Part (i)

In order to “enable” the Ein Sof-light, by definition infinite, to create worlds, which are finite, an intermediary is needed—to bridge the chasm between infinity and finitude. This intermediary, Torah,1 is alluded to in our opening verse, “He enwraps [Himself with] light as [with] a garment….”2

Now any intermediary must itself partake of each of the levels it bridges.3 Torah thus comprises both “light” and “garment.” The “light” of the Torah is its infinite inwardness, “[whose] measure is longer than the earth….”;4 the “garment” of the Torah refers to its finite and revealed exterior, which relates to the finite worlds. In the letter before us, the Alter Rebbe explains how the revealed “garment” (the nigleh) of the Torah has concealed within it the inward “light” (the pnimiyut) of the Torah. He also clarifies the difference between the comprehension of the Torah and prophetic comprehension.

“He wraps [Himself with] light as [with] a garment…”

יט "עוֹטֶה אוֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָה וְגוֹ'".

This verse speaks of “light” hidden within a “garment.” The Alter Rebbe will explain here how the “light” of the Torah that transcends revelation is vested in a concealing “garment.”

19 In Likkutei Torah of R. Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, Parashat Ki Tissa and Parashat Vayikra, it is stated5 that Moses our Master, peace to him, did not apprehend the pnimiyut (i.e., the most inward and profound level) of supernal chochmah,

הִנֵּה, בְּ"לִקּוּטֵי תּוֹרָה" שֶׁל הָאֲרִיזַ"ל פָּרָשַׁת כִּי תִשָּׂא וּפָרָשַׁת וַיִּקְרָא כָּתַב, כִּי הַשָּׂגַת מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם לֹא הָיְתָה בִּבְחִינַת פְּנִימִיּוּת דְּחָכְמָה עִילָּאָה,

which is called “abba of Atzilut,”

הַנִּקְרָא "אַבָּא דַאֲצִילוּת",

The degree of Divinity called supernal chochmah is not limited to the sefirah of chochmah in the World of Atzilut: it also possesses a number of levels that transcend it, such as chochmah of keter, chochmah of adam kadmon, and so on. The Alter Rebbe is now explaining that not only were these loftier levels of supernal chochmah beyond Moses’ apprehension, but so, too, was even the pnimiyut of the chochmah of Atzilut (i.e., abba of Atzilut).

and a fortiori, not the sefirah of keter, called arich anpin, that transcends [chochmah].

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן בִּסְפִירַת הַכֶּתֶר שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מִמֶּנָּה, הַנִּקְרָא "אֲרִיךְ אַנְפִּין",

For the very name arich anpin (lit., “the long countenance”) implies a level of Divinity of infinite extent and hence is beyond the reach of any soul clothed in a body.

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Rather, [Moses apprehended as far as] the achorayim (the exterior levels) of chochmah, which are vested in binah,

כִּי אִם בִּבְחִינַת אֲחוֹרַיִים דְּחָכְמָה הַמִּתְלַבְּשִׁים בְּבִינָה,

Unlike the internal and essential aspect of chochmah, the exterior aspect of chochmah is capable of descending into lower levels of Divinity, such as the sefirah of binah.

which in turn is vested in the seven lower sefirot, [collectively] called z’eyr anpin (lit., the “small countenance”)

הַמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּז' סְפִירוֹת תַּחְתּוֹנוֹת שֶׁנִּקְרָאִים "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין",

This name implies a level of Divinity which is contracted to within finite dimensions. In this spirit, the seven emotive attributes are termed middot, whose singular form (מִדָה) translates literally as “measure,” for it refers to the [infinite] Ein Sof-light when it is at the stage of having garbed itself in finitude in order thereby to become the source for created worlds.

the mystic principle of the Torah.

סוֹד הַתּוֹרָה,

The manner in which supernal chochmah descends through binah and finds diverse expression within the seven emotive attributes underlies the divergence of halachic rulings within the Torah. For the laws of the Torah—determining what is kasher (valid) versus pasul (invalid), innocent versus guilty, pure versus impure, and so on—derive from these emotive attributes. Rulings of what is kasher, innocent and pure, derive from chesed (the attribute of kindness); rulings of what is pasul, guilty and impure, derive from gevurah (the attribute of severity); and so on.

Moreover, [supernal chochmah] extends to the end of the four lowest sefirot: netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut.

וּמִתְפַּשֶּׁטֶת עַד סוֹף ד' סְפִירוֹת הַתַּחְתּוֹנוֹת, שֶׁהֵן נֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת,

These latter four emotive attributes are merely the extrinsic offshoots of the first three basic emotive attributes—chesed, gevurah, and tiferet, which they activate and cause to descend.

There, [Moses’] prophecy apprehended the pnimiyut, i.e., the inner dimension of netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut, whose function is to bring about the descent of the loftier sefirot within the worlds that are below Atzilut.

וְשָׁם הָיְתָה הַשָּׂגַת נְבוּאָתוֹ בִּבְחִינַת פְּנִימִיּוּת, דְּהַיְינוּ מִבְּחִינַת פְּנִימִיּוּת דְּנֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת.

