Since the Divine activating force responsible for the existence of created things must continuously be present within them, they are completely nullified in their source. This means, as the Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter, that in reality, they do not “exist.”

Why, then, do we nevertheless perceive created beings as enjoying a tangible “existence”? Only because we are unable to see or comprehend the Divine utterance that is contained within each created thing and that calls it into being.

The Alter Rebbe illustrated this by considering the sun’s rays. When they are not within their source, the sun, but diffused throughout the expanse of the universe, they are perceived as having independent existence. However, when they are contained within the sun-globe, they clearly have no such “existence” at all.

The following question therefore arose: Since created beings, unlike the sun’s rays, must constantly have their source within them, why do we not actually see how they are completely nullified in their source?

In order to answer this question, the Alter Rebbe wrote that a certain preface would be necessary—and hence this, the fourth chapter, now elaborates on G‑d’s capacity for tzimtzum, or contraction.

It is written, “For a sun and a shield is Havayah Elokim.”1

כִּי הִנֵּה כְּתִיב: "כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן ה' אֱלֹהִים",

Just as the sun gives forth illumination, so, too, does the Four-Letter Divine Name Havayah provide us with spiritual illumination. Likewise, just as the sun’s shield protects us from the intensity of its rays, so, too, does G‑d shield us with the Divine Name Elokim.

“Shield” refers specifically to [that shield which is] a covering for the sun

פֵּירוּשׁ, "מָגֵן" – הוּא נַרְתֵּק לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

to protect creatures so that they should be able to bear it (i.e., the sun’s heat).

לְהָגֵן שֶׁיּוּכְלוּ הַבְּרִיּוֹת לְסָבְלוֹ,

As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said, “In time to come (i.e., in the Messianic Era), the Holy One, blessed be He, will take out the sun from its sheath; the wicked will be punished by it…,”2 as they will be unable to bear the intensity of the sun. The passage goes on to say that the righteous will not only be able to tolerate it; they will actually be healed by it.

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מוֹצִיא חַמָּה מִנַּרְתֵּקָהּ, רְשָׁעִים נִידּוֹנִין בָּהּ כוּ'".

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Now, just as the covering shields the sun, protecting creatures from the intensity of its rays so that benefit may be derived from it,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁהַנַּרְתֵּק מֵגִין בְּעַד הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

so does the Name Elokim shield the Name Havayah, blessed be He, enabling the created universe to absorb the Divine illumination that emanates from it.

כָּךְ שֵׁם "אֱלֹהִים" מֵגִין לְשֵׁם הֲוָיָ"ה בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

Our opening verse—“For a sun and a shield is Havayah Elokim”—thus means that the Name Havayah illumines like the sun while the Name Elokim screens its illumination, like the sheath of the sun, enabling its light to be received.

The meaning of the Name Havayah is “that which brings everything into existence ex nihilo.”

דְּשֵׁם הֲוָיָ"ה, פֵּירוּשׁוֹ – שֶׁמְּהַוֶּה אֶת הַכֹּל מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

The Rebbe notes: “This refers to the [last three letters hey, vav, and hey of this Name, which form the word hoveh, the root of the verb which means ‘[to bring into] being.’”

The letter yud, prefixed to the stem הֹוֶה, modifies the verb, indicating that the action is present and continuous,

וְהַיּוּ"ד מְשַׁמֶּשֶׁת עַל הַפְּעוּלָּה שֶׁהִיא בִּלְשׁוֹן הֹוֶה וְתָמִיד,

as Rashi comments on the verse, “In this manner was Job (lyov) accustomed to do (ya’aseh) all the days.”3

כִּדְפֵירֵשׁ רַשִׁ"י עַל פָּסוּק: "כָּכָה יַעֲשֶׂה אִיּוֹב כָּל הַיָּמִים",

Just as here, the prefix of the letter yud indicates an ongoing process, so, too, does the initial yud of the Name Havayah indicate that G‑d creates everything ex nihilo, continuously.

This [action] is the life-force which flows at every single instant into all things created, from “that which proceeds from the mouth of G‑d” and “His breath,” and brings them into existence ex nihilo at every moment.

