אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו, ומה נעים גורלנו כו׳
“Fortunate are we. How good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot....”
In this prayer, which is recited as part of the introductory morning prayers preceding Hodu, we offer thanks to G‑d for our “portion” and “lot” — His self-revelation to every individual Jew. These same terms appear together in a similar context in the following two successive verses:
ה׳ מנת חלקי וכוסי וגו׳, חבלים נפלו לי וגו׳
“G‑d is the allotment of my portion and of my cup; [You support my lot]. The tracts [apportioned by lot] have fallen unto me pleasantly; [yea, I have a goodly heritage].”
These verses together indicate that the Jews’ pleasant portion and lot is an irradiation of G‑dly light. A question, however, arises: Why is the G‑dliness that illumines our souls referred to by both terms, both as “our portion” and as “our lot,” when “portion” can refer to any one of several identical benefactions, while “lot” indicates something which is granted exclusively to a particular individual who wins a lottery, for example, having been chosen by “lot”?
להבין לשון חלקנו וגורלנו
In order to understand the terms “our portion” and “our lot,”
צריך לבאר היטב לשון השגור במאמרי רז״ל: אין לו חלק באלקי ישראל
one must properly explain a common expression in the teachings of our Sages, of blessed memory, viz.: “He has no part in the G‑d of Israel.”
כי הגם דלכאורה לא שייך לשון חלק כלל באלקות יתברך
Now it would seem that a term like “part” cannot possibly be applied to G‑d,
שאינו מתחלק לחלקים, חס ושלום
because He is not divisible into parts, Heaven forfend.
G‑d is the ultimate in simple and uncompounded unity, the very antithesis of divisibility; nevertheless we find that our Sages here use the term “part” in relation to G‑d. How can this be?
We must perforce conclude that though G‑d Himself is indivisible, the G‑dly illumination that descends into Jewish souls can be described with the word “part”, inasmuch as it is revealed in parts, so to speak, as shall soon be explained.
אך הענין, כמו שכתוב ביעקב: ויקרא לו אל אלקי ישראל
This concept can be understood by considering a verse concerning Jacob: “And he called Him ‘E‑l, G‑d of Israel.’ ”
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the meaning of the verse in order to answer a number of simple questions: (a) Until this verse the name “Jacob” is used consistently; why does this verse suddenly change to “Israel”? (b) How does this conclusion of the verse relate to its beginning, “And he set up an altar”? (c) What is novel about the epithet, “E‑l, G‑d of Israel”?
The meaning [of this verse is as follows]:
כי הנה באמת הקב״ה כשמו כן הוא
In truth, the Holy One, blessed is He, is true to His Name.
On the one hand, the phrase “Holy One” (in the Hebrew original, קדוש) implies that G‑d stands above and apart from creation, while “blessed be He” (where the Hebrew ברוך, lit., “blessed”, also means to descend and be revealed) implies that the level of G‑dliness which previously was “holy” and “apart” — the indirect “He” in the phrase quoted — is drawn down into the world in a revealed manner, as will soon be explained.
כי אף דאיהו ממלא כל עלמין עליונים ותחתונים
Though He permeates all the upper and lower worlds,
מרום המעלות עד מתחת לארץ הלזו החומרית
from the peak of all levels to this lowly corporeal world,
G‑d permeates and is present to an equal degree in all worlds. It should be noted that the term “permeates all worlds” used here, does not refer to the degree of contracted G‑dliness that is generally said to “fill all worlds” according to their individual capacity to retain it. Rather, here the Alter Rebbe refers to G‑d’s permeating all worlds to an equal degree.
כמו שכתוב: הלא את השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא
as it is written, “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth” —
i.e., “I, My very self,”
דהיינו מהותו ועצמותו, כביכול, ולא כבודו לבד
meaning G‑d’s very Being and Essence, as it were, and not only His glory —
In another verse we find, “The earth is filled with His glory.” That verse alludes merely to the “glory” and radiation of G‑dliness. Here, however, the words “I fill” refer to G‑d’s very Essence permeating all worlds.
