The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that the light of the Shechinah, an illumination utterly transcending the realm of the world, must have a “garment” which enables it to radiate there. The “garment” of the Shechinah is Torah.

In every World there is found the “intelligence” of that particular World, namely, the Sefirot of Chochmah, Binah and Daat of that World. They constitute the shrine of the Holy of Holies in which the Shechinah resides. After the levels of ChaBaD (in which resides the Shechinah) descend into the level of Malchut of a particular World, the creatures of that World are then created.

By vesting itself in Malchut, moreover, the light of the Shechinah is then able to descend into the shrine of the Holy of Holies of the next lower World. The Alter Rebbe explained this process as it applies to all Worlds down to and including the spiritual World of Asiyah.

In ch. 53 he will go on to explain how the light of the Shechinah descends and illuminates this physical world. During the times of the First and Second Temple the Shechinah was housed in the Holy of Holies. Today it finds its abode in a Jew’s study of Torah and performance of the mitzvot.

He will also explain the difference between the level of the illumination of the Shechinah in the First and Second Beit HaMikdash on the one hand, and the level of Shechinah which is drawn down through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, on the other.

והנה כשהיה בית ראשון קיים, שבו היה הארון והלוחות בבית קדשי קדשים, היתה השכינה, שהיא מלכות דאצילות, שהיא בחינת גילוי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא

At the time the First Temple stood, in which the Ark and the Tablets were housed in the Holy of Holies, the Shechinah — which is Malchut of Atzilut, that is, the revealed light of the Ein Sof, a light which intrinsically is infinite and transcends all Worlds, and which nevertheless was revealed in them —

שורה שם, ומלובשת בעשרת הדברות

dwelled there, and was clothed in the Ten Commandments which were engraved upon the Tablets found in the Ark in the Holy of Holies,

ביתר שאת ויתר עז, בגילוי רב ועצום יותר, מגילויה בהיכלות קדשי קדשים שלמעלה בעולמות עליונים

far more intensely, and with a greater and mightier revelation, than its revelation in the shrines of the Holy of Holies above in the upper Worlds.

This refers to the Worlds of Asiyah and Yetzirah.1 For even in the World of Yetzirah, the Shechinah illumines only insofar as it has previously clothed itself in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of the World of Beriah. The level of Shechinah manifest in the First Temple, however, though it too was manifest only through having first been enclothed in Malchut of Beriah, was less completely concealed. Even after this concealment, therefore, the illumination in the First Temple was still on the level of the World of Beriah, and not of Yetzirah.

The Alter Rebbe now answers the following question: Inasmuch as the Temple was located in this physical world, how was it possible for the Shechinah to be found there to a higher degree than in the upper Worlds? He answers:

כי עשרת הדברות הן כללות התורה כולה

For the Ten Commandments are the all-embracing principles of the whole Torah,

As explained in the Azharot of R. Saadya Gaon, the Ten Commandments incorporate all 613 mitzvot of the Torah. See also beginning of Tanya, ch. 20.

דנפקא מגו חכמה עילאה, דלעילא לעילא מעלמא דאתגליא

which derives from the level of Supernal Chochmah, i.e., Chochmah of Atzilut, that is far higher than the “world of manifestation.”

It is far higher than Malchut of Atzilut, which is called the “world of manifestation” because it reveals the light of Ein Sof to the Worlds.

As explained earlier, for this reason the Torah is able to act as a “garment” that does not become nullified in the light of the Shechinah which garbs itself in it — since its source is higher than the Shechinah. However, in order for Torah to act as a concealing “garment” it must descend lower than the level of the Shechinah, thereby enabling the light of the Shechinah to be received by created beings.

However, as Torah descended into the Ten Commandments engraved on the Tablets, it did not do so in a manner that would make it similar to other physical things. Rather, as will soon be explained, it remained on a level which is higher than the previously mentioned upper Worlds.

וכדי לחקקן בלוחות אבנים גשמיים, לא ירדה ממדרגה למדרגה כדרך השתלשלות העולמות עד עולם הזה הגשמי

In order to engrave them on material tablets of stone, it (Supernal Chochmah, which is Torah) did not descend degree by degree, parallel to the order of descent of the Worlds which descend by stages from a higher world to a lower world, until it reached this material world.

