The Zohar relates The Zohar relates: Parshas Shlach, p. 168a. how on a certain occasion the Master of the Academy appeared to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; he descended and revealed to him what he had heard above.

* * *

As is well known, order chiefly characterizes the holy side of the universe. Unlike the kelippos and sitra achra, which are under the dark shadow of death, in disorder, everything on the holy side of the universe is orderly, circumscribed by the parameters of space and time.

For example, each of the mitzvos is limited and finite in its own way, in precise measure — such as the dimensions of the cubes of the tefillin, the number of threads and knots in the tzitzis, the sizes of lulav and esrog, sukkah and shofar. In addition they are defined in space and time. These precise prescriptions explain why the mitzvos are described as being the Divine Will.2

What distinguishes a man’s will from all the other faculties of his soul is its insistence on precise compliance: the lack of even a minor detail means that the whole desired entity is lacking. In the areas of intellectual attainment or the emotive attributes, in contrast, even partial performance has intrinsic worth. That part of a concept which one has grasped is in fact grasped. True, the detailed and comprehensive understanding which is presently lacking will ultimately enrich and upgrade his present grasp of the partial particulars. Nevertheless, his present grasp of the concept is valid, and at the very least does not contradict the concept as a whole. The same applies to the emotive attributes.

In this regard, the will is different to all the other faculties of a man’s soul. Not only is his will not satisfied by half-compliance, but even imperfect compliance will not do; indeed, it may even be perceived as defying his will. This explains why hiddur mitzvah, embellishing a mitzvah by not merely discharging one’s formal obligation but by fulfilling it as lovingly and meticulously as possible, is of the essence of the mitzvah. (The distinction between these grades of performance does remain as far as reward and punishment are concerned.)

Moreover, each individual mitzvah expresses an individual aspect of the Divine Will, and the detailed regulations for fulfilling each mitzvah are detailed facets of the Divine Will in that regard.

For example: in the case of the regular sacrifices (whether for Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh or the festivals) or the communal or personal sacrifices (whether burnt-offering, sin-offering, guilt-offering or peace-offering), each such sacrifice expresses an individual aspect of the Divine Will, and each sacrifice has its own detailed regulations — its acceptable timeframe, the site of its slaughtering, exactly what is to be done with its blood and flesh, the nature of its libations, the vessels to be used for the offering and the details governing the sprinkling of its blood and the offering of the organs — each one articulated explicitly, with regard to numbers and dimensions and weights.

The same applies to the Sanctuary itself and to its furnishings. The Torah specifies the Sanctuary’s exact size — its length, width and height; it demarcates its component domains — the outer courtyard, the edifice, the inner courtyards and the Holy of Holies; the materials of which the furnishings and priestly vestments are to be made — such as wood, gold and silver, or blue and purple wool and so on; the manner in which these materials are to be combined; and the shapes of these objects and the times and places at which they are to be used. The precise details of all these matters are specified in an orderly manner.


The Torah itself is likewise ordered. In the first place, it explains and clarifies every minute detail of every single positive and prohibitive mitzvah, precisely specifying the distinctive manner and time and place in which it is to be fulfilled in accordance with the Divine Will. Beyond this, the Torah itself follows a requisite order, both with regard to the manner in which it is to be studied and the manner in which its text is to be written.

Thus we find that there are four approaches to the study3 of Torah; their acronym is Pardes — [pshat, remez, derash,4 sod]. It is explained in Etz Chayim5 that these four approachescorrespond to the Four Worlds — Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah. Pshat relates tothe World of Asiyah, remez relates to Yetzirah, derash relates to Beriah, andsod relates to Atzilus. In Mishnas Chassidim6 it is likewise written that the four approaches (pshat, remez, derash, sod) correspond to the Four Worlds (Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah).

In addition, it is written there that these four approaches correspond to four bodily materials — skin, flesh, sinews and bones, as follows: pshat corresponds to a man’s skin; derash corresponds to his flesh; remez corresponds to his sinews, and sod corresponds to his bones. This means that exerting oneself in studying the Torah rectifies and rehabilitates7 the body with all its component materials. A well-known instance of this process of Tikkun is the perspiration produced by the energetic pursuit of Torah study or a mitzvah requiring physical exertion.