Now, although G‑d Himself permeates and is to be found in all worlds:
אף על פי כן הוא קדוש ומובדל מעליונים ותחתונים, ואינו נתפס כלל בתוכם, חס ושלום
He is nevertheless “holy” in the sense of “apart from” the upper and lower worlds, and is not at all contained in them, Heaven forfend,
כתפיסת נשמת האדם בגופו, על דרך משל
in the way, by analogy, that the soul of man is contained in his body, and is affected by the changes within it. Unlike the soul, G‑d is not at all affected by the worlds in which He is to be found,
כמו שכתוב במקום אחר באריכות
as explained elsewhere at length.
For this reason, i.e., since G‑d is entirely distinct and apart from all worlds,
לא היו יכולים לקבל חיותם ממהותו ועצמותו לבד, כביכול
they could not receive their life-force from His Being and Essence in itself, as it were.
רק התפשטות החיות אשר הקב״ה מחיה עליונים ותחתונים
Rather, the diffusion of the life-force whereby the Holy One, blessed be He, animates the upper and lower worlds
הוא, על דרך משל, כמו הארה מאירה משמו יתברך
is, metaphorically speaking, like a radiation shining forth from His Name,
G‑d’s Name is itself a mere radiation; from it there emanates yet another radiation.
שהוא ושמו אחד
for He and His Name are One — for which reason a ray that emanates from His Name is able to animate the various worlds.
וכמו שכתוב: כי נשגב שמו לבדו
Thus it is written, “For [even] His Name alone is exalt-ed”; i.e., G‑d’s Name is exalted “alone”, standing apart from all the worlds which it transcends,
רק זיוו והודו על ארץ ושמים
while only His reflection and “His splendor are on the earth and the heavens.”
Thus, all of creation exists from but a radiation of G‑d’s Name, which, as previously mentioned, is itself merely a radia-tion.
והארה זו מתלבשת ממש בעליונים ותחתונים, להחיותם
This radiation actually vests itself in the upper and lower worlds in order to animate them.
At this level, the G‑dly life-force is not merely present in created beings and worlds, but actually vests itself in them: it contracts and adapts to the spiritual capacity of each particular world in which it is vested, and is integrated within it.
ונתפשת בתוכם על ידי ממוצעים רבים
It is contained in them by means of many intermediaries, i.e., levels that are related both to the levels above and below them, thereby enabling them to serve as conduits for the transference of the radiation,
וצמצומים רבים ועצומים
and by means of numerous and intense contractions,
“Numerous” describes the quantitative diminution of Divine light and life-force; “intense” alludes to their qualitative diminution, whereby the light that emerges after the contraction is entirely different from the light that originally emanated before being screened and contracted.
בהשתלשלות המדרגות, דרך עלה ועלול וכו׳
in a downward, chainlike progression through the levels of the various worlds, in a sequence of cause and effect, and so on.
Within every world the lower level develops from the higher level by way of cause and effect, the higher level serving as the cause and source of the lower.
After all these contractions and descents, then, the light manifests itself within the various worlds by becoming vested in them.
והנה הארה זו, אף שלמעלה היא מאירה ומתפשטת בבחינת בלי גבול ותכלית
Now although above, in the lofty worlds of infinitude, this illumination radiates and extends itself in unlimited and infinite fashion,
להחיות עולמות נעלמים לאין קץ ותכלית
to animate worlds that are infinitely concealed,
I.e., there are infinite kinds of worlds, each of which is of infinite degree,
כמו שכתוב באדרא רבא
as is written in the Idra Rabba,
אף על פי כן, ברדתה למטה על ידי צמצומים רבים
nevertheless, as [this radiation] descends by means of numerous contractions,
להחיות הנבראים והיצורים והנעשים
to animate the beings that have been created, formed and made,
In their Hebrew original, these three verbs allude respectively to the beings that inhabit the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. Accordingly, we understand that previously reference was being made to the World of Atzilut and to those infinite worlds that are “higher” than Atzilut.
היא נחלקת דרך כלל למספר תרי״ג, כנגד תרי״ג מצות התורה
it is divided primarily into 613 [rays], corresponding to the 613 commandments of the Torah.
שהן הן תרי״ג מיני המשכות הארה זו, מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא
These [commandments] are in fact 613 kinds of conduits which transmit this radiation from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light,
להאיר לנשמת האדם, הכלולה מרמ״ח אברים ושס״ה גידים
[whose function is] to illumine man’s soul, which comprises 248 “organs” and 365 “sinews”, totalling 613 elements.
אשר בעבורה עיקר תכלית ירידת והמשכת הארה זו למטה
For it was mainly for the sake of [man’s soul] that this radiation was caused to flow down below
לכל הנבראים והיצורים והנעשים
to all those beings which have been created, formed and made, their respective locations in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah being “below” the loftier worlds of infinite degree,
שתכלית כולן הוא האדם, כנודע
since the ultimate purpose of all these [beings], as is known, is man.
Thus, G‑d’s Being is indeed utterly uncompounded, so that there cannot possibly be any division into “parts”. Nevertheless, with regard to the radiation that descends below, (whose main purpose is that it permeate the Jewish soul,) the concept of “parts” does apply.
The above-mentioned rays are the 613 basic “parts” into which the radiance is diffused. More specifically, as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say, each of these general “parts” subdivides into an infinite number of smaller “parts”.
והנה מספר זה הוא בדרך כלל
Now this number — i.e., the above division of the Divine radiance into 613 “parts”, corresponding to the 613 command-ments — is the primary, basic division.
אבל בדרך פרט, הנה כל מצוה ומצוה מתחלקת לפרטים רבים לאין קץ ותכלית
More specifically, however, every single commandment subdivides into infinite details.
והן הן גופי הלכות פרטיות שבכל מצוה, שאין להם מספר
These are the essentials of the detailed rulings of every commandment, which are without number,
כמו שכתוב: ששים המה מלכות, הן ס׳ מסכתות כו׳
as it is written, “Sixty are the queens,” which [as our Sages comment] alludes to the sixty tractates....
ועלמות אין מספר, הן ההלכות כו׳
[The same verse continues:] “...and maidens without number,” which [as our Sages comment] alludes to the innumerable rulings of the individual laws,
שהן המשכת רצון העליון כו׳
for they are a downward flow from the Supreme Will..., which is infinite.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that just as the soul is made up of 248 “organs” and 365 “sinews” so that it may absorb the luminosity of the 613 general radiations, so, too, are souls further divisible, so that they may absorb the infinite degrees of the more differentiated radiations.
וכן הוא ממש בנשמת האדם
It is precisely so with man’s soul, which has the means to absorb the innumerable details of the downward flow of Divine radiance.
כי הנה כל הנשמות שבעולם היו כלולות באדם הראשון
For all the souls in the world were comprised in Adam.
ודרך כלל היתה נשמתו נחלקת למספר תרי״ג: רמ״ח אברים ושס״ה גידים
Basically, his soul was divisible into 613 elements, con-sisting of 248 “organs” and 365 “sinews”.
אך דרך פרט נחלקת לניצוצות אין מספר
More specifically, however, his soul was divisible into innumerable sparks,
שהן נשמות כל ישראל מימות האבות והשבטים, עד ביאת המשיח ועד בכלל
which are the souls of all of Israel from the days of the Patriarchs and the [founders of the Twelve] Tribes, up to and including the time of the coming of Mashiach,
שיקוים אז מה שכתוב: והיה מספר בני ישראל כחול הים, אשר לא ימד ולא יספר מרוב
when [the promise of] Scripture will be fulfilled: “And the number of the Children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, that cannot be measured nor counted,” “because of its great quantity.”
We understand from the above that Adam’s soul (which comprised the innumerable sparks of individual souls) was capable of receiving the infinitely numerous detailed emanations from the radiance of the Supreme Will, which ultimately animates all of the individual Jewish souls.
* * *
At this point the Alter Rebbe resumes the thought begun earlier, where it was pointed out that Jacob referred to G‑d as “E‑l, G‑d of Israel,” for the soul of Jacob (otherwise known as Israel) was illumined with all the aspects of the Divine radiance, just as was the soul of Adam.
והנה שופריה דיעקב מעין שופריה דאדם הראשון
Now “The consummate beauty of Jacob resembles the consummate beauty of Adam,”
שתיקן חטא אדם הראשון
for he rectified the sin of Adam.
והיתה נשמתו גם כן כלולה מכל הנשמות שבישראל, מעולם עד עולם
His soul, too, comprised all the souls of Israel, “from world to world,” i.e., both those of the “Revealed World” as well as the “Concealed World.”
והיה מרכבה לתורה שלמעלה, שנקראת בשם אדם
Moreover, he was a vehicle for the Torah in its heavenly state, which is referred to as Adam,
This phrase reflects the wording of a verse which begins with the words, זאת התורה אדם... — “This is the law: A man...” Interpreted on the level of derush, these words have been taken literally to mean: “This is the Torah — Adam.”
