Chapter 36

פרק לו

In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe began to explain why the observance of the practical mitzvot is the ultimate purpose of Torah and of one’s spiritual service of G‑d. (This practical aspect is underscored by the conclusion of the verse, “For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”) He explained that only mitzvot observed through action draw down the light of the Shechinah upon one’s animal soul and body (rather than upon the divine soul alone, as do the mitzvot performed only in thought and speech).

Yet, this does not answer one question satisfactorily: Why is the illumination of the body and animal soul so important that those (practical) mitzvot which accomplish this illumination should be considered one’s primary objective?

The Alter Rebbe addresses this question in ch. 36. He explains that G‑d’s purpose in creation is that He might have a dwelling place “in the lower realms,” specifically, in this physical world. In this world of doubled and redoubled spiritual darkness, His Ein Sof-light would radiate even more powerfully than it does in the higher, spiritual realms through man’s transforming the darkness into light.

In man, the microcosm, the animal soul and the body, are “the lower realms.” Therefore, the practical mitzvot which draw the light of the Shechinah upon them constitute man’s ultimate purpose.

Furthermore, through the practical mitzvot and through their elevating effect on the body and animal soul, the material world in its entirety becomes a “dwelling place” for G‑d. (This, however, properly belongs to the discussion in ch. 37.)

In a well-known statement, our Rabbis declare that the purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms.1

וְהִנֵּה, מוּדַעַת זֹאת מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁתַּכְלִית בְּרִיאַת עוֹלָם הַזֶּה הוּא – שֶׁנִּתְאַוָּה הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לִהְיוֹת לוֹ דִּירָה בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים.

He desired that the essence of His Ein Sof-light be revealed as it is, without veil or concealment, amid the lower creations. Our Sages use the word “abode,” or “dwelling place,” to describe such revelation. Just as a man’s home serves as an abode for his essence, so, too, is this world intended to be an “abode” for G‑d’s Essence.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the phrase “the lower realms” mentioned above. He shows that this refers specifically to our physical world.

The explanation in brief:

The terms “higher” and “lower” realms do not denote degrees of respective importance in the sight of G‑d or of closeness to Him. In G‑d’s eyes, all the worlds, from the highest to the lowest, are equally insignificant; all are equally remote from Him. On the other hand, He fills the lowest world just as He fills the highest.

Thus, the terms “higher” and “lower” must be understood as a standard of comparison within the numerous worlds. They indicate to what degree G‑dliness is revealed in each individual world: the more revelation, the “higher” the world; the more obscurity and concealment, the “lower.” From this standpoint, our physical world is the very lowest, for here, G‑dliness is most veiled and concealed.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

But surely, before G‑d (i.e., in His sight), the distinction of “higher” and “lower” is not valid; one world is no higher than another, for He pervades all worlds equally. What, then, do our Sages mean by saying that “G‑d desired an abode in the ‘lower’ realms”?

וְהִנֵּה, לֹא שַׁיָּיךְ לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּחִינַת מַעְלָה וּמַטָּה, כִּי הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מְמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין בְּשָׁוֶה.

The explanation of the matter, however, is that G‑d desired an abode in that realm considered “lower” within the ranks of the worlds as follows:

אֶלָּא בֵּיאוּר הָעִנְיָן,

Before the world (any world) was created, there was only He alone, one and unique, filling all the space in which He created the world. Anything that could be conceived of as a “space” or possibility for creation was filled with the Ein Sof-light.

כִּי קוֹדֶם שֶׁנִּבְרָא הָעוֹלָם הָיָה הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ יָחִיד וּמְיוּחָד, וּמְמַלֵּא כָּל הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה שֶׁבָּרָא בּוֹ הָעוֹלָם,

In His view, indeed, it is still the same now. Creation wrought no change in His unity; He is One alone now, just as He was prior to creation.

וְגַם עַתָּה כֵּן הוּא לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ.

The change applies only to the recipients of His vivifying force and His light—before creation, there was none to receive the Divine life-force and light; creation brought into being these recipients,

רַק שֶׁהַשִּׁינּוּי הוּא אֶל הַמְקַבְּלִים חַיּוּתוֹ וְאוֹרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

who receive [this life-force and light] by way of numerous “garments,” which veil and conceal G‑d’s light, for without such garments, they could not bear its intensity and would cease to exist.

