In the previous chapters, the Alter Rebbe discussed the distinctive merit of mitzvot performed by speech and action, for by means of them, the vitalizing soul is elevated to holiness. The mitzvot have this ability, for they are performed with the power of the vitalizing soul that vivifies the physical limbs that perform them, and with the physical tongue and lips, etc., that utter the words of Torah and prayer.

Since the ultimate intent of the soul’s descent is not for the sake of the soul alone but in order to elevate the vitalizing soul and the corporeal body, this is accomplished specifically through mitzvot that require physical action and speech.

In light of all that has been said above concerning the particular virtue of mitzvot performed in action and speech in their elevation of the vital soul to holiness, one will clearly understand the halachic decision expressly stated in the Talmud and the Codes1 that meditation is not valid in lieu of verbal articulation.

וְהִנֵּה, עִם כָּל הַנִּכְתָּב לְעֵיל, יוּבַן הֵיטֵב פְּסַק הַהֲלָכָה הָעֲרוּכָה בַּתַּלְמוּד וּפוֹסְקִים דְּ"הִרְהוּר לָאו כְּדִבּוּר דָּמֵי",

Thus, if one recited the Shema in his thought and heart alone, even if he did so with the full power of his concentration, he has not fulfilled his obligation of reciting the Shema by merely meditating on the words that comprise it; he must repeat it [verbally].

וְאִם קָרָא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וּבְלִבּוֹ לְבַד, בְּכָל כֹּחַ כַּוָּונָתוֹ – לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ וְצָרִיךְ לַחֲזוֹר וְלִקְרוֹת,

The same is true of the Blessing After Meals,2 ordained by the Torah,3

וְכֵן בְּבִרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא,

Although the Torah does not state with regard to Blessing After Meals as it does of Shema: “And you shall speak these words,” one cannot fulfill this duty by mere thought.

and [similarly with] other blessings,4 although they are merely Rabbinic in origin, and so, too, with prayer;5 although prayer is “a service of the heart,” it cannot be confined to the heart but must be articulated orally.

וּבִשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת דְּרַבָּנָן, וּבִתְפִלָּה;

The Rebbe comments that this Halachah poses no intrinsic difficulty, since one can no more ask why G‑d stipulated that a particular thought (Shema, prayer, and the like) must also be verbalized than one can ask why the mitzvah was ordained at all. However, we must understand why it is that when a mitzvah is composed of both speech and thought, the law states that verbalization without intent does fulfill the obligation; intent without verbalization does not.

For this reason, the Alter Rebbe continues the question as follows:

Lessons In Tanya (Kehot Publication Society)

Lessons in Tanya is a well-lit and accessible gateway to the Tanya - the fundamental, classic work upon which all concepts of Chabad Chasidism are based.

If, on the other hand, one spoke the words (of Shema, prayer, etc.) but did not concentrate his thought, he has, post facto, fulfilled his obligation (although he was initially required to concentrate) and need not repeat them with concentration,

וְאִם הוֹצִיא בִּשְׂפָתָיו וְלֹא כִּיוֵּן לִבּוֹ – יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בְּדִיעֲבַד, וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לַחֲזוֹר,

except for the first verse of Shema6 and the first blessing in Shemoneh Esrei7 where the law requires one to repeat them if he did not concentrate on their meaning while reciting them.

לְבַד מִפָּסוּק רִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּבְרָכָה רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁל תְּפִלַּת שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה,

It is thus written (Tractate Berachot, beginning of ch. 2): “Until here i.e., until the end of the first verse of Shema, the mitzvah is one of concentration; from here on, the mitzvah consists of recitation…,”8 and one has fulfilled his obligation even if he did not concentrate.

וְכִדְאִיתָא [בְּרֵישׁ פֶּרֶק ב' דִּבְרָכוֹת]: "עַד כָּאן מִצְוַת כַּוָּונָה, מִכָּאן וְאֵילַךְ מִצְוַת קְרִיאָה וְכוּ'".

How, then, are we to reconcile both halachot? Why is thought without speech not as acceptable as speech without thought? The answer lies in the discussion of the unique status of mitzvot performed in action and speech, as explained in the previous chapter.

This is because the [divine] soul does not need to perfect itself through mitzvot;

וְהַיְינוּ, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה אֵינָהּ צְרִיכָה תִּיקּוּן לְעַצְמָהּ בַּמִּצְוֹת,

rather, the goal of mitzvot is to draw down [G‑dly] light to perfect the vital soul and the body.

רַק, לְהַמְשִׁיךְ אוֹר – לְתַקֵּן נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית וְהַגּוּף

This is accomplished by means of the letters of speech, which the soul utters by means of the five organs of verbal articulation and through the mitzvot of action, which the soul performs by means of the body’s other organs.

