The Torah is likened to water, as in the verse (Isaiah 55:1): "O all who thirst, come for water." And the Torah is likened to fire, like it says (Jeremiah 23:29): "For are My words not like fire?"

The second Rebbe of Chabad, R' DovBer (1773-1827) would explain this dichotomy. The 'revealed' Torah, that is the practical, legal teachings of Talmud and Halachah, is called water, whereas the 'inner' Torah, the esoteric and mystical teachings, is called fire. Now, people are attracted to water but they fear fire. Thus, the one who teaches the inner dimension of Torah must assure his pupil in the words of the verse, (Deuteronomy 9:3) "Do not fear, for 'The L-rd your G‑d is a consuming fire.'"

This interpretation makes no attempt to deny that study of the inner teachings of Torah is a daunting proposition. It does not claim that the inner Torah is not fire. Indeed, the potential student's fears are confirmed and, moreover, he is told that the fire he sees in the inner dimension of Torah is no less than a consuming fire, only that – as if this should comfort him – "The L-rd your G‑d is a consuming fire."

The student would rather learn less threatening subjects. He'd prefer to remain objective, clinical almostThe student would rather learn less threatening subjects. He'd prefer to remain objective, clinical almost. He'd like to drink cool water. Study of the inner dimension of Torah, he senses, will not allow him to remain detached. It will ignite his soul and fire his passions. Rightly so, he is weary of this, for should one not rather consume his studies than be consumed by them? And what does the teacher of the inner Torah tell him? You can drink all the cool, refreshing water you want, but at some point, you have to accept the fact that to face the divine means to embrace fire. Sooner or later, in one's relationship with G‑d, the study of Torah must move from academic detachment to personal exhilaration and passion. And this excitement is only to be found by studying the Torah's inner dimensions, its spiritual truths and esoteric secrets.

When one studies chassidut – the mystical teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his successors – the Torah attains a new light. Torah is not just a set of rules for how to live in the world. It is the natural law of the universe, written into the fabric of existence. Every Torah concept – whether it be a narrative from the Five Books of Moses, a legal debate from the Talmud or a practical ruling for the Code of Jewish Law – has a spiritual antecedent in higher planes of existence. What we study is no more than the proverbial tip of the iceberg, a glimmer of essence that runs far deeper than the conscious mind can comprehend. The third Rebbe, R' Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866) explained the effect that learning chasiddut has on one's appreciation for Torah, also invoking the imagery of fire: "When one learns a Torah precept and knows that after his 120 years on earth he will learn the same precept in Gan Eden, that puts a little fire into him."

Naturally, the ego seeks to preserve itself at all costs. It will permit only such pursuits that are self-enhancing. Knowledge, it fancies, is a possession, an acquisition. But the fire of Torah has no owners. It cannot be possessed but possesses those who study it, filling them with awe, wonder and zeal. So how is the teacher of chasiddut to attract his students to that which we human beings are innately resistant?

There is but one answer and it shall suffice for those who are ready to hear it. "The L-rd your G‑d is a consuming fire."