The performance of mitzvot, however, as the Alter Rebbe will now explain, connects a Jew with the essence of Divinity. When he holds an etrog together with the other three kinds of vegetation and fulfills the mitzvah of the “Four Species” on Sukkot, he is holding on to the essence of Divinity. And so, too, with regard to all the practical mitzvot.

However, as to the performance of mitzvot, these are the works of G-d, unlike other worldly actions, from which Divinity is utterly concealed. The Alter Rebbe now explains how this comes about:

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן מַעֲשֵׂה הַמִּצְוֹת "מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹקִים הֵמָּה" הֵנָּה

In the process of the chain of descent from the vessels of Atzilut to Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, for the vessels of Atzilut that descend into these worlds are the Divinity of these worlds, from the very nature and essence of their external aspect—

בְּדֶרֶךְ הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת מִכֵּלִים דַּאֲצִילוּת לִבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה, מִמַּהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן דְּחִיצוֹנִיּוּתָן,

as, for example, within the etrog and its “kinds”—

כְּמוֹ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל אֶתְרוֹג וּמִינָיו,

the Holy One, blessed be He, clothed something of the very nature and essence of the [25internal] attributes of Kindness of za,

הִלְבִּישׁ בָּהֶן הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מִמַּהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן דַּחֲסָדִים [פְּנִימִית] [פְּנִימִים] דִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין",

meaning from their outward state, from the external aspect of these internal attributes,

וְהַיְינוּ מִבְּחִינַת חִיצוֹנִיּוּתָן,

as is known in the case of all mitzvot requiring action.

כַּנּוֹדָע בְּכָל מִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת.

Man, by contrast, who by means of his intellect or spiritual emotions can attain intellectually generated love and fear,

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן הָאָדָם,

even if he possesses a soul of Atzilut,

אֲפִילוּ יֵשׁ לוֹ נְשָׁמָה דַאֲצִילוּת,

yet since it is clothed in a body,

מֵאַחַר שֶׁמְּלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּף,

cannot detect and apprehend through26 his soul the nature and essence of the inward attributes of Kindness of za of Atzilut.

לֹא יוּכַל לִמְצוֹא בְּנַפְשׁוֹ וּלְהַשִּׂיג מַהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן שֶׁל פְּנִימִית הַחֲסָדִים דִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דַּאֲצִילוּת,

(27For in general terms, Atzilut represents the state of chayah in the Four Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah,

(כִּי הָאֲצִילוּת הִיא בְּחִינַת "חַיָּה" בִּכְלָלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת אֲצִילוּת־בְּרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה,

Specifically, each of the Four Worlds possesses all four soul-levels of nefesh, ruach, neshamah, and chayah. In a general sense, however, each of these Four Worlds corresponds to one of these levels. Asiyah corresponds to nefesh; Yetzirah—to ruach; Beriah—to neshamah; and Atzilut corresponds to chayah.

and [chayah] denotes encompassing transcendence, not being vested within any vessel whatsoever.)

שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת מַקִּיף מִלְמַעְלָה וְאֵינָהּ מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בִּכְלִי כְּלָל)

Unlike the soul-level in man called neshamah, which reflects his power of comprehension, or ruach, which reflects his spiritual emotions, and so on, each of these soul-levels having their specific “location” within the body, chayah is a transcendent soul-level that encompasses the individual from above.

So, too, with regard to the worlds, chayah (paralleled by the World of Atzilut) is the spiritual level that encompasses from above and does not vest itself at all within a vessel. Thus, a person living within a body cannot possibly apprehend the essence of an entity at the level of Atzilut.

[With regard to the internal attributes of Kindness of za, man is able to apprehend] only their existence through intellectually generated awe and love.

כִּי אִם מְצִיאוּתָן, עַל־יְדֵי דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ שִׂכְלִיִּים.

As to the statement, “You shall see my hinderpart”22and seeing penetrates to the essence of a matter—this refers only to prophecy.

וּמַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב: "וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחוֹרָי", הוּא בְּדֶרֶךְ נְבוּאָה דַּוְקָא.

(28For prophecy entails divestment of the physical,29 as explained in Raaya Mehemna, Parashat Mishpatim.30)

(שֶׁהוּא הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַגַּשְׁמִיּוּת, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא פָּרָשַׁת מִשְׁפָּטִים).

Thus, Moses’ apprehension of the essence of Divinity resulted from a state of prophecy that entails divestment from the physical. Through other, nonprophetic means, it is impossible for the soul to apprehend the essence of any of the levels of Atzilut.

This, then, is the reason: No created being is capable of grasping anything whatsoever of the essence of Divinity, the Creator.

וְהַיְינוּ הַטַּעַם, לְפִי שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַנִּבְרָא לְהַשִּׂיג כְּלוּם בְּמַהוּת הָאֱלֹקוּת, שֶׁהוּא הַבּוֹרֵא,

And without comprehension, there is no real investiture, or grasping, or cleaving.

וּבְלִי הַשָּׂגָה – אֵין זוֹ הַלְבָּשָׁה וּתְפִיסָא וּדְבֵיקוּת אֲמִיתִּית.

Man is thus incapable of truly cleaving to G-d’s attributes, i.e., the attributes of Atzilut.

In light of the above, it is clear that the love and fear of G-d that a Jew generates through meditation during prayer grasps and cleaves to no more than the external aspect of the existence of Divinity and not His essence.