Generally, in order for a flow of Divine light to arrive at this physical world, it must first descend from World to World, coming down through the Worlds of Yetzirah and spiritual Asiyah, both of which are higher than its ultimate destination, this world. This, however, was not the case with the Tablets.

כי עולם הזה הגשמי מתנהג בהתלבשות הטבע הגשמי

For this material world functions through the garb of material nature,

והלוחות מעשה אלקים המה

while the Tablets are “the work of G‑d,”2 a Divine creation, in which G‑dliness — not nature — is revealed,

והמכתב מכתב אלקים הוא

“and the writing is the writing of G‑d,”3 writing in which G‑dliness is perceived,

שלמעלה מהטבע של עולם הזה הגשמי הנשפע מהארת השכינה שבהיכל קדשי קדשים דעשיה, שממנה נמשך אור וחיות לעולם העשיה, שגם עולם הזה בכללו

beyond the nature of this material world which is derived from the radiation of the Shechinah in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of Asiyah, from which light and vitality issue to the World of Asiyah, in which this physical world is also included.

The ray of the Shechinah which is in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of Asiyah, gives this physical world its vitality after first being garbed in Malchut of Asiyah, as explained earlier. This was not the case with the Tablets.

אלא בחינת חכמה עילאה דאצילות, שהיא כללות התורה שבי׳ הדברות, נתלבשה במלכות דאצילות ודבריאה לבדן

But the level of the Supernal Chochmah of Atzilut, consisting of the totality of the Torah as it is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, clothed itself in Malchut of Atzilut and of Beriah alone, and did not clothe itself further in the lower Worlds,

והן לבדן המיוחדות באור אין סוף שבתוכן

and they alone (Chochmah of Atzilut as it is garbed in Malchut of Atzilut and Malchut of Beriah, without further vestment), united as they are with the [infinite] light of Ein Sof that is within them,

הן הנקראות בשם שכינה השורה בקדשי קדשים דבית ראשון, על ידי התלבשותה בי׳ הדברות, החקוקות בלוחות שבארון בנס

are referred to as the Shechinah which rested in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple, through its being vested in the Ten Commandments, which were engraved by miraculous means in the Tablets reposing in the Ark.

As the Sages tell us,4 the letters mem and samach, circular letters hewn through the entire thickness of the stone, stood in their place miraculously.

ומעשה אלקים חיים

Moreover, the Ten Commandments upon the Tablets were the work of the Living G‑d Elokim Chayim,

הוא עלמא דאתכסיא המקנן בעולם הבריאה, כנודע ליודעי ח״ן

(5this being, in terms of the Sefirot, Binah of Atzilut, which is known as “the concealed world” which nests in the World of Beriah, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Discipline).

Those familiar with the Kabbalah know that Binah of Atzilut radiates into the World of Beriah, a world which still remains in the category of “a concealed world” — i.e., it is categorized as a World, but not a World whose independent being is revealed, in that the World of Beriah is aware of how it is wholly dependent on G‑d.

ובבית שני, שלא היה בו הארון והלוחות

As for the Second Temple, in which the Ark and the Tablets did not repose, these being among the five things found in the First Temple and lacking in the Second,

אמרו רז״ל שלא היתה שכינה שורה בו, פירוש: מדרגת שכינה שהיתה שורה בבית ראשון, שלא כדרך השתלשלות העולמות

our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said6 that the Shechinah did not abide there. This means not that, G‑d forbid, the Shechinah did not abide there at all, rather it speaks of the category of the Shechinah which used to abide in the First Temple — which was not in the manner of the ordinary descent of the Worlds.

It was this level of Shechinah that did not abide in the Second Temple, but only a far lesser level.

אלא בבית שני היתה שורה כדרך השתלשלות והתלבשות: מלכות דאצילות במלכות דבריאה, ודבריאה במלכות דיצירה, ודיצירה בהיכל קדשי קדשים דעשיה

But in the Second Temple it abided according to the order of gradual descent, of Malchut of Atzilut vested in Malchut of Beriah and the latter in Malchut of Yetzirah, and the latter in the shrine of the Holy of Holies of Asiyah, that shrine being ChaBaD of Asiyah.

וקדשי קדשים דעשיה היה מתלבש בקדשי קדשים שבבית המקדש שלמטה, ושרתה בו השכינה: מלכות דיצירה, המלובשת בקדשי קדשים דעשיה

And the Holy of Holies of Asiyah was clothed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple below. In it rested the Shechinah, i.e., Malchut of Yetzirah, which was clothed in the Holy of Holies of Asiyah.

ולכן לא היה רשאי שום אדם ליכנס שם, לבד כהן גדול ביום הכפורים. ומשחרב בית המקדש

Therefore, because the Shechinah resided in the Temple’s Holy of Holies, no man was permitted to enter there, except the High Priest on Yom Kippur. And since the destruction of the Temple,

of which the Sanctuary was a part, G‑d resides in the shrine of Holy of Holies of Torah and the mitzvot, for as mentioned earlier, the Shechinah must reside in the Holy of Holies:

אין לו להקב״ה בעולמו אלא ד׳ אמות של הלכה בלבד

HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, blessed be He) has but the four cubits of Halachah alone.”7

Torah is the shrine of the Holy of Holies that connects G‑d with the world, so that HaKadosh (the illumination of the Shechinah, which is Kadosh, i.e., separated and apart from the world) should become Baruch (from the Hebrew root meaning “to draw down”) — drawn down into the world.

ואפילו אחד שיושב ועוסק בתורה, שכינה עמו, כדאיתא בברכות, פרק קמא. פירוש שכינה עמו

And even if one Jew sits and engages in Torah study, the Shechinah is with him, as is stated in the first chapter of Berachot.8 The phrase, “the Shechinah is with him” means that although he is a being of this material world, the Shechinah is nevertheless with him.

The level of Shechinah that is with him is:

כדרך השתלשלות והתלבשות מלכות דאצילות במלכות דבריאה ויצירה ועשיה

in order of the gradual descent and investment of Malchut of Atzilut in Malchut of Beriah and Yetzirah and Asiyah.

It is thus inferior even to the indwelling of the Shechinah in the Second Temple, an indwelling that did not require the vestment in Malchut of Asiyah.

It differs from the drawing down of the Shechinah in the world in general, in which case the identical progressive descent occurs, in that the Shechinah which resides in the world passes through the additional “garment” of kelipat nogah, while Torah and the mitzvot do not.

The reason that it must go through Malchut of Asiyah is that the overwhelming majority of the mitzvot of the Torah involve physical action. The Shechinah therefore descends into the level of action — Asiyah, as shall now be explained.

כי תרי״ג מצות התורה רובן ככולן הן מצות מעשיות, וגם התלויות בדבור ומחשבה, כמו תלמוד תורה, ברכת המזון, קריאת שמע ותפלה

For the 613 commandments of the Torah are by and large precepts which involve action, including even those mitzvot which are fulfilled by word and thought, such as Torah study, the Grace after Meals, the recital of the Shema, and prayer,

This is so even though these mitzvot involve thought — seeking to grasp the concepts in one’s studies, and to experience the kavanot of the Shema and prayer — and as such they are not bound up with action,

הא קיימא לן דהרהור לאו כדבור דמי, ואינו יוצא ידי חובתו בהרהור וכוונה לבד, עד שיוציא בשפתיו

for it has been ruled that meditation has not the validity of speech, and one does not fulfill one’s obligation by meditation [in a manner of hirhur] and kavanah alone, even when his manner of meditation is close to speech, as is the case when one thinks about the way in which he will utter certain words, which is called hirhur, until he gives it utterance with his lips;

וקיימא לן דעקימת שפתיו הוי מעשה

moreover, it has been ruled that the motion of the lips while one is speaking is considered an “action” — in which case all these mitzvot involve a form of action.

The Rebbe explains that the Alter Rebbe will now anticipate the following question: It still remains to be understood why specifically the four cubits of Halachah take the place of the Holy of Holies; why should this be not so when a Jew studies a subject in Torah which is not Halachah, for there too the Shechinah is with him? The Alter Rebbe therefore explains that Halachah possesses the especial merit of expressing the Divine Will (as explained at length in Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle 29).

ותרי״ג מצות התורה, עם שבע מצות דרבנן, בגימטריא כת״ר, שהוא רצון העליון ברוך הוא

And the 613 commandments of the Torah, together with the seven commandments of our Rabbis, combine to total the numerical equivalent of Keter (“crown”), which is the Supernal Will,

Will is called a crown, for like a crown it encompasses the head and brain; Iggeret HaKodesh, loc. cit., where this is discussed at length.

המלובש בחכמתו יתברך

which is clothed in His wisdom,

Thus, in addition to the fact that Torah is G‑d’s wisdom, which in its descent in the downward progression of Worlds becomes the shrine of the Holy of Holies for the Shechinah, there is the additional quality of its being the Supernal Will, which is even loftier than wisdom. This is uniquely found in the Halachah and the mitzvot, as they are expressions of the Supernal Will.

המיוחדות באור אין סוף ברוך הוא בתכלית היחוד

and they (G‑d’s Will and wisdom) are united with the light of the Ein Sof in a perfect union.

Further to an earlier statement that Torah derives from Supernal Wisdom, the Alter Rebbe will now say that the Oral Law also emanates from that source.

וה׳ בחכמה יסד ארץ, היא תורה שבעל פה דנפקא מחכמה עילאה, כמו שכתוב בזהר, דאבא יסד ברתא

“G‑d founded the earth with wisdom.”9 This refers to the Oral Law that is derived from Supernal Wisdom, as it is written in the Zohar, “The father (Chochmah) begat the daughter” (i.e., Malchut, the Oral Law; as it is written, “Malchut — the mouth, which we call the Oral Law”).

* * *

The Alter Rebbe now concludes what he began to elucidate (in ch. 51) concerning the statement of the Yenuka in the Zohar — that the light of the Shechinah which shines above the head of a person needs oil. The Yenuka concludes, “...and these are good deeds” — the oil is the performance of the mitzvot.

In chassidic literature, however, oil traditionally refers to wisdom. What is the connection between the performance of mitzvot — and wisdom, which is called oil?

The Alter Rebbe explains that the light of the Shechinah must garb itself in wisdom, which is oil. For (as previously explained) wisdom, or intellect, is the vessel and “garment” for the light of the Shechinah, which is — Chochmah as it is garbed in Torah.

Yet, in order to draw down the light of the Shechinah so that it will shine upon the divine soul of the Jew, more than oil is necessary; one must also have a wick. Oil is transformed into light through the medium of a wick. It is the wick, which itself is burned, which keeps the fire from being extinguished.

In spiritual terms the wick refers to the vivifying soul which provides the person with physical life. This wick is burned through Torah and mitzvot. Just as the physical wick burns and is annihilated by the fire, so do the garments of thought, speech and action of the vivifying soul become burned in the light of the Shechinah through the Torah and mitzvot which a Jew studies and performs.

It is for this reason that the oil must also consist of “good deeds,” mitzvot, which have their source in G‑d’s wisdom; Torah alone (even though it is itself wisdom) does not suffice. For only through the action required by the mitzvot will the light of the Shechinah be drawn down into the wick — the vivifying soul. This is accomplished when the vivifying soul is burned thoroughly in the light of the Shechinah which shines on one’s head.

וזהו שאמר הינוקא, דנהורא עילאה דאדליק על רישיה, היא שכינתא, איצטריך למשחא

And this is what the Yenuka in Zohar, quoted in ch. 35, meant when he said that “the Supernal light that is kindled on his (the Jew’s) head, namely, the Shechinah, requires oil,”

פירוש: להתלבש בחכמה, הנקראת שמן משחת קדש, כמו שכתוב בזהר

that is, to be clothed in wisdom, which is called “the oil of the holy anointing” — and “holy” signifies Chochmah, or wisdom, as is explained in the Zohar,

Thus, the light of the Shechinah which is upon one’s head is in need of oil, i.e., it must be garbed in Chochmah, for that is the vessel for the light of the Shechinah. The Zohar then quotes the conclusion of the statement of the Yenuka:

ואינון עובדין טבין, הן תרי״ג מצות, הנמשכות מחכמתו יתברך

“and these are the good deeds,” namely, the 613 commandments, which derive from His wisdom.

Torah, which is itself oil, does not suffice; there must also be good deeds — the performance of the mitzvot, although they are only drawn down from wisdom.

כדי לאחוז אור השכינה בפתילה, היא נפש החיונית שבגוף, הנקראת פתילה על דרך משל, כי כמו שבנר הגשמי האור מאיר על ידי כליון ושריפת הפתילה הנהפכת לאש, כך אור השכינה שורה על נפש האלקית

Thereby the light of the Shechinah can cling to the wick, i.e., the vivifying soul in the body, which is metaphorically called a “wick”. For just as in the case of a material candle, the light shines by virtue of the annihilation and burning of the wick turning to fire, so does the light of the Shechinah rest on the divine soul, which is the candle (“The soul of man is the candle of the L‑rd”),

על ידי כליון נפש הבהמית והתהפכותה מחשוכא לנהורא וממרירו למתקא, בצדיקים

as a result of the annihilation of the animal soul and its transformation from darkness of kelipah to light of holiness, and from bitterness of kelipat nogah to sweetness of holiness, in the case of the righteous — for tzaddikim (as mentioned in ch. 10) are those who transform the essence of the animal soul, its intellect and emotion, from evil into goodness and holiness,

או לפחות על ידי כליון לבושיה, שהן מחשבה דבור ומעשה

or at least through the destruction of its garments, which are thought, speech and action — which previously were garments of the vivifying soul, which is a soul of kelipah,

והתהפכותן מחשך הקליפות לאור ה׳ אין סוף ברוך הוא, המלובש ומיוחד במחשבה דבור ומעשה של תרי״ג מצות התורה, בבינונים

and their transformation from the darkness of the kelipot to the Divine light of the Ein Sof, which is clothed and united in the thought, speech and action of the 613 commandments of the Torah, in the case of the Beinonim.

Beinonim, as explained in ch. 12, do not transform the essence of the vivifying soul into goodness and holiness. Only the soul-garments of thought, speech and action are transformed to goodness through being utilized for the thought, speech and action of the Torah and the mitzvot. In this sense the wick of the vivifying soul is annihilated, and is transformed into the light of holiness.

כי על ידי התהפכות נפש הבהמית, הבאה מקליפת נוגה, מחשוכא לנהורא וכו׳, נעשה בחינת העלאת מ״ן

For as a result of the transformation of the animal soul, originating from kelipat nogah, from the darkness of kelipot, to the light of holiness, and so forth, there is brought about the so-called “ascent of the feminine waters” — the spiritual awakening on the initiative of the recipient, which in turn causes an arousal Above,

להמשיך אור השכינה, היא בחינת גילוי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא, על נפשו האלקית שבמוחין שבראשו

to draw down the light of the Shechinah (not only like the oil of Chochmah and Torah which is but a vessel for receiving the light of the Shechinah, but actually drawing down the light of the Shechinah), i.e., revealed light of the Ein Sof, over one’s divine soul principally dwelling in the brain of the head.

This is why the Yenuka says, “The Supernal light that is kindled over one’s head requires oil,” for the light that is over one’s head and “intelligence” is in need of the oil of the “good deeds.”

ובזה יובן היטב מה שכתוב: כי ה׳ אלקיך אש אוכלה הוא

Thereby one may clearly understand the text,10 “For the L‑rd Your G‑d is a consuming fire,”

Just as fire can only catch on an object when that object is being consumed by it, so, too, regarding the light of the Shechinah. In order for G‑d to become “your G‑d,” illuminating the Jew’s soul, there must be consumption by fire — burning and annihilating the wick of the vivifying soul, so that this soul of kelipah be transformed into the fire of holiness.

וכמו שנתבאר במקום אחר

as is explained elsewhere11 — that only when a Jew succeeds in nullifying himself to G‑d in a manner where he ceases to exist as an independent entity, and is consumed in the flames of G‑dliness, — only then will he draw down upon himself the light of the Shechinah.

נשלם חלק ראשון בעזרת ה׳ יתברך ויתעלה