The Second Day of Shavuos1 5693 (1933) [Riga]

1. Why the need for precise compliance?

The Zohar relates2 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 kelipos 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.3

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, dimensions and weights.

The same applies to the Mishkan itself and to its furnishings. The Torah specifies the Mishkan’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.

2. The Torah’s four levels and the Four Worlds

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 study4 of Torah; their acronym is Pardes — [pshat, remez, derash,5 sod]. It is explained in Etz Chaim6 that these four approaches correspond to the Four Worlds — Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah. Pshat relates to the World of Asiyah, remez relates to Yetzirah, derash relates to Beriah, and sod relates to Atzilus. In Mishnas Chassidim7 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 rehabilitates8 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 Chaim relates remez to the World of Yetzirah and derash to the World of Beriah, whereas Mishnas Chassidim relates derush 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:

1) 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 Mishnah9 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,10 “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).

2) Divestment, drawing aside. The root in this sense appears in the verse, ufashat es begadav — “He shall remove his clothes.”11

3) Breaking something down. The same root is used in this sense in the verse, “Pashat gedud bachutz “The bandits raid outside.”12

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 description in the Gemara of a certain scholar: Pashat, garas vetanna… — “He elucidated and reviewed and quoted, reviewed and quoted.”13 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 contended with G‑d and with men.”14 “Rabbah said: ‘The angel hinted15 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 flesh do I behold Divinity”:16 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 journeyed for three days in the wilderness and did not find water.”17 On this the Sages comment: “Those who closely investigate18 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 Chaim 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.

3. The World Above and This World

“The World Above resembles the World Below.”19 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 earth resembles Sovereignty in heaven.”20 So, too, in the Zohar: “Whatever takes place on earth21 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”22 express this by saying that the World Above 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, 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.

4. Talmid chacham vs. ignoramus: the real difference

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 ha’aretz 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 ha’aretz, whose mind is blocked against the possibility of absorbing any Torah teaching.

5. A businessman can grasp Torah concepts

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.

6. Maximizing one’s potential

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, orhear, ormove, or lift, ordraw, 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 fulills 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.

7. The key condition is… effort

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 is therefore 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 people23 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.

8. Why is the World of Truth awesome?

As was stated above,24 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!”25 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,26 a refined world. This World is known as the World of Falsehood,27 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.28 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 Mount Sinai,] it is written, “Moshe made haste and bowed his head and prostrated himself.”29 And [in response to the question, “What had he seen?”] the Sages say, “He saw the [attribute of] truth.”30

9. The timeframe of Gan Eden

Just as the Divine spiritual space of Gan Eden was defined above as space (each yeshivah being located in its appropriate celestial chamber31 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,32 blessed be He, comes to disport Himself with the tzaddikim in the Garden of Eden.” This is the time for Torah study, until dawn.33 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 Eden34 are closed at night.”

In sichos35 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 Gavriel 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 novella concerning the Supernal mysteries that were revealed in that Academy.

10. A secret taught in the Heavenly 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 fire 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.”36

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…),37 and Rabbi Yehudah called him “Shabbos.” Moreover, Rashbi himself declared:38 “Every day I looked at the verse that says, ‘My soul glories in G‑d.’39 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.

11. Why must revealed light first be concealed?

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 upon was burned up.”40 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‑d is an all-consuming fire.”41

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, it is nullified 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.

12. Rabbi Akiva “entered in peace and left in peace”

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 Torah42 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”43 (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”44 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 Aggadahthen 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”45that 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;46 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 Ila’ah (“Higher-Level Unity”).

This, then, was the stature of Rabbi Akiva, who called Rashbi “my son,”47 for Rashbi was one of his foremost and closest disciples.

13. Drawing infinite light into Torah study

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 bonds [— the Holy One, blessed be He, the Torah and Israel].”48

Rashbi stated 324 halachos, and the 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 is 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?

14. Why did the Tzemach Tzedek envy his chassid?

The answer lies in what the Master of the Academy revealed to Rashbi about the elevated stature of the yesh, of created physicality. He revealed that the yesh is lofty not only by virtue of its root in the primal (“early”) levels of Elokus; beyond this, it is the source and prerequisite of everything.

