In the previous chapters, the Alter Rebbe discussed the distinctive merit of mitzvot performed by speech and action, for by means of them, the vitalizing soul is elevated to holiness. The mitzvot have this ability, for they are performed with the power of the vitalizing soul that vivifies the physical limbs that perform them, and with the physical tongue and lips, etc., that utter the words of Torah and prayer.

Since the ultimate intent of the soul’s descent is not for the sake of the soul alone but in order to elevate the vitalizing soul and the corporeal body, this is accomplished specifically through mitzvot that require physical action and speech.

In light of all that has been said above concerning the particular virtue of mitzvot performed in action and speech in their elevation of the vital soul to holiness, one will clearly understand the halachic decision expressly stated in the Talmud and the Codes1 that meditation is not valid in lieu of verbal articulation.

וְהִנֵּה, עִם כָּל הַנִּכְתָּב לְעֵיל, יוּבַן הֵיטֵב פְּסַק הַהֲלָכָה הָעֲרוּכָה בַּתַּלְמוּד וּפוֹסְקִים דְּ"הִרְהוּר לָאו כְּדִבּוּר דָּמֵי",

Thus, if one recited the Shema in his thought and heart alone, even if he did so with the full power of his concentration, he has not fulfilled his obligation of reciting the Shema by merely meditating on the words that comprise it; he must repeat it [verbally].

וְאִם קָרָא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וּבְלִבּוֹ לְבַד, בְּכָל כֹּחַ כַּוָּונָתוֹ – לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ וְצָרִיךְ לַחֲזוֹר וְלִקְרוֹת,

The same is true of the Blessing After Meals,2 ordained by the Torah,3

וְכֵן בְּבִרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא,

Although the Torah does not state with regard to Blessing After Meals as it does of Shema: “And you shall speak these words,” one cannot fulfill this duty by mere thought.

and [similarly with] other blessings,4 although they are merely Rabbinic in origin, and so, too, with prayer;5 although prayer is “a service of the heart,” it cannot be confined to the heart but must be articulated orally.

וּבִשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת דְּרַבָּנָן, וּבִתְפִלָּה;

The Rebbe comments that this Halachah poses no intrinsic difficulty, since one can no more ask why G-d stipulated that a particular thought (Shema, prayer, and the like) must also be verbalized than one can ask why the mitzvah was ordained at all. However, we must understand why it is that when a mitzvah is composed of both speech and thought, the law states that verbalization without intent does fulfill the obligation; intent without verbalization does not.

For this reason, the Alter Rebbe continues the question as follows:

If, on the other hand, one spoke the words (of Shema, prayer, etc.) but did not concentrate his thought, he has, post facto, fulfilled his obligation (although he was initially required to concentrate) and need not repeat them with concentration,

וְאִם הוֹצִיא בִּשְׂפָתָיו וְלֹא כִּיוֵּן לִבּוֹ – יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בְּדִיעֲבַד, וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לַחֲזוֹר,

except for the first verse of Shema6 and the first blessing in Shemoneh Esrei7 where the law requires one to repeat them if he did not concentrate on their meaning while reciting them.

לְבַד מִפָּסוּק רִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּבְרָכָה רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁל תְּפִלַּת שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה,

It is thus written (Tractate Berachot, beginning of ch. 2): “Until here i.e., until the end of the first verse of Shema, the mitzvah is one of concentration; from here on, the mitzvah consists of recitation…,”8 and one has fulfilled his obligation even if he did not concentrate.

וְכִדְאִיתָא [בְּרֵישׁ פֶּרֶק ב' דִּבְרָכוֹת]: "עַד כָּאן מִצְוַת כַּוָּונָה, מִכָּאן וְאֵילַךְ מִצְוַת קְרִיאָה וְכוּ'".

How, then, are we to reconcile both halachot? Why is thought without speech not as acceptable as speech without thought? The answer lies in the discussion of the unique status of mitzvot performed in action and speech, as explained in the previous chapter.

This is because the [divine] soul does not need to perfect itself through mitzvot;

וְהַיְינוּ, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה אֵינָהּ צְרִיכָה תִּיקּוּן לְעַצְמָהּ בַּמִּצְוֹת,

rather, the goal of mitzvot is to draw down [G-dly] light to perfect the vital soul and the body.

רַק, לְהַמְשִׁיךְ אוֹר – לְתַקֵּן נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית וְהַגּוּף

This is accomplished by means of the letters of speech, which the soul utters by means of the five organs of verbal articulation and through the mitzvot of action, which the soul performs by means of the body’s other organs.

עַל יְדֵי אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁהַנֶּפֶשׁ מְדַבֶּרֶת בְּה' מוֹצָאוֹת הַפֶּה, וְכֵן בְּמִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת שֶׁהַנֶּפֶשׁ עוֹשָׂה בִּשְׁאָר אֵבְרֵי הַגּוּף:

The mitzvot involving speech and action, which utilize the power of the vital soul and the organs of the body, serve to elevate them. Since the ultimate goal is the perfection of the vital soul and the body, thought alone, being the province of the divine soul, cannot satisfy the demands of the mitzvot of speech; they require verbal articulation. Speech alone, however, without thought, is sufficient, since the vital soul and the body are elevated thereby.