The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that the light of the Shechinah, an illumination utterly transcending the realm of the world, must have a “garment” which enables it to radiate there. The “garment” of the Shechinah is Torah.

In every World there is found the “intelligence” of that particular World, namely, the Sefirot of Chochmah, Binah and Daat of that World. They constitute the shrine of the Holy of Holies in which the Shechinah resides. After the levels of ChaBaD (in which resides the Shechinah) descend into the level of Malchut of a particular World, the creatures of that World are then created.

By vesting itself in Malchut, moreover, the light of the Shechinah is then able to descend into the shrine of the Holy of Holies of the next lower World. The Alter Rebbe explained this process as it applies to all Worlds down to and including the spiritual World of Asiyah.

In ch. 53 he will go on to explain how the light of the Shechinah descends and illuminates this physical world. During the times of the First and Second Temple the Shechinah was housed in the Holy of Holies. Today it finds its abode in a Jew’s study of Torah and performance of the mitzvot.

He will also explain the difference between the level of the illumination of the Shechinah in the First and Second Beit HaMikdash on the one hand, and the level of Shechinah which is drawn down through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, on the other.

והנה כשהיה בית ראשון קיים, שבו היה הארון והלוחות בבית קדשי קדשים, היתה השכינה, שהיא מלכות דאצילות, שהיא בחינת גילוי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא

At the time the First Temple stood, in which the Ark and the Tablets were housed in the Holy of Holies, the Shechinah — which is Malchut of Atzilut, that is, the revealed light of the Ein Sof, a light which intrinsically is infinite and transcends all Worlds, and which nevertheless was revealed in them —

שורה שם, ומלובשת בעשרת הדברות

dwelled there, and was clothed in the Ten Commandments which were engraved upon the Tablets found in the Ark in the Holy of Holies,

ביתר שאת ויתר עז, בגילוי רב ועצום יותר, מגילויה בהיכלות קדשי קדשים שלמעלה בעולמות עליונים

far more intensely, and with a greater and mightier revelation, than its revelation in the shrines of the Holy of Holies above in the upper Worlds.

This refers to the Worlds of Asiyah and Yetzirah.1 For even in the World of Yetzirah, the Shechinah illumines only insofar as it has previously clothed itself in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of the World of Beriah. The level of Shechinah manifest in the First Temple, however, though it too was manifest only through having first been enclothed in Malchut of Beriah, was less completely concealed. Even after this concealment, therefore, the illumination in the First Temple was still on the level of the World of Beriah, and not of Yetzirah.

The Alter Rebbe now answers the following question: Inasmuch as the Temple was located in this physical world, how was it possible for the Shechinah to be found there to a higher degree than in the upper Worlds? He answers:

כי עשרת הדברות הן כללות התורה כולה

For the Ten Commandments are the all-embracing principles of the whole Torah,

As explained in the Azharot of R. Saadya Gaon, the Ten Commandments incorporate all 613 mitzvot of the Torah. See also beginning of Tanya, ch. 20.

דנפקא מגו חכמה עילאה, דלעילא לעילא מעלמא דאתגליא

which derives from the level of Supernal Chochmah, i.e., Chochmah of Atzilut, that is far higher than the “world of manifestation.”

It is far higher than Malchut of Atzilut, which is called the “world of manifestation” because it reveals the light of Ein Sof to the Worlds.

As explained earlier, for this reason the Torah is able to act as a “garment” that does not become nullified in the light of the Shechinah which garbs itself in it — since its source is higher than the Shechinah. However, in order for Torah to act as a concealing “garment” it must descend lower than the level of the Shechinah, thereby enabling the light of the Shechinah to be received by created beings.

However, as Torah descended into the Ten Commandments engraved on the Tablets, it did not do so in a manner that would make it similar to other physical things. Rather, as will soon be explained, it remained on a level which is higher than the previously mentioned upper Worlds.

וכדי לחקקן בלוחות אבנים גשמיים, לא ירדה ממדרגה למדרגה כדרך השתלשלות העולמות עד עולם הזה הגשמי

In order to engrave them on material tablets of stone, it (Supernal Chochmah, which is Torah) did not descend degree by degree, parallel to the order of descent of the Worlds which descend by stages from a higher world to a lower world, until it reached this material world.

Generally, in order for a flow of Divine light to arrive at this physical world, it must first descend from World to World, coming down through the Worlds of Yetzirah and spiritual Asiyah, both of which are higher than its ultimate destination, this world. This, however, was not the case with the Tablets.

כי עולם הזה הגשמי מתנהג בהתלבשות הטבע הגשמי

For this material world functions through the garb of material nature,

והלוחות מעשה אלקים המה

while the Tablets are “the work of G‑d,”2 a Divine creation, in which G‑dliness — not nature — is revealed,

והמכתב מכתב אלקים הוא

“and the writing is the writing of G‑d,”3 writing in which G‑dliness is perceived,

שלמעלה מהטבע של עולם הזה הגשמי הנשפע מהארת השכינה שבהיכל קדשי קדשים דעשיה, שממנה נמשך אור וחיות לעולם העשיה, שגם עולם הזה בכללו

beyond the nature of this material world which is derived from the radiation of the Shechinah in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of Asiyah, from which light and vitality issue to the World of Asiyah, in which this physical world is also included.

The ray of the Shechinah which is in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of Asiyah, gives this physical world its vitality after first being garbed in Malchut of Asiyah, as explained earlier. This was not the case with the Tablets.

אלא בחינת חכמה עילאה דאצילות, שהיא כללות התורה שבי׳ הדברות, נתלבשה במלכות דאצילות ודבריאה לבדן

But the level of the Supernal Chochmah of Atzilut, consisting of the totality of the Torah as it is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, clothed itself in Malchut of Atzilut and of Beriah alone, and did not clothe itself further in the lower Worlds,

והן לבדן המיוחדות באור אין סוף שבתוכן

and they alone (Chochmah of Atzilut as it is garbed in Malchut of Atzilut and Malchut of Beriah, without further vestment), united as they are with the [infinite] light of Ein Sof that is within them,

הן הנקראות בשם שכינה השורה בקדשי קדשים דבית ראשון, על ידי התלבשותה בי׳ הדברות, החקוקות בלוחות שבארון בנס

are referred to as the Shechinah which rested in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple, through its being vested in the Ten Commandments, which were engraved by miraculous means in the Tablets reposing in the Ark.

As the Sages tell us,4 the letters mem and samach, circular letters hewn through the entire thickness of the stone, stood in their place miraculously.

ומעשה אלקים חיים

Moreover, the Ten Commandments upon the Tablets were the work of the Living G‑d Elokim Chayim,

הוא עלמא דאתכסיא המקנן בעולם הבריאה, כנודע ליודעי ח״ן

(5this being, in terms of the Sefirot, Binah of Atzilut, which is known as “the concealed world” which nests in the World of Beriah, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Discipline).

Those familiar with the Kabbalah know that Binah of Atzilut radiates into the World of Beriah, a world which still remains in the category of “a concealed world” — i.e., it is categorized as a World, but not a World whose independent being is revealed, in that the World of Beriah is aware of how it is wholly dependent on G‑d.