The coming about of substantiality ex nihilo (yesh me’ayin) is in the Holy Tongue called beriah (“creation”).

וְ"יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן" נִקְרָא "בְּרִיאָה" בִּלְשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ.

As the Ramban points out in his commentary to the Torah,24 beriah is the only term in the Holy Tongue for absolutely innovative creation, creation ex nihilo.

In any progression from ilah (“cause”) to alul (“effect”), the alul existed previously as well, albeit in a distinctly different state. The term “creation,” by contrast, describes the coming into existence of something that until now did not exist, for, as mentioned earlier, it is impossible for yesh (“created substantiality”) to be found within ayin (“nothingness”). Were it to be otherwise, the ayin itself would cease to be ayin and would itself become yesh.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to anticipate a query. In point of fact, created substance is also truly nullified to the G-dliness that creates it, for “All is before Him as naught.” Why, then, do we say that creation ex nihilo cannot result from ilah and alul because the effect—the created substance—would be nullified to its source when in truth, even as the substance exists as a yesh, created ex nihilo, it is in any event nullified to the Divine source that is responsible for its creation and that continuously vests itself within it to constantly create it anew?

The Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that while the above is indeed true, nevertheless, this is so only “before Him,” i.e., as it exists in G-d’s knowledge (for G-d, of course, views things as they truly are so that created beings are “before Him as naught”: they are “like the nonexistence of the sun’s rays while they are still found within the orb of the sun”).

A created being itself, however, regards its own existence in an entirely different light: it “knows” and “feels” beyond any shadow of doubt that it enjoys true and independent existence. This (entirely fallacious) view can only come about when it is created ex nihilo as a yesh. Were it instead to be created by a process of ilah and alul, it would be impossible for it not to be fully cognizant of its Creator; in its own view as well, it would exist in a state of bittul bimetziut, a state of utter self-nullification.

And although created substance is also as naught before Him, for everything, including the created yesh, is as naught before Him

וַהֲגַם שֶׁהַיֵּשׁ הַנִּבְרָא הוּא גַּם כֵּן כְּלָא חֲשִׁיב קַמֵּיהּ,

that is, it is essentially nonexistent (Insertion by the Rebbe: “not only in relation to G-d’s Essence, which utterly transcends worlds and creation, but also within creation”) in relation to the energy and light that flow into it,

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁבָּטֵל בִּמְצִיאוּת לְגַבֵּי הַכֹּחַ וְהָאוֹר הַשּׁוֹפֵעַ בּוֹ

this force and light deriving from the kelim of the ten sefirot of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, into which the kav of the [infinite] Ein Sof-light radiates,

מֵהַכֵּלִים דְּי' סְפִירוֹת דַּאֲצִילוּת־בְּרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה, שֶׁהַ"קַּו" אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מֵאִיר בָּהֶם,

Though we are speaking only of the creative force—the kelim of the ten sefirot—that animates created beings, this too may be termed “before Him” since within these kelim is found the radiance of the Ein Sof-light.

and thus the degree of nullification of created beings is like that of a sunray while still in its source, within the sun,

וּכְזִיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בַּשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

While they are still in the orb of the sun, sunrays are essentially nonexistent: there they contribute no independently identifiable illumination. Nothing exists there but their source, the orb of the sun, the luminary from which they derive.

as explained in Likkutei Amarim (Tanya), Part II25that all created beings are truly nullified in relation to their source to the same degree as the sun’s rays are nullified within their source.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּלִקּוּטֵי אֲמָרִים חֵלֶק ב' –

In light of the above, how can we possibly say that if creation were to result from ilah and alul, created beings would not exist in a manner of yesh but would be nullified to their source when in truth, even after they were created ex nihilo, they are still truly nullified within their source, like the sun’s rays within the sun?

[The Alter Rebbe answers:] however, this is only “before Him,” as seen from the heavenly perspective (daat elyon) from which G-d knows creation, His knowledge [perceiving] from above netherward.

הַיְינוּ "קַמֵּיהּ" דַּוְקָא, שֶׁהִיא יְדִיעָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ מִלְמַעְלָה לְמַטָּה.

But as seen from the earthbound perspective (daat tachton) of created beings, with a knowledge [that perceives] from below upward,

אֲבָל בִּידִיעָה שֶׁמִּמַּטָּה לְמַעְלָה –

created yesh is an altogether separate thing in this knowledge and apprehension from below.