However, his apprehension did not extend to the pnimiyut of the levels [of Divinity] transcending netzach-hod-yesod-malchut but only to the achorayim (the external aspect) of chochmah which is vested in binah, which in turn is vested and extended within the pnimiyut of netzach-hod-yesod-malchut.

אֲבָל לְמַעְלָה מִנֶּצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת לֹא הָיְתָה לוֹ שׁוּם הַשָּׂגָה בִּפְנִימִיּוּת, כִּי אִם בִּבְחִינַת אֲחוֹרַיִים דְּחָכְמָה הַמְלוּבָּשִׁים בְּבִינָה, הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת וּמִתְפַּשֶּׁטֶת תּוֹךְ פְּנִימִיּוּת דְּנֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת,

In his Glosses and Emendations to this work, the Rebbe asks: What does the Alter Rebbe accomplish by repeating that the external aspect of chochmah vests itself in binah and in turn in netzach-hod-yesod-malchut? It will be noted that here, the Alter Rebbe does not mention its being clothed in the other attributes, as he had done earlier, but only its vestiture in binah and in netzach-hod-yesod-malchut.

This is the mystic principle underlying the teaching of the Midrash6 that “The novlot (withered vestige) of supernal chochmah is Torah,”

בְּסוֹד "נוֹבְלוֹת חָכְמָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה – תּוֹרָה",

I.e., the Torah is not the undistilled essence of supernal chochmah; only a paler dilution of this can find actual expression in the revealed aspect of the Torah.

on the level of z’eyr anpin, i.e., diminished and finite, as explained above.

שֶׁהִיא בִּבְחִינַת "זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין",

Thus, it is written that G‑d said to Moses, “You shall see My back (the Heb. achorai suggesting the hinder or external aspect of Divinity), but My face (the Heb. panai suggesting pnimiyut, the frontal or inward aspect of Divinity) shall not be seen.”7

וּכְדִכְתִיב: "וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחוֹרָי, וּפָנַי לֹא יֵרָאוּ",

Even Moses could behold no more than the achorayim of supernal chochmah and not its pnimiyut, or essence.

See there (in Likkutei Torah of the Arizal), and in Shaar Hanevuah, ch. 1.

עַיֵּין שָׁם וּבְשַׁעַר הַנְּבוּאָה פֶּרֶק א'.

Now this seems surprising. After all, it is said, “There rose no other prophet in Israel like Moses.”8

וְלִכְאוֹרָה יֵשׁ לְהַפְלִיא, הֲרֵי נֶאֱמַר: "וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה",

How then did R. Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, apprehend more than he, and expound many themes dealing with the pnimiyut, even of many sefirot and levels that transcend chochmah and keter of Atzilut?

וְאֵיךְ הִשִּׂיג הָאֲרִיזַ"ל יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנּוּ וְדָרַשׁ כַּמָּה דְרוּשִׁים בִּבְחִינַת פְּנִימִיּוּת, אֲפִילוּ בִּסְפִירוֹת וּמַדְרֵגוֹת רַבּוֹת שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵהַחָכְמָה וְכֶתֶר דַּאֲצִילוּת?

Yet the Arizal writes that Moses’ prophecy did not enable him to grasp the pnimiyut of chochmah of Atzilut!

Likkutei Haggahot (a compilation of glosses to the Tanya)9 quotes here Chiddushei Haritva: “The supernal chariot [not as it appears in the World of Beriah, nor in the World of Atzilut, but at a higher level] was never beheld by the prophets, yet its secrets were known to the mystics of the Kabbalah [lit., ‘to the Masters of Truth’].”10

However, it is plain and clear to all,

אַךְ הָעִנְיָן הוּא פָּשׁוּט וּמוּבָן לַכֹּל,

that there is a great difference between the apprehension of the Kabbalists, such as R. Shimon bar Yochai and R. Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, which is an apprehension through wisdom and knowledge,

שֶׁיֵּשׁ הֶפְרֵשׁ גָּדוֹל בֵּין הַשָּׂגַת חַכְמֵי הָאֱמֶת כְּרַשְׁבִּ"י וְהָאֲרִיזַ"ל, שֶׁהִיא הַשָּׂגַת חָכְמָה וָדַעַת,

and the prophetic apprehension11 of Moses our Master, peace to him, and the other prophets,

וּבֵין הַשָּׂגַת מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם וּשְׁאָר הַנְּבִיאִים בִּנְבוּאָה,

to which Scripture refers as actual vision.

הַמְכוּנָּה בַּכָּתוּב בְּשֵׁם "רְאִיָּה" מַמָּשׁ;

Seeing something grasps its essence; comprehension merely grasps its externality.

In these terms, Scripture describes Moses’ prophetic apprehension: “You shall see My back.”12

וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחוֹרָי",

Likewise, even with Isaiah, a lesser prophet than Moses, who was the greatest of prophets: “And I saw G‑d.”13

"וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת ה'",

Furthermore, even before G-d gave the Torah, we find Abraham’s prophecy referred to in these terms: “And G‑d appeared to him.”14

"וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה'".

Now, though the term [“seeing” with regard to prophecy] is used in a metaphorical sense and does not denote actual sight by the physical, fleshly eye,

וְאַף שֶׁזֶּהוּ דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, וְאֵינָהּ רְאִיַּית עֵין בָּשָׂר גַּשְׁמִי מַמָּשׁ,

nevertheless, the analogue needs to resemble the analogy.

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, הַנִּמְשָׁל צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת דּוֹמֶה לַמָּשָׁל,

Just as the analogy of physical sight means that the viewer beholds the essence of a thing, so, too, the analogue—prophetic vision—must refer to a spiritual kind of seeing that grasps the essence of the spiritual level that is beheld through prophecy.

Thus, too, the Targum translates the above-quoted “vayeira eilav Hashem: “And G‑d became revealed15 to him…,” indicating revelation,

וּכְתַרְגּוּם "וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה'", "וְאִתְגְּלִי לֵיהּ וְכוּ'", שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת,

meaning that G‑d,16 blessed be He, being hidden, became manifest to [Abraham].

שֶׁנִּגְלָה אֵלָיו הַנֶּעְלָם בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בִּבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת.

In this direct mode of revelation, the recipient of the Divine manifestation is able to absorb and internalize it, just as with visual sense-perception. The above-described manner of spiritually “seeing” a revelation is thus quite different from “hearing,” an inferior level of perception which leaves the recipient with a less tangible impression.

It is different, though, with the apprehension of the Kabbalists. G‑d did not become revealed to them in a manifest mode;

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּהַשָּׂגַת חַכְמֵי הָאֱמֶת, שֶׁלֹּא נִגְלָה אֲלֵיהֶם הַוָיָ' בִּבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת,

rather, they apprehend the secrets of wisdom in a manner17 which is hidden and removed from them.

רַק שֶׁהֵם מַשִּׂיגִים תַּעֲלוּמוֹת חָכְמָה הַנֶּעְלָם [נוסח אחר: בַּנֶּעְלָם] וּמוּפְלָא מֵהֶם.

They merely “hear” about these matters rather than truly “see” them.

[Our Sages] therefore taught that “A wise man is superior to a prophet”18 because through his wisdom, he can apprehend levels [of Divinity] far higher than those that can descend by means of revelation to prophets in their prophetic vision.19

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ: "חָכָם עָדִיף מִנָּבִיא", שֶׁיָּכוֹל לְהַשִּׂיג בְּחָכְמָתוֹ לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִמַּדְרֵגוֹת שֶׁיּוּכְלוּ לֵירֵד לְמַטָּה בִּבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת לִנְבִיאִים בְּמַרְאֵה נְבוּאָתָם,

Since the revelation of prophecy is “visual,” the most sublime levels such as supernal chochmah cannot possibly be revealed and “seen” below.

For only the lowest levels can descend and become revealed to [the prophets], namely, the levels of netzach-hod-yesod-malchut,

כִּי לֹא יוּכְלוּ לֵירֵד וּלְהִתְגַּלּוֹת אֲלֵיהֶם, רַק מַדְרֵגוֹת הַתַּחְתּוֹנוֹת, שֶׁהֵן: נֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת,

for it is they that always descend and become revealed from the Emanator to the recipient in the form of intellectual perception and [creative] life-force.

שֶׁהֵן הֵן הַיּוֹרְדוֹת תָּמִיד וּמִתְגַּלּוֹת מֵהַמַּשְׁפִּיעַ לְהַמְקַבֵּל בִּבְחִינַת מוֹחִין וְחַיּוּת,

Thus, it is known to the students of Kabbalah20 that the netzach-hod-yesod-malchut (i.e., the lowest levels) of the higher [realm] vest themselves in the lower [realm] in order to animate it.

כַּיָּדוּעַ לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן, שֶׁהַנֶּצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד־מַלְכוּת שֶׁל הָעֶלְיוֹן מִתְלַבְּשִׁים בַּתַּחְתּוֹן לְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ,

For they are the conduits of the beneficent flow that bring down the life-force from the higher level to the lower, with respect to all the worlds and levels.

שֶׁהֵן הֵן כְּלֵי הַהַשְׁפָּעָה וְהוֹרָדַת הַחַיּוּת מֵהָעֶלְיוֹן לַתַּחְתּוֹן בְּכָל הָעוֹלָמוֹת וְהַמַּדְרֵגוֹת,

Hence, they also become revealed to the prophets as an actual revelation, i.e., as prophecy.

וְלָכֵן גַּם כֵּן – הֵן הֵן הַמִּתְגַּלּוֹת לַנְּבִיאִים בִּבְחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת מַמָּשׁ,

Within these [four sefirot] is vested the light of binah, the attribute which relates to understanding the G‑dliness [that emanates] from21 the light of the blessed Ein Sof.

וּבְתוֹכָן מְלוּבָּשׁ אוֹר הַבִּינָה, שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת הֲבָנַת הָאֱלֹהוּת מֵאוֹר [נוסח אחר: וְאוֹר] אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

And within [binah] are vested the external aspects of chochmah, which are a level that transcends the conception and comprehension of Divinity,

וּבְתוֹכָהּ מְלוּבָּשִׁים אֲחוֹרַיִים דְּחָכְמָה, שֶׁהִיא מַדְרֵגָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה בֵּאלֹהוּת בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

for the term chochmah denotes the source of conception and comprehension.

