This chapter warrants a brief introduction.
In previous chapters, Tanya has discussed various levels and forms of love of G‑d, each of which can inspire one to study Torah and observe mitzvot with increased enthusiasm. In all these levels, the love consists of a yearning to become joined with G‑d, or else a desire that the Divine be revealed within one’s soul. For this reason, the love of G‑d arouses one directly to study Torah and observe its commandments, for through these a Jew becomes joined with G‑d, and G‑dliness becomes revealed in his soul.
Ch. 50 will discuss a different form of love. Rather than a yearning to become joined with G‑d, it is a thirst and craving for the Divine to the point of klot hanefesh, an utter rapture that consumes the soul until it is on the verge of expiring into sheer G‑dliness. The aim of this love, then, is that the soul tear itself away from the body, and from whatever ties it to the body, and expire into G‑dliness.
Such a love of G‑d cannot prompt one directly to observe Torah and mitzvot, for this is possible only when the soul is enclothed within the body.
Nevertheless, the ultimate aim of every love of G‑d is to serve Him through fulfilling His Will — the Torah and the mitzvot — as a result of the inspiration of this love. In the case of klot hanefesh, however, it is not the state of love in itself which arouses one to serve G‑d through Torah and the mitzvot. It is rather through a contrary inclination aroused within the soul — during the very sensation of burning love for G‑d, when the soul is in a state of surging ahead towards Him and expiring into G‑dliness. At this very moment, one realizes that expiring is not the ultimate Divine intent. On the contrary, this intent is that the soul remain enclothed within the body, there to continue its task of drawing G‑dliness ever downward, and revealing it in this finite world.
This realization brings one to subordinate one’s own feelings. Instead of enjoying the rapturous sensation of surging forward, and expiring into G‑dliness, one comes to experience an opposite sensation — of returning, to become enclothed in the body, for the sake of fulfilling the Divine intent by observing Torah and the mitzvot.
All the forms and levels of love of G‑d discussed before ch. 50 are grouped under the term kesef (lit., “silver”), which Tanya derives etymologically from the same root, meaning “desire”. Kesef comes under the category of Chesed (“kindness”), which Tikkunei Zohar calls the “right arm” of the Divine stature.
In the Kabbalah, the ten Sefirot are divided into three groups, called vertical “lines” — right, left, and center. The right line, known as the line of Chesed, consists of Chochmah, Chesed, and Netzach. The left line, known as the line of Gevurah, consists of Binah, Gevurah, and Hod. Thus, Chesed is an outgrowth of Chochmah, which begins its line, and Gevurah a product of Binah, which begins its line. (The other Sefirot are situated in the center line, which does not concern us here.)
The various kinds of love of G‑d discussed hitherto all come under the category of Chesed and kesef, and are therefore an outgrowth of Chochmah. But the love of G‑d in the form of klot hanefesh discussed in this chapter, comes under the category of Gevurah, which is called zahav (“gold”), and is an outgrowth of Binah.
והנה כל בחינות ומדרגות אהבה הנ״ל הן מסטרא דימינא, ובחינת כהן איש חסד
All the forms and levels of love mentioned above derive from the “right side,” from the level of Kohen, for a Kohen is called “a man of kindness,” meaning that his form of serving G‑d comes under the category of Chesed.
ונקראות: כסף הקדשים, מלשון: נכסוף נכספתה לבית אביך
They are called kesef hakodashim (“a longing for holy things”), as in the words, “You sorely longed for your father’s home” (where the Hebrew word for “longed” is etymologically related to the word kesef).
All these forms and levels of love of G‑d thus express the desire and longing of a Jew to become joined with G‑d. The words “for your father’s home” in the quoted verse refer to the level of Chochmah, which is called Abba (lit., “father”). This is also the connection with the term (kesef) hakodashim, for in the Zohar, chochmah is called Kodesh (“holiness”). As explained in the introduction to this chapter, all these forms of love come under the category of Chesed, which is an outgrowth of Chochmah (lit., “wisdom”), for they directly inspire one to observe Torah and the mitzvot which derive from Divine Wisdom.
אך יש עוד בחינת אהבה העולה על כולנה, כמעלת הזהב על הכסף
There is, however, another level of love which excels all these aforementioned levels, as gold is superior to silver.
