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.

It has been demonstrated above that Torah studied out of habit, without personal motive yet lacking any intention of lishmah, cannot ascend on high to be absorbed into the sefirot. The Alter Rebbe now proceeds to explain why this is so.

The difficulty: The Torah and G-d are altogether one, for the Torah is G-d’s will. Thus, the Torah is higher even than the sefirot, just as G-d’s will transcends the sefirot. Why then does the Torah need one’s kavanah to elevate it to the sefirot?

Although the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are altogether one, for He and His will are one and the Torah represents His will, nevertheless, the Torah will not ascend on high without kavanah.

וְאַף דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וְקוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא כּוּלָּא חַד, שֶׁהוּא וּרְצוֹנוֹ אֶחָד,

The reason (presently stated) in brief:

The words of Torah that one speaks are physical, as are all things in this material world. True, they are holy words; the divine life-force within them is not concealed and veiled as it is in other material beings. Yet, being physical, the words of Torah share with all physical existence a divine life-force that is greatly contracted and limited.

Therefore, they cannot ascend to the G-dly sefirot unless they are impelled by kavanah, i.e., a spiritual intention generated by love and fear of G-d, which elevate the words of Torah and cause the Divine will to be revealed in them.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

The Holy One, blessed be He, fills all the worlds alike, yet the worlds are not equal in rank.

הֲרֵי קוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא אִיהוּ מְמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין בְּשָׁוֶה, וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אֵין הָעוֹלָמוֹת שָׁוִים בְּמַעֲלָתָם;

The difference [between one world and another] is due to the recipients [of the divine life force] and is twofold:

וְהַשִּׁינּוּי הוּא מֵהַמְקַבְּלִים, בְּב' בְּחִינוֹת:

(a) The higher [worlds and beings] receive an illumination infinitely greater than [the illumination received by] the lower;

הָאֶחָד, שֶׁהָעֶלְיוֹנִים מְקַבְּלִים הֶאָרָה יוֹתֵר גְּדוֹלָה לְאֵין קֵץ מֵהַתַּחְתּוֹנִים;

(b) The higher ones receive [this illumination] without as many garments and veils as the lower ones.

וְהַשֵּׁנִית, שֶׁמְּקַבְּלִים בְּלִי לְבוּשִׁים וּמָסָכִים רַבִּים כָּל כָּךְ כְּבַתַּחְתּוֹנִים;

This world is the lowest of worlds in both respects.

וְעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הוּא עוֹלָם הַשָּׁפָל בְּב' בְּחִינוֹת:

For (a) the illumination [of divine life-force] within it is greatly contracted to the furthest degree; it is therefore corporeal and material.

כִּי הַהֶאָרָה שֶׁבּוֹ מְצוּמְצֶמֶת מְאֹד עַד קָצֶה הָאַחֲרוֹן, וְלָכֵן הוּא חוּמְרִי וְגַשְׁמִי,

Furthermore, (b) even this [contracted illumination] is clothed in many garments and veils,

וְגַם זֹאת, הִיא בִּלְבוּשִׁים וּמָסָכִים רַבִּים,

until it is clothed in kelipat nogah to give life to all clean permitted things of this world, including the animating intelligent soul in man.

עַד שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשָׁה בִּקְלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ לְהַחֲיוֹת כָּל דְּבָרִים הַטְּהוֹרִים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וּבִכְלָלָם – הוּא נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית הַמְדַבֶּרֶת שֶׁבָּאָדָם;

As mentioned in earlier chapters, all permitted objects receive their vitality via kelipat nogah and can therefore serve either a good or an evil purpose.

Therefore, when the animating soul speaks words of Torah or prayer without kavanah, the concealment characteristic of this world is absent, yet the contraction still applies, as follows:

וְלָכֵן, כְּשֶׁמְּדַבֶּרֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה בְּלֹא כַוָּונָה,

Though these are holy letters and thus, in this case, the kelipat nogah of the animating soul does not constitute a veil of separation, concealing or covering the divine holiness clothed in these letters,

אַף שֶׁהֵן אוֹתִיּוֹת קְדוֹשׁוֹת, וְאֵין קְלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית מָסָךְ מַבְדִּיל כְּלָל לְהַסְתִּיר וּלְכַסּוֹת עַל קְדוּשָּׁתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בָּהֶן,

as [kelipat nogah] conceals and covers the divine holiness in the animating soul when it utters idle chatter,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁהִיא מַסְתֶּרֶת וּמְכַסָּה עַל קְדוּשָּׁתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית כְּשֶׁמְּדַבֶּרֶת דְּבָרִים בְּטֵלִים,

and [the divine holiness] in the animating souls of other ritually clean living creatures, where kelipat nogah likewise conceals the divine life-force,

וְשֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית שֶׁבִּשְׁאָר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַטְּהוֹרִים,

for although “no place is devoid of Him”5 and His presence is found in man’s animating soul even when he engages in idle talk and in the soul of all living creatures,

דְּאַף דְּ"לֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִינֵּיהּ",

yet, He is the “Most Hidden One of all the hidden”6 and is called “a hidden G-d,”7 for He is hidden from his creations.

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אִיהוּ סְתִימוּ דְכָל סְתִימִין, וְנִקְרָא – "אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר",

Similarly, the illumination and extension of vitality from Him is hidden in many dense garments and veils,

וְגַם הַהֶאָרָה וְהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת מִמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, מִסְתַּתֶּרֶת בִּלְבוּשִׁים וּמָסָכִים רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים,

and is finally clothed and hidden in the garment of nogah, which completely conceals man’s divine life-force when he engages in idle talk and the life-force in other animals, as stated.

