or possibility for creation, was filled with the Ein Sof-light.
וגם עתה כן הוא לפניו יתברך
In His view, indeed, it is still the same now. Creation wrought no change in His unity; He is One alone now just as He was prior to creation.
רק שהשינוי הוא אל המקבלים חיותו ואורו יתברך
The change applies only to the recipients of His vivifying force and His light — before creation there was none to receive the Divine life-force and light; Creation brought into being these recipients,
שמקבלים על ידי לבושים רבים המכסים ומסתירים אורו יתברך
who receive [this life-force and light- by way of numerous “garments” which veil and conceal G‑d’s light for without such garments they could not bear its intensity, and would cease to exist.
כדכתיב, כי לא יראני האדם וחי
So it is written: “For no man can see Me and live.”
Furthermore, not only man, a physical being, but even spiritual beings such as angels are unable to receive the divine light and life-force without concealing garments.
וכדפירשו רז״ל, שאפילו מלאכים הנקראים חיות אין רואין כו׳
And as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, interpret the word וחי (“...and live”) in this verse, as referring to angels; thus: “Even angels, called חיות (‘[holy- chayyot’) cannot see...” G‑dliness, except by way of garments which conceal Him, thereby enabling them to receive His light.
The degree of concealment varies, however, from world to world and from level to level. Here the distinction between “higher” and “lower” realms becomes valid, as the Alter Rebbe continues:
וזהו ענין השתלשלות העולמות וירידתם ממדרגה למדרגה
This concealment is the subject of the Hishtalshelut (the chain-like, graded and downward succession) of the worlds, and their descent from level to level,
על ידי ריבוי הלבושים המסתירים האור והחיות שממנו יתברך
through the many “garments” that conceal the light and the life-force emanating from Him (— the more concealment, the lower the descent);
עד שנברא עולם הזה הגשמי והחומרי ממש
culminating in the creation of this physical, gross world.
This world is not only physical — so that the truth of G‑d’s creative power is not in evidence; it is also gross, in that the lie is held up as a truth.
והוא התחתון במדרגה, שאין תחתון למטה ממנו בענין הסתר אורו יתברך, וחושך כפול ומכופל
[This world] is the lowest in degree; there is none lower than it in terms of concealment of His light and no world compares with it for doubled and redoubled darkness; nowhere is G‑d’s light hidden as in this world.
עד שהוא מלא קליפות וסטרא אחרא שהן נגד ה׳ ממש, לומר אני ואפסי עוד
So much so, that it is filled with kelipot and sitra achra which actually oppose G‑d, saying: “I am, and there is nothing else besides me.”
It is thus clear that the term “lower realms” refers to this physical world, the very lowest in degree of divine revelation.
Since there is but one “order of Hishtalshelut,” a question arises: Does its ultimate purpose lie in the higher worlds, where G‑dliness is revealed to a greater degree, while the lower worlds serve only to emphasize the revelation found in those higher than them (since light is distinguishable only where darkness exists)? Or, on the contrary, does its purpose lie in the lower realms (but in order to create them an order of Hishtalshelut is necessary, entailing the creation of the higher realms)?
Obviously, concealment of G‑dliness is not an end in itself; thus, if we assume the second position, it follows that these lower realms were created so that the darkness pervading them be transformed to light.
The statement that “G‑d desired an abode in the lower realms” shows the latter position to be the true one; and the “abode” is built by the revelation of His Presence in this lowest of worlds to a degree surpassing even that in the highest. This, in brief, is the subject of the following paragraphs in the text.
והנה תכלית השתלשלות העולמות וירידתם ממדרגה למדרגה אינו בשביל עולמות העליונים
The purpose of the Hishtalshelut of the worlds, and of their descent from level to level, is not for the sake of the higher worlds,
הואיל ולהם ירידה מאור פניו יתברך
since for them this constitutes a descent from the light of His Countenance.
The very word “world” (עולם) in Hebrew denotes concealment. Thus, even the highest worlds constitute, by their very existence, a descent from the pervading level of G‑dliness that preceded their creation. It is illogical, then, to say that the revelation which these higher worlds represent is the purpose of the Hishtalshelut, since their revelation is actually concealment — and the ultimate purpose of creation lies in revelation, not concealment.
אלא התכלית הוא עולם הזה התחתון
Rather, the purpose of Hishtalshelut is this lowest world.
All the higher worlds are merely steps in the descent of the divine creative power; in each of them the light is veiled yet further, until it is finally reduced to the minute degree of revelation that this physical world is capable of receiving.
