The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G-d above,”

וְנֶפֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִית בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, הִיא חֵלֶק אֱלוֹהַּ מִמַּעַל מַמָּשׁ,

“A part of G-d above” is a quotation from Scripture (Job 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly” to stress the literal meaning of these words, for, as is known,1 some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse describing “great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens”2 is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase “a part of G-d above” in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly,” thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above.

as it is written3 concerning Adam (whose soul was a comprehensive one, a neshamah klalit, in that it contained all the particular souls of subsequent generations): “And He blew into his nostrils a soul of life,”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים",

and as we say in prayer concerning the soul of every individual Jew, “You blew [it] into me.”4

וְ"אַתָּה נָפַחְתָּ בִּי",

The significance of the verb “to blow” as it relates to the infusion of the Jewish soul is now explained.

It is written in the Zohar,5 “He who blows, blows from within him,” that is to say, from his inwardness and his innermost being,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר, מַאן דְּנָפַח מִתּוֹכֵיהּ נָפַח, פֵּירוּשׁ, מִתּוֹכִיּוּתוֹ וּמִפְּנִימִיּוּתוֹ,

for it is of his inward and innermost vitality that a man emits through blowing with force.

שֶׁתּוֹכִיּוּת וּפְנִימִיּוּת הַחַיּוּת שֶׁבָּאָדָם מוֹצִיא בִּנְפִיחָתוֹ בְּכֹחַ:

Blowing tires a person much more quickly than speaking, as is readily observed, for it requires a greater exertion of effort and vitality. Hence, the fact that the metaphor of blowing is used to describe G-d’s implanting the Jew’s soul in his body signifies that this soul originates in the “innermost” aspect of G-dliness.

That the Jew is rooted in G-d’s innermost and essential being is indicated further by the designation of the Jewish people as G-d’s “children,” whose souls originate in His “thought” just as a child stems from his father’s brain, as the Alter Rebbe explains presently.

So, too, allegorically speaking, have Jewish souls risen in the [Divine] thought,6

כָּךְ, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, נִשְׁמוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל עָלוּ בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה,

The Jew has his source in Divine “thought”—the innermost level of G-dliness. All other created beings, even angels, are rooted in and created by Divine “speech.” Speech is external in comparison with thought.

as it is written regarding the Jewish nation, “Israel is My firstborn son,”7

כְּדִכְתִיב: "בְּנִי בְכוֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל",

and concerning Jews as individuals, “You are children unto G-d your L-rd.”8

"בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם"

That is to say, i.e., the significance of the Jew’s being called G-d’s child is that just as a child is derived from its father’s brain—his inner and essential being,

פֵּירוּשׁ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַבֵּן נִמְשָׁךְ מִמּוֹחַ הָאָב,

so, too (to use an anthropomorphism), is the soul of every Jew derived from G-d’s thought and wisdom.

כָּךְ כִּבְיָכוֹל נִשְׁמַת כָּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל נִמְשְׁכָה מִמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

The Alter Rebbe now takes this concept a step further. Deriving from G-d’s thought and wisdom actually implies that it derives from G-d Himself, as he goes on to explain.

For “He is wise—G-d possesses the quality of wisdom—but not with a wisdom that is known to us created beings,”9 because He and His wisdom are one,

דְּאִיהוּ חַכִּים וְלָא בְחָכְמָה יְדִיעָא, אֶלָּא הוּא וְחָכְמָתוֹ אֶחָד,

and as Maimonides writes,”10 “He is Knowledge and simultaneously the Knower…Who knows and comprehends—through the ‘Knowledge’…; [and He is that which is Known]—G-d is also the subject of knowledge and comprehension, as Maimonides concludes.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם, שֶׁהוּא הַמַּדָּע וְהוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ כוּ',

This means that G-d’s wisdom and comprehension are totally different from man’s. In human comprehension, there are three separate and distinct components: (a) the person’s soul, the “knower” and possessor of knowledge; (b) the power of intellect and comprehension—the “knowledge”—by which the person knows; (c) the subject of the knowledge—the “known”—such as a law in the Mishnah or a discussion in the Gemara, which is apprehended and known.

