In truth, however, the supernal letters of speech are far higher than the level and essence of the wisdom and intellect of created beings.

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת, בְּחִינַת אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁל מַעְלָה – הִיא לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִמַּדְרֵגַת וּמַהוּת חָכְמָה וְשֵׂכֶל הַנִּבְרָאִים,

In this, they differ from the letters of man’s thought and speech, which are “inanimate” and belong to a level far lower than intellect.

The Alter Rebbe now demonstrates that the supernal letters of speech transcend man’s intellect and wisdom:

For man, possessor of wisdom and intellect, was created by the utterance and the letters of [the phrase], “Let us make man in our image…,”2

שֶׁהֲרֵי בְּמַאֲמַר וְאוֹתִיּוֹת "נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵינוּ וְגוֹ'" – נִבְרָא הָאָדָם בַּעַל חָכְמָה וָשֵׂכֶל,

Since wisdom and intellect are derived from these letters, it is obvious that the letters themselves are far superior to them.

or [man, possessor of wisdom and intellect, was created] even3 by the Divine breath alone, as it is written, “And He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life.”4

אוֹ אֲפִילוּ בַּהֶבֶל הָעֶלְיוֹן לְבַד, כְּדִכְתִיב: "וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים",

It was from this “breath” that was breathed into man that he became a rational being.

Hence, since Divine speech and breath create man, who possesses wisdom and intellect, it follows that the Divine speech and breath are the source of wisdom and intellect in the soul of Adam,

וְאִם כֵּן, הַדִּבּוּר וְהֶבֶל הָעֶלְיוֹן, הוּא מְקוֹר הַחָכְמָה וְהַשֵּׂכֶל שֶׁבְּנִשְׁמַת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן,

which contains all the souls of the tzaddikim, who are superior to the ministering angels and whose intellect too is superior to that of the angels. All this came forth from the Divine speech and breath.

הַכּוֹלֶלֶת כָּל נִשְׁמוֹת הַצַּדִּיקִים, שֶׁהֵם גְּדוֹלִים מִמַּלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת.

The reason [for the transcendence of the supernal letters over the soul] is that the letters of [G-d’s] speech are effluences of power and life-force from His emotive attributes,

וְהַיְינוּ, לְפִי שֶׁאוֹתִיּוֹת דִּיבּוּרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הֵן בְּחִינוֹת הַמְשָׁכוֹת כֹּחוֹת וְחַיּוּת מִמִּדּוֹתָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

which are united with His Essence and Being in a perfect unity that is infinitely higher than the level of wisdom in created beings.

הַמְיוּחָדוֹת בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד, שֶׁהוּא לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה לְאֵין קֵץ מִמַּדְרֵגַת חָכְמָה שֶׁבַּנִּבְרָאִים.

They are termed “letters,” not in relation to created beings, but only relative to [G-d’s] emotive attributes themselves.

וְלֹא נִקְרְאוּ בְּשֵׁם "אוֹתִיּוֹת" לְגַבֵּי הַנִּבְרָאִים, אֶלָּא לְגַבֵּי מִדּוֹתָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּכְבוֹדָן וּבְעַצְמָן.

The name “letters,” which signifies that they are lower than wisdom and intellect, is not applied to them in relation to created beings, for as explained earlier, they are far superior to created wisdom and intellect. Rather, this term is applied to them relative to G-d’s emotive attributes, inasmuch as they are only “letters”—revelations of these attributes.

Now they—the supernal letters—are twenty-two kinds of effluences of life-force and power, differing from one another,

וְהִנֵּה הֵן כ"ב מִינֵי הַמְשָׁכוֹת חַיּוּת וְכֹחוֹת שׁוֹנִים זֶה מִזֶּה,

by which all the higher and lower worlds and all the creatures in them were created.

שֶׁבָּהֶן נִבְרְאוּ כָּל הָעוֹלָמוֹת עֶלְיוֹנִים וְתַחְתּוֹנִים וְכָל הַבְּרוּאִים שֶׁבְּתוֹכָם,

For so it arose in [G-d’s] will and wisdom that He create the world with exactly twenty-two different kinds of effluence, neither fewer nor more,

שֶׁכָּךְ עָלָה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ לִבְרוֹא הָעוֹלָם בְּכ"ב מִינֵי הַמְשָׁכוֹת שׁוֹנוֹת דַּוְקָא, לֹא פָחוֹת וְלֹא יוֹתֵר.

and these5 are the twenty-two letters which are fixed in the mouth and tongue, as we have learned in Sefer Yetzirah.

וְהֵן הֵן כ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת הַקְּבוּעוֹת בְּפֶה וְלָשׁוֹן, כְּדִתְנַן בְּסֵפֶר יְצִירָה

(6Their written shape—i.e., the shape of the letters of these utterances as written in the Torah—indicates the form of the flow, as will be explained later.)

