Translator’s Preface

Every year, on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, Chabadniks gather around while an appointed person presents a maamar. You can read about the idea of a maamar elsewhere on our site.

The particular maamar that’s presented on the tenth of Shvat is a special one. It was prepared by its author, the sixth rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to be studied on that day, as it was the yartzeit, the day of passing, of his grandmother.

As it transpired, that day was also his day of passing.

The first rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, explained in a letter that "all the effort of man for which his soul toiled during his lifetime becomes revealed at the time of his passing."1 This maamar, then, must be seen as a summary of the author’s lifetime, as well as his guidance and teaching for the next generation.

And indeed, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn’s successor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, wrote within the year of passing:

I would like to suggest that we all commit to memory the maamar entitled Bati LeGani, in its entirety or in part... In times of confusion or of doubt,...we should think it through. It is not the quantity that counts. What matters... is that we connect ourselves to the source...

Mastering the maamar will nourish our connection with its author not only when we review it, but at other times, as well, our minds will be engaged and filled with the rebbe’s teachings.

Later, the Rebbe asked that the five chapters of the maamar be recited publicly each year on the yartzeit, some on its eve, some in the morning, and remainder at the end of the day.

The maamar was actually one section of a series of four, each with five chapters. Beginning on the first yartzeit, the Rebbe publicly explained one chapter of this series at length, until he had completed all twenty chapters. This was repeated for the following twenty years.

This “translation and unfolding” of the first chapter is meant in part to assist in the public presentation that occurs each year. It’s also meant to assist the reader find that connection that will nourish our souls.

But first a note on the presentation of a maamar, any maamar, spoken or written by a rebbe of Chabad.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn himself wrote to Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman in 1948:

You wrote that when delivering a maamar in public, it’s necessary to be precise with the original wording, to learn it exactly the way it was said, or to repeat it exactly as written.

This is a mistake, as I’ve stated earlier. When we say that you have to preserve the original words of the teacher, we mean that you shouldn’t add in useless explanatory commentary. Rather, deliver the maamar in its style and format, and whenever an idea requires explanation, do as our rabbis, of blessed memory, advised when they said, “Torah may be poor in one place and wealthy in another.”2

In a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Wosner in which he strongly encourages the recitation of maamarim in public, we find similarly:

The manner of delivery should be like a public talk… with clear reasoning and explanation. Just like someone lecturing on a Torah topic that they know well, and explaining it before a large gathering and congregation…3

This is the approach I have taken in translating this classic maamar. Every idea that calls out for explanation is unfolded and laid out as clearly as space allows, using explanation borrowed from other maamarim of Chabad.

Additionally, I’ve attempted to use simple and natural language as much as possible. In this way, I hope to ease the burden on a reader already bombarded with concepts that are not easy to understand, even for those already familiar with them.

The Garden

In the Song Of Songs, G‑d lovingly says to the Jewish People, “I came into My garden, My sister, My bride.”

The sister and bride who He’s addressing, that’s us. But where is the garden? And when did He come there?

The Midrash Rabbah identifies the location as Planet Earth and the day as the day the Tabernacle was inaugurated. On that day, G‑d’s presence came down to earth, so to speak.

And the Midrash points out that it doesn’t just say a garden, but My garden. That means He considers this world to be His special, personal garden. Something like a private place you might have in your garden for relaxing, enjoying, and just being yourself. It’s one place that when you’re there, you’re 100% there. Because it is the place where you most want to be.

In other words, the Midrash says, this lowly world—and not some spiritual heaven—was the place where G‑d most desired to be when it all began.

We call that state of G‑d being very present “the Shechinah.” For example, you might say, “I visited Jerusalem and you could feel the Shechinah there.” G‑d is everywhere, but His presence rests, meaning G‑dliness can be experienced, in some places more than others. And originally, the main place of the Shechinah was in this lowest of all worlds.