עַל יְדֵי אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁהַנֶּפֶשׁ מְדַבֶּרֶת בְּה' מוֹצָאוֹת הַפֶּה, וְכֵן בְּמִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת שֶׁהַנֶּפֶשׁ עוֹשָׂה בִּשְׁאָר אֵבְרֵי הַגּוּף:

The mitzvot involving speech and action, which utilize the power of the vital soul and the organs of the body, serve to elevate them. Since the ultimate goal is the perfection of the vital soul and the body, thought alone, being the province of the divine soul, cannot satisfy the demands of the mitzvot of speech; they require verbal articulation. Speech alone, however, without thought, is sufficient, since the vital soul and the body are elevated thereby.

From the beginning of ch. 35 until here, the Alter Rebbe has expounded the phrase “to do it”—the conclusion of the verse, “For the matter (of observing Torah and mitzvot) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” He explained that the mitzvot of action (and of speech, which is also deemed “action”) are of paramount importance, since it is through them that we achieve the goal of transforming this physical world into a “dwelling place for G‑d in the lower realms,” i.e., a place where G‑dliness will be revealed to an even greater degree than it is in the higher, spiritual worlds.

This goal will be realized when the energy of the vital soul and the body of every Jew will ascend from kelipat nogah to holiness. Thereby, all of kelipat nogah, meaning the vitality of the entire world, will ascend to holiness, and automatically, the three impure kelipot will cease to exist. Thus, there will be no obstruction of G‑dliness in the world; G‑dliness will radiate throughout; the world will be G‑d’s “dwelling place.”

Since the entire process hinges on the elevation of a Jew’s body and his vital soul, and since their elevation is accomplished only by means of the mitzvot of action, which require their power in performance of the mitzvot, therefore, the mitzvot of action are, as said, of paramount importance.

In the discussion that now follows, the Alter Rebbe will examine the other side of the coin. He will explain the importance of kavanah—“devout concentration” or “intention”—in the performance of mitzvot. As used in this context, kavanah refers to the motivating intention that by performing a mitzvah, one is united with G‑d, Whose command and will each mitzvah represents.

Yet, nevertheless, it has been said that prayer or any other blessing, said without kavanah, is like a body without a soul.9

אַךְ אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אָמְרוּ: תְּפִלָּה אוֹ שְׁאָר בְּרָכָה בְּלֹא כַוָּונָה – הֵן כְּגוּף בְּלֹא נְשָׁמָה,

This comparison of the words of prayer to a body and of kavanah to its soul means [as follows]:

פֵּירוּשׁ,

Just as all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul

כִּי כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּל הַבְּרוּאִים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם גּוּף וּנְשָׁמָה,

—meaning the nefesh of every living being, the ruach of all flesh, and the neshamah of all that has the breath of life in its nostrils among all living creatures—

שֶׁהֵם: "נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חַי וְרוּחַ כָּל בְּשַׂר אִישׁ", וְ"נִשְׁמַת כָּל אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ חַיִּים בְּאַפָּיו" מִכָּל בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים,

G‑d animates them all and creates them, constantly out of nothingness by the light and vitality which He bestows upon them i.e., upon both the soul and the body, and in support of his contention that the body, too, has a G‑dly life-force (aside from the soul), the Alter Rebbe adds parenthetically:

וַה' "מְחַיֶּה אֶת כּוּלָּם" וּמְהַוֶּה אוֹתָם מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ תָּמִיד בְּאוֹר וְחַיּוּת שֶׁמַּשְׁפִּיעַ בָּהֶם,

—for even the material body, and furthermore, even the very stones and earth which are absolutely inanimate, lacking even that sign of life found in plant life, i.e., growth—even the totally inanimate being—has within it light and vitality from G‑d so that it should not revert to naught and nothingness as it was before it was created.

שֶׁגַּם הַגּוּף הַחוּמְרִי, וַאֲפִילוּ אֲבָנִים וְעָפָר הַדּוֹמֵם מַמָּשׁ – יֵשׁ בּוֹ אוֹר וְחַיּוּת מִמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, שֶׁלֹּא יַחֲזוֹר לִהְיוֹת אַיִן וָאֶפֶס כְּשֶׁהָיָה,

(Further in the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that every existing being would instantly revert to absolute nothingness were it not for the G‑dly life-force constantly creating it and keeping it in existence. Thus, even the inanimate beings contain a life-force and so surely do the bodies of living creatures.)

(The Alter Rebbe now concludes the sentence begun earlier:) Just as in all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul, there is, nevertheless, i.e., despite the fact that body and soul are alike in that they both contain a divine life-force, there is, nevertheless, no comparison or similarity between the quality of the light and lifeforce radiating in the body and the light and life-force radiating in the neshamah, which is the soul of every living thing.

וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אֵין עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן כְּלָל בֵּין בְּחִינַת אוֹר וְחַיּוּת הַמֵּאִיר בַּגּוּף, לְגַבֵּי בְּחִינַת אוֹר וְחַיּוּת הַמֵּאִיר בַּנְּשָׁמָה, שֶׁהִיא נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חַי.

