Chapter 5

פרק ה

At the conclusion of the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe depicted the study of Torah as a royal embrace: When one studies Torah, his intellect “embraces” and encompasses the Divine will and wisdom—and thus he “embraces” the King of kings Himself, since “He and His wisdom are one.” In turn, the “King” (i.e., G‑d’s will and wisdom) “embraces” the mind of the Torah student.

But while it is readily understood that the mind can be described as “embracing” the Torah knowledge that it absorbs, the meaning of Torah’s “embracing” one’s intellect is unclear. In ch. 5, the Alter Rebbe clarifies this point. He does so by elucidating the term “grasp” used in the statement by Elijah (quoted in the previous chapter), that no thought can “grasp” G‑d except by way of “grasping” the Torah.

Primarily, however, this chapter aims to show how Torah study is superior to all other mitzvot; not only is one encompassed by G‑d’s will when he studies the Torah, as when he performs any mitzvah, but furthermore, he “embraces” G‑d by understanding His wisdom as set forth in Torah.

A further explanation, to more fully elucidate the expression tefissa” (“grasp”), in the words of Elijah, “No thought can grasp You”:

וּלְתוֹסֶפֶת בֵּיאוּר, בַּאֵר הֵיטֵב לְשׁוֹן "תְּפִיסָא" שֶׁאָמַר אֵלִיָּהוּ: "לֵית מַחֲשָׁבָה תְּפִיסָא בָךְ כוּ'".

As explained in ch. 4, we cannot ordinarily “grasp” G‑d with our intellect but only through Torah study. Realizing our inability to comprehend G‑dliness will thus explain how we do grasp Him through Torah.

When any intellect perceives and understands some intellectual subject, the mind grasps that subject and encompasses it,

הִנֵּה, כָּל שֵׂכֶל כְּשֶׁמַּשְׂכִּיל וּמַשִּׂיג בְּשִׂכְלוֹ אֵיזֶה מוּשְׂכָּל, הֲרֵי הַשֵּׂכֶל תּוֹפֵס אֶת הַמּוּשְׂכָּל וּמַקִּיפוֹ בְּשִׂכְלוֹ,

and the subject is grasped and encompassed by, and is clothed within, the intellect that understood and perceived it.

וְהַמּוּשְׂכָּל נִתְפָּס וּמוּקָּף וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּתוֹךְ הַשֵּׂכֶל שֶׁהִשִּׂיגוֹ וְהִשְׂכִּילוֹ.

The subject, which is now within the human intellect, is surrounded and encompassed by that intellect, much as a material object is surrounded by the hand that grasps it.

But the subject can be said to be within the mind only once the mind has fully understood it (as indicated also by the Alter Rebbe’s use of the past tense—“…the intellect that understood and perceived it”). Before mastering the subject, however, while the mind is engaged in analyzing its details, the subject is still “above” the mind, and the relationship between them is the reverse: the mind is “within” the subject and is encompassed by it.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

Also, the intellect is clothed within the subject at the time of intellectual comprehension and grasping.1

וְגַם הַשֵּׂכֶל מְלוּבָּשׁ בַּמּוּשְׂכָּל בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁמַּשִּׂיגוֹ וְתוֹפְסוֹ בְּשִׂכְלוֹ.

Thus, in the act of understanding an idea, the mind both encompasses the concept and is encompassed by it, and this is the significance of the term “grasping” used above.

When, for example, one understands and comprehends a particular Halachah in the Mishnah or Gemara, clearly and thoroughly, through strenuous application of his mind,

דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל: כְּשֶׁאָדָם מֵבִין וּמַשִּׂיג אֵיזוֹ הֲלָכָה בְּמִשְׁנָה אוֹ בִּגְמָרָא לַאֲשׁוּרָהּ עַל בּוּרְיָהּ

his intellect grasps and encompasses that Halachah, and his intellect is also clothed in it at that time when he strives to understand it.

הֲרֵי שִׂכְלוֹ תּוֹפֵס וּמַקִּיף אוֹתָהּ, וְגַם שִׂכְלוֹ מְלוּבָּשׁ בָּהּ בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה.

