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.

כי הנה כתיב: כי שמש ומגן ה׳ אלקים

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

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.

פירוש מגן הוא נרתק לשמש

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

להגן שיוכלו הבריות לסבלו

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

כמאמר רז״ל: לעתיד לבא הקב״ה מוציא חמה מנרתקה, רשעים נדונין בה כו׳

As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said,2 “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...,” 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.

וכמו שהנרתק מגין בעד השמש

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

-כך שם אלקים מגין לשם הויה ברוך הוא

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.

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.

-דשם הויה פירושו שמהוה את הכל מאין ליש

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

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

והיו״ד משמשת על הפעולה שהיא בלשון הוה ותמיד

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

כדפירש רש״י על פסוק: ככה יעשה איוב כל הימים

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

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.

והיינו החיות הנשפע בכל רגע ממש בכל הברואים, ממוצא פי ה׳ ורוחו, ומהוה אותם מאין ליש בכל רגע

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.

כי לא די להם במה שנבראו בששת ימי בראשית, להיות קיימים בזה, כמו שנתבאר לעיל

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.

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 “non-existent”.

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 soon be explained.

והנה בסידור שבחיו של הקב״ה כתיב: הגדול הגבור כו׳

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.

ופירוש הגדול היא מדת חסד והתפשטות החיות בכל העולמות וברואים, לאין קץ ותכלית

“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,

להיות ברואים מאין ליש, וקיימים בחסד חנם

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.

ונקראת גדולה, כי באה מגדולתו של הקב״ה בכבודו ובעצמו

[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,

כי גדול ה׳ ולגדולתו אין חקר

for5 “G‑d is great... and His greatness is unsearchable,” inasmuch as it is infinite,

ולכן משפיע גם כן חיות והתהוות מאין ליש לעולמות וברואים אין קץ

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

שטבע הטוב להטיב

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

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

והנה כמו שמדה זו היא שבחו של הקב״ה לבדו

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,

שאין ביכולת שום נברא לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו

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

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

וגם מדה זו היא למעלה מהשכלת כל הברואים והשגתם

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

שאין כח בשכל שום נברא להשכיל ולהשיג מדה זו ויכלתה לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו

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.

כי הבריאה יש מאין היא דבר שלמעלה משכל הנבראים, כי היא ממדת גדולתו של הקב״ה

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

והקב״ה ומדותיו אחדות פשוט, כדאיתא בזהר הקדוש: דאיהו וגרמוהי חד

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

וכשם שאין ביכולת שום שכל נברא להשיג בוראו, כך אינו יכול להשיג מדותיו

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.

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:

וכמו שאין ביכולת שום שכל נברא להשיג מדת גדולתו, שהיא היכולת לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו, כדכתיב: עולם חסד יבנה

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,9 “The world is built by i.e., created through the attribute of kindness,”

כך ממש אין ביכלתו להשיג מדת גבורתו של הקב״ה, שהיא מדת הצמצום ומניעת התפשטות החיות מגדולתו

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,

מלירד ולהתגלות על הנבראים, להחיותם ולקיימם בגילוי, כי אם בהסתר פנים

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.

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

שהחיות מסתתר בגוף הנברא, וכאילו גוף הנברא הוא דבר בפני עצמו

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,

ואינו התפשטות החיות והרוחניות כהתפשטות הזיו והאור מהשמש, אלא הוא דבר בפני עצמו

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.

ואף שבאמת אינו דבר בפני עצמו, אלא כמו התפשטות האור מהשמש

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

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.

מכל מקום הן הן גבורותיו של הקב״ה, אשר כל יכול

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 the very restraining power of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is Omnipotent,

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.

לצמצם החיות והרוחניות הנשפע מרוח פיו ולהסתירו

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

שלא יבטל גוף הנברא במציאות

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.

וזה אין בשכל שום נברא להשיג מהות הצמצום וההסתר

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

-ושיהיה אף על פי כן גוף הנברא נברא מאין ליש

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

But 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 one and the same time? On the 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, —

כמו שאין יכולת בשכל שום נברא להשיג מהות הבריאה מאין ליש

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.

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 Chayim, 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.

(והנה בחינת הצמצום והסתר החיות נקרא בשם כלים, והחיות עצמו נקרא בשם אור

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.

שכמו שהכלי מכסה על מה שבתוכו, כך בחינת הצמצום מכסה ומסתיר האור והחיות השופע

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.

והכלים הן הן האותיות

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,

ששרשן ה׳ אותיות מנצפ״ך

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

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

שהן ה׳ גבורות המחלקות ומפרידות ההבל והקול בה׳ מוצאות הפה, להתהוות כ״ב אותיות

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.

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.

ושרש הה׳ גבורות הוא בוצינא דקרדוניתא

The source of the five levels of Gevurah is termed in the Kabbalah Butzina deKardunita, which is Aramaic for (lit.) “light out of darkness,” signifying a level of concealment that transcends light.

שהיא גבורה עילאה דעתיק יומין

This is the supernal Gevurah of Atik Yomin, the spiritual level of Keter that transcends all Worlds, including Atzilut;

ושרש החסדים הוא גם כן חסד דעתיק יומין

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

כידוע ליודעי ח״ן)

as is known to those well versed in the Esoteric Wisdom,)13 i.e., the Kabbalah.

Since the tzimtzum and the letters (on the 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.