The Alter Rebbe now goes on to make it perfectly clear that the sefirot are, however, infinitely higher than the corresponding faculties within the soul. Indeed, even Abraham’s attribute of chesed could in no way compare to the chesed of the sefirot, notwithstanding the fact that Abraham was considered a “chariot” to G-d,20 i.e., a self-effacing vehicle with no direction or desire other than that of his Rider.

However, it is necessary to state first what I heard from my master, R. Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, peace be to him, on the verse, “And I am dust and ashes.”21

אַךְ צָרִיךְ לְהַקְדִּים, מַה שֶּׁשָּׁמַעְתִּי מִמּוֹרִי עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם עַל פָּסוּק "וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר",

Our father Abraham, peace be to him, said this of the illumination from his soul which radiated in his body from the light of the supreme chesed,

שֶׁאָמַר אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם עַל הֶאָרַת נִשְׁמָתוֹ הַמְּאִירָה בְּגוּפוֹ מֵאוֹר חֶסֶד עֶלְיוֹן,

and that is his attribute: the attribute of ahavah rabbah (“magnanimous love”), that derived from the parent sefirah called chesed of Atzilut,

וְהִיא מִדָּתוֹ מִדַּת "אַהֲבָה רַבָּה",

for he loved (an alternative reading: “with which he loved”) the Holy One, blessed be He, with a love so great and sublime that he became a chariot unto the Holy One, blessed be He.

(נוסח אחר: שֶׁבָּהּ הָיָה) שֶׁהָיָה אוֹהֵב אֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא אַהֲבָה גְדוֹלָה וְעֶלְיוֹנָה כָּל כָּךְ, עַד שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה "מֶרְכָּבָה" לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

Abraham’s degree of nullification to G-d was that of a vehicle to its driver, having no independent will whatsoever. This is even greater than the subservience of a slave to his master, for the slave retains a will of his own.

Now, one might possibly assume that the type of chesed and love as it exists above in the supernal sefirot is of a similar nature to the attribute of abundant love [exemplified by] our father Abraham, peace be to him,

וְסָלְקָא דַעְתָּךְ אֲמִינָא, שֶׁבְּחִינַת חֶסֶד וְאַהֲבָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה בַּסְּפִירוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנוֹת, הִיא מֵעֵין וְסוּג מַהוּת מִדַּת "אַהֲבָה רַבָּה" שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם,

though surpassing it infinitely.

רַק שֶׁהִיא גְדוֹלָה וְנִפְלָאָה מִמֶּנָּה לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה עַד אֵין קֵץ וְתַכְלִית,

For it is known of the supernal middot (“attributes”) that though their mode of emanation is finite, they themselves are essentially without end or limit,

כַּנּוֹדָע מִמִּדּוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנוֹת שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם [נוסח אחר: קֵץ] סוֹף וְתַכְלִית מִצַּד עַצְמָן,

because the [infinite] Ein Sof-light actually radiates and is vested within them,

כִּי אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מֵאִיר וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּתוֹכָם מַמָּשׁ,

and “He and His middot (i.e., the kelim of the sefirot) are One”; i.e., just as He is infinite, so are they.

וְ"אִיהוּ וְגַרְמוֹהִי חַד".

As regards the soul of man, however, which is vested in corporeality, in man’s body,

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּנִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בַּחוֹמֶר,

its attributes are finite and limited.

שֶׁיֵּשׁ לְמִדּוֹתֶיהָ קֵץ וּגְבוּל,

Thus, to revert to the above example, it is abundantly clear that the supernal sefirah of chesed is infinitely loftier and more wondrous than its worldly counterpart—the attribute of chesed and love in Abraham’s soul, which was vested within his body.

Nevertheless, one might possibly assume that its attributes are of the same type as the supernal attributes.

אֲבָל מִכָּל מָקוֹם סָלְקָא דַעְתָּךְ אֲמִינָא שֶׁמִּדּוֹתֶיהָ הֵן מֵעֵין וְסוּג מִדּוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנוֹת.

Until now, the Alter Rebbe has explained that the supernal sefirah of chesed is infinitely higher than Abraham’s attribute of love in this world. Now, in order to negate a comparison from any perspective whatsoever, he goes on to state that Abraham’s attribute of love is infinitely lower than the supernal sefirah of chesed.

This is why he said, “I am dust and ashes,”

וְלָזֶה אָמַר: "וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר",

that is, like ashes, which are the essence and substance of the burned wood,

דִּכְמוֹ שֶׁהָאֵפֶר הוּא מַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ שֶׁל הָעֵץ הַנִּשְׂרָף,

for [the wood] was previously composed of the four basic elements—Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, of which all matter is compounded,22

שֶׁהָיָה מוּרְכָּב מִד' יְסוֹדוֹת: אֵשׁ רוּחַ מַיִם עָפָר,

and the three elements of Fire, Water, and Air passed away

וְג' יְסוֹדוֹת אֵשׁ מַיִם רוּחַ – חָלְפוּ וְהָלְכוּ לָהֶם

and were consumed in the smoke that came into being through their combination, as is known.

וְכָלוּ בֶּעָשָׁן הַמִּתְהַוֶּה מֵהַרְכָּבָתָן כַּנּוֹדָע,

As to the fourth element of the wood, namely its component of Earth, which goes downward, and does not ascend with the smoke,

וִיסוֹד הַד' שֶׁהָיָה בָּעֵץ – שֶׁהוּא הֶעָפָר שֶׁבּוֹ הַיּוֹרֵד לְמַטָּה

and over which the fire has no dominion,

וְאֵין הָאֵשׁ שׁוֹלֶטֶת בּוֹ,

it is this that remains in existence and constitutes the ashes.

הוּא הַנִּשְׁאָר קַיָּים, וְהוּא הָאֵפֶר.