עַד שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשָׁה וְנִסְתַּתְּרָה בִּלְבוּשׁ נוֹגַהּ;

It is different, however, with the holy letters in words of Torah and prayer:

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בָּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת שֶׁל דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה,

Here, not only does kelipat nogah not obscure G-dliness, but on the contrary, kelipat nogah is transformed to good and is absorbed into this holiness, as explained above.8

דְּאַדְּרַבָּה, קְלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ מִתְהַפֶּכֶת לְטוֹב וְנִכְלֶלֶת בִּקְדוּשָּׁה זוֹ, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

Thus, the second of the two aforementioned traits that make this world the lowest of worlds—namely, the complete concealment of divine life-force in the garment of kelipat nogah—is absent in words of Torah and prayer. But the first trait, the Alter Rebbe will now state, is present even in these holy words: they are physical, as are all things of this world, so that the contraction of divine life-force that characterizes physical matter in general applies to these words as well.

Nevertheless, the illumination from His holiness that [these words] contain is contracted to the furthest degree since the voice and speech uttering words of Torah and prayer are material.

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, הַהֶאָרָה שֶׁבָּהֶן מִקְּדוּשָּׁתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הִיא בִּבְחִינַת צִמְצוּם עַד קָצֶה הָאַחֲרוֹן, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהַקּוֹל וְהַדִּבּוּר הוּא גַשְׁמִי.

Therefore, although Torah is one with G-d, words of Torah will not ascend to the sefirot without kavanah since the G-dliness within them is so greatly contracted.

But in the case of prayer [recited] with kavanah and Torah [studied] with kavanah lishmah,

אֲבָל בִּתְפִלָּה בְּכַוָּונָה וְתוֹרָה בְּכַוָּונָה לִשְׁמָהּ,

the kavanah is clothed in (i.e., permeates) the letters of speech, since it is their source and root,

הֲרֵי הַכַּוָּונָה מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר, הוֹאִיל וְהִיא מָקוֹר וְשֹׁרֶשׁ לָהֶן,

for he speaks these words for, and because of, this kavanah.

שֶׁמֵּחֲמָתָהּ וּבְסִיבָּתָהּ הוּא מְדַבֵּר אוֹתִיּוֹת אֵלּוּ,

Therefore, the kavanah elevates the words to its own level,

לָכֵן הִיא מַעֲלָה אוֹתָן עַד מְקוֹמָהּ

meaning to the ten sefirot of either Yetzirah or Beriah,

בְּי' סְפִירוֹת דִּיצִירָה אוֹ דִבְרִיאָה,

depending on the type of kavanah—whether a kavanah of intellectual fear and love, in which case they ascend to Beriah, or natural fear and love, which elevates them to Yetzirah, as explained above.

לְפִי מַה שֶּׁהִיא הַכַּוָּונָה בִּדְחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ שִׂכְלִיִּים אוֹ טִבְעִיִּים כוּ', כַּנִּכְתָּב לְעֵיל.

At any rate, the kavanah which is spiritual elevates the material words to the sefirot of Yetzirah or Beriah.

There, in the sefirot, the Ein Sof-light shines forth and is revealed,

וְשָׁם מֵאִיר וּמִתְגַלֶּה אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

meaning the blessed Divine will vested in the letters and in the kavanah of the Torah that one studies or the Divine will in prayer and in its kavanah or in a mitzvah and in its kavanah.

שֶׁהוּא רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁלּוֹמֵד וּבְכַוָּונָתָן, אוֹ בִּתְפִלָּה וּבְכַוָּונָתָהּ, אוֹ בְּמִצְוָה וּבְכַוָּונָתָהּ,

One’s kavanah, too, expresses the Divine will, for G-d desires that man cleave to Him with love and fear.

This Ein Sof-light of the Divine will radiates in the sefirot with an infinitely great brightness that can by no means shine forth and be revealed while the letters of Torah and prayer and the mitzvah are still in this physical world.

בְּהֶאָרָה גְדוֹלָה לְאֵין קֵץ, מַה שֶּׁלֹּא יָכוֹל לְהָאִיר וּלְהִתְגַלּוֹת כְּלָל בְּעוֹד הָאוֹתִיּוֹת וְהַמִּצְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַגַּשְׁמִי,

The Torah and the mitzvot contain the radiance of Divine will even as they are in this physical world. But this radiance is altogether incomparable to the radiance of Divine will that Torah and mitzvot contain when they ascend to the sefirot of Yetzirah or Beriah, for

neither the radiance itself that shines forth in the sefirot nor any part of it can be revealed in this physical world.

לֹא מִינָּהּ וְלֹא מִקְצָתָהּ,

This disparity between the respective levels of radiance of the Divine will in the sefirot and in this world will remain until the era of the End of Days, when the world will rise out of its materiality, and “The glory of G-d will be revealed…for all flesh to behold,9 as explained above10 at length.

עַד עֵת קֵץ הַיָּמִין, שֶׁיִּתְעַלֶּה הָעוֹלָם מִגַּשְׁמִיּוּתוֹ, "וְנִגְלָה כְּבוֹד ה' וְגוֹ'", כַּנִּכְתָּב לְעֵיל בַּאֲרִיכוּת.

At that time, the Divine will contained in the Torah and mitzvot of this world will shine forth in all its splendor. Until then, however, this radiance is incomparable to that of the Divine will contained in the Torah and mitzvot insofar as they ascend to the sefirot.