כִּי שֵׁם "חָכְמָה" מוֹרֶה עַל מְקוֹר הַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה.

As explained in the Tanya, Part I, ch. 18, the word chochmah comprises two words: כֹּחַ מַה—“the faculty of the unknown,”22 for it is a faculty that cannot be grasped intellectually.

This is why it is stated in the Zohar that “The Torah derives from chochmah,”23

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ בַּזֹּהַר דְּ"אוֹרַיְיתָא – מֵחָכְמָה נָפְקַת",

for the reasons for the commandments have not been revealed24 in rational terms; they transcend conception and comprehension, i.e., chochmah.

כִּי טַעֲמֵי מִצְוֹת לֹא נִתְגַּלּוּ, וְהֵם לְמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה.

And even in the occasional places where some apparently intelligible reason has been revealed and explained,

וְגַם בְּאֵיזֶהוּ מְקוֹמָן שֶׁנִּתְגַּלָּה וְנִתְפָּרֵשׁ אֵיזֶה טַעַם הַמּוּבָן לָנוּ לִכְאוֹרָה

this reason alone, which is understandable to us, is not the ultimate and full reason; we have not yet plumbed its depths;

אֵין זֶה – הַטַּעַם הַמּוּבָן לָנוּ לְבַדּוֹ – תַּכְלִית הַטַּעַם וּגְבוּלוֹ,

rather, within [this reason] is vested the innermost core (the pnimiyut) and mystic principle of chochmah that transcends comprehension and understanding.

אֶלָּא בְּתוֹכוֹ מְלוּבָּשׁ פְּנִימִיּוּת וְתַעֲלוּמוֹת חָכְמָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה.

In a public address,25 the Rebbe once explained why the Alter Rebbe makes the point that even when we have some intelligible reason for a mitzvah, this is not תַּכְלִית הַטַּעַם. This phrase, rendered above as “the ultimate reason,” would more literally mean “the end of the reason”; i.e., the explanation given for a commandment is not the last word in the reason for performing it. Not only does the mitzvah remain in some measure unexplained, even the reason remains in some measure unexplained. For in essence, a mitzvah is a superrational expression of the Divine Will, which is fulfilled through its performance.

At the very beginning of Derech Mitzvotecha (subtitled Sefer Taamei Hamitzvot—“A Book on the Reasons for the Mitzvot”), the Tzemach Tzedek writes similarly26 that what one should chiefly keep in mind during the performance of a commandment is the intent of doing it because G‑d has so commanded us. The fact that we may not understand just why G‑d desired this particular action done is immaterial.

The Tzemach Tzedek goes on to say that whatever modest insight we may have about the purpose of the mitzvot—according to the Kabbalah and Chasidut or according to Jewish philosophy (chakirah) and homiletics (derush)—is not even a glimmer of their true intent. It is a finite drop in an infinite ocean. For no human being, clothed as he is within a corporeal body, can possibly comprehend the infinite domain of spirituality. Even Moses, who has experienced more than three thousand years of constant elevation in Gan Eden, advances constantly in his understanding of the rationale underlying the mitzvot.

Concerning these successive levels of comprehension, the verse states,27 “To every yearning, even to the point of expiry, I have seen an end; Your mitzvah is very wide.” I.e., the comprehension and yearning experienced in Gan Eden are finite, whereas a mitzvah defies limitation: the extent of its inner content is endless.28

One outstanding question: Why, though, does the Alter Rebbe write that intelligible reasons have been given only for “occasional” mitzvot, whereas in fact this would appear to apply to a multitude of commandments (of the categories of mishpatim and eduyot), if not to a majority?

Likkutei Biurim on the Tanya (by R. Yehoshua Korf) quotes the Rebbe as answering this question in the following manner:

In most cases, only a general reason is provided while the details remain unexplained. For example, while the general reason for the mitzvah of tefillin is stated—that it be “a sign upon your hand…”29—no revealed explanation is provided for the myriad details relating to this commandment, such as: why the tefillin must be square; why the four scrolls in the tefillin of the head must be housed in four separate compartments while the Biblical passages in the tefillin of the hand must be inscribed together on one scroll; why the straps of the tefillin must be black; and so on and on.

The same is true with respect to every word uttered by the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, to the prophets, as recorded in the Tanach

וְכֵן בְּכָל דִּיבּוּר וְדִיבּוּר שֶׁיָּצָא מִפִּי הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לַנְּבִיאִים, הַכְּתוּבִים בַּתּוֹרָה־נְבִיאִים־כְּתוּבִים,

Every word of prophecy found in the Tanach is applicable not only to the generation that first heard them but to all future generations as well.30

whether they be words of admonition, as transmitted by the prophets, or narratives of incidents.

הֵן דִּבְרֵי תּוֹכָחָה וְהֵן סִיפּוּרֵי מַעֲשִׂיּוֹת,

An incident is recorded in the Tanach not only as history but also as an eternal message for all generations.

