This chapter warrants a brief introduction.1

In previous chapters, the Tanya has discussed various levels and forms of love of G-d, each of which can inspire one to study Torah and observe mitzvot with increased enthusiasm. In all these levels, the love consists of a yearning to become joined with G-d or else a desire that the Divine be revealed within one’s soul. For this reason, the love of G-d arouses one directly to study Torah and observe its commandments, for through these, a Jew becomes joined with G-d, and G-dliness becomes revealed in his soul.

Ch. 50 will discuss a different form of love. Rather than a yearning to become joined with G-d, it is a thirst and craving for the Divine to the point of kelot hanefesh, an utter rapture that consumes the soul until it is on the verge of expiring into sheer G-dliness. The aim of this love, then, is that the soul tear itself away from the body and from whatever ties it to the body and expire into G-dliness.

Such a love of G-d cannot prompt one directly to observe Torah and mitzvot, for this is possible only when the soul is enclothed within the body.

Nevertheless, the ultimate aim of every love of G-d is to serve Him through fulfilling His will—the Torah and the mitzvot—as a result of the inspiration of this love. In the case of kelot hanefesh, however, it is not the state of love in itself which arouses one to serve G-d through Torah and the mitzvot. It is rather through a contrary inclination aroused within the soul, during the very sensation of burning love for G-d, when the soul is in a state of surging ahead toward Him and expiring into G-dliness. At this very moment, one realizes that expiring is not the ultimate Divine intent. On the contrary, this intent is that the soul remain enclothed within the body, staying there to continue its task of drawing G-dliness ever downward, and revealing it in this finite world.

This realization brings one to subordinate one’s own feelings. Instead of enjoying the rapturous sensation of surging forward and expiring into G-dliness, one comes to experience an opposite sensation—of returning, to become enclothed in the body, for the sake of fulfilling the Divine intent by observing Torah and the mitzvot.

All the forms and levels of love of G-d discussed before ch. 50 are grouped under the term kesef (lit., “silver”), which the Tanya derives etymologically from the same root, meaning “desire.” Kesef comes under the category of chesed (“kindness”), which Tikkunei Zohar calls the “right arm” of the Divine stature.

In the Kabbalah, the ten sefirot are divided into three groups, called vertical “lines”—right, left, and center. The right line, known as the line of chesed, consists of chochmah, chesed, and netzach. The left line, known as the line of gevurah, consists of binah, gevurah, and hod. Thus, chesed is an outgrowth of chochmah, which begins its line, and gevurah a product of binah, which begins its line. (The other sefirot are situated in the center line, which does not concern us here.)

The various kinds of love of G-d discussed hitherto all come under the category of chesed and kesef and are therefore an outgrowth of chochmah. But the love of G-d in the form of kelot hanefesh discussed in this chapter comes under the category of gevurah, which is called zahav (“gold”) and is an outgrowth of binah.

All the forms and levels of love mentioned above derive from the “right side,” from the level of Kohen, for a Kohen is called “a man of kindness,”2 meaning that his form of serving G-d comes under the category of chesed.

וְהִנֵּה, כָּל בְּחִינוֹת וּמַדְרֵגוֹת אַהֲבָה הַנִּזְכָּרוֹת לְעֵיל – הֵן מִסִּטְרָא דְיַמִּינָא וּבְחִינַת "כֹּהֵן אִישׁ חֶסֶד",

They are called kesef hakodashim (“a longing for holy things”),3 as in the words, “You sorely longed for your father’s home”4 (where the Hebrew word for “longed” is etymologically related to the word kesef).

וְנִקְרָאוֹת "כֶּסֶף הַקֳּדָשִׁים", מִלְּשׁוֹן "נִכְסוֹף נִכְסַפְתָּ לְבֵית אָבִיךָ".

All these forms and levels of love of G-d thus express the desire and longing of a Jew to become joined with G-d. The words “for your father’s home” in the quoted verse refer to the level of chochmah, which is called Abba (lit., “father”). This is also the connection with the term (kesef) hakodashim, for in the Zohar, chochmah is called Kodesh (“holiness”). As explained in the introduction to this chapter, all these forms of love come under the category of chesed, which is an outgrowth of chochmah (lit., “wisdom”), for they directly inspire one to observe the Torah and the mitzvot which derive from Divine wisdom.

There is, however, another level of love which excels all these aforementioned levels, as gold is superior to silver.

