Chapter I

אני ישנה ולבי ער

"Though I slumber,my heart is awake."1

The Midrash comments:2 "The congregation of Israel says to G‑d, 'Master of the Universe, I slumber in my performance of mitzvos but my heart is awake to acts of kindness; I slumber when it comes to pondering the time when exile will end, but my heart is awake to the redemption; I slumber too deeply to think about the redemption, but G‑d's "heart" is alert to my redemption.' Said R. Chiya the son of Abba: 'Where do we find that G‑d is called the "heart" of Israel? [We derive this] from the verse:3 "Rock of my heart, G‑d, You are my portion forever".

The Talmud4 comments that Jews possess three innate character traits: they are bashful, merciful and benevolent. These traits are not only meritorious in and of themselves, but also reveal the greatness of the Jewish people. Every Jew inherently possesses these beautiful traits.

There are two kinds of bashfulness. That which is meritorious and referred to here is not that which stems from a flaw in character, for a person may be bashful simply because he is timid by nature. We observe that there are people who have a meek disposition. This causes them to always speak in a faltering and hesitant manner. People who are naturally timid and meek will in general be bashful.

Another form of bashfulness is when one is humbled before the truth, for it is known that "truth humbles all." It is this form of bashfulness that is meritorious. Indeed, Jews possess a marked degree of strength, as the Talmud5 notes: "[There are three distinguished in strength (ferocity):] Israel among the nations...." Yet, they also possess the trait of bashfulness inasmuch as they are aware of and humbled by truth. This latter form of bashfulness is an inherent trait possessed by each and every Jew.

Implicit [in awareness of truth] is a feeling for others. For this reason the quality of mercy is found only among those who have attained an elevated state of morality. A child lacks the attribute of mercy since he lacks understanding. The greater one's understanding, the greater his qualities of mercy and benevolence,

In times of exile Jews feel humiliated, for "slaves rule us."6 Even the "lowest of the low" laugh and scoff at those who are G‑d-fearing. However, Jews possess the quality of mesirus nefesh [and with this power are able to overcome all obstacles].

The Talmud7 comments: "A camel is loaded according to his capacity to bear." During ikvesa deMeshicha the power of mesirus nefesh is even greater than it was during the time of the Temple's existence. The parable that helps us understand how this is so is that it is easier to immerse one's heel in hot water than one's head.

Summary: Jewish inborn traits are bashfulness, brought about by being cognizant of and humbled before the truth; mercy feeling mercifully towards one's fellow; and benevolence acting in a benevolent manner. Jews also possess the power of mesirus nefesh concerning Torah and mitzvos.

Chapter II

Why, indeed, is it easier to immerse the heel in hot water than the head? It is known that the aspect of the soul which clothes itself in the body so as to give it life, possesses two levels of soul powers.8 One level is that of intellect and emotion. The second level is that of delight and will. They are both served by the garments of thought, speech and action, which are also called "attendants to the soul powers."

Intellect and emotion are termed particular and internal soul powers, while delight and will are general and encompassing. The latter are found equally in all parts of the body and therefore do not have specific bodily organs which act as channels or vessels for the powers of delight and will.

The reason for this is as follows: The powers of delight and will are general and encompassing. We observe that "will" affects all parts of the body equally. To the same degree that it affects the lowest bodily power of walking with one's feet, it similarly affects the brain, which is the most important part of the body, containing as it does the highest levels of the particular powers and senses. For this reason, as soon as a person desires to move his foot it will move without the slightest hesitation, since will affects the foot's power of movement.

The above also demonstrates that the power of will is actually found in the foot. Were this not so, there would inevitably be a time-lapse from the moment the will was expressed to its actual fulfillment. Since there is no time-lapse we deduce that the power of will is also found in the foot.

The power of will exerts equal influence upon the foot and the head. When a person is desirous of knowledge the power of will affects his gaining that knowledge. This is in accord with the Talmudic dictum:9 "One should always study where his heart desires, as written10 'For in G‑d's Torah is his desire,' " and as Rashi comments, "In those sections that he desires," for one's desire will affect his comprehension.

Summary: Thought, speech and action serve all the soul powers, which are composed of two categories; intellect and emotion which are limited to specific organs of the body, and delight and will which are general powers and affect all parts of the body equally.

Chapter III

Torah is intellect and wisdom. Intelligence therefore is a prerequisite to Torah study. Each person is born with his own degree of intelligence, as the famous saying11 goes, "People differ in their understanding." We observe that some people are born with a great deal of intelligence while others are not. There are those who already show signs of genius in their earliest childhood while others, though advanced in years, are far from bright. This demonstrates conclusively that intelligence is an inborn trait. This being so, how is it possible for intellect to be affected by desire?

The matter is as follows: Most important of all is will and desire, and they can affect the intellect. For even the person who is not overly intelligent is so only on a revealed level. Only regarding this level are some more intelligent than others. In truth, even the unintelligent person possesses due to the completeness of his soul as great a degree of latent intelligence and understanding as does the greatest intellectual. The person who truly desires to excel intellectually will manifest the necessary intellect, for will affects the latent intellectual powers of the soul. His desire will cause his powers of intellect to be revealed to a greater degree than they were previously. This is the meaning of the Talmudic12 saying: "A wise man when he so desires" when he truly desires he becomes wise, since will affects the intellect.

Will affects intellect because will is an encompassing power, while intellect and emotions are particular powers, each particular power bound to a specific organ. The powers of intellect are in the brain. The three powers of chochmah, binah and daas each have their own vessel the particular part of the brain wherein each power resides. The emotive powers, too, have their own particular vessel the heart. The same holds true regarding the other powers and the organs in which the particular powers reside, e.g., the power of sight is found in the eye, etc. Each organ is created in a manner that makes it compatible with the function of the particular power that resides within it. Thus it follows that intellect, the highest and most refined of all the particular powers, resides in the highest and most refined vessel of the body the brain. The emotive powers not intellect are manifest in the rest of the body.

Summary: Will acts upon the soul's power of intellect, causing it to be revealed to a greater degree. The concept of becoming wise when one so desires. Each of the powers of intellect, emotion, sight, sound, smell, taste and movement, resides in its own particular compatible organ. The most refined organ of all is the brain.

Chapter IV

This matter, however, must be understood in greater depth. As mentioned earlier, it is indeed true that intellect is revealed mainly in the brain. It is mainly the emotive powers which are revealed in the body as a whole. Thus we observe that people are generally either in high spirits or depressed. Both these moods stem from the emotive powers. Yet, upon deeper reflection, we find that intellect also reveals itself in the body, even within such lower organs as the hands and feet. The hands and feet are vessels for the lowliest soul power of movement, yet they too reveal the aspect of intellect. There are those blessed with artistic or calligraphic talents which require a great deal of intelligence. Others have the ability to dance beautifully, which also requires a good deal of intelligence. We thus observe that intellect is revealed within the whole body, and not only in the brain.

The matter is to be understood as follows: the degree of intellect revealed in the body is but a faint glimmer of the intellect's essence. There are many reasons for this. The first is that, of the numerous levels of intellect, the one which deals with action and motion is the lowest. A second reason is that actions requiring movement are essentially physical acts. While it is true that the motions are guided by intellect, intellect serves only as a vehicle to achieve the main result, be it painting or dancing. The third reason is that the intellect which directs the movements of the hands and feet must first pass through the emotions, which serve to dilute it.

From the above we understand that pure intellect as revealed in the brain is on a much higher plane that that which is revealed in the rest of the body. Other bodily organs receive only the faint glimmers of intellect necessary for them to fulfill their functions. The essence of revealed intellect occurs only in the brain.

