The thought system of Dirah Betachtonim has some terms and phrases peculiar to itself alone. In addition, terms and phrases used in other systems assume here new meanings and connotations. Often, precisely less obvious, more subtle changes of connotation that occur in a system of thought most potently reflect the breadth and pervasiveness of the change of perspectives that has occurred. We will dwell on one term and one phrase often used in Dirah Betachtonim: the former acquires a connotation drastically different to the one it has in Chabad Chasidut generally, and the latter would be totally absurd if not for the context of this system.


Perhaps the most derogatory of terms in Chasidic literature and one of the most offensive in colloquial Chabad Chasidic expression is the Hebrew term yesh. Yesh can be translated literally as “something that is,” and is used synonymously with the more common Hebrew term ba’al ga’avah, denoting an arrogant person. There is, however, a difference between the Chasidic term yesh and the more widespread term ba’al ga’avah, indicative of a significant difference in perspective between Chasidic and conventional views of arrogance.

As we have seen earlier, it is axiomatic of Chasidic metaphysics that this world is nothing in its own right, that all that exists is aught but G‑d. Accordingly, arrogance is not merely an offense towards one’s fellow man, nor only one of many possible offenses towards G‑d; it bespeaks rather a fundamental defect in a person’s self image and his relationship with G‑d. Hereby, the person is denying his essential nothingness, and asserting an existence other than that of G‑d: he is a yesh, a something.

If not for the Chasidic perspectives on G‑d and world, being a yesh, merely something, is in no way reprehensible—after all, everything is something. Being something normally represents, of course, the neutral starting point for everything that transpires. It is only raising oneself above this baseline, towering above the common ground shared by all in an exaggerated assertion or sense of self, that is regarded as offensive. But from a Chasidic perspective, where the inherent nothingness of this reality is paramount, any distortion of the a-priori nothingness through the mere assertion or sensation of being, is strongly censured. Thus, even very subtle levels of self-prominence are kept in check in the Chasidic community. A person, though not arrogant by any means, but merely asserting himself, assuming an être, is regarded most unfavorably. He might even earn that most derogatory of Chasidic epithets: Yesh!

Today however, with the prominence of the Dirah Betachtonim system, this highly negative connotation of yesh is being supplanted by a positive one (though the term is still reserved in colloquial speech for its former meaning). For example, if it is now said that G‑d encounters a yesh, the intended implication is no longer disparaging—that here is something that continues to retain its “somethingness,” obstinately resisting G‑d’s Omnipresence. To the contrary, the contemporary implication is that the greatest possible religious achievement is attained. And not because through its relationship with G‑d the yesh loses its yeshut and becomes nothing, but rather because specifically a yesh, qua yesh, is involved. For a something (yesh)—rather than a nothing (ayin)—roots in the Essence of G‑d; specifically a yesh possesses that unique relationship with the Ultimate Yesh, with the Ultimate Something.

The implied connotation of the term has dramatically changed, testifying to a deep running change of overall perspective.

Ma'alat Hatachton

And now an expression that would be totally absurd outside the system of Dirah Betachtonim, but is used time and again within this system: Ma’alat hatachton; roughly translated, the elevation of that which is lower.

Prima facie, this phrase is patently absurd, self-contradictory. Can the low be high? Moreover, this phrase is constantly used in a relative sense: to imply that that which is low is higher than that which is high—total absurdity! This expression might have been reasonable if its intention was that something low in one regard is high in another, or that lowliness provides potential for something high; for example, that poverty leads to humility. But this is not what is meant by this phrase in the Dirah Betachtonim literature. Here it means, in fact, that the low, in and of its lowliness—because it is low—is high.

In light of all the above this phrase is not absurd at all. In Dirah Betachtonim, specifically “this lowly world, beneath which there is no lower” roots in the very Essence of G‑d; specifically the absence of higher religious significance points to the presence of unadulterated Being; specifically lowly characteristics, such as finitude or independence and self-sufficiency, root in similar characteristics peculiar to specifically the very core of the G‑dhead. Thus, the phrase Ma'alat hatachton is used time and again in discussing Dirah Betachtonim—without raising an eyebrow.