We see, at any rate, that charity is superior to all other mitzvot, including Torah study. But here, one may object:

As for the statement of our Rabbis that Torah study outweighs all other mitzvot14including charity—how can this be reconciled with what was said above?

וּמַה שֶּׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה שֶׁ"תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּם",

This is because the study of Torah employs speech and thought, which are the inner garments of the vital soul—unlike action, which is external. Thus, only Torah study, and not other mitzvot, can suffuse the inner garments of the soul with the light of Torah.

הַיְינוּ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁתַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה הִיא בְּדִבּוּר וּמַחֲשָׁבָה, שֶׁהֵם לְבוּשִׁים הַפְּנִימִים שֶׁל נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית.

Furthermore, the very substance and essence of the intellectual faculties of ChaBaD (chochmah, binah, daat) of the kelipat nogah in the vital soul are actually absorbed into holiness when one studies Torah with concentration and intelligence.

וְגַם מַהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן שֶׁל בְּחִינוֹת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת מִקְּלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית – נִכְלָלוֹת בִּקְדוּשָּׁה מַמָּשׁ כְּשֶׁעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה בְּעִיּוּן וְשֵׂכֶל.

The intellectual faculties applied to Torah study are absorbed in the holiness of the mitzvah of Torah study and thereby ascend from the realm of kelipat nogah (to which they previously belonged, being a part of the vital soul) to the realm of holiness.

Although it was explained in ch. 12 that the beinoni is capable of transforming to holiness only the garments of the animal soul, not the soul faculties themselves, there is no contradiction here: the latter statement applies only to the middot (the emotional attributes) of the animal soul. The beinoni is indeed incapable of transforming the middot to holiness; ChaBaD, however, can be transformed even by the beinoni. The Alter Rebbe now explains the difference between them.

Although beinonim are incapable of mastering the substance and essence of the middotchesed, gevurah, tiferet, and so on—so as to transform them into holiness,

וְאַף שֶׁמַּהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן שֶׁל הַמִּדּוֹת – חֶסֶד גְּבוּרָה תִּפְאֶרֶת כוּ' – לֹא יָכְלוּ לָהֶם הַבֵּינוֹנִים לְהַפְּכָם לִקְדוּשָּׁה,

this is because the evil of kelipah is stronger in the middot than in [ChaBaD:] the intellectual faculties, since on that level (of middot), they [the kelipot] draw more vitality from holiness than they do on the level of ChaBaD, as is known to the students of the Kabbalah.

הַיְינוּ, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהָרָע חָזָק יוֹתֵר בַּמִּדּוֹת מִבְּחָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת, מִפְּנֵי יְנִיקָתָן שָׁם מֵהַקְּדוּשָּׁה יוֹתֵר, כַּיָּדוּעַ לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן:

The “shattering of the vessels,” which gave rise to the existence of kelipah, occurred primarily in the middot, and it is therefore more difficult to elevate the evil of middot. The evil of ChaBaD, however, can be transformed to good through intensive Torah study.

Thus, we have two reasons for the superiority of the mitzvah of Torah study: (a) it is practiced with the innermost soul garment—thought; (b) it transforms the actual soul faculties of ChaBaD themselves to holiness.

Aside from this, there is another, far more important, aspect to the superiority of Torah study over all other mitzvot,

זֹאת, וְעוֹד אַחֶרֶת, וְהִיא הָעוֹלָה עַל כּוּלָּנָה, בְּמַעֲלַת עֵסֶק תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה עַל כָּל הַמִצְוֹת,

based on the statement quoted above (ch. 23) from Tikkunei Zohar that “the 248 positive commandments are the 248 ‘limbs’ of the King (G-d).”

עַל פִּי מַה שֶּׁנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל בְּשֵׁם הַתִּיקּוּנִים, דְּרַמַ"ח פִּיקּוּדִין הֵן רַמַ"ח אֵבָרִין דְּמַלְכָּא,

Just as a limb of the human body is a receptacle for a corresponding soul faculty, so is each mitzvah a receptacle for a corresponding expression of the Divine will.

Concerning Torah, however, it is written in Tikkunei Zohar: “Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are entirely one” (unlike mitzvot, which are merely “limbs”). The Alter Rebbe now elucidates the difference:

Just as, for example, in the case of a human being, the vitality in his 248 organs bears no comparison or similarity to the vitality in his brain—i.e., the intellect, which is divided into the three faculties of chochmah, binah, and daat

וּכְמוֹ בָּאָדָם הַתַּחְתּוֹן, דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, אֵין עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן כְּלָל בֵּין הַחַיּוּת שֶׁבְּרַמַ"ח אֵיבָרָיו לְגַבֵּי הַחַיּוּת שֶׁבַּמּוֹחִין, שֶׁהוּא הַשֵּׂכֶל הַמִּתְחַלֵּק לְג' בְּחִינוֹת: חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת –

Every limb of the body is of course bound to the soul which provides it with life—yet, they are two separate entities which have been joined together. It is otherwise, however, in the relationship between one’s intellect and his soul. The intellect is an extension and a part of the soul itself: thus, its unity with the soul is not that of two separate entities which have been joined but of two components of a whole.

This difference between the limbs and the intellect illustrates the difference between the other mitzvot and Torah study, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

Just as it is in the case of a human being, so, too, by way of analogy—allowing for the qualification that any comparison between human and divine traits must be distant, however, by myriads of degrees—

כָּכָה מַמָּשׁ דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, לְהַבְדִּיל בְּרִבְבוֹת הַבְדָּלוֹת לְאֵין קֵץ,

is it with regard to the illumination of the Ein Sof-light clothed in mitzvot of action, compared to the illumination of the Ein Sof-light [clothed] in the ChaBaD faculties [of one immersed] in the wisdom of Torah, an illumination commensurate with the level of each man’s intellect and his grasp of Torah. To the extent that his intellect grasps the Torah which he studies, it is united with G-dliness with a unity comparable to that of one’s intellect with his soul.

בְּהֶאָרַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמִּתְלַבְּשׁוֹת בְּמִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת, לְגַבֵּי הֶאָרַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף שֶׁבִּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת שֶׁבְּחָכְמַת הַתּוֹרָה, אִישׁ אִישׁ כְּפִי שִׂכְלוֹ וְהַשָּׂגָתוֹ.

Herein, then, lies the superiority of Torah study over other mitzvot, even over charity: Torah study effects a much higher level of unity with G-dliness than do the mitzvot of action.

Although one grasps [Torah] only as it is clothed in physical terms (e.g., the law concerning “Two men who clutch a garment…”15 or “One who trades a cow for a donkey…”16), how, then, can it be said that through study of such laws, one attains this lofty level of unity with G-dliness?

וְאַף שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַשִּׂיג אֶלָּא בְּגַשְׁמִיּוּת,

Yet, the Torah has been likened to “water descending from a high place….” The water on the lower level is exactly the same as it was on the higher level. Similarly, the laws of Torah, although they have “descended” to deal with ordinary physical situations, still consist of G-d’s will and wisdom. Thus, in studying Torah, one is united with G-d’s will and wisdom and thereby with G-d Himself, as explained above (ch. 4).

הֲרֵי הַתּוֹרָה נִמְשְׁלָה לְמַיִם, שֶׁיּוֹרְדִים מִמָּקוֹם גָּבוֹהַּ כוּ', כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל.