(Second edition, including supplements and explanations by the author.)

19. How to sense the atmosphere of Gan Eden

On account of various matters of public concern I had to spend time with my father at Menton early in Adar, so I stayed over Purim. Our learned friend, the late R. Yaakov Mordechai [Bespalov] of Poltava, was there at the time. Other friends from among the chassidic brotherhood arrived for Purim, chief among them the late R. Shmuel Gourary of Kremenchug.

At the festive table on Purim there was a powerful farbrengen, at which my father explained that people who study Chassidus attentively can attain the profoundest depths of conceptualization, literally at the level of sense perception. His talk ran along the following lines.

Every individual, my father pointed out, can say: “When will my deeds equal the deeds of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?”1 It is within the reach of every Jew to become a vehicle2 for Elokus like the Patriarchs, whose organs were holy and separate from the things of this world.

In penetrating terms, my father explained that the subjugation of one’s mind to Elokus is a wonderful delight.

“When one becomes profoundly engrossed in grasping the idea of some subject in Chassidus,” he said, “one senses the atmosphere of the Garden of Eden.

“For years on end I toiled at being free of self-delusion. I devoted all my energy to the comprehension and avodah of Chassidus. And the sweet savor of Chassidus enveloped me. Not that I take any credit for this: it is a kind of gift from above.

“Everyone knows what a despicable thing exaggeration is. Nevertheless I now say in the presence of all hearers — that when the Almighty grants a person the privilege of immersing himself with profound concentration in a concept in Chassidus that he has apprehended, he senses the atmosphere of Gan Eden.

“When the intellective faculty which is clothed in the physical brain contemplates and encompasses [for example] the concept of the Hidden Supernal Wisdom,3 or the concept of the seven lower levels of Atik4 and the first three levels of Atik,5 or the concept of Atah Hu Havayah6 — at the primal stage of levadecha, signifying the state preceding the tzimtzum, — then not only is the individual elevated by his contemplation, but the very concept that he has been contemplating becomes elevated. That is to say, the concept is elevated through his mentally cleaving to it. Then in turn, the concept elevates the thinker to that level to which the thinker has raised it through his intellectual labors.”

20. Grasping – and perceiving – a G‑dly concept

This talk left all my father’s listeners overwhelmed. To hear such singularly profound words was a spiritual delight indeed. And after an interval of stirring melodies, melodies of sweet yearning, my father took up his theme.

“Apart from the Being (Atzmus) and Essence (Mahus) of G‑d Himself,” my father began, “all things are created. By ‘created’ I do not refer only to things which come into being at the level of Beriah (the World of Creation), for the same applies to things which come into being at the level of Atzilus (the World of Emanation). These two categories of created things7 are identical, when considered in relation to the concept that ‘His Existence (Metzius) stems from His Being (Atzmus).’ This concept applies only to the level of Atzmus, and not to the things that come into being at the level of Beriah or Atzilus. (In other respects, these two latter categories of created things are not identical: each has its own distinct existence, or metzius.)

“This premise — that apart from G‑d’s own Being all things are created — leads us to understand that just as with created things here below a distinction may be drawn as to whether a particular created thing is useful in the service of G‑d, and especially as to whether or not it actually becomes a mitzvah (as is the case with the wool from which tzitzis are made, the parchment from which tefillin are made, and so on), and just as in all of these cases the created object itself becomes elevated through the performance of the mitzvah and also elevates the person who performs the mitzvah, — so is it likewise with the ne’etzalim, such as the Hidden Supernal Wisdom and the partzufim of Atik: through the cleaving of one’s mind the subject of one’s meditation becomes elevated, and through this in turn the thinker himself becomes elevated to the selfsame level.

“There is a verse that says: ‘I am like a leafy cypress tree: from Me is your fruit found.’8 That is to say: The very Atzmus of the Infinite One bends over9 (as it were) towards every individual who studies Chassidus intently and who labors in the avodah of Chassidus, and tells him, ‘From Me — from Atzmus which transcends understanding — is your fruit found, and can be actually grasped.’

