In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe contrasted human speech and Divine speech. He pointed out that human speech is marked by two characteristics: (1) it reveals to the hearer that which was previously hidden in the speaker’s thoughts; (2) the spoken word becomes a distinct entity, separate from the speaker. Divine speech, however, cannot become separate from G‑d, since nothing exists “outside” G‑d. G‑d’s Word, even after being “spoken” and revealed (whether in Creation or in prophecy), is thus still united with Him, and nullified before Him, to the same degree that a word spoken by a human being is united with the speaker before he speaks, while the word was still within its source, viz., the desire or understanding that prompted the thought that ultimately produced the spoken word.

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to say that since, after all, the Torah does use the term “speech” with regard to Divine revelation, we must say that Divine speech contains, to some extent at least, the second characteristic of human speech as well (i.e., that it becomes separated from the speaker). He explains that this is in fact so, but only with respect to the beings created by Divine “speech” — they perceive G‑d’s Word that created them, and consequently also themselves, as being separate from G‑d. This is specifically the case with the kelipot and the sitra achra, which represent a denial of G‑d’s unity.

רק שהתורה דברה כלשון בני אדם, ונקרא בתורה דבורו של מקום ברוך הוא בשם דבור ממש כדבורו של אדם

Yet1 “the Torah employs human language,” and in the Torah the “Word” of G‑d is actually called “speech”, like the speech of a human being which is characterized by separation from the speaker; indicating that, in some way at least, G‑d’s “Word” is also separated from Him.

לפי שבאמת כך הוא דרך ירידת והמשכת החיות לתחתונים

For in truth it is so — that G‑d’s Word is separated from Him; not indeed with respect to Himself, but only with respect to the various creations, as will soon be explained; and this separation comes about by way of the descent and flow of the life-force to the lower planes.

בצמצומים רבים ועצומים, מינים ממינים שונים, להבראות מהם ברואים רבים, מינים ממינים שונים

This descent is accomplished through many powerful contractions with each successive contraction increasingly veiling the Divine life-force; and these contractions are of various kinds, in order that many diverse creatures may be created through them.

Thus the diversity found in creation stems from the diverse contractions of the creative power.

וכל כך גברו ועצמו הצמצומים והסתר פנים העליונים

Indeed, so great and powerful are the contractions and the concealment of the “Supernal Countenance,” i.e., the inner, deeper aspect of the Divine life-force is so heavily veiled,

עד שיוכלו להתהוות ולהבראות גם דברים טמאים וקליפות וסטרא אחרא

that even unclean things, and kelipot and the sitra achra, can come into being and be created.

No amount of contractions could give rise to kelipot. Even at its lowest level, the Divine life-force would not ordinarily produce creations that deny G‑d. It is the quality and intensity of the tzimtzumim, rather than their numerousness, that permits the kelipot to come into being,

ולקבל חיותם וקיומם מדבר ה׳ ורוח פיו יתברך, בהסתר פנים וירידת המדרגות

and to receive their life and existence from the Divine Word and the breath of His mouth, through the concealment of His Countenance and through the downward gradations.

ולכן נקראים אלהים אחרים מפני שיניקתם וחיותם אינה מבחינת פנים אלא מבחינת אחוריים דקדושה

For this reason the kelipot are called אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” for their nurture and vitality which they draw from the realm of holiness — since every existing being draws its life-force from holiness — does not derive from the “Countenance”, i.e., the inner aspect of the Divine Will, but from the אחוריים — the2 “hinder-part” of holiness, i.e., the external, superficial aspect of the Divine Will.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the terms “Countenance” and “hinder-part” as relating to the Divine Will. The explanation in brief: An “inner” will is a direct, pleasurable yearning for the object of one’s desire. An “external” will is one that is, as it were, “forced”; i.e., the object is desired only as a means to an end — the fulfillment of the “inner” will — and not as an end in itself.

ופירוש אחוריים: כאדם הנותן דבר לשונאו שלא ברצונו, שמשליכו לו כלאחר כתפו, כי מחזיר פניו ממנו משנאתו אותו

The meaning of “hinder-part” is exemplified in the act of a person who gives something unwillingly to his enemy with an ulterior motive; he throws the object to him over his shoulder, while he turns his face away from him, out of his hatred for him.

For one’s bodily actions express the feelings of his soul. Thus, when the act of giving is motivated by an external will, the giver turns away his face, which is where the inner facets of one’s soul express themselves.

כך למעלה: בחינת פנים הוא פנימית הרצון העליון וחפצו האמיתי, אשר חפץ ה׳ להשפיע חיות לכל הקרוב אליו מסטרא דקדושה

So too on high, the term “Countenance” represents the3 inner quality of the Supernal Will and its true desire; namely, the desire of G‑d to dispense life to all who belong to the realm of holiness, who are close to Him.

אבל הסטרא אחרא והטומאה היא תועבת ה׳ אשר שנא

But the sitra achra, and so too unholiness, is4 “an abomination before G‑d, which He hates.”

ואינו משפיע לה חיות מפנימית הרצון וחפצו האמיתי אשר חפץ בה, חס ושלום

He does not give it life from His inner Will and true desire as if He delighted in it, Heaven forbid,

כי אם כמאן דשדי בתר כתפוי לשונאו שלא ברצונו

but in the manner of one who unwillingly throws something over his shoulder to his enemy. This He does not out of His inner Will,

רק כדי להעניש את הרשעים וליתן שכר טוב לצדיקים דאכפיין לסטרא אחרא

but merely to punish the wicked who subjugate themselves to the kelipot, and derive their power from them, and to grant a rich reward to the righteous who subdue the sitra achra.

In order that there may be freedom of choice for one to be either righteous or wicked, the existence of the sitra achra is necessary, and for this reason G‑d gives it life.

וזה נקרא בחינת אחוריים דרצון העליון, ברוך הוא

This is called the “hinder-part” of the Supernal Will.

Thus we see that the kelipot are designated אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” because they derive from אחוריים, the “hinder-part” of the Divine Will.

והנה רצון העליון בבחינת פנים הוא מקור החיים המחיה את כל העולמות

Now, the Supernal Will, of the quality of “Countenance”, i.e., the inner aspect of G‑d’s Will, which is directed toward the ultimate object of G‑d’s desire, is the source of life which animates all worlds.

ולפי שאינו שורה כלל על הסטרא אחרא, וגם בחינת אחוריים של רצון העליון אינו מלובש בתוכה ממש, אלא מקיף עליה מלמעלה, לכך היא מקום המיתה והטומאה, ה‘ ישמרנו

But since it is not bestowed on the sitra achra at all, and even the “hinder-part” of the Divine Will is not actually clothed within it but merely encompasses it from above, therefore it is the abode of death and impurity (May G‑d preserve us from them!).

כי מעט מזער אור וחיות שיונקת ומקבלת לתוכה מבחינת אחוריים דקדושה שלמעלה הוא בבחינת גלות ממש בתוכה, בסוד גלות השכינה הנ״ל

For the minute measure of light and life that it derives and that it absorbs internally from the external aspect of Divine holiness, is in a state of actual exile within it — as in the concept of the “exile of the Shechinah [within the kelipot]” described earlier.5

ולכן נקרא בשם אלהים אחרים

It is for this reason too that the kelipah is termed “other gods,” apart from the reason given above — namely, that the kelipot derive from אחוריים , the “hinder-part” of G‑d’s Will,

שהיא עבודה זרה ממש, וכפירה באחדותו של מלך מלכי המלכים הקב״ה

for it constitutes actual idolatry and a denial of the unity of G‑d, the Supreme King of kings — the Holy One, blessed be He.

The explanation of these two reasons is as follows: Every created being is animated by two types of Divine life-force. One is an internalized life-force, which is beamed to suit the character and capacity of each individual creature. It is this power that determines the character of each being; it becomes one with it and is felt by it — in fact, this internalized life-force constitutes its identity. The second type of life-force is of an encompassing, transcendental nature. It does not adapt itself to the individual character of each being, and is not clothed within it; rather, it animates from without, so to speak — from its own level, above the created being which it animates.

The kelipot, too, are animated by these two types of Divine life-force. The latter type, since it does not permeate them, does not conflict with their ego. The kelipot can thus consider themselves independent beings, even while acknowledging G‑d as the source of their vitality. They need not deny Him. With regard to this type of G‑dly life-force, the kelipot are called אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” only because they receive their life from the אחוריים , from the “hinder-part” of G‑d’s Will.