So what happened? The Midrash explains:

Adam and Eve committed the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and G‑d’s presence could no longer be felt in the world in the same way as before the sin. The Shechinah left our world for the first heaven, a more spiritual world. It’s not a world that’s distant in space. It’s right here. But it’s not the world we live in. More on that later.

Then Cain sinned and the Shechinah went even further away, to the second heaven. When the generation of Enosh started worshipping stars and angels, the Shechinah went up from the second heaven to the third.

Things kept going in that direction until G‑d’s presence was far and distant from our world and you would have to rise all the way up to the seventh heaven to feel you were in touch with Him.

With this, the Midrash explains how Adam and Eve heard “the sound of G‑d walking in the garden” after they sinned. After all, that’s kind of puzzling. G‑d walks in a garden? And it makes a sound?

So the Midrash points out that it doesn’t actually say “walking.” That would be mehalech in Hebrew. But the word there is mit-halech, which is more like someone climbing up a steep flight of stairs, one step very deliberately after another. In other words, Adam and Eve could feel that they had started a chain reaction of failures, as if G‑d was leaving the garden for higher and higher places.

Following all these disasters, seven tzadikim (tzadikim are people whose lives are driven by their love for G‑d) brought the Shechina from the seventh heaven back down to earth.

Abraham merited to bring the Shechinah from the seventh heaven to the sixth. Isaac brought the Shechinah from the sixth to the fifth, and so on until along came Moses, who was the seventh. The seventh, says the Midrash, is always special. So Moses brought the Shechinah all the way back down to earth.

The main place of G‑d’s presence was in the Tabernacle, and later, in the Temple in Jerusalem, as it says, “They shall make for Me a mikdash (a holy place) and I will dwell within them.”

But there’s a nuance of language there. It doesn’t say, “I will dwell within it”—within the mikdash. It says, “inside them.” So G‑d is saying that by the people building and maintaining this mikdash, He will dwell within the individuals involved—each and every one of them.

The Midrash concludes by explaining one more verse along these lines:

“The tzadikim will inherit the land and they shall dwell forever upon it.”

“The Land,” the Midrash says, refers to the Garden of Eden—meaning, to the ultimate, perfected world as it will be once we’ve fixed up this whole mess that started in the original Garden of Eden.

So the verse is explaining why the tzadikim will inherit this renovated Garden of Eden: Because they are the ones who get us all back there by bringing down the Shechinah—referred to here as “He Who Dwells Forever, Exalted and Holy”—into this lowly world.

In short, this is the meaning of G‑d saying, “I came to My garden.” He means to say that this is His most personal space, the place that was His main place from the beginning. Because to begin with, the main place of G‑d’s presence was in this lowest world.

The Goal

The takeaway from all this so far is that the ultimate meaning behind the creation of every world that exists was G‑d’s desire to be at home in this, the lowest of all worlds.

What does that mean? It means for G‑dliness to shine openly on earth through the work of us human beings, through our wrestling down and transforming the lowliness and darkness of our own selves and of the world around us.

In other words, a divine soul, a breath of G‑d, will descend below to a physical world and become clothed within a body and an animal soul. They will block and negate the light of this divine breath. And then, despite all, this divine soul will purify the body and the animal soul, and even its part of the world.

That’s the meaning behind absolutely everything that ever happens or ever comes to exist.

And that’s the point behind, “They shall make for Me a mikdash and I will dwell within them”—within every Jewish person.

How does it work? Like we said, through the hard work of separating the good from the bad, which happens through us taming and transforming everything we have to deal with.

In the Zohar, all the forces of darkness in our world and inside us are lumped together under the label “Sitra Achra.” That means “the other side,” or, perhaps more accurately, “the side of otherness.”

It’s called that because these forces act as though they are “others” to their own Maker. He gives us life at every moment, but we somehow feel as though we live for ourselves.

Oneness is holiness; otherness is the opposite. When we feel that sense of otherness, that’s when all harmony falls apart. Everything becomes atomized, each life is out for its own self—and thereby destroys itself. Out of that otherness comes every destructive urge inside us.