“He whose brain toils in the concentrated study of Chassidus and cleaves to it, his physical brain and his mortal intellect are able to grasp a G‑dly concept in a mode of actual sense perception. Indeed, whoever labors in the haskalah and avodah of Chassidus can attain the loftiest and profoundest of levels.”

21. The toil and the resultant delight are both more intense

My father now addressed himself to R. Yaakov Mordechai: “You no doubt recall an answer of my father’s10 at yechidus that you once told me about:11 ‘Why do you make demands of me? Make demands of yourself! When you do that truthfully, then you’ll understand!’

“That reply of my father’s has helped me whenever I have encountered the deepest of subjects. Until now, thank G‑d, there has been no subject in Chassidus that one has not been able to analyze thoroughly, though there have certainly been times when one has had to apply considerable exertion.

“Businessmen think that they know the meaning of exertion and distraction. Why, if a businessman loses a night’s sleep he thinks that this is the ultimate in exertion and distraction. But even a person of quite mediocre talents realizes that toiling with ideas is incomparably more demanding than the other kind of toil. To be honest, though, when with G‑d’s help one’s labors yield a true and deep grasp of the concept at hand, the resultant delight and joy at one’s knowledge is also incomparably greater than the delight and joy of the businessman.

“When with G‑d’s help one thoroughly grasps and soundly integrates an intellectual proposition in Chassidus, then even though the concept is spiritual, and the human mind is material by comparison with the spirituality of a G‑dly concept, that concept is nevertheless apprehended by sense perception. This means that one sees the G‑dly concept that one has understood like a person gazing upon a picture of unusual beauty: as every little line sinks deep into his eye, he becomes utterly enchanted out of sheer delight. Indeed, understanding and contemplating a G‑dly concept is a delight so much greater, that one’s soul can expire out of its sheer intensity.”

22. “The main goal of avodah

Having recalled that reply12 at yechidus, my father13 now reminisced about those days — when he and R. Yaakov Mordechai together used to study Chassidus, memorize the maamarim14 and draft written versions of them, and debate topics in avodah and haskalah for hours on end.

Hearing this, R. Yaakov Mordechai wept bitterly. Those were the tears of a true chassid. Those were tears that echoed the frequent reference in Chassidus to “weeping out of the bitterness of one’s soul.”15 Those were tears that remain forever etched in one’s heart.

Only with difficulty was R. Yaakov Mordechai helped to regain his composure, and it was then that the farbrengen really got under way. My father explained that the reasoning to be found in Chassidus is a G‑dly reason16 that can be apprehended,17 and that the main goal of one’s avodah is to turn oneself into a fit receptacle for it.

My father then examined the wording of the Alter Rebbe’s statement that “the second, uniquely Jewish, soul is ‘a part of G‑d above.’”18 In this world below, my father explained, G‑dliness appears in the garb of nature; above, it appears without [being obscured by] such a garb. And this second soul is a part of G‑d above. Hence, just as the potential of Atzmus, G‑d’s very Being, is infinite, so too is the potential of the soul which is a part of G‑d above, and this allows it to grasp the profoundest concepts through actual sense perception.

Half a year later, my father began delivering the well-known maamar19 entitled BeShaah SheHikdimu. The 143 components of the series were delivered, with certain interruptions, from Shavuos 5672 (1912) until the Shabbos of Parshas Vayeira 5676 (1915). When my father began the series, he told me that he had begun working on it while in Menton.

With this maamar the teachings of Chassidus entered a new era of amplification, its deepest ideas being fully discussed as if they were commonplace and tangible.

23. The limits of mortal reason

After the above introduction, let us return to the subject that we began to explain.

Intellect is a metzius, something that exists. Every metzius must have defining bounds, and these indicate and highlight its mahus (its “essence”) and metzius (its “existence”).

[At this point the author traces the intricate web of interrelationships between these two seemingly similar terms, and then resumes his theme.]

As was mentioned above, the metzius of intellect (or reason), both innate and acquired, has defining bounds which indicate for us their metzius and mahus.

Mortal reason20 has three defining characteristics.

1) It is itself limited, and in turn it limits whatever it encompasses. It first defines and delimits its object, which is outside itself, and only then does it encompass and comprehend it.

2) Mortal intellect is cold and unexcited. Middos, the spiritual emotions, are fiery and excitable, by contrast to intellect, which is characteristically deliberate and frigid. When compared with G‑dly intellect,21 too, the deliberateness of mortal intellect22 is a shortcoming; how much more so is this true of its coldness.

3) Though not false, mortal reason is not true. Firstly, since reason can comprise both an argument in favor and a contrary argument against, reason itself is not true. Secondly, since its function is to clarify that which transcends reason, it thereby admits and reveals that it itself is not yet the truth.

24. Mind over middos

Divine reason also has certain bounds, for this is G‑dliness that has clothed itself in such a way as to be within the mental reach of created mortals. These bounds, however, are utterly different from the bounds of mortal intellect. For a start, Divine reason is infinite, while mortal reason is finite.

Reason is a clear understanding which is based on firm ground. It contains within itself the relish of a desirable subject. This delight becomes transformed into a yearning and a desire for the practical conclusion of the process of comprehension. Such desires are called “intellectual middos,” because they are an excitation that takes place within the intellect, and not yet beyond it.

When the delight and the excitation within the intellect reach the heart, they stimulate it and arouse within it the experience of a middah, a spiritual emotion, which is in keeping with the content of the intellect.

Intellect necessarily entails middos, and at some point middos are born and given life. Chochmah and Binah are the father and mother of the middos called Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, and so on, and the love and awe of G‑d are the offspring of Chochmah and Binah.

Both Chessed and Gevurah, love and awe, and so too all the other spiritual emotions, have parents who granted them life — just as on the material plane, children have parents who brought them into being. And herein lies the superiority of man over other creatures: his middos are regulated by his intellect.

25. Cultivating love and awe

If one seriously contemplates the meaning and purpose of man’s existence in this world — why man was created, what spiritual and physical potential G‑d has given him, what he can create with these faculties, what levels he can attain, and what levels he can help his fellow attain, and when one gives these questions weighty consideration, seeking to understand humanity and its essentially paradoxical capability to be both “hindmost and foremost”23 – one arrives at the conviction that man is the only creature that possesses, within one and the same body, spirit and strength, good and evil, and various other opposites.

There is a verse that says, “You are the sons of the L-rd your G‑d.”24 When even the ordinary, workaday Jew with his commonplace lifestyle conducts all the aspects of his life according to the directives of the Torah (for “Torah” means instruction, in that the Torah teaches a man how to conduct himself, his household, his business and his social life), then he is a son of our Heavenly Father.

Being human implies intellect, and middos which are regulated by intellect, for in this lies the superiority of a man over any other creature. Moreover, within the category of humanity, G‑d has given His People Israel the greatest superiority by presenting them with the gift of the Torah and the commandments.

[This is felt] when a person earnestly contemplates the pleasantness of the paths of the Torah and the mitzvos, and ponders on the Jew’s innate gifts — a crystal-clear spiritual sensitivity, an infinitely capable intellect, and an ever-enkindled heart.

As mentioned above, haskalah and hassagah are the father and mother that give rise to middos. One kind of haskalah and hassagah produces a love of G‑d, another kind produces an awe (or fear) of G‑d, and so on with all the other spiritual emotions.

A “love of G‑d” means being drawn toward the good that one has understood and felt in one’s mind. This yearning is an intensely pleasurable experience, and leaves an impression on the individual’s middos and on his positive behavior patterns. On the other hand, the “awe of G‑d” causes a person to find evil repulsive.

26. The subject matter of prayer

G‑dly intellect [like mortal intellect] is also definable by three characteristics. As stated earlier, G‑dly intellect means G‑dliness that has undergone [the self-limiting process of] tzimtzum, thus enabling a created being to comprehend it. As the Sages taught, “The Torah speaks as in the language of mortals.”25

The first defining characteristic of G‑dly intellect is the fact that it is finite. Even though a person’s mind is engaged in understanding Elokus — which is infinite, and which accommodates a number of paradoxes simultaneously — G‑dly intellect is nevertheless a finite capability which comprehends and encompasses elements of the infinite. The manner in which G‑dly intellect understands is the reverse of the manner in which mortal intellect understands. As explained above, mortal intellect understands its object only after it has defined and limited it. As to G‑dly intellect, however, not only does it not first define and limit its object: on the contrary, it demonstrates that even after its object has become comprehensible it is still infinite.

