The meaning of this analogy, comparing the light of the Shechinah to the light of a candle, “is clear…to every intelligent person,” as the Alter Rebbe will conclude shortly after a closer examination of its details. Just as it is true of the candle’s flame

וְהִנֵּה, בֵּיאוּר מָשָׁל זֶה, שֶׁהִמְשִׁיל אוֹר הַשְּׁכִינָה לְאוֹר הַנֵּר

that it does not shed light nor is it retained by the wick without oil,

שֶׁאֵינוֹ מֵאִיר וְנֶאֱחָז בַּפְּתִילָה בְּלִי שֶׁמֶן,

By nature, fire strains upward; it will not remain below unless restrained by a wick or wood, for example. But a wick alone is rapidly consumed, and the fire vanishes quickly. Moreover, the burning wick produces a dim and smoky light, for it consists of material insufficiently refined to be completely absorbed by the flame. Oil, on the other hand, is completely transformed into the flame and absorbed by it; burning steadily, it produces a pure and clear light.

This is what is meant by the Alter Rebbe’s statement that without oil, “the flame of the candle (a) does not shed light (b) nor is it retained by the wick.”

Returning now to the point of the analogy:

similarly, the Shechinah does not rest upon man’s body, which is compared to a wick, except through man’s performing good deeds.

וְכָךְ אֵין הַשְּׁכִינָה שׁוֹרָה עַל גּוּף הָאָדָם שֶׁנִּמְשָׁל לִפְתִילָה, אֶלָּא עַל יְדֵי מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים דַּוְוקָא,

The body can only act as a wick, not as oil. It is a coarse, physical being which will not be absorbed within the light of the Shechinah but will always remain separate from it. The good deeds that man performs provide the oil.

It is evident from the Zohar, however, that one’s soul, although a part of G-d above, is insufficient to serve as oil for the wick.

וְלֹא דַי לוֹ בְּנִשְׁמָתוֹ, שֶׁהִיא חֵלֶק אֱלוֹהַּ מִמַּעַל, לִהְיוֹת הִיא כְּשֶׁמֶן לַפְּתִילָה –

A question is implied here. Why should the soul, itself divine and thus certainly suited to being absorbed within the light of the Shechinah, require anything external (such as good deeds) to serve as oil for that light? Surely the soul itself should constitute the oil!

But the reason for this—the Alter Rebbe now concludes the sentence begun earlier with the words “The meaning of this analogy”—is clear and understandable to every intelligent person.

מְבוֹאָר וּמוּבָן לְכָל מַשְׂכִּיל,

The Alter Rebbe will now proceed to explain why good deeds can serve as oil for the light of the Shechinah, whereas the divine soul cannot. The explanation in brief:

Man’s soul is not, after all, completely nullified before G-d and one with Him to the extent that it is capable of becoming absorbed within the G-dly light. This is true even of the soul of the tzaddik, who serves G-d with the loftiest forms of love and fear. Indeed, it is the soul’s very love of G-d that emphasizes its separateness, for love entails two separate entities, the lover and the beloved. Similarly with fear: there is one who fears, and another who is feared.

Only “good deeds”—mitzvot, which (as the Alter Rebbe will explain further on) are completely one with G-d—can therefore serve as the oil which is absorbed within the flame of the light of the Shechinah that is kindled over man.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

For the soul of a man, even if he be a perfect tzaddik who serves G-d with fear and with a pleasurable love i.e., his love consists of delighting in the experience of G-dliness—a most lofty form of love,

כִּי הִנֵּה, נִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם, אֲפִילוּ הוּא צַדִּיק גָּמוּר עוֹבֵד ה' בְּיִרְאָה וְאַהֲבָה בְּתַּעֲנוּגִים,

is nevertheless not utterly nullified out of existence so that it might be dissolved into and absorbed within G-d’s light to be merged with it in perfect unity.

