As to what is stated in [the Zohar,] Parashat Pekudei,11 [that prayer without proper intent is repelled] “into the lowest heaven,” indicating that it is allowed to rise at least to that point,

וּמַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בְּפָרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי: "גּוֹ רָקִיעַ תַּתָּאָה",

whereas in [the Zohar,] Parashat Vayakhel,12 the implication is that “only if it is a seemly word, i.e., prompted by the proper intent, do [the appointed angels] ascend with it to the atmosphere of the heaven above…”;

וּבְפָרָשַׁת וַיַּקְהֵל מַשְׁמַע דְּדַוְקָא "אִי אִיהִי מִלָּא כִּדְקָא יָאוּת סָלְקִין עִמָּהּ" עַד אֲוִירָא דְּרָקִיעַ דִּלְעֵילָּא כוּ' –

How does this latter passage accord with the previously quoted statement in Pekudei that even when the prayer is without proper intent, it still ascends, at least, to the lowest firmament?

this [seeming contradiction] presents no problem.

לֹא קָשֶׁה מִידֵי:

For the expression in Pekudei, “the lowest heaven of the heavens that govern the world,” refers to malchut of Asiyah,

דְּרָקִיעַ תַּתָּאָה מֵאִינּוּן רְקִיעִין דְּמִדַּבְּרֵי גּוֹ עָלְמָא שֶׁבְּפָרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי – הֵן דְּמַלְכוּת דַּעֲשִׂיָּה,

whereas in Parashat Vayakhel, the reference is to za of Asiyah, as is written in Etz Chaim, Shaar Hashemot, ch. 3, in reference to za of Asiyah; see there.

וּדְפָרָשַׁת וַיַּקְהֵל – הֵן דִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דַּעֲשִׂיָּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר הַשֵּׁמוֹת פֶּרֶק ג' גַּבֵּי "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דַּעֲשִׂיָּיה, עַיֵּין שָׁם.

It could be argued that the above question presupposed that the “lower heaven” of Pekudei was of the same level as the “heaven above” of Vayakhel, for the “lower heaven” too is “above the sun.”

By the same token, the answer refers to two distinct levels of “heaven.” Pekudei refers to malchut of Asiyah while Vayakhel refers to za of Asiyah, to which prayers ascend when they are “seemly.” From this level, they ascend yet further, to the G-dliness of the ten sefirot of Yetzirah and Beriah.

The main point here is, however, that when a prayer is not “seemly,” it is not elevated even to za of Asiyah but merely to malchut of Asiyah.

It could be explained that when prayer without proper intent is elevated to the “lower heaven,” its elevation does not bring about that which prayer should effect. For in order for a prayer to have its proper effect, such as the fulfillment of its requests, there must be drawn down into this world a degree of Divine influence that transcends the world, thereby healing the sick, or providing the year’s blessings, and so on. When, however, a prayer is repelled to malchut of Asiyah, i.e., to that level from which all worldly things derive their life-force, then this level obviously cannot provide for whatever the world is lacking.

However, when a properly motivated prayer reaches up to za of Asiyah, from there, an efflux can be drawn down into the world to provide whatever the world lacks, thereby fulfilling the individual’s petitions.

As to the apparent implication in Parashat Pekudei that even invalid prayer—prayer whose intent is confused by alien thoughts—ascends to the First Chamber, whence it is hurled down, and this [chamber] is in za of Beriah,

וְהָא דְּמַשְׁמַע לִכְאוֹרָה בְּפָרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי, דְּגַם תְּפִלָּה פְּסוּלָה עוֹלָה עַד הֵיכָל הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁמִּמֶּנּוּ נִדְחֵית לְמַטָּה, וְהוּא בִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין" דִּבְרִיאָה –

It would thus seem that even an invalid prayer is at first elevated to za of Beriah.

this presents no difficulty, for even palpable sins, minor and grave, ascend there, even as far as the Fourth Chamber, as is written [in the Zohar] on page 252a.

לֹא קָשֶׁה מִידֵי: שֶׁהֲרֵי אֲפִילוּ כָּל הָעֲווֹנוֹת מַמָּשׁ, קַלּוֹת וַחֲמוּרוֹת – עוֹלוֹת לְשָׁם אֲפִילוּ עַד הֵיכָל הַד', כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב דַּף רנ"ב עַמּוּד א',

It is thus certain that in essence, the [above] ascensions are not identical, and there is no comparison or similarity between them except for the common name. This will suffice for the discerning.