Concerning G-d’s wisdom, however, Maimonides states: “He is the ‘Knowledge,’ the ‘Knower,’ and the ‘Known.’” G-d is the means of comprehension—the “Knowledge,” and at the same time is He Who understands—the “Knower,” and is also that which is understood—the “Known.”

Maimonides continues: “And this is not within the power of any man to comprehend clearly,”

וְדָבָר זֶה אֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת הָאָדָם לַהֲבִינוֹ עַל בּוּרְיוֹ כוּ',

as it is written, “Can you find and understand G-d by searching?”11 And it is also written, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,”12 [says G-d]; and consequently “your” [human] thoughts cannot possibly comprehend “My” thoughts.

כְּדִכְתִיב: "הַחֵקֶר אֱלוֹהַּ תִּמְצָא", וּכְתִיב: "כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם וְגוֹ'".

Since His wisdom is one with G-d Himself, as has been shown, it follows that the Jewish soul, which stems from Divine wisdom (as stated above), actually derives from G-d Himself.

Many Jewish philosophers13 rejected Maimonides’ description of G-d as “the Knowledge, the Knower and the Known.” In fact, they considered it erroneous to ascribe to G-d a description of any sort—even of the lofty level of intellect of which Maimonides writes—inasmuch as description implies limitation, and G-d is inherently limitless.

The Alter Rebbe therefore points out in this note that the Kabbalists agreed with Maimonides, with the qualification that his concept does not apply to G-d’s essence, for His essence is truly infinite—even higher than the inscrutable level of “Knowledge” that Maimonides refers to. Regarding His essence, those who disagree with Maimonides are correct in maintaining that G-d cannot be defined in terms of “knowledge,” since He transcends it infinitely. Only after G-d limits the infinite light of His essence through the process of tzimtzum (progressive contractions) and thereby assumes the attribute of chochmah (“Wisdom”),—only then can it be said of G-d that He is the “the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.”

The Kabbalists have agreed with him (that G-d can be described as “the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known”), as stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.14

וְהוֹדוּ לוֹ חַכְמֵי הַקַּבָּלָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּפַּרְדֵּס מֵהָרַמַ"ק.

Even according to the Kabbalah of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory), Maimonides’ statement stands.

וְגַם לְפִי קַבָּלַת הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה יַצִּיבָא מִילְּתָא,

The Kabbalah of the Arizal provides an even deeper insight into the limitlessness of G-d’s essence, higher than even that level of “knowledge” to which Maimonides refers. Still, even according to the teachings of the Arizal, Maimonides’ statement is acceptable—with one proviso, however.

This is so only when applied to the mystic principle of the clothing of the Ein Sof-light—by means of numerous “contractions” (tzimtzumim)—in the vessels of the sefirot of ChaBaD (חב"ד—an acronym for chochmah, binah, and daat—“wisdom,” “understanding,” and “knowledge,” respectively, the triad of sefirot which represent Divine “intellect”) of the World of Atzilut (“Emanation”).

בְּסוֹד הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, ﬠַל־יְדֵי צִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים, בְּכֵלִים דְּחָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּﬠַת דַּאֲצִילוּת,

Through a process of self-limitation called tzimtzum (“contraction”), G-d manifests (or, in Kabbalistic terminology, “clothes”) His infinite essence (referred to by the Kabbalists as the Ein Sof—“the endless, infinite One”) in the sefirot, which are His attributes. This manifestation occurs first in Atzilut; specifically, in ChaBaD of Atzilut—Divine Intellect. Thus, at the level of Atzilut, G-d can indeed be defined in Maimonides’ terms of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known,” i.e., intellect.

but not higher than Atzilut.

אַךְ לֹא לְמַﬠְלָה מֵהָאֲצִילוּת,

Above the World of Atzilut, the Unknowable G-d cannot be defined. Accordingly, in terms of the Kabbalistic scale, Maimonides had nothing to say about G-d except from the World of Atzilut and “down.”

As explained elsewhere,15 the Ein Sof, blessed be He, is infinitely exalted over, and transcends, the essence and level of ChaBaD.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר, שֶׁאֵין־סוֹף־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מְרוֹמָם וּמִתְנַשֵּׂא רוֹמְמוּת אֵין קֵץ, לְמַﬠְלָה מַּﬠְלָה מִמַּהוּת וּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּﬠַת,

In fact, the level of ChaBaD is regarded as being equally inferior as material action in relation to Him.