[וּתְמוּנָתָן בִּכְתָב – הִיא מוֹרָה עַל צִיּוּר הַהַמְשָׁכָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר לְקַמָּן]

For the letters of speech and thought in the human soul are also outflows from the essence and being of the intellect and the emotive attributes, as is explained elsewhere.

שֶׁגַּם אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר וְהַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם, הֵן הַמְשָׁכוֹת מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַמִּדּוֹת שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ, מִמַּהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר:

Commentary of the Rebbe on Chapter Eleven

Having explained toward the end of ch. 11 that the supernal letters are twenty-two different kinds of effluences of life-force and power by which G-d created the world, the Alter Rebbe goes on to say that “these are the twenty-two letters which are fixed in the mouth and tongue, as we have learned in Sefer Yetzirah.” The Alter Rebbe then goes on to say that the shape of the written letters “indicates the form of the flow.” He concludes: “For the letters of speech and thought in the human soul are also outflows from the essence and being of the intellect and emotive attributes [of the soul].”

The Rebbe asks a number of questions: First of all, what is the Alter Rebbe’s intent in saying all of the above; how does all this relate to our text? Furthermore, what is novel about the concept that the twenty-two letters “are fixed in the mouth and tongue”? Why, moreover, must proof be adduced from Sefer Yetzirah when this is something which is readily apparent to all? And why does the Alter Rebbe not state all this in ch. 2, where he explains that the Divine life-force which creates all creatures is composed of the supernal letters, and so forth?

In addition, the Alter Rebbe’s statement that “their written shape indicates the form of the flow” emphatically belongs at the end of ch. 12 where he discusses the differences between the letters at length.

The crux of the matter, explains the Rebbe, is as follows:

The general content of this chapter and the one preceding it is that the (a) ten utterances, the supernal letters, are also united with G-d; (b) the manner of their union is wondrous. Nonetheless, they are called “light” and “utterance,” inasmuch as “the Torah speaks as in the language of man”; i.e., there is at least the degree of similarity that obtains between an analogy and its analogue. The sefirot may thus be likened to light, and their effluences—the ten utterances—may be likened to mortal utterances and letters.

Accordingly, the following questions arise:

(a) Man’s speech and letters are formed by the larynx, palate, tongue, etc., as well as by his breath. Thus, the letters of man’s speech do not derive from his intellect and emotive attributes. How, then, are these letters analogous to the ten utterances, which flow from the intellect and emotive attributes of G-d and remain connected with Him?

(b) In point of fact, it is true even Above that speech and letters derive from the supernal “five organs of verbal articulation” (as discussed in ch. 2). How does this accord with the statement that the letters emanate from the Divine intellect and emotive attributes?

(c) The terminology in the analogue is that the power for the creation of light emanates (and not that light is “created”) from the attribute of chesed through the utterance, “Let there be light.” The same is true with regard to the power by which water is created: it, too, emanates from the attribute of chesed. All this clearly implies that the powers and the letters are already found within this attribute. However, this is not the case with regard to the mortal breath that forms letters. The breath itself has assumed no form at all: it is only formed into the shape of letters in the course of its passage through the organs of verbal articulation. Thus, the letters formed in the mouth are unlike the powers and letters, which are already found within the emotive attributes.

All these questions are answered by the Alter Rebbe when he states that the effluence of the powers and life-forces which emanate from the sefirot to bring about creation is both Above and below “the twenty-two letters.” These letters are merely “fixed” (i.e., implanted) “in the mouth and tongue.” Essentially, however, they are already to be found in the intellect and emotive attributes from where they are drawn down into speech. And since this concept is novel, the Alter Rebbe cites support from Sefer Yetzirah—that the twenty-two letters are indeed merely “fixed in the mouth and tongue” and not created by them.

According to the above teaching—that the letters derive from the essential core of the intellect and the emotions—we understand that the union of the letters with their essence is far greater than what it would be if they were to derive from the organs of articulation. Indeed, they are united with the essence in a manner similar to the manner in which the intellect itself (from which the letters derive) is in turn united with its essence. Moreover, this is so not only regarding the letters of thought and speech but also in regard to the letters of action: they, too, are united with their source in a similar manner. For the shape of the written letters (which denote action) indicates the form of their flow; i.e., their shape reflects the manner in which they flow from the quintessential substance of intellect and emotions.

In light of the above, concludes the Rebbe, another most difficult problem will be resolved.

The Alter Rebbe said earlier that man is created as a rational being by the Divine utterance and letters because the supernal letters are far superior to man’s intellect. Now, this reason is puzzling. The distance between letters and intellect is not measured in degrees of higher and lower, for speech and intellect are qualitatively different entities. Why, then, does the Alter Rebbe state that the supernal letters are “far higher” than the wisdom of created beings?

According to the above explanation, however, this is eminently understandable: Since the letters of speech in fact derive from wisdom—moreover, from the very essence of wisdom—they are able to give rise to wisdom and intelligence within man.