In the Tanya, Part I, chs. 39 and 40, 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. Chaim Vital, who states1 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.

To understand the statement in Shaar Hayichudim, ch. 2,

לְהָבִין מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בְּשַׁעַר הַיִּחוּדִים פֶּרֶק ב',

The Rebbe remarked in a talk2 that Shaar Hayichudim3 contains 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 the 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.

that through Torah without proper intention, angels are created in the World of Yetzirah:

דְּעַל־יְדֵי תּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא בְכַוָּונָה נִבְרָאִים מַלְאָכִים בְּעוֹלַם הַיְצִירָה,

There, [this source] quotes the Zohar, Parashat Shelach:4 “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.

וְשָׁם הֵבִיא מֵהַזֹּהַר פָּרָשַׁת שְׁלַח: "דְּלֵית קָלָא דְּאִתְאֲבִיד כוּ' בַּר קָלָא דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּצְלוֹתָא דְּסָלִיק וּבָקַע כוּ'".

Now, through intention in prayer, angels are created in the World of Beriah, as with intention in the study of Torah.

וְהִנֵּה, מִכַּוָּונַת הַתְּפִלָּה נִבְרְאוּ מַלְאָכִים בְּעוֹלַם הַבְּרִיאָה כְּמוֹ מִכַּוָּונַת הַתּוֹרָה,

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.

Without proper intent, [prayer] is repelled utterly downward.

וּבְלֹא כַוָּונָה – נִדְחֵית לְמַטָּה לְגַמְרֵי,

So it is stated in the Zohar, Parashat Pekudei, p. 245b, “Into the lowest heaven…,”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר פָּרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי דַּף רמ"ה עַמּוּד ב': "גּוֹ רָקִיעַ תַּתָּאָה כוּ'

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].”

“These [prayers] are called invalid prayers,” as the Zohar goes on to say.

דְּאִקְּרִין צְלוֹתִין פְּסִילָאן כוּ'",

Examine also [the Zohar,] Parashat 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.

וְעַיֵּין שָׁם פָּרָשַׁת וַיַּקְהֵל דַּף ר"א עַמּוּד ב': "אִי הִיא מִלָּה כִּדְקָא יָאוּת כוּ'".

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?

However, the difference between Torah and prayer without intention is self-evident.

אַךְ הַהֶפְרֵשׁ בֵּין תּוֹרָה לִתְפִלָּה שֶׁלֹּא בְכַוָּונָה, מוּבָן מֵאֵלָיו,

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.

כִּי לִימּוּד הַתּוֹרָה הוּא מֵבִין וְיוֹדֵעַ מַה שֶּׁלּוֹמֵד, דִּבְלָאו הָכֵי לָא מִיקְרֵי לִימּוּד כְּלָל,

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,

רַק, שֶׁלּוֹמֵד סְתָם, בְּלֹא כַּוָּונָה לִשְׁמָהּ מֵאַהֲבַת ה' שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי,

but only out of the latent natural love for G-d that every Jew harbors in his heart.

רַק מֵאַהֲבָה הַמְסוּתֶּרֶת הַטִּבְעִית,

On the other hand, he is not studying with an actual negative motivation, such as for self-aggrandizement or the like,

אַךְ אֵינוֹ לוֹמֵד שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ מַמָּשׁ לְהִתְגַּדֵּל כוּ',

“for this [manner of Torah study] does not ascend higher than the sun,” as stated in [the Zohar,] Parashat Vayechi, p. 223b.

דְּהָא לָא סָלִיק לְעֵילָּא מִן שִׁמְשָׁא, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּפָרָשַׁת וַיְחִי דַּף רכ"ג עַמּוּד ב',

The Zohar states there that the verse, “What profit is there for man from all the toil that he toils under the sun,”5 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.

That is because one’s thought and intent are clothed within the letters [of Torah] that he utters and prevent them from ascending.

וְהַיְינוּ מִשּׁוּם שֶׁמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וְכַוָּונָתוֹ הֵן מִתְלַבְּשׁוֹת בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר וְאֵינָן מַנִּיחוֹת אוֹתָן לְסָלְקָא לְעֵילָא.

The ulterior motive that derives from the kelipot thus encumbers his words of Torah.

So, too, in prayer without intent,6 meaning that one entertains alien thoughts.

וְהָכֵי נַמֵי בִּתְפִלָּה שֶׁלֹּא בְכַוָּונָה, שֶׁמְּחַשֵּׁב מַחֲשָׁבוֹת זָרוֹת

(7However, since his intention is addressed to G-d,

(אֶלָּא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁכַּוָּונָתוֹ לַשָּׁמַיִם,

He is, after all, in a state of prayer, except that alien thoughts interpose.

it is therefore easily corrected so that [his prayer] may once again rise to the state from which it was originally repelled,

לְכָךְ יֵשׁ לָהּ תִּיקּוּן בְּקַל לַחֲזוֹר וְלַעֲלוֹת,

when he prays with proper intention even one [full] prayer gathered piecemeal from the prayers of the entire year.

כְּשֶׁמִּתְפַּלֵּל בְּכַוָּונָה אֲפִילוּ תְּפִלָּה אַחַת מְלוּקֶּטֶת מִתְּפִלּוֹת כָּל הַשָּׁנָה,

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.8

Thus, it is written in Mikdash Melech on Parashat Pekudei.)

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּ"מִקְדַּשׁ מֶלֶךְ" פָּרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי).

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,”9 our Sages advise that “one should always study Torah and perform mitzvot even when they are not done for their own sake”10—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 the Tanya, ch. 39.