It is axiomatic that the physical is incomparable to the spiritual (so much so that philosophers agree that the evolution of the material from the spiritual is the most radical form of creation ex nihilo). The body, being physical, is thus incomparable to the soul, which is spiritual.

This difference between them is obviously due to the difference between the respective divine life-forces creating them. The Alter Rebbe will now explain in what way these life-forces differ. The difference is surely not one of varying degrees of revelation of the divine life-force—that in the body, this life-force is in concealment, while in the soul, it stands revealed. In this respect, body and soul are alike. The veil of kelipat nogah, which obscures G‑dliness in this physical world as a whole, envelops both body and soul. Therefore, just as the body does not attest to the fact that it is the product of divine creative power, so does the soul of living creatures belie the fact that its life-giving properties are G‑dly. Thus, the divine life-force is concealed equally in body and soul. The difference between them lies, rather, in the intensity of G‑dly life-force that each contains: in the body, the life-force is contracted so that the body is a physical being; in the soul, the life-force is freely bestowed, and the soul is therefore a spiritual, life-giving being.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

True, in terms of the “concealment of Countenance” i.e., the degree to which the “Countenance,” the inner aspect of the divine life-force, is concealed, the light i.e., the divine creative life-force is the same in both [body and soul]—it is concealed equally in both.

וְאַף שֶׁבִּשְׁנֵיהֶם אוֹר אֶחָד שָׁוֶה, בִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים

The garments in which the light hides, conceals, and clothes itself are identical [in body and soul],

וּלְבוּשִׁים שָׁוִים שֶׁהָאוֹר מִסְתַּתֵּר וּמִתְעַלֵּם וּמִתְלַבֵּשׁ בּוֹ,

for both [body and soul] are of this world where, throughout the world and all its creatures (spiritual as well as physical), the light and life-force issuing from “the breath of [G‑d’s] mouth” are equally concealed,

כִּי שְׁנֵיהֶם הֵם מֵעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, שֶׁבִּכְלָלוּתוֹ מִסְתַּתֵּר בְּשָׁוֶה הָאוֹר וְהַחַיּוּת שֶׁמֵּרוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרַךְ,

by “concealment of the Countenance” and [by] the descent of the life-force from level to level by means of numerous powerful tzimtzumim (contractions) through the various levels [constituting] the chainlike succession of worlds,

בִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים וִירִידַת הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת בְּהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה בְּצִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים,

finally clothing itself in kelipat nogah in order to give life to the totality of this material world.

עַד שֶׁנִּתְלַבֵּשׁ בִּקְלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ לְהַחֲיוֹת כְּלָלוּת עוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַחוּמְרִי,

The Alter Rebbe has here described the process whereby the divine life-force descends from its lofty, G‑dly origin to the point where it creates and gives life to physical matter, i.e., from “the breath of G‑d’s mouth”—a reference to malchut of the World of Atzilut—to the World of material Asiyah.

He defines various steps in this process: (1) “descent from level to level”; (2) “numerous tzimtzumim”; (3) “powerful tzimtzumim”; (4) “clothing itself in kelipat nogah.”

Let us examine them individually:

“Descent from level to level”: To reach down to the level of Asiyah, the life-force must first descend from the World of Atzilut to Beriah, thence to Yetzirah, and finally to Asiyah. Within each of these Worlds, there are many levels, and the life-force must descend through them all before reaching the next lowest World.

“Numerous tzimtzumim”: Each descent of the life-force entails a “contraction” of the light and life-force, lessening its intensity.

But descent and tzimtzumim alone, no matter how numerous, will still not make possible the creation of a physical being; the divine life-force would still be at a level where anything created by it would be a spiritual being, albeit of a lower grade of spirituality. The creation of physical matter presupposes another condition, viz.:

“Powerful tzimtzumim”: I.e., tzimtzumim which entirely change the character of the life-force (and not only its intensity) to the point where it can create and give life to material beings. But even this type of tzimtzum cannot produce a world like ours, in which it is not apparent that G‑d is the Creator and where, in fact, G‑d’s creations can be used in defiance of His will. This is achieved only when

“The life-force…clothes itself in kelipat nogah” (and thereby also in the other kelipot, as will soon be explained). As defined in the first chapter of the Tanya, kelipat nogah is a mixture of good and evil. Therefore, whatever receives its G‑dly life-force through the veil of kelipat nogah (in which the life-force is clothed) can be utilized either for a holy purpose, in serving G‑d’s will through performing a mitzvah, or for an unholy purpose, in violating His will through a sinful act.

In summary: Through many descents and powerful tzimtzumim, the G‑dly life-force clothes itself in kelipat nogah and thereby gives life to all the creatures of this world.

The Alter Rebbe now distinguishes between permitted and forbidden objects. The former receive their life-force directly through kelipat nogah; for the latter to receive the G‑dly life-force clothed in kelipat nogah, it must first descend still further to be veiled in the three completely impure kelipot.