אֶלָּא וַדַּאי, שֶׁאֵין מַהוּת הָעֲלִיּוֹת שָׁווֹת, וְאֵין עֲרוֹךְ וְדִמְיוֹן בֵּינֵיהֶם – אֶלָּא בְּשִׁיתּוּף הַשֵּׁם בִּלְבַד, וְדַי לַמֵּבִין.

The elevation of good actions means that they are actually uplifted to higher degrees of holiness, where they accomplish whatever they are intended to accomplish. With regard to sins, however, their “elevation” to the higher worlds brings about a blemish there. So, too, when we say that an “invalid prayer” ascends to the First Chamber, we are not at all speaking of the kind of elevation that takes place when a prayer is offered with the proper intent.

This will also enable us to grasp the statement [in the Zohar] on page 247 that in the Second Chamber, [there is to be found] the one appointed over the garments that clothe the soul as a result of the performance of mitzvot,

וּבָזֶה יוּבַן גַּם כֵּן מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב שָׁם דַּף רמ"ז, שֶׁבְּהֵיכָל הַב' [אולי צריך להיות: אִזְדַּמַּן הַמְמוּנֶּה. ואולי צריך להיות: קַיָּימִין הַלְּבוּשִׁים] מְמוּנֶּה עַל הַלְּבוּשִׁים שֶׁמַּלְבִּישִׁים הַנְּשָׁמָה מִמַּעֲשֵׂה הַמִּצְוֹת,

In the above paragraph, the Hebrew offers several variations as substitutes for the bracketed text: [13Possibly the text should read, ‘there is found the one14 appointed,’ or possibly it should read, ‘the garments are15 housed.’”16]

אַף שֶׁהֵן בְּגַן עֵדֶן הַתַּחְתּוֹן דַּעֲשִׂיָּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב שָׁם דַף ר"י.

even though [the mitzvot performed], and by extension, the soul’s garments that are fashioned thereby, are in the Lower Gan Eden in [the World of] Asiyah, as stated there (in the Zohar) on page 210.

How, then, do we say that the one appointed over—or alternatively, the garments of—the performance of the mitzvot are to be found in the Second Chamber of the World of Beriah?

However, as explained earlier, the above elevations are essentially dissimilar. Thus, though the mitzvot performed are located in the lower Garden of Eden of the World of Asiyah, the soul nevertheless ascends to the Second Chamber of Beriah and receives from there the garments that result from the performance of mitzvot. For the elevation of the soul to the level of Beriah in order to receive its garments is utterly different from the elevation of the mitzvot themselves to the lower Garden of Eden of the World of Asiyah.

Now, invalid prayer is superior to Torah studied with a distinctly improper intention,

וְהִנֵּה, תְּפִלָּה פְּסוּלָה עֲדִיפָא מִתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ מַמָּשׁ,

for [the latter] is “under the sun” since if it is carried out for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, it does not ascend at all,

שֶׁהִיא תַּחַת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

while prayer—even “invalid prayer”—is “into the heaven,” albeit the lowest heaven.

וְהַתְּפִלָּה הִיא גּוֹ רָקִיעַ כוּ'.

But the neutral study of Torah, that is without a negative intention, but is prompted merely by one’s latent, innate love,

אֲבָל תּוֹרָה סְתָם, שֶׁאֵינָהּ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ רַק מֵאַהֲבָה מְסוּתֶּרֶת טִבְעִית,

Unconsciously, it is this love of G-d that motivates even one’s merely habitual study of the Torah.

is not inferior to the “breath of the mouths of school children,” which ascends aloft because it is “breath untainted by sin.”17

לָא גָרְעָא מֵהֶבֶל פִּיהֶן שֶׁל תִּינוֹקֹת־שֶׁל־בֵּית־רַבָּן, דְּסָלִיק לְעֵילָּא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא הֶבֶל שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ חֵטְא,

This [breath] ascends aloft, even though it may be emphatically not altruistic, but only prompted by fear of punishment by the teacher.

וְסָלִיק לְעֵילָּא, אַף אִם הוּא שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ מַמָּשׁ, מִיִּרְאַת הָרְצוּעָה שֶׁבְּיַד הַסּוֹפֵר,

In the same way, an adult whose study is of neutral intent is not tainted by sin (which it would be if he had studied for an ulterior motive). It therefore ascends heavenward.

See there on p. 255b, [where the Zohar states] that the angels elevate the breath of school children to Atzilut.

וְעַיֵּין שָׁם דַּף רנ"ה עַמּוּד ב', שֶׁהַמַּלְאָכִים הֵם מַעֲלִים הַהֶבֶל שֶׁל תִּינוֹקֹת־שֶׁל־בֵּית־רַבָּן עַד אֲצִילוּת:

Addendum

In its primary meaning, the term “breath untainted by sin” signifies that the breath of the Torah study of school children is untainted because it proceeds from individuals who at this age are incapable of sin.

