Two Modes of the Divine Service

Generally, there are two modes of Divine service: bringing down holiness from above and elevating the lower worlds into higher spiritual realms. Our Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac personify these two modes of service.

As our Rabbis teach, Abraham was an earthly embodiment of the Sefirah of Chesed. He was a giver in both spiritual and physical sense. He was a gracious host providing passersby with food, drinks and other necessities. He was a missionary par excellence proselytizing his idolatrous generation, teaching them the concept of One Gd. Revealing the unity of Gd heretofore hidden from humanity, Abraham brought down not only the knowledge of Gd, but also His presence in the world. He brought down the flow of Divine benevolence and blessing. He brought holiness into this world from above.

His son Isaac was different. He personified the Sefirah of Gevurah, which is strength and restraint. After his father, Abraham, following the call of G‑d, brought Isaac to the altar to be a burnt offering, even though Gd substituted a he-goat for him, Isaac was considered an oleh the offering of ascent. Thus his mode of service was that of aliyah, ascent, elevating the physical world to spiritual realms. This is also evident from the Biblical account of Isaac uncovering the wells. A well, which allows water to be drawn upward, serves here as a metaphor for the service of elevation.

Two Modes in Kabbalah and Chasidism

The two modes of the Divine service are called in the Kabbalah the “masculine waters” and the “feminine waters”. As it was noted before, the term “masculine” is used in Kabbalah and Chasidism to denote the aspect of giving while the term “feminine” is used to denote the aspect of receiving. Thus mayim dukhrin, the masculine waters, represent the flow of the Divine benevolence from above downward. Mayim nukvin, the feminine waters, represent the elevation from below. The Gdman relationship is often viewed in Kabbalah as the meeting of these two streams.

The fulfillment of the commandments is viewed in this context as the ascent of the stream upward the “feminine waters” that in turn elicits reciprocal flow of Divine benevolence downward. As explained in Tanya,

“...Acts of refinement of the good out of the [klipath] noga(the physical world), one elevates the feminine waters causing supernal unions to bring down the masculine waterswhich are the flow of [Divine] kindness contained in each of the 248 positive precepts, all of which are in the nature of kindness and masculine waters,that is to say, the flow of holiness of His blessed Divinity from above downward, to be clothed in those who live in the lower worlds...”

The Torah, on the other hand, represents the descent of Divine wisdom into this world, and is thus categorized as masculine waters.

As much as all of the mitzvoth serve to refine the physical world and human soul thus elevating them to the level of holiness, this is particularly true of the mezuzah, which is characteristic of all of the commandments, as explained above. Thus, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Baal HaTanya, statesthat the mezuzah elevates the house and everything that is inside it. The portion of Shema contains the commandment “And thou shalt love...” Love is an emotion that soars upward and elevates the one who feels it. Attached to a doorpost, the mezuzah, a conduit of love, elevates the house and all that is within. The Baal HaTanyafurther explains there that attaching the mezuzah to the right doorpost, which symbolizes the “Gate of G‑d”, elevates the house towards Gd.

This concept of elevation is easily understood since the essence of the commandment of mezuzah, as noted above, is dedication of the house and all of mans belongings to Gd. This elevates physical possessions to the realm of holiness turning the house into a temple of G‑d.

The Tzemach Tzedek further delineates the details of this ascent and notesthat the mezuzah elevates the Sefirothof Netzach and Hod to Chesed and Gevurah and through this to Kether HaElyon.

The Sefiroth of Netzach(Victory) and Hod (Glory) are two close companions, in the terminology of the Zohar, that originate from the higher sefiroth of Chesed and Gevurah, respectively, by further contraction of the Divine light. It is through this pair of Netzach and Hod that Divine Providence functions in the lowest world. If their higher counterparts Chesed and Gevurah represent modes of Divine emanation as it relates to its source, Netzach and Hod, on the contrary, represent these similar modes of emanation as it relates to the recipient. Thus Victory (Netzach) is the ultimate outcome of boundless love (Chesed) after it overcomes all barriers and is reflected in the recipient who is “won over” by this love. Similarly, Glory (Hod) is the result of power and might (Gevurah) as reflected in those towards whom this might is projected.

This concept of elevation can be illustrated by the example of a person who exerts energy while working. After cessation of the work, all of that energy reverts back to its source, its potential, similar to a transformation of the kinetic energy of motion into potential energy in physics.

In somewhat analogous fashion, when the lower Sefirothare elevated into the higher ones from which they originated, their energy is absorbed into the source. Thus when kabbalists say that the sefiroth Netzachand Hod are elevated to Chesed and Gevurah they express in technical terms the process of elevating material objects (the house and the belongings) to their spiritual roots whereby all of their energy is absorbed into its source.

The role of the mezuzah in this process of elevation is expressed in its very name me-zu-zah. As has been noted earlier, these names signify the unification of the masculine (zu) and feminine (zah) aspects in the Torah (mem). The Sefiroth Netzachand Hod represent these masculine and feminine aspects in the lowest plane of reality respectively. Their unification is achieved in the sefirah of Tefereth (Beauty), which is the synthesis and harmony of two opposing tendencies Chesed and Gevurah. As explained in Kabbalah and Chasidism, Tefereth originates in the inner aspect of Kether, the highest of the Sefiroth. Thus ultimate elevation is achieved.