This means: (1) all things of this world that are permitted and pure which receive their vitality directly via kelipat nogah, and from and through [kelipat nogah] evolve (2) all impure, forbidden things, which derive their vitality from the three impure kelipot, yet their vitality, too, stems from nogah since it is the intermediary level between holiness (where all life originates) and the three impure kelipot, as mentioned above.

דְּהַיְינוּ, כָּל דְּבָרִים הַמּוּתָּרִים וְהַטְּהוֹרִים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וּמִמֶּנָּה וְעַל יָדָהּ מוּשְׁפָּעִים דְּבָרִים הַטְּמֵאִים, כִּי הִיא בְּחִינָה מְמוּצַּעַת כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

We can conclude from this that there is no difference between the life-force of the soul and that of the body in terms of revelation or concealment. Since both body and soul are of this world, the life-force in them is equally concealed in the veil of kelipat nogah.

Nevertheless, the [G‑dly] illumination, meaning the flow of vitality by which G‑d illumines and gives life to all creatures of this world by way of this garment, i.e., kelipat nogah,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, הַהֶאָרָה, שֶׁהִיא הַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת אֲשֶׁר ה' מֵאִיר וּמְחַיֶּה דֶּרֶךְ לְבוּשׁ זֶה,

is not the same for them all, and the difference between the life-force of the various creatures is in terms of contraction and expansion. In some creatures, the life-force is constricted and limited, while in others, it finds broader expression.

אֵינָהּ שָׁוָה בְּכוּלָּן בִּבְחִינַת צִמְצוּם וְהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת.

The difference between “concealment” (hester) of the life-force and its “contraction” (tzimtzum) can be expressed as follows:

Suppose one hangs a thick curtain on a window to screen out the sunlight. The light entering the room through the curtain will be of an entirely different quality; in fact, it might be described as a mere echo of the original light. This is “concealment.”

If, on the other hand, one boards up the window and leaves only a tiny hole by which the light may pass, the light shining through the hole, though greatly restricted, will be the same, qualitatively, as the original light. This is what is meant by “contraction.”

So it is too with regard to our subject: Kelipat nogah is the thick curtain which veils the divine creative power equally from all creatures of this world. This “curtained” light varies, however, from one creature to another in degree of contraction. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to enumerate these differences:

In the physical body [of a living creature] and in an absolutely inanimate [being] such as stones or earth, in which no life or spirituality are apparent since they lack even the power of growth,

כִּי בַּגּוּף הַגַּשְׁמִי, וְהַדּוֹמֵם מַמָּשׁ כַּאֲבָנִים וְעָפָר –

the ray of the divine creative power is in a state of unparalleled contraction.

הַהֶאָרָה הִיא בִּבְחִינַת צִמְצוּם גָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר אֵין כָּמוֹהוּ,

So minute is the life-force within these inanimate beings that they lack even the power of growth.

וְהַחַיּוּת שֶׁבּוֹ מוּעֶטֶת כָּל כָּךְ, עַד שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ אֲפִילוּ כֹּחַ הַצּוֹמֵחַ,

In vegetation, the ray is not so greatly contracted; the phenomenon of growth indicates the presence of something more than mere physical matter; some degree of spirituality is in evidence.

וּבַצּוֹמֵחַ – הַהֶאָרָה אֵינָהּ בְּצִמְצוּם גָּדוֹל כָּל כָּךְ.

In general, [all things in this world] are divided into four categories: mineral, vegetable, animal, and man (lit., “the speaker”),

וְדֶרֶךְ כְּלָל, נֶחְלָקוֹת לְאַרְבַּע מַדְרֵגוֹת: דּוֹמֵם, צוֹמֵחַ, חַי, מְדַבֵּר

corresponding to the four letters of the Divine Name (the Tetragrammaton) from which they are derived. Each of these four categories receives its vitality from one of the four letters.

כְּנֶגֶד ד' אוֹתִיּוֹת שֵׁם הֲוָיָ"ה בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, שֶׁמִּמֶּנּוּ מוּשְׁפָּעִים.

Now, just as the illumination and the flow of vitality found in the mineral and vegetable [categories] bears no comparison or likeness to the illumination and flow of vitality clothed in animals and man (since in the latter two categories, it is clearly apparent that they are alive)

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאֵין עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן הַהֶאָרָה וְהַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת שֶׁבְּדוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ, לְהַהֶאָרָה וְהַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּחַי וּמְדַבֵּר,

although in all [four categories], the [divine animating] light is the same in terms of the “concealment of Countenance,” i.e, in all four categories, the inner aspect of the divine light is concealed equally, and in all [four categories, the light] is clothed in the same garment, namely the garment, i.e., veil, of nogah; hence, in none of these categories is it apparent that their vitality is actually G‑dliness—yet despite this equality, the vitality of inanimate beings and plants is incomparable to that of animals and man,