This superiority subsists not in degree or intensity, but rather in quality and character. This is not just a quantitative superiority — in that gold (in the analogy) is worth more than silver, a small quantity of it fetching a higher price than a large quantity of silver. The superiority of gold lies in the fact that the most refined type of gold possesses a captivating luster which glistens in the eyes of the beholder (as explained in the Zohar). All other types of gold are related to this type. Silver, on the other hand, does not possess this quality.
The same distinction exists between the form of love described in this chapter, which has the characteristic of thirst and rapturous expiry into G‑dliness, and the other forms of love which do not have this quality.
והיא אהבה כרשפי אש
This is a love like glowing coals of fire — a burning love, unlike the aforementioned forms of love which are essentially “like water,” for the soul is drawn with a yearning towards G‑d, like water which flows and is attracted in a certain direction. (Hence in the wording of the Prayer for Rain said on Shemini Atzeret: “Remember our forefather who was drawn after You like water”.) This love, on the other hand, has a totally different quality — that of glowing coals of fire.
מבחינת גבורות עליונות דבינה עילאה
This derives from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher Binah. In other words, the source of this love is from the level of Gevurah in Binah.
דהיינו, שעל ידי התבוננות בגדולת אין סוף ברוך הוא, דכולא קמיה כלא ממש חשיב
The arousal of this love comes about through meditation on the greatness of the Infinite One, before Whom all is considered as absolute nothingness.
תתלהט ותתלהב הנפש ליקר תפארת גדולתו, ולאסתכלא ביקרא דמלכא
Then, the soul becomes inflamed and flares up towards the precious splendor of His greatness, in order to gaze upon the glory of the King. This is the content of this love.
כרשפי אש שלהבת עזה העולה למעלה
It is like glowing, fiery coals of a mighty flame which surges upward (not a love which is drawn towards some object, but one which ascends with the burning fire of klot hanefesh),
וליפרד מהפתילה והעצים שנאחזת בהן
and it strives to be parted from the wick and wood on which it has taken hold.
In the same way, the soul seeks to tear away from the body, which is compared to a wick (ch. 35) and to wood (ch. 29), in relation to the fire and light of the soul.
והיינו על ידי תגבורת יסוד האש אלקי שבנפש האלקית
This results from the predominance of the element of divine Fire that is in the divine soul, unlike other forms of love which derive from the element of Water in the divine soul.
ומזה באה לידי צמאון, וכמו שכתוב: צמאה לך נפשי
From this, the soul comes to a thirst. Just as, in the physical domain, one becomes thirsty when the element of Fire predominates, so it is in the spiritual domain, too: the ascendancy of the divine soul’s element of Fire creates a thirst within the soul, as it is written: “My soul thirsts for You.”
ואחר כך לבחינת חולת אהבה
Then it reaches the level of “lovesickness”, where the soul is sick with love of G‑d, just as an unquenched physical thirst brings on a state of sickness.
ואחר כך באה לידי כלות הנפש ממש, כמו שכתוב: וגם כלתה נפשי
And then it comes to a virtual expiring of the soul (klot hanefesh), as it is written: “And my soul expires.” If not for the consequent contrary sensation of “retreat” and restraining oneself (as explained further), the soul would literally expire.
והנה מכאן יצא שורש הלוים למטה
From here, from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher Binah, is derived the source of the divine service of the Levites below in this world.
ולעתיד, שהעולם יתעלה, יהיו הם הכהנים, וכמו שכתב האר״י ז״ל על פסוק: והכהנים הלוים, שהלוים של עכשיו יהיו כהנים לעתיד
(In the future, when the world will be elevated, they will be the Kohanim (unlike now, when the Levites are secondary to them, as it is written: “They shall accompany you and serve you”), as our Master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, commented on the verse, “But the Kohanim, the Levites...” — that the Levites of today will become the Kohanim of the future.)
ועבודת הלוים היתה להרים קול רינה ותודה, בשירה וזמרה, בניגון ונעימה
The Levites‘ service of G‑d was to raise their voice in melody and thanksgiving, with song and music, tunefulness and harmony. Music characteristically combines varied and even opposite moods, some serious (stemming from Gevurah) and others happy (stemming from Chesed).