כמו שכתוב: ועל דמות הכסא דמות כמראה אדם וגו׳
as it is written, “And on the likeness of the throne there was a likeness as the appearance of Adam” [lit., “of a man”], and the latter term, as is explained in the Kabbalah, refers to the Torah.
וכמו שכתוב: וזאת לפנים בישראל גו׳
It is likewise written: “And this (זאת) was the custom in former time in Israel...,”
That, at least, is the plain meaning of the phrase quoted. On the interpretative level of derush, however, each of the three Hebrew words is here construed as follows: זאת (as taught in the Zohar) connotes “Torah”; לפנים — “within”; בישראל — “in Israel the Patriarch.” At this level, the quoted phrase thus means that “the Torah is [implanted] within, in Israel the Patriarch.”
אין זאת אלא תורה
and “זאת refers only to the Torah.”
שהיתה כלולה ומלובשת בנשמת ישראל סבא, הכלולה מכל הנשמות
For the Torah was contained and vested within the soul of “Israel the Patriarch,” which compounded all the souls. (The quoted phrase refers both to Jacob in the mortal world and to his Supernal source, which is also known by this name.)
Now in addition, Jacob, or “Israel the Patriarch,” was a vessel capable of receiving the radiance of the Torah. Hence:
וזהו: ויקרא לו אל אלקי ישראל
This is the meaning [of the above-quoted phrase], “And he called Him E‑l, G‑d of Israel”:
אל: לשון המשכת הארה מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא מההעלם אל הגילוי
Since the Name E‑l denotes the Divine attribute of Chesed, which finds expression in G‑d’s desire to communicate His hidden light, [Jacob’s use of] the Name E‑l signifies [man’s] calling forth the radiation from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, which is clothed in the Torah, from concealment to manifestation,
להאיר בבחינת גילוי בנשמתו
so that it should illumine manifestly in man’s soul.
וכמו שכתוב: אל הויה ויאר לנו
Thus, too, it is written: “E‑l is the L‑rd, and He has given us light,” indicating likewise that the Divine Name E‑l connotes illumination.
Thus, when we say that Jacob called G‑d “E‑l,” we imply that he called forth and drew down into his soul an all-encom-passing revelation of the [infinite] Ein Sof-light that comprises all the particular details of the Torah and its mitzvot.
ואחריו כל ישרי לב, העוסקים בתורה ובמצות, מאיר אור ה׳ אין סוף ברוך הוא בבחינת גילוי בנשמתם
and after [Jacob], the [infinite] Ein Sof-light shines openly into the souls of all the upright of heart who engage in the Torah and the mitzvot.
“The upright of heart” alludes to those individuals within whom the G‑dly illumination found in the intellect descends to the heart, where it inspires them with a love and an awe of G‑d. These spiritual emotions in turn add vitality to their study of Torah and their performance of the mitzvot.
The Divine radiation felt by these individuals is termed “our portion” (חלקנו, as in the quotation with which this epistle opened). This is the particular G‑dly illumination which permeates a Jew’s soul through his performance of each and every commandment, and which is a portion and part of the all-encompassing illumination comprising 613 “parts”.
וזמן גילוי זה ביתר שאת ויתר עז, ההארה במוחם ולבם
The most elevating and most powerful manifestation of this [Divine] radiance in their mind and heart
הוא בשעת התפלה, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר
occurs at the time of prayer, as is explained else-where.
It is by means of the ladder of prayer that all of a man’s mitzvot ascend; this same ladder also serves as the conduit through which the resultant Divine radiance and revelation descend to this world.
Until now the Alter Rebbe has explained the term “our portion.” He now goes on to explain the term “our lot” (in the above-quoted verse, ומה נעים גורלנו — “and how pleasant is our lot”), signifying something bestowed exclusively, and merited only by lot.
והנה אף שגילוי זה, על ידי עסק התורה והמצות, הוא שוה לכל נפש מישראל בדרך כלל
Though this manifestation [of light] through a person’s involvement in the Torah and the commandments is, generally, equal in every individual Jew,
כי תורה אחת ומשפט אחד לכולנו
for we all have “one Torah and one law,”
All Jews are equally obliged to study the Torah and to observe its mitzvot; generally speaking, the resultant illumination from Above is likewise drawn down equally to them all.
