כי המעלה ומדרגה הראשונה אצל הנבראים היא החכמה, שלכן נקראת ראשית

For the first i.e., supreme quality and rank with regard to created beings is wisdom, for which reason it is called “the beginning,” as in the phrase,1 “the beginning of wisdom.”

So, too, Targum Yonatan interprets בראשית (in the verse, “In the beginning G‑d created...”) to mean “with wisdom.” Thus, “wisdom” also connotes that which is first in quality, and the source of all other attributes.

כי באמת היא ראשית ומקור כל החיות בנבראים

For it is indeed the beginning and fountainhead of all the life-force in creatures,

כי מהחכמה נמשכות בינה ודעת

for from wisdom are derived understanding and knowledge,

ומהן נמשכות כל המדות שבנפש המשכלת, כמו אהבה וחסד ורחמים וכיוצא בהן

and from them flow all the emotive attributes of the rational soul, such as love and kindness and mercy and the like; all of these derive from the intellectual attributes.

וכנראה בחוש, שהקטן שאין בו דעת הוא בכעס תמיד ואכזרי, וגם אהבתו היא לדברים קטנים שאין ראוי לאהבם

This is seen vividly — that a child, having no wisdom, is always angry and unkind, and even his love is for trivial things which are unworthy of being loved,

מפני שאין בו דעת לאהוב דברים הראויים לאהבם, שהאהבה כפי הדעת

because he lacks the understanding to love things which are worthy of love, for love varies with [the level of one’s] understanding.

Thus, the emotions are dependent on the intellect and understanding, inasmuch as they derive from them.

ומהמדות שבנפש, נמשכות בה תיבות ואותיות המחשבה

From the emotive attributes of the soul, words and letters of thought issue forth,

שהנפש מחשבת בדבר שאוהבת, או איך לפעול החסד והרחמים

for the soul thinks of that which it loves or of how to perform deeds of kindness and mercy.

וכן בשאר מדות

And so it is with the other emotive attributes: they all serve as a source for the words and letters of thought.

ובכל מחשבה שבעולם, מלובשת בה איזו מדה המביאה לחשוב מחשבה זו,ומדה זו היא חיותה של מחשבה זו

Within every thought in the world, there is clothed some emotive attribute that causes one to think that thought, and this attribute is the vivifying force of that thought.

ומאותיות המחשבה נמשכות אותיות הדבור, והן חיותן ממש

From the letters of [a man’s] thought proceed the letters of [his] speech, and they — the letters of thought — are their actual vivifying force.

והדבור מביא לידי מעשה הצדקה וחסד, כגון המלך שמצוה לעבדיו ליתן

Speech [in turn] gives rise to action, [such as] of charity and kindness, as in the case of a king who orders his servants to give [charity].

I.e., his speech causes his charitable thought to result in action.

וגם כשהאדם עושה בעצמו איזה דבר

And even when a man himself does some deed which he had thought of doing,

In this instance no speech is involved: his thought leads directly to action. Nevertheless — the Alter Rebbe goes on to say — here, too, in order for the life-force to descend from thought to action, it must pass through an intermediary stage which resembles speech.

הרי כח הנפש וחיותה, המתלבש בעשיה זו, הוא כאין ממש לגבי כח הנפש וחיותה המתלבש בדבור האדם

the power of the soul and its life-force, which clothes itself in this deed, is as absolute nothingness in relation to the power of the soul and its life-force which clothes itself in the speech of man;

וכערך ומשל הגוף לנשמה

[they are to each other] as the relation and comparison of the body to the soul.

To the same degree is there no comparison between the power of the soul and its life-force which clothes itself in the speech of man, and the power of the soul and its life-force which clothes itself in man’s actions. Therefore, when this power and life-force has descended so far that it is able to clothe itself in action, it has already undergone contractions and condensations which are far below the power of speech.

וכן ערך אותיות הדבור לאותיות המחשבה

Likewise — like the distance of body from soul — is the relation of the letters of speech to the letters of thought,

וכן ערך אותיות המחשבה למהות המדה המלובשת בה ומחיה אותה

and likewise is the relation of the letters of thought to the essence of the emotive attribute which is clothed in it and animates it;

I.e., the thought that derives from an emotion is in no way comparable to the emotion itself.

וכן ערך מהות וחיות המדה, לגבי החכמה בינה ודעת שכללותן הוא השכל, שממנו נמשכה מדה זו

and likewise the relation of the essence and life-force of the emotive attribute in comparison with the wisdom, understanding and knowledge which together constitute the intellect from which this attribute was derived.

We thus see that in the chain of descent from level to level — beginning with wisdom and culminating with action — each level bears no comparison at all even to the level that immediately precedes it; emotions cannot be compared to intellect, thought cannot be compared to emotions, and so on. Surely, then, there can be no comparison whatsoever between the lowest degree of action and the highest degree of wisdom.

וכל זה בנפש האדם ונפש כל הברואים שבכל העולמות עליונים ותחתונים, שבכולם החכמה היא ראשית ומקור החיות

All this applies to the soul of man and the soul of all the created beings in all the higher and lower worlds. In all of them, wisdom is the beginning and source of the life-force.

G‑d, however, as will soon be concluded, is as distant from the degree of wisdom as He is from that of action; from the Divine perspective, action and wisdom are humble equals