Vested in them—in these words of rebuke or narrative—is an aspect of the Divine chochmah that transcends conception and comprehension.

מְלוּבָּשׁ בְּתוֹכָם בְּחִינַת חָכְמַת אֱלֹהוּת שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה,

This is empirically evident from the principle of kri, the Scriptural text as read, and ktiv, the Scriptural text as written, the two not always being identical.

כַּנִּרְאֶה בְּחוּשׁ מֵעִנְיַן הַ"קְּרִי" וְהַ"כְּתִיב",

The kri reflects the comprehension [of the text] as revealed to us. The ktiv transcends conception and comprehension.

כִּי הַ"קְּרִי" הוּא לְפִי הַהֲבָנָה הַנִּגְלֵית לָנוּ, וְהַ"כְּתִיב" הוּא לְמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַהֲבָנָה,

That is, a particular word in its written form has no comprehensible “garment,” though as read aloud, it does have such a “garment,” i.e., it is readily comprehensible.

שֶׁתֵּיבָה זוֹ כִּכְתִיבָתָהּ אֵין לָהּ לְבוּשׁ בִּבְחִינַת הַהֲבָנָה, וּבִקְרִיאָתָהּ בַּפֶּה יֵשׁ לָהּ לְבוּשׁ.

An example of this would be the verse, “Know that the L-rd is G‑d; He has made us, velo anachnu, His people and the sheep of His pasture.”31 The ktiv form of the word velo ends with an alef (וְלֹא) while the kri form of the word ends with a vav (וְלוֹ). According to the latter form, the verse is readily comprehensible: “Know that the L-rd is G‑d; He has made us, velo anachnu—and we are His….” In the ktiv form, however, the verse reads, “He has made us and not us….” While this has meaning on a more sublime level,32 in the simple sense, the ktiv of this verse seems exceedingly difficult to comprehend.33

The same applies to the large letters that are occasionally found in the Tanach; they derive from a sublime world—from the sefirah of binah—and radiate from there openly and not through a garment like the other letters.

וְכֵן הָעִנְיָן בְּאוֹתִיּוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת שֶׁבְּתוֹרָה נְבִיאִים וּכְתוּבִים, שֶׁהֵן מֵעָלְמָא עִילָּאָה, וּמְאִירוֹת מִשָּׁם בְּגִילּוּי – בְּלִי לְבוּשׁ כִּשְׁאָר הָאוֹתִיּוֹת.

Now, the aspect of the blessed Divine chochmah that is vested in the 613 commandments of the Torah is referred to as the hindmost aspect of chochmah.

וְהִנֵּה, בְּחִינַת חָכְמַת אֱלֹהוּת בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּתַרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת הַתּוֹרָה נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם "בְּחִינַת אֲחוֹרַיִים דְּחָכְמָה",

The Alter Rebbe had previously said that (a) Moses’ prophetic comprehension of the sefirah of chochmah consisted merely of the achorayim (the hindmost aspect) of chochmah. He then went on to say that (b) the source of the Torah in chochmah is the same, for it too transcends reason. The Alter Rebbe is now saying that (c) even the chochmah vested in the 613 commandments is referred to as no more than the achorayim of chochmah.

For the achorayim of any one of the sefirot are the external and lower levels within that sefirah, which are capable of descending and extending downward, to become vested in created beings in order to animate them.

כִּי כָּל אֲחוֹרַיִים שֶׁבַּסְּפִירוֹת הֵן מַדְרֵגוֹת הַחִיצוֹנוֹת וְהַתַּחְתּוֹנוֹת בְּמַעֲלָה שֶׁבִּסְפִירָה זוֹ, מַה שֶּׁיּוּכְלוּ לֵירֵד וּלְהִתְפַּשֵּׁט לְמַטָּה לְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ בַּבְּרוּאִים לְהַחֲיוֹתָם;

The aspect of the panim (the “face” or inner dimension) of the sefirah is the sefirah itself as it is united with its Emanator, the blessed Ein Sof, in an absolute union.

וּבְחִינַת הַפָּנִים, הִיא הַסְּפִירָה עַצְמָהּ הַמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּמַאֲצִילָהּ אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד.

As, for example, the sefirah of chochmah, the sefirah now under discussion: It is united with its Emanator, the blessed Ein Sof, in absolute unity, for the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Wisdom, are One (34as explained above)—evidently in reference to Part I, chs. 2 and 52.

כְּגוֹן דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, סְפִירַת חָכְמָה שֶׁהִיא מְיוּחֶדֶת בְּמַאֲצִילָהּ אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד, כִּי הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא וְחָכְמָתוֹ אֶחָד (כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל),

But that which radiates and extends from His blessed chochmah to the limited and finite nether beings below,

וּמַה שֶּׁמֵּאִיר וּמִתְפַּשֵּׁט מֵחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ לְמַטָּה בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים, שֶׁהֵם בַּעֲלֵי גְבוּל וְתַכְלִית,

and becomes vested in them,

וּמִתְלַבֵּשׁ בָּהֶם –

Light that merely “radiates” and “extends” does not necessarily contract according to the limitations of the recipient of the light; it may “radiate” and “extend” in an encompassing manner (makif) and thus not be subject to them. However, when the illumination is “vested” within a receptor, this implies adjustment to its limitations.

