In the beginning, as the Midrash teaches,1 G-d “created worlds and destroyed them.” The Kabbalah explains that this refers to spiritual worlds, supernal sefirot (“emanations”), that first existed in one state of being and then in another. The sefirot in the former state of being—called the World of Tohu (lit., “Chaos”)—underwent a “breaking of the vessels.” The World of Tikkun (lit., “Order”) was then built.

The sefirot comprise orot (“lights”) and kelim (“vessels”) that contain these lights. The crisis in the World of Tohu occurred because the orot were so intense that the kelim were incapable of containing them. As a result of this breakage, sparks of holiness descended within the kelipot. These sparks are to be found in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah in general but particularly within the physicality of our world. It is the task of the Jew to sift this materiality by using it properly in order to extract and refine these sparks, thereby elevating them to their original source in the World of Tohu. This elevation in turn elicits a mighty downflow of Divine energy from Tohu and from even higher than that level.

(Certain Divine Names, whose respective Kabbalistic meanings are signified by Hebrew letter-combinations, are related to this process of beirurim, the extraction and refinement of the sparks of holiness. Thus, the Name known as Ban (ב"ן) is the source of the fallen holy sparks; the Name Mah (מ"ה) is the power that extracts and elevates them; while the Name Sag (ס"ג) is the original source of the World of Tohu. When the extraction and elevation of the sparks deriving from the Name Ban is accomplished through the Name Mah, a lofty degree of Divine illumination is drawn down from the Name Sag and is vested within the “capacious vessels” of the World of Tikkun.)

This extraction is for the most part accomplished through the performance of action-oriented mitzvot involving physical objects which derive their life-force from kelipat nogah and which house the sparks of Tohu. Performing a mitzvah with such objects disencumbers the hidden sparks of their corporeal husk and elevates them.

The seeking out of sparks, however, can also be accomplished through the study of Torah as well as through prayer.

In the present essay, the Alter Rebbe will explain the statement of Pri Etz Chaim that nowadays, this “extraction” is mainly effected through prayer. For prayer is uniquely able to draw down an infinite degree of G-dliness; prayer alone can bring about changes within the world, healing the sick and causing rain to fall. In order for such a degree of G-dliness to be called down, there must first be an arousal initiated from below, an expression of man’s ardent desire to be the recipient of Divine benefactions. And if these benefactions are to flow from an infinitely high source, the plea that requests them must surge from a correspondingly deep source—“with all one’s might,” from the infinite depths of one’s soul.

To understand the statement in Pri Etz Chaim2 that in the contemporary period, the refinement [of the sparks of Tohu] is primarily effected by prayer,

לְהָבִין מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בִּפְרִי עֵץ חַיִּים, דְּבִזְמַן הַזֶּה, עִיקַּר הַבֵּירוּר עַל יְדֵי הַתְּפִלָּה דַּוְקָא,

As explained above, the task of sifting the materiality of this world and salvaging its hidden, holy sparks is the ongoing mission of Jews living as souls within bodies in this physical world.

This is accomplished either (a) through the performance of the action-oriented mitzvot which entail the use of physical objects whose life-force derives from kelipat nogah; (b) through the audibly articulated study of Torah subjects that deal with physical matters; or (c) through prayer, a form of spiritual service through which the Divine soul influences and refines the animal soul (whose life-force derives from kelipat nogah) to the point that it can attain a love of G-d.

As stated above, Pri Etz Chaim teaches that in these latter generations, the extraction and elevation of sparks is effected primarily through prayer.

even though Torah study is superior to prayer:

אַף שֶׁתַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה לְמַעְלָה מֵהַתְּפִלָּה.

Torah study is “equivalent to them all,”3 to all the mitzvot, and higher even than “concentration in prayer.”3 Why, then, is the extraction of the sparks of Tohu mainly accomplished in the present era through prayer?

The explanation is that through Torah and mitzvot, additional light is drawn forth into Atzilut

הָעִנְיָן הוּא: שֶׁעַל־יְדֵי תּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת מוֹסִיפִין אוֹר בַּאֲצִילוּת כוּ',

Divine light is drawn forth into the various worlds either in accordance with (a) Sod Shoresh (lit., “the principle of the root”), the degree of revelation originally apportioned, or in accordance with (b) Sod Tosefet (lit., “the principle of addition”), depending on the spiritual service of mortals. This additional measure of revelation is much greater than the base allocation.

Through Torah and mitzvot, as stated above, one draws down an additional measure of Divine illumination into the World of Atzilut.

This means that through Torah study, the [infinite] Ein Sof-light [is drawn] into the inner aspect of the vessels of [the sefirot of] Atzilut. This is a drawing down of the Divine Intellect.

