It is possible to explain that the dimension of “the light” of the soul which is revealed when a Jew feels “crushed” from the very fact that he is in exile reflects a higher level than the dimension of “the light” of the soul which is revealed through mesirus nefesh.

To clarify this point: Among the explanations given for the fact that the giving of the Torah is considered merely the beginning of the process (“what they had already begun”), while the acceptance [of the Torah] was consummated in the time of Achashverosh (“And the Jews accepted”) [is the following]: The Jews [accepted the Torah,] declaring “We will do” before “We will listen,” because the spiritual revelations1 they received [were so powerful that they had no other choice. It was as if, to borrow an expression of our Sages,2] G‑d “hung the mountain over their heads like a tub.” In the time of Achashverosh, by con­trast, the Jews accepted [the Torah] on their own volition.

[A similar contrast can be explained in regard to the faith of the Jewish people.] The faith that comes about because, in the spiritual realms, the soul perceives G‑dliness (i.e., faith that stems from an external cause) can be compared to [the willing­ness to accept the Torah] because of a revelation from above.3 In contrast, the [Jews’] acceptance in the time of Achashverosh came on their own volition, for at that time, the connection with G‑dliness that stems from the essence of their souls was revealed, i.e., an essential bond that reflects the essence of their being.

[To develop the latter concept further:] In a more particular sense, there is a (parallel) to these two dimensions in regard to the revelation of the essence of the soul. [In chassidic thought, it is explained that our day-to-day functioning is controlled by our revealed powers, i.e., the ten powers of the soul which comprise our intellectual and emotional makeup. These ten powers, and their compounds and derivatives which produce the variety of the more specific powers that we express in our conduct, are all limited in nature. For example, Chochmah (“wisdom”), the high­est of these powers, has a specific definition and scope, as does Binah (“understanding”), and chesed (“kindness”), and similarly all these other powers.]

[The essence of the soul, by contrast, refers to a simple transcendent quality, stemming from and unified with G‑d’s essence, and thus unlimited and undefined as His essence is. Mesirus nefesh is an appropriate channel for the expression of this dimension, for it represents a step beyond one’s individual personality and a revelation of the unbounded nature of the soul. When considered in this context,] the revelation of the essence of the soul through mesirus nefesh can be considered as an external influence in relation to a person’s revealed powers, [i.e., it is a different source of influence than that which usually controls his conscious functioning].

We see this concept exemplified in the personal examples of several individuals who displayed mesirus nefesh continuously for many years when they were living in a country where [oppressive] decrees [conflicted with the observance of] the Torah and its mitzvos. When, however, these same individuals came to a country where they could observe the Torah and its mitzvos amidst bounty, the mesirus nefesh which they previously displayed does not stand out (that) obviously [in their present conduct].

[Why is this possible?] Because the mesirus nefesh they expressed throughout the years stemmed from their being granted a revelation of the essence of the soul which transcends their revealed powers. [Thus, although this revelation spurred these individuals to deeds which were truly lofty, it did not ele­vate the people themselves.] There was no change within their revealed powers themselves.4 [As individuals, they remained on the same spiritual level as before.]

{(As explained in sec. 5), the essence of the soul is (also) the essence of [the soul’s] revealed powers, [and thus, one might think that expressing the essence of the soul would also have an effect on these revealed powers]. Nevertheless, the essence of the soul [transcends the scope of these powers entirely. Although] it is the essence of these powers, it has no [direct] effect on their functioning, i.e., how they operate within their own framework.} [In contrast,] the revelation of the essence of the soul that is expressed in the feelings of being crushed and broken from being in exile makes the revealed powers (as they [function] within their own framework) one with the essence.5

[To treat these concepts on the abstract plane:] The fact that the essence of the soul and the framework of the revealed powers (appear) as two separate matters is because [no two entities which have different qualities and definitions can be joined in total unity. And when looking at] the essence of the soul [from the perspective of the revealed powers, it also appears] to have a specific definition, i.e., that it is on a transcendent plane above the framework of the revealed powers.

When, however, one considers the essence of the soul as it is rooted in G‑d’s essence, [it does not have any definition whatsoever]. [On the contrary, G‑d’s essence cannot be defined in terms of finiteness or infinity, nor can G‑d’s essence be said to be void of either of these dimensions. Similarly, the essence of] the soul [possesses both] a simple, transcendent dimension and a frame­work of [limited] powers. [Moreover, it combines both these dimensions] in a single, absolute unity.6

Based on this distinction, it is possible to say that “the light” of the soul revealed through mesirus nefesh refers to that aspect of the essence of the soul that is defined as a transcendent entity, above the framework of our revealed powers. The dimension of “the light” of the soul which is revealed through the feelings of being “crushed” because of the exile is a revelation of the essence of the soul as it is rooted in [G‑d’s] essence.