Now, it will be noted that when pairing up the four approaches in Torah study with the Four Worlds, Etz Chayim relates remez to the World of Yetzirah and derash to the World of Beriah, whereas Mishnas Chassidim relates derash to the World of Yetzirah and remez to the World of Beriah. This difference will now be clarified.

Pshat: This term (lit., “plain meaning”) has three connotations:

(a) Breadth. Thus, an example of pshutei klei etz (lit., “plain wooden utensils”) is a broad and flat baker’s board, an object with no containing capacity. The Mishnah8 classifies objects accordingly: “In the case of utensils made of wood or leather or bone or glass, those that are flat remain undefiled (as far as explicit Torah law is concerned), whereas those that have a containing capacity are impure.” The word pashut here clearly describes flat breadth. So, too, in another context,9 “four deyumdin” (i.e., corner-columns whose cross-section is L-shaped) are contrasted with “four pshutim” (i.e., flat boards, a cubit in width).

(b) Divestment, drawing aside. The root in this sense appears in the verse, ufashat es begadav — “He shall remove10 his clothes.”

(c) Breaking something down. The same root is used in this sense in the verse, Pashat gedud bachutz — “The bandits11 raid outside.”

Combining these three meanings, we see that pshat implies a direct and broad understanding of a concept, whereby one divests it of the written letters in which it is garbed, and breaks through the obstructing fences raised by learned queries — because everything becomes clear through a direct and broad understanding of the subject, without resort to [the contrived and labored approach to Talmudic scholarship known as] pilpul.

The straightforward approach of pshat is implied by the Gemara’s description of a certain scholar: Pashat, garas vetanna — “He elucidated12 and reviewed and quoted, reviewed and quoted.” This phrase indicates his familiarity and expertise in the details and arguments involved in the law he was teaching. A person who is unfamiliar with his subject presents his various arguments with hesitation, and generally falls back on pilpulim to bolster their consistency. Rabbi Yaakov ben Karshi, in contrast, was expert and organized in the law then under discussion, which he reviewed and quoted.

This, then, is the meaning of pshat — elucidating a concept with clarity and with breadth of scope.

Remez: This term, too (lit., “an allusion”), describes the revelation of a concept. However, since this level of interpretation deals with a concept that is still too obscure to be reachable by means of pshat, the allusion hidden in that concept is not revealed (as is pshat) explicitly, but is hinted at, as with a parable or riddle.

An example is the comment of the Sages on the verse in which the angel tells Yaakov, “For you have contended13 with G‑d and with men.” “Rabbah said: ‘The angel hinted14 to him that two great leaders would one day descend from him — the exilarch in Babylonia and the Nasi in the Land of Israel.’”

Remez, then, is the understanding of an idea which is hidden, but which is hinted at in revealed texts.

A parallel process in the realm of avodah is expressed in the verse, U’mibesari echezeh Eloka — “And from my flesh15 do I behold Divinity”: From the soul’s light and vitality that animate the body one can conceive of the Divine light and vitality which animate the universe. So, too, with remez in the Torah: the hints are transmitted not by explicit and detailed words but by mere hints.

Derash: At this level of interpretation, one’s understanding is extended by searching and investigating in depth, especially with regard to a concept that has been hinted at.

For example: It is written, “And they journeyed16 for three days in the wilderness and did not find water.” On this the Sages comment: “Those who closely investigate17 the Scriptural texts (dorshei reshumos) say that water alludes to Torah; since the people had journeyed for three days without Torah they grew weary.”

This usage brings us to another connotation of the word derash: verbal aptitude in exposition. And these two meanings — (a) searching, and (b) expounding — serve to explain the difference between the statement of Etz Chayim that derash relates to the World of Beriah, and the statement of Mishnas Chassidim, that derash relates to the World of Yetzirah.

Sod: This term (lit., “secret”) signifies the level of interpretation that plumbs the Torah’s innermost hidden depths.