אַף שֶׁבְּכוּלָּן אוֹר אֶחָד שָׁוֶה בִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים, וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בִּלְבוּשׁ אֶחָד בְּכוּלָּן שֶׁהוּא לְבוּשׁ נוֹגַהּ,

similarly, there is no comparison or likeness between the illumination and flow of the blessed Ein Sof-light—meaning the inner aspect of His will, without “concealment of Countenance” and with no garment whatsoever—

כָּךְ, אֵין עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן כְּלָל בֵּין הֶאָרַת וְהַמְשָׁכַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, שֶׁהוּא פְּנִימִיּוּת רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּלִי הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים וּלְבוּשׁ כְּלָל,

as it radiates in and is clothed within the mitzvot consisting of action—whether actual action or mitzvot performed through speech and verbal articulation, which is regarded as actual action, as mentioned above—when performed without kavanah,

הַמְּאִירָה וּמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּמִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת מַמָּשׁ, וְכֵן בְּמִצְוֹת הַתְּלוּיוֹת בְּדִבּוּר וּבִיטּוּי שְׂפָתַיִם בְּלִי כַוָּונָה, שֶׁהוּא נֶחְשָׁב כְּמַעֲשֶׂה מַמָּשׁ כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל –

[the illumination of the Ein Sof found in these mitzvot bears no likeness or comparison] with the [superior] illumination and flow of the blessed Ein Sof-light radiating and clothed in the kavanah of the mitzvot of action,

לְגַבֵּי הַהֶאָרָה וְהַמְשָׁכַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמְּאִירָה וּמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּכַוָּונַת הַמִּצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת,

meaning man’s intention to attach himself to G‑d by fulfilling His will as expressed in the mitzvot, since He and His will are one.

שֶׁהָאָדָם מִתְכַּוֵּין בַּעֲשִׂיָּיתָן כְּדֵי לְדָבְקָה בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ עַל יְדֵי קִיּוּם רְצוֹנוֹ, שֶׁהוּא וּרְצוֹנוֹ אֶחָד.

Similarly with regard to kavanah in prayer, the recital of Shema and its blessings and in other blessings, where, through one’s kavanah in them, he attaches his thought and intellect to G‑d.

וְכֵן בְּכַוָּונַת הַתְּפִלָּה וּקְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּבִרְכוֹתֶיהָ וּשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת, שֶׁבְּכַוָּונָתוֹ בָּהֶן – מְדַבֵּק מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וְשִׂכְלוֹ בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ.

It is not that attachment of man’s thought and intellect to G‑d is intrinsically superior to attachment through the actual, practical fulfillment of the mitzvot dependent on action,

וְלֹא שֶׁדְּבֵיקוּת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה וְשֵׂכֶל הָאָדָם בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הִיא מִצַּד עַצְמָהּ לְמַעְלָה מִדְּבֵיקוּת קִיּוּם הַמִּצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ,

for as will be explained further on the unity with G‑d achieved by performance of mitzvot is described in the same terms as the unity of husband and wife—“kiddushin,” as we say in the blessing preceding the fulfillment of a mitzvah: “…G‑d…, Who sanctified us (קִדְּשָׁנוּ) with His commandments….”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר לְקַמָּן,

Obviously, the quality of man’s attachment to G‑d through kavanah cannot surpass that of the performance of mitzvot, which possesses the G‑d-given ability to unite man with Him. Where, then, lies the superiority of kavanah over actual performance of mitzvot (described earlier as paralleling the superiority of soul over body)?

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that, like the actual mitzvot themselves, man’s kavanah in performing them expresses G‑d’s will. It is the illumination of Divine will contained in kavanah that is superior. In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

Rather, kavanah is superior because this, too, is G‑d’s will—that one attach himself to Him by intellect and thought, and [by] the kavanah of the active mitzvot, and by one’s kavanah during the recital of Shema and in prayer and other blessings,

אֶלָּא, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁזֶּהוּ גַם כֵּן רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ – לְדָבְקָה בְּשֵׂכֶל וּמַחֲשָׁבָה וְכַוָּונַת הַמִּצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת וּבְכַוָּונַת קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּתְפִלָּה וּשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת,

and the illumination of the supernal will that radiates and is clothed in this kavanah

וְהֶאָרַת רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן הַזֶּה, הַמְּאִירָה וּמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּכַוָּונָה זוֹ,

is infinitely greater and loftier than the illumination of the supernal will that radiates and is clothed in the performance of the mitzvot themselves, in action and speech, without kavanah.

הִיא גְדוֹלָה לְאֵין קֵץ, לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מֵהֶאָרַת רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן הַמְּאִירָה וּמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּקִיּוּם הַמִּצְוֹת עַצְמָן בְּמַעֲשֶׂה וּבְדִבּוּר בְּלִי כַוָּונָה –

This superiority of kavanah is similar to the superiority of the light of the soul over the body, which is a vessel and garment for the soul—just as the body of the actual mitzvah is a vessel and garment for its kavanah. For this reason, then, the performance of a mitzvah is likened to a body and its kavanah to a soul.

כְּגוֹדֶל מַעֲלַת אוֹר הַנְּשָׁמָה עַל הַגּוּף, שֶׁהוּא כְּלִי וּמַלְבּוּשׁ הַנְּשָׁמָה, כְּמוֹ גּוּף הַמִּצְוָה עַצְמָהּ שֶׁהוּא כְּלִי וּמַלְבּוּשׁ לְכַוָּונָתָהּ.

True, although both the actual mitzvah and its kavanah contain the same [supernal] will, which is perfectly simple, i.e., changeless and indivisible, G‑d forbid, so that it cannot be said that kavanah contains “more” of G‑d’s will and performance contains “less,” and [this will] is united with G‑d’s essence and being in perfect unity;

וְאַף שֶׁבִּשְׁתֵּיהֶן, בַּמִּצְוָה וּבְכַוָּונָתָהּ, מְלוּבָּשׁ רָצוֹן אֶחָד, פָּשׁוּט בְּתַכְלִית הַפְּשִׁיטוּת בְּלִי שׁוּם שִׁינּוּי וְרִיבּוּי חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, וּמְיוּחָד בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד,

nevertheless, the illumination of the supernal will in one’s soul is different in terms of its contraction and expansion.

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, הַהֶאָרָה, אֵינָהּ שָׁוָה בִּבְחִינַת צִמְצוּם וְהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת,

In the performance of a mitzvah, this illumination is in a state of “contraction”; one’s attachment to G‑d’s will is not readily apparent. In the kavanah, however, the illumination is in a state of “expansion” and revelation in one’s soul: here, clearly, one’s thought and intellect are attached to G‑d.

In the note which follows, the Alter Rebbe traces the difference between mitzvot and their kavanah to their source in the supernal sefirot.

Each sefirah consists of an or, a “light,” and a keli, a vessel or receptacle for the or. The kelim of the sefirot have a well-defined character: one is chochmah, another binah, and so forth. The orot, however, are G‑dly energy, “simple” in the sense that they are devoid of definition, unlimited, and not restricted to any specific character.

Restated, this means that kelim are “contracted” and limited, while orot are “expanded” and unconfined—the very traits that differentiate between mitzvot and their kavanah.

It is also so explained in Etz Chaim that kavanah in mitzvot and in Torah study is on the level of “light,” while the “body” i.e., performance of the mitzvot, is the level and category of “vessels.”

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּﬠֵץ חַיִּים, שֶׁכַּוָּונַת הַמִּצְוֹת וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה הִיא בְּמַדְרֵגַת אוֹר, וְגוּף הַמִּצְוֹת הֵן מַדְרֵגוֹת וּבְחִינוֹת כֵּלִים,

These [vessels] represent “contraction,” for it is through contraction of the light that the vessels came into being,

שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינַת צִמְצוּם, שֶׁﬠַל יְדֵי צִמְצוּם הָאוֹר נִתְִהַוּוּ הַכֵּלִים,

as is known to the students of the Kabbalah.

כַּיָּדוּﬠַ לְיוֹדְﬠֵי חֵן:

Similarly, the difference between mitzvot and their kavanah is one of contraction and expansion respectively, as explained above.

The Alter Rebbe now expands the analogy of body and soul to mitzvot and kavanah. He states that just as in the analogy, all existence is classified into four categories, with two of them (mineral and vegetable) belonging in turn to the broader category of “body-beings” and two (animal and man) to the broader category of “soul-beings” so it is also with regard to mitzvot and kavanah.

The Alter Rebbe now resumes the thought intercepted by the above note.

They, too (the mitzvot and their kavanah), are differentiated into four levels.

וְנֶחְלֶקֶת גַּם כֵּן לְאַרְבַּע מַדְרֵגוֹת.

For the “body” of the mitzvot themselves comprises two levels, namely, mitzvot consisting of real action (as opposed to speech, which is merely “regarded as action”),

כִּי גוּף הַמִּצְוֹת עַצְמָן מַמָּשׁ – הֵן ב' מַדְרֵגוֹת, שֶׁהֵן, מִצְוֹת מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת מַמָּשׁ

and mitzvot performed with speech and thought, such as Torah study, reciting the Shema, praying, saying the Blessing After Meals, and other blessings. Both these levels—(a) action and (b) thought and speech—are subdivisions of the category of the “body” of mitzvot.

וּמִצְוֹת הַתְּלוּיוֹת בְּדִבּוּר וּמַחֲשָׁבָה, כְּמוֹ תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה וּקְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּתְפִלָּה וּבִרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן וּשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת;

The kavanah of mitzvot, i.e., one’s intention to attach oneself to G‑d by performing the mitzvah, this (the kavanah) being like a soul for the body of the mitzvah,

וְכַוָּונַת הַמִּצְוֹת לְדָבְקָה בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, שֶׁהִיא – כִּנְשָׁמָה לַגּוּף,

is likewise divided into two levels—corresponding to the two levels of soul found in material bodies, namely (a) in animals and (b) in man.

