אך צריך להקדים מה ששמעתי ממורי, עליו השלום, על פסוק: ואנכי עפר ואפר

But 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,1 “And I am dust and ashes.”

שאמר אברהם אבינו, עליו השלום, על הארת נשמתו המאירה בגופו מאור חסד עליון

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.

והיא מדתו, מדת אהבה רבה

And that is his attribute: the attribute of ahavah rabbah (“magnanimous love”), that derived from the parent Sefirah called Chesed of Atzilut,

(נוסח אחר: שבה היה) שהיה אוהב את הקב״ה אהבה גדולה ועליונה כל כך, עד שנעשה מרכבה להקב״ה

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.

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

וסלקא דעתך אמינא שבחינת חסד ואהבה שלמעלה בספירות העליונות, היא מעין וסוג מהות מדת אהבה רבה של אברהם אבינו, עליו השלום

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,

רק שהיא גדולה ונפלאה למעלה מעלה עד אין קץ ותכלית

though surpassing it infinitely.

כנודע ממדות העליונות, שאין להם קץ סוף ותכלית מצד עצמן

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,

כי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא מאיר ומלובש בתוכם ממש

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

ואיהו וגרמוהי חד

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

מה שאין כן בנשמת האדם, המלובשת בחומר

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

שיש למדותיה קץ וגבול

its attributes are finite and limited.

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.

אבל מכל מקום, סלקא דעתך אמינא שמדותיה הן מעין וסוג מדות העליונות

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

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 whatever, he goes on to state that Abraham’s attribute of love is infinitely lower than the Supernal Sefirah of Chesed.

ולזה אמר: ואנכי עפר ואפר

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

דכמו שהאפר הוא מהותו ועצמותו של העץ הנשרף

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

שהיה מורכב מד׳ יסודות: אש, רוח, מים, עפר

for [the wood] was previously composed of the four basic elements — Fire, Air, Water and Earth, of which all matter is compounded,2

וג׳ יסודות: אש, מים, רוח, חלפו והלכו להם

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

וכלו בעשן המתהוה מהרכבתן, כנודע

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

ויסוד הד׳ שהיה בעץ, שהוא העפר שבו, היורד למטה

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

ואין האש שולטת בו

and over which the fire has no dominion,

הוא הנשאר קיים, והוא האפר

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

והנה כל מהות העץ, וממשו וחומרו וצורתו באורך ורוחב ועובי, שהיה נראה לעין קודם שנשרף

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,

עיקרו היה מיסוד העפר שבו

derived basically from the element of Earth within it,

רק שאש, מים, רוח, כלולים בו

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

כי העפר הוא חומרי יותר מכולן, ויש לו אורך ורוחב ועובי

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

מה שאין כן באש ורוח

which is not the case with Fire and Air.

וגם המים, הם מעט מזעיר בעץ

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

וכל ארכו ורחבו ועוביו, הכל היה מן העפר, והכל שב אל העפר

Thus, as to all the dimensions [in wood] of length, width and density,3 “All is of the earth, and all returns to earth,”

שהוא האפר הנשאר אחרי שנפרדו ממנו אש, מים, רוח

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

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

והנה, כמו שהאפר אין לו דמיון וערך אל מהות העץ הגדול באורך ורוחב ועובי קודם שנשרף, לא בכמותו ולא באיכותו

Now, just as there is neither a quantitative nor a qualitative resemblance or proportion between (on the 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,

אף שהוא הוא מהותו ועצמותו, וממנו נתהוה

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

כך, על דרך משל, אמר אברהם אבינו עליו השלום על מדתו, מדת החסד והאהבה, המאירה בו ומלובשת בגופו

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.

דאף שהיא היא מדת האהבה וחסד העליון שבאצילות, המאיר בנשמתו שהיתה מרכבה עליונה

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,

אף על פי כן, ברדתה למטה להתלבש בגוף

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

על ידי השתלשלות העולמות ממדרגה למדרגה, על ידי צמצומים רבים

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

אין דמיון וערך מהות אור האהבה המאיר בו, אל מהות אור אהבה וחסד עליון שבאצילות

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,

אלא כערך ודמיון מהות העפר שנעשה אפר, אל מהותו ואיכותו כשהיה עץ נחמד למראה וטוב למאכל, על דרך משל

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,4 “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

ויותר מזה, להבדיל באלפים הבדלות

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.

רק שדברה תורה כלשון בני אדם, במשל ומליצה

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.

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.”

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