1. Teshuvah for a tzaddik?!

One of the miracles that will occur when Mashiach comes (May that happen speedily, and in our own days, Amen!) will be this: “Mashiach will come in order to bring the tzaddikim to repentance.”1

Everyone knows that the term tzaddik signifies someone who is meritorious2 — one who is upright, and righteous. Essentially, it denotes a person who discharges all his obligations honestly and conscientiously, and in whatever he does, every action is upright. Whether these are obligations between a man and his Maker, or whether they are between man and man, not only does the tzaddik fulfill them at all times punctually and with admirable earnestness, but so too with everything he does — his every move is earnest and commendable.

The term teshuvah (repentance) refers to a person who regrets something he has done; one who regrets having done something unworthy, or evil, is known as a baal teshuvah, a penitent.3

Teshuvah of this kind is not relevant to a tzaddik, because things that require teshuvah — in this very basic sense of the word, namely, regret — simply never happen with a person at his level. There is a verse that says, Lo ye’uneh latzaddik kol aven — “No evil shall befall the righteous.”4 Rashi explains: A tzaddik does not come to sin unwittingly. Neither knowingly, then, nor unwittingly, is a tzaddik ever involved with sin.5

2. He spoke Yiddish like a born Jew

We once told of a manuscript written by the holy hand of the Tzemach Tzedek,6 in which he records three stories about his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe.7 One of these stories tells how when the Alter Rebbe visited R. Yehoshua Tzeitlin8 in Shklov, his host utilized the opportunity to put his perception to the test.

R. Yehoshua had a gentile attendant who spoke Yiddish like a born Jew, whom he asked to bring up some wine from the cellar and to serve refreshments. Then, having poured a glass for the Alter Rebbe and for himself, R. Yehoshua asked his guest to help himself. But when the Alter Rebbe took his glass in hand and started saying Baruch Atah…, his learned host was awestruck. Never in his life had he heard a berachah recited with such dveikus, with such inspired ecstasy — and he was left confused and speechless.

The Alter Rebbe meanwhile concluded his blessing with the words, shehakol nih’yah bidvaro.9 The gentile, he later explained, had mistakenly brought them mead instead of wine. Moreover, if he had now come from the cellar, the kashrus of the wine there was questionable.

“Concerning you,” said R. Yehoshua, “it is written, Lo ye’uneh latzaddik kol aven — ‘No evil shall befall the righteous!’”

This is not the time to go into the story in detail, nor to repeat the Alter Rebbe’s profound discussion of the prohibitive commandment, “Do not place a stumbling-block before the blind.”10 (This discussion, by the way, involved a scholarly analysis of all the detailed teachings of the Sages on the verse quoted.) We told this story now only in order to throw light on one point — that teshuvah, in its plain meaning of “regret,” is not relevant to a tzaddik.

3. Direct light and reflected light

Those who have studied or heard a word or two of Chassidus know that teshuvah is not what the workaday world considers it to be — namely, something that comes in the wake of transgression — but it is in fact a path in the service of G‑d. Knowing this will enable us to understand an observation that the Alter Rebbe once made — that it is conceivable that a person should be a servant of G‑d for 70 years, rising even to the level of a consummate tzaddik, and yet never have savored the taste11 of teshuvah.

Though teshuvah is indeed a path in the service of G‑d, it is not the path followed by tzaddikim. Hence it is possible that a person should be a consummate tzaddik, yet never have savored the taste of teshuvah. Thus is it that “Mashiach will come in order to bring the tzaddikim to teshuvah.” For one of the novelties that will accompany the Coming of Mashiach is this — that tzaddikim will come to recognize the lofty standing of teshuvah as a mode of divine service.

When that time comes, whenever a person attains a perception of divine revelation by means of intellectual cognition, he will be at the corresponding level of avodah.12 (Now, by contrast, whenever a person grasps a spiritual truth intellectually he then has to toil — in order to make his level of avodah consistent with the level of his intellectual perception.) It follows that when in future time tzaddikim will come to appreciate the wondrous worth of teshuvah as a mode of divine service, their own avodah will then accord with this stance. Nowadays the avodah of tzaddikim may be summed up by the verse, “G‑d has made man upright”;13 it is occupied with how a person should conduct his life according to the Torah.

