In ch. 39, the Alter Rebbe explained that the ascent of one’s Torah and mitzvot is commensurate with the level of kavanah that one invests in study and performance. If one’s kavanah stems from love and fear of G-d created by one’s understanding of His greatness, his Torah and mitzvot ascend to the sefirot of Beriah, a World of intellect. If one’s kavanah stems from natural love and fear, his Torah and mitzvot ascend to the sefirot of Yetzirah, a World of emotion.

If, however, one’s study and observance are not lishmah (“for its own sake”) because he feels no love or fear of G-d, his Torah and mitzvot cannot ascend at all to “stand before G-d” by being absorbed in the sefirot. This is true even where his observance is not strictly shelo lishmah (not for its own sake), i.e., for some selfish motive, but even where he acts out of habit. In the case of Torah studied by rote, however, the Torah ascends before G-d when he reviews the subject lishmah, joining it to his present study.

But as long as he does not review this subject lishmah,

אַךְ כָּל זְמַן שֶׁלֹּא חָזַר וְלָמַד דָּבָר זֶה לִשְׁמָהּ,

his study does not ascend even to the ten sefirot which radiate in the Worlds of Yetzirah and Asiyah (not to mention the sefirot of Beriah).

אֵין לִימּוּדוֹ עוֹלֶה אֲפִילוּ בְּי' סְפִירוֹת הַמְּאִירוֹת בְּעוֹלַם הַיְצִירָה וְהָעֲשִׂיָּה,

For the sefirot are a level of G-dliness, and the blessed Ein Sof-light is clothed within them and is united with them, and therefore, were this person’s Torah to ascend into the sefirot, it would actually ascend to the Ein Sof-light,

כִּי הַסְּפִירוֹת הֵן בְּחִינַת אֱלֹהוּת, וּבָהֶן מִתְלַבֵּשׁ וּמִתְיַיחֵד אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מַמָּשׁ,

and without fear and love, [the Torah] cannot rise to stand before G-d—the Ein Sof-light—as is written in Tikkunei Zohar.

"וּבְלָא דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ לָא יָכְלָא לְסָלְקָא וּלְמֵיקַם קֳדָם ה'", כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתִּיקּוּנִים,

Instead, his Torah study rises to the “chambers” and “abodes” of Yetzirah and Asiyah, which are the externality of the Worlds,

רַק לִימּוּדוֹ עוֹלֶה לְהֵיכָלוֹת וּמְדוֹרִין שֶׁהֵן חִיצוֹנִיּוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת

The sefirot are the internal aspect of each World, i.e., its divine creative power; the “chambers” constitute the (created) World itself.

where the angels are situated.

שֶׁבָּהֶן עוֹמְדִים הַמַּלְאָכִים;

Rabbi Chaim Vital, of blessed memory, writes in ch. 2 of Shaar Hanevuah1 (“The Portal of Prophecy”) that from Torah [studied] without kavanah, angels are created in the World of Yetzirah, and from mitzvot [performed] without kavanah, angels are created in the World of Asiyah.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַב חַיִּים וִיטַאל זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה בְּשַׁעַר הַנְּבוּאָה פֶּרֶק ב', שֶׁמֵּהַתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא בְכַוָּונָה – נִבְרָאִים מַלְאָכִים בְּעוֹלַם הַיְצִירָה, וּמֵהַמִּצְוֹת בְּלִי כַוָּונָה – נִבְרָאִים מַלְאָכִים בְּעוֹלַם הָעֲשִׂיָּיה,

This indicates that Torah and mitzvot without kavanah are not absorbed in the sefirot but rise only to the level of angels, who are created beings and are thus on the level of the “externality” of the Worlds.

But one might argue that Rabbi Chaim Vital’s statement cannot be cited in support of the Alter Rebbe’s statement: the former speaks of Torah and mitzvot “without kavanah,” while the latter deals with Torah and mitzvot that were not observed “lishmah.” Perhaps the meaning of “without kavanah” is that one recited words of Torah or performed a mitzvah in a mechanical manner without involving his thought at all. Accordingly, we might say that only such a lowly level of observance is incapable of rising any higher than the level of angels, whereas Torah and mitzvot lacking only the quality of “lishmah” may indeed—we might argue—rise to be absorbed into the sefirot.

To forestall such an argument, the Alter Rebbe adds to Rabbi Chaim Vital’s words:

Now, all angels are possessed of matter and form.

וְכָל הַמַּלְאָכִים, הֵם בַּעֲלֵי חוֹמֶר וְצוּרָה.

Similarly with angels created of Torah and mitzvot: the angels’ “matter” is formed by the “matter” of Torah and mitzvot, and their “form” by the “form” of Torah and mitzvot.