ﬠַד שֶׁמַּהוּת וּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּﬠַת נֶחְשֶׁבֶת כַּﬠֲשִׂיָּיה גוּפָנִיִּית אֶצְלוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

Thus it is written, “You have made them all with wisdom.”16

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "כּוּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה ﬠָשִׂיתָ":

“You have conceived them all with wisdom” would seem more appropriate: conceiving, not “making,” is surely the proper function of G-d’s wisdom. “You have made them all with wisdom” indicates, however, that to G-d, “wisdom”—the highest level within the Worlds—is as lowly as Asiyah, the lowest level.

The Alter Rebbe now addresses a difficulty arising from his previous statement that every soul emanates from Divine wisdom. Since all souls emanate from one source—supernal wisdom—it should follow that all souls are of the same level and rank. How then do the various levels and ranks found in Jewish souls come about?

True, there are myriads of different gradations of souls (neshamot), rank upon rank, ad infinitum.

וְאַף שֶׁיֵּשׁ רִבְבוֹת מִינֵי חִלּוּקֵי מַדְרֵגוֹת בַּנְּשָׁמוֹת, גָּבוֹהַּ מֵעַל גָּבוֹהַּ לְאֵין קֵץ,

For example, the souls of the Patriarchs and of Moses our Teacher are by far superior to the souls of our own generations, [which belong to] the period preceding the coming (lit., the “heels,” i.e., the footsteps) of the Messiah,

כְּמוֹ גּוֹדֶל מַעֲלַת נִשְׁמוֹת הָאָבוֹת וּמֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עֲלֵיהֶם־הַשָּׁלוֹם, עַל נִשְׁמוֹת דּוֹרוֹתֵינוּ אֵלֶּה דְּעִקְבֵי מְשִׁיחָא,

for [the latter souls] are like the very soles of the feet in comparison with the brain and the head.

שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינַת עֲקֵבַיִים מַמָּשׁ לְגַבֵּי הַמּוֹחַ וְהָרֹאשׁ;

Just as the life-force found in the soles of the feet cannot possibly be compared to that found in the head and brain, so, too, can there be no comparison between the souls of these present generations and those souls (here called the “head” and “brain”) of earlier generations.

Similarly, within each generation we find the same disparity among neshamot: there are those who are the “heads (the leaders) of the multitudes of Israel,” so designated because their souls are in the category of “head” and “brain” in comparison with those of the masses and the ignorant.

וְכֵן בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר יֵשׁ רָאשֵׁי אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁנִּשְׁמוֹתֵיהֶם הֵם בְּחִינַת רֹאשׁ וּמוֹחַ לְגַבֵּי נִשְׁמוֹת הֶהָמוֹן וְעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ;

Likewise, there are similar distinctions between nefashot and nefashot (the soul-levels of nefesh), for every soul consists of nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.17

וְכֵן נְפָשׁוֹת לְגַבֵּי נְפָשׁוֹת, כִּי כָּל נֶפֶשׁ כְּלוּלָה מִנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה.

Just as the soul-level of neshamah varies from one Jew to another, so do the levels of ruach and nefesh.

Thus, we see how manifold are the differences in the ranks of souls. Accordingly, we would expect similar variations in their divine sources—the greater the soul, the higher its source.

Nevertheless, the root of every nefesh, ruach, and neshamah, from the highest of all ranks to the lowest—the “lowest” being those souls embodied within the illiterate and the most light-minded of light-minded Jews,

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, שֹׁרֶשׁ כָּל הַנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה כּוּלָּם, מֵרֹאשׁ כָּל הַמַּדְרֵיגוֹת עַד סוֹף כָּל דַּרְגִין, הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּגוּף עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ וְקַל שֶׁבְּקַלִים,

all are derived, as it were, from the supreme mind, which is chochmah ilaah (supernal wisdom).

נִמְשָׁךְ מִמּוֹחַ הָעֶלְיוֹן, שֶׁהִיא חָכְמָה עִילָּאָה כִּבְיָכוֹל.