נֶחְלֶקֶת גַּם כֵּן לִשְׁתֵּי מַדְרֵגוֹת, כְּמוֹ שְׁתֵּי מַדְרֵגוֹת הַנְּשָׁמָה שֶׁהֵן בַּגּוּף הַחוּמְרִי, שֶׁהֵן: חַי וּמְדַבֵּר.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to discuss two levels in kavanah, the higher one of which is comparable to the soul of man and the lower to the soul of animals.

The first level is that of a person discerning enough to know G‑d and to reflect on His greatness,

כִּי, מִי שֶׁדַּעְתּוֹ יָפָה לָדַעַת אֶת ה' וּלְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בִּגְדוּלָּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

and to create out of his understanding a lofty fear in his mind and a love of G‑d in the right part of his heart (the seat of the divine soul’s emotions),

וּלְהוֹלִיד מִבִּינָתוֹ יִרְאָה עִילָּאָה בְּמוֹחוֹ וְאַהֲבַת ה' בֶּחָלָל הַיְמָנִי שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ,

so that his soul thirsts for G‑d [seeking] to cleave to Him

לִהְיוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ צְמֵאָה לַה', לְדָבְקָה בוֹ

by fulfilling the Torah and mitzvot, which are the extension and illumination of the Ein Sof-light upon one’s soul by which one may cleave to Him.

עַל יְדֵי קִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוֹת, שֶׁהֵן הַמְשָׁכַת וְהֶאָרַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עַל נַפְשׁוֹ – לְדָבְקָה בוֹ,

In other words, this person’s desire to cleave to G‑d through the only means of doing so, viz., Torah and mitzvot, stems from a love and awe of G‑d created by intellectual appreciation of His greatness. His kavanah in mitzvot (i.e., his desire to cleave to G‑d through mitzvot) thus has an intellectual basis.

When he studies [Torah] and fulfills the mitzvot, [it is] with this kavanah, and likewise, when he prays and recites blessings, [it is] with this kavanah of cleaving to G‑d, Whose greatness he has come to understand.

וּבְכַוָּונָה זוֹ – הוּא לוֹמֵד וּמְקַיֵּים הַמִּצְוֹת, וְכֵן בְּכַוָּונָה זוֹ – מִתְפַּלֵּל וּמְבָרֵךְ,

Such kavanah is analogous to the soul of a human being, who possesses intelligence and freedom of choice and who speaks with wisdom, for such kavanah is likewise based on intellect and choice.

הֲרֵי כַּוָּונָה זוֹ, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ נִשְׁמַת הַמְדַבֵּר, שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל שֵׂכֶל וּבְחִירָה וּבְדַעַת יְדַבֵּר.

The second level of kavanah is that of a person whose understanding is too limited to know and to reflect on the greatness of the blessed Ein Sof,

וּמִי שֶׁדַּעְתּוֹ קְצָרָה לֵידַע וּלְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בִּגְדוּלַּת אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

so as to create out of his understanding a revealed love in his heart and also awe in his mind and dread of G‑d in his heart. His level of understanding is inadequate to create a palpable spiritual emotion.

לְהוֹלִיד הָאַהֲבָה מִבִּינָתוֹ בְּהִתְגַּלּוּת לִבּוֹ, וְכֵן הַיִּרְאָה בְּמוֹחוֹ וּפַחַד ה' בְּלִבּוֹ,

Since one’s observance of the mitzvot is contingent on love of G‑d, and refraining from sin is contingent on fear of G‑d, how can one who cannot evoke these emotions because of his limited understanding fulfill the Torah and mitzvot? What motivates him?

Such a person, the Alter Rebbe will say, is motivated by his arousal of the “hidden love,” the love of G‑d (which also comprises an aspect of fear) hidden in the heart of every Jew.

Even if he cannot arouse this love to a revealed state, where he can actually feel this love (and fear) in his heart, he can surely arouse it in his mind so that at that level, he will experience a conscious desire to attach himself to G‑d. This desire will lead him to study Torah and fulfill the mitzvot since this is the only way for him to realize his wish.

In this case, his kavanah in Torah study and in mitzvot (i.e., his desire to cleave to G‑d) is based on “instinct,” i.e., on the innate love of G‑d found in his heart. This level of kavanah therefore resembles the soul of an animal, whose actions are instinctive, not rational.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

He merely recalls and arouses the natural love hidden in his heart,

רַק שֶׁזּוֹכֵר וּמְעוֹרֵר אֶת הָאַהֲבָה הַטִּבְעִית הַמְסוּתֶּרֶת בְּלִבּוֹ,

and brings it out of concealment in his heart to a state of consciousness, in his mind at least (even if he cannot arouse a revealed feeling of love in his heart, surely he can summon it to mental consciousness),

