Thanks to G‑d’s attribute of gevurah and His capacity for tzimtzum—as the Alter Rebbe explained in the foregoing chapter—created beings live in the illusion that they possess an independent and tangible existence: they are unaware of the Divine life-force continuously found within them.

Being thus insensitive to the force that animates them, they are able to think of themselves as existing independently of their source. They fail to perceive that in truth, they are but a diffusion of the rays of their source, like the diffusion of the sun’s rays as they are found within the sun.

Concerning this, i.e., concerning the concept that all of creation came about through the process of tzimtzum, which enables created beings to believe that they enjoy an independent form of existence, our Sages, of blessed memory, said:

וְהִנֵּה, עַל זֶה אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה:

“Originally, it arose in [G‑d’s] thought to create the world through the attribute of stern judgment, through the attribute of tzimtzum and gevurah;

"בִּתְחִלָּה עָלָה בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה לִבְרוֹא אֶת הָעוֹלָם בְּמִדַּת הַדִּין,

He saw, however, that in this manner, the world could not endure,

רָאָה שֶׁאֵין הָעוֹלָם מִתְקַיֵּים –

so He associated the attribute of mercy in it[s creation].”1

שִׁתֵּף בּוֹ מִדַּת רַחֲמִים",

At first glance, this is incomprehensible: G‑d “desires to act with goodness,” to treat His creatures benevolently. Why, then, did He first plan to create the world through the attribute of strict justice?

According to what has been explained above, this is entirely understandable: In order for created beings to believe that they possess independent existence, there must be the process of tzimtzum, which is an expression of the stern attribute of gevurah. Without it, all of creation would be completely nullified within its source.

G‑d, however, desired that created beings maintain that they possess independent existence in order for them to be able to serve Him and ultimately be rewarded for their service. Thus, it is specifically gevurah and tzimtzum that enable them to realize the ultimate purpose of creation.

The original plan for creation, therefore, was that it should be dominated by the attribute of stern judgment. When, however, G‑d saw that if He created the world in this manner it could not endure, He tempered it by the attribute of mercy.

Why, indeed, would the world not be able to endure otherwise? Because if creation had come about under such auspices alone, the life-force of holiness would have been utterly hidden. Accordingly, the spiritual task of revealing G‑dliness in such a world would have been inordinately arduous. G‑d therefore involved the attribute of mercy in the creation of the world so that holiness and G‑dliness could be revealed within it.

That is, i.e., “He combined with it the attribute of mercy” means: the revelation within the world of G‑dliness and of supernatural power through the tzaddikim and through the signs and miracles recorded in the Torah.

דְּהַיְינוּ, הִתְגַּלּוּת אֱלֹהוּת עַל יְדֵי צַדִּיקִים וְאוֹתוֹת וּמוֹפְתִים שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה.

It was stated in the previous chapter that both the expansive and creative attribute of chesed and the concealing and constrictive attribute of gevurah transcend the grasp of created beings. Here, the Alter Rebbe adds that these attributes transcend even the comprehension of those souls that proceed from the level of Atzilut. Even so lofty a soul as Moses,’ which is a soul of the World of Atzilut, cannot fathom the supernal attributes which are One with G‑d Himself.

Regarding this, i.e., regarding the fact that the attributes of chesed and gevurah transcend intellect, it was stated in the Zohar:2 “Above, in the ‘side of supernal holiness,’ i.e., in the World of Atzilut, which is far superior to the three lower Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, there is right and left,” namely, chesed and gevurah.

וְהִנֵּה עַל זֶה אָמְרוּ בַּזֹּהַר, דִּ"לְעֵילָּא, בְּסִטְרָא דִּקְדוּשָּׁה עִילָּאָה, אִית יְמִינָא וְאִית שְׂמָאלָא", דְּהַיְינוּ, חֶסֶד וּגְבוּרָה,

This statement was surely not written simply to inform us that chesed and gevurah exist, for this is already well known; rather: This means that both—gevurah as well as chesed—are attributes of G‑dliness that transcend the intellect and comprehension of created beings,

פֵּירוּשׁ, דִּשְׁתֵּיהֶן הֵן מִדּוֹת אֱלֹהוּת לְמַעְלָה מִשֵּׂכֶל הַנִּבְרָאִים וְהַשָּׂגָתָם,

The fact that they are supernal attributes also helps us understand how they are able to combine when by definition, they are opposites. Within the “side of supernal holiness,” there is no dissonance, G‑d forbid, for all its components are complementary and integrated. At that level, chesed and gevurah, though opposed by nature, coexist and conjoin as “two opposites within a unity.” This is possible because of their complete and total union with G‑d.

for “He and His attributes are One in the World of Atzilut,”3 both chesed and gevurah being thus wholly united with Him.

"דְּאִיהוּ וְגַרְמוֹהִי חַד" בְּעוֹלַם הָאֲצִילוּת.