There are two kinds of divine service — avodah in a manner of or yashar (lit., “direct light”), and avodah in a manner of or chozer (lit., “reflected light”). In general terms, the difference between the two is as follows: the direction taken by avodah in a manner of or yashar is from above — downwards (milmaalah lematah), its task being to draw the revelation of G‑dliness down into the world; the direction taken by avodah in a manner of or chozer is from below — upwards (milmatah lemaalah), its aim being that the world should become a vessel for G‑dliness.

4. A two-way thoroughfare

Those who study Chassidus understand the difference between these two directions14 in avodah, but those who have not yet immersed their minds so deeply in Chassidus will find it incomprehensible. That one ought to draw G‑dliness down into the world — this they can understand; that this drawing down (hamshachah) of G‑dliness into the world can take place only by means of avodah — this too they understand; that the revelation of G‑dliness in the world is possible only if the world is a fit vessel for it — this also they can understand. But the difference between the downward direction of avodah (milmaalah lematah) and the upward direction of avodah (milmatah lemaalah) — this they do not understand.

Mortal intellect, being a function of the temporal world, cannot grasp what difference it makes whether the object of one’s avodah is drawing down G‑dliness into the world, or whether it is making the world a fit vessel for G‑dliness. For the fact is that both kinds of avodah are called for. That is to say: If the world is a vessel for the revelation of divine light, then this revelation is in fact drawn down into it; and this revelation, for its part, indicates that the world is at this point a vessel for it. What difference can it make, then, whether one’s avodah engages in (a) drawing down a revelation of light, or whether it engages in (b) readying the vessel?

Moreover, mortal intellect detects a problem here. Since a distinction is being drawn between (a) the former kind of avodah (this hamshachah being termed “downward”, i.e., milmaalah lematah), and (b) the latter kind of avodah (this preparation of the vessel being termed “upward”, i.e., milmatah lemaalah), then surely it follows that if a person is engaged in one of the two, something must be lacking in the other — either in the preparation of the vessel, or in the drawing down of revealed light.

5. Not by faith alone

To be candid, it is far from easy to explain the concept of divine light to the cold, unspiritual,15 mortal intellect. It is particularly difficult to enable it, with its severe limitations, to discern between such subtle conceptions as the above, that lie in the realm of gefihl, spiritual sensitivity. But difficult as it may be, this explaining must be undertaken, for it involves the mitzvah of knowing G‑dliness. For yedias Elokus is a personal obligation16 devolving on every Jew, as it is written, Veyadata hayom… ki Havayah Hu HaElokim — “Know this day and take unto your heart that the L-rd (Havayah) is G‑d (Elokim).”17

Elokim signifies nature;18 Havayah transcends nature. “Nature” means the limitations of time and space; “beyond nature” means the transcendence of time and space. Divinity transcends time and space, and reigns over them; this is what is called Divine Providence.19

The commandment, it will be noted, requires that one “know this day” (Veyadata hayom); one cannot discharge this obligation through faith alone.

The demand that Elokus be known and understood is a theme often discussed in Chassidus. It throws light, for example, on what David HaMelech urges his son Shlomo: “Know the G‑d of your father, and serve Him with a perfect heart.”20 Rather than “know,” one would have thought that “believe” would have been more apt. Why, then, instead of saying, “Believe in the G‑d of your father,” does David HaMelech urge his son to know the G‑d of his father?

The same question could be asked concerning Rambam, for he opens his very first halachah with these words: “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all manner of wisdom is to know that there is a First Being, Who has created all that exists.”21

6. The limits of mortal intellect

David HaMelech nevertheless says, דַּע אֶת אֱלֹקֵי אָבִיךָ — “Know the G‑d of your father,” and Rambam likewise uses the term לֵידַע, meaning to know and understand. Faith, it is clear, will not suffice.