In order to help us better understand why the levels of individual souls vary so widely despite their common source, the Alter Rebbe now returns to the analogy of a father and son (used earlier to illustrate the description of Jews as G-d’s “children,” who are derived from chochmah ilaah—G-d’s “brain,” as it were).

An explanation in brief: In this analogy, the child’s entire body is derived from a drop of semen originating in its father’s brain. Yet the many physical components which constitute the child’s body are by no means uniform. They vary greatly, from the brain—the highest component—to the nails of the feet, the lowest.

These radical differences come about through the presence of the drop of semen in the mother’s womb during the nine months of gestation. It is this period of physical development that produces the differences between one organ and another: the more materialized a particular component of the drop becomes, the more it diverges from its original state and becomes an entity with its own unique physical characteristics. We thus observe that though all the organs share a common source, nevertheless in the process of development there arise differences as radical as that between brain and nails.

Another matter evident from the analogy: Though the nails are the most insignificant part of the child’s body, they are still bound and united with their first source—the father’s brain. For, like the other parts of the child’s body, the nails too receive their nourishment and life from its brain. Since the child’s brain retains the essence of its source (the father’s brain) and is thus constantly bound to its source, even the nails are therefore bound up with their original source.

The same is true regarding souls. All souls are derived from the same source and root, from chochmah ilaah. But the soul must descend therefrom through a multitude of Worlds and levels before clothing itself in a physical body. It is this descent that creates changes in the soul’s level and differences between one soul and another, for one soul is affected by this descent to a greater degree than another.

The second aspect of the analogy too applies here. Although a soul may descend to the very lowest of levels, it is still bound up and unified with its original source in chochmah ilaah. In the analogy, the nails remain bound to the father’s brain through their unity with the son’s brain. Similarly, these souls of the lowest level remain bound to their source in chochmah ilaah through their attachment to the souls of the righteous and the sages of their generation, from whom they receive their spiritual nourishment. Even when in this physical world, souls of a higher level (analogous to the child’s brain) retain the spiritual level of their source—the level of “head” and “brain”; and through these souls, even the souls of lower levels remain bound and unified with their source within G-d. This, briefly, is what the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain.

[The manner of the soul’s descent] is analogous to a child who is derived from his father’s brain: even the nails of his feet come into existence from the very same drop of semen which comes from the father’s brain. How then were nails created from it?

כִּמְשַׁל הַבֵּן הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִמּוֹחַ הָאָב, שֶׁאֲפִילוּ צִפָּרְנֵי רַגְלָיו נִתְהַוּוּ מִטִּפָּה זוֹ מַמָּשׁ,

By being in the mother’s womb for nine months, descending degree by degree, changing continually, until [even] the nails are formed from it.

עַל יְדֵי שְׁהִיָּיתָהּ תִּשְׁעָה חֳדָשִׁים בְּבֶטֶן הָאֵם, וְיָרְדָה מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה, לְהִשְׁתַּנּוֹת וּלְהִתְהַוּוֹת מִמֶּנָּה צִפָּרְנַיִם.

Though the child’s organs all derive from the same source—the drop of semen which comes from the father’s brain—yet they develop into entities as radically diverse as the brain and the nails.

Furthermore: Although the drop has been so altered as to become the substance of the child’s nails, yet it is still bound and united in a wondrous and mighty unity with its original essence and being, namely, the drop of semen as it came from the father’s brain.

וְעִם כָּל זֶה, עוֹדֶנָּה קְשׁוּרָה וּמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּיִחוּד נִפְלָא וְעָצוּם בְּמַהוּתָהּ וְעַצְמוּתָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁהָיְתָה טִפַּת מוֹחַ הָאָב;

Even now, in the son, the nails receive their nourishment and life from the brain that is in his head.

וְגַם עַכְשָׁיו בַּבֵּן, יְנִיקַת הַצִּפָּרְנַיִם וְחַיּוּתָם נִמְשֶׁכֶת מֵהַמּוֹחַ שֶׁבָּרֹאשׁ;

The nails derive their life from the child’s brain, which in turn retains the substance of its source, the brain of the father. Thus, the nails too are bound up—through the brain of the son—with the father’s brain.

Evidence is now brought that the nails remain bound to the father’s brain:

As is written in the Gemara (Niddah, ibid.18), “From the white of the father’s drop of semen are formed the veins, the bones, and the nails of the child.”

כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא [נִדָּה שָׁם]: "לוֹבֶן, שֶׁמִּמֶּנּוּ גִּידִים וַעֲצָמוֹת וְצִפָּרְנַיִם"

According to the Kabbalah, too, there is a connection between the nails and the brain, as shall be presently stated.

(In Etz Chaim, Shaar Hachashmal, it is likewise stated in connection with the esoteric principle of Adam’s garments in the Garden of Eden,

[וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר הַחַשְׁמַל, בְּסוֹד לְבוּשִׁים שֶׁל אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּגַן עֵדֶן,

that they [the garments] were of “nails” [derived] from the cognitive faculty of the brain.)

שֶׁהָיוּ צִפָּרְנַיִם מִבְּחִינַת מוֹחַ תְּבוּנָה].

Exactly so, as it were, is the case with regard to every nefesh, ruach, and neshamah in the community of Israel on high.

וְכָכָה מַמָּשׁ, כִּבְיָכוֹל, בְּשֹׁרֶשׁ כָּל הַנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁל כְּלָלוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַעְלָה,

The soul, too, is changed from its original state by a process of “development” similar to the gestation which transforms the drop of semen; in the case of the soul, however, this process consists of a descent from World to World, and from level to level within each World, as mentioned briefly above.

The Alter Rebbe will now go on to state the details of this descent.

Specifically, the soul passes through four spiritual Worlds in its descent from supernal wisdom to the human body. These “Worlds,” or stages in the creative process, are (in descending order): Atzilut (the World of Emanation), Beriah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation), and Asiyah (the World of Action). (They are written acrostically as אבי"ע, pronounced ABiYA.)

The function and significance of these “Worlds” will be clarified further in the Tanya; for the moment, a brief explanation will suffice.

Atzilut (Emanation) is a World where the Ein Sof-light radiates, so that Atzilut is, in effect, G-dliness Itself “transplanted” (so to speak) to a lower level. (This takes place by means of tzimtzum.) For this reason, Atzilut is still united with its source—the Ein Sof.

These two characteristics of Atzilut are indicated in its very name. The word Atzilut is etymologically related to two roots: (a) The verb אצל, meaning “to delegate,” as in the verse, “I (G-d) shall delegate something of your (Moses’) spirit and place it upon them (the seventy Elders).”19 The verse is saying, then, that the spirit of prophecy possessed by the seventy Elders was merely an extension of Moses’ spirit, not something new, and separate from him. Similarly, the properties of Atzilut are extensions, on a lower level, of the Ein Sof. (b) Atzilut is also related to the word “etzel,” meaning “near”—thus indicating the unity of Atzilut with its source.

The World of Beriah (Creation), as its name implies, is a creation, not Divinity itself. It is the first creation to come about in a manner of Yesh Me’Ayin—creatio ex nihilo; from Ayin (“nothingness”), there comes about a Yesh, a definite state of existence. Beriah, however, represents merely the passage of our nonexistence; it is a state in creation which cannot yet be spoken of as giving rise to proper “existence,” definable in terms of form and structure.

Yetzirah (Formation) is the World where that which was created from Ayin assumes shape and form.

The World of Asiyah refers to the completed creation. Understandably, this completed creation is still spiritual. The final world of creation (“physical Asiyah”), comprising our physical world with all its creatures, comes into being only at a later stage.

Together, these worlds form the Seder Hishtalshelut, “the chainlike order of descent,” so designated because just as the lowest link in a chain is connected to the highest by means of all the interlocking links, similarly, in the Seder Hishtalshelut, the lowest level in Asiyah is connected to the highest level in Atzilut; all the levels interlock and flow from each other.

In the course of its descent from chochmah ilaah (supernal wisdom—the highest level in Atzilut) to the physical body, the soul passes through the entire Seder Hishtalshelut; and, as stated earlier, this descent produces the various levels of souls, just as gestation causes the drop of semen to be transformed into the child’s bodily organs, even to the point where it is formed into nails.