Rashbi knew that the yesh was “Chosen from the beginning, from aforetime,”49 i.e., that it comes into being by virtue of the Essence of the Infinite One.50 Beyond this, the Master of the Academy revealed to him that the physical yesh is the source of everything — that the wondrous revelations of Gan Eden and of the World of the Resurrection51 and of the World to Come52 all depend on man’s present avodah in the sifting and refining of the physical yesh. And this refinement of physicality transmutes it into a vessel that will reveal Atzmus, the Divine Essence. The Master of the Academy further taught that physicality is refined and uplifted by means of both subjugation (iskafya) and transformation (is’hapcha), despite the withholding of light and the multitude of obstacles that obstruct the progress of this avodah.

Now, Rashbi of course knew of these two modes of avodah. The point was that at his level he was utterly removed from physical things and more particularly from any hankering after the pleasures they offer.

In a parallel case, a certain chassid of stature once complained to the Tzemach Tzedek that he lacked a desire to study.

“If so,” responded the Tzemach Tzedek, “good for you! You can open a book and study. But what can I do? I do have a desire to study!”

In other words, a person who has no desire to study can impel himself to study by the self-discipline of iskafya, whereas one who has a natural desire to study is doing so not as the result of avodah but [merely] out of pleasure.

So, too, with Rashbi: for him the yesh, or created physicality, was of such questionable existence that he could not even relate to it as a subject worthy of abstinence. Rather, in physical things he saw the Divine light and vitality. Now, the Divine vitality to be found in physical things is of a lower level than the vitality to be found in the lofty levels of the Sefiros of the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, and certainly lower than the light to be found in the Supernal Partzufim that transcend the World of Atzilus. This is why in his eyes the physical yesh was of no account whatever.

And at this point comes the teaching of the Master of the Academy. He reveals to Rashbi that not only does the physical yesh stem from a root in sovev, the transcendent mode of Divine illumination; in addition, the physical yesh intrinsically contains a hidden ohr pnimi, the immanent mode of Divine illumination.

In these terms we can understand the above quotation from the Zohar about “a wooden beam that does not catch fire.” If the wood does not reveal the light that is hidden in it, then it must be splintered until it does give off light. The goal of man’s avodah is thus to take such steps as will make the yesh reveal its inner light. Hence with the body, the goal is not simply that it be nullified, but that it should reveal its inner light, so that the light of the body and the light of the soul will combine and radiate.

15. An eighth of an eighth of pride

Now, the Sages teach that “One should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.”53 What is this earnest frame of mind, and why does specifically this serve as a preparation for prayer? Rashi explains the phrase as signifying humility and lowliness of spirit. These are no doubt positive attributes, good middos, and in their inward dimension they are also characteristically chassidic attributes. But what is their specific connection with prayer?

Attributes, by the way, exist at a variety of levels. Some negative attributes ought to be distanced and utterly dislodged; examples are falsehood and anger and pride. Some of these attributes, however, need to remain, though in judicious measure. Thus, for example, the Sages teach that “A Torah scholar ought to have an eighth of an eighth part”54 — “That is,” explains Rashi, “a miniscule measure of pride, so that lightminded people should not treat him with scorn, and so that they should feel compelled to accept his words.” That is the opinion of Rav.

Rava warns that extreme vigilance is needed in both the positive and the negative parameters of pride. As he expresses it, “Both he who has some and he who has none deserve to be placed under a ban.” Rabbi Nachman the son of Rabbi Yitzchak holds that one may not have “even the tiniest fraction of [pride].” And, indeed, it is in this light that Rambam paraphrases the above teaching of Rava.55 Likewise, Semag counts the harboring of pride among the actual prohibitive commandments.

The distancing of pride is part of one’s inward avodah. Thus the story has been handed down of a certain chassid of stature who was so humble of spirit that someone objected: “But doesn’t the Torah obligate a scholar to have an eighth part of an eighth part of pride?”

“True,” he said, “but you have to know which end to start with, with the talmid chacham or with the eighth of an eighth….”

With that he proceeded to describe what would happen when one day he would find himself facing the Heavenly Court.

“If first they check how big a talmid chacham I am, and only then check the size of my eighth part of an eighth part, I’m certain that it will be found to be big enough. But what if they first check the size of my eighth part of an eighth part, and then calculate proportionately how big a talmid chacham I should be…?”

So, he concluded, since up there it would be too late to do teshuvah and rectify things, he had decided that the best policy was to keep the pride down to an absolute minimum.

As we were saying, then, humility and lowliness of spirit are no more than positive and chassidic attributes. Since they are surely required at all times, what is their specific connection with preparation for prayer? Furthermore, the context implies that (a) an earnest frame of mind is distinct from (b) humility and lowliness of spirit. Since it is taught that one should never stand up to pray except in an earnest frame of mind, it is thus clear that (a) this is the level required for prayer; in order to arrive at that level before one begins to pray, (b) one needs to prepare oneself with humility and lowliness of spirit.

Let us understand. The Sages refer to prayer as a takkanah, an ordinance. As to the origin of the prayer services, Rabbi Yosei ben Rabbi Chanina states that the Patriarchs instituted56 them; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi states that they were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices; the Gemara concludes that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and that the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices. All, however, agree that prayer is a takkanah.

One of the meanings of this word is “repair,” as with a broken glass vessel57 which can be melted down and reconstituted.

Prayer may be likened to a glass vessel: not only are its contents visible from the outside, but they also lend their appearance to the walls of the vessel; that which is internal affects the externality.

Torah study is likened to a metal vessel which, whether at the level of gold or silver, copper or iron, hides its contents. So, too, Torah study is subject to intellection, which is an obscuring garment.

Not only a metal vessel but even a glass vessel (signifying prayer) can be melted down and reconstituted. This can be done in either of two ways: in the spirit of Rabbi Yosei ben Rabbi Chanina, who states that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services, or in the spirit of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who states that they were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices. And the conclusion of the Gemara was that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and that the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices.

The prayer services thus comprise three elements: (a) takkanah, or repair; (b) “the Patriarchs instituted them”; (c) “they correspond to the daily sacrifices.”

16. Don’t kill the animal soul: refine it!

Prayer means refining and elevating one’s animal soul by making the G‑dly soul’s latent faculties manifest. This aspect of one’s Divine service is alluded to in the verse, “A man who shall bring from you an offering to G‑d — of the cattle, of the herd and of the flock shall you bring your offering.”58 The order of the opening words prompts a well- known query: Surely the verse should have read, “A man of you who shall bring an offering [shall do so in such and such a way].”

Now, the verb used here for “bringing an offering” is yakriv, which shares a common root with the verb meaning “to draw near.” And, indeed, the function of the sacrifices was to bring one’s spiritual faculties and sensibilities closer to G‑d. The irregular order of the opening words of the verse thus allows it to be interpreted as follows: “If a man wants to bring an offering, i.e., if he wants to draw near to G‑d, then from you shall there be a sacrifice to G‑d.” That which needs to be refined and elevated is one’s own animal soul.

In this context, the herd and the flock refer to the various levels and kinds of animal soul. Since the animal soul is part of the natural order, nothing interests it apart from its attraction to material and physical things; even its intelligence, like that of an animal, serves only to secure bodily pleasure. In some people the animal soul has the violent vigor of an ox; in some people it has the cold stubbornness of a goat; in others it has the more temperate nature of a sheep. It is these animal natures that must be sacrificed (“from you shall there be a sacrifice”) to G‑d: they must be refined and elevated to the realm of holiness.

The way to bring the animal soul’s natural senses near to G‑d is to make the G‑dly soul’s latent faculties manifest. The G‑dly soul does not tell the animal soul, “Go away: I don’t need you!” At first glance it might appear that since the animal soul is naturally interested only in pleasure-seeking it is in fact not needed and should be brushed off by the G‑dly soul, whose only function (so one might think) is to elevate itself in positive ways. This might especially appear so since the G‑dly soul represents the level of tzaddik.

The animal soul, in contrast, being steeped and habituated in natural physicality, represents the level of rasha. This is particularly true of the animal soul’s manifestation as the Evil Inclination. (The intellective level, or seichel, is called the animal soul and the emotive attributes, or middos, are called the Evil Inclination.) Since the Evil Inclination is the evil in a man’s thoughts, words and actions, it is a rasha.

If so, since the animal soul beleaguers the G‑dly soul (“the rasha beleaguers the tzaddik),59 barring its entry to the “little city,”60 which is the individual’s body, then surely the task of the G‑dly soul should be to distance the animal soul and utterly nullify it.

The proper approach, however, is that the G‑dly soul should not repel its animal counterpart but refine it. This it must do by revealing its own powers, though tempered to match the receptive capacity of the animal soul; i.e., the faculties of the G‑dly soul must vest themselves in the intellectual potentials (or “garments”) of the animal soul’s intellect. This does not mean that the G‑dly soul should first understand a concept and then explain it to the animal soul, but that from the outset the G‑dly soul should tackle the subject together with the animal soul — by using intellectual constructs borrowed from worldly affairs.

17. Stepping out of one’s present space

This mode of partnership may be understood by envisaging an eminent sage teaching an ordinary individual. A basic condition is that they study together as if they were compatible colleagues. For a start, this indicates that the sage is humble, as indeed the Torah obliges him to be. Beyond this, his approachability arouses an inner strength in his disciple (for, as was mentioned above, from the perspective of his soul-powers even an ordinary individual can grasp profound concepts). This is also brought about by the fact that the sage considers him worthy of being taught, for all such joint study, especially when the sage teaches with a friendly countenance, sets up an inner bond between the two parties. This is even the case when the listener’s intellectual capacities (“vessels”) are not yet well developed, so that he is not yet fit to digest highly-condensed subjects, but can only appreciate them in a general way.

With his spirits thus uplifted by the sage’s attitude to him, this ordinary student now experiences a sense of closeness to study in general. This shift in perspective is the main change that takes place in him, and though it is somewhat external to the actual subject he is studying, it remains significant. To arrive at one’s destination may indeed be crucial; even more crucial is the ability to step out of one’s present space and take to the road.

To express this shift in perspective in terms of the takkanah or reconstitution discussed above: One of the basic requirements of a mentor who is (so to speak) “repairing” his disciple, is the ability to extract him from his past predicament in order to set him up on fresh ground.

The above analogy of the sage and his ordinary student throws light on the manner in which the G‑dly soul refines the animal soul by revealing its own powers. If, for example, it is seeking to grasp a concept in Elokus, such as the creation of something from nothing,61 or the love and awe of G‑d, it will do so by using the intellectual potentials (or “garments”) of the animal soul, borrowing concepts from mundane matters. When this happens, not only does the individual’s animal soul grasp the particular concept at hand, but his entire being is suffused and permeated by the pleasantness of it all. And as it comes to occupy a cherished place in his life, he begins to detach himself from the less spiritual concerns in which he was previously rooted.

This, then, is how we can understand the above teaching that “the prayer services were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices”: this teaching alludes to the avodah of prayer in the refinement and uplifting of the animal soul.

18. Balancing trick: animal soul vs. G‑dly soul

The second theme of prayer is alluded to by the above- quoted teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.” On the mystical level, this signifies the manifestation of the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, for its own sake. This is the real meaning of the verse, “And to serve Him62 with all your hearts,” on which the Sages comment, “What is this ‘service of the heart’? — This is prayer.”63

True enough, one of the tasks of the G‑dly soul [in prayer] is to refine and elevate the animal soul, so that it too will arrive at a love of G‑d. Thus it is written, “And you shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart” (בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ).64 Since the last word is spelled in a way that suggests duality, the Sages understood the verse to be saying, “And you shall love the L-rd your G‑d with both your inclinations,65 with the Good Inclination66 and with the Evil Inclination.”67 The Evil Inclination can be brought to a love of G‑d by means of the Good Inclination, the Good Inclination being the manifestation of the faculties and emotive attributes of the G‑dly soul, which is intellective.

At the same time, one’s task during prayer is the manifestation of the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, so that it itself will arrive at a love of G‑d. After all, the commandment to love G‑d is mainly beamed at the soul during its stay here below, when it is vested in the body and the natural soul.

Now, it is also true that when the soul was above, before its descent into a body, it experienced a love of G‑d. Thus it is written, “By the life of the L-rd, G‑d of Israel before whom I have stood...,”68 and this verse alludes to the station of the soul above, before its descent. Likewise, “Every single soul used to stand69 with its own identity70 before the Holy King.” Specifically, the phrase “Malka Kaddisha (“the Holy King”) signifies the first six emotive attributes (collectively known as Z’eir Anpin, or Z”a) of the World of Atzilus. [And one of these six middos is Chessed, which finds expression in loving G‑d. The abode of the soul, then, even before its descent into the body, was a realm in which it experienced a love of G‑d.]

Nevertheless, it is after the G‑dly soul’s descent into the body and the natural soul that the commandment to love G‑d mainly applies, and it is fulfilled by revealing the latent faculties of the G‑dly soul itself. This is the avodah signified by the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs,” and it consists of drawing Divine energy downward. “The actions of the Patriarchs are a guidepost for their sons,”71 inasmuch as they opened up the conduit for this mode of avodah, whereby the revelation of light below is elicited from above. Moreover, [as a metaphor for their utter self-annulment in deference to the will of their Driver,] it is taught that “The Patriarchs were a veritable chariot.”72 Even after they were vested in bodies here below, they remained in exactly the same state in which they had been above, as is explained in Tanya.73

These, then, are the two tasks of the avodah of prayer, as discussed above. One task is to refine and uplift the animal soul. The other is to reveal the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, so that even after being vested in the body and natural soul its intellective and emotive attributes74 will all remain manifest, just as they were before that descent.

19. Climbing up Yaakov Avinu’s ladder

Essentially, however, prayer signifies takkanah, or repair,75 while the above two tasks are merely two different approaches to this end. One approach is alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were made to correspond to the daily sacrifices; this approach seeks to refine and elevate the animal soul. The other approach is alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs; this approach seeks to reveal the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, for its own sake. Essentially, though, prayer in its own right signifies takkanah, or repair.

This implies a melting process. Thus, when the Gemara states that glass vessels “once broken can be repaired”76 (i.e., they can be redeemed from a state of impurity), Rashi explains: “They can be melted down and reconstituted as vessels.” In terms of avodah, this melting process signifies mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice. [This is called for in two directions, as will presently be explained.]

In Yaakov’s dream, “Behold a ladder was set on the earth, and its top reached up to the heavens.”77 The terms “earth” and “heavens” here signify materiality and spirituality. Moreover, the letter hei (at the end of artzah) indicates the lowest levels of materiality, and the letter hei (at the end of hashamaymah) indicates the loftiest levels of spirituality. This is no mere column that simply joins floor and roof. This is a ladder, by means of which one can ascend from the lowliest depths to the loftiest heights, and by means of which one can draw down light from the loftiest heights to illuminate the lowliest depths.

The ladder thus represents the dual function of prayer: to elevate the holy sparks hidden in materiality and to elicit a downward flow of Divine beneficence. And the process of repair or reconstitution which is effected by means of prayer takes place in both of these directions: in the way alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were made to correspond to the daily sacrifices, and in the way alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.

It was stated above that takkanah, repairing or reconstituting a vessel by melting it down, necessitates self-sacrifice; more precisely, two kinds of self-sacrifice — of the animal soul and of the G‑dly soul.

The mesirus nefesh demanded of the animal soul is that the individual should not seek the physicality of material things but their utility, thereby transforming them into vessels to contain Divinity.

The mesirus nefesh demanded of the G‑dly soul is that the individual should not seek merely blissful manifestations of Divinity;78 he should mainly seek to draw down the Atzmus, the Essence of Divinity. In other words, he should not be satisfied with the revelation of Divine light at the immanent level of memaleh kol almin, which is merely daas tachton and Yichuda Tata’ah, the lower level of appreciation of the Divine Unity. Rather, he should eagerly yearn to draw down a revelation of Divine light at the transcendent level of sovev kol almin, which is daas elyon and Yichuda Ila’ah, the higher level of appreciation of the Divine Unity.

20. A chainlike progression of Divine self-concealment

Why, though, should the G‑dly soul be expected to make such a great sacrifice — to forgo its desire to relish the experience of Divine revelation? After all, who can enjoy the delights of the infinite light as much as a G‑dly soul? Besides, the ultimate purpose of the soul’s descent is to illuminate the darkness of the body and of the natural intellective soul so that they, too, should desire to cleave to Divinity, which is the ultimate good. Why, then, should the G‑dly soul not desire such revelations?

The answer is that all such giluyim appear in gradated levels, and between one level and the next the light diminishes. This diminution is possible because a revelation of Divine light is not something absolute, but merely a thrust in a certain direction.

Moreover, this diminution takes place even in the highest revelations. Thus it is stated, “Until the world was created there existed only Him and His Name.”79 On this there is a classic query: Before the world was created there was no one to call Him by His Name. (As the query makes clear, a name presupposes the existence of some additional entity.) In the case of G‑d, His Name signifies the level of Malchus of the Ein Sof. [Thus we see that even at this lofty level there is an outward revelation of Elokus for the benefit of lower worlds.] Indeed, this is one of the highest revelations, stemming from before the First Tzimtzum that took place in the Ein Sof-light.

The First Tzimtzum caused the infinite light to actually depart and be concealed, unlike the tzimtzumim that took place later in Seder Hishtalshelus, whereby, stage by stage, the light was merely diminished. As Chassidus explains, though the lights at the various later levels are distinct and utterly removed from each other, they still all belong to the same chainlike progression of self-concealment and gradual descent which is called Seder Hishtalshelus. In fact this very term derives from a word meaning “chain.” The lowest link of a chain of even hundreds of thousands of links may be lower, out of all proportion, to the highest link; nevertheless, since the upper end of each link is firmly grasped within the lower end of the link above it, and vice versa, the very lowest link remains connected with the very highest. In the analog, the light from above comes all the way down, though in diminishing stages.

This is not the case when one compares the Ein Sof-light after the [First] Tzimtzum with the Ein Sof-light before the [First] Tzimtzum. It is not merely lower, out of all proportion (b’ein aroch); there is no possible relationship between the two. In this case, therefore, the self-screening called tzimtzum is expressed not in a mere diminution of the light but in its departure.

We can now better understand the phrase, “Until the world was created there existed only Him and His Name,” for the very word for “world” (olam) derives from the root meaning “obscurity” (helem). Hence: Until the great self-concealment of the First Tzimtzum, there existed only Him and His Name. This means that even His Name, which signifies the lofty level of Malchus of the Ein Sof, is an instance of revelation for the sake of lower worlds.

21. Drawing down the highest levels of Divinity

[At this point, the infinite light before the First Tzimtzum is the focus of an intricate Kabbalistic discussion, whose linguistic subtleties defy intelligible translation.

The discussion demonstrates why the main task of the avodah of prayer is to elicit and draw down Divinity at no less a level than Atzmus.]

22. Son vs. disciple

Now, how can one draw down Atzmus, the Divine Essence?

The Zohar states: “No thought can grasp You”80 — but He can be grasped through re’usa deliba, the innermost yearning of the heart.81 Intellectual means cannot grasp Atzmus, nor can they grasp even the revelations at the level of the World of Atzilus, and certainly not above the World of Atzilus. Indeed, Chassidus explains that we can apprehend Divinity at the level of Atzilus only by way of negative abstraction. Thus, for example, it is written, “You are wise, but not with a knowable wisdom.”82 The wisdom of the World of Beriah (and so, too, of Yetzirah and Asiyah) is called “knowable wisdom,” because we can have some conception of it by means of an analogy with the faculties of man’s soul. As to the wisdom of the World of Atzilus, we cannot understand it at all, except to recognize that it does not resemble knowable wisdom; i.e., we can understand only by negative abstraction.

This applies even more to the levels of Divinity which are higher than the Seder Hishtalshelus at the level of Atzilus: intellectual means cannot grasp them. However, these levels of Divinity can be elicited by means of avodah. This is not the case with Atzmus, which can be elicited only by means of re’usa deliba: only mesirus nefesh can grasp Atzmus.

Chassidus illustrates the difference between these means of connection by comparing the ways in which a son and a disciple call forth the innermost essence of their father or teacher.

It is written, “And these are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe....” 83 As Rashi points out, “The verse lists only the offspring of Aharon, yet they are called the offspring of Moshe – because he taught them Torah.” For on this passage the Sages state: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonasan, ‘Whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is regarded by Scripture as if he were his father [...].84 Aharon was their father yet Moshe taught them, and that is why they are called his offspring.’ ”

Here the son and the disciple are equated, as also in the teaching of the Midrash that “A man’s disciple is called his son.”85 Nevertheless they are different from each other. The son is actually born of him. The disciple, by contrast, is merely “regarded ‘as if’...” and is called his son,” because the input (hashpaah) of one’s intellect is [merely] called by the same name as the input of one’s essence from which a son is born.