Even the comprehension of Moses our Teacher (peace unto him) in his prophetic vision did not extend to the World of Atzilut itself,

וְאַף הַשָּׂגַת מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם בִּנְבוּאָתוֹ, לֹא הָיְתָה בְּעוֹלַם הָאֲצִילוּת,

except through its being clothed in the World of Beriah,

אֶלָּא עַל יְדֵי הִתְלַבְּשׁוּתוֹ בְּעוֹלַם הַבְּרִיאָה.

and even then, [his comprehension of the World of Atzilut did] not [extend] to these two attributes, viz., chesed and gevurah,4

וְאַף גַּם זֹאת, לֹא בִּשְׁתֵּי מִדּוֹת אֵלּוּ – חֶסֶד וּגְבוּרָה,

but only insofar as they were previously clothed in attributes which are of lower levels than themselves, viz., the attributes of netzach (“victory,” “eternity”), hod (“splendor”), and yesod (“foundation”), the attribute of netzach being merely an offshoot of chesed, and hod an offshoot of gevurah, so that through them, chesed and gevurah percolate down into yesod, which in turn transmits its influence to yet lower levels,

אֶלָּא עַל יְדֵי הִתְלַבְּשׁוּתָן בַּמִּדּוֹת שֶׁלְּמַטָּה מֵהֶן בְּמַדְרֵגָה, שֶׁהֵן מִדּוֹת נֶצַח־הוֹד־יְסוֹד

(5as is explained in Shaar Hanevuah) concerning the level of Moses’ prophecy.

[כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּשַׁעַר הַנְּבוּאָה].

It is only the tzaddikim in Gan Eden who are granted the reward of comprehending the spreading forth of the life-force and light which issues from these two attributes, chesed and gevurah.

רַק שֶׁמַּתַּן שְׂכָרָם שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים בְּגַן עֵדֶן, הוּא הַשָּׂגַת הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הַחַיּוּת וְאוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִשְׁתֵּי מִדּוֹת אֵלּוּ חֶסֶד וּגְבוּרָה,

This comprehension of the spreading forth of life-force and light which issues from these two attributes is the “food” of the souls of the tzaddikim who, in this world, engaged in the study of the Torah for its own sake.

וְהוּא – מְזוֹן נִשְׁמוֹת הַצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁעָסְקוּ בַּתּוֹרָה לִשְׁמָהּ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה.

For from the diffusion of these two attributes, a firmament, i.e., an or makif, a transcendental (lit., “encompassing”) degree of illumination, is spread over the souls in Gan Eden, and it is this firmament that empowers them to receive this diffusion.

כִּי מֵהִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת שְׁתֵּי מִדּוֹת אֵלּוּ, נִמְתָּח רָקִיעַ עַל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת שֶׁבְּגַן עֵדֶן,

This firmament is called raza deorayta (“the secret the Torah”); of, i.e., the mystical dimension of the Torah.

וְרָקִיעַ זֶה נִקְרָא "רָזָא דְאוֹרַיְיתָא",

Within this firmament is the secret of the twenty-two letters of the Torah (which derive from an even higher level than the rational and comprehensible aspect of the Torah), which was given as an expression of these two attributes,

וּבוֹ סוֹד כ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת הַתּוֹרָה, הַנְּתוּנָה מִשְׁתֵּי מִדּוֹת אֵלּוּ,

as it is written, “From His right hand, [He gave] unto them a fiery Law.”6 The “right hand” represents chesed while “fiery” alludes to the element of gevurah that is present in the Torah.

כְּדִכְתִיב: "מִימִינוֹ אֵשׁ דָּת לָמוֹ",

From this firmament, from this transcendental illumination, drops dew, symbolic of the esoteric insights of the Torah, as food for the souls,

וּמֵרָקִיעַ זֶה, נוֹטֵף טַל לִמְזוֹן הַנְּשָׁמוֹת,

I.e., an or pnimi, a degree of illumination that can be internalized and comprehended, issues forth from the firmament. Being comprehensible, this level of perception is likened to food, which is ingested internally.

i.e., a knowledge of the secret of the twenty-two letters of the Torah,

דְּהַיְינוּ, יְדִיעַת סוֹד כ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת הַתּוֹרָה,

for this firmament is the secret and level of knowledge (daat), and the “dew” that issues forth from it is the knowledge of the secret of the twenty-two letters of the Torah,

כִּי הָרָקִיעַ הַזֶּה – הוּא סוֹד הַדַּעַת,

and the Torah is the “food” of the souls in Gan Eden, and the commandments are [their] “garments,”

וְהַתּוֹרָה – הִיא מְזוֹן הַנְּשָׁמוֹת בְּגַן עֵדֶן, וְהַמִּצְוֹת – הֵן לְבוּשִׁים,

as all this is explained (7in Zohar, Vayakhel, pp. 209-210, and in Etz Chaim, Portal 44, ch. 3).