As the Gemara states in Shabbat,18 “Resh Lakish said in the name of R. Yehudah Nesiah, ‘The world exists solely by virtue of the breath of the mouths of school children [who study Torah].’ Said R. Papa to Abbaye: ‘And what of my Torah study and yours?’ He replied: ‘There is no comparison between breath that knows sin and breath that is free of sin.’” This means that children are not in the category of those who sin.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, once recalled19 that when his father, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, taught him the above text, he first explained that the angels’ elevation of the Torah study of these children to Atzilut, as cited above from the Zohar by the Alter Rebbe, relates to the same rarefied level as the supernal unions that are accomplished by those who refine their bodies according to the secrets of the Kabbalah.

Rabbi Shalom DovBer then added that the Alter Rebbe’s emphasis that this study comprised “breath untainted by sin” can be explained as follows: This is the breath of Torah words spoken by little children in artless simplicity. When they say, for example, “kametz alef: ah, and they believe with a simple and ingrained faith that these and likewise all the other vowels and consonants of the Torah were transmitted to Moses on Sinai, then the very breath that emanates from their hearts is utterly pure and untainted by sin.

(This commentary, continued Rabbi Shalom DovBer, comes as an addition to the plain and primary meaning of “breath untainted by sin”—that these children are still pure from the taint of sin.)

Moreover, the above interpretation of breath being untainted by sin, inasmuch as it emanates from uttering words of Torah with simple faith, applies not only to children but to adults as well. They, too, can effect sublime supernal unions.

Rabbi Shalom DovBer based this interpretation on a story he heard from the Baal Shem Tov when he visited his holy resting place at Mezhibuzh. At that time, the Baal Shem Tov related that on his 16th birthday (18 Elul 5474 (1714)), he had found himself in a small village. The local innkeeper was a very simple person who hardly knew how to read the prayers, let alone understand what they meant. He was, however, a very G-d-fearing individual. On all matters and at all times, he would quote the same phrase in the Holy Tongue, “Blessed be He; may He be blessed forever.” His wife too would always say in Yiddish, “Praised be His holy Name.”

That day, in accordance with the age-old custom of meditating in solitude for some time on one’s birthday, the Baal Shem Tov went off by himself to the fields. He recited chapters of Psalms and engaged in unifying the Divine Names that emanate from its holy verses.

“As I was immersed in this,” the Baal Shem Tov related, “and unaware of my surroundings, I suddenly saw Elijah the Prophet. There was a smile on his lips. I was taken aback. For when I had been with the tzaddik R. Meir, and also when I had been in the company of the hidden tzaddikim, I had merited to see Elijah, but this was the first time that I had merited his appearance while all alone. I wondered about it. And besides, why was he smiling?

“Elijah said to me: ‘You are toiling so mightily to have the proper mystical intentions in bringing about the supernal unions of the Divine Names that emanate from the verses of Psalms. And Aharon Shlomo the innkeeper and his wife Zlata Rivkah know nothing of the unifications that result from his “Blessed be He; may He be blessed forever” and from her “Praised be His holy Name.” Yet the Divine harmonies they create resonate in all the heavens more than all the unifications of the Holy Name that are effected by the mystical intentions of the greatest tzaddikim.’

“Elijah described to me,” continued the Baal Shem Tov, “the great pleasure, as it were, that results in heaven from the words of praise and adoration uttered by men, women, and children. Especially so, when they come from the mouths of simple folk. And most especially, when these praises are offered consistently, for then, these people are constantly united with G-d in pure faith and with an undivided heart.”

Having recounted this episode, Rabbi Shalom DovBer added that it served as the basis for his additional interpretation of “breath untainted by sin”—that it applies not only to children but also to adults who act with pure faith and heartfelt simplicity and who are thereby constantly united with G-d at all times and in all places.

The Rebbe stresses that this applies equally to adults only with respect to effecting supernal unions. With regard to maintaining the world’s existence, however, it is clear from the above-quoted teaching in Shabbat that this is accomplished only by the “breath of the mouths of school children,” for this breath possesses as well the first quality of “breath untainted by sin”: it proceeds from those for whom sin is a virtual impossibility.

With regard to the refinement of the world, this is accomplished by those adults to whom the second exposition of “breath untainted by sin” applies—that the breath itself is untainted. In a sense, indeed, their breath has an even greater effect than the “breath of the mouths of school children.” For as Rabbi Shalom DovBer further explains, children do not relate to the corporeality of this world but only to its atmosphere. Since adults have a relationship with the corporeality of this world as well, the supernal unions that they effect refine its very crassness and corporeality.