Whereas derash relates to concealed things that may become manifest, sod relates to things that are intrinsically concealed. These include the hidden reasons underlying the Torah and the mitzvos, which are revealed and accessible only to the select few who engage in the Torah’s pnimiyus, its innermost core.

These, then, are the four levels — Pardes at which the Torah may be interpreted. The Torah, however, must be studied in an orderly and gradated manner: one must first study at the level of pshat, and then proceed to remez and derash, until one can arrive at a study of sod, the Torah’s innermost mysteries.


“The WorldAbove resembles18 the World Below.” In truth [the reverse is the case]: the World Below, which is This World, is in the image of the World to Come, which is the World Above. In this spirit the Sages teach: “Sovereignty on earth19 resembles Sovereignty in Heaven.” So, too, in the Zohar: “Whatever takes place on earth20 existed before the Holy One, blessed be He, in the beginning.”

This means that in every detail the World Below resembles the World Above — except that we “who dwell in houses of clay”21 express this by saying that the WorldAbove resembles the World Below, because the World Below is closer to our comprehension. Then, using This World as an analogy, we can have some notion of what is Above.

For example: Just as This World has finite bounds of space and time, the World Above likewise has spiritual and G‑dly time and space.

Even we can have at least some conception of what is meant by spiritual space, for we find a glimmer of it in the manner in which the faculties of the soul are garbed in the organs of the body. Though each individual ko’ach, each potential power, is spiritual, it is nevertheless a self-aware and existent entity, and it finds expression in a palpable object.

This point is also seen in the way that Chassidus defines ko’ach (“potential power”) and poel (“actual activity”). It is not only the product of a ko’ach that is called a peulah (“actual activity”); even the ko’ach hapoel (“the potential capacity for activity”) itself is called a peulah — relative to the comprehensive ko’ach which activates it. Thus, the arm’s potential for motion that enables it to throw a stone is termed a peulah relative to the soul’s all-encompassing source for this potential, just as the stone’s movement is called a peulah relative to the power that carries it. The same is true of any individual potential, relative to the universal potential of which it is a part. A ko’ach is thus a palpable entity in its own way, similar to the palpable existence of a peulah.

Hence, every ko’ach actually occupies space, each according to its nature. Thus it is commonly observed that extreme intellectual exertion can cause one’s head to ache, for the concept at hand is actually grasped in his brain. Nevertheless, it is possible for a number of different faculties to be vested [together with] each other at the same time. An example is the faculties of mind and will and thought, all of which are in the brain. This means that three faculties are vested in one brain; each of them occupies its own space, yet they do not conflict. Another example: when someone has mastered and memorized a number of Talmudic tractates, all of them are engraved in his brain and are firmly in his possession, each of them with its laws and its halachic debates and its own letters, yet none of them conflicts with the others at all.

This is possible because in these cases space is spiritual. Spiritual space is defined in terms of six directions, though (unlike physical space) these six directions are not tangible, nor do they contradict each other.


Space in Gan Eden is not merely spiritual: it is Divinely spiritual. The world and all created beings are Divinity that has vested itself in a physical garb. In the realm of created beings there is both physicality and spirituality. Examples of bodily spirituality are speech, thought, air, and so on. Examples of soul-like physicality are the faculties of the soul.

However, these terms belong only to the realm of created beings, where even the most wondrously spiritual construct remains defined within the six directions of space and within the past-present-future of time. In contrast, the realm of the Creator is not at all confined to these definitions. Hence we cannot grasp what Divinity is: it transcends our grasp.

Now, this inability to understand a Divinely spiritual concept in general, and in particular the concept of spiritual space, relates only to our intellectual grasp: we cannot grasp it by means of the intellective soul garbed in our physical brain. However, the soul which animates us does know such concepts, though we do not know exactly what is meant by the soul’s comprehension or knowledge or lack of knowledge.

