The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that since the light and life drawn down from G-d is infinite—Ein Sof, as its name indicates—therefore, in order for this finite world to be created, the Divine light had to undergo a multitude of contractions (tzimtzumim). This was the only way that finite creation could proceed from the infinite light of the Ein Sof; were it to have been drawn down in an orderly progression, finitude would have never resulted.

As will be explained later in this chapter, all these contractions were a result of G-d’s love of the Jewish people and His desire that they have the opportunity to fulfill Torah and the mitzvot.

The Alter Rebbe will now describe these contractions in a general manner and will conclude that just as G-d “overcame all obstacles” because of His love for the Jews and created finite worlds and creatures, so, too, “as water mirrors the reflection of a face,” should every Jew overcome all obstacles and come to experience a love of G-d.

Moreover, just as G-d brought forth His light into this world in a manner that transcended orderly and limited progression, so, too, should every Jew seek to serve G-d not only in an orderly and limited fashion but without limit, renouncing everything for the sake of his love of Him. Even limitations foisted upon him by the world’s very nature should not act as an impediment to his service of G-d.

Even though the particular aspects of the nature of the obscuring and concealment of the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof

וְהִנֵּה, אַף כִּי פְּרָטֵי בְּחִינוֹת הַהֶסְתֵּר וְהַהֶעְלֵם אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

in the descent of the worlds, descending as they do ever lower until this material world was created, are too numerous to count and are of many diverse kinds,

בְּהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת עַד שֶׁנִּבְרָא עוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַגַּשְׁמִי עָצְמוּ מִסְפֹר, וּמִינִים מִמִּינִים שׁוֹנִים,

as is known to those who have tasted of the “Tree of Life,” the Kabbalah,

כַּיָּדוּעַ לַטּוֹעֲמִים מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים,

yet in general, there are three levels of powerful and comprehensive “contractions” giving rise to three comprehensive worlds, each category consisting of myriads upon myriads of particulars. These are the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah—for the World of Atzilut is G-dliness itself.

אַךְ דֶּרֶךְ כְּלָל, הֵם שְׁלֹשָׁה מִינֵי צִמְצוּמִים עֲצוּמִים כְּלָלִיִּים. לִשְׁלֹשָׁה מִינֵי עוֹלָמוֹת כְּלָלִיִּים. וּבְכָל כְּלָל יֵשׁ רִבּוֹא רִבְבוֹת פְּרָטִיים, וְהֵם שְׁלֹשָׁה עוֹלָמוֹת בְּרִיאָה, יְצִירָה, עֲשִׂיָּה. כִּי עוֹלַם הָאֲצִילוּת – הוּא אֱלֹהוּת מַמָּשׁ,

Since Atzilut is G-dliness itself, it is not considered to be created ex nihilo but rather is called Atzilut, which means an emanation from and an extension of G-dliness—an illumination which comes from G-dliness itself.

In order to create the World of Beriah, which consists of the higher souls and angels whose service to G-d is in the sphere of the intellectual faculties of ChaBaD, which are clothed in them—i.e., G-dliness is revealed to them in an intellectual manner through the three intellectual faculties of chochmah, binah, and daat,

וּכְדֵי לִבְרוֹא עוֹלַם הַבְּרִיאָה, שֶׁהֵן נְשָׁמוֹת וּמַלְאָכִים עֶלְיוֹנִים, אֲשֶׁר עֲבוֹדָתָם לַה' בִּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת הַמִּתְלַבְּשִׁים בָּהֶם,

and they i.e., the souls and angels apprehend them and receive [influence] from them—from ChaBaD which illumines them—

וְהֵם מַשִּׂיגִים וּמְקַבְּלִים מֵהֶם –

In order to create a world whose creations are not wholly nullified to G-d—as is the case in Atzilut—but are only capable of knowledge and comprehension (and it will be noted that comprehension entails an awareness of one’s own being in that comprehension presupposes an entity who is comprehending),

there necessarily preceded a powerful “contraction,” as mentioned above.

הָיָה תְּחִלָּה צִמְצוּם עָצוּם, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

A mighty “contraction” was necessary in order to ensure that the light of G-dliness manifest in Atzilut should be hidden and that only a “contracted” form of light should illuminate and create creatures of the World of Beriah, which are on a level of creation ex nihilo.

So, too, from Beriah to Yetzirah,

וְכֵן מִבְּרִיאָה לִיצִירָה,

In order for the World of Yetzirah—a world far lower than Beriah—to be created, there again had to be a powerful contraction.

for the minute portion of light (“minute,” that is, in relation to the light found in Atzilut), which clothes itself in the World of Beriah, is still in a category of infinity in relation to the World of Yetzirah so that the light of Beriah had to undergo a powerful “contraction” before it was able to descend into Yetzirah,

כִּי אוֹר מְעַט מִזְּעֵר הַמִּתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּעוֹלַם הַבְּרִיאָה, עֲדַיִין הוּא בִּבְחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף לְגַבֵּי עוֹלַם הַיְצִירָה,

and it is unable to clothe itself in the latter except through contraction and obscuration. So, too, from Yetzirah to Asiyah.

וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ בּוֹ, אֶלָּא עַל יְדֵי צִמְצוּם וְהֶעְלֵם. וְכֵן מִיצִירָה לַעֲשִׂיָּה

There, too, the light of the World of Yetzirah had to be considerably limited to enable it to descend into the World of Asiyah.

(1An elaborate explanation of these three “contractions” is given elsewhere in order to make them more accessible to our poor intellect.)

[וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר בֵּיאוּר שְׁלֹשָׁה צִמְצוּמִים אֵלּוּ בַּאֲרִיכוּת, לְקָרֵב אֶל שִׂכְלֵינוּ הַדַּל].

The purpose of all the “contractions” is the creation of the material human body and the subjugation by man of the sitra achara to bring about the pre-eminence of light supplanting darkness by having light replace darkness, and even more so when the darkness itself is transformed into light, at which time the pre-eminence of light is felt to an even greater degree. This is accomplished:

וְתַכְלִית כָּל הַצִּמְצוּמִים הוּא – כְּדֵי לִבְרוֹא גּוּף הָאָדָם הַחוּמְרִי, וּלְאַכְפָּיָיא לְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא, וְלִהְיוֹת יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחוֹשֶׁךְ –

when a person elevates his divine soul and his vivifying soul (a soul which receives its nourishment from kelipot but through man’s service in Torah and mitzvot is elevated and incorporated into holiness, thereby elevating the souls) together with their garments of thought, speech, and action and all the powers of the body to G-d alone, as has been discussed earlier at length,

בְּהַעֲלוֹת הָאָדָם אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ הָאֱלֹהִית וְהַחִיּוּנִית וּלְבוּשֶׁיהָ וְכָל כֹּחוֹת הַגּוּף כּוּלָּן לַה' לְבַדּוֹ, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל בַּאֲרִיכוּת,

for this is the purpose of the progressive descent of the Worlds.

כִּי זֶה תַּכְלִית הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת.

The ultimate purpose of all the descents from level to level and World to World is this physical world. It is here that a Jew is able, through his divine service, to effect the subjugation of evil and the pre-eminence of light supplanting darkness.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that just as G-d’s love for the Jews “overcame all obstacles” that (as it were) stood in the way of creating this physical world, contracting His infinite light so that finite beings could be created, so, too, should every Jew respond in kind by overcoming all obstacles that hinder him from serving G-d. Furthermore, his level of service too should not be finite but infinite.

And “as water mirrors the reflection of a face”:

וְהִנֵּה, "כַּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים" –

Just as water reflects an exact replica of one’s face, so, too, with regard to the “heart of man to his fellow man,” the love of one person to another results in the other person’s loving him as well:

As G-d has (as it were) laid down and set aside, figuratively speaking, His great infinite light and has stored it away and concealed it by means of three different kinds of “contractions”—and all this because of His love for lowly man in order to raise him up to G-d,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, כִּבְיָכוֹל, הִנִּיחַ וְסִילֵּק לְצַד אֶחָד, דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, אֶת אוֹרוֹ הַגָּדוֹל הַבִּלְתִּי תַכְלִית, וּגְנָזוֹ וְהִסְתִּירוֹ בְּג' מִינֵי צִמְצוּמִים שׁוֹנִים, וְהַכֹּל בִּשְׁבִיל אַהֲבַת הָאָדָם הַתַּחְתּוֹן – לְהַעֲלוֹתוֹ לַה',

This means to say that G-d created a world in which man may serve Him, and by doing so, man is uplifted to G-d. But how is it possible for love to bring about “contraction” when love signifies kindness and expansiveness, while contraction and concealment characterize severity? The Alter Rebbe answers this implied question by pointing out that we find that love, too, can bring about contraction, as in the Gemara now quoted:

for “love impels the flesh”2 so that the flesh will not impede it. Thus, because of G-d’s love for His people, He (figuratively speaking) set aside His great light and concealed it through many contractions and so on. This being so,

כִּי "אַהֲבָה דּוֹחֶקֶת הַבָּשָׂר",

how much more, and an infinite number of times more, is it fitting that a man also should relinquish and set aside all he possesses, both spiritually and physically, and renounce everything,

עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, בְּכִפְלֵי כִפְלַיִים לְאֵין קֵץ, כִּי רָאוּי לְאָדָם גַּם כֵּן לְהַנִּיחַ וְלַעֲזוֹב כָּל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ מִנֶּפֶשׁ וְעַד בָּשָׂר, וּלְהַפְקִיר הַכֹּל –

in order to cleave to Him, with attachment, desire, and longing, without any hindrance, within or without, neither of body nor soul—hindrances from “within,” nor money, nor wife and children—hindrances from “without.” None of these things should hinder him from cleaving to G-d. By renouncing them all, he sets aside even his most important needs for the sake of his love of G-d.

בִּשְׁבִיל לְדָבְקָה בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּדְבִיקָה חֲשִׁיקָה וַחֲפִיצָה, וְלֹא יִהְיֶה שׁוּם מוֹנֵעַ מִבַּיִת וּמִבַּחוּץ, לֹא גוּף וְלֹא נֶפֶשׁ וְלֹא מָמוֹן, וְלֹא אִשָּׁה וּבָנִים.