וְהַיְינוּ – הַחַיּוּת הַנִּשְׁפָּע בְּכָל רֶגַע מַמָּשׁ בְּכָל הַבְּרוּאִים מִמּוֹצָא פִי ה' וְרוּחוֹ, וּמְהַוֶּה אוֹתָם מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ בְּכָל רֶגַע,

For the fact that they were created during the Six Days of Creation is not sufficient for their continued existence, as explained above; they must continuously be recreated.

כִּי לֹא דַי לָהֶם בְּמַה שֶּׁנִּבְרְאוּ בְּשֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי בְרֵאשִׁית לִהְיוֹת קַיָּימִים בָּזֶה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל.

It is the “sun” of Havayah whose illumination continuously brings creation into being. However, were this illumination to be revealed within created beings, they would be aware of their complete nullification within their source, and we would not see before us created beings. For as explained earlier, when the activating force is perceived, the created being is “nonexistent.”

This is why the “shield” of Elokim is necessary—in order to conceal from created beings the Divine illumination of Havayah that is within them and that is responsible for their existence. Only then can they perceive themselves as existing independently of their life-force. And this perception in turn makes it possible for created beings to consider and feel themselves to be tangibly existing, as shall be explained.

In the enumeration of the praises of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written,4 Hagadol (“the Great”), Hagibor (“the Mighty”), and so on.

וְהִנֵּה, בְּסִידּוּר שְׁבָחָיו שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא כְּתִיב: "הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר כוּ'",

“Hagadol” refers to the attribute of chesed (“kindness”) and to the spreading forth of the life-force into all the worlds and created things, without end or limit,

וּפֵירוּשׁ "הַגָּדוֹל" – הִיא מִדַּת חֶסֶד וְהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת בְּכָל הָעוֹלָמוֹת וּבְרוּאִים לְאֵין קֵץ וְתַכְלִית,

so that they shall be created ex nihilo and exist through gratuitous kindness, for G‑d maintains all creatures, whether they are worthy of His kindness or not.

לִהְיוֹת בְּרוּאִים מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ וְקַיָּימִים בְּחֶסֶד חִנָּם,

[The attribute of chesed] is called Gedulah (“greatness”), for it derives from the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, from Himself in all His glory,

וְנִקְרֵאת "גְּדוּלָּה", כִּי בָּאָה מִגְּדוּלָּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בִּכְבוֹדוֹ וּבְעַצְמוֹ,

for “G‑d is great…and His greatness is unsearchable,”5 inasmuch as it is infinite,

"כִּי גָדוֹל ה' וְלִגְדוּלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר",

and therefore, He also causes life-force and existence ex nihilo to issue forth for an unlimited number of worlds and creatures,

וְלָכֵן מַשְׁפִּיעַ גַּם כֵּן חַיּוּת וְהִתְהַוּוּת מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ לְעוֹלָמוֹת וּבְרוּאִים אֵין קֵץ,

for “it is the nature of the benevolent to do good.”6

שֶׁטֶּבַע הַטּוֹב לְהֵטִיב.

G‑d’s benevolence thus dictates that there be an infinite number of worlds and creatures that will benefit from His beneficence.

Now, this attribute of “Hagadol,” the attribute of chesed that spreads forth His life-force into all the worlds so as to create them ex nihilo, is exclusively the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He,

וְהִנֵּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁמִּדָּה זוֹ הִיא שְׁבְָחוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לְבַדּוֹ,

for no created thing can create a being out of nothing and give it life.

שֶׁאֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת שׁוּם נִבְרָא לִבְרוֹא יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן וּלְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ,

Creatio ex nihilo is utterly beyond the realm of created beings. In the words of the Midrash: “Even if all mankind were to gather together, they would not be able to create even the wing of a gnat and animate it.”7

This attribute of benevolence, whereby G-d creates ex nihilo, is also beyond the cognition of all creatures and their understanding,

וְגַם, מִדָּה זוֹ הִיא לְמַעְלָה מֵהַשְׂכָּלַת כָּל הַבְּרוּאִים וְהַשָּׂגָתָם,

for it is not within the power of the intellect of any creature to comprehend through the faculty of chochmah or understand through the faculty of binah this attribute and its ability to create a being out of nothing and vivify it.

