In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe began to discuss the “hidden love of G-d” inherent in every Jew, by virtue of which it is indeed “very near” to us to fulfill all the commandments out of a spirit of love and awe of G-d. He stated that this love originates in the divine soul’s faculty of chochmah, where the light of the Ein Sof is vested, and that it is this love which causes every Jew to choose death rather than repudiate his faith in G-d. It was further explained that the divine soul, and thus also the love of G-d intrinsic to it, is every Jew’s inheritance from the Patriarchs, who merited to bequeath it to their descendants eternally.

Thus, of the four questions raised in the previous chapter concerning the “hidden love,” two have been answered: (1) What is the root of this love? (2) How did we come to inherit it?

Two questions remain: (1) What is the nature of this love (i.e., what does it strive for)? (2) How is fear of G-d incorporated in it? They will be dealt with in this chapter.

To further elucidate [the nature of the “hidden love”], it is necessary to clarify the meaning of the verse, “The soul (neshamah) of man is a candle of G-d.”1

וּלְתוֹסֶפֶת בֵּיאוּר, צָרִיךְ לְבָאֵר הֵיטֵב מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב: "נֵר ה' נִשְׁמַת אָדָם".

This means that the souls of Jews, who are called “man” (as our Sages remark, “You—the Jewish people—are called ‘man’”2), are, by way of illustration, like the flame of a candle

פֵּירוּשׁ, שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל הַקְּרוּיִם "אָדָם", נִשְׁמָתָם הִיא, לְמָשָׁל, כְּאוֹר הַנֵּר

whose nature it is always to flicker upward,

שֶׁמִּתְנַעְנֵעַ תָּמִיד לְמַעְלָה בְּטִבְעוֹ,

for the flame of the fire intrinsically seeks to part from the wick that holds it and to unite with its source above—in the universal element of Fire, which is in the sublunar sphere, as is explained in Etz Chaim.

מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאוֹר הָאֵשׁ חָפֵץ בְּטֶבַע, לִיפָּרֵד מֵהַפְּתִילָה וְלִידָּבֵק בְּשָׁרְשׁוֹ לְמַעְלָה בִּיסוֹד הָאֵשׁ הַכְּלָלִי שֶׁתַּחַת גַּלְגַּל הַיָּרֵחַ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים.

The four elements—Earth, Water, Air, and Fire—are so positioned that the higher and more ethereal elements surround and encompass the lower, coarser elements.

Earth is the coarsest of the elements; it is therefore physically the lowest. Water, the next highest element, should, by right, surround and be located above the earth: it is only because of G-d’s kindness that the earth is above the waters, as it is written: “He spreads the earth over the waters, for His kindness is everlasting.”3 The element of Air is higher than Water and therefore surrounds it. Fire, the highest element, surrounds the entire atmosphere and is found in the sublunar sphere. The flame’s constant drawing upward thus represents its desire to unite with its source.

Although thereby—by parting from the wick and becoming part of its source—it would be extinguished and would emit no light at all here below, also above, in its source, its identity would be lost within that of its source.

וְאַף שֶׁעַל יְדֵי זֶה יִכְבֶּה וְלֹא יָאִיר כְּלוּם לְמַטָּה, וְגַם לְמַעְלָה – בְּשָׁרְשׁוֹ, יִתְבַּטֵּל אוֹרוֹ בִּמְצִיאוּת בְּשָׁרְשׁוֹ,

I.e., it would cease to be a luminary—for since a candle is ineffective in illuminating its environment when surrounded by the overwhelmingly greater brilliance of daylight, surely within the element of fire itself, its identity is completely nullified. The flame’s striving to unite with its source cannot, therefore, be construed as seeking a higher form of existence. Furthermore, this desire for unification, with its source which can be achieved only through self-annihilation, defies the axiom that “Every existing being desires its continued existence.” Logically, then, the flame ought not to draw upward to its source.

Yet this is what it “desires” by nature, i.e., it constantly strains upward as though this were its conscious “desire.”

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, בְּכָךְ הוּא חָפֵץ בְּטִבְעוֹ.

Just as the candle constantly seeks to reunite with its source, so also the neshamah of a Jew and also the levels of ruach and nefesh.

