1 Four are required to offer thankful acknowledgment:2 Sea[farers], the infirm, [those released from] prison,3 [travelers through a] desert.4

The analogies to these situations in spiritual terms can be explained as follows:

The sea refers to the sea of wisdom.5

The infirm, חולה, is numerically equivalent to 49. One has attained 49 Gates of Understanding and is lacking only the 50th.6 The concept of a sick person being healed is that he is granted also the 50th gate.

Imprisonment is the opposite of progress and growth, i.e., one is imprisoned in his place. This refers to Zaer Anpin, the emotional attributes of the realm of Atzilus, as they are confined in the throat.7

The desert refers to the “desert of the nations,”8 an open mem,9 ”an unsown land.”10

Thus these four situations parallel the four spiritual levels:

Chochmah — the sea;

Binah — sickness;

Zaer Anpin — prison; and

Malchus — the desert.

Our Sages teach us that in these four situations, thanksgiving is required. Thankful acknowledgment transcends intellect.11 Implied is that even after a person comprehends all the above levels, attaining consummate fulfillment within the spiritual levels that are within mortal grasp, he makes a commitment that transcends intellect, “like beasts, I was with you.”12

Alternatively, our Sages’ teaching can be explained differently. The soul is continually alive, as reflected in our praise to G‑d for “returning my soul to me.”13 Nevertheless, the soul must be joined to the body. This is accomplished through blood that is brought into being by eating and drinking. The blood is lodged in the left ventricle of the heart and “the spirit of life” is lodged in the right ventricle (Likkutei Torah, Shir Shirim, p. 31a).

To relate this to the four situations above:

Prison — The person possesses everything in a complete sense. The danger is merely external.

Sickness — The lack exists within the person’s limbs in and of themselves.

Desert — I.e., hunger and sickness, as the verse states.14 (See the maamar entitled Hinach Yafah in Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim.) This refers to a lack of food and drink which weakens the connection between the body and the soul established through the blood.

Or Sea — i.e., one who is in danger of drowning. This parallels strangulation as stated in Sanhedrin 37b and Kesuvos 30b, i.e., the danger is posed to “the spirit of life.”15

According to Chassidus,16 the sea is associated with the hidden realms, planes of existence that are submerged within the encompassing light of G‑dliness. The beings in these realms cannot exist outside their spiritual source. If they would emerge on dry land, they would die.17

{Were they to die, their bodies would still continue to exist, for the source of their bodies is not the sea itself. It is merely the source for their life-energy (see the series of maamarim entitled BeShaah SheHikdimu, 5672).18 On the surface, a question arises based on the quote concerning immersion cited directly afterwards. That quote implies that even the actual physical body is not a separate entity, for it speaks about immersing in the body of the object itself. Perhaps it is possible to explain that the immersion is acceptable, because the body is buttel to its life-energy. Clarification is still necessary.}

For this reason, our Sages state (Mikvaos 6:7) that it is permitted to immerse in a mass of red insects in the sea. Since they were created from the water, even their bodies are not a separate entity. Similarly, this opinion is stated in Zevachim 22a in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel.

To focus on the counterpart to this concept in our Divine service: The sea alludes to the concept of mesirus nefesh, that one is entirely buttel. Nevertheless, mesirus nefesh aloneis not sufficient, for “He did not create [the world] for chaos.”19 Instead, it is necessary that an activity also be performed within the context of our physical world.

This is the counterpart of “setting out to sea” in our Divine service every day, the recitation of the Shema at which time one has the intent of giving over his soul to G‑d. But since one cannot merely “cast oneself in the sea” — i.e., be involved in the spiritual without a connection to our physical world — one must set out to sea in a ship. As stated in the explanation to the maamar entitled Lo Sashbis in Likkutei Torah andin Biurei HaZohar,20 this refers to the observance of the mitzvos which maintain a person’s connection to this material world.

These two motifs are also expressed in the distinction between the Torah and its mitzvos. The Torah relates primarily to the G‑dly soul which studies it (although the study must also be understood by the animal soul, for in this way, the animal soul is healed). The analogy of fish in the sea in Berachos, loc. cit., applies to the G‑dly soul, because the soul does not require a ship (clarification is necessary21 ), for it is continuously faithful to Him. Nevertheless, the soul must “set out to sea,” set its own self aside when studying the Torah, as implied by the phrases: “I am the mishnah being spoken by your mouth,”22 and “It was said.”23

Mitzvos must be performed with kabbalas ol and involve service within the material world. In this vein, the relationship between the Torah and its mitzvos can be compared to that between the oros (lights) and kelim (vessels). Alternatively, a person who devotes himself to Torah study can be described with the analogy of an officer or a son, while one who devotes himself to mitzvos can be described with the analogy of a servant.

A sick person24 — This refers to one who is lovesick.25 It is related that the Alter Rebbe was sick and the doctors explained that the reason for his sickness was that his heart desired something which it could not attain. {See Likkutei Dibburim, issue 9,26 to clarify this point.}In 5663, the Rebbe Rashab was sick and the doctors in Vienna said... {see Likkutei Dibburim, issue 9, my notes27 }. These reflect examples of being “lovesick.”

The fundamental place where this sickness is felt is in the heart{note the conclusion of Iggeres HaKodesh andthe maamar entitled Samchuni in Derech Mitzvosecha, Vol. II;28 see also Shabbos 11a, “All sickness...”; this should be clarified based on sec. 2 of what the Tzemach Tzedek wrote to the Rav of Amtzislav}. More precisely, based on the above, it appears that sickness involves that part of the mind which relates to the heart, i.e., the powers of comprehension within the attribute of Binah.

On the surface, it is the very opposite of logic for a person to remain content after what the mind conceives is transformed into the desire of the heart. For “a person will not die having accomplished half his desires,”29 for one’s desire is continually growing. “Whoever possesses 100, desires 200.”30 Accordingly, for a sick person to be healed is above the limits of reason. This relates to the fiftieth Gate of Understanding. This gate was granted to Moshe at the time of his passing as alluded to in the name of his burial place נבו — Nevo which can be divided as נ בו, “50 is contained within.” That level is above comprehension, therefore it could not be grasped by others, as Sotah 14a, says of Moshe’s gravesite: “To those above, it appeared below....”