שֶׁאֵין כֹּחַ בְּשֵׂכֶל שׁוּם נִבְרָא לְהַשְׂכִּיל וּלְהַשִּׂיג מִדָּה זוֹ וִיכָלְתָּהּ לִבְרוֹא יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן וּלְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ,

For creatio ex nihilo is a matter which transcends the intellect of all creatures, inasmuch as it stems from the Divine attribute of Gedulah.

כִּי הַבְּרִיאָה יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן הוּא דָּבָר שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מִשֵּׂכֶל הַנִּבְרָאִים, כִּי הִיא מִמִּדַּת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

Now the Holy One, blessed be He, and His attributes are a perfect unity, as the holy Zohar states, “He and His causations i.e., His attributes are One,”8

וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא וּמִדּוֹתָיו – אַחְדּוּת פָּשׁוּט, כִּדְאִיתָא בַּזֹּהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ דְּ"אִיהוּ וְגַרְמוֹהִי חַד",

and just as it is impossible for the mind of any creature to comprehend its Creator, so is it impossible for it to comprehend His attributes, for they are One with Him.

וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁאֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת שׁוּם שֵׂכֶל נִבְרָא לְהַשִּׂיג בּוֹרְאוֹ, כָּךְ אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַשִּׂיג מִדּוֹתָיו.

Until now, we have been speaking of the specific attribute of Gedulah, or chesed. The Alter Rebbe will now say that just as this attribute, which is responsible for creation, is unfathomable, so, too, with regard to the attribute of gevurah, or “contraction.” The function of this attribute is to conceal from created beings the activating force within them, enabling them to exist as tangible entities instead of being utterly nullified within their source.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

And just as it is impossible for the mind of any creature to apprehend His attribute of gedulah, which is the ability to create a being out of nothing and give it life, as it is written, “The world is built by the i.e., created through attribute of kindness,”9

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת שׁוּם שֵׂכֶל נִבְרָא לְהַשִּׂיג מִדַּת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ, שֶׁהִיא הַיְכוֹלֶת לִבְרוֹא יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן וּלְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ, כְּדִכְתִיב: "עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה" –

exactly so is it impossible for it to apprehend the Divine attribute of gevurah (“might,” “restraint”), which is the faculty of tzimtzum (“condensation,” “contraction”), restraining the spreading forth of the life-force from His attribute of gedulah,

כָּךְ מַמָּשׁ אֵין בִּיכָלְתּוֹ לְהַשִּׂיג מִדַּת גְּבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, שֶׁהִיא מִדַּת הַצִּמְצוּם וּמְנִיעַת הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת מִגְּדוּלָּתוֹ,

preventing it from descending upon and manifesting itself to the creatures and providing them with life and existence in a revealed manner but rather with His Countenance concealed; i.e., the Divine activating force is at work within creation in a concealed manner.

מִלֵּירֵד וּלְהִתְגַּלּוֹת עַל הַנִּבְרָאִים לְהַחֲיוֹתָם וּלְקַיְּימָם בְּגִילּוּי, כִּי אִם בְּהֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים,

Thus, it is the attribute of gevurah and tzimtzum that enables the life-force to be concealed from the very creature it is creating.

For the life-force conceals itself in the body of the created being, [making it appear] as if the body of the created being had independent existence,

שֶׁהַחַיּוּת מִסְתַּתֵּר בְּגוּף הַנִּבְרָא, וּכְאִילּוּ גּוּף הַנִּבְרָא הוּא דָבָר בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ,

and [making it appear as though] the created being was not [merely] an extension of the life-force and the spirituality that creates it—just like the diffusion of the radiance and light of the sun—but an independently existing entity.