However, as to the etrog, by way of example, its life is drawn and descends from the very essence of the outer aspect of the vessels of nukva of za of Atzilut,

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן הָאֶתְרוֹג עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, חַיּוּתוֹ נִמְשְׁכָה וְנִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלָה מִמַּהוּת חִיצוֹנִית דְּכֵלִים דְּנוּקְבָא דִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דַּאֲצִילוּת,

which is truly a state of Divinity,

שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת אֱלֹקוּת,

as stated in Etz Chaim,31 that all the fruits are [rooted] in Atzilut.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שֶׁכָּל הַפֵּירוֹת הֵן בַּאֲצִילוּת,

For the thirty vessels of Atzilut descended into Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah in order to become the Divinity of those Worlds

כִּי לַמֶ"ד כֵּלִים דַּאֲצִילוּת יָרְדוּ לִבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה

(32and these are the ten utterances33 by which the world was created

(וְהֵן יוּ"ד מַאֲמָרוֹת שֶׁבָּהֶן נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם,

through enclothement in nukva of Asiyah, essence in essence).34

עַל־יְדֵי הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת בְּנוּקְבָא דַעֲשִׂיָּה, מַהוּת בְּמַהוּת)

The essence of the vessels of malchut of Atzilut vests itself in the essence of malchut of Asiyah, which is the source of all created beings of that world. Included among them are the fruits of that world, such as the etrog.

While the G-dliness found in other physical matters is concealed, in an object used for a mitzvah it is manifest, as explained in the Tanya, ch. 23.

For the vessels of Atzilut became the soul of Asiyah, which is actually a state of Divinity.

כִּי הַכֵּלִים דַּאֲצִילוּת נַעֲשׂוּ נְשָׁמָה בַּעֲשִׂיָּה שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת אֱלֹקוּת מַמָּשׁ,

For in Atzilut, “He and His vessels are one”35—the Emanator (the infinite light) and the emanation (the vessels of Atzilut).

לְפִי שֶׁבַּאֲצִילוּת "אִיהוּ וְגַרְמוֹהִי חַד", הַמַּאֲצִיל וְהַנֶּאֱצָל,

And through the enclothement of the essence of the soul [of the vessels of Atzilut] in the essence of the vessels of nukva (i.e., malchut) of Asiyah, the etrog came into being.

וְעַל־יְדֵי הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת מַהוּת הַנְּשָׁמָה בְּמַהוּת הַכֵּלִים דְּנוּקְבָא דַעֲשִׂיָּה – נִתְהַוָּה הָאֶתְרוֹג.

The result is that in holding the etrog and waving it as the law requires,

נִמְצָא, כְּשֶׁתּוֹפֵס הָאֶתְרוֹג וּמְנַעַנְעוֹ כְּהִלְכָתוֹ,

one is actually holding the life-force which is clothed within it and which derives from the nukva (i.e., malchut) of Atzilut,

הֲרֵי זֶה תּוֹפֵס מַמָּשׁ חַיּוּתוֹ הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בּוֹ מִנּוּקְבָא דַאֲצִילוּת,

and [malchut] is united with the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, the Emanator of Atzilut, blessed be He.

הַמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּאוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף הַמַּאֲצִיל בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

However, is this not also the case when one holds any other fruit, where no mitzvah is involved?

The answer is, as previously explained, that in other physical objects, the G-dly life-force is concealed, whereas it is revealed in objects used for a mitzvah, for these are the “works of G-d.”

This is not the case concerning one’s intention while performing the mitzvah of the etrog.

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן בְּכַוָּונָתוֹ,

Here, even if he is familiar with the mystical [Kabbalistic and Chasidic] meanings involved, he does not grasp and hold on to the essence (of malchut of Atzilut, the source of the etrog) but only to the external fact of its mere existence.

אֵינוֹ מַשִּׂיג וְתוֹפֵס, אַף הַיּוֹדֵעַ הַסּוֹד. – אֶלָּא מְצִיאוּתָהּ, וְלֹא מַהוּתָהּ.

This is entirely unlike holding a physical etrog and performing the mitzvah with it, at which time one grasps the essence of the physical etrog together with its source in Divinity.

However, by studying the laws of the etrog, one does attain and grasp the etrog proper and its mitzvah appropriately by speech and thought.

אַךְ בְּלִימּוּד הִלְכוֹת אֶתְרוֹג מַשִּׂיג וְתוֹפֵס הָאֶתְרוֹג מַמָּשׁ וּמִצְוָתוֹ כַּהֲלָכָה, בִּבְחִינַת דִּבּוּר וּמַחֲשָׁבָה,

For here he is articulating or understanding or thinking about the laws of the physical etrog, whose essence he can grasp, and not its spiritual intent in the heavenly realms.

Even more so, he who studies the esoteric dimension of the mitzvah of the etrog according to the teachings of the Kabbalah and Chasidut.

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן הַלּוֹמֵד הַסּוֹד.

For here, too, we are speaking of the esoteric dimension of the physical etrog, whose essence he can comprehend, and not of the spiritual intentions of the mitzvah or, yet higher, the relevant configurations of sefirot in the World of Atzilut.

This, however, refers only to [the study of] the Kabbalistic mysteries of the mitzvah itself,

אֲבָל דַּוְקָא סוֹדוֹת הַמִּצְוָה,

for this is not inferior to the study of its laws; indeed, quite the contrary…,

דְּלֹא גָרַע מִלִּימּוּד הִלְכוֹתֶיהָ, וְאַדְּרַבָּה כוּ',

even though he does not apprehend the essence of the spiritual intent of the mitzvah as it applies to the visages of Atzilut.

אַף שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַשִּׂיג הַמַּהוּת.

Moreover, his understanding of the essence of the etrog, the object with which the mitzvah is observed, grants him some comprehension of the essence of the mystical reaches of the subject at large.