אף על פי כן, בדרך פרט, אין כל הנפשות או הרוחות והנשמות שוות בענין זה
nevertheless, in a more specific way, in regard to this manifestation of light that radiates through the study of Torah and the performance of the commandments, not every nefesh (the lowest level of the soul) and ruach (“spirit”, a higher level of the soul) and neshamah (a yet higher level of the soul) is equal,
לפי עת וזמן גלגולם ובואם בעולם הזה
for this depends on the period and time of their reincarnation and their coming into this world.
Most souls of present generations are incarnations of souls that had descended into this world in earlier times; they descended once again in order to rectify some aspect of their previous incarnation. The degree of radiation the soul receives from Above through the performance of a particular mitzvah depends upon the era in which the soul finds itself in this world.
וכמאמר רז״ל: אבוך במאי הוי זהיר טפי, אמר ליה: בציצית
Our Sages, of blessed memory, quote the question: “With what [commandment] was your father most careful?” To which the answer was, “With [the commandment of] tzitzit.”
This means that the performance of this commandment kindled within this man a particularly luminous revelation, and it was this G‑dly light that inspired his scrupulous performance. In the spirit of this teaching, and in view of the fact that the three root letters of the word זהיר (translated above as “careful”) also mean “luminous”, the above-quoted question has been under-stood [by the Mitteler Rebbe] as follows: “As a result of which commandment was your father most luminous?”
וכן אין כל הדורות שוין
Likewise, not all the generations are the same.
Not only do souls differ: generations differ as well. There have been generations whose primary spiritual challenge was the study of Torah; in other generations it was charity; and so on. The reason for this is that the souls of those generations were especially illuminated by the performance of those specific commandments.
כי כמו שאברי האדם, כל אבר יש לו פעולה פרטית ומיוחדת
For just as with the organs of man, each organ has its particular and distinctive function,
העין לראות והאזן לשמוע
the eye to see and the ear to hear,
כך בכל מצוה מאיר אור פרטי ומיוחד מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא
so, too, through each commandment — the commandments being known as the “Organs of the King” — there radiates a particular and distinctive light from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light.
ואף שכל נפש מישראל צריכה לבוא בגלגול לקיים כל תרי״ג מצות
And although every Jewish soul needs to be reincarnated in order to fulfill all 613 commandments,
How, then, can we say that a soul that descends to this world in a given period will receive its G‑dly illumination as an individualized bequest, thereby necessitating particular scrupulousness in specific commands?
מכל מקום לא נצרכה אלא להעדפה וזהירות וזריזות יתירה
this [heightened attention focused on a particular commandment] is necessary only for the sake of an addi-tional measure of vigilance and zeal,
ביתר שאת ויתר עז, כפולה ומכופלת
[a zeal] doubly and exceedingly elevated and powerful,
למעלה מעלה מזהירות שאר המצות
far surpassing one’s zeal in [the fulfillment of] the other commandments.
וזהו שאמר: במאי הוי זהיר טפי, טפי דייקא
Hence the word “most” used by the above-quoted individual when he asked, “With what [commandment] was [your father] most careful?”
For scrupulous observance indeed applies to all commandments: the question was only, which command earned his keenest attention.
והנה יתרון האור הזה הפרטי לנשמות פרטיות
Now, the superiority of this individual light [that is bestowed] upon individual souls through the performance of a particular commandment
אינו בבחינת טעם ודעת מושג
is not in the category of apprehensible reason,
אלא למעלה מבחינת הדעת
but transcends it.
שכך עלה במחשבה לפניו יתברך
For thus it arose in G‑d’s thought, so to speak — that certain souls be granted additional illumination through the performance of particular commandments.
ודוגמתו למטה הוא בחינת הגורל ממש
And its model below is truly the concept of a “lot”.
For the fact that one person wins a “lot” while others do not, is likewise not in the category of apprehensible reason. Rather, so has it been deemed from Above; as the verse indicates, “The lot is cast into the lap, and from G‑d is its disposition.”
This, then, is the meaning of “how pleasant is our lot.” The disposition of a particular degree of G‑dly illumination to a specific soul through the performance of a select command is wholly dependent upon a consideration that transcends logic: it is a “lot” determined from Above.