The above refers to the sefirah of malchut of Atzilut only so long as it remains on its home ground, so to speak, i.e., in the World of Atzilut. Likewise, the above refers to the Torah laws only so long as they are in their pristine state, i.e, at the sublime level of malchut of Atzilut.

However, as the laws become vested within lower realms, they can become subject to a measure of concealment. Likewise, as the sefirah of malchut of Atzilut becomes vested in lower Worlds, it too is subject to this state of concealment. It is then called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because it is vested within kelipat nogah. This vestiture takes place for the sake of one of the ultimate spiritual tasks of man—beirurim, i.e., sifting and refining the physicality of this world, in order to elevate the Divine sparks from the evil which encumbers them.

This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain.

As to the statement of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, that the Mishnayot relate to [the sefirah of] malchut in [the World of] Yetzirah whereas we have just quoted the Zohar to the effect that the Mishnayot relate to the sefirah of malchut in the World of Atzilut,

וּמַה שֶּׁאָמַר הָאֲרִיזַ"ל שֶׁהַמִּשְׁנָיוֹת הֵן בְּמַלְכוּת דִּיצִירָה,

he referred to the garment of malchut of Yetzirah in which malchut of Atzilut is vested; only after malchut of Atzilut descends to the World of Yetzirah and is vested there can it be said that Mishnayot relate to Yetzirah.

רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר: לְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת דִּיצִירָה שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשָׁה בָּהּ מַלְכוּת דַּאֲצִילוּת,

And malchut of Yetzirah is referred to as a handmaiden (shifchah), relative to malchut of Atzilut, which is vested in it.

וּמַלְכוּת דִּיצִירָה נִקְרָא "שִׁפְחָה" לְגַבֵּי מַלְכוּת דַּאֲצִילוּת,

This answers an earlier question. The Alter Rebbe had quoted the Jerusalem Talmud (ch. 1 of Berachot) to the effect that R. Shimon bar Yochai maintains that for the Reading of Shema, one interrupts the study of Scripture, though not of Mishnah, which is loftier than Scripture. This was contradicted by statements of R. Shimon bar Yochai himself in Raaya Mehemna to the effect that Mishnah is referred to as the handmaiden while Scripture is referred to as the king.

According to the above, however, there is no contradiction. So long as Mishnah is in its primary and fundamental state, it belongs to the level of malchut of Atzilut; it is referred to as a handmaiden only after it is vested within malchut of Yetzirah. This difference between the way something exists in its essential state and the way it exists as it is vested in a lower state of being applies to Scripture as well, as will soon be explained.

By contrast, malchut of Beriah (which is a lower World) is referred to as a maid (amah), denoting a level superior to the level of shifchah.

וּמַלְכוּת דִּבְרִיאָה נִקְרָא "אָמָה".

Proof of this—that there is a significant difference between the way something exists in its essential state (be’etzem) and the way it exists as it is vested (behitlabshut) in a lower level—may be gained from the statement of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, that Scripture, i.e., the Written Torah, is in Asiyah,

וְתֵדַע: מִמַּה שֶּׁאָמַר הָאֲרִיזַ"ל דְּמִקְרָא, דְּהַיְינוּ תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב – הוּא בַּעֲשִׂיָּה,

even though it is explicit in innumerable places in the Zohar and the writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, that it is [the sefirah of] tiferet, which is the z’eyr anpin of Atzilut.

וַהֲרֵי מְפוֹרָשׁ בַּזֹּהַר וּבְכִתְבֵי הָאֲרִיזַ"ל מְקוֹמוֹת אֵין מִסְפָּר – שֶׁהִיא תִּפְאֶרֶת, שֶׁהוּא "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דַּאֲצִילוּת –

As such, it is even higher than malchut of Atzilut; how, then, can it be said that Scripture is in Asiyah?

Rather, this means that it vests itself in Asiyah.

אֶלָּא שֶׁמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בַּעֲשִׂיָּה.

Thus, it is taught explicitly in Sefer Hakavanot—that Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, and Kabbalah are all in Atzilut,

וְכֵן הוּא בְּהֶדְיָא בְּסֵפֶר הַכַּוָּונוֹת, שֶׁמִּקְרָא וּמִשְׁנָה וְתַלְמוּד וְקַבָּלָה – כּוּלָּם בַּאֲצִילוּת,

except that Scripture vests itself as far [“down”] as Asiyah,

אֶלָּא, שֶׁמִּקְרָא – מִתְלַבֵּשׁ עַד עֲשִׂיָּה,

The Written Torah hinges on its letters, which are inscribed with tangible ink on tangible parchment, and hence related to Asiyah, the “World of Action.”

and Mishnah [vests itself only] as far [“down”] as Yetzirah,

וּמִשְׁנָה – עַד הַיְצִירָה,

The Mishnah consists mainly of laws, such as those determining ritual validity or invalidity. These two states ultimately derive from the corresponding middot of chesed and gevurah, the Divine “emotive attributes” of benevolence and severity. Hence, these laws are vested in the World of Yetzirah, for “the six [emotive] sefirot ‘nest’ in Yetzirah.”53

and Talmud is vested as far [“down”] as Beriah.

וְתַלְמוּד – בִּבְרִיאָה.

The Talmud elucidates the laws. It thus relates to Beriah, the “World of Comprehension,” which is illumined by binah (“understanding”), for “the supernal mother (i.e., binah) ‘nests’ in the [World of the] Throne,”53 i.e., in Beriah.54