In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe explained that the statement of the Sages that “G‑d desired an abode in the lower realms” refers to our physical world. This is the lowest of worlds in terms of the degree of revelation of the divine creative power: it is hidden in this world as it is in no other world. G‑d desired precisely this world, pervaded as it is with “doubled and redoubled darkness,” as His “abode”, where His presence would ultimately be revealed to a greater degree than it is revealed in the higher worlds, without any concealing “garments” whatever.

This will come to pass in the Messianic era, the period for which the world was originally created, when G‑dliness will be manifest throughout the world, so that all the nations on earth will experience divine revelation.

והנה תכלית השלימות הזה של ימות המשיח ותחיית המתים, שהוא גילוי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא בעולם הזה הגשמי

Now this ultimate perfection of the Messianic era and [the time of] the resurrection of the dead, meaning the revelation of Ein Sof-light in this physical world,

תלוי במעשינו ועבודתנו כל זמן משך הגלות

is dependent on our actions and [divine] service throughout the period of exile (unlike the aforementioned revelation at Sinai, which was initiated by G‑d).

כי הגורם שכר המצוה היא המצוה בעצמה

For it is the mitzvah itself that causes i.e., creates its reward.

The Rebbe notes: Unlike, for example, the wages paid by the owner of a field to the laborer who plows and plants in it, where the laborer does not create the money he is paid, a mitzvah actually creates its own reward.

כי בעשייתה ממשיך האדם גילוי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא מלמעלה למטה

For by performing [the mitzvah] man draws the revelation of the blessed Ein Sof-light from above downwards,

להתלבש בגשמיות עולם הזה, בדבר שהיה תחלה תחת ממשלת קליפת נוגה, ומקבל חיותה ממנה

to be clothed in the physicality of this world, i.e., in an object which had heretofore been under the dominion of kelipat nogah and had received its vitality from this kelipah;

שהם כל הדברים הטהורים ומותרים שנעשית בהם המצוה מעשיית

namely, all pure, permissible objects with which the act of the mitzvah is performed. By performing the mitzvah, man draws the Ein Sof-light upon the object with which it is performed.

The Alter Rebbe now illustrates his phrase — “pure, permissible objects with which the act of the mitzvah is performed,” citing as examples one object from each of the three categories: animal life, vegetative, and inanimate life.

כגון קלף התפילין ומזוזה וספר תורה

For example, the parchment of the tefillin, mezuzah and Sefer Torah which must be made of the skins of permissible, kosher animals.

וכמאמר רז״ל: לא הוכשר למלאכת שמים אלא טהורים ומותרים בפיך

As our Sages state:1 “For the ‘work of heaven’ i.e., mitzvah objects only that which is pure and permissible to eat may be used.”

The parchment derived from such animals is, however, under the dominion of kelipat nogah until one uses it for tefillin, etc., when the mitzvah draws upon the parchment a revelation of Ein Sof-light.

וכן אתרוג שאינו ערלה,

Similarly, an etrog which is not orlah* (the forbidden fruit of a tree’s first three harvests),

*NOTE

In reference to his earlier stipulation that an etrog not be orlah, and that charity be honestly acquired, the Alter Rebbe notes:

הגהה

שהערלה היא משלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי שאין להם עליה לעולם, כמו שכתוב בעץ חיים

For orlah is of the three completely unclean kelipot that can never ascend into holiness, as is written in Etz Chayim; thus fruit which is orlah, deriving its vitality from these kelipot, cannot be elevated by having a mitzvah performed with it.

וכן כל מצוה הבאה בעבירה, חס ושלום

Similarly any mitzvah whose performance involved a transgression (G‑d forbid). Since the sinful act receives its vitality from the three completely unclean kelipot, the resulting mitzvah cannot elevate it.

END OF NOTE

When performed, however, with pure and permissible objects, the mitzvah elevates those objects from kelipat nogah to holiness, to be united with the Ein Sof-light, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

ומעות הצדקה שאינן גזל, וכיוצא בהם

or money given to charity that has not been acquired through theft, and their like i.e., other physical objects used in performing a mitzvah, all of which were previously in the realm of kelipat nogah, and (as the Alter Rebbe will conclude presently) are now merged into the Divine Will by serving the purpose of a mitzvah.

ועכשיו שמקיים בהם מצות ה׳ ורצונו

Now that one fulfills G‑d’s commandment and Will with these objects,

הרי החיות שבהם עולה ומתבטל ונכלל באור אין סוף ברוך הוא, שהוא רצונו יתברך המלובש בהם

the vitality within them ascends and is dissolved and absorbed into the blessed Ein Sof-light, which is His Will that is clothed in the mitzvot, the Divine Will that each mitzvah represents.

מאחר שאין שם בחינת הסתר פנים כלל, להסתיר אורו יתברך

For [in a mitzvah] there is no “concealment of the Countenance” whatever to hide His light, preventing the object from being absorbed in this light. As stated earlier, wherever the Ein Sof-light stands revealed, there is no separation from G‑d; everything is united with His light — in this case, the object with which the mitzvah (representing revelation of the Will and light of the Ein Sof) is performed.

* * *

Thus far, the Alter Rebbe has discussed the effect of a mitzvah on the objects used in its performance (e.g., the etrog, the parchment used for tefillin, etc.). He now discusses its effect on the power of a Jew’s animal soul that is applied to the mitzvah. This soul, like the aforementioned objects, derives its vitality from kelipat nogah; and like them it experiences a similar elevation to the realm of holiness whenever it is used in service of a mitzvah, being absorbed into the Divine Will represented by the mitzvah.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

וכן כח נפש החיונית הבהמית שבאברי גוף האדם המקיים המצוה, הוא מתלבש גם כן בעשיה זו

Similarly the power of the vitalizing animal soul clothed in the bodily limbs of a person who performs a mitzvah, likewise clothes itself in the deed of the mitzvah.

ועולה מהקליפה, ונכלל בקדושת המצוה שהיא רצונו יתברך, ובטל באור אין סוף ברוך הוא

Thereby it ascends from the kelipah to be absorbed into the holiness of the mitzvah which is His Will, and is nullified within the blessed Ein Sof-light.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that those mitzvot involving speech alone likewise effect this elevation of the animal soul, even though here the animal soul’s power is not brought to bear in the performance of any mitzvah.

וגם במצות תלמוד תורה וקריאת שמע ותפלה וכיוצא בהן

Even in the case of such mitzvot as Torah study, reciting the Shema, prayer and the like, the animal soul’s power is elevated to holiness,

אף שאינן בעשיה גשמית ממש שתחת ממשלת קליפת נוגה

although they do not involve actual physical action which is under the dominion of kelipat nogah,

מכל מקום הא קיימא לן דהרהור לאו כדבור דמי, ואינו יוצא ידי חובתו עד שיוציא בשפתיו

yet it is an accepted principle that “thought is not a substitute for speech”; and one does not fulfill his duty of Torah study, prayer, etc. unless he actually utters [the words] with his lips.

וקיימא לן דעקימת שפתיו הוי מעשה

It is also accepted that “moving one’s lips constitutes action,” and such “action”, as the Rebbe notes, likewise stems from the vitality of the kelipat nogah that is nourished by the animal soul, as does the actual bodily action spoken of earlier.

כי אי אפשר לנפש האלקית לבטא בשפתיים ופה ולשון ושיניים הגשמיים, כי אם על ידי נפש החיונית הבהמית, המלובשת באברי הגוף ממש

For the divine soul cannot express itself with the physical lips, mouth, tongue or teeth, the instruments of speech, except by way of the vitalizing animal soul actually clothed in the organs of the body.

The divine soul is entirely spiritual, the body, physical. Therefore (as explained in ch. 35), the divine soul cannot activate the body to perform a mitzvah except through an intermediary. This intermediary is the animal soul, which, on the one hand, is a soul, a spiritual life-force, yet on the other hand is actually clothed in the blood and the bodily organs.

This intermediary is necessary in mitzvot performed through speech, just as in the mitzvot performed through action. For articulating the words required for the mitzvah also constitutes physical “action”; so that this too cannot be accomplished by the divine soul except by way of the animal soul’s power.

וכל מה שמדבר בכח גדול יותר, הוא מכניס ומלביש יותר כחות מנפש החיונית בדבורים אלו

Hence, the more forcefully one speaks words of Torah or prayer, the more of the animal soul’s energy he introduces and clothes in these words. Thereby, he converts more of the energy of the kelipah to holiness.

וזה שאמר הכתוב: כל עצמותי תאמרנה וגו׳

This is also the meaning of the verse,2 “All my bones shall declare.... [:‘G‑d, who is like You?’],” which means that the words of Torah and prayer must be said “ with all of one’s bones,” so that as much as possible of the body’s energy be utilized in performing the mitzvot.

וזה שאמרו רז״ל: אם ערוכה בכל רמ״ח אברים משתמרת, ואם לאו אינה משתמרת

This is why our Sages have said:3 “If the Torah abides in all of your 248 limbs it is preserved in your memory; otherwise it is not preserved.”

כי השכחה היא מקליפת הגוף ונפש החיונית הבהמית, שהן מקליפת נוגה הנכללת לפעמים בקדושה

For forgetfulness in matters of Torah stems from the kelipah of the body and vitalizing animal soul, derived from kelipat nogah which is sometimes absorbed into holiness; when it is absorbed into holiness, there is no longer any cause for forgetfulness.

והיינו כשמתיש כחן, ומכניס כל כחן בקדושת התורה או התפלה

This is accomplished when one weakens their power (the power of body and animal soul), applying all their strength to the holiness of Torah and prayer.

This, then, is the meaning of the aforementioned quotation: When one involves (the energy of) all his 248 limbs in Torah study, it is preserved in his memory, for the kelipah that causes one to forget has been weakened.

* * *

Up till here, the Alter Rebbe has spoken of the effect of a mitzvah on the power of one’s animal soul used in performing it. He now states that not only does one’s animal soul ascend from kelipat nogah to holiness when he performs a mitzvah, but also all the food and drink that sustained one and gave him the strength to perform the mitzvah, are likewise elevated from the dominion of kelipat nogah.

Based on this idea, the Alter Rebbe explains how the vitality of all physical objects of this world — which currently draw their vitality from kelipat nogah — will be elevated to the realm of holiness.

Every Jewish soul is given the ability and responsibility to elevate a portion of this physical world which “belongs” to it. This elevation is accomplished by means of the 613 mitzvot, as mentioned. There are, however, two categories in mitzvot: the 248 positive commandments and the 365 prohibitive commandments. Similarly, the elevating effect of mitzvot on physical matter takes two forms: one positive and the other negative (i.e., restrictive).

To explain these two aspects of elevation accomplished by the two categories of mitzvot, the Alter Rebbe uses for each category an analogy drawn from the human body. The 248 positive commandments correspond to the body’s 248 limbs; and, indeed, the function of these mitzvot resembles that of the limbs. Every organ of the body is a vehicle for a particular faculty of the soul, and brings that faculty into active expression. Similarly, every (positive) mitzvah is a vehicle for the expression of a particular aspect of Divine Will, and brings about a G‑dly revelation.

The prohibitive commandments, numbering 365, correspond to the 365 blood vessels of the body; their function, too, is like that of the blood vessels. The blood vessel acts as a conduit, channeling blood in the right direction so that it will not be randomly, wastefully dispersed through the body. Similarly, the prohibitive commandments prevent the life-force of holiness from being funneled off into the kelipot, thereby increasing their power; they channel the life-force toward deserving recipients.

When all the souls of Israel, representing the vitality of all physical matter, fulfill all the commandments — drawing down G‑d’s light by performing the positive mitzvot, and confining it to the realm of holiness by observing the prohibitive mitzvot — they elevate the vitality of the entire world from kelipat nogah to holiness.

This, in summary, is the subject of the following discussion.

זאת ועוד אחרת

An additional [virtue] in mitzvot involving action (aside from their function in elevating one’s animal soul, mentioned above):

שכח נפש החיונית המתלבש באותיות הדבור בתלמוד תורה או תפלה וכיוצא בהן או מצות מעשיות

the vitalizing soul’s energy clothed in the utterance of letters of one’s speech in Torah study, prayer or the like, or the energy clothed in the performance of mitzvot involving action

הרי כל גידולו וחיותו מהדם, שמקליפת נוגה ממש

derives its entire growth and vitality from the blood, which is of kelipat nogah itself,

שהן כל אוכלין ומשקין שאכל ושתה, ונעשו דם

meaning all the food and drink that one has eaten and drunk, and which have become blood.

שהיו תחת ממשלתה, וינקו חיותם ממנה

These were under the dominion of kelipat nogah and drew their vitality from it.

ועתה היא מתהפכת מרע לטוב ונכללת בקדושה, על ידי כח נפש החיונית הגדל ממנה, שנתלבש באותיות אלה או בעשיה זו, אשר הן הן פנימיות רצונו יתברך בלי שום הסתר פנים

Now that the person performs a mitzvah with the energy derived from this food and drink this kelipah is transformed from evil to good and is absorbed into holiness, by means of the energy of the animal soul that grows from it (i.e., the energy nourished by those objects that derive their vitality from this kelipah), which has now clothed itself in these letters of Torah and prayer or in the performance of this mitzvah, which actually constitute the unveiled expression of the inner aspect of G‑d’s Will.

וחיותן נכלל גם כן באור אין סוף ברוך הוא, שהוא רצונו יתברך

For their vitality (the vitality expended in performing mitzvot) is also absorbed (like the mitzvot themselves) into the blessed Ein Sof-light, which is His Will as expressed in mitzvot,

ובחיותן נכלל ועולה גם כן כח נפש החיונית

and with their vitality the energy of the animal soul is likewise elevated and absorbed into the Ein Sof-light; and since the energy necessary for performing mitzvot was supplied by food and drink, the vitality of the food and drink is likewise absorbed in the Ein Sof-light, together with the mitzvah whose performance it made possible.

ועל ידי זה תעלה גם כן כללות קליפת נוגה, שהיא כללות החיות של עולם הזה הגשמי והחומרי

Thereby, all of kelipat nogah, which constitutes the vitality of this physical and corporeal world as a whole, will ascend as well. When will this come about?

כאשר כל הנשמה ונפש האלקית שבכל ישראל, המתחלקת בפרטות לששים רבוא, תקיים כל נפש פרטית כל תרי׳׳ג מצות התורה

When the whole neshamah, the divine soul4 in all of Israel, which is divided into 600,000 particular offshoots (the standard figure for the members of the Jewish nation, all individual souls being further subdivisions of these 600,000 “general” souls, as will be explained further) will fulfill, each individual soul thereof, the 613 mitzvot of the Torah:

שס״ה לא תעשה, להפריד שס׳׳ה גידים של דם נפש החיונית שבגוף

when they will refrain from transgressing the 365 prohibitions, to restrain the 365 blood vessels of the animal soul in the body,

שלא יינקו ויקבלו חיות בעבירה זו מאת שלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי, שמהן נשפעים שס׳׳ה לא תעשה דאורייתא, וענפיהן שהן מדרבנן

so that they do not draw nurture or receive vitality by means of such transgression, from any one of the three completely unclean kelipot from which are derived the 365 Biblical prohibitions, and the Rabbinical prohibitions — their offshoots.

Since all that derives its vitality from the three wholly unclean kelipot cannot rise to holiness, were a Jew to transgress any prohibition, and thereby cause the particular blood-vessel associated with that prohibition to receive vitality from these kelipot —

ושוב לא תוכל נפש החיונית לעלות אל ה׳, אם נטמאה בטומאת השלש קליפות הטמאות

the vitalizing soul could no longer ascend to G‑d, having been tainted by the impurity of the three impure kelipot.

שאין להן עליה לעולם, כי אם ביטול והעברה לגמרי

[For] these [kelipot] can never be elevated, but must be nullified and utterly destroyed,

כמו שכתוב: ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ

as it is written,5 “And I shall drive out the unclean spirit from the earth.”

Similarly, anything which derives its vitality from them can never ascend to holiness. Therefore, only the observance of all the 365 prohibitions allows the entire vital soul to ascend, without any part of it held back by the impurity of these kelipot.

ורמ״ח מצות עשה, להמשיך אור אין סוף ברוך הוא למטה

When, furthermore, every individual soul will fulfill also the 248 positive commandments, thereby drawing down the blessed Ein Sof-light below,

להעלות לו ולקשר ולייחד בו כללות הנפש החיונית שברמ״ח אברי הגוף ביחוד גמור, להיות לאחדים ממש

to elevate to Him and to bind and unite with Him the entire vital soul, which is in the 248 limbs of the body, in perfect unity, (such is the effect of a mitzvah in uniting the vital, animal soul with G‑d), so that they become actually one [with Him],

כמו שעלה ברצונו יתברך להיות לו דירה בתחתונים, והם לו למרכבה כמו האבות

in accordance with His Will that there be an abode for Him in the lower realms, and so great is this unity that they (the limbs of the body with the vitality of the animal soul invested in them) become a “chariot” for G‑d, as were the Patriarchs — whose every limb was in total submission to the Divine Will, wherefore they are designated as G‑d’s “chariots” — and so will every Jew become a chariot by performing the mitzvot.

ומאחר שכללות נפש החיונית שבכללות ישראל תהיה מרכבה קדושה לה׳

Once the totality of the vital soul of the community of Israel will become a holy chariot for G‑d,

אזי גם כללות החיות של עולם הזה, שהיא קליפת נוגה עכשיו, תצא אז מטומאתה וחלאתה ותעלה לקדושה

then also the general vitality of this world, which now consists of kelipat nogah, will also emerge from its impurity and sickness (the term “impurity” refers to the evil of the kelipah; “sickness” refers to the element of good that kelipat nogah contains, which is nevertheless the good of kelipah, not holiness), and will ascend to holiness,

להיות מרכבה לה׳, בהתגלות כבודו

to become a chariot for G‑d, upon the revelation of His glory (in the World to Come).

וראו כל בשר יחדיו, ויופיע עליהם בהדר גאון עוזו, וימלא כבוד ה׳ את כל הארץ

Then all flesh will behold [G‑dliness] together, and He will appear upon them with the majestic beauty of His power, and “the glory of G‑d will fill the whole world.”

וישראל יראו עין בעין, כבמתן תורה

Israel will see “eye to eye” — the human eye will see the truth of G‑dliness just as the Supernal “eye” sees it — just as [they saw] at the giving of the Torah,

דכתיב: אתה הראת לדעת כי ה׳ הוא אלקים, אין עוד מלבדו

of which it is written,6 “You showed Yourself, so that it be known that ‘G‑d is the L‑rd (lit.: the Four-Letter Divine Name is ELOKIM; i.e., despite the concealment of the Four-Letter Divine Name (which denotes G‑d’s limitless power) by the name Elokim (which signifies G‑d’s self-limitation), it is the former that still pervades all existence); there is nothing else besides Him.”

But whereas the revelation at Sinai lasted only a short time, the revelation in the future will be permanent.

ועל ידי זה יתבלעו ויתבטלו לגמרי כל השלש קליפות הטמאות

Through this ascent of kelipat nogah to holiness, the three unclean kelipot will be utterly annihilated and nullified.

כי יניקתן וחיותן מהקדושה עכשיו, היא על ידי קליפת נוגה, הממוצעת ביניהן

For the nurture and vitality which they now receive from holiness, comes to them [only] by way of kelipat nogah, the intermediary between them.

Kelipat nogah, containing both good and evil, is the medium through which these kelipot which are completely evil receive their vitality from G‑dliness, which is completely good. When kelipat nogah ascends to G‑dliness, the impure kelipot, no longer having any access to G‑dly vitality, cease to exist.

ונמצא כי כל תכלית של ימות המשיח ותחיית המתים, שהוא גילוי כבודו ואלקותו יתברך, ולהעביר רוח הטומאה מן הארץ

It follows, therefore, that the purpose of the Messianic era and of the resurrection, namely, the revelation of His glory and Divinity, and the banishment of the spirit of impurity from the earth,

תלוי בהמשכת אלקותו ואור אין סוף ברוך הוא לנפש החיונית שבכללות ישראל בכל רמ״ח אבריה, על ידי קיומה כל רמ״ח מצות עשה

is entirely dependent on [our] drawing down His G‑dliness and the blessed Ein Sof-light upon all the 248 limbs of the vital soul of all Israel (for by way of the vital soul, all the world will be suffused with G‑dliness), and this is achieved by the vital soul’s performance of all the 248 positive mitzvot;

ולהעביר רוח הטומאה ממנה, בשמירתה כל שס״ה מצות לא תעשה, שלא יינקו ממנה שס״ה גידיה

and this purpose is also dependent on [our] banishing the spirit of impurity, i.e., the three impure kelipot, from the vital soul of all Israel (for by being banished from the vital soul, the spirit of impurity is banished from the entire world); and this is accomplished by the vital soul’s observance of all 365 prohibitive mitzvot, thus preventing its 365 blood vessels from drawing nurture from the spirit of impurity.

Why is it that suffusing the vital soul with Ein Sof-light and banishing the impure kelipot from the vital soul produces a parallel effect on the entire world?

כי כללות ישראל, שהם ששים רבוא נשמות פרטיות, הם כללות החיות של כללות העולם, כי בשבילם נברא

For the community of Israel, comprising 600,000 particular souls, is the general source of vitality for the world as a whole, since the world was created for the sake of these souls.

וכל פרט מהם הוא כולל ושייך לו החיות של חלק אחד מששים רבוא מכללות העולם

Each specific one of them contains and to each is related the vitality of one six-hundred-thousandth-part of the entire world.

התלוי בנפשו החיונית להעלותו לה׳ בעלייתה

This [part of the world] depends on his vital soul for its elevation to G‑d through [the vital soul’s] own elevation.

דהיינו במה שמשתמש מעולם הזה לצורך גופו ונפשו החיונית לעבודת ה׳

This means that one elevates “his” portion of the world by his partaking of this world for the requirements of his body and vital soul in the service of G‑d. By using the objects of this world that one’s body and vital soul need for the sake of serving G‑d, one elevates his portion of the world.

כגון אכילה ושתיה ודומיהם, ודירה וכל כלי תשמישיו

For example: eating, drinking, and the like; one’s dwelling and all his utensils.

But surely there are more than 600,000 souls; besides, it is quite impossible for one person to use a six-hundred-thousandth of the entire world.

אלא שששים רבוא נשמות פרטיות אלו הן שרשים, וכל שרש מתחלק לששים רבוא ניצוצות, שכל ניצוץ הוא נשמה אחת

These 600,000 particular souls, however, are “roots”; and, like a root from which grow numerous branches, each root-soul subdivides into 600,000 sparks, each spark being one Neshamah.

וכן בנפש ורוח, בכל עולם מארבע עולמות: אצילות, בריאה, יצירה, עשיה

Similarly with the Nefesh and Ruach, in each of the four Worlds — Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. In each of these four Worlds are found all three soul-levels — Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah.

וכל ניצוץ לא ירד לעולם הזה

Each spark did not descend into this world to perfect itself but to perfect the body and vital soul — as the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude.

Having touched upon the subject of the soul’s descent, however, he adds a parenthetical comment emphasizing the magnitude of this descent. On entering this world, a soul may perhaps attain the loftiest heights of love and fear of G‑d that are experienced by a perfect tzaddik — but even this cannot compare to the love and fear that it experienced while in the spiritual worlds, before its descent.

אף שהיא ירידה גדולה, ובחינת גלות ממש

Though it is indeed a great descent, a veritable exile for the soul;

כי גם שיהיה צדיק גמור, עובד ה׳ ביראה ואהבה רבה בתענוגים

for even if it become, in this world, a perfect tzaddik, serving G‑d with fear and abundant love of delights,

לא יגיע למעלות דביקותו בה׳ בדחילו ורחימו בטרם ירידתו לעולם הזה החומרי, לא מינה ולא מקצתה

it will not attain to the quality of its attachment to G‑d with fear and love that the soul experienced prior to its descent into this corporeal world, nor even [to] a fraction of [its earlier fear and love].

ואין ערך ודמיון ביניהם כלל, כנודע לכל משכיל, שהגוף אינו יכול לסבול כו׳

In fact, there is no comparison or similarity whatever between them — between the love and fear of G‑d experienced by a soul on earth, and that of the soul above; [for] as is obvious to every intelligent man, the body could not bear etc. a love and fear of such intensity as the soul experienced above, in the spiritual realms.

Having concluded his comment on the formidable nature of the soul’s descent, the Alter Rebbe returns to his original point: The descent of the soul is thus undertaken not for its own sake —

אלא ירידתו לעולם הזה, להתלבש בגוף ונפש החיונית, הוא כדי לתקנם בלבד

but its descent into this world, to be clothed in a body and vital soul, is for the sole purpose of perfecting them;

ולהפרידם מהרע של שלש קליפות הטמאות על ידי שמירת שס״ה לא תעשה וענפיהן

to separate them from the evil of the three impure kelipot, by observing the 365 prohibitions and their “offshoots” i.e., by observing the Biblical and Rabbinic prohibitions,

ולהעלות נפשו החיונית, עם חלקה השייך לה מכללות עולם הזה

and to elevate his vital soul, together with the portion of the world at large that belongs to it,

ולקשרם ולייחדם באור אין סוף ברוך הוא אשר ימשיך בהם על ידי קיומו כל רמ״ח מצות עשה בנפשו החיונית

binding and uniting them with the Ein Sof-light which he draws into them by performing all the 248 positive mitzvot through the agency of the vital soul,

שהיא היא המקיימת כל מצות מעשיות כנ״ל

since [the vital soul] is the one that performs all mitzvot involving action, as explained above, in ch. 36 — that the divine soul can activate the body in performance of the mitzvot only by way of the vital soul.

וכמו שכתוב בעץ חיים, שער כ״ו כי הנשמה עצמה אינה צריכה תיקון כלל כו׳

It is likewise written (in Etz Chayim, Portal 26) that the [divine] soul itself does not need perfecting at all...;

ולא הוצרכה להתלבש בעולם הזה וכו׳ רק להמשיך אור לתקנם כו׳

and there is no need for it to be embodied in this world, in a body and vital soul... except to draw down light to perfect them — the vital soul and the body...

והוא ממש דוגמת סוד גלות השכינה לברר ניצוצין וכו׳

and this parallels exactly7 the mystery of “the exile of the Shechinah,” whose purpose is to refine the sparks of holiness which fell into the kelipot; so too does the divine soul enter into exile within the body and vital soul in order to perfect them, and to extract from them the sparks of holiness which they contain.

The foregoing discussion enables us to understand the particular virtue of mitzvot performed through action:

Creation, and the soul’s descent into the body, were both intended for the purpose of elevating the body and vital soul, and thereby the entire world; moreover, this objective is reached primarily through the mitzvot involving action, inasmuch as these mitzvot are performed by the body and vital soul; these mitzvot are therefore of primary importance.

ובזה יובן מה שהפליגו רז״ל במאד מאד במעלת הצדקה, ואמרו ששקולה כנגד כל המצות

In light of the above, where it was explained that the advantage of the “active” mitzvot lies in their elevating effect on the body and vital soul, we can understand why our Sages so greatly extolled the virtue of charity,8 declaring it equal to all the other mitzvot together.

ובכל תלמוד ירושלמי היא נקראת בשם מצוה סתם, כי כך היה הרגל הלשון לקרוא צדקה בשם מצוה סתם

In all of the Talmud Yerushalmi charity is called simply “The Commandment,” for such was the idiomatic expression commonly used to refer to charity: “The Commandment,”

מפני שהיא עיקר המצות מעשיות, ועולה על כולנה

because charity is the core of all the mitzvot of action and surpasses them all.

שכולן הן רק להעלות נפש החיונית לה׳, שהיא היא המקיימת אותן ומתלבשת בהן

For the purpose of all these mitzvot is only to elevate one’s animal soul to G‑d, since it is this vital soul that performs them and clothes itself in them,

ליכלל באור אין סוף ברוך הוא המלובש בהם

so as to be absorbed into the blessed Ein Sof-light clothed in them.

ואין לך מצוה שנפש החיונית מתלבשת בה כל כך כבמצות הצדקה

Now, you will find no other mitzvah in which the vital soul is clothed to the same extent as in the mitzvah of charity.

שבכל המצות אין מתלבש בהן רק כח אחד מנפש החיונית, בשעת מעשה המצוה לבד

For in all other mitzvot only one faculty of the vital soul is clothed (e.g., the faculty of action in the hand donning Tefillin or holding an etrog); and even this one faculty is clothed in the mitzvah only while the mitzvah is being performed.

אבל בצדקה, שאדם נותן מיגיע כפיו

In the case of charity, however, which one gives from the proceeds of the toil of his hands,

הרי כל כח נפשו החיונית מלובש בעשיית מלאכתו, או עסק אחר שנשתכר בה מעות אלו

surely all the strength of his vital soul is clothed in (i.e., applied to) the effort of his labor, or in any other occupation by which he earned this money which he now distributes for charity.

וכשנותנן לצדקה, הרי כל נפשו החיונית עולה לה׳

Thus when he gives to charity this money to which he applied all the strength of his vital soul, his entire vital soul ascends to G‑d. Hence the superiority of charity over other mitzvot.

But this seems to imply that if one does not invest all his strength into earning his livelihood, his charity lacks this quality; to which the Alter Rebbe rejoins:

וגם מי שאינו נהנה מיגיעו, מכל מקום הואיל ובמעות אלו היה יכול לקנות חיי נפשו החיונית, הרי נותן חיי נפשו לה׳

Even he who does not earn his livelihood from his labors, nevertheless, since he could have purchased with this money that he gave for charity, sustenance for the life of his vital soul, he is actually giving his soul’s life to G‑d in the form of charity. Thus, charity comprises and therefore elevates more energy of the vital soul than any other mitzvah.

ולכן אמרו רז״ל שמקרבת את הגאולה

This is why our Sages have said9 that charity hastens the Messianic redemption:

לפי שבצדקה אחת מעלה הרבה מנפש החיונית, מה שלא היה יכול להעלות ממנה כל כך כחות ובחינות בכמה מצות מעשיות אחרות

For with one act of charity one elevates a great deal of the vital soul; more of its faculties and powers, in fact, than he might elevate through many other active mitzvot [combined]. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the Messianic Era is a result of our efforts in purifying and elevating the vital soul; charity, which effects this elevation in such great measure, thus hastens the redemption.

We see, at any rate, that charity is superior to all other mitzvot, including Torah study. But here one may object:

ומה שאמרו רז״ל שתלמוד תורה כנגד כולם

As for the statement of our Rabbis10 that Torah study outweighs all other mitzvot — including charity; how can this be reconciled with what was said above?

היינו מפני שתלמוד תורה היא בדבור ומחשבה, שהם לבושים הפנימיים של נפש החיונית

This is because the study of Torah employs speech and thought, which are the inner garments of the vital soul — unlike action, which is external. Thus, only Torah study, and not other mitzvot, can suffuse the inner garments of the soul with the light of Torah.

וגם מהותן ועצמותן של בחינות חב״ד מקליפת נוגה שבנפש החיונית נכללות בקדושה ממש, כשעוסק בתורה בעיון ושכל

Furthermore, the very substance and essence of the intellectual faculties of ChaBaD (Chochmah, Binah, Daat) of the kelipat nogah in the vital soul are actually absorbed into holiness when one studies Torah with concentration and intelligence.

The intellectual faculties applied to Torah study are absorbed in the holiness of the mitzvah of Torah study, and thereby ascend from the realm of kelipat nogah (to which they previously belonged, being a part of the vital soul) to the realm of holiness.

Although it was explained in ch. 12 that the Beinoni is capable of transforming to holiness only the garments of the animal soul, not the soul faculties themselves, there is no contradiction here: the latter statement applies only to the middot (the emotional attributes) of the animal soul. The Beinoni is indeed incapable of transforming the middot to holiness; ChaBaD, however, can be transformed even by the Beinoni. The Alter Rebbe now explains the difference between them.

ואף שמהותן ועצמותן של המדות חג״ת כו׳ לא יכלו להם הבינונים להפכם לקדושה

Although Beinonim are incapable of mastering the substance and essence of the middot — Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, and so on — so as to transform them into holiness,

היינו משום שהרע חזק יותר במדות מבחב״ד, מפני יניקתן שם מהקדושה יותר, כידוע ליודעי ח״ן

this is because the evil of kelipah is stronger in the middot than in [ChaBaD:] the intellectual faculties, since on that level (of middot) they [the kelipot] draw more vitality than they do on the level of ChaBaD, as is known to students of the Kabbalah.

The “shattering of the vessels,” which gave rise to the existence of kelipah, occurred primarily in the middot, and it is therefore more difficult to elevate the evil of middot. The evil of ChaBaD, however, can be transformed to good through intensive Torah study.

Thus we have two reasons for the superiority of the mitzvah of Torah study: (a) it is practiced with the innermost soul garment — thought; (b) it transforms the actual soul faculties of ChaBaD themselves to holiness.

זאת ועוד אחרת, והיא העולה על כולנה, במעלת עסק תלמוד תורה על כל המצות

Aside from this, there is another, far more important, aspect to the superiority of Torah study over all other mitzvot,

על פי מה שכתוב לעיל בשם התיקונים, דרמ״ח פיקודין הן רמ״ח אברים דמלכא

based on the statement quoted above (ch. 23) from Tikkunei Zohar that “the 248 positive commandments are the 248 ‘limbs’ of the King (G‑d).”

Just as a limb of the human body is a receptacle for a corresponding soul faculty, so is each mitzvah a receptacle for a corresponding expression of the Divine Will.

Concerning Torah, however, it is written in Tikkunei Zohar: “Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are entirely one” (unlike mitzvot which are merely “limbs”). The Alter Rebbe now elucidates the difference:

וכמו באדם התחתון, דרך משל, אין ערוך ודמיון כלל בין החיות שברמ״ח אבריו לגבי החיות שבמוחין, שהוא השכל, המתחלק לג׳ בחינות חב״ד

Just as, for example in the case of a human being, the vitality in his 248 organs bears no comparison or similarity to the vitality in his brain — i.e., the intellect, which is divided into the three faculties of Chochmah, Binah and Daat, —

Every limb of the body is of course bound to the soul which provides it with life — yet they are two separate entities which have been joined together. It is otherwise, however, in the relationship between one’s intellect and his soul. The intellect is an extension and a part of the soul itself: thus its unity with the soul is not that of two separate entities which have been joined, but of two components of a whole.

This difference between the limbs and the intellect illustrates the difference between the other mitzvot and Torah study, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

ככה ממש, דרך משל, להבדיל ברבבות הבדלות לאין קץ, בהארת אור אין סוף ברוך הוא המתלבשות במצות מעשיות, לגבי הארת אור אין סוף שבבחינת חב״ד שבחכמת התורה, איש איש כפי שכלו והשגתו

Just as it is in the case of a human being, so, too, by way of analogy — allowing for the qualification that any comparison between human and divine traits must be distant, however, by myriads of degrees — is it with regard to the illumination of Ein Sof-light clothed in mitzvot of action, compared to the illumination of Ein Sof-light [clothed] in the ChaBaD faculties [of one immersed] in the wisdom of Torah, an illumination commensurate with the level of each man’s intellect and his grasp of Torah. To the extent that his intellect grasps the Torah which he studies, it is united with G‑dliness with a unity comparable to that of one’s intellect with his soul.

Herein, then, lies the superiority of Torah study over other mitzvot, even over charity: Torah study effects a much higher level of unity with G‑dliness than do the mitzvot of action.

ואף שאינו משיג אלא בגשמיות

Although one grasps [Torah] only as it is clothed in physical terms (e.g., the law concerning “Two men who clutch a garment...,” or “One who trades a cow for an ass...”); how, then, can it be said that through study of such laws one attains this lofty level of unity with G‑dliness? —

הרי התורה נמשלה למים שיורדים ממקום גבוה כו׳, כמו שנתבאר לעיל

yet the Torah has been compared to “water descending from a high place....” The water on the lower level is exactly the same as it was on the higher level. Similarly, the laws of Torah, although they have “descended” to deal with ordinary physical situations, still consist of G‑d’s Will and Wisdom. Thus, in studying Torah, one is united with G‑d’s Will and Wisdom, and thereby with G‑d Himself, as discussed above (ch. 4).

ואף על פי כן אמרו רז״ל: לא המדרש עיקר אלא המעשה

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the superior level of unity with G‑dliness attained only by Torah, our Sages have said:11 “The essential thing is not study, but deed.”

והיום לעשותם כתיב, ומבטלין תלמוד תורה לקיום מצוה מעשיית, כשאי אפשר לעשותה על ידי אחרים

It is also written:12 “This day, i.e., during our life in this world, the all-important thing is to do them” (the mitzvot). And the Halachah rules that one must interrupt Torah study to perform a mitzvah of action when it cannot be fulfilled by others.

משום כי זה כל האדם, ותכלית בריאתו וירידתו לעולם הזה

For “this (the active performance of mitzvot) is man’s entire purpose,” the purpose for which he was created and for which [his soul] descended to this world,

להיות לו יתברך דירה בתחתונים דוקא, לאהפכא חשוכא לנהורא

so that G‑d may have an abode precisely in the lowest realms, to turn the darkness of this world into light of holiness,

וימלא כבוד ה׳ את כל הארץ הגשמית דייקא, וראו כל בשר יחדיו, כנ״ל

so that G‑d’s glory fill specifically the entire physical world, and “all flesh will behold [G‑dliness] together,” as was discussed above (ch. 36).

Thus, the goal of making this world an abode for G‑d is achieved primarily through mitzvot of action. Therefore, when presented with the opportunity of performing a mitzvah that others cannot fulfill, one must fulfill this mitzvah even at the cost of interrrupting his Torah studies, so that G‑d’s desire for “an abode in the lower realms” be realized.

If, however, the mitzvah that clashes with one’s Torah study can be fulfilled by others, the choice is no longer between respecting or ignoring G‑d’s desire for “an abode...” — whether he suspends his Torah study to perform the mitzvah, or continues his studies and leaves the mitzvah to others, this objective will be realized regardless. The choice is now between studying Torah and actively performing a mitzvah; and here Torah study prevails because of the superior level of unity that it effects between the Torah student’s soul and G‑d.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

מה שאין כן כשאפשר לעשותה על ידי אחרים, אין מבטלין תלמוד תורה, אף שכל התורה אינה אלא פירוש המצות מעשיות

On the other hand, if [the mitzvah] can be performed by others, one does not interrupt Torah study to perform it, even though the whole Torah is, after all, only an explanation of the mitzvot of action.

והיינו משום שהיא בחינת חב״ד של אין סוף ברוך הוא, ובעסקו בה ממשיך עליו אור אין סוף ברוך הוא ביתר שאת והארה גדולה לאין קץ מהארה והמשכה על ידי פקודין, שהן אברים דמלכא

This is because the Torah is the level of ChaBaD of the blessed Ein Sof, and hence, when one is engaged in [studying] it he draws upon himself an infinitely greater illumination of the blessed Ein Sof-light — greater both in its illuminative power and in its higher quality — than the illumination and influence that one draws upon his soul through mitzvot, which are [merely] “organs” of the King.

What emerges from this discussion is that the effect of mitzvot consists primarily of the elevation of one’s body and the physical world in general; the effect of Torah study on the other hand is to unite the soul with G‑d. Accordingly, the Alter Rebbe explains the following Talmudic statement:

וזה שאמר רב ששת: חדאי נפשאי, לך קראי, לך תנאי

This is what Rav Sheshet meant when he said,13 “Rejoice, my soul! For you do I study Scripture; for you do I study Mishnah,

For the soul, the unity with G‑d attained through Torah (Scripture and Mishnah) is greater than that attained through mitzvot; he therefore addressed these words to it: “For your sake I learn....”

כמו שנתבאר במקום אחר באריכות

as the superiority of the soul’s unity with G‑d through Torah is explained elsewhere at length.14

Until here the Alter Rebbe has discussed the superiority of Torah study over other mitzvot in terms of its greater influence on the soul. He now begins to describe a far greater quality found in Torah study. Of all the mitzvot, only Torah study is described as “calling to G‑d, as one calls to his friend, and as a son calls his father,” as the Alter Rebbe will state shortly. Whereas mitzvot have the effect of drawing the light of G‑d (i.e., of His Will) upon the soul, Torah study “calls” G‑d’s essence to man, as is implied in the analogy of one who calls to his friend: the friend will turn with his entire “essence” to face his caller.

Furthermore: As a means of “calling” G‑d, Torah study is superior even to prayer. For this reason, in the verse, “G‑d is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth,” the first part of the verse refers to prayer and the latter to Torah.

The difference between the two forms of “calling G‑d” is that prayer effects a change in material matters: healing, prosperity, etc., whereas the effect of Torah is in the soul, on the spiritual plane.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

והנה המשכה והארה זו שאדם ממשיך ומאיר מהארת אור אין סוף ברוך הוא על נפשו ועל נפשות כל ישראל

This influence and illumination generated by one’s Torah study, which man draws from the radiance of the Ein Sof-light upon his soul and upon the souls of all Israel,

היא השכינה, כנסת ישראל, מקור כל נשמות ישראל, כמו שיתבאר לקמן

(meaning, as will be explained later, that the light is drawn into the spiritual level known as “the Shechinah, Knesset Yisrael” — the source of all the souls of Israel — and thereby the Ein Sof- light reaches not only the soul of the person studying Torah, but also that of every Jew), —

על ידי עסק התורה, נקראת בלשון קריאה

This illumination which one draws through his Torah study is referred to as “calling” [as in the Talmudic expression] (concerning a Torah student)קורא בתורה (usually translated as “One who reads (studies) the Torah,” but reinterpreted here as “One who calls [G‑d] through the Torah”).

Just as calling in its usual sense means that the caller causes the person being called to come to him, to turn to him with his entire being, similarly in the context of “calling through Torah”:

קורא בתורה, פירוש: שעל ידי עסק התורה קורא להקב״ה לבוא אליו, כביכול

This [phrase] means that in Torah study one calls G‑d to come to him, so to speak,

כאדם הקורא לחבירו שיבא אליו, וכבן קטן הקורא לאביו לבא אליו להיות עמו בצוותא חדא ולא ליפרד ממנו ולישאר יחידי, חס ושלום

as a man calls to his friend to come to him, or as a child will call his father to come and join him and not to part from him, leaving him alone, G‑d forbid.

The former analogy pertains to those Jews designated as “brethren and friends” of G‑d; when they study Torah they call their “friend”. The latter analogy pertains to those designed “children of G‑d”; when they study Torah they are calling their “father”.

וזה שכתוב: קרוב ה׳ לכל קוראיו, לכל אשר יקראוהו באמת, ואין אמת אלא תורה, דהיינו שקורא להקב״ה על ידי התורה דוקא

This is the meaning of the verse:15 “G‑d is near (a) to all who call Him, (b) to all who call Him in truth,”16 and17 “There is no truth but Torah,” indicating that [one “calls G‑d with truth”] as opposed to simply “calling G‑d,” only by calling G‑d through Torah study,

לאפוקי מי שקורא אותו שלא על ידי עסק התורה, אלא צועק אבא אבא

in contrast to one who does not call Him through Torah study, but merely cries: “Father, Father!”

This refers to the service of prayer, in which one calls G‑d, out of love for Him, saying “Father...!” Such a call is not considered “calling with truth,” and thus the illumination of G‑dly light generated by this call cannot compare with that generated by Torah, as explained above.

וכמו שקובל עליו הנביא: ואין קורא בשמך כו׳, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

Over him who thus calls G‑d the prophet laments:18 “There is none who calls by Your Name,” as is written elsewhere.

Since he does not say simply: “There is none who calls You,” his intention must be that although there are indeed those who “call” G‑d, yet they do not do so “by His Name,” meaning through Torah, “whose words throughout are the Names of G‑d” (Ramban, Introduction to his commentary on the Torah, based on the Zohar).

ומזה יתבונן המשכיל להמשיך עליו יראה גדולה בשעת עסק התורה, כמו שנתבאר לעיל פרק כ״ג

By dwelling on this matter, the intelligent person will derive means of drawing upon himself a great awe [of G‑d] when he engages in Torah study, as explained above (in ch. 23).19

There it is stated that one’s Torah study must be permeated with awe of G‑d (despite the apparent incompatibility between the intellectual boldness that characterizes study, and the constraint engendered by awe); this awe, moreover, is the goal of Torah study, while study is merely the “gateway”.

The thought that in Torah study one “calls” G‑d to himself, just as, for example, one calls his friend to come to him, will surely arouse in the student a feeling of intense awe of G‑d.