בבחינת רצוא ושוב
Their music progressed in a manner of advance and retreat (ratzo, literally “running”, and shov, “returning”). This echoed their form of serving G‑d: the headlong advance towards klot hanefesh, and the restraint, retreat and return from that point.
שהיא בחינת אהבה עזה זו, כשלהבת היוצאה מן הבזק, כדאיתא בגמרא פרק ב׳ דחגיגה
Such is the nature of this intense love, like a flame that flashes out of the bazak, as is mentioned in the Gemara (Chagigah, ch. 2).
One translation of bazak is a crucible for refining gold, in which the flame flashes forth and immediately withdraws. In Yechezkel 1:14, the angels called holy chayyot “run to and from (ratzo vashov) like the appearance of the bazak.” Likewise, the love of G‑d we are discussing in this chapter first experiences ratzo, a state in which the soul surges forward as if about to expire. But then comes shov, as it is written in Sefer Yetzirah: “If your heart runs, return to One.” In other words, when your heart seeks to undergo klot hanefesh, expiring into G‑dliness, then you should return to “One” — withhold yourself from this course and return, in order to bring the revelation of G‑d’s Oneness into this physical world. At this point one realizes that klot hanefesh is not the Divine intent, which is, rather, that the soul remain in the body and observe Torah and the mitzvot, thereby revealing the “One”, G‑d’s unity, in the world.
ואי אפשר לבאר ענין זה היטב במכתב, רק כל איש נלבב ונבון, המשכיל על דבר, ומעמיק, לקשר דעתו ותבונתו בה׳, ימצא טוב ואור הגנוז בנפשו המשכלת, כל חד לפום שיעורא דיליה
It is impossible to explain this subject clearly in writing. Yet every person with a feeling heart (i.e., who has perfection of heart), who is understanding (in that he uses his faculty of Binah), and intelligent in grasping a subject (by using his faculty of Chochmah), and delves deeply to attach his mind and understanding to G‑d (by using his faculty of Daat), will find the goodness and light concealed within his intelligent soul, each according to his capacity:
יש מתפעל כו׳ ויש מתפעל כו׳
(one is affected in one way, from one type of meditation,...and one is affected in another way, by a different form of meditation),
אחרי קדימת יראת חטא, להיות סור מרע בתכלית, שלא להיות עונותיכם מבדילים כו׳, חס ושלום
after prefacing this meditation by fear of sin, the fear of doing wrong by sinning, in order to become utterly removed from evil, withholding oneself from doing any wrong, to avoid “your transgressions interposing between you and G‑d,...” G‑d forbid.
In other words, whatever form one’s excitement with love of G‑d takes, one must first be totally removed from evildoing.
* * *
The Alter Rebbe will now explain that since this love of G‑d is such that the soul is on the verge of expiring, it cannot inspire one directly to serve G‑d through Torah and mitzvot.
והנה סדר העבודה בעסק התורה והמצות, הנמשכת מבחינת אהבה עזה זו, היא בבחינת שוב לבד
The order of one’s divine service through occupation with Torah study and mitzvot, a service deriving from this intense love, is possible only in a manner of retreat, i.e., when the soul withholds itself from expiring in order to fulfill the Divine intent, which can only be realized when the soul remains within the body.
כמו שכתוב בספר יצירה: ואם רץ לבך, שוב לאחד. פירוש ואם רץ לבך, היא תשוקת הנפש שבלב בחלל הימני, כשמתגברת ומתלהבת ומתלהטת במאד מאד, עד כלות הנפש ממש, להשתפך אל חיק אביה, חיי החיים ברוך הוא
As it is written in Sefer Yetzirah: “If your heart hastens, return to One.” “If your heart hastens” refers to the craving of the soul that is in the right side of the heart (the abode of the Divine soul), when this craving predominates and bursts into flame, and glows in such rapture that the soul is consumed with a desire (klot hanefesh) to pour itself out into the embrace of its Father, its Source, Who gives one life,
ולצאת ממאסרה בגוף הגופני וגשמי, לדבקה בו יתברך
and to leave its confinement in the corporeal and physical body to attach itself to Him, blessed be He.