The commentators on Rambam point out that the initials of his first four words — יְסוֹד הַיְסוֹדוֹת וְעַמּוּד הַחָכְמוֹת — spell out the Divine Name, Havayah. That is to say, that “the foundation of all foundations and the pillar of every manner of wisdom” is that Four-Letter Name22 of G‑d. It is this that one must exert one’s mortal intellect to grasp to the utmost, not leaving it to be the subject of gefihl alone.

And in order that one’s cold mortal intellect should be able to grasp G‑dliness and G‑dly concepts, it needs to have things explained to it in parables and analogies that draw on terms that it can cope with — until eventually it can be led to an understanding of G‑dly wisdom, and can grow near to becoming a vessel for a ray of divine light.

Now, to revert to our subject, we have to explain to mortal intellect that there are two kinds of divine service, namely, the avodah of or yashar, and the avodah of or chozer. The two approaches are in fact one and the same avodah; its objective is that divine light should be revealed in the world; and this revelation can take place only when the world becomes a vessel that is receptive to it.

Thus far, in general terms, mortal intellect understands. What it does not understand is, firstly, the difference between or yashar and or chozer, and secondly, the assertion that the former avodah takes a downward direction (milmaalah lematah), while the latter avodah takes an upward direction (milmatah lemaalah).

And this is where the mitzvah of וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם (“Know this day”) comes into play; so too the instruction of David HaMelech to his son, דַּע אֶת אֱלֹקֵי אָבִיךָ — “Know the G‑d of your father”; and so too the teaching of Rambam in the first halachah, that “the foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all manner of wisdom is to know that there is a First Being, Who has created all that exists” — that is, to explain this concept to one’s mortal intellect in such a way that it should grasp it well.

7. A digestible analogy

In order that a mortal mind should be able to understand a concept according to the measure of its grasp, one first needs to find a matching material analogy, whose physical facts are well known to the mind. Once the mind has digested the analogy, it can be led to a higher level of understanding, which bears some resemblance to the analogy; by this stage the mind grasps the higher concept, too. In this manner, step by step, one can bring the mortal mind to a stage where it can grasp what divine reason is.

In order that a mortal mind should be able to relax on home ground,23 the first analogy that we shall offer it — so that it will thereby be enabled to comprehend the distinction between (on the one hand) or yashar and avodah milmaalah lematah, and (on the other hand) or chozer and avodah milmatah lemaalah — will be an analogy involving physical food. For the mortal mind is familiar with materiality24 in all its details, and understands it thoroughly; moreover, in its knowledge of gashmiyus it experiences desire and delight.

Food can be divided into two general categories — dishes which, though better when cooked, may be eaten raw; and dishes which are inedible or even injurious when eaten raw, while cooking transforms them into fortifying nourishment. The former dishes are cooked at a mild temperature, and briefly; the latter dishes need to be cooked more intensely, and at length.

8. Materiality is not uniform

The mortal mind has no difficulty in understanding the analogy perfectly well, with all its minutiae varying according to the distinct and sundry species of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Let us return now to consider its spiritual counterpart.

Everything in this world comprises two elements, namely, good and evil; that is to say, the things that according to the Torah are permissible, and the things that according to the Torah are prohibited.

The permitted things correspond to fruit that can be eaten raw, though it is better when cooked — for in good, too, there is an element of evil. Cooking in this case corresponds to the obligation to “sanctify yourself within that which is permitted to you.”25

The things prohibited by the Torah correspond to the dishes which are injurious when raw, but which become nutritious when cooked. The cooking in this case represents one’s abstention from doing that which is prohibited, for by “turning away from evil”26 one gains considerable strength.

Within the category of things that are permitted according to the Torah there are two kinds. On the one hand, there are those activities that themselves constitute a mitzvah — such as eating a kazayis of matzah on the first night of Pesach; using an esrog; eating, and acquiring clothes and other necessities, for the preservation of the body. Then there are those activities that a person may do if he wants to27 — but “not everything that one is allowed to do does one have to do….”28

One’s use of certain physical things – those that in themselves constitute a mitzvah – is an instance of avodah in a manner of or yashar, its direction being downward, milmaalah lematah. When a person puts on his material tzitzis or material tefillin, or eats his kazayis of matzah or whatever food is necessary for the nourishment of his body, divine light is thereby drawn down — because all these things are vessels ready to receive a revelation of light, and the individual’s avodah in such cases need go no further than the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Once he has fulfilled the mitzvah, a revelation of divine light is elicited. This kind of avodah is thus called an avodah of or yashar (“direct light”), and its direction is downward, milmaalah lematah.