The kelipot cannot, however, acknowledge the former, internalized type of G‑dly life-force, while asserting at the same time that they are separate from G‑d. To do so would be self-contradictory; for, as explained, this kind of life-force constitutes the very identity of every created being. The kelipot therefore completely deny this life-force (and it is thus truly in a state of exile within them). It is thus with regard to this life-force that the kelipot are called אלהים אחרים — “other gods,” in the literal sense of the term — implying idolatry and a denial of G‑d’s unity.

This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:

כי מאחר שאור וחיות דקדושה הוא בבחינת גלות בתוכה, אינה בטילה כלל לגבי קדושת הקב״ה

For inasmuch as the light and life of holiness i.e., the internalized life-force are in a state of exile within the kelipah, it does not surrender itself at all to the holiness of G‑d.

ואדרבה מגביה עצמה כנשר, לומר אני ואפסי עוד, וכמאמר: יאור לי ואני עשיתני

On the contrary, it soars aloft like an eagle, saying6: “I am, and there is nothing beside me”; or, as in the statement of Pharaoh7: “The river is mine, and I have made myself!”

ולכן אמרו רז״ל שגסות הרוח שקולה כעבודה זרה ממש

That is why the Sages, of blessed memory, said that8 arrogance is truly tantamount to idolatry.

כי עיקר ושרש עבודה זרה הוא מה שנחשב לדבר בפני עצמו, נפרד מקדושתו של מקום, ולא כפירה בה’ לגמרי

For the essence and root of idolatry is that it is regarded as an independent entity, separate from the holiness of G‑d; idolatry does not imply an outright denial of G‑d;

כדאיתא בגמרא דקרו ליה אלקא דאלקיא

as it is stated in the Gemara9 that they of the realm of kelipah call Him “the G‑d of gods,” so that although they do not deny His supremacy, their statement nevertheless constitutes idolatry,

אלא שגם הם מחשיבים עצמם ליש ודבר בפני עצמו, ובזה מפרידים את עצמם מקדושתו של מקום, ברוך הוא, מאחר שאין בטלים לו יתברך

only because they consider themselves, too, to be separate entities and independent beings; and thereby they separate themselves from the holiness of G‑d, since they do not efface themselves before Him.

כי אין קדושה עליונה שורה אלא על מה שבטל לו יתברך, כנ״ל

For the supernal holiness rests only on that which is surrendered to Him, as explained above. 10

ולכן נקראים טורי דפרודא בזהר הקדוש

For this reason the Zohar11 calls the kelipot “peaks of separation” i.e., they are as haughty as the mountain peaks, and are thus separate from G‑d.

והרי זו כפירה באחדותו האמיתית, דכולא קמיה כלא חשיב, ובטל באמת לו יתברך

But this constitutes a denial of G‑d’s true unity, since His unity implies that12 “all is esteemed as nothing before Him,” and that all is utterly nullified before Him,

ולרצונו המחיה את כולם ומהוה אותם מאין ליש תמיד

and before His Will which animates them all, and which constantly brings them into being out of nothingness.

Arrogance, therefore, which is the aggrandizement of one’s own identity, is diametrically opposed to the surrender of one’s identity which is a corollary of the concept of G‑d’s unity. Arrogance thus represents a denial of the unity of G‑d, and for this reason the Gemara equates it with idolatry.

* * *

To summarize briefly the points made in this chapter: Through many and varied tzimtzumim the Divine Word brought into being kelipot and the sitra achra, who perceive themselves to be entities separate from G‑d. For this reason, G‑d’s Word is described in the Torah as speech, for the element of separation found in human speech (where the spoken word becomes separated from the speaker) is also present in the Divine “speech” of Creation. However, this separateness exists only in the perspective from which the created beings view their relationship with their source; from G‑d’s perspective there is no separation at all, for everything is united with Him and is contained within Him even after it is created.

With this, the Alter Rebbe concludes one step of the discussion begun in ch. 20. There he stated that in order to explain how all the commandments of the Torah are encapsulated in the two commandments concerning idolatry, it is first necessary to clarify the true meaning of idolatry. This in turn necessitated an in‑depth discussion of the meaning of the unity of G‑d, which idolatry denies. The Alter Rebbe has thus far explained that G‑d’s unity means not only that there is but one G‑d: rather G‑d is the only existing being. All else is as naught before Him. Thus, any feeling (such as the kelipot feel) of having an identity of one’s own, apart from G‑d, actually represents idolatry.

In the following two chapters the Alter Rebbe now resumes his discussion, explaining how the above concept of G‑d’s unity finds expression in all the mitzvot of the Torah.

——— ● ———