The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that every Jew has the ability to attain yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear of G‑d. This enables him to perform all the positive commandments and refrain from transgressing all the negative commandments. In the present chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain the two levels of fear of G‑d, yirah tata’ah and yirah ila‘ah, the lower and higher levels of fear respectively.

This distinction clarifies a seeming contradiction. The Mishnah first states:1 “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G‑d].” Wisdom must precede fear. But the Mishnah then goes on to say: “If there is no fear [of G‑d], there is no wisdom.” Fear must precede wisdom!

The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.

The Alter Rebbe also explains in this chapter that just as there are two general levels of fear of G‑d, there are also two general levels of love of G‑d.

והנה על יראה תתאה זו, שהיא לקיום מצותיו יתברך, בבחינת סור מרע ועשה טוב

Concerning this level of yirah tata‘ah of which it was said in the previous chapter that it is in the province of every Jew, which is [necessary] for the fulfillment of His commandments, in both areas of “Turn away from evil and do good,” i.e., in the performance of the negative and positive commands,

אמרו: אם אין יראה, אין חכמה

it was said, by our Sages, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.” If fear of G‑d is lacking, then one cannot properly fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.

ויש בה בחינת קטנות ובחינת גדלות

It (this lower level of fear) comprises a quality of “smallness” and a quality of “greatness”.

The quality of “smallness” describes the fear which is experienced as a result of a Jew’s innate fear of G‑d, and which is merely revealed through meditating upon matters that lead to the fear of G‑d. Since it does not result from contemplating G‑d’s greatness it is deemed “small”. The quality of “greatness” characterizes the fear of G‑d that results from contemplating G‑d’s greatness as it can be discerned from creation.

דהיינו, כשנמשכת בחינת יראה זו מההתבוננות בגדולת ה׳

This means i.e., fear has the quality of “greatness” when this category of the lower level of fear is a result of contemplation on the greatness of G‑d as it is perceived through His providing life to creation —

דאיהו ממלא כל עלמין

that He fills all worlds,

G‑d provides all worlds with vitality by vesting Himself in them. This life-force is attuned to the innate spirituality of the particular world or created being in which it is vested; the higher the world or created being, the loftier its life-force.

ומהארץ לרקיע מהלך ת״ק שנה וכו׳, ובין רקיע לרקיע כו׳

and2 from the earth to the heavens is a distance of 500 years,... and the distance from one heaven to the next... is also a journey of 500 years,

רגלי החיות כנגד כולן וכו׳

[and] “the feet i.e., the lowest level of the angels called chayyot measure up to them all...”

The lowest level of the chayyot transcends all the other levels.

וכן השתלשלות כל העולמות, למעלה מעלה עד רום המעלות

and similarly with one’s contemplation on the evolvement of all the worlds, one above the other to the topmost heights of the most spiritual worlds.

When a person contemplates and gains a deep understanding of the divine life-force that provides life to all worlds and spiritual levels, and hence achieves a fear of G‑d, then this understanding may be described by the term “greatness”. However, if this is the case, why then is this level considered part of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by explaining that since this fear derives from contemplation of G‑dliness as it “fills all worlds” and thus is bound up with them, it is necessarily a lower level of fear. For this life-force is concealed in the worlds in such a way that they are still able to be aware of their own existence and being. As this level, the worlds merely nullify their being and existence in deference to their life-force. This is termed bittul hayesh, the self-nullification of a being that is aware of its own existence.

The fear which results from this contemplation can only belong to the level of bittul hayesh, and not the higher form of nullification known as bittul bimetziut, which is total and complete nullification of self. It is for this reason that even the fear which has the quality of “greatness” is still only on a level of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear. And this is what the Alter Rebbe now says:

אף על פי כן נקראת יראה זו יראה חיצונית ותתאה, מאחר שנמשכת מהעולמות

Nevertheless, this fear is called an external and inferior fear, yirah tata‘ah, since it is derived from the worlds i.e., from understanding the greatness of G‑d as a result of meditating upon the divine life-force which animates them,

שהם לבושים של המלך, הקב״ה, אשר מסתתר ומתעלם ומתלבש בהם, להחיותם ולקיימם, להיות יש מאין וכו׳

for they are “garments” of the King, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who conceals and hides and clothes Himself in them, in these worlds, to animate them and give them existence, that they may exist ex nihilo,....