However, regarding the permissible material things that are divrei reshus [i.e., not actually mitzvos, but optionally available], their very materiality is more intense than the gashmiyus of the things that are actual mitzvos. True enough, they are both gashmiyus — but the gashmiyus of a dvar mitzvah is nevertheless different from the gashmiyus of a dvar reshus.

In plain words: Once a person has made a berachahhamotzi lechem min haaretz – over his tangible piece of white or brown bread, then if he eats it in order to derive strength from it (for eating of this kind is a mitzvah), that material piece of bread becomes more spiritually refined than the very same piece of bread would become if he were to eat it for the sake of feeling sated. And if he were to eat it for the sake of its pleasurable taste, for the lust of eating, then it would be evil.

9. Of course you eat – but why?

How is it possible that one part of a material object should be spiritually more refined than another part?

This may be understood by means of an analogy with the human body, for within the material flesh that constitutes it, there is a difference between, say, the tissue of which the heart is made, and that of the leg. Sometimes, moreover, a growth may be observed; this too is part of the flesh of the body, though it is a symptom of ill-health, and a source of disease.

So too with ordinary, material bread. In one and the same slice there are three possible levels: (a) the bread that one eats for the sake of the strength it provides is material too — but it belongs to the most refined level of material things; (b) the bread that one eats in order to feel sated; true, this is permissible, but “not everything that one is allowed to do does one have to do”; the materiality of this bread is thus coarser than that of the preceding category; (c) the bread that is eaten in order to satisfy one’s lust for eating; eating of this kind is outright evil.

There is a verse that says, “Behold, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil.”29 In all material things there are four elements: (a) life; (b) good; (c) death; and (d) evil. The divine intention within every created thing — this is its life; the use of every object according to the divine intention — this is the good within it; the body of the object, without the divine intention — this is death; using the body of the object for the sake of one’s own pleasure — this is evil.

These four elements — life and good, death and evil — are present in all the material objects that are permitted according to the Torah. Though the things that are actual mitzvos are material, they are nevertheless life and good; the things that are reshus, however, are death and evil.

10. An avodah that’s harder, but loftier

Here, then, lies the difference between the two kinds of avodah — the avodah of or yashar, whose direction is downward, milmaalah lematah, and the avodah of or chozer, whose direction is upward, milmatah lemaalah.

When, however, we are speaking of any one of the material things that in themselves constitute a mitzvah, if its material aspect is, according to the Torah, kosher (and not, as sometimes happens, invalidated by some incidental circumstance), then it is a vessel capable of receiving the appropriate revelation of divine light. The fulfillment of this mitzvah is thus aptly termed an avodah of or yashar, and its direction is milmaalah lematah.

When, however, we are speaking of the material things that are divrei reshus, their gashmiyus is death; moreover they are likely to become evil — if used for the mere satisfaction of one’s own desires. The avodah that is called for in respect of these things thus needs to be greater and far more difficult than the avodah that is called for in respect of the things that in themselves are mitzvos.

What is called for here is an avodah of self-refinement — that one should not want to derive pleasure from the gashmiyus at hand, but that one should rather seek the spiritual utility that it affords, and then in fact use it for the sake of that spiritual utility.

On the verse that speaks of the food that the King of Babylonia prepared for Daniel and his friends,30 Alshech comments that after a person has made all due preparations in order to master a certain branch of scholarship, he stands in need of three conditions: (a) freedom from disturbance; (b) light and refined food and drink; (c) the consistent husbanding of his time. The second condition means that the person in question needs to eat and drink for the sake of the spiritual benefit that is to be found in his food — and this is called an avodah of or chozer, its direction being upward, milmatah lemaalah.