פֵּירוּשׁ, אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בְּכֵלִים דַּאֲצִילוּת – עַל־יְדֵי תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה – בִּפְנִימִית, דְּהַיְינוּ הַמְשָׁכוֹת הַמּוֹחִין:

Since Torah study involves mortal intellect, its heavenly echo calls forth a corresponding revelation of the Divine Intellect, which is the inward aspect of the sefirot.

Through mitzvah observance, [the light is drawn] into the external aspect of the vessels, meaning netzach-hod-yesod of the ten sefirot of za (the six emotive attributes) of Atzilut.

וּבְקִיּוּם הַמִּצְוֹת – בְּחִיצוֹנִית הַכֵּלִים, שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינוֹת נֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד, שֶׁבְּי' סְפִירוֹת "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" שֶׁבַּאֲצִילוּת,

Za is a configuration (partzuf, lit., “countenance”) which comprises a full complement of ten sefirot. Into netzach-hod-yesod, the lower sefirot which are “outside of the torso”4 of za and thus comprise its external aspect, the [infinite] Ein Sof-light is drawn down by means of those mitzvot that are performed with man’s power of action. For this power is external to man’s essence, just as netzach-hod-yesod are external to za.

The infinite lights from Divine Intellect that are drawn down by Torah and mitzvot are thus invested primarily in Atzilut.

They [later] only clothe themselves with diminished intensity in Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah in the physical Torah and mitzvot in This World.

רַק שֶׁמִּתְלַבְּשִׁים בִּבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה, בְּתוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת הַגַּשְׁמִיִּים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה.

The Divine Intellect that is drawn down into Atzilut is ultimately vested within the Torah of this world while the Divine light which is drawn into the externality of the vessels of za of Atzilut is vested within the mitzvot of this world. The effect is thus strictly within the material aspect of the Torah and mitzvot of this world but not within the materiality of the world itself.

Prayer, however, calls forth the [infinite] Ein Sof-light into Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah directly and not by means of mere enclothement, as is the case with the study of Torah, where the Divine light is garbed in an entity which in turn is drawn down into this world.

אֲבָל הַתְּפִלָּה, הִיא הַמְשָׁכַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לִבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה דַּוְקָא, לֹא בְּדֶרֶךְ הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת בִּלְבַד,

Rather, it is the actual light which modifies the state of created beings,

רַק הָאוֹר מַמָּשׁ, לְשַׁנּוֹת הַנִּבְרָאִים מִכְּמוֹת שֶׁהֵם,

so that (for example) the ill will be cured through the petition of “Heal us” in the Amidah and the rain from heaven will fall to the earth so that it becomes fertile and yields vegetation,5 in response to the prayer of the “Blessing of the Years.”

שֶׁיִּתְרַפֵּא הַחוֹלֶה, וְיֵרֵד הַגֶּשֶׁם מִשָּׁמַיִם לָאָרֶץ וְיוֹלִידָהּ וְיַצְמִיחָהּ.

These are changes effected within the actual physical world.

This is not the case with Torah and mitzvot: no modification in the parchment [on which are inscribed the Biblical passages] of the tefillin results from their being placed upon head and arm, notwithstanding the drawing down of Divine light and the subordination of mind and heart to the Divine Will.

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן בְּתוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת, שֶׁאֵין שִׁינּוּי בִּקְלַף הַתְּפִילִּין עַל־יְדֵי הֲנָחָתָן בָּרֹאשׁ וּבַזְּרוֹעַ.

Even in the case of those mitzvot that are fulfilled through making [the object],

וְגַם בְּמִצְוֹת שֶׁעֲשִׂיָּיתָן הוּא גְּמַר מִצְוָתָן,

Examples would be the writing of a Torah scroll or making a sukkah (according to the opinions that the actual construction of a sukkah is a mitzvah6). Unlike tefillin, where the mitzvah is performed by wearing them and not by making them, these mitzvot are performed by modifying the relevant object. Nevertheless:

the change within the object is effected by man and not by Heaven, as is the case with prayer,

הַשִּׁינּוּי הוּא עַל־יְדֵי אָדָם, וְלֹא בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם כְּבִתְפִלָּה,

When an individual succeeds in bringing about a change in this world through prayer, e.g., the sick person becomes well, this change is ultimately brought about from above, not by the individual’s prayer,

for this calls forth the vivifying power from the Infinite One, blessed be He, Who alone is all-capable.