Before the worlds were created they did not exist at all; they were in a state of non-being. Through their creation they became “beings”, entities whose existence could be experienced. This is the manner in which the divine life-force animates (and clothes itself in) creation: that created beings should be able to perceive themselves as existing entities which, nevertheless, are nullified to their divine life-force. Therefore, as explained earlier, this contemplation can only result in the level of bittul hayesh and not in bittul bimetziut, which is the level of yirah ila‘ah, the higher level of the fear of G‑d.

רק שהיא השער והפתח לקיום התורה והמצות

It is only that this fear serves as the gate and entrance to the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

For, as mentioned earlier, yirah tata‘ah leads to the performance of Torah and mitzvot. And it is concerning this lower level of fear that our Sages have said, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom”; fear of G‑d must precede the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

אך היראה עילאה, ירא בשת

However, as for yirah ila‘ah, a fear stemming from a sense of shame before G‑d’s greatness,

Fear of G‑d stemming from a sense of shame is similar to the shame and total sense of abnegation a person feels when he is in the presence of a truly outstanding tzaddik.3 His shame is not from that great man’s external and revealed powers, as would be the case when one fears a king.

Fearing a king only involves fear of his externality, which finds expression in his rule. (Generally, the more extensive the king’s domain, the greater will be the fear of him.)

The same is true of the fear of G‑d which results from contemplating the “garments” and revelation of G‑dliness in all worlds. It is therefore termed yirah tata‘ah, a lower level of the fear of G‑d, inasmuch as it does not evoke the same degree of shame and self-nullification as is evoked by recognizing the greatness of a truly righteous person. There, the shame and fear is prompted by the great man’s essence; the nullification and shame will therefore be total. Thus, yirah ila’ah is a fear which stems from a sense of shame when one is confronted by G‑d’s greatness.

ויראה פנימית, שהיא נמשכת מפנימית האלקות שבתוך העולמות

and an inner fear that derives from the inward aspects of G‑dliness within the worlds,

wherein the person is cognizant of the inward and essential aspects of G‑dliness and not only of the external qualities of G‑dliness which are clothed in all the worlds. The worlds are wholly nullified before this inward aspect of G‑dliness with a complete and total nullification, bittul bimetziut. Awareness of this higher level of nullification leads to the higher level of fear, yirah ila‘ah.

עליה אמרו: אם אין חכמה, אין יראה

concerning this level of fear it was said by our Sages, “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear.” This level of fear must be prefaced by wisdom.

דחכמה היא כ״ח מ״ה

For4 Chochmah is ko‘ach mah, the level of nullification which is termed mah (“What?”), as the verse says,5 “...and we are mah” — a phrase that expresses the complete and total nullification which is termed bittul bimetziut,

והחכמה מאין תמצא

and6 “Chochmah comes from ayin” (“nothingness”), for which reason Chochmah is ayin and nullity,

ואיזהו חכם, הרואה את הנולד. פירוש: שרואה כל דבר איך נולד ונתהוה מאין ליש, בדבר ה׳ ורוח פיו יתברך, כמו שכתוב: וברוח פיו כל צבאם

and our Sages said, moreover,7 “Who is wise? He who sees that which is born [and created].” That is to say, that the wise person is he who sees how everything is born and created from non-being to being by means of the Word of G‑d and the breath of His mouth, as it is written,8 “...and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts [were created].”

ואי לזאת, הרי השמים והארץ וכל צבאם בטלים במציאות ממש בדבר ה׳ ורוח פיו, וכלא ממש חשיבי, ואין ואפס ממש, כביטול אור וזיו השמש בגוף השמש עצמה

Therefore, the heavens and the earth and all their hosts, i.e., all of creation, are truly nullified out of existence within the Word of G‑d and the breath of His mouth — the level of their nullification is thus not that of bittul hayesh but of bittul bimetziut — and are accounted as nothing at all, as naught and nothingness indeed, just as the light and brightness of the sun are nullified within the body of the sun itself.

Once sunlight has left the sun one can perceive actual rays and illumination. However, when the light of the sun is found in its source, the body of the sun itself, it is completely nullified and does not exist in a luminous state; all that exists there is the source of light, the sun itself.

So, too, are all created beings nullified in their source, the Word of G‑d that creates them ex nihilo. When a person ponders this matter, it will so affect him that his nullification to G‑d will be at the level of bittul bimetziut.