שכך עלה ברצונו יתברך, להיות נחת רוח לפניו יתברך כד אתכפיא סטרא אחרא ואתהפך חשוכא לנהורא
Thus, the purpose of the Hishtalshelut is this world, for such was His will — that He find it pleasurable when the sitra achra is subjugated to holiness, and the darkness of kelipah is transformed into holy light,
שיאיר אור ה׳ אין סוף ברוך הוא במקום החשך והסטרא אחרא של כל עולם הזה כולו
so that in the place of the darkness and sitra achra prevailing throughout this world, the Ein Sof-light of G‑d will shine forth
ביתר שאת ויתר עז, ויתרון אור מן החשך, מהארתו בעולמות עליונים
with greater strength and intensity, and with the superior quality of light that emerges from the darkness i.e., when darkness is transformed into light, the resulting light is superior to ordinary light; it will thus shine with greater intensity than its radiance in the higher worlds.
שמאיר שם על ידי לבושים והסתר פנים, המסתירים ומעלימים אור אין סוף ברוך הוא
There, in the higher worlds, it shines through garments and [through] concealment of the Countenance (a concealment of the pnimiyut — i.e., the internal aspect — of the light) which conceal and screen the Ein Sof-light,
שלא יבטלו במציאות
so that [the worlds] do not dissolve out of existence.
For were the Ein Sof-light not screened by garments, the worlds could not bear it, and would dissolve. Thus, the revelation wrought by subjugation of the kelipot in this world, is greater than that of the higher worlds; there the Ein Sof-light is hidden, whereas here in this world it is revealed in all its strength.
A question arises, however. How is it possible (even upon subjugating the kelipot and transforming them into holiness) that we in this world should experience a revelation of the Ein Sof-light without veil or concealment, when even the higher worlds cannot receive such revelation without dissolving into nothingness?
In answer, the Alter Rebbe writes:
ולזה נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל את התורה, שנקראת עוז וכח
For this purpose the Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel the Torah which is called “might” and “strength” for it gives us strength to receive such revelation, without being overwhelmed by it,
וכמאמר רז״ל, שהקדוש ברוך הוא נותן כח בצדיקים לקבל שכרם לעתיד לבא
and as our Rabbis say, that G‑d gives tzaddikim the strength to receive their reward in the World to Come,
Why is this “strength” necessary?
שלא יתבטלו במציאות ממש באור ה׳ הנגלה לעתיד בלי שום לבוש
so that their existence should not dissolve within the divine light that will reveal itself in the hereafter without any garment,
כדכתיב: ולא יכנף עוד מוריך פירוש: שלא יתכסה ממך בכנף ולבוש , והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך
as it is written: “And your Teacher will no longer hide (יכנף) from you (meaning — not as some interpret the verse: ”He will no longer withhold (יכנף) your rains (מוריך),“ but, following Rashi: ”He will no longer conceal Himself from you with the edge of a robe or garment (כנף)“), and your eyes will behold Your Teacher”;
וכתיב: כי עין בעין יראו וגו'
and it is also written: “For they shall see eye to eye...,” meaning that the human eye will see as the divine “eye” sees, i.e., we will clearly see the revelation of G‑d’s light;
וכתיב: לא יהיה לך עוד השמש לאור יומם וגו׳, כי ה׳ יהיה לך לאור עולם וגו׳
and it is further written: “The sun shall no longer be your light by day,... for G‑d will be your eternal light.”
The strength to receive this light, which will shine forth in the World to Come without “garment” or concealment, we derive from our present study of the Torah.
The Alter Rebbe stated earlier that the purpose of the entire Hishtalshelut is the revelation of Ein Sof-light in this world, which occurs when the darkness of the kelipot of this world is transformed into the light of holiness.
But, one may ask, this revelation will take place only in the hereafter; at present the Ein Sof-light is completely hidden! The Alter Rebbe replies that, indeed, the Messianic era constitutes the purpose for which this world was created.
ונודע שימות המשיח, ובפרט כשיחיו המתים
It is known that the Messianic era, especially the period after the resurrection of the dead,
הם תכלית ושלימות בריאת עולם הזה, שלכך נברא מתחילתו
is indeed the ultimate purpose and the fulfillment of this world. It is for this [purpose] that [this world] was originally created.*
At first glance this statement appears strange: One would have thought that the Messianic era represents, not the purpose of creation, but the reward for man’s efforts toward fulfilling that purpose.
The Alter Rebbe therefore clarifies:
וקבלת שכר עיקרו באלף השביעי, כמו שכתוב בלקוטי תורה מהאר״י ז״ל
The [time of] receiving the reward is essentially in the seventh millennium, as is stated in Likkutei Torah of the AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory), whereas the period until then constitutes the fulfillment of the world’s purpose.
END OF NOTE
וגם כבר היה לעולמים מעין זה, בשעת מתן תורה
A glimmer of this revelation which will take place in the future has already been experienced — at the time of the Giving of the Torah at Sinai,
כדכתיב: אתה הראת לדעת כי ה׳ הוא האלקים, אין עוד מלבדו
as it is written: “You (G‑d) revealed Yourself, that we may know that G‑d is the L‑rd; there is nothing else besides Him.”
הראת ממש, בראיה חושיית
“You actually ‘revealed Yourself’” (literally: “made Yourself seen”), indicating that the revelation was in a manner [perceptible to] physical sight.
