The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that every Jew has the ability to attain yirah tataah, the lower level of fear of G-d. This enables him to perform all the positive commandments and refrain from transgressing all the negative commandments. In the present chapter, the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain the two levels of fear of G-d, yirah tataah and yirah ilaah, the lower and higher levels of fear, respectively.

This distinction clarifies a seeming contradiction. The Mishnah first states:1 “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G-d].” Wisdom must precede fear. But the Mishnah then goes on to say: “If there is no fear [of G-d], there is no wisdom.” Fear must precede wisdom!

The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two abovementioned levels of fear. The first statement—“If there is no fear, there is no wisdom”—refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tataah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement—“If there is no wisdom, there is no fear”—refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ilaah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.

The Alter Rebbe also explains in this chapter that just as there are two general levels of fear of G-d, there are also two general levels of love of G-d.

Concerning this level of yirah tataah, of which it was said in the previous chapter that it is in the province of every Jew, which is [necessary] for the fulfillment of His commandments in both areas of “Turn away from evil and do good,” i.e., in the performance of the negative and positive commands,

וְהִנֵּה עַל יִרְאָה תַּתָּאָה זוֹ, שֶׁהִיא לְקִיּוּם מִצְוֹתָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּבְחִינַת "סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה טוֹב",

it was said by our Sages, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.” If fear of G-d is lacking, then one cannot properly fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.

אָמְרוּ: "אִם אֵין יִרְאָה אֵין חָכְמָה".

It (this lower level of fear) comprises a mode of “smallness” and a mode of “greatness.”

וְיֵשׁ בָּהּ בְּחִינַת קַטְנוּת וּבְחִינַת גַּדְלוּת.

The quality of “smallness” describes the fear which is experienced as a result of a Jew’s innate fear of G-d and which is merely revealed through meditating upon matters that lead to the fear of G-d. Since it does not result from contemplating G-d’s greatness, it is deemed “small.” The quality of “greatness” characterizes the fear of G-d that results from contemplating G-d’s greatness as it can be discerned from creation.

This means i.e., fear has the quality of “greatness” when this category of the lower level of fear is a result of contemplation on the greatness of G-d as it is perceived through His providing life to creation

דְּהַיְינוּ, כְּשֶׁנִּמְשֶׁכֶת בְּחִינַת יִרְאָה זוֹ מֵהַהִתְבּוֹנְנוּת בִּגְדוּלַּת ה',

that He fills all worlds,

דְּאִיהוּ מְמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין,

G-d provides all worlds with vitality by vesting Himself in them. This life-force is attuned to the innate spirituality of the particular world or created being in which it is vested; the higher the world or created being, the loftier its life-force.

and from the earth to the heavens is a distance of 500 years…and the distance from one heaven to the next…is also a journey of 500 years,2

וּ"מֵהָאָרֶץ לָרָקִיעַ מַהֲלָךְ תּ"ק שָׁנָה וְכוּ', וּבֵין רָקִיעַ לְרָקִיעַ כוּ',

[and] “the feet i.e., the lowest level of the angels called Chayot measure up to them all…”2

רַגְלֵי הַחַיּוֹת כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן וְכוּ'",

The lowest level of the Chayot transcends all the other levels.

and similarly with one’s contemplation on the evolvement of all the worlds, one above the other to the topmost heights of the most spiritual worlds.

וְכֵן הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת כָּל הָעוֹלָמוֹת לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה עַד רוּם הַמַּעֲלוֹת –

When a person contemplates and gains a deep understanding of the divine life-force that provides life to all worlds and spiritual levels and hence attains a fear of G-d, then this understanding may be described by the term “greatness.” However, if this is the case, why then is this level considered part of yirah tataah, the lower level of fear?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by explaining that since this fear derives from contemplation of G-dliness as it “fills all worlds” and thus is bound up with them, it is necessarily a lower level of fear. For this life-force is concealed in the worlds in such a way that they are still able to be aware of their own existence and being. At this level, the worlds merely nullify their being and existence in deference to their life-force. This is termed bittul hayesh, the self-nullification of a being that is aware of its own existence.