Take, for example, the concept that “You give life to them all.”26 In terms that are utterly clear and comprehensible, G‑dly intellect explains how this is so, and then leads one on to the awareness that “there is nothing else besides Him.”27 Yet at the very same moment, G‑dly intellect explains that this concept transcends comprehension. It cites as evidence the soul’s vitality that gives life to the body. All the details of this analogy are apprehended not only by one’s understanding but by one’s spiritual intuition: one senses it as a manifest perception which defies all doubt.

This perception [by means of the above human analogy] is what is meant by the verse, “And from my flesh I behold G‑d.”28 A person perceives G‑dliness from his own body, in the spirit of the well-known teaching of the Sages, that just as the soul fills the entire body, so too does the Holy One, blessed be He, fill the entire universe.29 From all the particular ways in which the soul gives life to the body, one understands the manner in which the Creator gives life to the universe.

This, indeed, is the very subject matter of prayer. The introductory praises of pesukei dezimrah enumerate the stages and describe the manner of creation ex nihilo. To begin with, Baruch she’amar — “Blessed be He Who spoke, and the world came into being”30: all worlds and all creatures were created by G‑d’s speech. Later we read: “The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food at the proper time.”31 Creatures of all kinds are then named in order, together with the manner in which they are granted their vitality — for all creatures come into being and are maintained in existence through Elokus alone.

This entire subject — creation ex nihilo, and “You give life to them all” — is of course dealt with extensively in Chassidus.

27. The gift of free choice

In the first place, such an explanation and such an understanding introduce a man into a wise and beautiful world where he is occupied with himself alone, that is to say, with his soul. Moreover, in the wake of such an understanding, inner strengths are aroused. Vital wellsprings of perceptions are unlocked, perceptions that are enwrapped in sensations of spiritual pleasure.

His life is the blissful life that is “akin to the World to Come.”32 The Gemara says: “This World resembles the night, ‘When all the beasts of the forest creep forth.’33 This verse refers to the wicked, who are like the beasts of the forest. A later verse, ‘...And they lie down in their habitats,’34 refers (as Rashi explains) to the righteous, each of whom has his own abode in the World to Come, according to the honor which is his due.”35

The life of the World to Come is a life of light and clarity. Everything is perceived in its true form: one sees the true delight of good, and the true suffering of evil.

G‑dly intellect illuminates and points out the “two faces”36 which G‑d has given man — on one side the wild beast within him, and on the other side the consummate tzaddik that he embodies — and explains how man can choose freely.

As has been stated, G‑dly intellect is [like mortal intellect] also finite, but its limitation subsists only in the fact that the sensation of delight produced by haskalah is proportionate to the degree of understanding attained thereby.

As mentioned above, one kind of haskalah and hassagah — father and mother — gives rise to a love and yearning for G‑d, and another kind of haskalah and hassagah gives rise to a fear and dread of G‑d, “of the glory of His majesty.”37

When any concept is understood, its resultant outpouring crystallizes in a feeling of pleasure, which ultimately finds expression in yearning, or in fear and dread. But whatever way this delight resolves itself, whether as a trait of love or of fear, it is still very different from the case of mortal intellect.

28. His soul is ablaze, his conduct is cleansed

The second38 defining characteristic of G‑dly intellect is vitality.39 As has been pointed out above, the difference between mortal intellect and G‑dly intellect lies in the fact that the former is acquired while the latter is innate. The category of vitality that characterizes G‑dly intellect is thus innate.