כִּמְבוֹאָר כָּל זֶה [בַּזֹּהַר וַיַּקְהֵל דַּף ר"ט וְר"י, וּבְעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר מ"ד פֶּרֶק ג']:

We thus see that the attributes of chesed and gevurah of the World of Atzilut transcend not only the comprehension of created beings, but even souls of the level of Atzilut cannot comprehend them. Only as a reward are the souls in Gan Eden enabled to comprehend a mere diffusion of these two attributes.

Commentary of the Rebbeon the Conclusion of Chapter Four and Chapter Five

…The entire fifth chapter of Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah, as well as the conclusion of the fourth chapter, do not at all appear to advance our understanding of the concept of Divine Unity.

Ch. 4 concludes by explaining that the life-force is termed or (“light”), and the tzimtzum is termed kelim (“vessels”). It goes on to state that the kelim originate from the five consonants מנצפ"ך and that they have an additional, even higher, source: gevurah of Atik. Correspondingly, chesed of Atik is the source of the attribute of chesed [of Atzilut].

At first glance, these seem to be strictly Kabbalistic concepts that have absolutely no bearing on our understanding of Divine Unity, especially as the Alter Rebbe endeavors to explain it in a manner that will make it “very near to you.”

(Although the conclusion of ch. 4 is enclosed in brackets, the Alter Rebbe nevertheless chose to incorporate it in the body of the Tanya rather than relegating it to a marginal note [as with many comments in the first part of the book as well as in the second part].8 This indicates that even the bracketed text must be directly related to the general theme of this work.)

The same question applies to the whole of the fifth chapter: it deals throughout with matters that seemingly have no connection with the concept of Divine Unity. The Alter Rebbe first explains a Midrash, then the level of Moses’ apprehension of Divinity, and finally the level of Gan Eden. Since none of this seems to be related to Divine Unity, why did the Alter Rebbe include it in Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah?

It is indeed true that many subjects obliquely alluded to in the Tanya are not directly related in their simple context to making its stated goal “very near” nor do they appear to be directly related to the subject of “Unity and Faith.” (Witness the many points quoted from the Tanya and explained in various Chasidic discourses at length, whereas in the Tanya itself, they are only hinted at.)

Nevertheless, these are matters which are only alluded to obliquely. Those topics, however, that are plain for all to see, must clearly be connected to the overall theme of the book.

This is similar to the written Torah in general and especially according to the commentary of Rashi on the Chumash. Although many interpretations are alluded to there on the homiletical and mystical levels of remez, derush, and sod, it is nevertheless a principle sanctioned by law that in the revealed context, “a verse does not depart from its plain meaning.” And it is this peshat, this plain or literal meaning, that the commentary of Rashi seeks to explain.

The same is true of the Tanya, which is the Written Torah of Chasidut. Although all aspects of the Torah are to be found within it, it always retains its simple meaning (as peshat is to be understood in the context of the esoteric dimension of the Torah).

Hence, all subjects appearing in the Tanya must be connected with the general theme of the book. They must all be “very nigh”; they must all explain “Unity and Faith”; and they must do so in a manner that enables one to “train a child” in them all. Those subjects that do not meet these criteria never found their way into the Tanya. In the words of Rabbi Shalom DovBer, fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, “Tanya is like the Chumash…, which is understood.”9

Accordingly, it is very difficult to understand how the topics discussed at the conclusion of ch. 4 and throughout ch. 5 found a place in Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah. We must therefore say that they deepen our understanding of the theme of Unity, as shall soon be explained.

The first chapter of this book explains how each individual created being has within it letters of the ten Divine utterances, which continuously create it and provide it with life.

The third chapter goes on to explain that since these creative letters are constantly found within the created being, it is always in a state of absorption within them, similar to the light of the sun within the sun-globe. The created being is thus completely nullified out of existence.

The reason that the created being perceives itself as possessing independent existence is explained by the Alter Rebbe in the fourth chapter. Only because of the tzimtzum, by which G‑d conceals and contracts His life-force so that the created being should not be aware of it, does that being appear—and perceive itself—to be a separate entity. “If, however, the eye were permitted to see…, then the physicality, materiality, and tangibility of the creature would not be seen by our eyes at all.”

However, this does not suffice. Although it is true that G‑d caused this concealment, yet man, as an intelligent being, should surely use his mind’s eye to see through the concealment; his understanding should inevitably lead him to the realization and the sensation that he is completely nullified within his source.

The Alter Rebbe answers this question by stating (in ch. 3) that a created being feels that he exists because “we do not comprehend nor see with our physical eyes the power of G‑d and the ‘breath of His mouth,’ which is in the created thing.” Thus, it is man’s very corporeality that blinds him to the Divine life-force contained within every created being.

This whole subject, as explained until the end of the fourth chapter, poses numerous difficulties regarding fundamental aspects of Divine Unity. And without the explanations furnished at the end of the fourth chapter and the whole of the fifth chapter, these questions cannot be answered.

The following are the questions:

(a) Each creature is animated by different letters from among the ten utterances, for, as explained in ch. 1, the life-force descends through numerous combinations and substitutions of these Divine, creative letters until it is clothed in each particular creature. It would therefore seem that there exists (G‑d forbid) a multiplicity of G‑dliness with the number of letters equalling the number of creatures. In fact, the multitude of letters is even greater than the number of created beings, for, as explained in ch. 1, many letters are invested within each creature. This seeming multitude of G‑dliness would appear to be the very antithesis of Divine Unity.

Moreover, the above question specifically arises out of the Alter Rebbe’s explanation!

There are those who mistakenly understood the doctrine of tzimtzum in a literal sense, as if G‑d actually removed His Presence from this world. If we were to assume their view, then there would be no problem, for we could then say (as they do) the following: G‑d is indeed a complete Unity, but his relation to the proliferation in the created universe is that of a king who sits in his palace and gazes at a garbage heap outside.

However, according to the explanation in the Tanya—that “Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands firm in the heavens,” i.e., that letters of the ten utterances are clothed within each individual creature—there arises the question: How can there possibly be a multiplicity in G‑dliness?

We cannot answer that the multiplicity results from the attribute of gevurah of the Divine Name Elokim. For as explained in ch. 4 (until the bracketed ending), the tzimtzum which comes from the Name Elokim adds nothing to creation itself: it merely acts as a barrier and concealment so that the life-force will not be felt by the created being. (This prevents the creature from being wholly nullified within its source, enabling it instead to feel its own separate and distinct existence.) The life-force itself emanates strictly from the utterance of the Divine Name Havayah. (This is also why in ch. 3, the Alter Rebbe likens the created being to the sun’s rays and the life-force to the sun itself—for the source of the life-force within the creature (i.e., the letters) is the “sun” of Havayah.)

It would thus seem that the multiplicity in the universe does not result from the Name Elokim, a name which utilizes the plural form, but from the Name Havayah itself. This would seem to imply that in Havayah as well there is multiplicity. This prompts the question: “How many suns (Divine Presences) are there?” [Cf. Likkutei Amarim, end of ch. 35.]

(b) According to the Alter Rebbe’s explanation, created beings are in reality found within their source. They perceive themselves as existing separately from it merely because of the concealment of the tzimtzum; in reality, however, they are G‑dliness. Therefore, “if the eye were permitted to see,” we would perceive that they are G‑dly.

This gives rise to a cataclysmic question regarding the entire essence of the Torah and mitzvot.

The purpose of the Torah and mitzvot is to draw down G‑dliness into the physical substances with which the mitzvot are performed. This is what is meant by the teaching that only by performing a mitzvah does the physical object become holy. Indeed, this concept is implicit in the recitation of blessings before the performance of mitzvot, for the Hebrew word for blessing (ברכה) implies the drawing down of G‑dliness within the object with which the mitzvah is performed.

The mitzvah of tefillin, for example (and so, too, all other mitzvot, all of which are likened to tefillin), is intended to draw down G‑dliness into the physical parchment and ink, etc.

Now, since the parchment is G‑dly (even before the performance of the mitzvah), how is it possible for a mitzvah originating in the “Torah of truth” to imply by its effect (and by its inherent truth) that the parchment is in fact mundane, and only by virtue of what is inscribed on it, and so on, does it begin to become G‑dly? In fact, it is G‑dly even before this; it is only the corporeal eyes of man that fail to perceive it to be so.

We mortals fail to perceive the truth. The Torah, however, is truth, and its mitzvot are true. How, then, can there possibly be a mitzvah (and the very fact that there is such a mitzvah indicates the truth of the matter) of taking parchment and transforming it into G‑dliness when in reality, it was G‑dly even before it was used for a mitzvah?

This difficulty too springs from the explanation of the Tanya. Were we to say that the doctrine of tzimtzum is to be understood (as its erroneous exponents understand it) in its literal sense—as if G‑d literally withdrew His Presence from creation, thereafter gazing upon creation from a distance, like the proverbial king through his palace window—then there would be no difficulty.

However, according to the concept of Unity as explained here in the Tanya, whereby the King Himself is found in the place of the parchment or whatever, then the difficulty manifests itself. For according to this explanation, the place itself and all its aspects are themselves G‑dliness.

If so, what is the meaning of Torah study and performing precepts? What is the point of studying the law that applies to “one who exchanges a cow for a donkey,” what is the point of performing a mitzvah involving parchment and ink when in reality, there is no cow and no donkey, no parchment and no ink, but everything is G‑dliness? What is the significance of the Torah and mitzvot?

(c) The question now becomes even greater. The reason we perceive the world to exist as an independent entity is that we view it with “physical eyes,” and “the eye [was not] permitted to see,” and so on; i.e., our tangible corporeality prevents us from beholding the truth.

It would therefore be logical to assume that tzaddikim, inasmuch as they are not hindered by the concealment occasioned by corporeal flesh and inasmuch as they transcend materiality, should be able to perceive the truth—that the world truly does not exist, for everything is G‑dliness alone. Those tzaddikim who are at the level of the World of Yetzirah or Beriah, and surely the truly great tzaddikim who have become a “chariot of Atzilut” (as explained in Likkutei Amarim, ch. 39), should not be subject to the restrictions of the concealment. With regard to them, the above question becomes even stronger: What is the meaning of the Torah and mitzvot for them? Since the G‑dliness manifest in this world is revealed to them, there would seem to be no need for them (G‑d forbid) to perform Torah study and mitzvot!

It was in order to answer all these questions that the Alter Rebbe wrote the end of ch. 4 and the whole of ch. 5, as shall soon be explained.

The Alter Rebbe explains at the conclusion of ch. 4 that the tzimtzum and concealment of life-force is termed kelim (“vessels”) while the life-force itself is called or (“light”). He then goes on to explain that “the kelim are verily the letters.”

This seems to contradict what was explained in the previous chapters. Earlier on, in the first chapter, the Alter Rebbe writes that the letters are the life-force of created beings. Here, however, he says that the life-force is the light, while the letters are the vessels, which contract and conceal the life-force. How is this to be reconciled with his previous statement that the letters are the life-force that reveal, as opposed to the kelim, which conceal?

However, in truth, not only is the present statement not a contradiction to what was stated earlier, it is actually an explanation of the previous statement that the letters are the life-force.

The question was raised earlier that since the letters are the life-force of creatures, it would seem that there is a multiplicity of G‑dliness. For since tzimtzum itself is not a party to creation (but only conceals the Creator from the created), the multitude of letters is thus caused not by tzimtzum but by Elokut, by G‑dliness Itself. The question then is: How can there possibly be a multitude of G‑dliness?

The Alter Rebbe answers this in the bracketed text by stating that “the tzimtzum and concealing of the life-force is called kelim.” One of the novel insights contained in this statement is that tzimtzum is an actual entity.

Just as kelim are more than just a concealment of the light, being entities unto themselves, so, too, with regard to the tzimtzum and concealment which are deemed to be kelim; they too are an entity. And it is this entity that brings about the contraction and concealment of the light (just as an actual vessel, being an entity, conceals that which is found within it).

We are now able to understand the multiplicity of letters. The multitudinous letters are not intrinsic to the light itself; they are a result of its passage through the tzimtzum of the kelim.

This is illustrated by the well-known comparison with the sun’s rays that pass through white, green, or red glass. The light itself remains simple, unaffected by its passage. However, there is an evident change with regard to its effect; after passing through red glass, the light functions as red light, through green glass—as green light, and so forth.

This is what the Alter Rebbe means when he says that “the kelim are verily the letters”; i.e., the shaping of the life-force into letters is not a function of the life-force itself, for “the life-force itself is called or (light)”—and light itself is simple, transcending any particular form or shape (for light is rooted in the “‘sun’ of Havayah,” and in the Name Havayah, there can be no multiplicity, heaven forbid, as has been explained earlier). The letters contained in the life-force result from the kelim, which cause the light clothed in them to be shaped (with regard to their effect).

Accordingly, the second question, regarding the relevance of the Torah and mitzvot, is answered as well. Were tzimtzum to be a nonentity and only constitute a state of concealment, its sole purpose being to hide and act as a barrier to the light, then created beings that emerge as a result of this tzimtzum would in reality not exist at all. (It would only seem to corporeal eyes that they enjoy a true state of existence.)

Since tzimtzum does, however, constitute an entity—the entity of kelim—it possesses existence. As such, its effect in concealing is similar to its effect when bringing letters into being.

Regarding the latter, it was explained earlier that the effect of tzimtzum on the light was that it caused it to assume the “shape” of letters, even though the light itself is not affected; its effect exists only in relation to created beings. Thus, it is similar to the sun’s rays, which do not really change in themselves, although the effect of the colored glass on them is to produce red or green light, and so on.

The same is true with regard to the effect of tzimtzum in concealing the life-force so that it will not be perceived by created beings. The concealment itself is a real entity. It is true that in relation to the light, the tzimtzum does not conceal at all. From the perspective of created beings, however, the tzimtzum is truly an existing entity. It therefore follows that [since they were created through it,] they have true, tangible existence as well.

After the Alter Rebbe concludes his explanation that the tzimtzum and concealment of the life-force are termed kelim, which “are verily the letters,” he goes on to add that these letters derive from the five letters מנצפ"ך, which are the “five degrees of gevurah.” He also states that their source in turn is the supernal gevurah of Atik Yomin, etc.

What does this have to do with his previous statement that the tzimtzum and concealment is termed kelim, and so on?

By stating the above, the Alter Rebbe forestalls a formidable problem: How is it possible for the tzimtzum to conceal the light? If we were to hold that the tzimtzum merely prevents the light from being revealed within creation, then there would be no problem. However, in the bracketed text, the Alter Rebbe teaches us a novel concept—that the tzimtzum results from the kelim. Now since they are a separate entity distinct from the light, the question arises: How is it possible for the kelim (a distinct and separate entity from light) to effect a change, as it were, in the light?

The question is even greater: Light is the attribute of chesed; tzimtzum is the attribute of gevurah. In the order of the sefirot, chesed precedes gevurah (qualitatively as well). How can gevurah possibly cause a change in an attribute which is spiritually superior to it?

The Alter Rebbe therefore explains that the root of the letters is the “five degrees of gevurah that divide and separate the breath and voice….” I.e., the Alter Rebbe is teaching us that the concept of letters is not found only within the sefirot of Atzilut but far higher, until ultimately, the source of the gevurot is the “supernal gevurah of Atik Yomin” while “correspondingly, the source of [the various levels of Divine] kindness is also chesed of Atik Yomin.” Thus, both gevurah and chesed are rooted in Atik Yomin.

Since both attributes are rooted in Atik Yomin, the meaning of which is “removed (נעתק) and separated from ‘days’ [i.e., the attributes of Atzilut],” it follows that because of their common source, they are indeed not opposites: they are one. For, as the Alter Rebbe will soon explain (in chs. 6 and 7), even in Atzilut, “He and His attributes are One.” How much more certainly must this be the case insofar as they exist in their source in Atik Yomin, which is far superior to Atzilut. It is therefore possible for the light of chesed to be modified by the tzimtzum of gevurah.

In light of the above, we will understand why the Alter Rebbe opens ch. 5 by quoting the Midrashic statement, “Originally, it arose in [G‑d’s] thought to create the world through the attribute of stern judgment.” Since this Midrash does not seem to offer any further explanation of the topic at hand, why quote it at all?

One reason the Alter Rebbe does so is that it enhances our understanding of the entire concept of tzimtzum. This will be understood after several prefatory remarks.

This Midrash is generally thought to be saying that G‑d originally planned that the world be conducted with the attribute of gevurah, stern judgment. However, when He saw that the world could not endure this, He combined with it the attribute of mercy.

The wording of the Midrash, however, is not “to conduct the world” but “to create the world.” Clearly, the Midrash refers to G‑d’s manner of creation—that He had originally planned to create the world solely through the attribute of gevurah.

The question thus becomes: How is it possible for creation to come about from the attribute of gevurah, an attribute of tzimtzum? I.e., how is it possible for tzimtzum to bring about creation when (simplistically) tzimtzum is a nonentity, its function being only to contract and constrain the Divine life-force. How can the nonentity of tzimtzum create?

This serves to prove that tzimtzum is indeed an entity, for as explained previously, tzimtzum corresponds to kelim.

This, then, is what the Midrash means when it says, “Originally, it arose in [G‑d’s] thought to create the world through the attribute of stern judgment.” G‑d’s initial intention was that creation come about by means of the kelim through the power of the light vested in them—that creation result from the letters that are formed in the light through its being clothed in kelim.

Accordingly, we will also understand the continuation of this passage—that “He associated the attribute of mercy in it[s creation]” refers to “the revelation of G‑dliness through the tzaddikim and through the signs and miracles….” Why must this necessarily be the explanation of the role of the attribute of mercy?

In light of the above, this is clearly understood: Since the “attribute of stern judgment” refers to the letters, we must therefore say that the “attribute of mercy” refers to the light as it transcends the shape of letters. This light finds expression in “the revelation of G‑dliness through the tzaddikim and through the signs and miracles…” by effecting a change in the course of nature. (The letters cause each individual creature to have its own characteristics and nature; a change in nature must necessarily derive from the spiritually superior light.)

In explaining that the attribute of mercy refers to “the revelation of G‑dliness through the tzaddikim and through the signs and miracles,” the Alter Rebbe adds the words “recorded in the Torah.” At first glance, it is unclear what this phrase means; does the Alter Rebbe refer specifically to the Written Torah, or is the Oral Torah included as well? Furthermore, the miracles that occurred after the forty-year sojourn of the Jewish people in the desert; that occurred after the first Holy Temple (concluding the events and miracles recorded in the Written Torah); that occurred even after the Talmud (the Oral Torah) had been finally recorded; up to and including the miracles “witnessed by our own eyes and not by a stranger,”10 i.e., the miracles that occurred on the 12th and 13th of Tammuz 568711all these are “revelations of G‑dliness” emanating from the “attribute of mercy.” Why then does the Alter Rebbe specify the miracles “recorded in the Torah”?

The Alter Rebbe added this phrase in order to answer two very strong questions:

(a) Since the world was created from the letters (for which reason each individual creature has its own character and nature), how is it possible that there be revealed within the world (through signs and miracles that transcend nature) a light which is superior to letters? Inasmuch as the world was created through the letters, one would expect it to be incapable of housing a light that transcends letters, which would still continue to exist as tangible entities.

(b) As mentioned earlier, the Midrash addresses itself not to the manner in which the world is conducted but to the manner of its creation. G‑d first intended to create the world through the attribute of stern justice. Thereafter—but prior to the actual creation—G‑d combined in it, i.e., within creation, the attribute of mercy. Thus, the act of creation is brought about by the attribute of mercy as well as by the attribute of stern judgment.