Hence, a light that becomes vested within finite created beings cannot possibly be infinite, as would be the case if the actual sefirah as united with its Emanator—and thus as infinite as its Emanator—would descend into created beings. Therefore, the life-giving force which is vested within creation—

is called achorayim: it is the external aspect of the sefirah and not the sefirah itself,

נִקְרָא "אֲחוֹרַיִים",

and it is also called the aspect of Asiyah within Atzilut.

וְנִקְרָא גַם כֵּן בְּחִינַת "עֲשִׂיָּה שֶׁבַּאֲצִילוּת".

The external aspect of chochmahchochmah here being an allusion to the World of Atzilut—is termed the level of Asiyah within Atzilut,35 i.e., that level of Atzilut that is capable of descending below.

The meaning of this will be understood by way of analogy with terrestrial man, whose soul spans five ranks, one lower than the other.

פֵּירוּשׁ, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ שֶׁבָּאָדָם הַתַּחְתּוֹן שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּנִשְׁמָתוֹ ה' מַדְרֵגוֹת, זוֹ לְמַטָּה מִזּוֹ,

These are the faculties of the intellect, the emotive attributes, thought, speech, and action, with action the lowest of them all.

שֶׁהֵן בְּחִינוֹת הַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַמִּדּוֹת וּמַחֲשָׁבָה וְדִבּוּר וּמַעֲשֶׂה, וְהַמַּעֲשֶׂה – הִיא הַתַּחְתּוֹנָה שֶׁבְּכוּלָּם,

I.e., the soul manifests itself in action to a much lesser degree than it does in the other four levels.

For the life-force that extends from the soul and is vested in the faculty of action is as nothing compared to the life-force that extends from it and is vested in the faculty of speech.

שֶׁהַחַיּוּת הַמִּתְפַּשֵּׁט מֵהַנְּשָׁמָה וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּכֹחַ הַמַּעֲשֶׂה, הוּא כְּאַיִן לְגַבֵּי הַחַיּוּת הַמִּתְפַּשֵּׁט מִמֶּנָּה וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּכֹחַ הַדִּבּוּר,

The latter in turn is as nothing compared to the life-force that extends from [the soul] and is vested in thought, in the emotive attributes, and in the intellect.

שֶׁהוּא כְּאַיִן לְגַבֵּי הַחַיּוּת הַמִּתְפַּשֵּׁט מִמֶּנָּה וּמְלוּבָּשׁ בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה וּמִדּוֹת וְשֵׂכֶל.

The latter three faculties are always united with the soul. Even the faculty of thought, which is merely a “garment” of the soul (i.e., one of its means of expression), is always united with it, and therefore, like the soul itself, always in a manifest state. Speech and action, however, are “garments” that are separate from the soul. Thus, insofar as speech is concerned, there is “A time to speak and a time to refrain from speech,”36 while action is even more distant from the soul than speech.

In a precisely like manner with respect to the Divine chochmah, to the extent that can be diffused from it37 to become vested in all the nether beings:

כֵּן עַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה מַמָּשׁ – הִיא בְּחִינַת חָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, מַה שֶּׁיּוּכַל לְהִתְפַּשֵּׁט מִמֶּנָּה (לְהַשְׁפִּיעַ) [לְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ] בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים כּוּלָּם,

Since “You have made them all through chochmah,”38 it follows that this sefirah must be vested in all nether beings. However, this is merely the external level of chochmah.

it39 is as nothing compared to the panim (the inward or frontal aspect) of chochmah, which is at one with the blessed Emanator,

הֵם כְּאַיִן לְגַבֵּי בְּחִינַת פָּנִים הַמְיוּחָד בַּמַּאֲצִיל בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

for “All that is before Him (i.e., close and united with Him) is esteemed as naught.”40

דְּ"כוּלָּא קַמֵּיהּ כְּלָא חֲשִׁיב",

The life-giving flow to all created beings, which are limited and finite, is regarded as a descent and a contraction, so to speak, with respect to the Emanator, the blessed Ein Sof,

וְהַהַשְׁפָּעָה לְכָל הַנִּבְרָאִים כּוּלָּם שֶׁהֵם בַּעֲלֵי גְבוּל וְתַכְלִית – נֶחְשֶׁבֶת יְרִידָה וְצִמְצוּם כִּבְיָכוֹל לְגַבֵּי הַמַּאֲצִיל אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

just as, metaphorically speaking, it would be regarded as a descent and contraction for the intellect of an intelligent person to be contracted to some purely physical and material activity.41

עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּחְשֶׁבֶת יְרִידָה וְצִמְצוּם לְשֵׂכֶל הָאָדָם הַמַּשְׂכִּיל הַמְצוּמְצָם בְּאֵיזֶה עֲשִׂיָּה גַּשְׁמִיּוּת וְחוּמְרִית מַמָּשׁ.