After this introduction, we return to the Alter Rebbe’s words:

By [the soul’s] descending degree by degree through the Hishtalshelut of the Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, from G-d’s wisdom,

בִּירִידָתוֹ מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה עַל יְדֵי הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת אֲצִילוּת־בְּרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה מֵחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

as it is written: “You have made them all with wisdom (chochmah)” (i.e., everything emanates from chochmah, which is the source of all Hishtalshelut),

כְּדִכְתִיב: "כּוּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ",

[through this descent] the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah of the ignorant and least worthy come into being.

נִתְהַוּוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ וּפְחוּתֵי הָעֵרֶךְ.

Their souls were most strongly affected by this descent, and therefore, they are on the lowest level. Similarly, all the various levels of “higher” and “lower” souls are determined by the soul’s descent through Hishtalshelut; some souls are affected to a greater degree, others less.

The Alter Rebbe now relates the second point in the analogy to our case. Just as in the analogy, the nails of the child are still bound up with their first source through their being constantly nurtured by the child’s brain, so, too, in the case of the soul:

Nevertheless (notwithstanding the fact that they have already become souls of the lower levels—the souls of the ignorant and the least worthy), they (these lesser souls) remain bound and united with a wonderful and mighty unity with their original essence, namely, an extension of chochmah ilaah (supernal wisdom),

וְעִם כָּל זֶה, עוֹדֶינָה קְשׁוּרוֹת וּמְיוּחָדוֹת בְּיִחוּד נִפְלָא וְעָצוּם בְּמַהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן הָרִאשׁוֹן, שֶׁהִיא הַמְשָׁכַת חָכְמָה עִילָּאָה,

for the nurture and life-force of the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah of the ignorant are drawn from the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah of the righteous and the sages, the “heads” of Israel in their generation.

כִּי יְנִיקַת וְחַיּוּת נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ, הוּא מִנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁל הַצַּדִּיקִים וְהַחֲכָמִים רָאשֵׁי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁבְּדוֹרָם:

By drawing their nurture and life from those who represent the levels of “head” and “brain,” all Jews are bound up with their source in chochmah ilaah—supernal wisdom.

This explains the comment of our Sages20 on the verse, “And cleave unto Him”21 (concerning which the question arises: How can mortal man cleave to G-d? In answer, our Sages comment): “He who cleaves unto a [Torah] scholar is deemed by the Torah to have actually become attached to the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).”

וּבָזֶה יוּבַן מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה עַל פָּסוּק: "וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ" – שֶׁכָּל הַדָּבֵק בְּתַלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ נִדְבַּק בַּשְּׁכִינָה מַמָּשׁ,

This seems difficult to comprehend: How can one equate cleaving to a Torah scholar with cleaving to the Shechinah? However, in light of the above, this is readily understood.

For, through attachment to the scholars, the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah of the ignorant are bound up and united with their original essence and their root in supernal wisdom,

כִּי עַל יְדֵי דְּבִיקָה בְּתַלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים, קְשׁוּרוֹת נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ וּמְיוּחָדוֹת בְּמַהוּתָן הָרִאשׁוֹן וְשָׁרְשָׁם שֶׁבְּחָכְמָה עִילָּאָה,

(and thereby with G-d Himself, since) He and His wisdom are one, and “He is the Knowledge….”

שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְחָכְמָתוֹ אֶחָד, וְהוּא הַמַּדָּע כוּ'.

(22As for those who willfully sin and rebel against the Torah sages: How do they receive their spiritual nurture and life? Spiritual life and nurture flow only where there is a desire to nurture and give life. In answer to this, the text continues:

[וְהַפּוֹשְׁעִים וּמוֹרְדִים בְּתַלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים –

the nurture of their nefesh, ruach, and neshamah comes from the hind-part, as it were, of the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah of the scholars.)

יְנִיקַת נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁלָּהֶם מִבְּחִינַת אֲחוֹרַיִים שֶׁל נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וְנִשְׁמַת תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים].

Nurture from “the hind-part” can be understood by way of comparison to one who gives an object to his enemy—obviously, not out of a true desire to give, but rather due to some external factor. The grudging reluctance with which he gives will be reflected in his manner; he will turn away from him, tossing the object to his enemy over his shoulder. The same is true in the spiritual sphere. When spiritual nurture is given unwillingly, it is described as coming from “the hind-part” of the giver—an external level of nurture.