אַךְ יֵשׁ עוֹד בְּחִינַת אַהֲבָה הָעוֹלָה עַל כּוּלָּנָה, כְּמַעֲלַת הַזָּהָב עַל הַכֶּסֶף,

This superiority subsists not in degree or intensity but rather in quality and character. This is not just a quantitative superiority in that gold (in the analogy) is worth more than silver, a small quantity of it fetching a higher price than a large quantity of silver. The superiority of gold lies in the fact that the most refined type of gold possesses a captivating luster which glistens in the eyes of the beholder (as explained in the Zohar5). All other types of gold are related to this type. Silver, on the other hand, does not possess this quality.

The same distinction exists between the form of love described in this chapter, which has the characteristic of thirst and rapturous expiry into G-dliness, and the other forms of love, which do not have this quality.

This is a love like glowing coals of fire—a burning love, unlike the aforementioned forms of love, which are essentially “like water,” for the soul is drawn with a yearning toward G-d, like water which flows and is attracted in a certain direction. (Hence in the wording of the Prayer for Rain said on Shemini Atzeret: “Remember our forefather, who was drawn after You like water.”) This love, on the other hand, has a totally different quality—that of glowing coals of fire.6

וְהִיא אַהֲבָה כְּ"רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ" –

This derives from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher binah. In other words, the source of this love is from the level of gevurah in binah.

מִבְּחִינַת גְּבוּרוֹת עֶלְיוֹנוֹת דְּבִינָה עִילָּאָה.

The arousal of this love comes about through meditation on the greatness of the Infinite One, before Whom all is considered as absolute nothingness.

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי הִתְבּוֹנְנוּת בִּגְדוּלַּת אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, דְּכוּלָּא קַמֵּיהּ כְּלָא מַמָּשׁ חֲשִׁיב –

Then, the soul becomes inflamed and flares up toward the precious splendor of His greatness in order to gaze upon the glory of the King. This is the content of this love.

תִּתְלַהֵט וְתִתְלַהֵב הַנֶּפֶשׁ לִיקַר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ וּלְאִסְתַּכְּלָא בִּיקָרָא דְמַלְכָּא,

It is like glowing, fiery coals of a mighty flame which surges upward (not a love which is drawn toward some object but one which ascends with the burning fire of kelot hanefesh),

כְּרִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ שַׁלְהֶבֶת עַזָּה הָעוֹלָה לְמַעְלָה,

and it strives to be parted from the wick and wood on which it has taken hold.

וְלִיפָּרֵד מֵהַפְּתִילָה וְהָעֵצִים שֶׁנֶּאֱחֶזֶת בָּהֶן,

In the same way, the soul seeks to tear away from the body, which is compared to a wick (ch. 35) and to wood (ch. 29), in relation to the fire and light of the soul.7

This results from the predominance of the element of divine Fire that is in the divine soul, unlike other forms of love, which derive from the element of Water in the divine soul.

וְהַיְינוּ, עַל יְדֵי תִּגְבּוֹרֶת יְסוֹד הָאֵשׁ אֱלֹהִי שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית,

From this, the soul comes to a thirst. Just as in the physical domain, one becomes thirsty when the element of Fire predominates, so it is in the spiritual domain, too: the ascendancy of the divine soul’s element of Fire creates a thirst within the soul, as it is written:8 “My soul thirsts for You.”9

וּמִזֶּה בָּאָה לִידֵי צִמָּאוֹן, וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "צָמְאָה לְךָ נַפְשִׁי",

Then it reaches the level of “lovesickness,”10 where the soul is sick with love of G-d, just as an unquenched physical thirst brings on a state of sickness.

וְאַחַר כָּךְ לִבְחִינַת "חוֹלַת אַהֲבָה",

And then it comes to a virtual expiring of the soul (kelot hanefesh), as it is written: “And my soul expires.”11 If not for the consequent contrary sensation of “retreat” and restraining oneself (as explained further), the soul would literally expire.

וְאַחַר כָּךְ בָּאָה לִידֵי כְּלוֹת הַנֶּפֶשׁ מַמָּשׁ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "גַּם כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי".

From here, from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher binah, is derived the source of the divine service of the Levites below in this world.