In the case of acquired intellect, one’s understanding grasps and is derived from peripheral circumstances; in the case of innate intellect, one’s understanding grasps and is derived from the very concept under consideration. To be more explicit: In the case of acquired intellect, one’s understanding only grasps and is derived from the concept’s limitation; that is, it explains that which exists. In the case of G‑dly intellect, by contrast, one’s understanding grasps the concept’s infinity; that is, it explains the soul that is to be found in everything, showing how this is its essence. What it explains, then, is that which is not seen.

The delight [that results from these two kinds of intellectual activity] is accordingly very different in the two cases, as is apparent from the outpouring of delight in each case. In the case of mortal intellect, one’s heart is indeed entranced, and this finds expression in an emotion — but this is a thing apart from himself: it does not affect his entire being. In the case of one’s G‑dly intellect, however, the resultant outpouring of delight utterly envelops him, so that “his soul flares up and is ablaze”40 as he is drawn [toward G‑d] in the yearning of love, or he trembles and shudders as he feels his distance [from G‑d] and his dread and awe of Him.

The impression that remains is one of profound contriteness and longing, so that as a matter of course the individual’s interpersonal feelings and conduct are cleansed and enhanced.

29. From wild beast to rational man

The third defining characteristic of G‑dly intellect is that it is absolutely truthful.41 Being innate (an atzmi), it is by definition unchangeable: an atzmi retains its identity in all places and at all times.

In G‑dly reason too [as in mortal reason] there are arguments pro and con — but the pro and con of G‑dly reason are not opposites. In the case of mortal reason, one of the two directions is false. In the case of G‑dly reason, however, pro and con are both true: they are two rays from the same source, both of them illuminating some part of that which one has experienced, and enabling one to understand it.

Chassidus is G‑dly reason, a G‑dly speculative exercise that influences a man’s corporeal life. The teachings of Chassidus transform one’s inner wild beast into a rational man, and within that rational man they fortify and develop the tzaddik whom he embodies.

Chassidus, then, has three defining characteristics: (a) vitality; (b) light (which includes clarity); and (c) truth. In other words, Chassidus is true and clear vitality.

And now, applying the intellect of Chassidus which the Alter Rebbe and his saintly successors have granted us, we should understand and sense the question which the Baal Shem Tov asked of Mashiach,42 and sensitively perceive the reply that he was given.

30. An unwarranted question?!

The Baal Shem Tov asked Mashiach: “Master, when are you coming?”

It would seem that this is an unwarranted question. Consider the following explicit episode in the Gemara.43

R. Yehoshua ben Levi encountered the Prophet Eliyahu at the burial cave of R. Shimon bar Yochai.

“When is Mashiach coming?” he asked.

“Go and ask him personally,” advised the Prophet.

“But where is he to be found?” asked the Sage.

Eliyahu HaNavi thereupon disclosed to him the place in the Garden of Eden where Mashiach was to be found.

It is evident from the account of the Gemara that the place was familiar to R. Yehoshua ben Levi, and the path was well trodden. Arriving there, he was able to recognize Mashiach by the signs that Eliyahu had given him.

“Master, when are you coming?” he asked.

Replied Mashiach: “Today!”

Overjoyed, R. Yehoshua ben Levi returned to Eliyahu, who asked him: “What did he say to you?”

In the meantime, however, the day passed and Mashiach did not come.

R. Yehoshua ben Levi was bitterly grieved: “He promised, I am coming today.’ The day has passed, and he has not come!”

“This is what he said,” explained Eliyahu: “‘Today — if only you will hearken to His voice!’”44

What clearly emerges from this encounter is that the coming of Mashiach (May it be speedily, and in our own days!) depends on hearkening to the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He. With such an explicit reply in the Gemara, why did the Baal Shem Tov again ask the question, “Master, when are you coming?”

31. A faithful shepherd

Our holy master, the Baal Shem Tov, is the Moshe Rabbeinu of the entire school of Chassidus. Just as Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen by G‑d to be the one through whom the Torah was revealed, so was the Baal Shem Tov chosen by G‑d to be the one through whom the teachings of Chassidus at large were revealed.