Moreover, it is clear that among souls, too, there are differences in level between scholars and ignoramuses. At the same time, it is self-understood that this distinction does not coincide with the common distinction between scholars and ignoramuses. In fact, a talmid chacham is someone who knows and actively studies Torah; an am haaretz is someone who is occupied in worldly affairs and does not actively engage in studying Torah.

The latter state of affairs first comes about when such an individual becomes insensitive to the meaningful worth of Torah study. Then, throwing himself into worldly affairs to the point that he flounders in them, he diverts his attention from the need to maintain fixed times for Torah study. He may occasionally join in a study group, but with time this too cools down — until eventually he becomes an am haaretz, whose mind is blocked against the possibility of absorbing any Torah teaching.


There is a common businessmen’s ailment: Even if one day they are aroused to set aside fixed times to study the revealed aspects of the Torah and to study Chassidus, they soon cast off the yoke of this obligation. The usual argument runs that, for whatever reason, their minds now find the study of profound concepts too difficult: they justify themselves by blaming the weakness of their intellectual tools, especially when it comes to the study of Chassidus, which they imagine to be beyond them.

Now, this may in fact be the bitter truth, that their minds do not in fact absorb Torah teachings. The ostensible reason, however, is mistaken. After all, they do understand all kinds of worldly matters. In that field they demonstrate that they can be profound, sharp, resourceful and remarkably inventive. Why, then, should they not be able to cope with the intellectual processes demanded by the study of the Torah, which is presented to us in plain intellectual terms? What justification is there for the claim that in worldly matters they can think effectively, yet in the area of Torah they cannot understand concepts, even when they are explained clearly and methodically?

Their rationalization defies reason. As far as the faculties of the soul are concerned, there is nothing to prevent one from understanding Torah concepts. Since every individual’s soul is intrinsically complete, every individual can clearly grasp extremely profound concepts.

Even if someone is, like an animal (G‑d forbid), utterly lacking in understanding as far as his manifest soul-powers are concerned, this does not mean that something is lacking in the essence of his soul, relative to a healthy individual. As far as the essence of his soul is concerned, he is as healthy and complete as the individual who by virtue of his manifest soul-powers is a towering intellectual. His lack is only in the vessels, i.e., the body. In this he may be compared to an amputee, in whose soul the ability to walk remains intact.

It could be suggested that this explains the phenomenon whereby someone who has lost his teeth or a limb (G‑d forbid) can continue to suffer actual physical pain, even though this is theoretically impossible and is only imaginary. The manifest faculties of the soul remain active, each in its own way, even when the organs (or “vessels”) in which they were formerly vested no longer exist, and the soul’s all-encompassing vitality which is connected to the nervous system brings about this pain by means of an imaginary sensation experienced in the adjoining organs.


It could be said that in a person lacking the above-mentioned [bodily or intellectual] “vessels,” the soul’s potential faculties are more intense than they are when they find active expression in the relevant organs. (This is only an intellectual conjecture: one cannot plumb this subject with clear finality because of its subtlety, and even more because our understanding is so materialized.)

The soul’s faculties are its organs, and its manifest faculties are its active faculties. Each particular faculty is vested in its appropriate physical organ, and is supplied by the soul with the strength required to transform its potential ability into the actual fulfillment of its particular task — to see or hear or move or lift or draw or whatever. Both this vestment in the organs and this supplying of strength flow from the soul — by means of the hidden faculties and by the manifestation of an all-encompassing light that allocates to each individual faculty the strength which its particular task demands.

This explains why the individual faculty itself is called a peulah (“an actual activity”)relative to the comprehensive ko’ach from which it flows. Just as the product of an active force — the throwing of the stone or the fashioning of the vessel as a result of the faculty of motion — is termed a peulah relative to the particular faculty which activated it, so in turn is this particular faculty (to which the soul allocated its requisite strength) termed a peulah relative to the soul’s all-encompassing source for this faculty.

By carrying out its function, each particular faculty not only fufills the mission with which the soul entrusted it, but in addition it makes full use of the strength which the soul allocated to it for that purpose.