Thus, any mitzvah of which an angel is created must consist of more than mere mechanical action, which is the “matter” of a mitzvah; it must also contain some thought (such as an understanding of the words of Torah that one recites or the realization that he is performing a mitzvah), and this thought is the “form” of the mitzvah.

Clearly, then, Rabbi Chaim Vital is not dealing with mechanical observance when he says that Torah and mitzvot “without kavanah” produce angels in Yetzirah or Asiyah. The term “without kavanah” (as used here) must refer to Torah and mitzvot lacking the intention of lishmah.2 Yet, for lack of lishmah, the Torah and mitzvot can ascend only to the level of angels, not to the sefirot.

All the aforesaid concerns Torah and mitzvot which lack the intention of lishmah but which were not performed expressly shelo lishmah, for personal motives.

But Torah [studied] strictly shelo lishmah, for selfish reasons, as, for example, for the purpose of becoming a scholar and the like,

אֲבָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ מַמָּשׁ, כְּגוֹן לִהְיוֹת תַּלְמִיד חָכָם וּכְהַאי גַּוְונָא,

does not ascend on high at all, not even to the “chambers” or to the abode of the holy angels (for even the “externality” of the Worlds is, after all, in the realm of holiness; therefore, Torah studied with such intention does not ascend even to this level)

אֵינָהּ עוֹלָה כְּלָל לְמַעְלָה אֲפִילוּ לְהֵיכָלוֹת וּמְדוֹר הַמַּלְאָכִים דִּקְדוּשָּׁה,

but remains instead below, in this physical world, which is the abode of the kelipot. Since the selfish motive stems from kelipah, the Torah study that it elicits remains in the abode of kelipot.

אֶלָּא נִשְׁאֶרֶת לְמַטָּה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַגַּשְׁמִי שֶׁהוּא מְדוֹר הַקְּלִיפּוֹת;

Note Zohar, Part III, pp. 31b and 121b, where it is similarly written,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר חֵלֶק ג' דַּף ל"א ﬠַמּוּד ב' וְדַף קכ"א ﬠַמּוּד ב', ﬠַיֵּין שָׁם:

“That [spoken] word ascends [on high] and pierces the heavens…and evokes what it evokes:

הַהִיא מִלָּה סָלְקָא וּבָקְﬠָא רְקִיﬠִין כוּ' וְאִתְּﬠַר מַה דְאִתְּﬠַר

if [the word is] good—a word of Torah or the like—[it evokes] good….” Note there,

אִי טַב טַב כוּ', ﬠַיֵּין שָׁם;

and also on p. 105a: “From a word of Torah a voice is formed which rises…,”

וְדַף ק"ה ﬠַמּוּד א': מִלָּה דְאוֹרַיְיתָא אִתְﬠָבִיד מִינֵּיהּ קָלָא וְסָלִיק כוּ';

and on p. 168b: “The voices of Torah and prayer [ascend on high and] pierce the heavens….”

וְדַף קס"ח ﬠַמּוּד ב': קָלִין דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּצְלוֹתָא בָּקְﬠִין רְקִיﬠִין כוּ':

All three passages from the Zohar indicate that words of Torah ascend on high, rending the heavens.

It is similarly written in the Zohar, commenting on the verse, “What profit has a man of all his toil that he labors under the sun?”3

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר עַל פָּסוּק: "מַה יִּתְרוֹן לָאָדָם בְּכָל עֲמָלוֹ שֶׁיַּעֲמוֹל תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ"

Our Sages point out that only man’s labor “under the sun,” i.e., toil in mundane matters, does not realize any profit; the labor of Torah, however, is “above the sun” and does indeed profit a man. The Zohar, though, stipulates:

“Even with the toil of Torah, if one does it for his own glory…it belongs to the category of ‘labor under the sun,’ and there is no profit in it.

דַּ"אֲפִילוּ עֲמָלָא דְאוֹרַיְיתָא, אִי עָבִיד בְּגִין יְקָרֵיהּ כוּ'".

This is also the meaning of the saying [of our Sages]: “Happy is he who arrives here on high with his Torah study in his hand,”4

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמְרוּ: "אַשְׁרֵי מִי שֶׁבָּא לְכָאן וְתַלְמוּדוֹ בְּיָדוֹ",

meaning that [his Torah study] did not remain below in this world.

פֵּירוּשׁ – שֶׁלֹּא נִשְׁאַר לְמַטָּה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה.

The saying thus means: “Happy is he who studies Torah lishmah so that his Torah ascends on high.” Had he not studied Torah lishmah, his Torah would not be with him (“in his hand”) when his soul ascends but would have remained in this world.