Otherness is a lie. The Sitra Achra is the biggest lie in the universe. And the way to expose that lie is by not submitting to those urges. Instead, the Sitra Achra has to submit to the good within us.

In simple terms, most of the time, that means resisting many of our own basic, instinctual impulses to channel them in meaningful, divine-centered directions.

Now, that may look like a mundane, take-out-the-garbage sort of personal housekeeping, and not particularly spiritual. There seem to be far more noble tasks, like bringing more light into the world, tuning in to the wonders of divine wisdom, or praising G‑d all day like the angels.

But the Zohar says quite the opposite:

When the Sitra Achra is suppressed, G‑d’s glory rises in all the worlds.

To understand what an achievement that is, read that carefully. What does “in all the worlds” mean? It tells us we’re talking about an occurrence that’s not specific to any particular space or plane of reality, physical, spiritual, or otherwise. It’s something that encompasses everything and changes everything equally.

In fact, we call this the encompassing light, a kind of divine energy that shines the same in all worlds, physical and spiritual.


To explain that, and why that is so wondrous, we have to first understand that there are more worlds than the one we live in. Worlds exist on many levels.

[Here’s a way of understanding what these worlds are. First, think of the many layers of your own soul and the consciousness that fills each layer when you’re engaged in healthy, creative activities.4

At one level, you’re conscious of where your feet are going and what your hands are doing with the physical space and objects of your world. That’s one layer. Most of the time, it doesn’t take much of your consciousness.

Then there’s a much richer, higher world you live in, socializing with people. That obviously takes a whole new level of consciousness.

Going yet higher and more inward, when you sit alone, contemplating some big and inspiring idea, you blast off to an entirely different world.

And then, let’s say that idea inspires some mighty emotions and totally changes the way you see things. Now we’re talking about the world of your inner identity, the inner you.

Yet even higher, if you could know what it is you really desire from life, to channel that divine spark inside you and light up the world, there you would touch the very essence of who you are.

Let’s say someone could travel through your psyche. Where would they find you shining in there? In the part of you that’s engaged in doing things? Or in the part of you that’s engaged in thinking? Or maybe in your emotions, or your deep, hidden desires? Which inner world are you found in the most?

Now think of the universe as having layers somewhat similar to those layers within you—only that in each layer exists an entire world of countless intelligent beings living on an entirely different plane of existence than in another world.

There’s another important similarity, as well: Your outward behavior reflects what’s going on deeper inside you. In much the same way, everything happening in the lower worlds is a dim reflection of what’s going on in the higher worlds. It’s like a chain reaction traveling downward, dimming and diminishing at each step, but retaining the same characters, themes and events.

But let’s get back to the quality of light in each world.]

There’s no comparison between the quality of the light in the higher worlds and that of the lower worlds. In the higher worlds, the light shines openly. In the lower worlds, not only does the light not shine so openly, but in some of them the light itself comes in a hidden way. And there are many levels in that as well.

There’s a verse that alludes to all this:

My hand established the earth and My right hand spread out the heavens.

A Midrash explains that verse as meaning:

G‑d stretched out His right hand and created the heavens. He stretched out His left hand and created the earth.

That’s typical of a Midrash, to say something very profound using very human terms. Every Midrash has to be decoded to understand its message. Think of what “right hand” and ”left hand” imply.

Your right hand is your stronger hand that you use when you want to put all your strength into something. When you do something with your right hand, you’re not holding anything back. And that’s exactly what the Midrash means when it says that G‑d’s right hand spread out the heavens:

The heavens are the higher worlds. There, things exist in a right-handed sort of way. Light shines there unfiltered and openly, and it’s a light that hides nothing.

The earth means the lower worlds. There, things are in a left-handed sort of way. The light there has to shine through many shades and filters. As well, the light itself is a hidden kind of light.

Although there’s an infinite spectrum of worlds, they fall into four levels. There’s a verse that alludes to these four levels of worlds:

“All that is called in My name and to My honor, I have created it, I have formed, I have even made it.”