Commenting on the verse, “And Moshe pastured [the flocks of Yisro],”45 the Midrash46 cites the phrase, “G‑d tests the righteous.”47 Asks the Midrash: “How does He test him?” And it answers, “With the pasture of sheep.” At this point the Sages recount an incident from that period that illustrates his kindly nature.

The Baal Shem Tov’s love for a fellow Jew is renowned. He could find virtue in every single Jew; in every deed, whether it was a mitzvah or an expression of good character, he could perceive the true gleam within.

There he stands, then, the Baal Shem Tov, and with lustrous eyes gazes upon the gloom of exile. He beholds Jews observing the Torah and its commandments at the cost of dear life. He sees them afflicted, oppressed and hunted by evildoers. He witnesses the self-sacrifice that they undergo in order to hearken to His voice.

He asks himself: “Why, then, does Mashiach, the righteous redeemer, not come?”

And he resolves that he, together with the hidden tzaddikim of the Holy Brotherhood, shall bring Mashiach.

The conclaves of the hidden tzaddikim that were convened from time to time in the days of the Baal Shem Tov are well known, as too are their many and varied endeavors for the betterment of the spiritual and material condition of their brethren at large.

And it was in those days that the soul of the Baal Shem Tov ascended on high and visited the heavenly palace of the Mashiach and asked him, “Master, when are you coming?”

32. The wellsprings of Chassidus

The “When?” (eimasai) of the Baal Shem Tov’s question is to be understood as in the context of the question that appears in Pirkei Avos: “And if not now, when?”48

That is to say: What the Baal Shem Tov is in fact discussing with Mashiach is the above-quoted Gemara. In response to the reply of Mashiach, “Today — if only you will listen to His voice,” the Baal Shem Tov challenges: “But this verse is now, thank G‑d, being fulfilled!”

And it is in response to this that Mashiach answers [that he will come] “When your wellsprings will be disseminated abroad, and streams of water [will spread forth] in the broad places.”49 On the former half of the verse Rashi comments: “You will ultimately acquire disciples and give forth instruction publicly, and your name will be renowned.” On the latter half of the verse Rashi comments: “The streams of your waters will be disseminated in the city streets.”

Chassidus points out the distinction between a wellspring and a river. A river covers an area of considerable length and breadth, and its abundant waters flow turbulently; the space required by a spring, even for itself, is but sinewy and restricted, and its waters trickle forth by drops.

When the verse says “abroad” (chutzah), it refers to a place which is outside, and not to a prepared place. But if there is a spring there, why is it called “outside”? And if it is indeed “outside,” how is it that there is a spring there? Is the verse not problematic?

Some of the commentators understand the verse as follows: “Those who proceed from your wellsprings will be so powerful that they will spread out abroad, to the extent that even the city streets will become streams of water. And even though they will spread out far afield, it will nevertheless be known that they proceed from your wellsprings.”

From the reply of Mashiach, then, it is apparent that the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov — the revelation of G‑dly reason that he and his disciples and their disciples (our forefathers, the Rebbeim) bequeathed us — are very strongly connected with the coming of Mashiach.

33. Lights and vessels

Every branch of scholarship, including that of G‑dly reason, has its own conventions of intellectual procedure. According to the thinking of Chassidus, the relationship that subsists between two things — such as our own case of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and the coming of Mashiach — must be such that one of them is a “light,”50 and the other a “vessel”51 for that light. Such is the relationship between light and vessel, that by considering the vessel one can deduce what is the light that is related to it; by considering the light one can deduce what manner of vessel is required by such a light.

We can understand this from our actual observation of the light and vitality of the soul and the organs of the body, for these too are light and vessel, respectively. The bodily organs are structured in keeping with the spiritual faculties, and these faculties are manifest in keeping with the nature of their vessels, the bodily organs. There are two broad categories within a man — intellect and emotions.52 Considered more closely, there are three categories — intellect; emotions; and thought, speech and action.53 Yet more closely, just as the body comprises 248 organs and 365 blood vessels, so does the soul comprise “organs,” which are its faculties.