Maalah and matah mean “higher” and “lower.” Yashar means a progression from above — downward; chozer means that the lower level is the reason that causes the higher level to be drawn towards it.

To sum up, then: Divine service that relates to those material things that in themselves constitute mitzvos, is avodah in a manner of or yashar, and the direction it takes is downward, milmaalah lematah; divine service that relates to those material things that are divrei reshus, is avodah in a manner of or chozer, and the direction it takes is upward, milmatah lemaalah. The second kind of avodah, as we have said, is the more difficult.

This, too, the human mind understands — that when a person carries out his avodah in a manner of or chozer, that is, when he turns that which is lower (matah) into a perfected vessel that is fit to receive that which is above (maalah), such an avodah is of loftier standing than the avodah of or yashar that takes a downward direction (milmaalah lematah), for the more difficult any avodah is, the loftier it becomes.

11. Every created thing comprises a body and a soul

Now that the mortal mind has finally arrived at this rung of understanding — that there are two categories of avodah, as set out above, and that the latter kind is of far higher standing than the former — it is now ready to be led to a superior level of understanding.

Everything that the Almighty has created is alive. Moreover, every created thing has a soul (nefesh) and a body (guf); the nefesh is its essence (mahus), and the guf is its existence (metzius).

The task of the nefesh and guf of every created thing has a particular intention, which the Creator implanted in it — but this intention can be brought to realization only through the nefesh and guf together. The same applies to man: the ultimate intention of the Creator in the making of man can be realized only through the nefesh and guf together.

Soul and body are two worlds, two species of creation, that are not only remote from each other, but opposite to each other. The soul is spiritual, the body is material — and ruchniyus and gashmiyus are antagonistic opponents.

Plain commonsense tells us that two points separated by a mighty distance — say, 2000 parsaos — are not as far apart as the east and west, or the north and south, of one cubit. The reason is simple: east and west are opposites, while the greatest distance imaginable is, after all, only a matter of distance.

Our analogy is no more than an analogy, but the truth it illustrates is comprehensible and tangible. The common man who does not activate the spiritual faculties of his mind, and who does not labor on the acquisition of noble character traits sponsored by his mind, is indeed far removed from the individual who does toil in these fields — but he is not his opposite. Any man can attain such heights.

The fulfillment of a mitzvah, and the transgression of an aveirah, however, are opposites, as is explained in the teachings of Chassidus. The very word mitzvah (מִצְוָה) signifies connection:31 by fulfilling the instruction of the Commander (מְצַוֶּה), the individual who receives the command (מְצֻוֶּה) becomes connected with Him. One who commits an aveirah (עֲבֵרָה), however, thereby moves across32 (עוֹבֵר) from the domain of holiness to the impure domain of the sitra achra.

True indeed, ruchniyus and gashmiyus are antagonistic opposites — but within their innate antagonism the Almighty created in each of them an instinct of mutual attraction, and the union of these opponents becomes possible by virtue of the fact that each of them contains an element of its opposite.

12. To cultivate an intellectual harvest

In scholarly practice, every idea comprises an axiom, and a conceptual edifice that is based upon it. This extension contains the conclusion, and within it lies the kernel and the ultimate purpose of the proposition.

The ultimate purpose for which one builds a house is that it should serve someone as a residence or whatever. A tree, likewise, is planted for the sake of its fruit. In order to arrive at that purpose, one has to begin with the appropriate preparations — laying a foundation stone, or planting a root. And the skill of the builder or of the farmer lies in his obedience to the laws of engineering or of agriculture.

This analogy in all its details is applicable to the consideration of ideas. A conceptual edifice must have a foundation, an axiom, and an axiom is the root from which intellectual fruit will ultimately be produced. The success of this yield will depend on the extent to which the farmer planting his intellectual tree has observed the laws of agriculture, as it were. Part of his preparation will consist of tilling the soil, for in it resides the faculty that promotes intellectual growth. He will also uproot the weeds that grow spontaneously; proper plants grow only when sown. Notions, likewise, sometimes grow wild, and like wild weeds they hinder the tree in its production of healthy fruit.

At any rate, when we approach a concept that we seek to comprehend, we will first have to work on the soil of the brain so that it will be receptive to the seed of the concept, and so that we will then have a healthy, resinous root for the intellectual tree that is to yield a sound harvest.

13. Even a stone has a soul

Now, for example, we want to understand the manner in which ruchniyus and gashmiyus are opposites. We ponder deeply on the essence and existence of them both, but as we arrive at the final stage, their opposition to each other, we sense that there is a point of contact and nearness between them. After a moment’s vexation there appears an unexpected ray of understanding, and we arrive at the realization that each of them contains something of its opposite.

The spiritual world has a physical aspect, and the physical world has a spiritual aspect, and these two aspects — the gashmiyus shebaruchniyus and the ruchniyus shebagashmiyus, respectively — bear sufficient resemblance to allow the union of the physical world and the spiritual world.

This flash of intellectual perception leads us to a principle: every body has a soul, and every soul has a body. Even a stone, that belongs to the lowest category of created things, has a nefesh (quite apart from the life-force by virtue of which it exists);33 and even a neshamah, which is the loftiest kind of creation34 that mortals can — and ought to — comprehend, has a body.

And here lies the difference between the two kinds of divine service discussed above. The avodah of or yashar takes a downward direction, milmaalah lematah; this is the path in avodah that tzaddikim take. The other path in divine service, the avodah of or chozer, takes an upward direction, milmatah lemaalah; this is the kind of avodah that pertains to a stance of teshuvah.

14. The bodily eye will see G‑dliness

When Mashiach is revealed (May that happen speedily, and in our own days, Amen!) there will be mighty and exalted revelations of G‑dliness. These revelations, moreover, will be perceived through the plain sense of sight, as it is written, “The glory of G‑d shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken.”35 That is to say, the Word of G‑d, which is the essence and existence36 of every created thing, will then be seen with the vision of the senses. One’s bodily eye will see G‑dliness.

In the present era, we perceive and understand everything by virtue of the nefesh, and it is the nefesh that explains things to the body. Taken alone, the body understands nothing — an imbecile, Heaven forfend. Sure enough, it has all the organs that a healthy individual has — brain tissue, eyes, ears, hands and feet. And each organ does its job — the eyes see, the ears hear, the hands work, the feet walk. But the body does not know what it sees, nor does it understand what it hears, for it is no more than a body — and the body in itself is animal-like. Thus it is that all perceptions in the present era are possible by virtue of the nefesh, which then explains things to the body.

When Mashiach comes, however, the physical body in its own right will see the Word of G‑d that is to be found in everything. Nowadays we merely understand, and do not see, and this understanding is the work of the nefesh; when Mashiach comes we shall see, and the seer will be the body.

To express the same idea more explicitly: Nowadays the nefesh explains a concept to the body, so the nefesh is called the mashpia, and the body is the recipient; when Mashiach comes, the body itself will understand the G‑dliness that it sees palpably with the vision of the actual physical eye. The body will then be the masphia, while the nefesh will be the recipient at its hands.

15. Materiality springs from a lofty Source

The mighty revelations of G‑dliness that will take place in the time of Mashiach will differ from the revelations of the present era in two ways.

In the first place, the very revelations of divine light will be essentially loftier.

Now, too, there are greater and lesser revelations. For in spiritual things, too, even in something such as the mortal mind, adjectives such as greater and lesser, higher and lower, have their place. Though these qualities when referring to spiritual things cannot be weighed or measured in the way that material things can be weighed and measured, a spiritual thing nevertheless has measure and weight — except that these are in harmony with its essential nature.

By way of analogy let us consider middos, emotional or spiritual dispositions. Middos are spiritual by nature, and each of them exists at various levels. If we take for example the trait of ahavah (love) or the trait of yir’ah (fear, awe), it is clear that the love of a father and mother for their sons and daughters is different from the love of brothers and sisters; and both these kinds of love are different again from the love of master and disciple, or love between friends. Yir’ah, likewise, may be divided into various classes — such as a fear of punishment, fear provoked by shame, and awe in the presence of an exalted superior — and each of these classes can be further subdivided.

Now each of these general and particular levels of ahavah and yir’ah has a certain weight and measure, which constitute its defining limits.

One characteristic, however, is shared in the present era by all revelations — namely, that they are merely reflections, not essential revelations.37 And in this they differ from the revelations of the era of Mashiach.

The second difference between now and the Messianic era lies in the manner and order of the essential revelations that will then take place.

In our times, the nefesh is the mashpia, and the body receives its life-force from it; that is to say, gashmiyus is the recipient of the benefactions of ruchniyus. When Mashiach comes, however, the body will be the benefactor. At that time, the true standing of gashmiyus will become apparent.

There are people who study Chassidus, and who have immersed themselves in the holy depths of the following germinal statement of the Alter Rebbe, concerning “the very core and essence of the Emanator, Whose Being is of His essence, and Who is not, Heaven forfend, brought into being by some other cause (ilah) preceding Himself. It is therefore in His power and ability alone to create something (yesh) out of absolute naught (ayin) and nothingness.”38 Such individuals are able to understand properly that the source from which gashmiyus comes into being is Atzmus,39 the essential Being, as it were, of the Creator.

This statement — that the source from which gashmiyus comes into being is Atzmus — is a foundation stone for the conceptual edifice that asserts the superiority of gashmiyus over ruchniyus, and this superiority will be palpably revealed when Mashiach comes.

16. Intellection and perception

Though the superiority of gashmiyus over ruchniyus warrants really profound comprehension, it can nevertheless be well understood through the explanation of many available illustrations from actual, tangible experience.

We see for ourselves that there are certain individuals who are gifted in intellect and perception,40 and who grasp the profoundest of concepts quickly and easily, while there are others who understand concepts solidly, but on account of their inferior gifts require more time and toil. Once such people have a concept in their grasp, however, they have it mastered more thoroughly and more profoundly than their more gifted colleagues.

They find it difficult to grasp a concept because their brain matter is more material and coarse than the brain matter of gifted people. The brain tissue of the latter is light, and they grasp ideas readily; the brain tissue of the former is heavy, hence the time and toil. It is these, however, whose grasp is more solid. We observe, moreover, that when such an individual labors arduously and consistently in the mastery of ideas, in the course of time the very matter of his brain becomes cultivated and refined thereby — and then he grasps the fundamentals of a concept better than the individual gifted with the best intellect.

When we said “better than the individual gifted with the best intellect,” we meant exactly that — but to understand this one should first note the difference between a person with gifts of perception (baal chush) and a person with gifts of intellect (baal kisharon).

Every act of comprehension — irrespective of whether it is perceived by means of insight, or understood, or by being profoundly recognized,41 and irrespective of the branch of scholarship involved — is the offspring of ko’ach haseichel [here meaning chush, i.e., intellectual perception], and chomer ham’oach, i.e., [the refinement of the mental processes of] the matter of the brain [i.e., the physiological potential of the brain]. The intellective faculty (the chush) — irrespective of whether it is the particular faculty of Chochmah, of Binah, or of Daas is the father of the act of comprehension; the brain matter is the mother of the act of comprehension; and from their union, comprehension is born.

Perception (chush) and intellectual ability (kisharon) are the father and mother who produce this offspring — comprehension. Some children resemble their father more strongly, while some more strongly resemble their mother. In the case of certain concepts the part played by perception is dominant in comprehension, while in other cases the part played by intellectual ability dominates.

17. The marriage of intellection and perception

In a brief talk it is difficult to discuss such a profound subject — and to touch only on its main points is a veritable heartache. For this theme of perception (chush) and intelligence (kisharon) provides one of the deepest explanations that are to be found on the faculties of Chochmah and Binah, hafshatah and halbashah.42 This is one of the richest of conceptual worlds, and when with the Almighty’s help one lies immersed in this concept and analyzes it minutely, then one can come to appreciate how rich is the realm of ideas.

But there is nothing to be done about it: in the present talk we simply have to extract from the theme of perception and intelligence that portion that is relevant to our purpose.

Perception and intelligence are two worlds, each of them a world unto itself. We explained above, however, that everything comprises a soul (nefesh) and a body (guf); and we arrived moreover at the intellectual realization that just as the body has a life-force (apart from the spirituality that merely gives it life), so too does the nefesh contain an element which is its body. With this in mind, then, we will now be able to understand that perception and intelligence are each a whole unit, each comprising a soul and a body. And since each of them is an independent and self-contained reality, not needing the services of the other, it is thus conceivable that one person should be gifted in perception (a baal chush) and not gifted in intelligence (a baal kisharon), while another person may be in the opposite situation. (In their lack of interdependence, by the way, perception and intelligence do not parallel the analogy of father and mother, for the analogy is drawn from the material world, while the concepts we are dealing with are spiritual.)

We generally find that the more perceptive, intuitive man has the more creative mind. This finds expression both in the proposition of original ideas, and in the original and profound interpretation of the ideas of another. His colleague with the superior intellectual endowment usually excels in comprehension, and in the exposition of ideas43 that either he or another has proposed.

18. The body and soul of the mind

We will now be in a position to understand the statement above, that the person who cultivates his brain matter through intellectual exertion grasps the fundamentals of a concept better than the most intelligent individual. To be precise: Better than the most intelligent individual — but not better than the most intuitive individual. For these are different gifts indeed. Intuitive perception (chush) belongs to the ruchniyus of the mind, to the soul of the mind; intelligence (kisharon) belongs to the gashmiyus of the mind, to the body of the mind.

When, however, we are speaking only of those who function through the use of intelligence, the individual who through strenuous toil has cultivated his mediocre mind until it has become a receptacle fit for intellectual activity will grasp any concept more fundamentally than someone of greater endowment. The key to his superiority is his cultivation of the matter of the mind — and this is an indicator of the superiority of gashmiyus over ruchniyus.

I am as certain as if I now saw the situation before my very eyes, that when the Alter Rebbe declared those few, heavenly soul-words — concerning “the nature and essence of the Emanator, Whose Being is of His essence, and Who is not, Heaven forfend, caused by some other cause preceding Himself; He alone, therefore, has it in His power and ability to create something out of an absolute naught and nothingness” — the minds of thousands of chassidim immersed themselves44 in those words, and for hours on end they were divested of materiality. They were clambering up the scholarly ladder of haskalah; they were drenched by the vast ocean of wisdom; they were swept up by the intuitive stream of gefihl.

19. Spiritual sensitivity that soars beyond the mind

He who elevates his mind to the level that transcends the mind; he who has the power to step beyond the boundary of palpable intellect, and through the unfolding of gefihl arrives at the domain of soul-life and soul-comprehension (we once explained that with a true maskil, gefihl is superior45 to haskalah and hassagah, palpable intellection46 and comprehension); —such a man becomes lost in the sheer pleasure of thinking, and is wafted in an atmosphere that is utterly luminous.

For scores of hours, then, thousands of chassidim lived in the exalted state that the Alter Rebbe’s words granted them.

Anyone who is closely familiar with the lifestyle of chassidim in those days, and who is by nature imaginative and artistic, can have some glimmer of an understanding of how they intellectually and palpably appreciated the superiority of the material over the spiritual, for this superiority lies in the hidden power that is to be found in gashmiyus. Moreover, it is revealed only when the material object is utilized47 for the intention for which the Creator brought it into being.

Picturing a concept gives it its due perspective. Just as it is true that the formation of a mental image of a concept brings one’s mind to life — we have often discussed how a concept can be said to be truly understood once it has been pictured mentally — so is it true of the circumstances of time and place in which this concept was first made known.

When we consider how a typical chassid of the Alter Rebbe lived his life, and what it was that infused him with life — for Chassidus was their very life — we cannot begin to imagine what pleasure the chassidim of those days experienced when the statement was first revealed, that “the source from which gashmiyus comes into being is Atzmus.”

When this statement was first revealed, not only did it lend the physical world a more beautiful countenance in the eyes of chassidim, but it released a wellspring of exuberance in the fulfillment of the practical mitzvos.