הַיֵּשׁ הַנִּבְרָא הוּא דָבָר נִפְרָד לְגַמְרֵי בִּידִיעָה וְהַשָּׂגָה זוֹ שֶׁמִּמַּטָּה,

A created being perceives itself to be altogether separate and apart from the Source that creates it, not recognizing its ongoing dependence on it. Though aware that it came into being by virtue of a G-dly Source, it nevertheless considers its own existence to be yesh (“being”) and its G-dly Source ayin (lit., “nothingness”).

This does not mean to imply, explains the Alter Rebbe, that a created being regards its Source as nonexistent. Rather, the term ayin has a twofold connotation:

(a) “incomprehensible”: A created being is incapable of comprehending its Source. When it calls Him ayin, it means that He does not exist within its range of comprehension.

(b) “existing differently”: The Source exists so differently, so far beyond the pattern of existence familiar to the created being, that the latter calls its Source “nonexistent”—He in fact does not exist within that earthbound frame of reference.

This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:

For the force that creates it and continuously flows into it is not understood [by the created being] at all.

כִּי הַכֹּחַ הַשּׁוֹפֵעַ בּוֹ אֵינוֹ מוּשָּׂג כְּלָל וּכְלָל,

The created being therefore calls its Source ayin since He does not exist in its world of comprehension.

Another reason for its calling the Source ayin, as the Alter Rebbe now continues, lies in the fact that He exists in an entirely different manner, there being no similarity between created and Creator.

Moreover, there is no approximation whatsoever from one to the Other, from the yesh to the ayin; neither does the relation between them partially or minimally resemble the approximation between an effect (alul) and its cause (ilah).

וְגַם אֵין עֲרוֹךְ זֶה לָזֶה כְּלָל וּכְלָל, לֹא מִינֵּיהּ וְלֹא מִקְצָתֵיהּ, מֵהָעֵרֶךְ שֶׁמֵּהֶעָלוּל אֶל הָעִילָּה,

The ayin does not exist at all in the same manner as does the yesh which it creates.

If, for example, intellection were to create a rock, the rock’s manner of existence would be so distant and so different from that of its source, that from its perspective, it would be immaterial whether it had been created by intellection or from nothing at all. Intellection simply does not exist in the rock’s mode of existence.

For an alul knows and has some apprehension of its ilah,

שֶׁהֶעָלוּל יוֹדֵעַ וּמַשִּׂיג אֵיזֶה הַשָּׂגָה בְּעִילָּתוֹ

Since the ilah (cause) does exist in the world of comprehension of the alul (effect), the latter is affected by the comprehension of its ilah:

and it becomes nullified in relation to it (to the ilah) through this knowledge and apprehension.

וּבָטֵל אֶצְלוֹ עַל־יְדֵי יְדִיעָה וְהַשָּׂגָה זוֹ,

A yesh, by contrast, has absolutely no apprehension of the ayin that is responsible for its creation.

Even with respect to their intrinsic nature and essence, there is not such a great distinction [between an ilah and its alul], except that one is a cause and the other is an effect,

וְגַם בְּמַהוּתָם וְעַצְמוּתָם אֵין הֶפְרֵשׁ גָּדוֹל כָּל כָּךְ, רַק שֶׁזֶּה עִילָּה וְזֶה עָלוּל,

The ilah and alul of intellect and emotion serve as a perfect example: Essentially, emotion is already to be found in its source, as “emotion within intellect” (middot shebaseichel), even before it exists alone as a distinct entity. But though “emotion within intellect” exists in a different manner from pure emotion, they are in essence the same.

yet [this distinction] neither partially nor minimally resembles the distinction between the essence of a created substance and the essence of the energy and light that flow into it to create it from ayin to yesh.

וְלֹא מִינֵּיהּ וְלֹא מִקְצָתֵיהּ, מֵהַהֶפְרֵשׁ שֶׁבֵּין מַהוּת הַיֵּשׁ הַנִּבְרָא לְמַהוּת הַכֹּחַ וְהָאוֹר הַשּׁוֹפֵעַ בּוֹ לְהַוּוֹתוֹ מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

Ayin and yesh are inherently and entirely different; the ayin does not exist at all in the manner that the yesh does.

This is why [creation] is called26 precisely yesh me’ayinex nihilo, “something out of nothing.”

וְלָכֵן נִקְרָא "יֵשׁ" מֵ"אַיִן" דַּוְקָא.

For although even the created yesh is aware that “everything derives from You,” it nevertheless calls its Source ayin for the two abovementioned reasons: the Source “does not exist” in the limited world of the creature’s comprehension, and it “does not exist” in the same manner as the yesh.