Moses our Master, peace to him, who apprehended as high as the level [of Divinity] called the hindmost aspect of chochmah, therefore merited that the Torah was given through him—

וְלָכֵן מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁהִשִּׂיג עַד אֲחוֹרַיִים דְּחָכְמָה, זָכָה שֶׁתִּנָּתֵן עַל יָדוֹ הַתּוֹרָה,

the Torah being the novlot, the withered vestige, of supernal chochmah,

שֶׁהִיא "נוֹבְלוֹת חָכְמָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה",

i.e., that which is sloughed off from it and descends below, and becomes vested in our physical Torah.42

פֵּירוּשׁ, מַה שֶּׁנּוֹבֵל מִמֶּנָּה וְיוֹרֵד לְמַטָּה וּמִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּתוֹרָה גַשְׁמִיּוּת שֶׁלָּנוּ,

For [the Torah’s] core and ultimate object is the observance of the prohibitory and positive commandments, in actual deed and performance,

שֶׁעִיקָּרָהּ וְתַכְלִיתָהּ הוּא קִיּוּם הַמִּצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה וַעֲשֵׂה בְּפוֹעַל וּמַעֲשֶׂה מַמָּשׁ,

in the spirit of the verse, “To do them this day,”43 and, more specifically, in the spirit of the comment of our Sages on this phrase: “They are to be done today and not tomorrow44—in this world and not in the World to Come.

כַּמַּאֲמָר: "הַיּוֹם לַעֲשׂוֹתָם",

Our Sages likewise taught, “The study of the Torah is greater [than the observance of the commandments] because it leads to [their] performance.”45

וְ"גָדוֹל תַּלְמוּד שֶׁמֵּבִיא לִידֵי מַעֲשֶׂה",

Similarly, “As to he who learns with the intent of not doing, it would have been better for him if his afterbirth had turned over….”46

וְ"הַלּוֹמֵד שֶׁלֹּא לַעֲשׂוֹת נוֹחַ לוֹ שֶׁנֶּהֶפְכָה שִׁלְיָיתוֹ וְכוּ'",

I.e., better had he never been born.

Indeed, every individual needs to become reincarnated until he has actually observed all the 613 commandments, as is known from R. Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory.47

וְכָל אָדָם מוּכְרָח לְהִתְגַּלְגֵּל עַד שֶׁיְּקַיֵּים כָּל הַתַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ, כַּנּוֹדָע מֵהָאֲרִיזַ"ל:

The Tzemach Tzedek makes the following comment48 on the above epistle:

Although the Alter Rebbe opens this letter with the verse, “He wraps [Himself with] light as [with] a garment…,” he does not explain it here. However, it can be understood from his introduction that the achorayim of chochmah, also known as the novlot of the supernal chochmah, which is Torah, is the “garment” (i.e., the revealed aspect) of the Torah while the pnimiyut of abba, the inward aspect of chochmah, is the esoteric depths of the Torah.

(The latter aspect of the Torah will be revealed mainly by Mashiach, as Rashi notes in his comment on the verse, “He kisses me with the kisses of His mouth.”49 Even now, however, a foretaste of the innermost dimensions of the Torah may be savored in the teachings of Chasidut. The present revelation of its insights serves as a preparation for the coming of Mashiach, in the spirit of the Friday afternoon custom of sampling the delicacies prepared for Shabbat,50 since the time of Mashiach is known as “a day that is entirely Shabbat.”51)

The Tzemach Tzedek concludes: This is the “light” that is vested within the “garment”: it was created on the First Day and later hidden in the Torah—ultimately to be revealed to the righteous.52

Part (ii)

The epistle that follows, beginning “The letters that are revealed,” is one of the epistles that was appended to the edition of the Tanya published in Vilna in the year 5660 (1900), these additions being noted by R. Asher of Nikolayev in his introductory declaration there.53

This relevance of this epistle to the previous one may be found in the following parallel: The previous epistle explains how only the netzach-hod-yesod-malchut (i.e., the lower sefirot) of the Emanator extend to the recipient. The conclusion of the present epistle likewise explains54 that only the hindmost aspect and externality of the netzach-hod-yesod of the higher realm enter the lower one.

The letters55 that are revealed to us exist in action, speech, and thought.

הָאוֹתִיּוֹת הַנִּגְלוֹת לָנוּ, הֵן בְּמַעֲשֶׂה דִּבּוּר וּמַחֲשָׁבָה.

Pertaining to the plane of action are the visual forms56 of the letters in the Assyrian script of the Torah scroll.57

דְּמַעֲשֶׂה – הֵן תְּמוּנַת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת שֶׁבִּכְתָב אֲשׁוּרִי שֶׁבְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרָה.

The very validity of the scroll depends on the scrupulous observance of the numerous detailed laws governing the writing of these twenty-two letters. As is explained in the Note to ch. 12 of Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah, each letter reflects the flow of a unique life-force and spiritual energy: its distinct shape suggests the form taken by the flow of light and energy revealed in that letter.