וְהִנֵּה, מִכָּאן יָצָא שׁוֹרֶשׁ הַלְוִיִּם לְמַטָּה

(12In the future, when the world will be elevated, they will be the Kohanim13 (unlike now, when the Levites are secondary to them, as it is written:14 “They shall accompany you and serve you”),

[וְלֶעָתִיד שֶׁהָעוֹלָם יִתְעַלֶּה – יִהְיוּ הֵם הַכֹּהֲנִים,

as our Master, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, commented on the verse, “But the Kohanim, the Levites…”15—that the Levites of today will become the Kohanim of the future.)16

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה עַל פָּסוּק: "וְהַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם" שֶׁהַלְוִיִּם שֶׁל עַכְשָׁיו יִהְיוּ כֹּהֲנִים לֶעָתִיד],

The Levites’ service of G-d was to raise their voice in melody and thanksgiving, with song and music, tunefulness and harmony. Music characteristically combines varied and even opposite moods, some serious (stemming from gevurah) and others happy (stemming from chesed).

וַעֲבוֹדַת הַלְוִיִּם הָיְתָה לְהָרִים קוֹל רִינָּה וְתוֹדָה, בְּשִׁירָה וְזִמְרָה, בְּנִיגּוּן וּנְעִימָה,

Their music progressed in a manner of advance and retreat (ratzo, literally “running,” and shov, “returning”). This echoed their form of serving G-d: the headlong advance toward kelot hanefesh, and the restraint, retreat, and return from that point.

בִּבְחִינַת "רָצוֹא וָשׁוֹב",

Such is the nature of this intense love, like a flame that flashes out of the bazak, as is mentioned in the Gemara (Chagigah, ch. 2).17

שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת אַהֲבָה עַזָּה זוֹ כְּשַׁלְהֶבֶת הַיּוֹצֵא מִן הַבָּזָק, כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא [פֶּרֶק בּ' דַּחֲגִיגָה].

One translation of bazak is a crucible for refining gold, in which the flame flashes forth and immediately withdraws. In Ezekiel 1:14, the angels called holy Chayot “run to and from (ratzo vashov) like the appearance of the bazak.” Likewise, the love of G-d we are discussing in this chapter first experiences ratzo, a state in which the soul surges forward as if about to expire. But then comes shov, as it is written in Sefer Yetzirah: “If your heart runs, return to One.” In other words, when your heart seeks to undergo kelot hanefesh, expiring into G-dliness, then you should return to “One”—withhold yourself from this course and return in order to bring the revelation of G-d’s Oneness into this physical world. At this point, one realizes that kelot hanefesh is not the Divine intent, which is, rather, that the soul remain in the body and observe Torah and the mitzvot, thereby revealing the “One,” G-d’s unity, in the world.

It is impossible to explain this subject clearly in writing. Yet every person with a feeling heart (i.e., who has perfection of heart), who is understanding (in that he uses his faculty of binah) and intelligent in grasping a subject (by using his faculty of chochmah) and delves deeply to attach his mind and understanding to G-d (by using his faculty of daat), will find the goodness and light concealed within his intelligent soul, each according to his capacity:

וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לְבָאֵר עִנְיָן זֶה הֵיטֵב בְּמִכְתָּב, רַק כָּל אִישׁ נִלְבָּב וְנָבוֹן, הַמַּשְׂכִּיל עַל דָּבָר וּמַעֲמִיק לְקַשֵּׁר דַּעְתּוֹ וּתְבוּנָתוֹ בַּה' – יִמְצָא טוֹב וְאוֹר הַגָּנוּז בְּנַפְשׁוֹ הַמַּשְׂכֶּלֶת, כָּל חַד לְפוּם שִׁיעוּרָא דִילֵיהּ

(one is affected in one way from one type of meditation…and one is affected in another way by a different form of meditation),

[יֵשׁ מִתְפָּעֵל כוּ' וְיֵשׁ מִתְפָּעֵל כוּ'],

after prefacing this meditation by fear of sin, the fear of doing wrong by sinning, in order to become utterly removed from evil, withholding oneself from doing any wrong, to avoid “your transgressions interposing between you and G-d…,” G-d forbid.

אַחֲרֵי קְדִימַת יִרְאַת חֵטְא, לִהְיוֹת סוּר מֵרָע בְּתַכְלִית שֶׁלֹּא לִהְיוֹת "עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם מַבְדִּילִים" כוּ' חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

In other words, whatever form one’s excitement with love of G-d takes, one must first be totally removed from evildoing.