Chapter 38

פרק לח

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.

From the beginning of ch. 35 until here, the Alter Rebbe has expounded the phrase “to do it”—the conclusion of the verse, “For the matter (of observing Torah and mitzvot) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” He explained that the mitzvot of action (and of speech, which is also deemed “action”) are of paramount importance, since it is through them that we achieve the goal of transforming this physical world into a “dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms,” i.e., a place where G-dliness will be revealed to an even greater degree than it is in the higher, spiritual worlds.

This goal will be realized when the energy of the vital soul and the body of every Jew will ascend from kelipat nogah to holiness. Thereby, all of kelipat nogah, meaning the vitality of the entire world, will ascend to holiness, and automatically, the three impure kelipot will cease to exist. Thus, there will be no obstruction of G-dliness in the world; G-dliness will radiate throughout; the world will be G-d’s “dwelling place.”

Since the entire process hinges on the elevation of a Jew’s body and his vital soul, and since their elevation is accomplished only by means of the mitzvot of action, which require their power in performance of the mitzvot, therefore, the mitzvot of action are, as said, of paramount importance.

In the discussion that now follows, the Alter Rebbe will examine the other side of the coin. He will explain the importance of kavanah—“devout concentration” or “intention”—in the performance of mitzvot. As used in this context, kavanah refers to the motivating intention that by performing a mitzvah, one is united with G-d, Whose command and will each mitzvah represents.

Yet, nevertheless, it has been said that prayer or any other blessing, said without kavanah, is like a body without a soul.9

אַךְ אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אָמְרוּ: תְּפִלָּה אוֹ שְׁאָר בְּרָכָה בְּלֹא כַוָּונָה – הֵן כְּגוּף בְּלֹא נְשָׁמָה,

This comparison of the words of prayer to a body and of kavanah to its soul means [as follows]:


Just as all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul

כִּי כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּל הַבְּרוּאִים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם גּוּף וּנְשָׁמָה,

—meaning the nefesh of every living being, the ruach of all flesh, and the neshamah of all that has the breath of life in its nostrils among all living creatures—

שֶׁהֵם: "נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חַי וְרוּחַ כָּל בְּשַׂר אִישׁ", וְ"נִשְׁמַת כָּל אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ חַיִּים בְּאַפָּיו" מִכָּל בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים,

G-d animates them all and creates them, constantly out of nothingness by the light and vitality which He bestows upon them i.e., upon both the soul and the body, and in support of his contention that the body, too, has a G-dly life-force (aside from the soul), the Alter Rebbe adds parenthetically:

וַה' "מְחַיֶּה אֶת כּוּלָּם" וּמְהַוֶּה אוֹתָם מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ תָּמִיד בְּאוֹר וְחַיּוּת שֶׁמַּשְׁפִּיעַ בָּהֶם,

—for even the material body, and furthermore, even the very stones and earth which are absolutely inanimate, lacking even that sign of life found in plant life, i.e., growth—even the totally inanimate being—has within it light and vitality from G-d so that it should not revert to naught and nothingness as it was before it was created.

שֶׁגַּם הַגּוּף הַחוּמְרִי, וַאֲפִילוּ אֲבָנִים וְעָפָר הַדּוֹמֵם מַמָּשׁ – יֵשׁ בּוֹ אוֹר וְחַיּוּת מִמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, שֶׁלֹּא יַחֲזוֹר לִהְיוֹת אַיִן וָאֶפֶס כְּשֶׁהָיָה,

(Further in the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that every existing being would instantly revert to absolute nothingness were it not for the G-dly life-force constantly creating it and keeping it in existence. Thus, even the inanimate beings contain a life-force and so surely do the bodies of living creatures.)

(The Alter Rebbe now concludes the sentence begun earlier:) Just as in all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul, there is, nevertheless, i.e., despite the fact that body and soul are alike in that they both contain a divine life-force, there is, nevertheless, no comparison or similarity between the quality of the light and lifeforce radiating in the body and the light and life-force radiating in the neshamah, which is the soul of every living thing.

וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אֵין עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן כְּלָל בֵּין בְּחִינַת אוֹר וְחַיּוּת הַמֵּאִיר בַּגּוּף, לְגַבֵּי בְּחִינַת אוֹר וְחַיּוּת הַמֵּאִיר בַּנְּשָׁמָה, שֶׁהִיא נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חַי.