Nevertheless, even those who rebel against the sages receive some measure of spiritual nourishment from them. For every soul, without exception, must be bound up with its root and source, as explained earlier. The level of nurture they receive, however, is from the “hind-part” of the souls of the sages.

Having23 concluded that every Jew has a holy soul which emanates “from above” (from supernal wisdom), the Alter Rebbe now states that even the quality (the “rank” or “level”) of each individual soul is determined only by factors “from above”—spiritual factors, such as the soul’s abovementioned descent through Hishtalshelut. No actions of this physical world can determine its quality and rank. The Alter Rebbe makes this statement indirectly by clarifying a quotation from the Zohar which seems to indicate the contrary.

As for what is written in the Zohar24 and in Zohar Chadash25 that the essential factor is to conduct oneself in a holy manner during sexual union,

וּמַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר וּבְזֹהַר חָדָשׁ, שֶׁהָעִיקָּר תָּלוּי שֶׁיְּקַדֵּשׁ עַצְמוֹ בִּשְׁעַת תַּשְׁמִישׁ דַּוְוקָא,

which is not the case with the children of the ignorant and their ilk who do not conduct themselves thus,

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּנֵי עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ כוּ',

The ignorant—as the Zohar goes on to imply—draw down for their child a soul of a lower level, which seems to indicate that an action occurring in this physical world can, in fact, affect the soul’s level. Not so, declares the Alter Rebbe. The Zohar is not referring to the soul at all, but to the soul’s spiritual “garment”—as follows:

this is because no nefesh, ruach, and neshamah is without a garment which stems from the nefesh of its father’s and mother’s essence.

הַיְינוּ, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁאֵין לְךָ נֶפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁאֵין לָהּ לְבוּשׁ מִנֶּפֶשׁ דְּעַצְמוּת אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ,

All the commandments that it fulfills are influenced by that garment—it is through this garment that the soul achieves its ability to affect the body and to perform the commandments involving physical matters; even the benevolence that flows to one from heaven is all given through that garment. Because the soul is so strongly bound up with this garment, the Zohar refers to the garment, in this context, as the person’s “soul.”

וְכָל הַמִּצְוֹת שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה – הַכֹּל עַל יְדֵי אוֹתוֹ הַלְּבוּשׁ כוּ', וַאֲפִילוּ הַשֶּׁפַע שֶׁנּוֹתְנִים לוֹ מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם – הַכֹּל עַל יְדֵי לְבוּשׁ זֶה,

Now, if the person sanctifies himself, he will bring forth a holy garment for the neshamah of his child, thereby enabling the child to serve G-d more readily.

וְאִם יְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת עַצְמוֹ – יַמְשִׁיךְ לְבוּשׁ קָדוֹשׁ לְנִשְׁמַת בְּנוֹ,

However great a soul it may be, it still needs the father’s sanctification at the time of intercourse.

וַאֲפִילוּ הִיא נְשָׁמָה גְדוֹלָה, צְרִיכָה לְקִידּוּשׁ אָבִיו כוּ'.

But the soul itself as distinct from its “garment” is not affected by the parents’ sanctification; in fact, it sometimes happens that the soul of an infinitely lofty person comes to be the son of an ignoble and lowly person….

אֲבָל הַנְּשָׁמָה עַצְמָהּ, הִנֵּה לִפְעָמִים נִשְׁמַת אָדָם גָּבוֹהַּ לְאֵין קֵץ, בָּא לִהְיוֹת בְּנוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם נִבְזֶה וְשָׁפָל כוּ',

All this has been explained by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, in Likkutei Torah on Parashat Vayera and in Taamei Hamitzvot on Parashat Bereishit.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה כָּל זֶה בְּ"לִיקּוּטֵי תּוֹרָה" פָּרָשַׁת וַיֵּרָא וּבְטַעֲמֵי מִצְוֹת פָּרָשַׁת בְּרֵאשִׁית:

Thus, the physical world—of which the parents are a part—can in no way affect the soul’s spiritual rank. Even the statement of the Zohar that the essential factor regarding the state of the soul is the holy manner of conduct during sexual union pertains only to the soul’s “garment.” The soul itself, with all its various levels, emanates “from above.”