The fear which results from this contemplation can only belong to the level of bittul hayesh and not the higher form of nullification known as bittul bimetziut, which is total and complete nullification of self. It is for this reason that even the fear which has the quality of “greatness” is still only on a level of yirah tataah, the lower level of fear. And this is what the Alter Rebbe now says:

Nevertheless, this fear is called an external and inferior fear, yirah tataah, since it is derived from the worlds i.e., from understanding the greatness of G-d as a result of meditating upon the divine life-force which animates them,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, נִקְרֵא יִרְאָה זוֹ יִרְאָה חִיצוֹנִית וְתַתָּאָה, מֵאַחַר שֶׁנִּמְשֶׁכֶת מֵהָעוֹלָמוֹת,

for they are “garments” of the King, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who conceals and hides and clothes Himself in them, in these worlds, to animate them and give them existence, that they may exist ex nihilo….

שֶׁהֵם לְבוּשִׁים שֶׁל הַמֶּלֶךְ הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, אֲשֶׁר מִסְתַּתֵּר וּמִתְעַלֵּם וּמִתְלַבֵּשׁ בָּהֶם לְהַחֲיוֹתָם וּלְקַיְּימָם לִהְיוֹת יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן וְכוּ',

Before the worlds were created, they did not exist at all; they were in a state of non-being. Through their creation, they became “beings,” entities whose existence could be experienced. This is the manner in which the divine life-force animates (and clothes itself in) creation: that created beings should be able to perceive themselves as existing entities which, nevertheless, are nullified to their divine life-force. Therefore, as explained earlier, this contemplation can only result in the level of bittul hayesh and not in bittul bimetziut, which is the level of yirah ilaah, the higher level of the fear of G-d.

It is only that this fear serves as the gate and entrance to the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

רַק שֶׁהִיא הַשַּׁעַר וְהַפֶּתַח לְקִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוֹת.

For, as mentioned earlier, yirah tataah leads to the performance of Torah and mitzvot. And it is concerning this lower level of fear that our Sages have said, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom”; fear of G-d must precede the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

However, as for yirah ilaah, a fear stemming from a sense of shame before G-d’s greatness,

אַךְ הַיִּרְאָה עִילָּאָה, יְרֵא בֹּשֶׁת

Fear of G-d stemming from a sense of shame is similar to the shame and total sense of abnegation a person feels when he is in the presence of a truly outstanding tzaddik.3 His shame is not from that great man’s external and revealed powers as would be the case when one fears a king.

Fearing a king only involves fear of his externality, which finds expression in his rule. (Generally, the more extensive the king’s domain, the greater will be the fear of him.)

The same is true of the fear of G-d which results from contemplating the “garments” and revelation of G-dliness in all worlds. It is therefore termed yirah tataah, a lower level of the fear of G-d, inasmuch as it does not evoke the same degree of shame and self-nullification as is evoked by recognizing the greatness of a truly righteous person. There, the shame and fear is prompted by the great man’s essence; the nullification and shame will therefore be total. Thus, yirah ilaah is a fear which stems from a sense of shame when one is confronted by G-d’s greatness.

and an inner fear that derives from the inward aspects of G-dliness within the worlds,

וְיִרְאָה פְנִימִית, שֶׁהִיא נִמְשֶׁכֶת מִפְּנִימִית הָאֱלֹהוּת שֶׁבְּתוֹךְ הָעוֹלָמוֹת,

wherein the person is cognizant of the inward and essential aspects of G-dliness and not only of the external qualities of G-dliness which are clothed in all the worlds. The worlds are wholly nullified before this inward aspect of G-dliness with a complete and total nullification, bittul bimetziut. Awareness of this higher level of nullification leads to the higher level of fear, yirah ilaah.

Concerning this level of fear, it was said by our Sages, “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear.” This level of fear must be prefaced by wisdom.

עָלֶיהָ אָמְרוּ: "אִם אֵין חָכְמָה אֵין יִרְאָה",

For4 chochmah is koach mah, the level of nullification which is termed mah (“What?”), as the verse says, “…and we are mah5—a phrase that expresses the complete and total nullification which is termed bittul bimetziut,

דְּחָכְמָה, הִיא כֹּ"חַ מָ"ה –

and “Chochmah comes from ayin6 (“nothingness”), for which reason chochmah is ayin and nullity,

"וְהַחָכְמָה מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא",

and our Sages said, moreover, “Who is wise? He who sees that which is born [and created].”7 That is to say that the wise person is he who sees how everything is born and created from non-being to being by means of the Word of G-d and the breath of His mouth, as it is written, “…and by the breath of His mouth, all their hosts [were created].8

וְ"אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד", פֵּירוּשׁ, שֶׁרוֹאֶה כָּל דָּבָר אֵיךְ נוֹלָד וְנִתְהַוֶּה מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ, בִּדְבַר ה' וְרוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּבְרוּחַ פִּיו כָּל צְבָאָם".