The letters pertaining to speech are engraved in the breath and voice, which is divided into twenty-two parts, one differing from the other with respect to their form,

וְאוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר – נֶחְקָקוֹת בְּהֶבֶל וְקוֹל, הַמִּתְחַלֵּק לְכ"ב חֲלָקִים שׁוֹנִים זֶה מִזֶּה בְּצוּרָתָן,

i.e., the enunciation and utterance of the twenty-two letters in any language,58

שֶׁהִיא הֲבָרַת וּמִבְטָא הַכ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת בְּכָל לָשׁוֹן,

for there is no difference between the Holy Tongue and the other languages with respect to the nature of the letters’ enunciation, only with respect to their combinations.59

כִּי אֵין הֶפְרֵשׁ בֵּין לְשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבֵין שְׁאָר לְשׁוֹנוֹת בְּמַהוּת הֲבָרַת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת, כִּי אִם בְּצֵירוּפָן.

The letters of thought are—again, in any language that a person may think in—the words and letters of that language and its letters,

וְאוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה הֵן – גַּם כֵּן בְּכָל לָשׁוֹן שֶׁאָדָם מְחַשֵּׁב – תֵּיבוֹת וְאוֹתִיּוֹת הַלָּשׁוֹן,

which number twenty-two only.

שֶׁהֵן כ"ב לְבַד.

Now in thought, there are three kinds of letters,

רַק שֶׁבְּמַחֲשָׁבָה, יֵשׁ בָּהּ ג' מִינֵי בְּחִינוֹת אוֹתִיּוֹת.

for when one sees the visual forms of the letters in the Torah scroll, they are pictured in his thought.

שֶׁהֲרֵי כְּשֶׁרוֹאֶה בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרָה תְּמוּנַת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת – הֵן מִצְטַיְּירוֹת בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ,

This is called the “action in thought,” i.e., the manner in which thought envisions the letters of actual handwritten script. In terms of the spiritual Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, “action in thought” relates to the lowest World—Asiyah, the World of Action.

וְזֶה נִקְרָא בְּחִינַת "עֲשִׂיָּה שֶׁבְּמַחֲשָׁבָה";

Likewise, when one hears the letters of speech, they become inscribed in his thought, and he meditates upon them.

וְכֵן כַּאֲשֶׁר שׁוֹמֵעַ אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר הֵן נִרְשָׁמוֹת בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וּמְהַרְהֵר בָּהֶן,

This is called the “speech in thought,” i.e., thinking about the letters of speech, and it relates to Yetzirah.

וְזֶה נִקְרָא בְּחִינַת "דִּבּוּר שֶׁבְּמַחֲשָׁבָה" וּבְחִינַת "יְצִירָה";

The letters of thought alone, without any meditation on the letters of speech, are called the “thought in thought” and relate to Beriah.

וְאוֹתִיּוֹת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה לְבַדָּהּ בְּלִי הִרְהוּר אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר נִקְרָאוֹת "מַחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבְּמַחֲשָׁבָה", בְּחִינַת "בְּרִיאָה".

In general terms, thought, speech, and action correspond to Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, respectively. More particularly, “action in thought” corresponds to “Asiyah within Beriah,” “speech in thought” to “Yetzirah within Beriah,” and “thought in thought” to “Beriah within Beriah.

Now, the letters of actual speech come into being and receive their life-force from those very same letters that are in thought.

וְהִנֵּה, אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר מַמָּשׁ, הֵן מִתְהַוּוֹת וּמְקַבְּלוֹת חַיּוּתָן מֵאוֹתִיּוֹת אֵלּוּ עַצְמָן שֶׁבְּמַחֲשָׁבָה.

Though sometimes a person may speak [of one thing] while thinking of another,

וְאַף שֶׁלִּפְעָמִים מְדַבֵּר אָדָם וּמְהַרְהֵר בְּדָבָר אַחֵר –

This would tend to indicate that the letters of speech do not receive their life-force from the letters of thought.

in such an instance, he can speak only such words and combinations that he has already spoken previously and that were in his thought a great many times.

הֲרֵי אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְדַבֵּר, כִּי אִם אוֹתָן דִּבּוּרִים וְצֵירוּפִים שֶׁכְּבָר דִּבְּרָם וְהָיוּ בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת מְאֹד,

Thus, in those words and combinations, there remains the vestige of the thought that entered into them many times, and this serves as the life-force of the letters of his speech.

וְנִשְׁאַר בְּדִיבּוּרִים וְצֵירוּפִים אֵלּוּ הָרְשִׁימוּ מֵהַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁנִּכְנְסָה בָּהֶם פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת.

And this, in terms of the sefirot, is the hindmost aspect and the externality of the netzach-hod-yesod of the visage of the higher realm that enters into the lower one, serving it as the intellective faculty of mochin (lit., “brains”) and life-force, as is known.

וְזֶהוּ בְּחִינַת אֲחוֹרַיִים וְחִיצוֹנִיּוּת נֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד מִפַּרְצוּף הָעֶלְיוֹן שֶׁנִּכְנַס בַּתַּחְתּוֹן, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ בְּחִינַת מוֹחִין וְחַיּוּת, כַּנּוֹדָע: