Torah is our life and length of days.”(Quote from text of prayer book)

What exactly is Torah? In Chapter 3, we explained that Torah does not mean law, but it comes from the root of the word Horaah which means “instruction.” Torah is G‑d’s instruction or teaching to mankind. This definition is vitally important. It means that unlike other sciences or intellectual systems that remain separate from performance, Torah knowledge must be translated into action. The Talmud has an interesting discussion whether learning or action is more important.

It finally decides that learning is more important “for it leads to action.” An ignorant person cannot be pious. In order to perform the deed, one must have prior knowledge. In order to keep the Mitzvot in all their detail, one must first learn their principles. In fact, it is incumbent upon every Jew to learn about all the 613 commandments and their practical applications.

The Code of Jewish law mandates that a person who has little time for study should primarily study those areas of Torah with practical day-to-day application.

From this perspective one may summarize that Torah is the instruction manual to lead an ethical and moral life here on Earth. Furthermore, it is a living Torah and a true Torah in the sense that it is not abstract knowledge created by men, but given by a living G‑d as a guide to live a truly fulfilled, meaningful and holy life. Expanding on this fact, because the Torah is from the Eternal Being, it is itself eternal, containing truths that are not subject to change.

From a Kabbalistic perspective, Torah may be defined as “G‑d’s wisdom.” Just as G‑d existed before the world was created, so too did His wisdom. In fact, the Zohar makes a comment that “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world, and when man studies the Torah he maintains the world.” This means that Torah is the blueprint for creation—the architect’s plans. G‑d looked into His wisdom and created the world.

What does this mean?

We explained that in order to create a finite world, G‑d had to conceal the Or Ein Sof to create the conceptual space for finitude to exist. After this quantum leap of Tzimtzum, He then projected a beam called the Kav into the void from which stemmed all the worlds. The pre-Tzimtzum Light is called the Or HaSovev Kol Almin , the “transcendent Light,” and the Light of the Kav is called Memale Kol Almin, the “immanent Light,” in the sense that it fills all worlds. We also explained that the true purpose of Tzimtzum was not to conceal, but rather was to reveal, for the infinite Light precluded finite existence. Because G‑d wished to dwell in a physical and limited world, it was necessary to contain and conceal this Light. This process permitted finite worlds to exist so that ultimately there would be revealed within them the Or Ein Sof. Our mission is simple: reveal the infinite Light contained within our finite world. The keys to accomplishing our mission are found in G‑d’s wisdom—the Torah.

It is stated in the Zohar: “Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are truly One.” This means that because Torah is the wisdom and will of G‑d, it is one with His glory and essence.

Just as G‑d is unfathomable, so is His wisdom. Yet G‑d compressed and lowered His wisdom, clothing it in the physical terms and objects of Torah and its commandments, so that it might be accessible to human intelligence, in order that Man may thereby be united with G‑d. Torah journeyed in a descent through the worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, and Yetzirah until it reached the world of Assiyah. This supernal knowledge enclothed itself within twenty four books of the Torah, Prophets (Neviim), and Writings (Ketuvim). The Talmud states this concept in the following way: the first word of the Ten Commandments is “Anochi,” which means “I [am the Lord your G‑d].” The Hebrew letters of the word “Anochi” are Aleph, Nun, Chof, and Yud.

They are an acronym that stands for the words Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit (I put myself in writing). G‑d “compressed” Himself into the words of the Torah.

Therefore, when a person studies Torah in this world, and the Torah speaks of physical objects and people, this is only how Torah descended and is interpreted in the world of Assiyah. As we go into the higher worlds, Torah may be comprehended on a higher level. In fact, the Kabbalists state that Torah has four layers corresponding to the four worlds:

1. Pshat—Simple interpretation corresponds to the world of Assiyah.

2. Remez—Allusionary interpretation corresponds to the world of Yetzirah.

3. Drush– Homiletical interpretation corresponds to the world of Beriah.

4. Sod—Secret/Mystical interpretation corresponds to the world of Atzilut.

Re-stated, one could say that in its journey from Above, as Torah descended into the world of Atzilut, Torah may be comprehended on the level of Sod. As it descended further into Beriah and Yetzirah, Torah may be comprehended on the levels of Remez and Drush, and when Torah descends into the world of Assiyah, it is comprehended on its most simple level—Pshat, in its literal meaning as we understand it in this world.

To better illustrate, let us use the following example: When we say the Modeh Ani prayer upon rising in the morning (“I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for you have restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is abundant.”).

It is explained in Hassidism, that the Pshat of this prayer is that we are simply thanking G‑d for restoring our souls. The Remez understanding is that this “restoration” of the soul, refers to the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. The Drush explanation is that since G‑d returns to a person the soul which was entrusted to Him (while sleeping during the night), we should not withhold an article entrusted to us from another.

Finally, the Sod interpretation states that this “restoration” of the soul, comes from the level of Malchut as it unites with the Sefirah directly above it, Yesod.

We may now understand what is meant by “Heavenly academies” and how souls may learn Torah in higher worlds.

A soul in this world learns Torah on the level of Pshat. When it ascends to Heaven—to the lower Garden of Eden in the world of Yetzirah, or the higher Garden of Eden in the world of Beriah—it may learn the same Torah but on the level that Torah is comprehended in those worlds. That is a great reward for the soul. The Talmud states, “Happy is the man who arrives (in the World to Come) with Torah in his hand.” This means that in the merit of Torah study in this world a person will merit studying the Torah in the higher worlds.

From this perspective, Torah study takes on a totally different and fresh meaning. When a person for example learns a particular Law in Mishnah or Talmud through strenuous application of his mind, what is happening is that his mind is becoming totally united with the Law, which is the will and wisdom of G‑d, albeit concealed. Human intellect and G‑d’s intellect, despite being vastly disproportionate, actually become fused. This intellectual union is a most wonderful and powerful union.

We may now comprehend the passage in Zohar that states that Yisrael (the Jew), Torah, and G‑d are One. This means that the Jew connects to G‑d through Torah. When a Jew studies Torah, his mind grasps the subject in Torah and becomes one with it. We may now also understand why Torah learning has a pre-eminent place in Judaism. It is the deepest bond that one may have with G‑d.

In truth, the Nefesh Elokit of a Jew is part of the Divine and is a spark of G‑d. Why then does it need to connect to G‑d through Torah? This may be understood by explaining a contradiction between two sayings of the Sages. The Midrash states that “The thought of Israel preceded any other.” This means that when G‑d created the world, Israel preceded Torah in His thought. On the other hand, the above quoted Zohar states: “Israel connects with G‑d through the Torah.” This seems to suggest that Torah precedes Israel. Hassidism dispels the seeming contradiction by stating that in their source Israel stands higher than Torah. However, as souls descend below, Torah is higher than Israel and the connection of a soul to G‑d is through Torah.

This explanation also elucidates the concept of two opposites in a Jew. In his source a Jew stands higher than the Torah, and therefore a Jew is eternal. No number of sins can rid the Jew of the title “Jew” because the connection of a Jew’s essence with G‑d is not dependent upon his observance of Torah and Mitzvot. On the other hand, once the soul descends into a body the open connection of a Jew with G‑d is through the Torah, and eventually the essential connection of a Jew will bring the Jew to keep Torah and Mitzvot. This idea can be seen in the command to love our fellow Jew. The essence of this love is for the soul as it stands in its source, united with all other souls, above Torah. That essential love therefore transcends Torah observance and extends itself even to those who are distant from the Torah. On this level there is no differentiation between a Tzaddik and a Rasha. Furthermore, the love is not limited to the spirituality of the other Jew but even extends to his material requirements, for as we view the soul in its essential state, even our fellow Jew’s material well-being falls under our responsibility. However, since the connection of the soul with G‑d as it descends below is through Torah, the greatest display of love would be to strengthen another Jew’s connection to G‑d.

We may now also understand why Torah study is a great Mitzvah even if it has no practical application. When one studies on this level it may be termed Torah Lishmah—study of Torah for no other ulterior motive except that of being bound to G‑d. And yet, since the purpose of creation is Dirah BeTachtonim, the ultimate refining and elevation of the physical world, priority is given in Torah study to those areas of practical application in order to learn how to perform the Mitzvot in the physical arena. In fact, the Jewish law states that if one is engaged in Torah study and there arises the opportunity to fulfill a Mitzvah, if there is no one else to do the Mitzvah one must interrupt the study.

To summarize the previous few paragraphs: Torah is Divine wisdom and through learning Torah a Jew openly connects with G‑d on the most profound level. A Jew should strive to fill his mind and all thoughts with Torah so that at all times he is united with the Divine. The Torah states that “One should speak words of Torah when sitting at home, on a journey, when one lies down, and upon awakening.” The obligation to study Torah is at all times and there is a severe punishment proscribed for one who wantonly wastes precious study time. Every person is mandated to set aside times for Torah study.

Looking at this concept from the Kabbalistic perspective, Torah is the mechanism through which we draw down the Or Ein Sof into the world in its post-Tzimtzum state. In Kabbalistic terminology it embodies the “unity” (Yichud) of the Sovev Kol Almin and Memale Kol Almin. It therefore follows that when studying one should study with the correct approach.

Torah is not merely an enhanced exercise in intellectual gymnastics. Nor should it be studied to gain honor or position. Rather, Torah must be studied with immense selflessness, in realization that one is studying G‑d’s Torah and wisdom. This is the reason we say a blessing before study where we thank G‑d for choosing us from the nations and giving us His Torah.

The correct approach should be that it is His Torah, and when we study we are repeating His wisdom. In fact, the Sages state that when we say words of Torah, the Almighty repeats the words after us. One should imagine that the Torah is given anew every day and that one is in receipt of a G‑dly gift on a daily basis.

The Torah was given, in its entirety, to Moses at Sinai. However, at different stages in history, different levels of interpretation were revealed. This may be compared to a principle and its details. The principles were revealed at Sinai, the details were revealed at different stages later by great scholars who received ongoing revelation through a “holy spirit” of revelations (Ruach Hakodesh). Although the Kabbalah was received at Sinai, the mystical tradition was taught only within a small circle. It was committed to writing primarily by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the Zohar and then elaborated by the Arizal in whose time it was pronounced that it was a Mitzvah to disseminate the Kabbalah. However, it was only after the times of the Baal Shem Tov that the teaching of the inner dimension of the Torah took on a new dimension. Why? Nistar (the inner dimension of the Torah) differs from Nigleh (the revealed aspects of the Torah). For instance, we learn Torah in its Pshat level, we openly talk of matters of this world and the G‑dliness within it is concealed. An example of this is as follows: when we learn the tractates of the Talmud discussing civil damages, we are learning about an ox that gored a cow and its resultant damages and charges. Although this is distilled G‑dly wisdom, what is most apparent to us is the legalistics of this material world—not the fact that hidden inside this discussion is G‑d’s wisdom. However, when learning on the level of Sod, which is on a Kabbalistic level, there is an open discussion of G‑dliness, and one it totally cognizant of the Giver of the Torah. Stated in chassidic terminology, this world is a world where the material is “obvious” (BiPshitut) and G‑dliness is “novel” (BeHitchadshut). In the higher realms, G‑dliness is “obvious” and the material is something “novel.” As we progressed historically into the confusion of materialism and the darkness of Exile, it became more necessary to reveal the Divine source of the Torah. This is why the study of Kabbalah became more of a necessity as we progress in Exile and come closer to the coming of Mashiach.

It was necessary to study more and more on a level that one felt constantly the presence of the Divine.

It was in the times of the Baal Shem Tov, and particularly Rabbi Schneur Zalman, that an even deeper level of Torah was revealed. We previously explained that the four levels of Torah interpretation correspond to the four worlds of Creation. The leaders of ChaBaD revealed an even deeper level in Torah, that of Yechidah, which is the quintessential level of the soul which corresponds to a revelation of the will of the Ein Sof itself. This level is not an additional fifth layer of interpretation of the Torah; rather it is the essence of all the other four, just as the level of Yechidah of the soul is the essence of the soul which stands above and yet permeates the other levels. It may be compared to oil. Oil floats above all other liquids and yet when mixed in a solid it diffuses throughout. So too Hassidism is a revelation of the Ein Sof, and yet it diffuses and illuminates all other levels. In fact, Hassidism is quite distinct from Kabbalah.

Although in general terms Kabbalah is a generic term for all aspects of the inner dimension of the Torah, in specific terms, Kabbalah refers to the level of Sod, whereas Hassidism is the level of Yechidah of Ein Sof. Therefore, Hassidism illuminates the level of Sod as well as all other levels of Torah. In very simple terms we could compare Kabbalah to the anatomy of G‑d, describing in an anatomical way all the different worlds and the diffusion of Divine Light within them, while Hassidism is the psychology of G‑d. It employs the terms of Kabbalah, yet it describes more the why of creation rather than the parts of the structure. When studying Torah today, one must taste from the Tree of Life—Hassidism—in order to illuminate all other aspects of Torah study and to fill the mind with the knowledge of G‑d. In order to have a healthy body and soul it is necessary today to study both the body, which is comparable to Nigleh, and soul, which is comparable to Nistar of the Torah. In the example above of the Modeh Ani prayer, only Hassidism explains how this declaration brings out the perfection, or Yechidah of the soul. To elaborate: Since Modeh Ani is said before the ritual washing of the hands in the morning (which removes residual impurity from the night), no impurity can defile the Modeh Ani of a Jew. His Yechidah is quintessential and always remains pristine and invigorating.

We may now understand why in the Shema, “Love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart soul and might,” is immediately followed by the command to learn Torah. If a person wishes to quench their thirst with passionate love of G‑d, then they should immerse themselves in Torah study, for Torah and G‑d are One. This is echoed in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Let the thirsty one go to water,” for Torah is compared to water, spiritually thirst-quenching and life supporting.

Mashiach promised the Baal Shem Tov that he would come when the teachings of Hassidism will be widely dispersed.

Hassidism brought the loftiest supernal concepts and translated them into a language the average intellect could comprehend. G‑dliness itself was integrated with the human mind. That is exactly a foretaste of the coming of Mashiach when, in the words of Maimonides, Man will know G‑d according to the extent of his ability.

In summary:

Five Levels of Torah, Worlds, and Souls

Torah Interpretation Worlds Soul
Chassidut Ein Sof (the Infinite) Yechidah (singular one)
Sod (secrets mysteries) Atzilut (World of Emanation Chaya (living one)
Derush (homiletics) Beriah (World of Creation) Neshamah (breath of life)
Remez (allusion) Yetzirah (World of Formation) Ruach (spirit)
Pshat (simple) Assiyah (World of Action) Nefesh (soul of vitality)