23. Varying levels of revelation

This resemblance explains why disciples are sometimes described as being “made.” For example: “Whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is regarded by Scripture as if he had made him,”86 implying that their study brings a new creature into being.

An instance of this was mentioned above. Since the soul of even a simple and unlettered person is innately complete, he too is theoretically able to grasp concepts, except that his brain matter has not been developed by intellectual exercise. If so, whoever teaches him Torah actually makes him, just as the making of a son brings a new creature into being.

Nevertheless, the disciple is merely called by the name of the one who taught him Torah, and a name is no more than an outward revelation; the disciple is not an actual son. For though the input of one’s intellect is truly input (hashpaah), it is termed no more than or (“light”), whereas the input of one’s essence (hashpaah atzmis) is termed shefa (“beneficent influx”). It is true that with time, as may be observed, a disciple’s intellectual capabilities often come to resemble those of his mentor; nevertheless, such attainments are still only in the realm of or. The reason is that these attainments affect only the vessels of the mind, but not the vessels of the brain. (As the Yiddish idiom expresses it, “You can’t supply a man with a new head.”)87 In contrast, the input of one’s essence affects not only the vessels of the mind but also the vessels of the brain.

Hence there is a difference between the way in which a son and a disciple elicit responses from the father or mentor. Both the son and the disciple call forth the essential powers of the father or mentor. However, even the most superior kind of disciple (“One who increases the wisdom of his mentor”88) calls forth only the outward revelations (the giluyim) of the mentor, whereas the son calls forth the essence (the atzmus) of the mentor or father. Though the revelations called forth by the disciple are actual or (“light”), these revelations do not compare with the quintessential essence (etzem atzmuso) of the mentor or father which the son calls forth.

24. Stages in meditation

By way of analogy, the above distinction between the disciple and the son serves to illustrate the distinction between the self-sacrifice of the animal soul and the self-sacrifice of the G‑dly soul. The animal soul’s self-sacrifice calls forth revelations, making Elokus manifest down here below. (In contrast: The future revelation of Atzmus that will result from our present avodah will come in the form of a reward granted from above.) The G‑dly soul’s self-sacrifice is different: it spurns [the experiential delight of] mere revelations, and thereby elicits Atzmus.

In a well-known instance of this, the Alter Rebbe once fell on the floor in a state of rapture and said: “ ‘Whom do I have in the heavens?89 And on earth I desire nothing with You’ [i.e., nothing in addition to Yourself alone]. I don’t want the bliss of the Lower Garden of Eden; I don’t want the bliss of the Higher Garden of Eden; I want You alone!”

This incident exemplifies the basic avodah of the G‑dly soul itself: to desire the Essence (the Atzmus) of the Infinite One. This is what is meant by “the earnest frame of mind”90 which should precede prayer, and which is the basis for the avodah of prayer, as follows.

The structured meditation called hisbonenus comprises two stages. The first consists of the concentrated study of a text concerning Elokus, with the intent of understanding a subject such as creation ex nihilo, just as one studies the detailed arguments of a legal subject in the revealed plane of the Torah. There, once a scholar has mastered the halachic subject, he meditates upon it comprehensively, complete with its intellectual delight.

The same is true (to use the above example) of the scholar who has been studying about creation ex nihilo, the creation of yesh from ayin. First he studies the particulars of the subject: how the [Divine] ayin is constantly present in the created yesh, thereby maintaining it in existence and continuously animating it; how as this takes place the Creator is hidden from the created being;91 how His simultaneous presence and absence are polar opposites, yet both are needed in order to enable the yesh to come into being and to remain in existence; and how this [paradox] demonstrates the manner in which G‑d works wondrously, bonding spirituality with materiality. Having thoroughly analyzed and digested the particular arguments and explanations in an orderly fashion in the vessels of his mind and the vessels of his brain, he then meditates upon the subject comprehensively.

His contemplation of the condensed heart of the subject helps him absorb and integrate it. At the same time, this contemplation arouses within him a sense of wonderment at the Divine grace underlying the marvel of creation, whereby G‑d in His kindness created a physical brain that can serve to comprehend such sublime concepts.