וְאֵינוֹ הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת וְהָרוּחָנִיּוּת כְּהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַזִּיו וְהָאוֹר מֵהַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, אֶלָּא הוּא דָבָר בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ.

Although, in reality, [the created being] has no independent existence and is only like the diffusion of the light from the sun,

וְאַף שֶׁבֶּאֱמֶת, אֵינוֹ דָבָר בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ, אֶלָּא כְּמוֹ הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הָאוֹר מֵהַשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

Just as the sun’s rays are merely a diffusion from the sun, so, too, all of creation is but a diffusion of G‑d’s activating force. Since, however, created beings are continuously found within their source (unlike the sun’s rays, which do leave their source), their Divine source should cause them to be completely nullified within it, just as the light of the sun is in a state of complete nullification when found within the sun.

nevertheless, this nullification is not felt by created beings even though they are but a diffusion of G‑d’s activating force, for this [capacity for self-concealment] is, precisely, the restraining power of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is Omnipotent

מִכָּל מָקוֹם, הֵן הֵן גְּבוּרוֹתָיו שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, אֲשֶׁר כֹּל יָכוֹל,

G‑d’s omnipotence expresses itself not only in His ability to bring forth light and bestow life but also in His ability to conceal this same light and life from the beings He creates.

[and hence able] to condense the life-force and spirituality which issues from the “breath of His mouth” and to conceal it,

לְצַמְצֵם הַחַיּוּת וְהָרוּחָנִיּוּת הַנִּשְׁפָּע מֵרוּחַ פִּיו וּלְהַסְתִּירוֹ,

so that the body of the created being shall not become nullified out of existence, and hence, notwithstanding the fact that the created being is but a diffusion of the rays of its source, it is thus enabled to perceive itself to be an independently existing entity.

שֶׁלֹּא יִבָּטֵל גּוּף הַנִּבְרָא בִּמְצִיאוּת,

It is beyond the scope of the mind of any creature to comprehend the essential nature of the tzimtzum and concealment,

וְזֶה, אֵין בְּשֵׂכֶל שׁוּם נִבְרָא לְהַשִּׂיג מַהוּת הַצִּמְצוּם וְהַהֶסְתֵּר,

and [to comprehend] that nonetheless—the tzimtzum notwithstanding—the creature itself be created ex nihilo.

וְשֶׁיִּהְיֶה אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן גּוּף הַנִּבְרָא – נִבְרָא מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

However, since creation is an act of revelation rather than concealment, creatio ex nihilo should surely consist of the revelation of the Divine life-force within the created being. How, then, do both these things manifest themselves at the same time? On one hand, the revelation of the Divine life-force; on the other, the condensation and concealment of this life-force so that created beings will be unaware of it and consider themselves to be independently existing entities and not utterly nullified within their source.

Indeed, the paradox of tzimtzum defies the comprehension of mere created beings—

just as it is not within the capacity of the mind of any creature to comprehend the essential nature of the creation of being out of nothing.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁאֵין יְכוֹלֶת בְּשֵׂכֶל שׁוּם נִבְרָא, לְהַשִּׂיג מַהוּת הַבְּרִיאָה מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ.

Since the capacity for tzimtzum emanates from the Divine attribute of gevurah, one might erroneously infer that it actually serves to create an independently existing entity; i.e., not only does the created being regard itself as such, but the Creator views it so as well.

For inasmuch as G‑d causes this concealment, and His attribute of gevurah, the ability to conceal, is as real and as effective as His attribute of Gedulah, His ability to reveal, we may mistakenly liken creation to the sun’s rays insofar as they exist beyond the confines of the sun-globe.

Forestalling this possible error, the Alter Rebbe now explains that G‑d’s power to reveal and His power to conceal are truly one and the same. For revelation and concealment are respectively “light” (or) and its “vessels” (kelim), which are fused in complete and total unity.

Moreover, in the state in which they exist in their supernal source, they are not only united: they are one and the same.

Now it is axiomatic that “no entity can conceal itself from itself.”

An illustration of this concept is found in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, where it is stated that covering one’s head with one’s hand does not serve as a valid head-covering because head and hand are part of the selfsame individual; the hand cannot be said to conceal that which the head itself reveals.

