Terms used in Chabad Chasidus are not necessarily to be understood according to their common usage. In these Notes the translator has attempted to give the specific connotation of the words in their Chabad context. The very term Chabad, an acronym for chochma, bina, and daat, is an example of the special meaning this system has applied to standard terms, as will be explained further in these Notes.

It must be emphasized that these Notes are not by any means a full treatment of the subject discussed. They are intended only to simplify understanding of the terms in their present context. Of necessity, the comments are frequently so brief as to merely hint at the full meaning but it is hoped that the reader will be able to follow the text with the assistance of these Notes.


The soul (nefesh) finds its expression and manifestation through its powers. There are two broad categories: 1) general powers, and 2) particular powers. The general powers are delight (oneg) and will (rotzon). They are “general” in that they are not limited to any specific part of the body. One may experience delight from, and exercise will over, the intellect, emotions, and physical organs in equal measure.

The particular powers may be subdivided into two classes, with downward progression: a) intellective powers and b) emotive powers.

Intellective Powers

These powers include, chochma (generally rendered wisdom, but for our purpose concept is preferable), bina (understanding, comprehension, intellectual grasp), and daat (knowledge, or preferably here, concentration, depth, and carrying the idea to its conclusion).

In intellectual endeavor, one may have difficulty in understanding his subject, despite all his efforts. Suddenly his mind may be illuminated with a spark, a point, a concept that is as yet undefined, a germ that contains within itself the solution to the problem. Because it is as yet amorphous, comprehension is lacking; the flash of illumination might indeed be dissipated unless it is promptly developed. But already the thinker experiences delight; he is aware of a great accomplishment. He is prepared to examine this concept, this point (comparable in its infinitesimal nature and its potential to the geometric point that is the beginning of all constructions), until he achieves perfect understanding. (This nucleus finds its source in maskil, the soul-power that gives rise to the intellect; maskil may be defined as the intellect-source.) In this state the concept defies articulation, it is still an abstraction, but has a degree of tangibility as compared to maskil. The term concept is used here rather than the more common renditions or chochma, because concept implies genesis of intellectual activity, creativity.

Bina takes this concept-nucleus, examines it and develops it in all its ramifications and details. The idea becomes embodied, articulate, instead of remaining abstract. The original concept-spark becomes obscured in this process, but comprehension takes its place. This development may be amplification in depth (profound understanding) or in breadth (details).

To develop properly, concept and comprehension must act in unison and balance. The obscured concept-nucleus must be evident in the expansiveness of comprehension; the breadth and depth of comprehension must be latent in the spark of concept. Exaggerated emphasis of one or the other distorts the idea and its conclusion.

Daat is the concentration and devotion to intellectual endeavor that makes possible the development of comprehension, and carries the idea to its logical conclusion. The conclusion will vary with the type of subject—a verdict in legal problems or an emotion consonant with the idea, as will be further explained.

Chochma is creative; bina is developmental; daat is conclusive. One person’s forte may be chochma, another’s bina, a third’s daat. They would then be described respectively as chochom, maivin and daatan.

Emotive Powers

The emotive powers are the conclusions and results of the intellect-powers. Chabad Chasidus, being largely devoted to the study of G‑d, insists that intellectual achievement per se is inadequate. The mind must carry out its conclusions in the heart (the seat of the emotions, as the brain is the seat of the intellect), in the arousal of emotions indicated by the subject under study. For example, meditation on the greatness of the Almighty might lead to fear (another term, by the way, that needs interpretation in its Chabad context, but is irrelevant to us now) of Him. Recognition of His Providence might lead to love of Him. The emotions, in turn, must affect actual deeds, that one act in the light of his understanding and feelings, continuing the unbroken sequence of mind, heart, and deed. (See On the Teachings of Chasidus, ch. 16)

The term Chabad is descriptive of the principle of this school, that through systematic intellectual progression one may control, even radically alter, his emotions, and concomitantly, his deeds.

Chasidus enumerates seven emotive powers, or attributes. Since the latter four are derivative or branches of the first three, there is no need to explain them here. The first three are chesed (kindness), gevura (severity, restraint, strength), and tiferet (beauty).

Kindness is the inclination toward expansion, giving forth. It finds expression in charity, sharing knowledge, and simple human goodness. Love would be a corollary of this attribute, inasmuch as the characteristic of kindness creates a closeness between the parties involved.

Severity expresses itself in withholding, in limitation. Since withdrawal is a mark of severity, fear would be its corollary.

Tiferet, or beauty, is a composition of the first two, a combination of their qualities, with kindness predominating. It may be defined as mercy, granting where the recipient is not necessarily worthy.

Despite its attraction, kindness by itself can be corrupted and harmful. Too much bounty is not beneficial, as in the illustration of the teacher and his callow pupil (see Notes on Condensation). Kindness must be tempered with severity, limiting the endowment to the absorptive capacity of the recipient. The merger of kindness and severity in this manner would be called severity-in-kindness.

Severity unmellowed is obviously undesirable. It must be alloyed with kindness, as in the denial of privilege for the purpose of improving a child. This merger, with severity basic, would be described as kindness-in-severity.

The other emotive-powers too are not to operate in their pristine states, but must combine with one or more of the others, according to the circumstances prevailing, according to the needs of the situation. The initial combinations result in 7x7 or 49 attributes. (See On the Teachings of Chasidus, ch.;29)

Encompassing and Permeating Ligh

The general powers of the soul are described as encompassing—they find their abode in no particular part of the body; they encompass all its components equally. Through its particular powers, the soul is manifested in certain vessels for each power, e.g. intellect in the brain. The soul thus permeates the body besides encompassing it. Since the particular powers are not equal in function or magnitude, it follows that there are variations in the degree of revelation of the soul in the particular vessels, or instruments, of the powers. General or encompassing powers are equally manifest in the highest parts of the body and lowest.

Chasidus describes the soul and its manifestations as parallels of G‑d and His revelation. G‑d encompasses creation; no distinctions of higher and lower, spiritual and material, exist. He also permeates creation, revealing Himself or concealing His presence according to the vessel or instrument of His revelation. These revelations, or illuminations, are known as encompassing light and permeating light respectively.

His encompassing light is constant, countenancing no difference between the loftiest, most spiritual being and the lowest, most gross material creature, all degrees submerged and null in the greater Light of G‑d The encompassing light is as yet unperceived by His creatures. (See explanation on Condensation.) However, in the permeating light, the creative power in action, He is manifested (tangibly to the sensitive) in varying degrees, and is embodied, as the life-force, within creation. The permeating light parallels the soul-powers embodied and expressed in their particular vessels of the body. Transcendent G‑d could refer to His encompassing light, the supra-revelatory aspect of G‑d; Providential G‑d could refer to His permeating light, G‑d the Creator and Master of creation.

Thought and Speech

The soul-powers, intellect and emotion, in turn, utilize auxiliaries or garbs as instruments. Intellect uses thought; emotion, of necessity existing only in terms of another external being (one fears or loves another, while relatively speaking, intellect may be purely introspective), utilizes speech. In Chabad usage then, speech implies external existence, while thought implies internal unity. Thus we speak of the vivifying Word of G‑d, G‑d creating by saying, Let there be....

Thought enjoys a greater unity with the soul than does speech. Its existence is not externally apparent and it is continuous in its action, whereas speech is subject to interruption. Thought does not require another being for its fulfillment, while speech can be directed only outside one’s self.

Within thought there are further subdivisions. Intellect-thought describes the state of an idea existing in its pure form, to the exclusion of articulation. One first perceives an idea, then seeks its verbalization. (This applies to comprehension, not to concept alone.) In terms of expression the idea is as yet disembodied. The next step is speech-in-thought; the idea predominates but there are the beginnings of verbalization.

In thought-in-speech, the precedent to oral or scriptural articulation, the idea is systematized and expression for its presentation is developed. In this stage, speech, verbalization of the idea predominates over the abstract concept. In actual speech the idea reaches its epitome of development; it has passed the test of communication to another.


In downward progression, tzimtzum (condensation, contraction, concentration) is the means of orderly descent from a higher level to a lower one. When expounding an idea to his pupils, his intellectual inferiors, a teacher cannot articulate the concept in the terms of his own comprehension. He must condense his idea in such a manner (through illustrations and explanations comprehensible to his pupils) so that 1) the pupils understand, and 2) the condensed version retains all the elements of the idea in its original state.

Ultimately, by dint of acquisition of knowledge and a more highly developed mind, the student may attain the teacher’s level of understanding by gradual upward progression. Without condensation of the idea, the pupil will learn nothing (the idea in its original state being beyond his capacity to comprehend) and, moreover, will become so confused as to be incapable of grasping even subjects on his own level. His mind will cease to function properly.

If the teacher’s level is incomparably higher than the pupil’s, if downward progression entails a radical descent, then the teacher must set aside completely the idea as he conceives it, otherwise he will fail to find terms accessible to the pupil. This first, or great condensation constitutes a complete withdrawal from the higher level; consequently, the end product (the presented idea) is infinitely lower than the original. Subsequent condensations (adaptations to the particular level of the pupil) will concern stages that have measurable relationship with each other, with no radical difference between the levels.

G‑d being the Absolute Infinite, finite existence would be precluded in the process of creation (comparable to the pupil’s utter confusion if presented with the teacher’s original idea) without the initial great condensation. Innumerable subsequent contractions progressively conceal His infinitude, making room for the existence of physical, finite creatures. The millenial goal is the improvement and elevation of creation to the point that it be fully conscious of, and united with, the Infinite, while retaining its present character (just as the pupil attains the teacher’s level without becoming the teacher).

Four Worlds

The main categories of the stages of condensation are called the four worlds: Atzilut—Emanation, the state of proximity where He is most evident; Briah—Creation, a finite state radically different from its preceding infinite world; Yetzira—Formation, a lower state of finite existence (these three are non-physical; the latter two are subject to the limitations of spiritual beings); Asiya—Action, deed; this world includes our mundane world). Successively higher levels among and within the four worlds enjoy respectively higher degrees of awareness and conception of His Being.

Each of these four worlds is general; the subgradations within each may be described as worlds as well and are innumerable. Existences, habitants of the four worlds are known as emanations, creatures, etc. Angels in Torah refers to beings of those spiritual worlds below Atzilut, whose finitude may be equated with body. Since physical matter does not exist on those spheres, they have no physical form. The worlds are roughly analogous to the attributes—intellect and emotion—and the beings of each world are accordingly described. Hence Abstract Intellect—denoting the exalted plane of intellect combined with abstraction, disembodiment, superior to the dimensions of time and space.


On each of the four general levels, G‑d has the Divine attributes called Sefirot (generally rendered spheres or regions) that parallel the powers of the soul (intellect, emotion, and their components). Naturally, each sefira varies from world to world according to the variations of the worlds themselves. Intellect in Azilut is as different from intellect in Briah as the Azilut is different from Briah.


Etzem, or essence, refers to the absolute, fundamental, non-derivative state of any being, the state which transcends revelation. It is non-composite. Manifestation does not involve the Essence of being, the Essence being the source of the manifestation.

Like all descriptive terms, essence has its relative and absolute meaning. (See On Learning Chasidus, ch. 1) It may be applied to the soul, or its components, for example, in its relative connotations. Absolute Essence can refer only to G‑d; all other beings of necessity are secondary, or productions, and are not elemental. Relatively speaking, soul-essence refers to the soul, not its powers; essence-powers refers to the independent powers, not merged with the others, but in terms of the soul the powers are by no means essence.


G‑d in His Essence-state is called by the Ineffable Name, the Tetragrammaton in Scripture, and Havayah in conversation. This refers to G‑d the Infinite, transcending creation and nature, omnipresent and supra-temporal, precluding any existence outside Himself as an infringement on true Infinity—There is no other (Deut. 4:39). In order to create the mundane world He desired, He concealed His presence, He condensed His Light (see Notes on Condensation).

G‑d as Creator is called Elokim, signifying limitation and the subsequent possibility of finite existence. As the teacher’s condensed idea contains no elements lacking in the original from which it is derived, so too Elokim has no independence or qualities other than those endowed it by its source and origin, Havayah. As the pupil receives the condensed idea, so the finite world is called into existence by Elokim. Elokim performs the actual creation, but not of its own accord. It is, so to speak, an intermediary that brings to fruition the creative power latent, but ineluctably present, in the Infinite.

Form and Matter

In the context of these pages, form refers to the spiritual aspect of any being, the Word of G‑d that vivifies it. Form, or spirit, implies abstraction, disembodiment. Matter, or sub­stance, as used here, refers to the material aspect of the being, the physical body, body implying tangibility.

In terms of concept and comprehension (see On Learning Chasidus, ch. 13), concept is the abstract nucleus of the idea; it has no intellectual tangibility. Even in terms of the intellect, it is spiritual. Hence the reference to concept-form. Comprehension—expansion and development of the nucleus —gives intellectual tangibility to the nucleus. This is the meaning of grasp-matter.

Chasidus teaches the pre-eminence of form-over-matter, the ideal domination of the spiritual over the physical. The reality of the being is not its physical substance, but the World of G‑d, the Divine spark that gives it life, or the form.


The precepts, or mitzvot, of the Torah may be variously divided. There are positive commandments, e.g. phylacteries, tithes, the things we are to do. Negative commandments are prohibitions, e.g. robbery, Shabbat violation, murder, those acts we are to refrain from doing.

Some acts entail physical performance, e.g., the phylacteries are placed on the arm and head. Torah study, a religious duty, is an act of the mind. Love and fear of G‑d are described as “duties of the heart.”

Practical, physical duties are defined in their requirements. They may require a certain hour, or day, or time of the year for their performance. They may be dimensionally defined as to place, or size. These specifications are in time and space. Duties of the heart, though they are emotions and less prone to definition and limitation, also have qualitative and quantitative dimensions—there are degrees of love and fear every Jew is expected to attain. This difference must be noted: the requirements of the physical duties are constant, applying equally to all Jews, while the requirements of the heart duties are subjective and vary with the individual.