ובזה יובן היות המצוות במלכות, ה׳ של שם הוי׳

It will now be understood — in terms of the Sefirot and the corresponding letters of the Divine Name — why the mitzvot are in Malchut, the [latter] hei of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d,

והתורה בזעיר אנפין, וא״ו של שם הוי׳

while the Torah is in Z’eir Anpin, the vav of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

הגם שלמעלה באריך אנפין, המצוות הן בגולגלתא, בלבנונית

Though on a higher plane — as mitzvot and Torah are found in the level of Keter in Arich Anpin, the mitzvot are in the Gulgalta (lit., the “skull” that encompasses the Mochin) and, more specifically, in the “Whiteness” (i.e., in the level of Chesed of the Gulgalta, or Chesed of Arich Anpin),

היא האורחא דבפלוגתא דשערי, דמתפלגא לתרי״ג אורחין דאורייתא שבז״א

i.e., the “path” that is in the parting of the Se’arot (lit., the “hairs”) which divide into the 613 paths (i.e., effusions) of the Torah as it is in Z’eir Anpin,

Thus, mitzvot are on the encompassing level of Gulgalta that transcends the level of Mochin,

ושרש התורה דנפקא מחכמה עילאה, הוא במוחא סתימאה דאריך אנפין, והיינו החכמה דטעמי המצוות

and the root of the Torah which [merely] issues from the Supernal Chochmah though it ultimately derives from a root which is loftier than Supernal Chochmah is in the “Concealed Mochin” of Arich Anpin, which is the wisdom underlying the reasons for the commandments.

The “Concealed Mochin” of Arich Anpin that utterly transcends comprehension contains the wisdom underlying the reasons for the commandments. These reasons will first be revealed with the revelation of the “Concealed Mochin,” when Mashiach comes.

Insofar as Torah and the mitzvot are rooted in Keter, then, the mitzvot are on a higher plane than Torah; Torah is rooted in “Concealed Chochmah,” the level of Mochin in Keter, while the mitzvot are rooted in Gulgalta, the encompassing level of Keter that transcends Mochin.

Why is it, then, that in their standing within the Sefirot and within the corresponding letters of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d, Torah is loftier than mitzvot? — For the mitzvot are situated in Malchut, and in the corresponding final letter hei of the Divine Name, while Torah is in Z’eir Anpin, and in the corresponding letter vav of the Divine Name.

This is the question which the Alter Rebbe now answers:

אלא שהוא כחותם המתהפך

However, this is like an inverted seal.

The stamp of an engraved seal leaves an impression which is the exact opposite of itself: right becomes left and left becomes right; whatever protrudes becomes indented, and whatever was indented, protrudes.

So, too, the “protruding” or superior level of mitzvot in Keter descends by means of Hishtalshelut within the Sefirot in an “indented” or lower manner, while the “indented” or lower level of Torah descends within the Sefirot in a “protruding” or loftier manner.

ונעוץ תחלתן בסופן

Thus “Their beginning is wedged in their culmination”: The “beginning” or superior level of Keter in which the mitzvot are rooted descends and is “wedged” at the culmination of the lowest level of the Sefirot, viz., the Sefirah of Malchut,

הוא כח האין סוף ברוך הוא, לברוא יש מאין

that being the power of the blessed Ein Sof to create yesh from ayin, “something” from “nothing”, (for, as explained above, the power of Keter is vested within Malchut,)

ולא על ידי עילה ועלול, שיהיה העלול מוקף מעילתו, ובטל במציאות

and not by way of ilah and alul, whereby the alul (the effect) would be encompassed by its ilah (the cause), and essentially nonsubsistent [relative to it],

Such a manner of creation could not possibly fulfill the Divine intent in creation.

רק יהיה היש דבר נפרד מאלקות

but in such a way that the yesh should be — in its self-perception — an entity distinct from [its source in] Divinity,

בכדי שיהיה המאציל ברוך הוא מלך על כל הנפרדים

so that the blessed Emanator can be King over all such [self-styled] separate beings,

על ידי שיקיימו מצותיו שיצוה עליהם

through their fulfillment of the commandments that He will command them.

It is only thereby that G‑d’s desire to reign over created beings is fulfilled. For, as explained above, His sovereignty can find expression only over creatures who consider themselves to be separate entities from Him, but who nevertheless nullify their will to His through their actual performance of mitzvot.

וסוף מעשה במחשבה תחלה

Moreover, “The final act — those mitzvot that are performed with physical objects — was present in the beginning תחלה of thought,” in the level of thought that transcends even the “first” Divine thought ראשית חכמה. Within this sublime level a Divine intent desires the fulfillment of those mitzvot which involve physicality.

ולכן אמרו בירושלמי: ולית ליה לרבי שמעון שמפסיק ללולב וכו׳

That is why the Sages asked in the Yerushalmi:1 “Is then R. Shimon not of the opinion that one interrupts [Torah study] in order to fulfill the commandment of lulav?!...” — i.e., that even Torah study defers to a mitzvah, the time for whose performance has arrived.

The Sages asked this question in response to R. Shimon’s earlier statement that he and his colleagues would not interrupt their Torah study even for the recitation of the Shema. Their assumption was that whatever would be true of the mitzvah of lulav would also be true with regard to the recitation of the Shema.

The Yerushalmi then goes on to differentiate between Shema and other commandments with regard to interrupting one’s Torah study, explaining that both Shema and Torah study involve learning. Surely, however, R. Shimon would interrupt his Torah study for the performance of practical commandments in their proper time.

Insertion by the Rebbe: “And even Torah study itself presupposes the prior performance of the mitzvot — for they are its beginning, and on them depends its very existence (as in the forthcoming analogy on [the relationship between] the afterbirth and the child).”

וכל הלומד שלא לעשות, נוח לו שנהפכה שלייתו על פניו וכו׳

Moreover, as the Yerushalmi proceeds to quote R. Yochanan, “Whoever learns with the intention not to practice, it were better for him had his afterbirth turned over...,” and he would not have be born.

Why does the Yerushalmi relate to the afterbirth instead of simply stating that “it were better for him had he not been born”?

כי השליא נוצרה תחלה מהטיפה, והיא לבדה היתה עיקר הולד עד ארבעים יום, שהתחילה צורת הולד

For the afterbirth was formed first by the seminal drop, and until the fortieth day, when the embryo begins to take on form, it alone was the essential substance of the embryo.

וככה המצות הן עיקר התורה ושרשה, הגם שהמצוה היא גופנית, והתורה היא חכמה

In like manner, the commandments are the essence and root of the Torah, even though a commandment is corporeal and the Torah is wisdom, hence ethereal,

Insertion by the Rebbe: “This does not raise a problem as to the consequent standing of the Torah relative to the mitzvot, for the reason explained above [using the analogy of the inverted seal].”

רק שזה בחיצוניות, וזה בפנימיות

except that this (the lofty standing of the mitzvot) is on an external (makkif) level, while the other (the Torah) exists on an internal level, and thus infuses the mitzvot with vitality and soul,

וכדלקמן

as will be explained below.

Thus, should a person study Torah and not intend to perform the mitzvot, he is lacking the very root and foundation of the Torah, and it would thus have been better for him had his afterbirth turned over.