Now, the whole of the essence of the wood, with its tangible substantiality, which does not result from the Fire, Water, and Air within it, its matter, and its form in terms of length, width, and density, which were visible to the eye before it was burned,

וְהִנֵּה, כָּל מַהוּת הָעֵץ וּמַמָּשׁוֹ וְחוּמְרוֹ וְצוּרָתוֹ בְּאוֹרֶךְ וְרוֹחַב וְעוֹבִי שֶׁהָיָה נִרְאֶה לָעַיִן קוֹדֶם שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף,

derived basically from the element of Earth within it,

עִיקָּרוֹ הָיָה מִיסוֹד הֶעָפָר שֶׁבּוֹ,

except that the Fire, Water, and Air were also compounded in it,

רַק שֶׁאֵשׁ מַיִם רוּחַ כְּלוּלִים בּוֹ,

for Earth is the most material of them all, of all the elements, having [dimensions of] length, width, and density,

כִּי הֶעָפָר הוּא חוּמְרִי יוֹתֵר מִכּוּלָּן, וְיֵשׁ לוֹ אוֹרֶךְ וְרוֹחַב וְעוֹבִי,

which is not the case with Fire and Air.

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּאֵשׁ וְרוּחַ,

And even Water, that does contain these dimensions, appears only sparingly in wood.

וְגַם הַמַּיִם הֵם מְעַט מִזְּעֵיר בָּעֵץ,

Thus, as to all the dimensions [in wood] of length, width, and density, “All is of the earth, and all returns to earth,”23

וְכָל אָרְכּוֹ וְרָחְבּוֹ וְעוֹבְיוֹ "הַכֹּל הָיָה מִן הֶעָפָר וְהַכֹּל שָׁב אֶל הֶעָפָר",

i.e., to the ashes that remain after the Fire, Water, and Air have been separated from it.

שֶׁהוּא הָאֵפֶר הַנִּשְׁאָר אַחֲרֵי שֶׁנִּפְרְדוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אֵשׁ מַיִם רוּח.

Thus, the ash that remains is what was formerly the essence of the wood.

Now, just as there is neither a quantitative nor a qualitative resemblance or proportion between (on one hand) the ashes and (on the other hand) the essence of the tree which, before being burned, had sizeable dimensions of length, width, and density,

וְהִנֵּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁהָאֵפֶר אֵין לוֹ דִּמְיוֹן וְעֵרֶךְ אֶל מַהוּת הָעֵץ הַגָּדוֹל בְּאוֹרֶךְ וְרוֹחַב וְעוֹבִי קוֹדֶם שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף, לֹא בְּכַמּוּתוֹ וְלֹא בְּאֵיכוּתוֹ,

even though it (the wood) is its very essence and substance, and from it (the wood) did it (the ash) come into being,

אַף שֶׁהוּא [הוּא] מַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ וּמִמֶּנּוּ נִתְהַוָּה –

precisely so, metaphorically speaking, did our father Abraham, peace be to him, speak of his distinctive attribute, the attribute of kindness and love, which radiated within him and was vested in his body.

כָּךְ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל אָמַר אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם עַל מִדָּתוֹ, מִדַּת הַחֶסֶד וְהָאַהֲבָה הַמְּאִירָה בּוֹ וּמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּפוֹ,

For though it was this very attribute of the love and supreme chesed of Atzilut that radiated in his soul, which was a chariot to [the will of] heaven,

דְּאַף שֶׁהִיא [הִיא] מִדַּת הָאַהֲבָה וְחֶסֶד הָעֶלְיוֹן שֶׁבָּאֲצִילוּת הַמֵּאִיר בְּנִשְׁמָתוֹ שֶׁהָיְתָה מֶרְכָּבָה עֶלְיוֹנָה,

nevertheless, as it descended downward to vest itself in the body,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן בְּרִדְתָּהּ לְמַטָּה לְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּגוּפוֹ

by means of the evolution of the worlds from one level to another, by means of many contractions,

עַל־יְדֵי הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה עַל־יְדֵי צִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים,

there was no semblance or proportion between the essence of the light of the love that radiated within him and the essence of the light of the love and supreme chesed of Atzilut,

אֵין דִּמְיוֹן וְעֵרֶךְ מַהוּת אוֹר הָאַהֲבָה הַמֵּאִיר בּוֹ אֶל מַהוּת אוֹר אַהֲבָה וְחֶסֶד עֶלְיוֹן שֶׁבָּאֲצִילוּת,

except of the sort of proportion and semblance that exists (metaphorically speaking) between the essence of the element of Earth, which became ashes, and its essence and quality in its original state as a tree, “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”24

אֶלָּא כְּעֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן מַהוּת הֶעָפָר שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה אֵפֶר אֶל מַהוּתוֹ וְאֵיכוּתוֹ כְּשֶׁהָיָה "עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל" עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל,

Indeed, [the incomparability of Abraham’s chesed and the chesed of Atzilut] exceeds [the incomparability of the ash and the tree] by thousands of degrees of separation.

וְיוֹתֵר מִזֶּה, לְהַבְדִּיל בַּאֲלָפִים הַבְדָּלוֹת,

Nevertheless, the Torah speaks in human phraseology, by way of allegory and metaphor, hence its use of the analogy of the tree, despite its inherent disproportion.

רַק שֶׁ"דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה כִּלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם" בְּמָשָׁל וּמְלִיצָּה:

Surely, then, the attributes and soul-powers of an ordinary Jew in this world bear absolutely no comparable relation to the sefirot from which they derive. Nonetheless, since his soul-powers do after all derive from the sefirot and are illuminated by them, he can attain some degree of understanding of G-dliness from that dimension of the soul that animates his body. And this is the meaning of the verse, “From my flesh shall I behold G-d.”