ואל יוציא אדם עצמו מהכלל

And no man should except himself from this principle — from the principle governing all created beings, about which he understands that they are totally nullified to G‑d. He should realize:

שגם גופו ונפשו ורוחו ונשמתו בטלים במציאות בדבר ה׳

that also his body and Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah are utterly nullified in the Word of G‑d that created them,

ודבורו יתברך מיוחד במחשבתו כו׳ וכנ״ל פרק כ׳ וכ״א באריכות, בדרך משל מנפש האדם, שדבור אחד מדבורו ומחשבתו כלא ממש כו׳

and His Word is united with His thought... and G‑d’s thought in turn is one with G‑d Himself. Thus, the nullification is not only to G‑d’s Word, but is a total nullification to G‑d Himself, as has been explained above at length (9chs. 20 and 21), by analogy with the human soul, one utterance of whose speech and thought are veritably as nothing..., when compared to the power of speech which is limitless.

Surely, one word pales utterly in comparison to man’s thought, which is the source of speech. Even more so when a single utterance is compared to the source of thought — the power of intellect or emotion, depending on whether the individual is thinking about intellectual or emotional things. Surely, then, this spoken word cannot in any way be compared to the soul itself.

There is, however, a difference between man’s speech and G‑d’s. When a human being speaks, the sound emitted from his mouth departs from its source and becomes a separate entity. G‑d’s creative speech, however, never departs — heaven forbid — from its source, that source being G‑d Himself, Who is omnipresent. Thus, divine speech is always found within its source.

It now becomes even more clear that G‑d’s Word, the source of creation, is truly and totally nullified to and unified with G‑d. Thus all of creation is completely nullified to G‑d.

וזה שאמר הכתוב: הן יראת ה׳ היא חכמה

This is what is meant by the verse:10 “Behold, the fear of G‑d, that is wisdom.”

For as explained earlier, the level of yirah ila‘ah and bittul bimetziut is the same as “wisdom”; it, too, is essentially bittul bimetziut.

אך אי אפשר להשיג ליראה וחכמה זו אלא בקיום התורה והמצות על ידי יראה תתאה החיצונית, וזהו שאמרו: אם אין יראה, אין חכמה

However, one cannot attain this fear and wisdom except by means of the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvot through yirah tata‘ah, which is an external fear. And this is what is meant by the statement, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.”

First must come yirah tata‘ah and the resulting performance of Torah and mitzvot; only then can one attain “wisdom” — yirah ila’ah and bittul bimetziut.

* * *

The Alter Rebbe now explains that there are also two general levels in the love of God. The higher level is called ahavah rabbah (“great love”). It is a gift from above, granted to an individual after he has attained the level of yirah ila‘ah. This love is so lofty that one cannot hope to achieve it unaided.

The second and lower level of love is attained by contemplating G‑d’s greatness. It is called ahavat olam (“eternal love,” and more literally, “love of the world”), because it emanates from one’s comprehension of the world, i.e., from one’s appreciation of the G‑dly life-force that animates the world.

והנה באהבה יש גם כן שתי מדרגות, אהבה רבה ואהבת עולם. אהבה רבה היא אהבה בתענוגים

Now, in love too there are two grades — ahavah rabbah and ahavat olam. Ahavah rabbah is a love of delight [and ecstasy], a love of G‑d which delights in Him. There is no other desire or goal present, such as the desire to cleave to Him or to expire in one’s yearning for Him. The love itself is comprised purely of delight in Him and cleaving to Him,

והיא שלהבת העולה מאליה

and it is a fiery flame that rises of itself. Man does not create or kindle this love within himself; rather, it comes forth spontaneously,

ובאה מלמעלה בבחינת מתנה למי שהוא שלם ביראה, כנודע על מאמר רז״ל: דרכו של איש לחזר אחר אשה, שאהבה נקראת איש וזכר, כמו שכתוב: זכר חסדו

and it comes from above by way of a gift to him who is perfect in fear, as is known from the saying of the Rabbis, of blessed memory:11 “The way of a man is to search for a woman.” And in spiritual terms: Love is called “man” or “male”, as it is written:12 “He has remembered his lovingkindness.”

The second letter of the verb (זכר) is vocalized with a patach; changing this vowel to a kamatz makes it mean “male”. Thus, love is alluded to as “male”,

ואשה יראת ה׳, כנודע

while a woman [symbolizes] “fear of G‑d,” as is known.

The connection between a female and the fear of G‑d is alluded to by the verse that says,13 “a G‑d-fearing woman.” This, then, is the spiritual meaning of the statement of the Sages, “The way of a man is to search for a woman”: the level of love (“man”) is revealed from above (“to search for”) where the level of fear (“woman”) is already present and complete.

ובלי קדימת היראה אי אפשר להגיע לאהבה רבה זו, כי אהבה זו היא מבחינת אצילות, דלית תמן קיצוץ ופירוד, חס ושלום

Without the prerequisite of fear, it is impossible to attain the level of ahavah rabbah, for this love originates from the realm of Atzilut wherein there is no sundering or separateness, G‑d forbid.

In the World of Atzilut nothing exists which is separate from G‑dliness; nothing at that level feels that it exists independently of G‑d, and everything in Atzilut is totally nullified to G‑dliness. Understandably, the love that emanates from such a level cannot light upon one whose fear of G‑d is imperfect, and who still perceives himself as existing independently of Him. Complete self-abnegation is a prerequisite for this level of love.

אך אהבת עולם היא הבאה מהתבונה ודעת בגדולת ה׳, אין סוף ברוך הוא, הממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין

Ahavat olam, however, the second and lower level of love, is that which comes from the understanding and knowledge of the greatness of G‑d, the blessed Ein Sof, Who fills all worlds, animating them with a permeating mode of vitality, which is limited and tailored to the capacity of each creature, and encompasses all worlds, animating them with a vitality which transcends them, not being limited by the worlds and created beings it animates.

וכולא קמיה כלא ממש חשיב, וכביטול דבור אחד בנפש המשכלת בעודו במחשבתה או בחמדת הלב כנ״ל

and before Whom everything is accounted as nothing at all, like the nullity of one utterance within the intelligent soul while it is still in its thought or in the desire of the heart, as has been explained earlier.14

אשר על ידי התבוננות זו ממילא תתפשט מדת האהבה שבנפש מלבושיה

As a result of such contemplation the attribute of love which is in the soul will as a matter of course divest itself of its garments, which it had previously worn.

This means to say that the individual will cease loving those things he had previously loved (this love having previously led him to vest himself in those things), and all his love will be directed to G‑d alone.

דהיינו: שלא תתלבש בשום דבר הנאה ותענוג גשמי או רוחני, לאהבה אותו, ולא לחפוץ כלל שום דבר בעולם בלתי ה׳ לבדו, מקור החיים של כל התענוגים

I.e., it will not clothe itself in anything of pleasure or enjoyment whether physical or spiritual, to love it, and will not desire anything whatever in the world other than G‑d alone, the Source of the vitality of all enjoyments,

שכולם בטילים במציאות, וכלא ממש קמיה חשיבי, ואין ערוך ודמיון כלל ביניהם, חס ושלום, כמו שאין ערוך לאין ואפס המוחלט לגבי חיים נצחיים

for they are all nullified in reality and are accounted as nothing at all, compared with Him, there being no manner of comparison or similitude between them, G‑d forbid — between all worldly pleasures and G‑d, the “Source of the vitality” of all pleasures, just as there is no comparison between that which is absolutely naught and nothing — and everlasting life.

Reflecting on this matter will lead the person to desire G‑d alone, and not to desire any worldly pleasures at all, seeking as he will the Source of all pleasures, which is G‑dliness.

וכמו שכתוב: מי לי בשמים, ועמך לא חפצתי בארץ

As it is written,15 “Whom have I in Heaven [to love other than G‑d]?” The verse goes on to say: “And there is nothing upon earth that I desire with You.”

This means to say that anything “with You” — that is subjugated and nullified to G‑d — is not desired as well.

כלה שארי ולבבי, צור לבבי וגו׳, וכמו שיתבאר לקמן

The next verse continues: “My flesh and my heart yearn for You, Rock of my heart...,” as the various levels of love a Jew may attain by contemplating G‑d’s greatness will be explained later.16

All the above refers to a person who has a love for worldly matters, and divests himself of this love because of his contemplation of G‑d’s greatness. His love will then be felt for G‑d rather than for mundane things.

However, he who by nature is cold and removed from any feelings of love, whether to G‑d or otherwise, cannot simply transfer his love. It is much more difficult for such a person to awaken a feeling of love for G‑d. Nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe goes on to say, even he can arouse within himself a fiery love for G‑d through the above-mentioned contemplation.