כדכתיב: וכל העם רואים את הקולות, רואים את הנשמע
So it is written: “And all the people saw the thunder” — “They saw what is [normally] heard”; i.e., the Children of Israel perceived the revelation at Sinai with actual sight.
ופירשו רז״ל: מסתכלים למזרח ושומעין את הדבור יוצא: אנכי כו׳
As our Rabbis explain: “They looked eastward and heard the [divine] speech issuing forth, saying: ‘I am [G‑d your L‑rd-,’
וכן לארבע רוחות ולמעלה ולמטה
and so, too, turning toward the four points of the compass and above and below,“ they heard the words coming from every direction.
וכדפירשו בתיקונים, דלית אתר דלא מילל מיניה עמהון כו׳
As explained also in Tikkunei Zohar: “There was no place from which He did not speak to them.”
והיינו מפני גילוי רצונו יתברך בעשרת הדברות
This was so because in the Ten Commandments His blessed Will was revealed,
שהן כללות התורה, שהיא פנימית רצונו יתברך וחכמתו, ואין שם הסתר פנים כלל
since they the Ten Commandments comprise the entire Torah which represents the inner aspect of His Will and Wisdom, where there is no “concealment of the Countenance” whatsoever,
כמו שאומרים: כי באור פניך נתת לנו... תורת חיים
as we say in our prayers: “For in the light of Your Countenance You gave us a Torah of life.”
The Torah thus represents the “light of His Countenance,” i.e., the inner light of G‑dliness. When this light was revealed through the uttering of the Ten Commandments, the entire world experienced a revelation of G‑dliness.
ולכן היו בטלים במציאות ממש, כמאמר רז״ל, שעל כל דיבור פרחה נשמתן כו׳
Therefore, they the Jews who stood at Sinai were nullified out of existence, as our Rabbis have said: “At every [divine] utterance their soul took flight from their body,
אלא שהחזירה הקדוש ברוך להן בטל שעתיד להחיות בו את המתים
but G‑d restored it to them with the dew with which He will revive the dead in the World to Come.“
והוא טל תורה שנקרא עוז
This is the “dew” of Torah which is called “might”; i.e., the Torah provides the strength that enables us to receive divine revelation without dissolving out of existence, as explained above in reference to the reward of tzaddikim in the World to Come.
כמאמר רז״ל: כל העוסק בתורה טל תורה מחייהו כו׳
Similarly, our Sages remark: “Whoever engages in the study of the Torah, the dew of Torah will revive him.”
The Torah is variously described as dew, rain, and so on, each figure denoting a different level within it. From the statement just paraphrased, we learn that “dew” refers to the Torah’s restorative power, and it was this “dew” by which G‑d restored the souls of the Jews which had taken flight upon experiencing a degree of divine revelation foreshadowing that of the Messianic era.
רק שאחר כך גרם החטא, ונתגשמו הם והעולם, עד עת קץ הימין
But afterwards after the Torah was given their sin caused both them and the world to become gross [again] — until the End of Days when G‑d’s “right hand” (ימין meaning both “days and ”right“), i.e., His power, will be revealed.
שאז יזדכך גשמיות הגוף והעולם, ויוכלו לקבל גילוי אור ה׳ שיאיר לישראל על ידי התורה שנקראת עוז
Then, the dross of the body and of the world will become purified, and they will be able to receive the revelation of G‑d’s light that will shine forth over Israel, by means of the Torah, which is called “might”.
ומיתרון ההארה לישראל, יגיה חשך האומות גם כן
Through the superabundance of light which will shine upon the Jewish people, the darkness of the nations will also be lit up,
כדכתיב: והלכו גוים לאורך וגו׳
as it is written: “And nations will walk by your (the Jewish people’s) light”;
וכתיב: בית יעקב לכו ונלכה באור ה׳
and it is also written that the nations will say to the Jewish people: “House of Jacob, go and we will walk along by the light of G‑d”;
וכתיב: ונגלה כבוד ה׳, וראו כל בשר יחדיו וגו׳
and again: “And the glory of G‑d shall be revealed, and all flesh will see...”;
וכתיב: לבוא בנקרות הצורים ובסעיפי הסלעים מפני פחד ה׳ והדר גאונו וגו׳
and: “to enter the holes of the rocks and the clefts of boulders, for fear of G‑d and of His majestic glory.”
This refers to the nations, who will be filled with the dread of G‑d; for it cannot be said of Israel, who will be one with G‑d, that they will seek refuge from Him.
וכמו שאומרים: והופע בהדר גאון עוזך על כל יושבי תבל ארצך וגו׳
So also do we pray: “Appear in the majestic splendor of Your might to all the inhabitants of the world,” including the other nations.
Thus we see that in the Messianic era G‑dliness will be revealed to all the nations of the world — and in this state lies the fulfillment of the purpose for which this world was created.