Therefore, the heavens and the earth and all their hosts, i.e., all of creation, are truly nullified out of existence within the Word of G-d and the breath of His mouth—the level of their nullification is thus not that of bittul hayesh but of bittul bimetziut—and are accounted as nothing at all, as naught and nothingness indeed, just as the light and brightness of the sun are nullified within the body of the sun itself.

וְאֵי לָזֹאת, הֲרֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם, בְּטֵלִים בִּמְצִיאוּת מַמָּשׁ בִּדְבַר ה' וְרוּחַ פִּיו, וּכְלָא מַמָּשׁ חֲשִׁיבֵי וְאַיִן וָאֶפֶס מַמָּשׁ, כְּבִיטּוּל אוֹר וְזִיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ – בְּגוּף הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עַצְמָהּ,

Once sunlight has left the sun, one can perceive actual rays and illumination. However, when the light of the sun is found in its source, the body of the sun itself, it is completely nullified and does not exist in a luminous state; all that exists there is the source of light, the sun itself.

So, too, are all created beings nullified in their source, the Word of G-d that creates them ex nihilo. When a person ponders this matter, it will so affect him that his nullification to G-d will be at the level of bittul bimetziut.

And no man should except himself from this principle—from the principle governing all created beings, about which he understands that they are totally nullified to G-d. He should realize:

וְאַל יוֹצִיא אָדָם עַצְמוֹ מֵהַכְּלָל,

that also his body and nefesh, ruach, and neshamah are utterly nullified in the Word of G-d that created them,

שֶׁגַּם גּוּפוֹ וְנַפְשׁוֹ וְרוּחוֹ וְנִשְׁמָתוֹ בְּטֵלִים בִּמְצִיאוּת בִּדְבַר ה',

and His Word is united with His thought…and G-d’s thought in turn is one with G-d Himself. Thus, the nullification is not only to G-d’s Word but is a total nullification to G-d Himself, as has been explained above at length (9chs. 20 and 21) by analogy with the human soul, one utterance of whose speech and thought are veritably as nothing…, when compared to the power of speech, which is limitless.

וְדִבּוּרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ מְיוּחָד בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ כוּ', וְכַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל [פְּרָקִים כ' וכ"א] בַּאֲרִיכוּת בְּדֶרֶךְ מָשָׁל מִנֶּפֶשׁ הָאָדָם, שֶׁדִּבּוּר אֶחָד מִדִּבּוּרוֹ וּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ – כְּלָא מַמָּשׁ כוּ'.

Surely, one word pales utterly in comparison to man’s thought, which is the source of speech. Even more so when a single utterance is compared to the source of thought—the power of intellect or emotion, depending on whether the individual is thinking about intellectual or emotional things. Surely, then, this spoken word cannot in any way be compared to the soul itself.

There is, however, a difference between man’s speech and G-d’s. When a human being speaks, the sound emitted from his mouth departs from its source and becomes a separate entity. G-d’s creative speech, however, never departs—heaven forbid—from its source, that source being G-d Himself, Who is omnipresent. Thus, divine speech is always found within its source.

It now becomes even more clear that G-d’s Word, the source of creation, is truly and totally nullified to and unified with G-d. Thus, all of creation is completely nullified to G-d.

This is what is meant by the verse: “Behold, the fear of G-d, that is wisdom.”10

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמַר הַכָּתוּב: "הֵן יִרְאַת ה' הִיא חָכְמָה".

For as explained earlier, the level of yirah ilaah and bittul bimetziut is the same as “wisdom”; it, too, is essentially bittul bimetziut.

However, one cannot attain this fear and wisdom except by means of the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvot through yirah tataah, which is an external fear. And this is what is meant by the statement, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.”

אַךְ אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְהַשִּׂיג לְיִרְאָה וְחָכְמָה זוֹ, אֶלָּא בְּקִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוֹת, עַל־יְדֵי יִרְאָה תַּתָּאָה הַחִיצוֹנִית, וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמְרוּ "אִם אֵין יִרְאָה אֵין חָכְמָה".

First must come yirah tataah and the resulting performance of Torah and mitzvot; only then can one attain “wisdom”—yirah ilaah and bittul bimetziut.