As was stated above, the absence of teeth or limbs does not modify the soul and prevent it from manifesting the relevant potentials and making them available. In the case of a particular faculty, however, when it is vested in its appropriate organ it utilizes its allocated strength for the fulfillment of its appointed task; when it is not vested in its appropriate organ it has no practical outlet and therefore is even more intense.

This conjecture finds support in the content of dreams. People who have (G‑d forbid) lost their hearing or sight commonly dream of the pleasurable sounds and sights which they lack when awake. (This experience of course varies with individual personality and imagination.) The explanation is that whereas their other faculties are weary from their daylong exertions, the affected faculties, whose strength lacks practical application, now exploit that strength more intensely in their dreams.

So it is, then, that the soul of the person lacking in understanding remains complete; likewise, a person with a blemish can have perfect offspring.

Now, if we are speaking of people22 who can fully understand concepts relating to worldly affairs, how much stronger is the question: Why should they not be able to understand Torah concepts?

And the answer is only that they do not invest effort in studying them.


As was stated above,23 we do not know exactly what is meant by the soul’s comprehension, or knowledge, or lack of knowledge. Moreover, it is clear that among souls, too, there are differences in level between scholars and ignoramuses. Nevertheless, it is certain that even a soul-ignoramus has some plain conception of the meaning of Divine spiritual space. Every single soul in the World Above sees Divinity palpably, because all the intellective and emotive faculties of a soul Above are manifest and are involved in G‑dly perception. Moreover, something of this palpable knowledge which the soul enjoys is reflected in that aspect of the soul which is vested in the body.

In this way it comes within reach of our understanding, or, more precisely, within reach of our spiritual sensitivity. True, we lack the words and letters by which to articulate this gefihl even to ourselves. At the same time we cannot say that we are utterly without knowledge, except that our knowledge is sensed rather than understood.

[Further to what souls perceive in the World Above:] In Gan Eden there are chadarim and yeshivos, groups for the study of Torah, and each of the tzaddikim has his own yeshivah. Their disciples are seated in order according to Gan Eden’s parameters of Divine spiritual space, which is real space, though Divine and spiritual. This means that each individual is seated according to his true level, as justly determined by the Heavenly Court.

This is why Gan Eden is described as an awesome place, as in the phrase, “From yeshivah to yeshivah, what an awesome place!”24 This phrase speaks of souls that come from This World after they have departed from their bodies and have undergone and been refined by their respective punishments. (One of these punishments, chibut hakever, is discussed at length elsewhere, together with the advice that it can be modified by accustoming oneself to articulate words of Torah and prayer and Tehillim extensively.) They then ascend to Gan Eden, an awesome place, where they proceed from yeshivah to yeshivah.

To explain: The World to Come is known as the World of Truth,25 a refined world. This World is known as the World of Falsehood,26 for essentially it is a self-conscious entity, and the external aspect of whatever appears to be a self-sufficient entity is falsehood. This applies to all created beings, each of which claims a place for its own ostensibly independent existence.27 In fact this seeming existence is a delusion, for what is essential in any existent being is the vitality that animates it; the body is ancillary to the soul, which is its real core. The contrary and mistaken assumption explains why the activities of people whose lives are dictated by their natural intellect are generally full of lies.

Everything in the World to Come, in contrast, is in a refined state. This is true of the World to Come at large. There the complete truth is seen — that what is essential is the vitality animating all of Creation, and that this vitality is Elokus, Divinity. This is also true of every individual soul: the truth is seen as it really is.

This is why the World of Truth is known as an awesome place — because it casts awe and dread. Thus, [concerning Mt. Sinai,] it is written, “Moshe made haste28 and bowed his head and prostrated himself.” And [in response to the question, “What had he seen?”] the Sages say, “He saw the [attribute of] truth.”29


Just as the Divine spiritual space of Gan Eden was defined above as space (each yeshivah being located in its appropriate celestial chamber30 and each disciple being assigned to his appropriate place), Gan Eden is also defined with regard to time. As was pointed out above, the Torah and its mitzvos exist in parameters of time and space. Hence in Gan Eden, which is the place of reward for the observance of Torah and mitzvos, there also exist time and space; that is to say, there are parameters of time and space.

What is the timeframe of Gan Eden? The avodah begins at midnight, for “at midnight the Holy One,31 blessed be He, comes to disport Himself with the tzaddikim in the Garden of Eden.” This is the time for Torah study, until dawn.32 Next comes preparation for prayer, then prayer, until midday. The morning prayer is followed by Torah study, and Minchah by sunset. Then comes the evening prayer, and “the gates of Gan Eden33 are closed at night.”

In sichos34 on various occasions we heard a number of teachings about the avodah in which the souls of tzaddikim engage during this time, between Maariv and midnight. Here is one of them.

This is the time of the Reading of Shema. Just as in our avodah down here, for souls vested in bodies, this is the time of Kerias Shema before retiring at night, so too is this the time of Kerias Shema for the souls in Gan Eden.

The focus of their prayer at this time is a contemplation of what positive things should have been done and could have been done and in fact were done. These souls in Gan Eden (as distinct from those which have not yet descended below) are those that have ascended from This World, and their avodah matches their former avodah in This World. In this Kerias Shema, when the souls meditate upon the above considerations,they are overawed. (For them this state constitutes repentance and ascent.) They remain in this state of awe until the Angel Gabriel rouses them [at midnight] to gather together in Gan Eden, there to bask in the radiance of the Presence of Him Who comes to disport Himself with the tzaddikim.

This, then, is the usual daily order of events in Gan Eden. In addition, at certain appointed times the souls of the tzaddikim assemble in one academy, where new insights into the hidden mysteries of the Torah are revealed to them. And since the realm of holiness is characterized by orderliness, souls are rewarded by a rotating appointment — rav mesivta, the Master of the Academy, whose task is to arrange in orderly fashion all the teachings and novellae concerning the Supernal mysteries that were revealed in that Academy.


As has been mentioned, the Master of the Academy descended and revealed what he had heard above; that is, he revealed what he had heard when all the souls of the tzaddikim convened together. This assemblage is termed “above,” because it is loftier than the academy of any individual tzaddik, and loftier even than the comprehensive Heavenly Academy.

Though many profound secrets were taught there, on this occasion the Master revealed to Rashbi one teaching only: “A wooden beam that does not catch fire35 and give off light should be splintered. A body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed; the body will then become receptive to the soul’s light, and they will hold together and become luminous.”

The Zohar goes on to recount that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was so overwhelmed by this teaching that he stooped down, kissed the dust, and cried: “Teaching, O teaching! I have been pursuing you from the day I was born — and now this teaching has been made known to me from its root, the Source of All.” (It is recorded that the Mitteler Rebbe too was once so enraptured by his father’s illumination of a passage from the Zohar that he likewise kissed the dust.)

Now why should Rashbi have been so overwrought by this teaching? After all, he was granted a rare understanding of wondrous revelations. His disciples referred to him by extraordinary epithets (as in the phrase, Mahn pnei Adon…),36 and Rabbi Yehudah called him “Shabbos.” Moreover, Rashbi himself declared: “Every day I looked at the verse37 that says, ‘My soul glories in G‑d.’38 This is indeed my own soul that glories in G‑d: it holds fast to Him, it is fired by Him, it cleaves to Him and yearns for Him.” This means that Rashbi attained the ultimate in dveikus, cleaving to Divinity; indeed, he fused with its revelation at the level of the Supernal Partzufim.


This level that Rashbi attained enables us to understand the statement of the Gemara that [when he and his son first left the cave], “every place they gazed upon39 was burned up.” This bittul hayesh, this negation of an existent entity, was not an intentional act. Rather, it resulted from the level he had attained — his intense cleaving to the revelations of the Supernal Partzufim of which it is written, “For the L‑rd your G‑d40 is an all-consuming fire.”

As is well known, not by the revelation of light but only through the concealment of light can a yesh come into being. Hence, this takes place through the Sefirah of Malchus, which conceals light; moreover, it takes place through the outer aspect of the Sefirah of Malchus. A yesh cannot come into being through the far loftier Supernal Partzufim — precisely because they are such lofty revelations.

It was with these levels that Rashbi was fused. Now, just as the revelation of light does not allow a yesh to initially come into being, so, too, after it has come into being, is itnullified in the face of revelation. This was why every physical entity that Rashbi and his son gazed upon was immediately burned up. This indicates his intense and lofty fusion with the highest revelations.


When serving G‑d through study, Rashbi drew down the very Essence (Atzmus) of the [infinite] Ein Sof-light into the revealed dimensions of the Torah. Moreover, he became one (hisatzem) with the Torah41 to the point that it is referred to as his middos, his attributes. Thus we find that he said to his disciples, “Study my middos”42 (Rashi: “I.e., my Torah teachings”), because (as Rashi goes on to explain his reason) he had sifted and chosen them from among the main teachings of his mentor, Rabbi Akiva.

Pinpointing Rabbi Akiva’s distinctive excellence as an orderly scholar, the Gemara describes him as an otzar balum — lit., “a compartmentalized chest”43 of grains. As Rashi explains the metaphor, Rabbi Akiva first accumulated and integrated all his wondrous attainments in the various fields of study — Scripture, Mishnah, logical deduction, Halachah, Midrash and Aggadah then compartmentalized them for systematic teaching.

Orderliness also characterizes Rabbi Akiva’s avodah, in the ascent of his soul and its bonding with the Supernal Partzufim.

Thus, when speaking of the “four who entered the Pardes”44 that is, the four scholars who soared to explore even the most mystical reaches of the Torah — the Sages say that Rabbi Akiva “entered in peace and left in peace.” (I.e., it was because he entered in peace that he left in peace. As explained in the maamar entitled Acharei Mos, 5649 [1889], this means that he excelled in the level of his ratzo, which is the soul’s thrust to surge rapturously forward and cleave to Elokus even at the cost of its own continued existence. Rabbi Akiva attained the innermost, ultimate level of ratzo, which is the contrary thrust, called shov — a sober return to creating vessels for Elokus in this world. This is accomplished through the labors of beirurim, the sifting of materiality and the elevation of the Divine sparks that are embedded in it. As it is written concerning G‑d’s creation of the world, “He did not create it to be void;45 He formed it to be inhabited.”) Thus, even at the moment of his self-sacrifice for the Sanctification of the Divine Name, his perception of Divinity was intellective, for he recited Shema Yisrael at the supreme level of Yichuda Ilaah (“Higher-Level Unity”).

This, then, was the stature of Rabbi Akiva, who called Rashbi “my son,”46 for Rashbi was one of his foremost and closest disciples.


Beyond the above, Rashbi yet sifted and chose from among the main teachings of Rabbi Akiva. Moreover, he said to his disciples, “Study my middos” (Rashi: “I.e., my Torah teachings”). The Torah is referred to as his middos, his attributes, because he drew down the very Essence (Atzmus) of the Ein Sof-light into [his study of] the Torah. [But how does this link justify calling his Torah teachings his attributes?] This link is explained [elsewhere in Chassidus] by reference to the statement of the Zohar: “There are three interconnected bonds47 [— the Holy One, blessed be He, the Torah, and Israel].”

Rashbi stated 324 halachos, andthe relation between this number and the concept of middos is expounded in the Zohar in three ways. [At this point the author proceeds to outline the three expositions (not translated here), which presuppose an exhaustive familiarity with the more abstruse reaches of the Kabbalah.]

We stated above that the Torah teachings of Rashbi are called his middos, because he became one (nisatzem) with them [and with their Giver]. If so, however, why was he so overwhelmed by the teaching that was transmitted to him by the Master of the Academy? The wording of his exclamation, moreover, is problematic: “Teaching, O teaching! I have been pursuing you from the day I was born!” Since it thus obvious that it was already known to him, what was so excitingly innovative about it that he stooped down, kissed the dust, and cried, “Now this teaching has been made known to me from its root, the Source of All,” thus making the familiar teaching infinitely superior to his former knowledge of it?