When one is consumed with such an incontainable, rapturous love, seeking even at the cost of self-extinction to become attached to G‑d, there must now be a deliberate “return to the One.”
אזי זאת ישיב אל לבו, מאמר רז״ל: כי על כרחך אתה חי
Then one must take to heart the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory: “Despite yourself you must live” — despite your craving for expiry in klot hanefesh, you must nevertheless remain alive,
בגוף הזה, להחיותו, כדי להמשיך חיים עליונים מחיי החיים ברוך הוא למטה, על ידי תורת חיים
in this body, to keep it alive, for the purpose of drawing down the higher life-force from the Life of life, blessed be He, through the life-giving Torah.
להיות דירה בתחתונים לאחדותו יתברך בבחינת גילוי
Through this, there will be a dwelling-place in the lower worlds and created beings for His blessed Oneness in a revealed state,
Just as in an ordinary dwelling, a person’s identity is totally revealed, so will the true essence of the Divine Oneness be then revealed among the beings of this lower world.
כמו שנתבאר לעיל
as explained above, that this is the ultimate Divine intent — that a human being’s service of G‑d should make of the world a dwelling-place for Him. And this is the meaning of “Return to the One”: retreat from your love of G‑d in a state of klot hanefesh, for the sake of the “One”, for the sake of revealing G‑d’s Oneness in the world.
וכמו שכתוב בזהר הקדוש: למהוי אחד באחד, פירוש: שהיחוד הנעלם יהיה בבחינת עלמא דאתגליא
And, as is explained in the holy Zohar: “That there be One in one,” meaning that the unity which is hidden — the “One” of a higher spiritual world or level — shall become an aspect of the “revealed world,” becoming manifest in the Oneness of a lower world or level.
וזהו שאומרים: לכה דודי וכו׳
And this is the meaning of the text: “Come, my Beloved, to meet the bride (kallah)” — denoting klot hanefesh (kallah and klot being etymologically related). In this form of the love of G‑d, one’s klot hanefesh should be expressed through causing “my Beloved” to “come” — i.e., through drawing down the Beloved One, G‑d Himself, so that G‑dliness will be revealed in this nether world.
ובזה יובן מאמר רז״ל: על כרחך אתה חי ועל כרחך וכו׳
With this one will be able to understand the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory: “Despite yourself, even against your will, you must live, and despite yourself you must die.”
From this saying, “Despite yourself you must live,” we learn that, in our service of G‑d, we should in the first instance desire the opposite of staying alive (klot hanefesh), and that remaining alive within the body has to be perforce, against our will. On the other hand, from the second saying, “Despite yourself you must die,” we learn that we should desire to remain alive, and that the opposite of life, klot hanefesh, should be against our will. If so, the question arises:
ואלא איך יהיה רצונו
What then should one’s desire be?
We can understand this according to what has been explained above: First one must come to the point where one can arouse within oneself such an intense love of G‑d that one desires klot hanefesh, while remaining alive is “despite oneself” — only for the purpose of fulfilling G‑d’s Will that one reveal G‑dliness and His Oneness in the world. This is the meaning of “Despite yourself you must live.”
Afterwards, though, when one is already in a state of “retreat”, then one should once more arouse within oneself the love of G‑d that surges ever forward in klot hanefesh. In this way, one injects into this state of “retreat” into the world a higher spiritual quality. Furthermore, in this state of withdrawing back into the world, one can possibly become drawn down into lowly mundane affairs. To forestall this possibility, one should once more arouse within oneself the sensation of “running forward,” loving G‑d to the extent of klot hanefesh. This is the meaning of “Despite yourself you must die” — i.e., against your will which is now in a state of “retreat”, the very opposite of klot hanefesh, which denotes expiring and leaving the body.
וכמו שנתבאר במקום אחר באריכות על משנה זו: על כרחך אתה חי, בעזרת חיי החיים ברוך הוא
[This is] explained elsewhere at length with reference to this Mishnah: “Despite yourself you must live” — with the help of the “Life of life,” blessed be He, Who enables one to cope with this “compulsion” to live “despite yourself.”
This means that when one’s love of G‑d is surging forward in klot hanefesh, one forces oneself against one’s will to remain “alive” within the body, in order to reveal down here in this world the “Life of life,” that divine force which gives life to the world.