Now, this Halachah is the wisdom and will of G‑d—the rationale underlying the Halachah is G‑d’s wisdom, and the ruling itself is G‑d’s will, as mentioned in ch. 4.

וְהִנֵּה, הֲלָכָה זוֹ, הִיא חָכְמָתוֹ וּרְצוֹנוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

It so arose in His will that if, for example, Reuven would claim thus and Shimon thus, such and such should be the verdict between them.

שֶׁעָלָה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ, שֶׁכְּשֶׁיִּטְעוֹן רְאוּבֵן כָּךְ וְכָךְ דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל וְשִׁמְעוֹן כָּךְ וְכָךְ – יִהְיֶה הַפְּסַק בֵּינֵיהֶם כָּךְ וְכָךְ.

Even if it never did nor ever will come to pass that litigation occur over these arguments and claims,

וְאַף אִם לֹא הָיָה וְלֹא יִהְיֶה הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְעוֹלָם, לָבֹא לְמִשְׁפָּט עַל טְעָנוֹת וּתְבִיעוֹת אֵלּוּ,

Thus, were the purpose of Torah study only to learn how to practice its laws—in this case: how to resolve this dispute—then the study of such a law would indeed serve no purpose. In fact, however, there is great value in studying even such a Halachah, for thereby one knows G‑d’s will and wisdom and attaches himself to it, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

yet, since it arose thus in G‑d’s will and wisdom that if one person would claim this way and the other that way, the verdict be such and such,

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, מֵאַחַר שֶׁכָּךְ עָלָה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, שֶׁאִם יִטְעוֹן זֶה כָּךְ וְזֶה כָּךְ, יִהְיֶה הַפְּסַק כָּךְ,

therefore, when one knows and comprehends this verdict as a Halachah set forth in the Mishnah or Gemara or Poskim (the halachic codifiers),

הֲרֵי כְּשֶׁאָדָם יוֹדֵעַ וּמַשִּׂיג בְּשִׂכְלוֹ פְּסַק זֶה כַּהֲלָכָה הָעֲרוּכָה בְּמִשְׁנָה אוֹ גְּמָרָא אוֹ פּוֹסְקִים,

If one arrives at the identical verdict on the basis of any other legal system, this verdict represents human knowledge, not Divine wisdom. If, however, he derives the ruling from Torah,

he then actually comprehends and grasps the will and wisdom of G‑d, Whom no thought can grasp, nor (can any thought grasp] His will and wisdom,

הֲרֵי זֶה מַשִּׂיג וְתוֹפֵס וּמַקִּיף בְּשִׂכְלוֹ רְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, דְּלֵית מַחֲשָׁבָה תְּפִיסָא בֵּיהּ וְלֹא בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ,

except when they—G-d’s will and wisdom—clothe themselves in the halachot set before us.

כִּי אִם בְּהִתְלַבְּשׁוּתָם בַּהֲלָכוֹת הָעֲרוּכוֹת לְפָנֵינוּ,

This is one facet of understanding Torah, namely, that thereby one’s intellect encompasses the Divine will and wisdom. Furthermore:

His intellect is also clothed within them—within the Divine will and wisdom contained in Torah; his mind is encompassed by them.

וְגַם שִׂכְלוֹ מְלוּבָּשׁ בָּהֶם.

Now this is a most wonderful unity; in the physical realm, there is no unity similar or parallel to it, i.e., of two things as disproportionate as human intellect and Torah, G‑d’s intellect—

וְהוּא יִחוּד נִפְלָא שֶׁאֵין יִחוּד כָּמוֹהוּ וְלֹא כְּעֶרְכּוֹ נִמְצָא כְּלָל בְּגַשְׁמִיּוּת,

that they should actually become one and united from every side and angle.

לִהְיוֹת לַאֲחָדִים וּמְיוּחָדִים מַמָּשׁ מִכָּל צַד וּפִנָּה.

This is the distinctive, infinitely great and wonderful superiority of the mitzvah of knowing and comprehending Torah

וְזֹאת מַעֲלָה יְתֵרָה גְּדוֹלָה וְנִפְלָאָה לְאֵין קֵץ אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְוַת יְדִיעַת הַתּוֹרָה וְהַשָּׂגָתָהּ

over all the mitzvot involving action, and even over those performed through speech; indeed, even over the mitzvah of oral Torah study.

עַל כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת, וַאֲפִילוּ עַל מִצְוֹת הַתְּלוּיוֹת בְּדִבּוּר, וַאֲפִילוּ עַל מִצְוַת תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּדִבּוּר.

The precept of Torah study may be performed by reciting passages of Scripture, even if one is ignorant of their meaning. Such study, however, lacks the infinitely superior quality of comprehending Torah, namely:

For through all the mitzvot performed in action and speech, G‑d clothes the soul and envelops it with His light from “head” to “foot,” i.e., from its highest level to its lowest,

כִּי עַל יְדֵי כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת שֶׁבְּדִבּוּר וּמַעֲשֶׂה, הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מַלְבִּישׁ אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ, וּמַקִּיפָהּ אוֹר ה' מֵרֹאשָׁהּ וְעַד רַגְלָהּ,

while in the case of the knowledge of Torah, apart from the intellect’s being clothed in (i.e., enveloped by) Divine wisdom, the Divine wisdom is also within him, so that he envelops it,

וּבִידִיעַת הַתּוֹרָה, מִלְּבַד שֶׁהַשֵּׂכֶל מְלוּבָּשׁ בְּחָכְמַת ה', הִנֵּה גַּם חָכְמַת ה' בְּקִרְבּוֹ

through his intellect’s comprehending, grasping, and encompassing whatever Torah knowledge it is capable of grasping and comprehending,

– מַה שֶּׁהַשֵּׂכֶל מַשִּׂיג וְתוֹפֵס וּמַקִּיף בְּשִׂכְלוֹ מַה שֶּׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לִתְפּוֹס וּלְהַשִּׂיג מִידִיעַת הַתּוֹרָה,

each man according to his intellect and his capacity for knowledge and understanding in Pardes2the four modes of Torah interpretation: peshat, remez, derush, and sod.

אִישׁ כְּפִי שִׂכְלוֹ וְכֹחַ יְדִיעָתוֹ וְהַשָּׂגָתוֹ בִּפְשַׁט־רֶמֶז־דְּרוּשׁ־סוֹד.

Thus, apart from the effect that Torah shares with other mitzvot, namely, that a mitzvah when performed envelops the soul in Divine light, Torah study has the additional effect of filling the soul (internally) with the light of Divine wisdom contained in the Torah that the soul grasps and encompasses.

Since through the knowledge of Torah, the Torah is absorbed in the soul and intellect of the person and is encompassed within them,

וּלְפִי שֶׁבִּידִיעַת הַתּוֹרָה, הַתּוֹרָה מְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם וְשִׂכְלוֹ וּמוּקֶּפֶת בְּתוֹכָם,

it is therefore called the “bread” and “food” of the soul.

לָכֵן נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם "לֶחֶם" וּ"מְזוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ".

Just as physical bread nourishes the body when it is ingested and absorbed within it, and [when] it is transformed there into blood and flesh of one’s own flesh,

כִּי כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַלֶּחֶם הַגַּשְׁמִי זָן אֶת הַגּוּף כְּשֶׁמַּכְנִיסוֹ בְּתוֹכוֹ וְקִרְבּוֹ מַמָּשׁ, וְנֶהְפָּךְ שָׁם לִהְיוֹת דָּם וּבָשָׂר כִּבְשָׂרוֹ,

and only then will the body live and be sustained;

וַאֲזַי יִחְיֶה וְיִתְקַיֵּם,

similarly, through the knowledge and comprehension of Torah by the soul of a person who studies it well, with the concentration of his intellect,

כָּךְ בִּידִיעַת הַתּוֹרָה וְהַשָּׂגָתָהּ בְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם שֶׁלּוֹמְדָהּ הֵיטֵב בְּעִיּוּן שִׂכְלוֹ

to the point where the Torah is grasped by his mind and is joined with him so that they become one,

עַד שֶׁנִּתְפֶּסֶת בְּשִׂכְלוֹ וּמִתְאַחֶדֶת עִמּוֹ וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים

[the Torah thereby] becomes food for the soul.

– נַעֲשָׂה מָזוֹן לַנֶּפֶשׁ

It becomes inner life for it, from the Fountainhead of life, the blessed Ein Sof, Who is clothed in His wisdom and Torah that are in [the soul] of the Torah student.

וְחַיִּים בְּקִרְבָּהּ, מֵחַיֵּי הַחַיִּים אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּחָכְמָתוֹ וְתוֹרָתוֹ שֶׁבְּקִרְבָּהּ.

This is the meaning of the verse, “Your Torah is in my inner parts,”3 meaning that Torah is food for the soul.

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְתוֹרָתְךָ בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי",

It is similarly written in Etz Chaim (Portal 44, ch. 3) that mitzvot are the “garments” of the souls in Paradise.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּ"עֵץ חַיִּים" שַׁעַר מ"ד פֶּרֶק ג', שֶׁלְּבוּשֵׁי הַנְּשָׁמוֹת בְּגַן עֵדֶן הֵן הַמִּצְוֹת,

In Paradise, souls enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence. In order that the soul, a finite being, be capable of bearing the infinite radiance, it must be shielded by spiritual “garments.” The mitzvot it performed during its life on earth provide the soul with these garments, for, as explained above, performing mitzvot envelops the soul in Divine light, as a garment envelops the body.

Torah on the other hand is the food of the souls in Paradise, which had engaged in Torah study for its own sake during their life on this earth. It is similarly written in the Zohar (Vayakhel, p. 210).

וְהַתּוֹרָה הִיא הַמָּזוֹן לַנְּשָׁמוֹת שֶׁעָסְקוּ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בַּתּוֹרָה לִשְׁמָהּ, וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר וַיַּקְהֵל דַּף ר"י.

The meaning of [Torah study] “for its own sake” is [study] with the intent of binding one’s soul to G‑d by comprehending the Torah,4

וְ"לִשְׁמָהּ", הַיְינוּ כְּדֵי לְקַשֵּׁר נַפְשׁוֹ לַה' עַל יְדֵי הַשָּׂגַת הַתּוֹרָה,

each man according to the capacity of his intellect, as explained in Pri Etz Chaim.

אִישׁ כְּפִי שִׂכְלוֹ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בִּ"פְרִי עֵץ חַיִּים".

We thus see from the above statement in Etz Chaim that Torah is the food of the soul and mitzvot are its garments.

But the question now arises: If Torah and mitzvot each have their own unique quality, why the superiority of Torah study over mitzvot? The Alter Rebbe answers this by defining the terms “food” and “garments” in their spiritual context. From this explanation, it will become clear that Torah has the qualities of both “food” and “garment”—hence its superiority.

(5The “food” of the soul refers to the level of “indwelling light”; the “garments” refer to the level of “encompassing light.”

[וְהַמָּזוֹן הִיא בְּחִינַת אוֹר פְּנִימִי, וְהַלְּבוּשִׁים בְּחִינַת מַקִּיפִים.

For this reason, our Sages have said6 that Torah study is equal to all the other mitzvot combined,

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁתַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה שָׁקוּל כְּנֶגֶד כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת,

for mitzvot are “garments” alone, while Torah is “food” and also a “garment” for the intellectual soul.

לְפִי שֶׁהַמִּצְוֹת הֵן לְבוּשִׁים לְבַד, וְהַתּוֹרָה הִיא מָזוֹן וְגַם לְבוּשׁ לַנֶּפֶשׁ הַמַּשְׂכֶּלֶת,

Torah serves as a “garment” because one clothes himself within it by his soul’s concentration on it and study of it.

שֶׁמִּתְלַבֵּשׁ בָּהּ בְּעִיּוּנָהּ וְלִמּוּדָהּ,

How much more so, if one expresses the words of Torah orally,

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן כְּשֶׁמּוֹצִיא בְּפִיו בְּדִבּוּר,

for the breath of speech becomes a kind of “encompassing light,” as written in Pri Etz Chaim.)

שֶׁהֶבֶל הַדִּבּוּר נַעֲשֶׂה בְּחִינַת אוֹר מַקִּיף, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בִּ"פְרִי עֵץ חַיִּים"]:

We thus see that Torah study possesses the qualities of both “food” and “garment.” It is thus superior to other mitzvot, which are “garments” alone.