Through the intense contemplation on the highest levels, as described in chapter five, one achieves the illumination of the 'bright flame' of one's inner spiritual lamp. However, how is it possible to reach such heights through contemplation? Surely thought cannot grasp the Essence of the Divine?

The answer Rabbi DovBer gives is that through the actual performance of mitzvot, one in fact does connect with the Essence, because the Divine Essence is the source of the mitzvot, and it is the Divine Essence that commands us to obey them. Since, in the words of Sefer Yetzirah, "the beginning is lodged in the end," only through the Commandments (the "end") is the Essence (the "beginning") revealed.

This leads to the explanation of the fifth aspect of the physical lamp: the vessel of the lamp which holds everything else. This corresponds to the mitzvot in general, while the oil expresses the action of the mitzvot (the selflessness which enables one to carry them out).


Through intense contemplation, concerning the second level of general sovev kol almin, which is to surrender one's soul to the pure divine Oneness, one elicits an exalted illumination from the level of sovev kol almin, which is [expressed by] Havaya. This illumination is the supernal radiance of the "light sown for tzaddik elyon,"1 the bright flame upon the soul of the individual, including that of the smallest soul-spark of Israel. This is the literal meaning of the verse "You are my lamp, O G‑d," addressing the Tetragrammaton, and similar verses — "You, Havaya, will illuminate my lamp," "When [G‑d] shines His light upon my head"2 — which all refer to this supernal radiance, the actual Name Havaya of Atzilut.

The Divine illumination shines from that level on each and every person in response to his self-surrender to the pure divine Oneness, which results from this specific contemplation on yichuda ila'ah when reciting the first line of the Shema.

This is called "the light that illuminates," which is actual G‑dliness. The words, "and you shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your soul," refer to this level, similar to the verse, "to love the L-rd your G‑d... for He is your life,"3 for this is the source of4 the life of the radiance of the essence of the soul of all that lives.

How is such Contemplation Possible?

However, how is a person able to put his mind and heart into contemplating this general level of sovev kol almin which is the Essence of Ein Sof, since this is far beyond even the source of the life of the worlds? For "You are exalted beyond all exalted beings...hidden beyond all hidden things...thought does not grasp You at all"5 (even the Primordial thought of Adam Kadmon6).

[To explain:] It is known that while in thought and understanding one cannot at all grasp the very essence of the Divine, through one's pure and essential will, one can grasp and cleave to and be absorbed in [the Essence], as the verse states, "to cleave to Him."7 Hence the phrase "[you should love G‑d] with all your soul," and other verses, like "my soul longs"8 and "to You, O G‑d, I lift my soul."9

Practical Mitzvot

There is another way that each person can cleave to the essence of the divine, after the intensity of self-surrender with the innermost point of pure will. This is, as it is written [in the Shema], "and these words which I command you today." The term "I" implies "that who I am," referring to the aforementioned general sovev kol almin, and also the very Essence, beyond.10 This is Who "commands you today."

To explain: the very Essence of Ein Sof cannot really be revealed below except through practical mitzvot in this world, which is at the lowest of all the spiritual levels. This is because "their beginning is lodged in their end"11: The beginning of all beginnings is joined to the end of everything — actually performing the mitzvah.

This is called the actual "pathways of G‑d,"12 as the verse, "the end of the matter is... keep G‑d's mitzvot, for this is all that man is"13 — the supernal "Man."14

(As is known regarding "let not the wise person be praised [on account of his own wisdom] but in this let him be praised: by knowing Me" — literally — "and by doing kindness and justice and charity in the land,"15 particularly, "for this is what I desire" 16 — with G‑d's ultimate desire and will.)

Hence [the verse in the Shema]: "which I" — literally, G‑d's very Essence — "command you today." Through actually performing mitzvot, He is revealed; and this takes place "today," in this world, as the Sages said: "today [is the time] to do them."17

It is not enough to observe the mitzvot just in a spiritual form, by [merely contemplating the] yichuda ila'ah in supernal worlds. They must actually be physically performed.

Why Practical Mitzvot?