The intellect itself has three components — Chochmah, Binah and Daas, together called [by their acronym] Chabad, which correspond to three brains. It is written, “There are three spaces,”54 and each space within the head, like a chamber or receptacle, houses a particular brain — the brain of Chochmah, of Binah, and of Daas. Each of them is a particular vessel for one of the components of the intellective faculty. Just as the physical brain is divided into three particular brains that serve as three particular vessels, so too is the intellective faculty, which is the light within the physical brain, divided into three particular faculties — the faculty of Chochmah, of Binah, and of Daas.

Moreover, so closely are the vessels (i.e., the brains) related to the lights (i.e., the faculties) that from the composition of the brain, which is the vessel, we can know the extent of the light; likewise, from the brilliance and diffusion of the light, we can evaluate the nature and worth of the vessel.

Accordingly, the brain of Chochmah, which is cold and moist, is the vessel for the faculty of Chochmah, which is a mere point, and whose nature is to cleave [to its subject]. Though the nature of a point is to vanish, the point of Chochmah illuminates — but only in the vessel of Chochmah, which is cold and moist. So too, the brain of Binah, whose composition renders it hot and dry, is the vessel that houses the faculty of Binah, whose function is to clarify its subject with an abundance of detailed arguments. And the brain of Daas, which comprises elements of both of the other brains, is the vessel for the faculty of Daas, whose function is to delve deeply into its subject and become engrossed in it.

34. Chochmah, Binah and Daas

Though the distinctions between Chochmah, Binah and Daas constitute a profound intellectual study, we know them from the facts of material life. We observe around us that people use expressions [exemplifying each of these faculties] which describe one person as a chacham, another as a meivin, and a third as possessing the quality of Daas. Thus even in the everyday life of mortal intellect these distinctions can be sensed. The reason: Because a light and its vessel stand in a certain proportionate relation to each other, one can understand each of them by considering the other.

From the reply of Mashiach (“When your wellsprings will be disseminated abroad”) to the query of the Baal Shem Tov, it is apparent that the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov constitute the vessel for the light of the revelation of Mashiach.

As is well known, everything — including “vessels” — comes into being by means of “light.” The light makes the vessel and the vessel receives the light. We can clearly see this principle as it applies to the mind, which brings “letters” into being. The understanding of every subject has its own “letters,”55 this understanding being the light, and the “letters” being the vessel.

In order that we should be able to understand what Chassidus is, we first need to understand what the light and revelation of Mashiach is — for, as has been said above, from the nature and quality of the light we can deduce the nature of the vessel that contains that light.

To know something means knowing its mahus, knowing what it is. The real meaning of the question, “What is it ?” is a spiritual question that asks, “What properties does it contain?”

The mahus of a spiritual entity is an atzmi, a quintessential quality that the gross body with its own habitudes cannot grasp. It can only follow in some restricted measure the activity and effects of the atzmi, and in a certain sense this can make it easier for it to grasp at least its general outlines.

35. What Mashiach is

We sometimes speak of the mahus of a man. We know what his metzius is — a body and a soul, as with all creatures, except that man has the advantage of a mind that directs the proper functioning of all his bodily organs. The mind is the leader that rules the entire society that they constitute. It coordinates their tasks that relate to themselves alone, or to the spirit and body of the individual alone, or to things outside him, whether in relation to another individual or in relation to a community.

When we speak of the mahus of a man, this denotes an atzmi who has a certain power to affect both his life as an individual and his life in the world at large.

More explicitly: We do not know the essential mahus (“the mahus of the mahus”) of man; we do know the metzius of the mahus of man, through his activities and conduct. Even though such a knowledge of a mahus atzmi (of something which is essence itself) through its activities and conduct is not true knowledge, at least it is no longer ignorance: it is indeed a tiny door to knowledge. Mashiach is an or atzmi, quintessential light itself. We creatures who “dwell in houses of clay”56 — and how much more so, those who do not even perceive themselves as “dwellers,” but who have themselves become utterly ingrained creatures of clay — are too petty to be able to conceive what light is, in general, and especially or atzmi, quintessential light. It is thus easy to understand how distant we are from an understanding of what Mashiach is; only from his conduct and effects can we have some glimmer of a notion of what Mashiach signifies.