Intellect and emotion are particular powers, each residing in a compatible organ. The more spiritual the power, the more refined the organ in which it resides. The physical composition of the heart is thus coarser than the brain. In a similar fashion, the digestive tract is coarser than the heart, and the heels are even coarser than the digestive tract. There is a well-known axiom13 that the higher the degree of revelation, the greater its ability to descend. Since will is loftier than intellect, it follows that its ability to descend is greater. Therefore the power of will is found in all parts of the body, and affects all organs and powers.

As explained above, the brain is the most physically refined organ, and within it resides the superior power of revealed intellect. For this reason the influence of will on intellect is not readily apparent. Its degree of obedience to will is less than that of the foot which, lacking revealed intellect of its own, is more obedient to the will.

Just as the highly refined brain possesses a unique quality, so does the foot. Its unique quality is that the power of will is more manifest there than in the brain. For this reason it is easier to immerse the foot in hot water than the head.

In summary: All organs contain a glimmer of intellect in order to function. However, revealed intellect resides mainly in the brain. Will, the highest power, affects the coarsest organ, the heel, more than it affects the most refined organ.

Chapter V

The verse states:14 "In days to come, Yaakov shall take root, Yisroel shall blossom and bud, and the face of the world shall be filled with produce."

The verse refers to the time of exile.15 Though planting is on the level of "Yaakov," growth is on the level of "Yisroel." As we know,16 Yaakov and Yisroel allude to two spiritual levels. Yaakov is "yud eikev" [eikev in Hebrew means heel], and is at a lower spiritual level. Yisroel is the lofty level of "li rosh" " to me a head." Through spiritual service during times of exile, we ascend from the level of Yaakov to that of Yisroel.

Exile is known as a time of slumber.17 When a person sleeps, he dreams, and during a dream it is possible for totally contradictory matters to unite.18 So too concerning exile.

A mainstay of spiritual service during exile is the proper recitation of the Shema. When one says the words: "Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One,"19 he should ponder their meaning. He should understand the phrase to mean that the four "corners" of the world, the seven "heavens" and the earth; are totally nullified to the "aleph" the Infinite One, Master of the world.20

Yet exile affects a person in such a manner that soon after this lofty contemplation, all sorts of stray thoughts enter his mind. It is as if G‑d's unity was never pondered. This is particularly true when, after prayers, a person becomes involved in worldly affairs. He then tends to forget that which he pondered at the time he recited the Shema. Quite frequently, the person becomes enmeshed in pride, and completely forgets about G‑dliness.

All the above comes about because the state of exile is like a dream, in which opposites can unite.

This is the meaning of the phrase "Though I slumber, my heart is awake." Though in exile I may find myself in a state of slumber, still my heart is awake to mesirus nefesh. For in times of exile it is easier to awaken within oneself the power of mesirus nefesh than it was while the Temples stood.

The latter part of the verse, "my heart is awake," refers to the heart's essence, where the core of one's Judaism is found. This essence exists constantly, even in times of exile, and is revealed through an opponent. Opponents of Torah and mitzvos awaken the heart's essence, and the essence of Judaism. This essence reveals itself in a Jew's simple and complete faith in G‑d, and his actual mesirus nefesh.

Herein lies the additional merit of the simple and unlettered Jew. The simple Jew surpasses even the scholar, in that he possesses a greater degree of mesirus nefesh and sincerity. Simple Jews take part in congregational prayers, utter Psalms and believe in the coming of Moshiach. They do all this with the heartfelt sincerity brought about by simple and complete faith in G‑d.

Jews say: "My state of slumber is too great for me to ponder the end of exile. However, my heart is awake to the Redemption." And those Jews who think and speak about Moshiach will merit to greet him.

In summary: "Yaakov" refers to people who are simple but sincere, while "Yisroel" refers to scholars. Exile, with its internal contradictions, is likened to a dream. But it is specifically during this "dream state" that the power of mesirus nefesh regarding Torah and mitzvos becomes strengthened. Jews who speak of Moshiach and prepare themselves for his coming through repentance and good deeds will merit to greet him.