Chapter 11

פרק יא

The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that the sefirot—the Divine attributes and the Divine wisdom and will—are designated by their respective names only in relation to created beings, which are granted existence and life and guidance by He Who enclothes Himself in those attributes.

However, since these attributes are united with Him in a perfect unity, they are not identifiable by any names whatsoever when considered relative to Him. In this, they correspond to the sunlight that is still within the sun: it is not deemed “light” because at that stage, it is absolutely absorbed within its source.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain that not only are the attributes and sefirot called by their respective names in relation to created beings alone, but even the ten utterances—through which the attributes become manifest, thereby bringing created beings into existence and providing them with life—are also called “utterances” only in relation to created beings. They are not called so relative to G‑d, however, inasmuch as they are united with the attributes, which in turn are united in perfect unity with the Holy One, blessed be He.

The ten utterances are also designated “utterances” only in relation to created beings since this is a term that relates to revelation, as shall presently be explained.

וְהִנֵּה, גַּם עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת, גַּם כֵּן נִקְרְאוּ בְּשֵׁם "מַאֲמָרוֹת" לְגַבֵּי הַנִּבְרָאִים בִּלְבָד.

For just as the emotive attributes of the human soul, when they surface in order to be revealed in [a corresponding] action,

כִּי כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַמִּדּוֹת שֶׁבְּנִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם, כְּשֶׁבָּאוֹת לְהִתְגַּלּוֹת בְּמַעֲשֶׂה,

appear enclothed in the letters of thought, [so do the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He]—

הֵן בָּאוֹת מְלוּבָּשׁוֹת בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה,

for example, the soul’s attribute of kindness and mercy cannot be revealed (i.e., find expression) in actual deed unless one first thinks about and contemplates doing an actual act of charity and kindness,

כְּגוֹן, מִדַּת חֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים שֶׁבַּנְּשָׁמָה, אִי אֶפְשָׁר לָבֹא לִידֵי הִתְגַּלּוּת בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ, כִּי אִם עַל יְדֵי שֶׁמְּחַשֵּׁב בְּדַעְתּוֹ וּמְהַרְהֵר מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה וָחֶסֶד לַעֲשׂוֹתָהּ בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ,

for one cannot act without thought.

כִּי אִי אֶפְשָׁר לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּלִי מַחֲשָׁבָה,

It sometimes happens that before an emotive attribute finds expression in action, it must first become enclothed not only in thought but also in speech. This is now explained.

If a person, such as a king, commands others to perform [an act of kindness],

וְאִם מְצַוֶּה לַאֲחֵרִים לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּמוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ,

then the attribute of kindness and with it the letters of thought are garbed in the letters of speech.

אֲזַי מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת מִדַּת הַחֶסֶד וְגַם אוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה – בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר

(1This is also the case when one speaks words of kindness and compassion to his friend)—

[וְכֵן כְּשֶׁמְּדַבֵּר דִּבְרֵי חֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים לְרֵעֵהוּ]

Thus, it is through letters of thought or letters of speech that the soul’s faculties and attributes are revealed—

so, figuratively speaking, when the emotive attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He, reach the level at which their activity is to be revealed in the lower [worlds],

כָּךְ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, מִדּוֹתָיו שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, כְּשֶׁבָּאוֹת לִבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת פְּעוּלָּתָן בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים,

this revelation and the flow of this action are called an “utterance” and a combination of letters,

נִקְרָא גִּילּוּי זֶה וְהַמְשָׁכַת פְּעוּלָּה זוֹ – בְּשֵׁם "מַאֲמָר" וְ"צֵירוּף אוֹתִיּוֹת",

for there can be no action proceeding from His holy, emotive attributes without [the intermediacy of] combinations which are called “letters.”

שֶׁהֲרֵי אִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁתִּהְיֶה שׁוּם פְּעוּלָּה נִמְשֶׁכֶת מִמִּדּוֹתָיו הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת בְּלִי צֵירוּפִים הַנִּקְרָאִים בְּשֵׁם "אוֹתִיּוֹת".

Action can result (or be revealed) from G‑d’s emotive attributes only when a number of particular powers combine to produce this revelation.

For instance, for the creation of light from the attribute of kindness, there issued from it a flow of action and a power with which to produce and create the light.

כְּגוֹן, לִבְרִיאַת הָאוֹר מִמִּדַּת הַחֶסֶד – נִמְשָׁךְ מִמֶּנָּה הַמְשָׁכַת פְּעוּלָּה וְכֹחַ לִפְעוֹל וְלִבְרוֹא בּוֹ אֶת הָאוֹר,

The attribute of kindness is capable of producing varying results and various manifestations of creation, as shall soon be explained. In order for it to create light rather than something else, the attribute of chesed must produce a specific revelation and power whose makeup is such that specifically light will be created from it.

The flow of this power and this life-force is called by the name of the “utterance” and the [combination of the] letters [that constitute the Biblical phrase], “Let there be light.”

וְהַמְשָׁכַת כֹּחַ זֶה וְחַיּוּת זוֹ, נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם מַאֲמַר וְאוֹתִיּוֹת "יְהִי אוֹר".

Although they are not actual letters of thought like our letters of thought, G‑d forbid,

כִּי אַף שֶׁאֵינָן כְּאוֹתִיּוֹת מַחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁלָּנוּ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

The Alter Rebbe had previously drawn an analogy: just as a person’s soul is revealed through letters of thought, so, too, do the Divine attributes become manifest through letters of thought. He therefore forestalls any misunderstanding by pointing out in the above clause that whereas the soul actually contains letters, with all their inherent limitations, this is not so Above.

nevertheless, they are similar to our letters of thought in that they are a phenomenon which indicates the bringing into existence of the light from nothing; i.e., they are the particular power that creates light.

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, הֵם עִנְיָן הַמּוֹרֶה עַל הִתְהַוּוּת הָאוֹר מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

Hence, light was created from this flow of power, and not other things, which were also created from the attribute of kindness, such as water and the like,

שֶׁלָּכֵן נִבְרָא הָאוֹר מֵהַמְשָׁכַת כֹּחַ זֶה, וְלֹא נִבְרְאוּ מִמֶּנּוּ דְּבָרִים אֲחֵרִים שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ גַּם כֵּן מִמִּדַּת חֶסֶד, כְּמוֹ מַיִם וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָהֶם,

Thus, the combination of letters is such that this Divine power specifically creates light. It is therefore deemed to be the “utterance” which proclaimed, “Let there be light.” This selfsame attribute of kindness creates other things, such as water,

because in them were clothed powers from other combinations, which indicate the bringing into existence of water and the like.

מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשׁוּ בָּהֶם כֹּחוֹת בִּבְחִינוֹת צֵירוּפִים אֲחֵרִים, הַמּוֹרִים עַל הִתְהַוּוּת הַמַּיִם וְכַיּוֹצֵא.

Accordingly, all life-forces and powers

וְנִמְצָא, כִּי כָּל חַיּוּת וְכֹחוֹת

which issue from [G‑d’s] holy, emotive attributes to the lower [worlds], to create them ex nihilo and to give them life and sustain them, are called “holy letters.”

הַנִּמְשָׁכוֹת מִמִּדּוֹתָיו הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת לַתַּחְתּוֹנִים לְבָרְאָם מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ וּלְהַחֲיוֹתָם וּלְקַיְּימָם – נִקְרָאוֹת בְּשֵׁם "אוֹתִיּוֹת הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת",

These are the flow of the life-force from His will and His wisdom and His emotive attributes to bring worlds into being and give them life.

שֶׁהֵן בְּחִינַת הַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת מֵרְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ וּמִדּוֹתָיו לְהִתְהַוּוּת עוֹלָמוֹת וּלְהַחֲיוֹתָם.

These worlds that are created by the letters are of two kinds:

וְהֵם שְׁנֵי מִינֵי עוֹלָמוֹת:

“hidden worlds unrevealed,” which come into existence and live and are sustained by concealed powers and life-forces, like, for example, the letters of thought in the human soul,

"עָלְמִין סְתִימִין דְּלָא אִתְגַּלְיָין", הֵם הַמִּתְהַוִּים וְחַיִּים וְקַיָּימִים מִכֹּחוֹת וְהַמְשָׁכוֹת נֶעְלָמוֹת, כְּמוֹ אוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבְּנִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל;

Just as the letters of each man’s thought are concealed from others, these Divine powers are similarly concealed from created beings. From them were created the “hidden worlds.”

and “worlds revealed,” [which] were created and live from the revelation of the hidden powers and life-forces called “letters of thought.”

וְ"עָלְמִין דְּאִתְגַּלְיָין", נִבְרְאוּ וְחַיִּים מֵהִתְגַּלּוּת שֶׁנִּתְגַּלּוּ כֹּחוֹת וְהַמְשָׁכוֹת הַנֶּעְלָמוֹת, הַנִּקְרָאוֹת בְּשֵׁם "אוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה",

When these [“letters of thought”] are in a state of revelation in order to give life to the revealed worlds,

וּכְשֶׁהֵן בִּבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת לְהַחֲיוֹת עָלְמִין דְּאִתְגַּלְיָין,

they are called “utterances” and “the word of G‑d” and the “breath of His mouth,”

נִקְרָאוֹת בְּשֵׁם "מַאֲמָרוֹת" וּ"דְבַר ה'" וְ"רוּחַ פִּיו",

like, for example, the letters of a man’s speech, which reveal to his listeners what was concealed and hidden in his heart.

כְּמוֹ אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר בָּאָדָם עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, שֶׁהֵן מְגַלּוֹת לַשּׁוֹמְעִים מַה שֶּׁהָיָה צָפוּן וְסָתוּם בְּלִבּוֹ.

Likewise, the Divine “letters of speech” are a revelation of the force that grants existence and infuses life into those created beings that are of the category of “worlds revealed.”

In truth, however, the supernal letters of speech are far higher than the level and essence of the wisdom and intellect of created beings.

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת, בְּחִינַת אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁל מַעְלָה – הִיא לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִמַּדְרֵגַת וּמַהוּת חָכְמָה וְשֵׂכֶל הַנִּבְרָאִים,

In this, they differ from the letters of man’s thought and speech, which are “inanimate” and belong to a level far lower than intellect.

The Alter Rebbe now demonstrates that the supernal letters of speech transcend man’s intellect and wisdom:

For man, possessor of wisdom and intellect, was created by the utterance and the letters of [the phrase], “Let us make man in our image…,”2

שֶׁהֲרֵי בְּמַאֲמַר וְאוֹתִיּוֹת "נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵינוּ וְגוֹ'" – נִבְרָא הָאָדָם בַּעַל חָכְמָה וָשֵׂכֶל,

Since wisdom and intellect are derived from these letters, it is obvious that the letters themselves are far superior to them.

or [man, possessor of wisdom and intellect, was created] even3 by the Divine breath alone, as it is written, “And He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life.”4

אוֹ אֲפִילוּ בַּהֶבֶל הָעֶלְיוֹן לְבַד, כְּדִכְתִיב: "וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים",

It was from this “breath” that was breathed into man that he became a rational being.

Hence, since Divine speech and breath create man, who possesses wisdom and intellect, it follows that the Divine speech and breath are the source of wisdom and intellect in the soul of Adam,

וְאִם כֵּן, הַדִּבּוּר וְהֶבֶל הָעֶלְיוֹן, הוּא מְקוֹר הַחָכְמָה וְהַשֵּׂכֶל שֶׁבְּנִשְׁמַת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן,

which contains all the souls of the tzaddikim, who are superior to the ministering angels and whose intellect too is superior to that of the angels. All this came forth from the Divine speech and breath.

הַכּוֹלֶלֶת כָּל נִשְׁמוֹת הַצַּדִּיקִים, שֶׁהֵם גְּדוֹלִים מִמַּלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת.

The reason [for the transcendence of the supernal letters over the soul] is that the letters of [G‑d’s] speech are effluences of power and life-force from His emotive attributes,

וְהַיְינוּ, לְפִי שֶׁאוֹתִיּוֹת דִּיבּוּרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הֵן בְּחִינוֹת הַמְשָׁכוֹת כֹּחוֹת וְחַיּוּת מִמִּדּוֹתָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

which are united with His Essence and Being in a perfect unity that is infinitely higher than the level of wisdom in created beings.

הַמְיוּחָדוֹת בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד, שֶׁהוּא לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה לְאֵין קֵץ מִמַּדְרֵגַת חָכְמָה שֶׁבַּנִּבְרָאִים.

They are termed “letters,” not in relation to created beings, but only relative to [G‑d’s] emotive attributes themselves.

וְלֹא נִקְרְאוּ בְּשֵׁם "אוֹתִיּוֹת" לְגַבֵּי הַנִּבְרָאִים, אֶלָּא לְגַבֵּי מִדּוֹתָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּכְבוֹדָן וּבְעַצְמָן.

The name “letters,” which signifies that they are lower than wisdom and intellect, is not applied to them in relation to created beings, for as explained earlier, they are far superior to created wisdom and intellect. Rather, this term is applied to them relative to G‑d’s emotive attributes, inasmuch as they are only “letters”—revelations of these attributes.

Now they—the supernal letters—are twenty-two kinds of effluences of life-force and power, differing from one another,

וְהִנֵּה הֵן כ"ב מִינֵי הַמְשָׁכוֹת חַיּוּת וְכֹחוֹת שׁוֹנִים זֶה מִזֶּה,

by which all the higher and lower worlds and all the creatures in them were created.

שֶׁבָּהֶן נִבְרְאוּ כָּל הָעוֹלָמוֹת עֶלְיוֹנִים וְתַחְתּוֹנִים וְכָל הַבְּרוּאִים שֶׁבְּתוֹכָם,

For so it arose in [G‑d’s] will and wisdom that He create the world with exactly twenty-two different kinds of effluence, neither fewer nor more,

שֶׁכָּךְ עָלָה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ לִבְרוֹא הָעוֹלָם בְּכ"ב מִינֵי הַמְשָׁכוֹת שׁוֹנוֹת דַּוְקָא, לֹא פָחוֹת וְלֹא יוֹתֵר.

and these5 are the twenty-two letters which are fixed in the mouth and tongue, as we have learned in Sefer Yetzirah.

וְהֵן הֵן כ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת הַקְּבוּעוֹת בְּפֶה וְלָשׁוֹן, כְּדִתְנַן בְּסֵפֶר יְצִירָה

(6Their written shape—i.e., the shape of the letters of these utterances as written in the Torah—indicates the form of the flow, as will be explained later.)

[וּתְמוּנָתָן בִּכְתָב – הִיא מוֹרָה עַל צִיּוּר הַהַמְשָׁכָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר לְקַמָּן]

For the letters of speech and thought in the human soul are also outflows from the essence and being of the intellect and the emotive attributes, as is explained elsewhere.

שֶׁגַּם אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר וְהַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם, הֵן הַמְשָׁכוֹת מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַמִּדּוֹת שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ, מִמַּהוּתָן וְעַצְמוּתָן, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר:

Commentary of the Rebbe on Chapter Eleven

Having explained toward the end of ch. 11 that the supernal letters are twenty-two different kinds of effluences of life-force and power by which G‑d created the world, the Alter Rebbe goes on to say that “these are the twenty-two letters which are fixed in the mouth and tongue, as we have learned in Sefer Yetzirah.” The Alter Rebbe then goes on to say that the shape of the written letters “indicates the form of the flow.” He concludes: “For the letters of speech and thought in the human soul are also outflows from the essence and being of the intellect and emotive attributes [of the soul].”

The Rebbe asks a number of questions: First of all, what is the Alter Rebbe’s intent in saying all of the above; how does all this relate to our text? Furthermore, what is novel about the concept that the twenty-two letters “are fixed in the mouth and tongue”? Why, moreover, must proof be adduced from Sefer Yetzirah when this is something which is readily apparent to all? And why does the Alter Rebbe not state all this in ch. 2, where he explains that the Divine life-force which creates all creatures is composed of the supernal letters, and so forth?

In addition, the Alter Rebbe’s statement that “their written shape indicates the form of the flow” emphatically belongs at the end of ch. 12 where he discusses the differences between the letters at length.

The crux of the matter, explains the Rebbe, is as follows:

The general content of this chapter and the one preceding it is that the (a) ten utterances, the supernal letters, are also united with G‑d; (b) the manner of their union is wondrous. Nonetheless, they are called “light” and “utterance,” inasmuch as “the Torah speaks as in the language of man”; i.e., there is at least the degree of similarity that obtains between an analogy and its analogue. The sefirot may thus be likened to light, and their effluences—the ten utterances—may be likened to mortal utterances and letters.

Accordingly, the following questions arise:

(a) Man’s speech and letters are formed by the larynx, palate, tongue, etc., as well as by his breath. Thus, the letters of man’s speech do not derive from his intellect and emotive attributes. How, then, are these letters analogous to the ten utterances, which flow from the intellect and emotive attributes of G‑d and remain connected with Him?

(b) In point of fact, it is true even Above that speech and letters derive from the supernal “five organs of verbal articulation” (as discussed in ch. 2). How does this accord with the statement that the letters emanate from the Divine intellect and emotive attributes?

(c) The terminology in the analogue is that the power for the creation of light emanates (and not that light is “created”) from the attribute of chesed through the utterance, “Let there be light.” The same is true with regard to the power by which water is created: it, too, emanates from the attribute of chesed. All this clearly implies that the powers and the letters are already found within this attribute. However, this is not the case with regard to the mortal breath that forms letters. The breath itself has assumed no form at all: it is only formed into the shape of letters in the course of its passage through the organs of verbal articulation. Thus, the letters formed in the mouth are unlike the powers and letters, which are already found within the emotive attributes.

All these questions are answered by the Alter Rebbe when he states that the effluence of the powers and life-forces which emanate from the sefirot to bring about creation is both Above and below “the twenty-two letters.” These letters are merely “fixed” (i.e., implanted) “in the mouth and tongue.” Essentially, however, they are already to be found in the intellect and emotive attributes from where they are drawn down into speech. And since this concept is novel, the Alter Rebbe cites support from Sefer Yetzirah—that the twenty-two letters are indeed merely “fixed in the mouth and tongue” and not created by them.

According to the above teaching—that the letters derive from the essential core of the intellect and the emotions—we understand that the union of the letters with their essence is far greater than what it would be if they were to derive from the organs of articulation. Indeed, they are united with the essence in a manner similar to the manner in which the intellect itself (from which the letters derive) is in turn united with its essence. Moreover, this is so not only regarding the letters of thought and speech but also in regard to the letters of action: they, too, are united with their source in a similar manner. For the shape of the written letters (which denote action) indicates the form of their flow; i.e., their shape reflects the manner in which they flow from the quintessential substance of intellect and emotions.

In light of the above, concludes the Rebbe, another most difficult problem will be resolved.

The Alter Rebbe said earlier that man is created as a rational being by the Divine utterance and letters because the supernal letters are far superior to man’s intellect. Now, this reason is puzzling. The distance between letters and intellect is not measured in degrees of higher and lower, for speech and intellect are qualitatively different entities. Why, then, does the Alter Rebbe state that the supernal letters are “far higher” than the wisdom of created beings?

According to the above explanation, however, this is eminently understandable: Since the letters of speech in fact derive from wisdom—moreover, from the very essence of wisdom—they are able to give rise to wisdom and intelligence within man.