שֶׁמְּקַבְּלִים עַל יְדֵי לְבוּשִׁים רַבִּים הַמְכַסִּים וּמַסְתִּירִים אוֹרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

So it is written: “For no man can see Me and live.”2

כְּדִכְתִיב: "כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי",

Furthermore, not only man, a physical being, but even spiritual beings, such as angels, are unable to receive the divine light and life-force without concealing garments.

And as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, interpret the word וָחָי (“…and live”) in this verse, as referring to angels, thus: “Even angels, called חַיּוֹת (‘[holy] Chayot’), cannot see….”3 G‑dliness, except by way of garments which conceal Him, thereby enabling them to receive His light.

וְכִדְפֵירְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁאֲפִילוּ מַלְאָכִים הַנִּקְרָאִים "חַיּוֹת" אֵין רוֹאִין כוּ'.

The degree of concealment varies, however, from world to world and from level to level. Here, the distinction between “higher” and “lower” realms becomes valid, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

This concealment is the subject of the Hishtalshelut (the chainlike graded and downward succession) of the worlds, and their descent from level to level,

וְזֶהוּ עִנְיַן הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת וִירִידָתָם מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה,

through the many “garments” that conceal the light and the life-force emanating from Him (—the more concealment, the lower the descent),

עַל יְדֵי רִיבּוּי הַלְּבוּשִׁים הַמַּסְתִּירִים הָאוֹר וְהַחַיּוּת שֶׁמִּמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

culminating in the creation of this physical, gross world.

עַד שֶׁנִּבְרָא עוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַגַּשְׁמִי וְהַחוּמְרִי מַמָּשׁ,

[This world] is the lowest in degree; there is none lower than it in terms of concealment of His light, and no world compares with it for doubled and redoubled darkness; nowhere is G‑d’s light as hidden as in this world.

וְהוּא הַתַּחְתּוֹן בַּמַּדְרֵגָה, שֶׁאֵין תַּחְתּוֹן לְמַטָּה מִמֶּנּוּ בְּעִנְיַן הֶסְתֵּר אוֹרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְחֹשֶׁךְ כָּפוּל וּמְכוּפָּל,

So much so that it is filled with kelipot and sitra achara, which actually oppose G‑d, saying: “I am, and there is nothing else besides me.”

עַד שֶׁהוּא מָלֵא קְלִיפּוֹת וְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא, שֶׁהֵן נֶגֶד ה' מַמָּשׁ, לוֹמַר: "אֲנִי וְאַפְסִי עוֹד".

It is thus clear that the term “lower realms” refers to this physical world, the very lowest in degree of divine revelation.

Since there is but one “order of Hishtalshelut,” a question arises: Does its ultimate purpose lie in the higher worlds, where G‑dliness is revealed to a greater degree, while the lower worlds serve only to emphasize the revelation found in those higher than them (since light is distinguishable only where darkness exists)? Or, on the contrary, does its purpose lie in the lower realms (but in order to create them, an order of Hishtalshelut is necessary, entailing the creation of the higher realms)?

Obviously, concealment of G‑dliness is not an end in itself; thus, if we assume the second position, it follows that these lower realms were created so that the darkness pervading them be transformed to light.

The statement that “G‑d desired an abode in the lower realms” shows the latter position to be the true one, and the “abode” is built by the revelation of His Presence in this lowest of worlds to a degree surpassing even that in the highest. This, in brief, is the subject of the following paragraphs in the text.

The purpose of the Hishtalshelut of the worlds, and of their descent from level to level, is not for the sake of the higher worlds,

וְהִנֵּה, תַּכְלִית הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת וִירִידָתָם מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה – אֵינוֹ בִּשְׁבִיל עוֹלָמוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנִים,

since for them, this constitutes a descent from the light of His Countenance.

הוֹאִיל וְלָהֶם יְרִידָה מֵאוֹר פָּנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

The very word “world” (עוֹלָם) in Hebrew denotes concealment. Thus, even the highest worlds constitute, by their very existence, a descent from the pervading level of G‑dliness that preceded their creation. It is illogical, then, to say that the revelation which these higher worlds represent is the purpose of the Hishtalshelut, since their revelation is actually concealment—and the ultimate purpose of creation lies in revelation, not concealment.

Rather, the purpose of Hishtalshelut is this lowest world.