וּמוֹצִיאָהּ מֵהַהֶעְלֵם וְהֶסְתֵּר הַלֵּב אֶל הַגִּילּוּי בַּמּוֹחַ עַל כָּל פָּנִים,

so that his will in his mind and in the recesses of his heart should approve and consent with complete willingness and perfect sincerity

שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רְצוֹנוֹ שֶׁבְּמוֹחוֹ וְתַעֲלוּמוֹת לִבּוֹ, מַסְכִּים וּמִתְרַצֶּה בְּרִיצּוּי גָּמוּר בֶּאֱמֶת לַאֲמִיתּוֹ,

to surrender his life in martyrdom, in actual fact (not merely as a figure of speech), for his affirmation of the unity of G‑d (rejecting belief in any other divinity),

לִמְסוֹר נַפְשׁוֹ בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ עַל יִחוּד ה',

in order to attach to Him his divine soul and its garments of thought, speech, and action and to unite them with His unity,

כְּדֵי לְדָבְקָה בוֹ נַפְשׁוֹ הָאֱלֹהִית וּלְבוּשֶׁיהָ, וּלְכָלְלָן בְּיִחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ,

which is identical to the supernal will that is clothed in Torah study and performance of the mitzvot, as explained above.

שֶׁהוּא רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה וּבְקִיּוּם הַמִּצְוֹת, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל;

Like martyrdom that one undergoes out of love for G‑d, study of the Torah and performance of the mitzvot unite the soul with G‑d. Therefore, one’s arousal of his natural love of G‑d (to the point where he is prepared to offer his life for G‑d’s unity) will also motivate him to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.

This [natural love] also comprises fear [of G‑d]: acceptance of His dominion so as not to rebel against Him, G‑d forbid, through sin.

וְגַם הַיִּרְאָה כְּלוּלָה בָהּ, לְקַבֵּל מַלְכוּתוֹ שֶׁלֹּא לִמְרוֹד בּוֹ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם;

When, motivated by this kavanah (which is born of his innate love and fear of G‑d), one “turns away from evil” (by refraining from sin) and “does good” (by observing the mitzvot) and studies, prays, and recites the blessings,

וּבְכַוָּונָה זוֹ – הוּא סוּר מֵרָע וְעוֹשֶׂה טוֹב, וְלוֹמֵד וּמִתְפַּלֵּל וּמְבָרֵךְ

thinking merely of the meaning of the words, without conscious love and fear of G‑d in his heart and mind, which would lend emotional intensity to his prayer; lacking revealed love and fear, he prays only with the meaning of the words; when one fulfills the Torah in this manner,

בְּפֵירוּשׁ הַמִּלּוֹת לְבַדּוֹ, בְּלֹא דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ בְּהִתְגַּלּוּת לִבּוֹ וּמוֹחוֹ,

this level of kavanah is analogous to the soul of an animal, which possesses neither intelligence nor freedom of choice,

הֲרֵי כַּוָּונָה זוֹ, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ נִשְׁמַת הַחַי, שֶׁאֵינוֹ בַּעַל שֵׂכֶל וּבְחִירָה,

and whose emotions—its fear of harmful things and its love of pleasing things—are merely natural to it, not a product of its intelligence or understanding.

וְכָל מִדּוֹתָיו, שֶׁהֵן יִרְאָתוֹ מִדְּבָרִים הַמַּזִּיקִים אוֹתוֹ וְאַהֲבָתוֹ לַדְּבָרִים הַנֶּאֱהָבִים אֶצְלוֹ, הֵן רַק טִבְעִיִּים אֶצְלוֹ וְלֹא מִבִּינָתוֹ וְדַעְתּוֹ;

So, too, by way of example, are the natural love and fear hidden in the heart of every Jew; they, too, are not a product of intelligence or choice,

וְכָךְ הֵן, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, הַיִּרְאָה וְהָאַהֲבָה הַטִּבְעִיּוֹת הַמְסוּתָּרוֹת בְּלֵב כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל,

for they are our inheritance from our Patriarchs and are like a natural instinct in our souls,

כִּי הֵן יְרוּשָּׁה לָנוּ מֵאֲבוֹתֵינוּ, וּכְמוֹ טֶבַע בְּנַפְשׁוֹתֵינוּ,

as mentioned above in ch. 18.

כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל:

The Alter Rebbe explained there that the Patriarchs bequeathed to their descendants as an eternal inheritance a divine soul with an intrinsic love (and fear) of G‑d. Because this love is merely instinctive and natural, its function as motivation (kavanah) for the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot is likened to the soul of an animal.

To summarize: Both the performance and kavanah of mitzvot are divided into two categories.

The two levels in performance (the “body” of the mitzvot) are analogous to the two classes of “body”-creatures—inanimate beings and plants. They are (a) mitzvot performed with action and (b) mitzvot performed through speech or thought.

The two levels in kavanah (the “soul” of the mitzvot) correspond to the two classes of “soul”-creatures—animals and man. They are: (a) kavanah generated by one’s intellectual contemplation of G‑dliness and (b) kavanah arising from one’s natural love (and fear) of G‑d.