The same is true here too: Since the power to reveal and the power to conceal are essentially one and the same power, which is a manifestation of G‑d’s limitless ability, it is impossible for tzimtzum to bring about a real concealment that will be so regarded when viewed from the Divine perspective. Tzimtzum only enables created beings to perceive themselves as independently existing entities; G‑d does not view them this way at all.

10(The tzimtzum and concealing of the life-force is called in Kabbalistic terminology kelim [“vessels”], and the life-force itself is called or [“light”],11 which signifies revelation.

[וְהִנֵּה, בְּחִינַת הַצִּמְצוּם וְהֶסְתֵּר הַחַיּוּת – נִקְרָא בְּשֵׁם "כֵּלִים", וְהַחַיּוּת עַצְמוֹ – נִקְרָא בְּשֵׁם "אוֹר",

For just as a vessel covers that which is within it, so does the tzimtzum cover and conceal the light and the life-force that flows into created beings, and this tzimtzum makes it impossible for them to perceive the G‑dliness that is vested within them.

שֶׁכְּמוֹ שֶׁהַכְּלִי מְכַסֶּה עַל מַה שֶּׁבְּתוֹכוֹ, כָּךְ בְּחִינַת הַצִּמְצוּם מְכַסֶּה וּמַסְתִּיר הָאוֹר וְהַחַיּוּת הַשּׁוֹפֵעַ;

The kelim are verily the letters of the ten Divine utterances (or their substitutions and transpositions, etc.), which are the life-force of created beings,

וְהַכֵּלִים – הֵן הֵן הָאוֹתִיּוֹת,

and [all these letters] are rooted in the five letters12 מנצפ"ך

שֶׁשָּׁרְשָׁן ה' אוֹתִיּוֹת מנצפ"ך,

It is explained in the Kabbalah that these are the source of all letters,

since they represent five degrees of gevurah i.e., five restraining forces that divide and separate the breath and voice in the five organs of speech, thus enabling the twenty-two letters to be formed.

שֶׁהֵן ה' גְּבוּרוֹת הַמְחַלְּקוֹת וּמַפְרִידוֹת הַהֶבֶל וְהַקּוֹל בְּה' מוֹצָאוֹת הַפֶּה לְהִתְהַוּוֹת כ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת,

Just as the five physical organs of speech divide sounds and letters into five separate categories (labial, guttural, etc.), so, too, do the five spiritual levels of gevurah give rise to the twenty-two supernal letters.

The source of the five levels of gevurah is termed in the Kabbalah Butzina deKardunita, which is Aramaic for (lit.) “light from darkness,’’ the darkness being a level of concealment that transcends light.13

וְשֹׁרֶשׁ הַה' גְּבוּרוֹת – הוּא "בּוּצִינָא דְקַרְדּוּנִיתָא",

This is the supernal gevurah of Atik Yomin, the spiritual level of keter that transcends all Worlds, including Atzilut,

שֶׁהִיא גְּבוּרָה עִילָּאָה דְּ"עַתִּיק יוֹמִין",

and, correspondingly, the source of [the various levels of Divine] kindness is chesed of Atik Yomin,

וְשֹׁרֶשׁ הַחֲסָדִים – הוּא גַּם כֵּן חֶסֶד דְּ"עַתִּיק יוֹמִין",

as is known to the students of the Kabbalah.)14

כַּיָּדוּעַ לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן]:

Since the tzimtzum and the letters (on one hand) and the revelation of the Divine light and life-force (on the other hand) both emanate from the level of Atik Yomin, it follows that the tzimtzum does not effect an objective concealment as viewed from their common source Above, for, as previously explained, “No entity can conceal itself from itself.”

Thus, tzimtzum affects and is only felt by created beings, who because of this concealment are unable to perceive the Divine life-force that continuously creates them. This is necessary in order for them to think of themselves as independently existing—a state which must be felt by them if they are to “tangibly exist.”

In truth, however, they are utterly nullified within their source Above.