וגם מי שאין מדת אהבה שבנפשו מלובשת כלל בשום תענוג גשמי או רוחני, יכול להלהיב נפשו כרשפי אש ושלהבת עזה ולהב העולה השמימה, על ידי התבוננות הנ״ל, כמו שיתבאר לקמן

Also he, whose soul’s attribute of love is not vested at all in any physical or spiritual enjoyment, is able to kindle his soul as with burning coals and an intense fire and a flame that soars heavenward, by contemplating the above-mentioned matters, as shall be explained later on.

It has previously been noted that the higher level of love can come about only after one’s fear of G‑d is total. However, the lower level of love may sometimes come about, as shall soon be explained, even without being preceded by the fear of G‑d.

והנה בחינת אהבה זו, פעמים שקודמת ליראה, כפי בחינת הדעת המולידה, כנודע שהדעת כולל חסדים וגבורות, שהם אהבה ויראה

This [latter] category of love sometimes precedes fear, according to the quality of the Daat which fathers it, as is known. (17For Daat incorporates both Chassadim and Gevurot, which are love and fear; Chessed is love and Gevurah is fear. Daat reveals both these emotions. Thus, binding one’s Daat intensely to the greatness of G‑d gives rise to both feelings, fear and love,

ופעמים שהחסדים קודמים לירד ולהתגלות

and sometimes the Chassadim descend and manifest themselves first).

The Chassadim may sometimes precede the Gevurot; this means that Daat may sometimes evoke love before fear.

ולכן אפשר לרשע ובעל עבירות שיעשה תשובה מאהבה הנולדה בלבו, בזכרו את ה׳ אלקיו

Therefore it is possible for a wicked and sinful person to repent by virtue of the love that is born in his heart at the time he remembers the L‑rd his G‑d.

Although up to the point of his repentance he was wicked, and lacked a fear of G‑d, still there may be born in him a love for G‑d that will lead him to repent.

ומכל מקום, היראה גם כן כלולה בה ממילא, רק שהיא בבחינת קטנות והעלם, דהיינו, יראת חטא למרוד בו, חס ושלום, והאהבה היא בהתגלות לבו ומוחו

At any rate, fear, too, is included therein — in the love, as a matter of course, except that it is [there] in a state of “minuteness” and “concealment”, namely, as the fear of sin — of rebelling against Him, G‑d forbid, while the love is in a revealed state in his heart and mind, so that consciously the individual is only aware of a love for G‑d.

אך זהו דרך מקרה והוראת שעה בהשגחה פרטית מאת ה׳ לצורך שעה, כמעשה דרבי אלעזר בן דורדייא

However, such a case — where the wicked and sinful person should suddenly attain a love of G‑d and become a penitent — where love precedes fear is an extraordinary occurrence, and an “emergency prescription,” through G‑d’s particular providence as the occasion requires, as happened with Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya,18 who had been sinful, and suddenly became a penitent, repenting out of a love for G‑d. Indeed, so intense was his penitence that it caused his soul to depart his body.

This was an “emergency prescription” required for that occasion. For it is written19 that Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya was a gilgul — the reincarnated soul — of Yochanan the High Priest, who served in that office for eighty years and then became a Sadducee.20 All the Torah and mitzvot fulfilled by Yochanan were elevated through the transmigration of his soul into the body of Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya, whose life-story followed the reverse course, that of a sinner who ultimately repented out of his love for G‑d.21

אבל סדר העבודה הקבועה ותלויה בבחירת האדם, צריך להקדים תחלה קיום התורה והמצות על ידי יראה תתאה, בבחינת קטנות על כל פנים, בסור מרע ועשה טוב

However, the [regular] order of divine service, which is determined by and depends on a man’s choice, is to begin with the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvot through yirah tata‘ah in its state of “minuteness” at least, departing from evil and doing good, i.e., refraining from committing any sins and performing all the mitzvot,

להאיר נפשו האלקית באור התורה ומצותיה

so as to illuminate his divine soul with the light of the Torah and its commandments,

ואחר כך יאיר עליה אור האהבה

whereupon the light of love will also shine upon it,

כי ואהבת בגימטריא ב׳ פעמים אור, כידוע ליודעי ח״ן

(22for the word ve‘ahavta, (“And you shall love [the L‑rd your G‑d]”) has a numerical value twice that of or (“light”), as is known to those who are familiar with the Esoteric Discipline [of the Kabbalah]).

Thus, first must come the illumination earned by the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot; only then can one be granted the illumination of experiencing a love of G‑d.