This leads to the following question:

“The revelation of G‑dliness through the tzaddikim, and through the signs and miracles,” took place long after creation. What then does the Midrash mean by stating that “He associated the attribute of mercy in it[s creation]” when this attribute was only revealed long after creation?

It is in order to answer these two questions that the Alter Rebbe adds the words “recorded in the Torah.” One of the meanings of this phrase is: The G‑dliness that is revealed through tzaddikim and miracles (which emanate from the light that is superior to the letters, as has already been explained)—this too was first recorded in the Torah. It follows that it is found in creation as a whole, inasmuch as creation proceeds from the ten utterances recorded in the Torah, as explained above (at the end of the first chapter of Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah).

Accordingly, we will also understand why the Midrash states that “originally, it arose in [G‑d’s] thought to create the world through the attribute of stern judgment”; it was only in thought that G‑d considered creating the world solely with the attribute of stern judgment, that is, from the letters themselves bereft of the light that transcends the kelim. When it came to actual creation, however, i.e., when it came to the speaking of the ten utterances that brought about creation, these letters were invested with the light that transcends kelim.

Since the letters contain this light, signifying the negation of the tzimtzum of these letters, it is then possible that at the appropriate time—preordained when the utterances were first spoken—there occur the signs and miracles that signify the negation of the tzimtzum as found below.

Thus, all these miracles were not something that came about later; rather, they emanate from the light and G‑dliness that transcend kelim and that were invested within the letters. This degree of G‑dliness is then revealed at a later time through the tzaddikim and through signs and miracles.

This, then, is what is explained here in the Tanya—that at the very moment of creation, G‑d combined and vested within creation the attribute of mercy; that in the letters of the ten utterances which are enclothed within every creature there is invested the light that transcends the kelim, this light to be later revealed through the signs and miracles.

One question, however, still remains: What of those great tzaddikim who are on the level of a “chariot of Atzilut,” for whom the corporeal eye of created beings does not conceal G‑dliness? How do Torah and mitzvot apply to them? It is concerning this that the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain “the comprehension of Moses our Teacher (peace unto him) in his prophetic vision.”

The above question applies primarily to Moses. His soul was always in a state of total revelation and not at all concealed by his body, for it was completely penetrated and elevated by his Divine service. For a person such as Moses, for whom there is no concealment of G‑dliness, what is the meaning of the Torah and mitzvot?

And with regard to Moses himself, the question stems not so much from his qualities in general as it does from the distinctive nature of “his prophetic vision.” Moses was unique among prophets in that not only his soul, but his very body, too, was equally a fit receptacle for prophecy. His body was not only able to understand G‑dliness, it could actually perceive the G‑dly prophetic vision. This being so, the question becomes all the more demanding of an answer: What is the meaning of the Torah and mitzvot to so lofty an individual as Moses?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by saying: “Even the comprehension of Moses…in his prophetic vision did not extend to the World of Atzilut.” This means to say that even for an individual as great as Moses, the world could be said to exist. True it is that this manner of existence was ever so much higher than our own conception of existence, but existence it was. Torah and mitzvot thus applied to Moses as well so that he could transform this existence (of his world) into G‑dliness.

Although [Moses was of the World of Atzilut, and] the attributes of chesed and gevurah as they exist within Atzilut are G‑dly attributes and wholly at one with G‑d Himself, and thus, gevurah does not conceal chesed, nevertheless, Moses’ comprehension “did not extend to the World of Atzilut, except through its being clothed in the World of Beriah.”

This, however, does not suffice. While it is true that Moses’ comprehension of (the chesed and gevurah of) Atzilut extended to the degree that it clothed itself in the World of Beriah, it is only in the World of Beriah that creation first takes place. Moses was therefore able to see in prophetic vision the limitlessness of G‑dliness (as explained in ch. 4), and surely, Moses did not behold creation there with corporeal eyes.

G‑d’s gevurah, even after being clothed in Beriah, still remains G‑d’s gevurah. Since Moses was not subject to the concealment inherent in corporeal eyes, he was able to perceive the attribute of gevurah as clothed in the World of Beriah; he did not perceive a concealing attribute of gevurah, he perceived a luminous gevurah. The question thus remains: What was the meaning of the Torah and mitzvot for Moses?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by adding that the attributes of chesed and gevurah as they were clothed in the World of Beriah were not themselves apprehended by Moses “but only insofar as they were clothed in attributes which are of lower levels than themselves, viz., the attributes of netzach, hod, and yesod.”

Thus, when Moses apprehended chesed and gevurah of Atzilut, he apprehended chesed insofar as it is clothed in netzach, gevurah insofar as it is clothed in hod, and both of them insofar as they are clothed in yesod. Since his comprehension of chesed and gevurah related to them only insofar as they were garbed in the concealing cloak of netzach, hod, and yesod, therefore, even for Moses, the world was endowed with existence. It was, to be sure, a very rarefied form of existence, but it was existence nonetheless. Torah and mitzvot thus applied to him as well.