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵילָה בִּמְצִיאוּת לְגַמְרֵי לִיבָּטֵל וְלִיכָּלֵל בְּאוֹר ה' מַמָּשׁ, לִהְיוֹת לַאֲחָדִים וּמְיוּחָדִים בְּיִחוּד גָּמוּר,

It is, rather, a separate entity, which fears G-d and loves Him. Since it is not absorbed within G-dliness, as oil is absorbed within a flame, the soul cannot serve as oil for the light of the Shechinah.

רַק הוּא דָּבָר בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ – יְרֵא ה' וְאוֹהֲבוֹ;

Not so with mitzvot and good deeds, which are G-d’s will—each commandment representing G-d’s desire that a particular act be performed.

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן הַמִּצְוֹת וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, שֶׁהֵן רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

Now, G-d’s will is the source of life for all the worlds and the creatures—they live only because G-d so desires.

וּרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הוּא מְקוֹר הַחַיִּים לְכָל הָעוֹלָמוֹת וְהַבְּרוּאִים,

The difference between the Divine will expressed in mitzvot and that same will as expressed in creation lies in the latter’s descending to them by means of many contractions (tzimtzumim) and by concealment of the “Countenance” i.e., the internal aspect of the supernal will, with only the external, superficial aspect of G-d’s will expressing itself in creation and through a descent from level to level.

שֶׁיּוֹרֵד אֲלֵיהֶם עַל יְדֵי צִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים וְהֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים שֶׁל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא וִירִידַת הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת,

All these steps were necessary so that it would be possible for [the worlds and creatures] to come into being and to be created ex nihilo as separate entities without becoming nullified out of existence, as mentioned above.4 Without the previously enumerated forms of concealment of G-dliness, all created beings would be so completely nullified before the Divine will that created them that they would have no independent identity. Thus, the Divine will expressed in creation can come about only through its seeming contraction, occultation, and descent.

עַד שֶׁיּוּכְלוּ לְהִתְהַוּוֹת וּלְהִבָּרְאוֹת יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן וְדָבָר נִפְרָד בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ, וְלֹא יִבָּטְלוּ בִּמְצִיאוּת כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

The mitzvot, on the other hand, are the internal aspect of the Divine will. There, the “Countenance” is not hidden at all, for, on the contrary, mitzvot are the underlying purpose (the “inner aspect of will”) of creation in its entirety.

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן הַמִּצְוֹת, שֶׁהֵן פְּנִימִית רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, וְאֵין שָׁם הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים כְּלָל –

To illustrate by way of example:

One engages in business so that he will realize a profit and thereby support his family. In all, he wants the business to prosper, wants the profits, and wants to provide for his family. Yet, his true, inner will lies only in supporting his family. His desire for profit is merely incidental, “external” to this will, and his desire for business even more so.

So, too, with the Divine will as expressed in creation and as expressed in the mitzvot. The desire for creation is an external will. It is generated by the inner (i.e., ultimate) desire that Jews observe the mitzvot—obviously an impossibility without a created world.

Because the mitzvot represent G-d’s true, inner will, and because in them there is no concealment of this will (unlike the case in creation), therefore, the [G-dly] life-force within them is by no means a separate entity,

אֵין הַחַיּוּת שֶׁבָּהֶם דָּבָר נִפְרָד בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ כְּלָל,

but is united with and contained within G-d’s will, and they (the mitzvot) are truly joined in perfect unity with G-d’s will.

אֶלָּא הוּא מְיוּחָד וְנִכְלָל בִּרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים מַמָּשׁ בְּיִחוּד גָּמוּר.

It is thus clear why (in the abovementioned metaphor) the mitzvot can serve as oil for the light of the Shechinah: for they are truly absorbed within and transformed into the light of the Divine will, just as oil is absorbed within a flame. (The Alter Rebbe will arrive at this conclusion after a preliminary discussion on what the Zohar means when it says that the light of the Shechinah “rests” on man. This exposition now follows:)