כָּךְ נִשְׁמַת הָ"אָדָם", וְכֵן בְּחִינַת רוּחַ וָנֶפֶשׁ,

Although the verse states that the neshamah of man is the candle of G-d, this comparison is not limited to one within whom the higher soul-level of neshamah is actively revealed. The word neshamah is used here in the broader sense of “soul,” which includes also the levels of ruach and nefesh; thus, the analogy of the candle extends also to those within whom only the lower soul-level of ruach or nefesh is revealed.

[The soul] naturally desires and yearns to separate itself and depart from the body and to unite with its origin and source in G-d, blessed be He, Who is the fountainhead of all life.

חֶפְצָהּ וְחֶשְׁקָהּ בְּטִבְעָהּ לִיפָּרֵד וְלָצֵאת מִן הַגּוּף וְלִידָּבֵק בְּשָׁרְשָׁהּ וּמְקוֹרָהּ – בַּה' חַיֵּי הַחַיִּים בָּרוּךְ־הוּא;

The soul whose very essence is life is thus especially drawn to G-d, the Source of all life, and desires to sever its connection with the body which hinders its ability to become one with G-d.

Though thereby it would become null and naught, and its identity would there—in its source—be completely nullified, with nothing at all remaining of its original essence and self,

הֲגַם שֶׁתִּהְיֶה אַיִן וָאֶפֶס וְתִתְבַּטֵּל שָׁם בִּמְצִיאוּת לְגַמְרֵי, וְלֹא יִשָּׁאֵר מִמֶּנָּה מְאוּמָה מִמַּהוּתָהּ וְעַצְמוּתָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן,

this is its will and desire by its nature.

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, זֶה רְצוֹנָהּ וְחֶפְצָהּ בְּטִבְעָהּ.

Note the expression, “with nothing at all remaining of its original self.” Unity with its source would not cause the soul to cease to exist.

On the contrary, this is the soul’s true quintessence. However, in this state, the soul ceases to exist as it exists while clothed in the body—a distinct entity, with its own intellectual and emotional powers, and so on. Therefore, it cannot be postulated that the soul’s yearning to unite with its essence merely represents a desire for self-elevation, for self-elevation is possible only where the original self remains. For example, a person may well strive to better himself—to become wiser, stronger, etc.—but he cannot strive to become something which is not himself (e.g., an angel). Why then should the soul desire to leave the body and unite with its source, since this union causes the cessation of its original self? Indeed, there is no rational explanation for this desire. It comes only as a result of the soul’s intrinsic nature.

The term “nature” is usually used derogatorily, in the sense that it denotes irrationality (phenomena lacking any rational bases are usually ascribed to “nature”). In our case, however, the term is used complimentarily, as it describes the soul’s supra-rational desire. This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:

“Nature” is an applied term for anything that is not in the realm of reason and comprehension.

וְטֶבַע זֶה הוּא שֵׁם הַמּוּשְׁאָל לְכָל דָּבָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ בִּבְחִינַת טַעַם וָדַעַת.

Here, too—with regard to the soul’s desire to unite with its source—the inference of the word “nature” is that the soul’s will and desire is not based on reason, knowledge, and intelligence that can be understood but rather is beyond the grasp and comprehension of rational intelligence,

וְגַם כָּאן, הַכַּוָּונָה, שֶׁרָצוֹן וְחֵפֶץ זֶה בַּנֶּפֶשׁ אֵינוֹ בִּבְחִינַת טַעַם וָדַעַת וְשֵׂכֶל מוּשָּׂג וּמוּבָן, אֶלָּא לְמַעְלָה מֵהַדַּעַת וְשֵׂכֶל הַמּוּשָּׂג וְהַמּוּבָן,

for this [nature] is the soul’s faculty of chochmah and, as discussed in the previous chapter, chochmah is a faculty that transcends comprehension—a faculty wherein the light of the blessed Ein Sof abides—and as a result, the soul is drawn to its Source, the Ein Sof, with a longing beyond comprehension.

וְהִיא בְּחִינַת חָכְמָה שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁבָּהּ אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

Thus, we see that the “nature” of the “hidden love,” i.e., its quest, is the longing of the soul to be united with its Source. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the designation “hidden love.”