[Until here we have been speaking of the first stage in the structured meditation called hisbonenus — the stage which grows out of the concentrated study of a text concerning Elokus, in preparation for prayer.] The second stage takes place while one is actually praying. At this time one experiences a G‑dly delight in the subject of his meditation.

To distinguish: While the individual is at the first stage of meditation, he is focused only on comprehending the concept at hand, and his enthused wonderment over the condensed heart of the concept is restricted to its uplifting intensity. While he is at the second stage, during the actual time of prayer, he soars beyond comprehension and experiences the sweet pleasantness of Elokus. He utterly shakes off his intellection and arrives at a yearning for the Divine Essence that transcends the bounds of intellect.

25. Degrees of spiritual self-sacrifice

[To revert to the Talmudic teachings quoted above:] With this we can more richly understand the teaching that “One should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.” For prayer itself signifies takkanah, implying repair or reconstitution, and this, as we have explained, necessitates self-sacrifice.

The first kind of self-sacrifice is hinted at in the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices.” This is the self-sacrifice practiced by the natural soul [i.e., the animal soul], by virtue of which it seeks the revelation of Divinity in all kinds of physical things in this world below. The second kind of self-sacrifice is hinted at in the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.” This is the self-sacrifice practiced by the G‑dly soul, by virtue of which it spurns giluyim, mere outward revelations of Divinity, seeking instead to elicit and draw downward nothing less than Atzmus, the Divine Essence.

The latter mode of avodah throws light on the wording of the above teaching that “one should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.”92 For it is specifically the physical brain that G‑d enabled to serve as a vessel or tool for even the sublime kind of conception which is the subject of the latter mode of avodah.

As quoted above, the Gemara concludes that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices. To translate this into the terms of an individual’s work schedule: One’s avodah cannot begin with self-sacrifice; it should begin with intellectually-monitored endeavors93 through which the G‑dly soul will surface and become manifest. This requires a humble submissiveness to the Divine Will, so that one’s materiality will be brought low and the corporeal vessel will be minimized — by refining them, which is the goal of the daily sacrifices. Only after this stage can one proceed to the more inward stage of avodah — the G‑dly soul’s self-sacrifice of forgoing [the spiritual blandishments of] mere revelations of Divinity; instead, the G‑dly soul will focus its yearning on the eliciting of Atzmus, the Essence of Divinity

With the above insights we can now appreciate why Rashbi was so overwhelmed by the teaching that the Master of the Academy revealed to him: “A wooden beam that does not catch fire 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.”94

From this teaching Rashbi understood that every yesh gashmi, every created material entity, contains an or atzmi pnimi, an inward light that reflects the Divine Essence called Atzmus. He understood that the physical brain can become a vessel for Atzmus, and that a man’s avodah should strive to reveal the above-described inward light that it contains.

Rashbi had already known that the yesh is rooted in Atzmus, that created physicality is rooted in the very Essence of Divinity.95 What he did not know until the Master of the Academy revealed it to him was that the physical yesh is the source of everything, and that only by nullifying and refining the physical vessel can its lofty source be revealed.

We can now also understand his exclamation, “Teaching, O teaching! I have been pursuing you from the day I was born!” [For it was asked above,96 how could he have been pursuing something of which he did not know? The answer:] Rashbi had already known that the created yesh, all of material creation, was rooted in the true [Divine] yesh. However, since material creation belongs to the level of mere revelations of Divinity, he had previously burned up its materiality.97 Only after the teaching of the Master of the Academy was revealed to him was he able to say, “And now this teaching has been made known to me from its root, the Source of All.” Only now did he appreciate the cardinal principle that the nullification of the physical vessel must be accomplished only by refining and uplifting it; only now did he appreciate that this is the way to call forth and draw down Atzmus, because specifically in this way does one fulfill the Divine intent in creating physical entities — namely, that Atzmus be revealed in physicality.

It was from this realization that Rashbi was so overwrought and enraptured that “he stooped down and kissed the dust:” it was at this point that he fully recognized the sublime stature of created physicality. At this point he fully recognized the ultimate purpose for which the worlds came into being by means of Hishtalshelus, the Creator’s progressive self-screening. For, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Chapter 36 of Tanya, “The purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms.”98