These are the four worlds: Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action.

There’s a huge distinction between the light in the lower three worlds and the light in the World of Emanation.

The World of Emanation is a world that is all about hidden potentials coming out into the open.

In Hebrew, it’s called Atzilut. Atzilut is from the same word as “etzlo”, meaning right up next to G‑d. It’s also related to “ha’atzala,” which means taking a sample of something. It’s like a sample of the infinite light that’s beyond it.

Because Atzilut, even though it’s called a world, is still considered one of the infinite-light worlds. Atzilut is somewhat comparable to how your own soul shrinks itself into being capable of perception, intelligence, and emotion. It’s not the raw, undefinable you anymore, but it’s nothing other than you. In a similar way, Atzilut is still G‑dliness.

The World of Creation, on the other hand, is the first instance of something from nothing. It’s the point where the focus is no longer on the light, but on the creation.

Why is it called “something from nothing?” G‑d is not nothing. And there was a whole world called Atzilut beforehand.

But to the World of Creation, everything that came before is a nothingness. Even if you understand intellectually that you were just now created and every moment you're being created again and again, that’s not your reality. You can’t even begin to imagine a world in which you do not exist. So you feel like you’ve been around forever.

Which is why everything in the World of Creation feels itself as something other than G‑d. That’s how hidden the light is.

Atzilut is not that way. That’s the meaning of “All that is called upon in My name and to My honor…” Your name isn’t a thing of any substance at all. It certainly isn’t a chunk of you. It doesn’t even contain any information about you. But when someone calls your name, they’re calling you, all of you.

That’s why G‑d calls the world of Atzilut “My name.” Because Atzilut, despite being a world, and despite being generated entirely by nothing more than a glimmer of divine light, is still one with G‑d. So the light can shine there openly.

Not so the three lower worlds. And in the three lower worlds themselves there are many degrees of openness of the light, as it is in the World of Creation, and in the World of Formation and in Action.

Beyond Worlds

However, all this is talking about the divine light that comes to give life to the worlds and to everything they contain. That’s an inside type of light because it enters inside each creation according to how much light that creation needs and what it can handle. It’s the light that gives life to each creature.

But the light that’s totally beyond anything to do with worlds, higher worlds, lower worlds, they’re all the same to this light, and so it shines just the same in all of them. As mentioned above, we call it “the light that encompasses all worlds.”

So that is what the Zohar means when it says, “…in all the worlds.” Meaning, when this light is brought in, it doesn’t have to measure itself according to the place it's entering. It’s totally beyond all that. It’s so beyond, that the World of Emanation and the World of Action and all the worlds in between are all the same for it. So it enters in such a way that it shines in all the worlds equally.

How do you get that light to enter the universe? You do the hard work of separating the good from the bad, through suppressing and transforming the darkness of this world.

That’s what it means, “When the Sitra Achra is suppressed…”—that when anybody manages with hard work to bring down the Sitra Achra and transform darkness into light—then we get the ultimate light. Because the ultimate light is the light that comes from darkness.

Because when darkness is transformed into light, it shines all the way down to the lowest place—just as it is in the highest place. It’s the light that shines in all worlds equally.

So this is the meaning of, “When the Sitra Achra is suppressed, G‑d’s glory rises in all the worlds.” A light is introduced to the universe that is totally beyond everything, and so encompasses everything, all the worlds equally. It shines on earth just like it shines in the highest places.

To sum up, that’s the meaning of “They shall make for Me a mikdash and I will dwell amongst them”—within each and every Jewish person. And it happens through the work of wrestling down the darkness so it can be transformed it into light. From this comes the ultimate form of light—“G‑d’s glory rises in all the worlds”—the encompassing light shines openly everywhere.

Summary: The main place of the Shechina is in the lowest world. The meaning behind creating all worlds is for G‑d to be at home in the lowest world. This is done through suppressing and transforming the Sitra Achra, which brings in the encompassing light. This light is the same in all worlds.