To perform a mitzvah that cannot be delegated to another, one forgoes Torah study,14 even [the study of] maaseh merkavah, the sublime Kabbalistic mysteries of the celestial “Chariot,”15

וְהִנֵּה, לְקִיּוּם מִצְוָה שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַעֲשׂוֹת עַל־יְדֵי אֲחֵרִים מְבַטְּלִין תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה, וַאֲפִילוּ מַעֲשֵׂה מֶרְכָּבָה,

and beyond question one forgoes prayer, which is the state of intellect and intellectually generated awe and love.

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן תְּפִלָּה שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת מוֹחִין וּדְחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ שִׂכְלִיִּים,

The reason is as we have noted; i.e., in order to extract and refine the sparks by means of the practical mitzvot‎, this being the purpose of creation.

וְהַטַּעַם – כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

In addition, indeed, the standing of the practical mitzvot and their study far transcends the standing of intellect, meaning intellectually generated awe and love,

וְעוֹד זֹאת, שֶׁבֶּאֱמֶת מְאֹד גָּדְלָה וְגָבְהָה מַעֲלַת הַמִּצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת, וְכֵן לִימּוּדָם, עַל מַעֲלַת הַמּוֹחִין שֶׁהֵן דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ שִׂכְלִיִּים.

The mitzvot requiring action are superior—in their performance and in the study of their laws—not only because they fulfill the ultimate purpose of creation through the extraction of the sparks but also because they bond the soul with G-d.

For though the verse declares, “and to cleave to Him,”16 i.e., through [cleaving to] His attributes (middot),17

כִּי הֲגַם דִּכְתִיב: "וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ" עַל־יְדֵי מִדּוֹתָיו,

When one acts in a kindly manner, for example, he cleaves to the supernal sefirah of chesed—and the sefirot are wholly one with G-d.

still, one does not cleave to the essence (mahut) of the supernal attributes but only to [the externality of] their existence (metziut),

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אֵינֶנּוּ דָבֵק אֲפִילוּ בְּמִדּוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנוֹת אֶלָּא בִּמְצִיאוּתָן, וְלֹא בְּמַהוּתָן,

as it is written,18 “I am dust and ashes.”

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר".

This was stated by Abraham with regard to the glimmer of his soul that illuminated his body in comparing it to its source—a radiance of supernal kindness, as explained above at length in Epistle 15, in the name of the Maggid of Mezritch.

Abraham experienced such an intense degree of love (deriving from the attribute of chesed) toward G-d that he was a “chariot,” a vehicle humbly waiting to be steered by the hands of its Driver.19 Nevertheless, he declared that his measure of love for G-d was but “dust and ashes” relative to the supernal attribute of chesed.

To appreciate the analogy: A tree, originally composed of the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth, is burned. Losing its first three elements in smoke, it is reduced to its fourth element, mere ashes. Yet, though these ashes and the tree itself are of the same element, the ashes can hardly be compared to the original tree that was “beautiful to behold and good to eat.”20

So, too, the attribute of kindness and love that Abraham possessed while his soul was in his body cannot be compared to the attribute of kindness which is one of the supernal sefirot.

It is thus to be seen that one does not cleave to the essence of the supernal attributes but only to their external state, their state of mere existence.

This is all the more true with regard to the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, for no thought can apprehend Him in His radiance or the diffusion of the life-force issuing from Him.

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן בְּאוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, דְּ"לֵית מַחֲשָׁבָה תְּפִיסָא בֵיהּ" בְּאוֹרוֹ וְהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת מִמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

One can only grasp His existence, that He gives life to all, but not His essence.

כִּי אִם בִּמְצִיאוּתוֹ, שֶׁהוּא שֶׁמְּחַיֶּה אֶת כּוּלָּם, וְלֹא בְּמַהוּתוֹ,

This applies even to the supernal beings, of [whose praise] it is written, “Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of Hosts.”21

אֲפִילוּ לָעֶלְיוֹנִים, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָאוֹת כוּ'",

The above phrase is uttered by the Seraphim, angels of the World of Beriah. They perceive that even as G-d descends to relate to created beings so that He is called the “L-rd of Hosts,” He is kadosh (“holy”), a term which implies that He is separate from them.

Only emanated “effects” can conceive their “cause,”

לְבַד "עֲלוּלִים הַנֶּאֱצָלִים" – מַשִּׂיגִים כָּל אֶחָד בְּ"עִילָּתוֹ"

The spiritual beings of the World of Atzilut are each an “effect” (alul) brought about by a “cause” (ilah) in the levels higher than themselves. These beings vest themselves in each other in turn and at each level are able to comprehend the antecedent “cause” that is vested within them,

according to the order recounted in Etz Chaim, concerning the investment of the visages (partzufim).

כְּפִי הַסֵּדֶר שֶׁבְּ"עֵץ חַיִּים" בְּהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת הַ"פַּרְצוּפִים",

Etz Chaim explains how the “visages” of the supernal sefirot of Atzilut vest themselves in each other. Each “effect” is able to comprehend its “cause”—the “visage” that is garbed within it.

This is not the case with created beings, even with souls of Atzilut.

אֲבָל לֹא בְּנִבְרָאִים אֲפִילוּ בִּנְשָׁמוֹת דַּאֲצִילוּת,

Though the souls of Atzilut are Divinity, still, since they have become sundered from the vessels of the ten sefirot (as explained above in Epistle 2022), they are termed “created beings” and are unable to apprehend the essence of G-dliness.

Thus, it is written regarding Moses, “You will see My hinderpart”23an external manifestation24 of the mere existence (metziut) of Divinity but not the essence (mahut).

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּמֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם: "וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחוֹרָי כוּ'".

Thus, through the vision of his soul alone, as the soul gazes upon G-d without the benefit of mitzvot, even Moses could apprehend no more than externality, not essence.