This is because the celestial worlds come [into being] by way of seder hishtalshelut18 of ilah and alul,19 from the radiance of Ein Sof through a process of multiple veiling, as is known. On account of this it is clearly impossible that anything of the Divine Essence should be revealed in them, for [even human] "thought cannot grasp Him at all," as mentioned above. The only way the Essence can be revealed is not through the process of hishtalshelut of ilah and alul, but in a manner of [direct] descent and investment, as in the actual physical performance of the mitzvot. Only this can elicit [the Essence] to be manifest in this world.20

Because of the great exaltedness of the radiance of Ein Sof itself, it cannot flow to the worlds by way of hishtalshelut at all, and can only come in a manner of direct investment. There is a general rule that whatever is higher is more able to descend to a lower point, as it says "He rises up... and descends below,"21 and also, "I am exalted [yet dwell with the crushed"].22 Similarly, "what is the House [which you can build for Me],"23 for "the Heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot hold"24 Him, and nonetheless He contracted His Divine Presence between the staves of the ark25 in the physical space of the Temple.26 Similarly regarding the investment of the very radiance of the Ein Sof in the actual performance of every mitzvah.

Thus it is written, "which I command you today" — specifically today [in this world] and not tomorrow in the World to Come.27

The Fifth Aspect of the Lamp

(This [concept of the mitzvot] is the fifth aspect, in addition to the other four aspects of the lamp: the vessel of the lamp itself, which contains everything. Thus, the verse states, "For a lamp is the mitzvah, and the Torah is light."28 The lamp contains the whole essence and source of the radiance of the Torah, and this is the light that illuminates — the revelation of Havaya, because their beginning [Havaya] is lodged in their end, specifically termed the lamp of the mitzvah.)

Now the physical performance of Torah and mitzvot, which have the power to elicit the revelation of the Divine Essence, so that it illuminates with the radiance of Havaya itself as explained above, is the "oil" which is drawn after the wick. On account of the oil29 there is the revelation of the spiritual radiance of the Light which illuminates,30 the "bright radiance," which depends on the purity of the oil.31 This is because the oil is drawn after the wick and attracts the light. From the oil comes the manifestation of the two types of radiance, the "bright radiance" and the "dark radiance."

Thus [the Shema] reads: "And these words" — meaning, specifically the words of Torah, "which I command you today" — meaning, that they be physically performed. (As it continues "you shall teach them diligently [to your children]... you shall bind them [as tefillin]" — which includes the physical performance of all the mitzvot, as is known.)


Through intense contemplation on the highest levels — yichuda ila'ah, as described in chapter five, one draws a Supernal radiance into one's inner spirit, so You — Havaya itself -- will be my lamp. This is the bright radiance of yichuda ila'ah of Shema Yisrael, to cause You shall love [G‑d]...with all your soul since it is from there that the entire life of the radiance of the essence of the soul of every living being is hewn. The question is asked, however, since this contemplation deals with matters that transcend soul-life, how is it possible to reach such heights through contemplation?

The answer is that it can be done in a twofold manner: 1) Though one cannot attain this level through contemplation, it can be attained by subduing one's essential will to want to cleave to G‑d, for will transcends intellect; 2) through the practical mitzvot one in fact does connect with the Essence, since the Divine Essence transcends the three parts of intellect [chochmah, binah, daat]. Hence the verse, And these words which I ("whoever I am," His Essence) command you today, for today, i.e., this terrestrial world, is the arena for the performance of mitzvot. Since Ein Sof is so infinitely exalted, its revelation cannot be in a manner of hishtalshelut of ilah and alul, but rather only by vesting in Torah and mitzvot. For whatever is of a more sublime source, can be manifest in a lower level.

(This explains the vessel of the lamp, which holds the oil and the wick, the source for all the radiance in all its colors. [The vessel corresponds to the mitzvot in general, while the oil refers to the action of the mitzvot — the selflessness that enables one to carry them out.])

So although one attains spiritual oil (hitbonenut) with which to produce a well-structured flame, it must rest in a vessel (mitzvot) to function as a lamp.