אֶלָּא הַתַּכְלִית הוּא עוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַתַּחְתּוֹן,

All the higher worlds are merely steps in the descent of the divine creative power; in each of them, the light is veiled yet further, until it is finally reduced to the minute degree of revelation that this physical world is capable of receiving.

Thus, the purpose of the Hishtalshelut is this world, for such was His will—that He find it pleasurable when the sitra achara is subjugated to holiness, and the darkness of kelipah is transformed into holy light,

שֶׁכָּךְ עָלָה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, לִהְיוֹת נַחַת רוּחַ לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ, כַּד אִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא וְאִתְהַפֵּךְ חֲשׁוֹכָא לִנְהוֹרָא –

so that in the place of the darkness and sitra achara prevailing throughout this world, the Ein Sof-light of G‑d will shine forth

שֶׁיָּאִיר אוֹר ה' אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בִּמְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ וְהַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא שֶׁל כָּל עוֹלָם הַזֶּה כּוּלּוֹ,

with greater strength and intensity, and with the superior quality of light that emerges from the darkness, i.e., when darkness is transformed into light, the resulting light is superior to ordinary light; it will thus shine with greater intensity than its radiance in the higher worlds.4

בְּיֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְיֶתֶר עֹז וְיִתְרוֹן אוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ, מֵהֶאָרָתוֹ בְּעוֹלָמוֹת עֶלְיוֹנִים,

There, in the higher worlds, it shines through garments and [through] concealment of the Countenance (a concealment of the pnimiyut—i.e., the internal aspect—of the light), which conceal and screen the Ein Sof-light,

שֶׁמֵּאִיר שָׁם עַל יְדֵי לְבוּשִׁים וְהֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים, הַמַּסְתִּירִים וּמַעֲלִימִים אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא

so that [the worlds] do not dissolve out of existence.

שֶׁלֹּא יִבָּטְלוּ בִּמְצִיאוּת.

For were the Ein Sof-light not screened by garments, the worlds could not bear it and would dissolve. Thus, the revelation wrought by subjugation of the kelipot in this world is greater than that of the higher worlds; there, the Ein Sof-light is hidden, whereas here, in this world, it is revealed in all its strength.

A question arises, however. How is it possible (even upon subjugating the kelipot and transforming them into holiness) that we in this world should experience a revelation of the Ein Sof-light, without veil or concealment, when even the higher worlds cannot receive such revelation without dissolving into nothingness?

In answer, the Alter Rebbe writes:

For this purpose, the Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel the Torah, which is called “might” and “strength,” for it gives us strength to receive such revelation without being overwhelmed by it,

וְלָזֶה נָתַן הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, שֶׁנִּקְרֵאת עוֹז וְכֹחַ,

and, as our Rabbis say,5 that G‑d gives tzaddikim the strength to receive their reward in the World to Come

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא נוֹתֵן כֹּחַ בַּצַּדִּיקִים לְקַבֵּל שְׂכָרָם לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא,

Why is this “strength” necessary?

so that their existence should not dissolve within the divine light that will reveal itself in the hereafter without any garment,

שֶׁלֹּא יִתְבַּטְּלוּ בִּמְצִיאוּת מַמָּשׁ בְּאוֹר ה' הַנִּגְלֶה לֶעָתִיד בְּלִי שׁוּם לְבוּשׁ,

as it is written: “And your Teacher will no longer hide (יִכָּנֵף) from you (6meaning—not as some interpret the verse: “He will no longer withhold your rains, but, following Rashi: “He will no longer conceal Himself from you with the edge of a robe or garment (כָּנָף)”), and your eyes will behold Your Teacher,”7

כְּדִכְתִיב: "וְלֹא יִכָּנֵף עוֹד מוֹרֶיךָ [פֵּירוּשׁ, שֶׁלֹּא יִתְכַּסֶּה מִמְּךָ בְּכָנָף וּלְבוּשׁ], וְהָיוּ עֵינֶיךָ רוֹאוֹת אֶת מוֹרֶיךָ",

and it is also written: “For they shall see eye to eye…,”8 meaning that the human eye will see as the divine “eye” sees, i.e., we will clearly see the revelation of G‑d’s light;

וּכְתִיב: "כִּי עַיִן בְּעַיִן יִרְאוּ וְגוֹ'",

and it is further written: “The sun shall no longer be your light by day…for G‑d will be your eternal light.”9

וּכְתִיב: "לֹא יִהְיֶה לָּךְ עוֹד הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לְאוֹר יוֹמָם וְגוֹ', כִּי ה' יִהְיֶה לָּךְ לְאוֹר עוֹלָם וְגוֹ'".

