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.
ומה שכתוב בפרשת פקודי: גו רקיע תתאה
As to what is stated in [the Zohar,] Parshat Pekudei, [that prayer without proper intent is repelled] “into the lowest heaven,” indicating that it is allowed to rise at least to that point,
ובפרשת ויקהל משמע דדוקא אי איהי מלה כדקה יאות, סלקין עמה עד אוירא דרקיע דלעילא כו׳
whereas in [the Zohar,] Parshat Vayakhel, the implication is that “only if it is a seemly word, i.e., prompted by the proper intent, do [the appointed angels] ascend with it to the atmosphere of the heaven above...,”
How does this latter passage accord with the previously-quoted statement in Pekudei, that even when the prayer is without proper intent it still ascends, at least to the lowest firmament?
לא קשיא מידי
this [seeming contradiction] presents no problem.
דרקיע תתאה מאינון רקיעין דמדברי גו עלמא, שבפרשת פקודי, הן דמלכות דעשיה
For the expression in Pekudei, “the lowest heaven of the heavens that govern the world,” refers to Malchut of Asiyah,
ודפרשת ויקהל, הן דז״א דעשיה, כמו שכתוב בעץ חיים, שער השמות פרק ג׳, גבי ז״א דעשיה, עיין שם
whereas in Parshat Vayakhel, the reference is to Za of Asiyah, as is written in Etz Chayim, Shaar HaShemot, ch. 3, in reference to Za of Asiyah; see there.
It could be argued that the above question presupposed that the “lower heaven” of Pekudei was of the same level as the “heaven above” of Vayakhel, for the “lower heaven” too is “above the sun.”
By the same token, the answer refers to two distinct levels of “heaven”. Pekudei refers to Malchut of Asiyah, while Vayakhel refers to Za of Asiyah, to which prayers ascend when they are “seemly”. From this level they ascend yet further, to the G‑dliness of the Ten Sefirot of Yetzirah and Beriah. The main point here is, however, that when a prayer is not “seemly” it is not elevated even to Za of Asiyah, but merely to Malchut of Asiyah.
It could be explained that when prayer without proper intent is elevated to the “lower heaven,” its elevation does not bring about that which prayer should effect. For in order for a prayer to have its proper effect, such as the fulfillment of its requests, there must be drawn down into this world a degree of Divine influence that transcends the world, thereby healing the sick, or providing the year’s blessings, and so on. When, however, a prayer is repelled to Malchut of Asiyah, i.e., to that level from which all worldly things derive their life-force, then this level obviously cannot provide for whatever the world is lacking.
But when a properly-motivated prayer reaches up to Za of Asiyah, from there an efflux can be drawn down into the world to provide whatever the world lacks, thereby fulfilling the individual’s petitions.
והא דמשמע לכאורה, בפרשת פקודי, דגם תפלה פסולה עולה עד היכל הראשון, שממנו נדחית למטה, והוא בז״א דבריאה
As to the apparent implication in Parshat Pekudei that even invalid prayer — prayer whose intent is confused by alien thoughts — ascends to the First Chamber, whence it is hurled down, and this [Chamber] is in Za of Beriah,
It would thus seem that even an invalid prayer is at first elevated to Za of Beriah.
לא קשיא מידי, שהרי אפילו כל העוונות ממש, קלות וחמורות, עולות לשם, אפילו עד היכל הד׳, כמו שכתוב דף רנ״ב עמוד א׳
this presents no difficulty, for even palpable sins, minor and grave, ascend there, even as far as the Fourth Chamber, as is written [in the Zohar] on page 252a.
אלא ודאי שאין מהות העליות שוות, ואין ערוך ודמיון ביניהם, אלא בשיתוף השם בלבד, ודי למבין
It is thus certain that in essence the [above] ascensions are not identical, and there is no comparison or similarity between them except for the common name. This will suffice for the discerning.
The elevation of good actions means that they are actually uplifted to higher degrees of holiness, where they accomplish whatever they are intended to accomplish. With regard to sins, however, their “elevation” to the higher worlds brings about a blemish there. So, too, when we say that an “invalid prayer” ascends to the First Chamber, we are not at all speaking of the kind of elevation that takes place when a prayer is offered with the proper intent.
ובזה יובן גם כן מה שכתוב שם, דף רמ״ז, שבהיכל הב׳ (אולי צריך להיות: אזדמן
הממונה, ואולי צריך להיות: קיימין הלבושים) ממונה על הלבושים שמלבישים הנשמה ממעשה המצות
This will also enable us to grasp the statement [in the Zohar] on page 247, that in the Second Chamber [there is to be found] the one appointed over the garments that clothe the soul as a result of the performance of mitzvot,
The bracketed Hebrew text here offers several variations: [ “Possibly the text should read, ‘there is found the one appointed’; or possibly it should read, ‘the garments are housed.’”]
אף שהוא בגן עדן התחתון דעשיה, כמו שכתוב שם, דף ר״י
even though [the mitzvot performed], and by extension, the soul’s garments that are fashioned thereby, are in the Lower Gan Eden in [the World of] Asiyah, as stated there (in the Zohar) on page 210.
How, then, do we say that the one appointed over — or alternatively, the garments of — the performance of the mitzvot are to be found in the Second Chamber of the World of Beriah?
However, as explained earlier, the above elevations are essentially dissimilar. Thus, though the mitzvot performed are located in the lower Garden of Eden of the World of Asiyah, the soul nevertheless ascends to the Second Chamber of Beriah and receives from there the garments that result from the performance of mitzvot. For the elevation of the soul to the level of Beriah in order to receive its garments is utterly different from the elevation of the mitzvot themselves to the lower Garden of Eden of the World of Asiyah.
והנה תפלה פסולה עדיפא מתורה שלא לשמה ממש
Now, invalid prayer is superior to Torah studied with a distinctly improper intention,
שהיא תחת השמש
for [the latter] is “under the sun,” since if it is undertaken for the purpose of self-aggrandizement it does not ascend at all,
והתפלה היא גו רקיע כו׳
while prayer — even “invalid prayer” — is “into the heaven,” albeit the lowest heaven.
אבל תורה סתם, שאינה שלא לשמה, רק מאהבה מסותרת טבעית
But the neutral study of Torah, that is without a negative intention, but is prompted merely by one’s latent, innate love,
For unconsciously, it is this love of G‑d that motivates even one’s merely habitual study of the Torah.
לא גרעא מהבל פיהן של תינוקות של בית רבן, דסליק לעילא מפני שהוא הבל שאין בו חטא
is not inferior to the “breath of the mouths of school children,” which ascends aloft because it is “breath untainted by sin.”
וסליק לעילא, אף אם הוא שלא לשמה ממש, מיראת הרצועה שביד הסופר
This [breath] ascends aloft, even though it may be emphatically not altruistic, but only prompted by fear of punishment by the teacher.
In the same way, an adult whose study is of neutral intent is not tainted by sin (which it would be if he had studied for an ulterior motive). It therefore ascends heavenward.
ועיין שם, דף רנ״ה עמוד ב׳, שהמלאכים הם מעלים ההבל של תינוקות של בית רבן עד האצילות
See there on p. 255b, [where the Zohar states] that the angels elevate the breath of schoolchildren to Atzilut.
In its primary meaning, the term “breath untainted by sin” signifies that the breath of the Torah study of schoolchildren is untainted because it proceeds from individuals who at this age are incapable of sin.
As the Gemara states in Shabbat, “Resh Lakish said in the name of R. Yehudah Nesiah, ‘The world exists solely by virtue of the breath of the mouths of schoolchildren [who study Torah].’ Said R. Papa to Abbaye: ‘And what of my Torah study and yours?’ He replied: ‘There is no comparison between breath that knows sin and breath that is free of sin.’” This means that children are not in the category of those who sin.
The Previous Rebbe once recalled that when his father, the Rebbe Rashab, taught him the above text, he first explained that the angels’ elevation of the Torah study of these children to Atzilut, as cited above from the Zohar by the Alter Rebbe, relates to the same rarefied level as the Supernal Unions that are accomplished by those who refine their bodies according to the secrets of the Kabbalah.
The Rebbe Rashab then added that the Alter Rebbe’s emphasis that this study comprised “breath untainted by sin” can be explained as follows: This is the breath of Torah words spoken by little children in artless simplicity. When they say, for example, “kametz alef: ah,” and they believe with a simple and ingrained faith that these and likewise all the other vowels and consonants of the Torah were transmitted to Moses on Sinai, then the very breath that emanates from their hearts is utterly pure, and untainted by sin.
(This commentary, continued the Rebbe Rashab, comes as an addition to the plain and primary meaning of “breath untainted by sin” — that these children are still pure from the taint of sin.)
Moreover, the above interpretation of breath being untainted by sin inasmuch as it emanates from uttering words of Torah with simple faith, applies not only to children, but to adults as well. They, too, can effect sublime Supernal Unions.
The Rebbe Rashab based this interpretation on a story he heard from the Baal Shem Tov when he visited his holy resting place at Mezhibuzh. At that time the Baal Shem Tov related that on his 16th birthday (18 Elul, 5474/1714) he had found himself in a small village. The local innkeeper was a very simple person who hardly knew how to read the prayers, let alone understand what they meant. He was, however, a very G‑d-fearing individual. On all matters and at all times he would quote the same phrase in the Holy Tongue, “Blessed be He; may He be blessed forever.” His wife too would always say in Yiddish, “Praised be His holy Name.”
That day, in accordance with the age-old custom of meditating in solitude for some time on one’s birthday, the Baal Shem Tov went off by himself to the fields. He recited chapters of Tehillim and engaged in unifying the Divine Names that emanate from its holy verses.
“As I was immersed in this,” the Baal Shem Tov related, “and unaware of my surroundings, I suddenly saw Elijah the Prophet. There was a smile on his lips. I was taken aback. For when I had been with the tzaddik R. Meir, and also when I had been in the company of the hidden tzaddikim, I had merited to see Elijah, but this was the first time that I had merited his appearance while all alone. I wondered about it. And besides, why was he smiling?
“Elijah said to me: ‘You are toiling so mightily to have the proper mystical intentions in bringing about the Supernal Unions of the Divine Names that emanate from the verses of Tehillim. And Aharon Shlomo the innkeeper and his wife Zlata Rivkah know nothing of the Unifications that result from his “Blessed be He; may He be blessed forever,” and from her “Praised be His holy Name.” Yet the Divine harmonies they create resonate in all the heavens more than all the Unifications of the Holy Name that are effected by the mystical intentions of the greatest tzaddikim.’
“Elijah described to me,” continued the Baal Shem Tov, “the great pleasure, as it were, that results in heaven from the words of praise and adoration uttered by men, women and children. Especially so, when they come from the mouths of simple folk. And most especially, when these praises are offered consistently, for then these people are constantly united with G‑d in pure faith and with an undivided heart.”
* * *
Having recounted this episode, the Rebbe Rashab added that it served as the basis for his additional interpretation of “breath untainted by sin” — that it applies not only to children but also to adults who act with pure faith and heartfelt simplicity, and who are thereby constantly united with G‑d, at all times and in all places.
* * *
The Rebbe stresses that this applies equally to adults only with respect to effecting Supernal Unions. With regard to maintaining the world’s existence, however, it is clear from the above-quoted teaching in Shabbat that this is accomplished only by the “breath of the mouths of schoolchildren,” for this breath possesses as well the first quality of “breath untainted by sin”: it proceeds from those for whom sin is a virtual impossibility.
With regard to the refinement of the world, this is accomplished by those adults to whom the second exposition of “breath untainted by sin” applies — that the breath itself is untainted. In a sense, indeed, their breath has an even greater effect than the “breath of the mouths of schoolchildren.” For as the Rebbe Rashab further explains, children do not relate to the corporeality of this world, but only to its atmosphere. Since adults have a relationship with the corporeality of this world as well, the Supernal Unions that they effect refine its very crassness and corporeality.