According to the above, it would seem that within the three lower Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the comprehension of G‑dliness is an impossibility: all that there can be is G‑dly revelation. This, however, is not the case. For as explained in ch. 39 of the Tanya, the distinctive quality of Gan Eden (whose place is in Beriah; ibid.) lies in the fact that there it is possible to “derive pleasure from the radiance of the Divine Presence”12; the Divine Presence itself becomes revealed and accessible to comprehension, making it possible that pleasure be derived from it.

Now according to that which was just explained, how can it be possible to “derive pleasure from the radiance of the Divine Presence” in any of the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, or Asiyah?

The Alter Rebbe therefore explains that in Gan Eden, there is an apprehension of the “spreading forth of the life-force and light which issues from these two attributes, chesed and gevurah”; i.e., in Gan Eden, one is able to comprehend the life-force as it spreads forth from chesed and gevurah themselves without the intermediacy of netzach, hod, and yesod. (The “spreading forth” is to be understood as explained in Iggeret Hakodesh, Epistle 19.) This comprehension, the Alter Rebbe goes on to say, is “the food of the souls”; i.e., it is internalized, like food which is ingested internally.

However, this gives rise to yet another question: Would we not expect Gan Eden itself to be nullified out of existence, inasmuch as the radiance of the Divine Presence is revealed there? Moreover, Gan Eden has to do with comprehension.13 How does it relate to the emotive attributes of chesed and gevurah?

In answer to this, the Alter Rebbe states: “For from the diffusion of these two attributes, a firmament is spread…. Within this is the secret of the twenty-two letters of the Torah.” Within these letters of the Torah, which bring all created beings into existence, was clothed the Divine light which transcends the tzimtzum of these letters, as explained earlier.

From the perspective of the Torah, these two attributes—the revelation of chesed and the concealment of gevurah—do not contradict one another. This is because Torah encompasses them both, [as the Alter Rebbe goes on to say:] “as it is written, ‘From His right hand, [He gave] unto them a fiery Law.’” Torah is thus composed both of “right” (chesed) and “fire” (gevurah). It is therefore possible for these two opposites to coexist—Gan Eden existing as an entity and within it, the revealed radiance of the Divine Presence.

The question of how Gan Eden, which is intellectual perception, relates to chesed and gevurah, which are emotive, is answered by the Alter Rebbe when he states: “For this firmament is the secret of knowledge (daat).’’ This means to say that the one intellectual faculty of daat encompasses both emotive attributes of chesed and gevurah, and yet, daat is a faculty of intellect.

However, another matter remains to be understood. Gan Eden comprises two aspects: (a) In Gan Eden, there is Torah study (see Likkutei Amarim, ch. 41); (b) Though in Gan Eden there is no performance of mitzvot (as alluded to in the verse במתים חפשי), there is, however, reward for prior performance.

Now it is understandable how Torah can be found in Gan Eden, for as explained previously, Torah is comprised of the harmonious conjoining of chesed and gevurah. Mitzvot, however, are individualized.

For it is known14 that Torah is likened to blood and the mitzvot to bodily organs; whereas blood courses throughout all parts of the body, the organs are separate from one another, each with its own individual function.

Since, from the perspective of mitzvot, chesed and gevurah are two separate attributes, it would seem that from this perspective, Gan Eden could not possibly exist, inasmuch as it is a composite of both chesed and gevurah. Furthermore, if the light elicited by the performance of precepts would indeed be drawn down, this light being a manifestation of chesed, would this not cause the very existence of Gan Eden, whose source is gevurah, to be completely nullified?

The Alter Rebbe therefore says, “and the commandments are [their] garments.” Since the mitzvot comprise both chesed and gevurah, which are two distinct attributes, it is indeed impossible for the light elicited by the mitzvot to permeate [the souls in Gan Eden] inwardly, for if it were to do so, they would be nullified out of existence.

For this reason, the reward in Gan Eden for the performance of mitzvot is granted only in the protective and auxiliary manner of a garment; this light is not drawn down into the souls in a permeating manner.

Torah, however, which is comprised of the conjoining of chesed and gevurah, is truly “food” for the souls in Gan Eden. It permeates them without causing their nullification, unlike the mitzvot, which are merely “garments.”

The Rebbe concludes that according to the above discussion, another difficulty (not quite incidental) will be resolved, namely: Where is the concluding bracket at the end of ch. 4? (Even in the first edition of the Tanya, this bracket is missing.)

According to all the abovementioned questions, whose answers are provided by the Alter Rebbe beginning with the bracketed text in ch. and continuing until the final bracket of ch. 5, this difficulty finds the following simple resolution:

The bracketed text beginning near the conclusion of ch. 4 extends until the end of ch. 5. The worthy typesetter, however, seeing two brackets at the end of ch. 5, assumed that one of them was surely superfluous—not taking into consideration that one of them possibly marked the conclusion of the bracketed passage beginning in ch. 4.

From Likkutei Sichot, vol. 21 (Kehot, N.Y., 1983), p. 428.