The strength to receive this light, which will shine forth in the World to Come without “garment” or concealment, we derive from our present study of the Torah.

The Alter Rebbe stated earlier that the purpose of the entire Hishtalshelut is the revelation of the Ein Sof-light in this world, which occurs when the darkness of the kelipot of this world is transformed into the light of holiness.

But, one may ask, this revelation will take place only in the hereafter; at present, the Ein Sof-light is completely hidden! The Alter Rebbe replies that, indeed, the Messianic era constitutes the purpose for which this world was created.

It is known that the Messianic era, especially the period after the resurrection of the dead,

וְנוֹדָע, שֶׁיְּמוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ, וּבִפְרָט כְּשֶׁיִּחְיוּ הַמֵּתִים,

is indeed the ultimate purpose and the fulfillment of the creation of this world. It is for this [purpose] that [this world] was originally created.

הֵם תַּכְלִית וּשְׁלֵימוּת בְּרִיאַת עוֹלָם הַזֶּה, שֶׁלְּכָךְ נִבְרָא מִתְּחִילָּתוֹ

At first glance, this statement appears strange: One would have thought that the Messianic era represents not the purpose of creation, but the reward for man’s efforts toward fulfilling that purpose.

The Alter Rebbe therefore clarifies:

The [time of] receiving the reward is essentially in the seventh millennium, as is stated in Likkutei Torah of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory), whereas the period until then constitutes the fulfillment of the world’s purpose.

וְקַבָּלַת שָׂכָר ﬠִיקָּרוֹ בָּאֶלֶף הַשְּׁבִיﬠִי, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּלִקּוּטֵי תּוֹרָה מֵהָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה:

A glimmer of this revelation which will take place in the future has already been experienced—at the time of the Giving of the Torah at Sinai,

וְגַם כְּבָר הָיָה לְעוֹלָמִים מֵעֵין זֶה, בִּשְׁעַת מַתַּן תּוֹרָה,

as it is written: “You have been shown to know that G‑d is the L-rd; there is nothing else besides Him.”10

כְּדִכְתִיב: "אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי ה' הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ" –

“You actually ‘revealed Yourself’” (literally: “made Yourself seen”), indicating that the revelation was in a manner [perceptible to] physical sight.

"הָרְאֵתָ" מַמָּשׁ, בִּרְאִיָּה חוּשִׁיִּית,

So it is written: “And all the people saw the thunder”11—“They saw what is [normally] heard,”

כְּדִכְתִיב: "וְכָל הָעָם רוֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלוֹת" – "רוֹאִים אֶת הַנִּשְׁמָע",

As our Rabbis explain:12 They looked eastward and heard the [divine] speech issuing forth, saying: “I am [G‑d your L-rd],”

וּפֵירְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: מִסְתַּכְּלִים לַמִּזְרָח וְשׁוֹמְעִין אֶת הַדִּבּוּר יוֹצֵא אָנֹכִי כוּ'.

and so, too, turning toward the four points of the compass and above and below, they heard the words coming from every direction.

וְכֵן לְאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת וּלְמַעְלָה וּלְמַטָּה,

As explained also in Tikkunei Zohar: “There was no place from which He did not speak to them.”13

וְכִדְפֵירְשׁוּ בַּתִּיקּוּנִים "דְּלֵית אֲתַר דְּלָא מַלֵּיל מִינֵּיהּ עִמְּהוֹן כוּ'".

This was so because in the Ten Commandments, His blessed will was revealed,

וְהַיְינוּ, מִפְּנֵי גִּילּוּי רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בַּעֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת,

since they the Ten Commandments comprise the entire Torah, which represents the inner aspect of His will and wisdom, where there is no “concealment of the Countenance” whatsoever,

שֶׁהֵן כְּלָלוּת הַתּוֹרָה, שֶׁהִיא פְּנִימִית רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְחָכְמָתוֹ, וְאֵין שָׁם הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים כְּלָל,

as we say in our prayers: “For in the light of Your Countenance, You gave us…a Torah of life.”14

כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: "כִּי בְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ נָתַתָּ לָּנוּ תּוֹרַת חַיִּים".

The Torah thus represents the “light of His Countenance,” i.e., the inner light of G‑dliness. When this light was revealed through the uttering of the Ten Commandments, the entire world experienced a revelation of G‑dliness.

Therefore, they the Jews who stood at Sinai were nullified out of existence, as our Sages have said: “At every [divine] utterance, their soul took flight from their body,

וְלָכֵן הָיוּ בְּטֵלִים בִּמְצִיאוּת מַמָּשׁ, כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "שֶׁעַל כָּל דִּבּוּר פָּרְחָה נִשְׁמָתָן כוּ',

but G‑d restored it to them with the dew with which He will revive the dead in the World to Come.15

אֶלָּא שֶׁהֶחֱזִירָהּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לָהֶן בְּטַל שֶׁעָתִיד לְהַחֲיוֹת בּוֹ אֶת הַמֵּתִים",

This is the “dew” of Torah, which is called “might”; i.e., the Torah provides the strength that enables us to receive divine revelation without dissolving out of existence, as explained above in reference to the reward of tzaddikim in the World to Come.

וְהוּא טַל תּוֹרָה שֶׁנִּקְרָא "עוֹז",

Similarly, our Sages remark: “Whoever engages in the study of the Torah, the dew of Torah will revive him.”16

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה – טַל תּוֹרָה מְחַיֵּיהוּ כוּ'".

The Torah is variously described as dew, rain, and so on, each figure denoting a different level within it. From the statement just paraphrased, we learn that “dew” refers to the Torah’s restorative power, and it was this “dew” by which G‑d restored the souls of the Jews which had taken flight upon experiencing a degree of divine revelation foreshadowing that of the Messianic era.

But afterward after the Torah was given their sin caused both them and the world to become gross [again]—until the End of days when G‑d’s “right hand” (ימין meaning both “days” and “right”), i.e., His power, will be revealed.

רַק שֶׁאַחַר כָּךְ גָּרַם הַחֵטְא וְנִתְגַּשְּׁמוּ הֵם וְהָעוֹלָם, עַד עֵת קֵץ הַיָּמִין,

Then, the dross of the body and of the world will be refined, and they will be able to receive the revelation of G‑d’s light that will shine forth over Israel by means of the Torah, which is called “might.”

שֶׁאָז יִזְדַּכֵּךְ גַּשְׁמִיּוּת הַגּוּף וְהָעוֹלָם, וְיוּכְלוּ לְקַבֵּל גִּילּוּי אוֹר ה', שֶׁיָּאִיר לְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל יְדֵי הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁנִּקְרֵאת "עוֹז".

Through the superabundance of light which will shine upon the Jewish people, the darkness of the nations will also be lit up,

וּמִיִּתְרוֹן הַהֶאָרָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל – יַגִּיהַּ חשֶׁךְ הָאוּמּוֹת גַּם כֵּן,

as it is written: “And nations will walk by your (the Jewish people’s) light,”17

כְּדִכְתִיב: "וְהָלְכוּ גוֹיִם לְאוֹרֵךְ וְגוֹ'",

and it is also written that the nations will say to the Jewish people: “House of Jacob, go, and we will walk along by the light of G‑d,”18

וּכְתִיב: "בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹר ה'",

and again: “And the glory of G‑d shall be revealed, and all flesh will see,”…19

וּכְתִיב: "וְנִגְלָה כְּבוֹד ה', וְרָאוּ כָל בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּיו וְגוֹ'",

and: “To enter the holes of the rocks and the clefts of the boulders for fear of G‑d and of His majestic glory.”20

וּכְתִיב: "לָבוֹא בְּנִקְרֹת הַצּוּרִים וּבִסְעִיפֵי הַסְּלָעִים מִפְּנֵי פַּחַד ה' וַהֲדַר גְּאוֹנוֹ וְגוֹ'",

This refers to the nations, who will be filled with the dread of G‑d, for it cannot be said of Israel, who will be one with G‑d, that they will seek refuge from Him.

So also do we pray: “Appear in the majestic splendor of Your might over all the inhabitants of the world,”21 including the other nations.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאוֹמְרִים: "וְהוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עוּזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל אַרְצֶךָ וְגוֹ'":

Thus, we see that in the Messianic era, G‑dliness will be revealed to all the nations of the world—and in this state lies the fulfillment of the purpose for which this world was created.