Editor's note: The Torah's most obvious function is to serve as a guide to daily living: the word Torah means "law" and "instruction." On a deeper level, the Midrash describes it as G‑d's blueprint for Creation, and the Kabbalists take this a step further by explaining that the Torah's very words and letters are the spiritual building blocks — or, to borrow a modern metaphor, the "source code" — of all the worlds, from the most transcendent spiritual realities to the physical universe. The zohar sums it up thus: "G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world. The Jew looks into the Torah and sustains the world."

Yet Jewish tradition ascribes a special value also to learning for the sake of learning — to the study of Torah to no end other than to integrate the word of G‑d into the student's mind. The following is a freely translated excerpt from Chapter Five of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi's Tanya, which explores this aspect of Torah: the uniqueness of the bond created between man and G‑d when a human mind apprehends the Divine Wisdom.

When a mind conceives and comprehends a concept with its intellect, the mind grasps the concept and envelopes it... In addition, the mind is simultaneously enveloped by the concept and immersed within it...

For example, when a person understands and comprehends, truly and fully, any Halachah in the Mishnah or Talmud, his mind grasps and encloses it and, at the same time, is also enclosed within it. Now, this particular Halachah is the wisdom and will of G‑d. For it was His will that when, for example, Reuben pleads in one way and Simon in another, the verdict as between them shall be thus and thus.

Even if such a litigation never was, and never will be, presented for judgment in connection with such disputes and claims, nevertheless: since it has been the will and wisdom of G‑d that in the event of one person pleading this way and the other pleading that way the verdict shall be such and such, it follows that when a person knows and comprehends with his mind such a verdict in accordance with the law as it is set out in the Mishnah, Talmud, or the Codes, he has thus comprehended, grasped and enclosed in his mind the will and wisdom of G‑d, Whom no thought can apprehend, [neither Himself] nor His will and wisdom—except as they are clothed in the laws that have been set out for us. And [at the same time,] the mind is also enclosed within them.

This [i.e., that a thing both envelopes, and is also enveloped by, another thing] is a wonderful union, like which there is none other, and which has no parallel anywhere in the material world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, could be attained.

Hence the special superiority, infinitely great and wonderful, that is in the mitzvah to know the Torah and comprehend it, over all the mitzvot involving action, and even those relating to speech, and even the mitzvah to study the Torah through speech. For through all the mitzvot involving speech or action, G‑d encloses the soul and envelops it from head to foot with the divine light; but with regard to knowledge of the Torah, apart from the fact that the mind is immersed within the Divine Wisdom [it is studying], the Divine Wisdom is also contained within [the mind] to the extent that ones mind comprehends, grasps and encloses with its intellect as much as it can of the knowledge of the Torah, every man according to his intellect, his capacity for knowledge and his comprehension in pardes ["the orchard"--a acronym referring to the four primary dimensions of Torah: simple meaning, allusionary, homiletic and mystical—trans.].

And because, in the case of knowledge of the Torah, the Torah is ingested within the soul and mind of a person, and is absorbed in them, it is called "bread" and "food" of the soul. For just as physical bread nourishes the body by entering into the person, within his very inner self, where it is transformed into blood and flesh of his flesh, whereby he lives and existsso, too, it is with the knowledge of the Torah and its comprehension by the soul of the person who studies it well, with a concentration of his mind, until the Torah is absorbed by his mind and is united with it and they become one, and [the Torah] becomes nourishment for the soul, and its inner life, from the Giver of life, the Blessed Infinite, Who is clothed within His wisdom and Torah that are [absorbed] in [the soul].

This is the meaning of the verse [Psalms 40:9], "Your Torah is within my innards." And as it is stated in Etz Chayim, Portal 44, chapter 3, that the garments of the soul in the Garden of Eden are the mitzvot, whereas the Torah is the food for the souls which, in this world, had occupied themselves in the study of the Torah for its own sake. And as it is stated in the Zohar, Vayakhel, page 210.

"For its own sake," means in order to attach one's soul to G‑d through the comprehension of the Torah, each one according to his intellect, as explained in Pri Etz Chayim...

For more from the Chassidic Masters on the nature and function of the Torah, see the "study" section of our Shavuot site at VirtualShavuot.com