שֶׁהִיא הַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת מֵאֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, שֶׁהוּא לְבַדּוֹ כֹּל יָכוֹל:

It is only G-d who can effect a change such as this in our world, bringing about the cure or the productive rain.

Therefore, calling forth the [infinite] Ein Sof-light into the lower world is impossible without the [prior] “elevation of mayin nukvin” specifically from below, whereby the mortal recipient initiates an anticipatory “arousal from below” through his spiritual service during prayer.

וְהִלְכָּךְ, כְּדֵי לְהַמְשִׁיךְ אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לְמַטָּה, אִי אֶפְשָׁר בְּלִי הַעֲלָאַת "מַיִּין נוּקְבִין" מִלְּמַטָּה דַוְקָא.

As the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, since this entails an infinite degree of service on the part of man, it is able to draw down an infinite response from above, reciprocating each individual’s particular “arousal from below.”

This is not the case with the study of Torah, which [affects] Atzilut, for [the Torah] is united in any case with the Emanator.

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן לְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה שֶׁבַּאֲצִילוּת, הַמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּלָאו הָכֵי בַּמַּאֲצִיל בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

Since Torah study thus does not need to be drawn down below, there is no need for an “arousal from below.”

As the Rebbe notes, “The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how this may be considered mayin nukvin and what its connection is to the infinite light.”

The “elevation of mayin nukvin” in the mind and heart of man is [the love of G-d] in a state of boundless flames of fire, and being boundless, it relates to the infinite light;

וְהַעֲלָאַת "מַיִּין נוּקְבִין" בְּמוֹחוֹ וְלִבּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם, הִיא בְּחִינַת "רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ" בְּלִי גְבוּל,

it is described as me’odechaloving G-d “with all your might,”7 with each individual’s capacity for infinitude,

וְנִקְרֵאת "מְאֹדֶךָ",

Though man is inherently limited, and though, moreover, all of one man’s might may be considered less than ultimate in another man, nevertheless, even this limited degree of “limitlessness” suffices:

to arouse the [Divine] state of infinity.

כְּדֵי לְעוֹרֵר בְּחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף,

For the “arousal from below” need but resemble the response from above that it seeks to elicit. If an “arousal from below” may truly be considered “infinite” relative to the particular individual’s capacities, it suffices to draw down the infinite light from above.

This is effected through the Gevurot (the attributes of severity) of [the Divine Name] Sag, which constitute the 288 sparks….

וְהַיְינוּ עַל־יְדֵי גְּבוּרוֹת דְּ"סַ"ג", שֶׁהֵן הֵן הָרַפַּ"ח נִיצוֹצִין כוּ'.

The love and longing (ratzo) which a man experiences during prayer to the extent of meodecha (“with all your might”) are aroused by the gevurot of Sag, the Divine Name that is the source of the 288 sparks of Tohu. These sparks derive from the vessels of Tohu, whose sefirot were originally in a state of infinite longing to become wholly one with G-d. This longing parallels the soul’s love and longing for G-d to the point of me’odecha.

For this reason, worship is called “life of the moment,”8 for it is malchut descending into Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah.

וְלָכֵן נִקְרֵאת הַתְּפִלָּה – "חַיֵּי שָׁעָה", הִיא מַלְכוּת הַיּוֹרֶדֶת בִּבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה,

As Rashi explains on the straightforward level of peshat, the Talmud calls prayer “life of the moment” (lit., “life of the hour”) because people pray for health, peace, and a livelihood—temporal things that are subject to the limitations of the passing moment.

Here, the Alter Rebbe speaks of how these matters exist in their source, in the supernal sefirot. In the worlds above, the sefirah of malchut is the source of time. For it is the sefirah of malchut (“sovereignty”) that reflects the relationship of the Infinite One to time—“He reigns, He reigned, He will reign,” in the present, past, and future.

This relationship is particularly evident as malchut descends to animate the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, for these worlds all exist in the category of time.

And because prayer draws down Divine energy into Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah through their source, the time-related sefirah of malchut, prayer is called “life of the moment.”

Torah [by contrast is called] “eternal life,”8 which (in terms of the sefirot) is za,9

וְתוֹרָה – "חַיֵּי עוֹלָם", הוּא "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין",

for the 248 commandments of the Torah divide into the ten vessels of the ten sefirot of za….

כִּי רַמַ"ח פִּקּוּדִין הֵן מִתְחַלְּקִין בְּי' כֵּלִים דְּעֶשֶׂר סְפִירוֹת דִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" כוּ'.

For za comprises sefirot within the World of Atzilut, and as stated in Torah Or, at the end of Parashat Terumah, za marks the conclusion of the infinite worlds, utterly transcending the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah.