וזה שאמר אסף ברוח הקדש בעד כל כנסת ישראל שבגולה

This is also the meaning of what Asaf said,1 under Divine inspiration, on behalf of the whole community of Israel who were later to be in exile:2

The barriers that conceal holiness are particularly strong during the time of exile. Concerning that time Asaf said:

ואני בער ולא אדע, בהמות הייתי עמך, ואני תמיד עמך

“And I am foolish and know and feel not; I was as a beast before You. [Yet] I am continually with You.”

כלומר, שאף על פי שאני כבהמה בהיותי עמך

This means3 that even though I am as a “beast” when I am with You,

Even when I perform a mitzvah and am thus united with You, I am still like a beast.

ולא אדע ולא ארגיש בנפשי יחוד זה

my soul being unaware of, and insensitive to, this union achieved between my soul and G‑d through performing a mitzvah; for were I to be aware and sensitive, my soul would be affected in a manner

שתפול עליה אימתה ופחד תחלה, ואחר כך אהבה רבה בתענוגים או כרשפי אש

which should bring down upon it fear and awe first, followed by a great love of delights, a love wherein the soul derives great pleasure from G‑dliness, or a love like fiery flames of ardent longing for G‑dliness,

כמדת הצדיקים שנזדכך חומרם

like the quality of the tzaddikim whose corporeality has been refined;

When tzaddikim perform a mitzvah they actually feel how it unifies their soul with G‑d. This, in turn, awakens within their soul a feeling of fear and awe of G‑d, followed by a feeling of intense love of Him. This, of course, is not the case with these who “feel not.”

וכנודע שדעת הוא לשון הרגשה בנפש, והוא כולל חסד וגבורה

for, as is known, the term Daat connotes a sensitivity of the soul, and this is comprised of Chesed and Gevurah.

Chesed gives rise to love and Gevurah to fear. Only when one possesses the attribute of Daat and spiritual sensitivity, will one experience the kinds of love and fear of G‑d described above.

אף על פי כן אני תמיד עמך, כי אין החומר מונע יחוד הנפש באור אין סוף ברוך הוא, הממלא כל עלמין

Nevertheless, “I am continually with You,” for the corporeality of the body does not prevent the union of the soul with the light of the blessed Ein Sof, Who fills all worlds,

Corporeality can only prevent the soul from being conscious of its unity with G‑d, inasmuch as it hinders the revelation and awareness of the unity accomplished during the performance of a mitzvah. It cannot, however, hinder the actual unity objectively effected.

וכמו שכתוב: גם חושך לא יחשיך ממך

and as it is written:4 “Even darkness cannot obscure You.”

ובזה

Accordingly,5 since (as above) every Jew who performs a mitzvah is granted the unity and sanctity of “Supreme Holiness,” even when he does not perceive it, as does a tzaddik,

יובן חומר עונש איסור מלאכה בשבתות וחמץ בפסח, השוה לכל נפש

one will be able to understand the severity of the punishment for transgressing the prohibition of work on Sabbath or that of leavened bread on Passover, which equally applies to all.

The very same severe punishment applies equally to the loftiest tzaddik and to the coarsest boor, were either of them, heaven forfend, to transgress one of the above-mentioned prohibitions. The reason:

-לפי שאף בנפש בור ועם הארץ גמור מאיר אור קדושת שבת ויום טוב, ונידון בנפשו בכרת וסקילה על חילול קדושה זו

For even in the soul of an uncultured and completely illiterate person shines the light of the sanctity of Sabbath or Festival; hence he faces capital punishment by Karet for eating leavened bread on Passover and stoning for doing a prohibited form of labor on Sabbath, for the profanation of this sanctity which illuminates his soul.

Though a particular individual may not feel this sanctity, still, as explained earlier, this sanctity does indeed illuminate his soul. This being the case, the soul of this individual is tainted by his misdeed in a manner equal to that of a tzaddik in similar circumstances. It is for this reason that the manner of punishment applies equally to all.

וגם משהו חמץ, או טלטול מוקצה, פוגם בקדושה שעל נפשו כמו בקדושת נפש הצדיק

Similarly, the transgression involving the slightest amount of leaven on Passover, or the moving of muktzeh on Sabbath, blemishes the sanctity which rests on his (the uncultured person’s) soul just as it would the sanctity of the soul of a tzaddik,

כי תורה אחת לכולנו

for we all have one Torah: the laws of the Torah apply equally to all Jews.

From all the above it becomes eminently clear that though a person may not feel the sanctity brought about by the performance of a mitzvah, so much so that he is likened to a beast, nevertheless, through his performance of a mitzvah, this “beast” is unified with G‑d to the same degree as the greatest sage. Indeed, this is the implication of the verse, “Beasts I am with You, [yet] I am constantly with You.”

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that there is a definite reason why the similarity to a beast is described in the plural (“beasts I am with you”). This tells us that the performance of a mitzvah on the level of a beast — with neither comprehension nor feeling — is related to the spiritual level which transcends comprehension and feeling, this level too being termed “beast” since it is not in the realm of comprehension, rather transcending it. Thus there are two levels of “beasts”, that which is lower than the realm of comprehension and that which is above it. Both are alluded to by the same word, since the two are connected.

ומה שכתוב: בהמות, לשון רבים

(6And as for the use of the plural form “beasts”, which is inconsistent both with the singular form mentioned earlier (“and I am a fool”) and with the singular form mentioned later (“And I am constantly...”),

לרמז כי לפניו יתברך גם בחינת דעת העליון, הכולל חסד וגבורה, נדמה כבהמות ועשייה גופנית לגבי אור אין סוף

this intimates that before Him, even Daat Elyon (“Supernal Knowledge”) — which comprises Chesed and Gevurah — is like “beasts” and a physical creation (i.e., the physical world of Asiyah, not its spiritual counterpart), when compared with the light of the Ein Sof,

כמו שכתוב: כולם בחכמה עשית

as it is written:7 “You made (עשית) them all with wisdom,” thereby comparing the level of Chochmah (“wisdom”) with Asiyah (“physical creation”). From G‑d’s perspective, Chochmah and Asiyah are equally distant.

ונקרא בהמה רבה, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

And this is called Behemah Rabbah (“a great beast”), denoting that level of “beast” which transcends understanding rather than that which lacks comprehension, as is explained elsewhere.

והוא שם ב״ן, בגימטריא בהמ״ה, שלפני האצילות

And this is the level of the Supernal Name of “Ban” (one of the four variations of the Tetragrammaton, corresponding with the number 52), with the same numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Behemah (“beast”), which is on a level even preceding Atzilut).

We thus see that even one who performs mitzvot on the level of a “fool” or “beast”, neither comprehending nor sensing the unity and holiness achieved and drawn down through his actions, — even such a person, too, attains a union with the level of “beast” that transcends even that most lofty of levels — Daat of Atzilut.