Excerpts from a talk delivered by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, on Simchat Torah 5718 (1957).

This original Yiddish transcript can be viewed here. A Hebrew transcript can be viewed here.

Part 1: Beyond the Individual and the Community

A Torah scroll is only fit for use if all its letters are whole. This applies not only to the big letters, but even to the mid-sized letters and to the small letters. So long as even the letter “yod,” which is the smallest of all the letters, is missing, this has ramifications for the entirety of the Torah scroll.

The same principle applies to the Jewish people: Every Jew, even the “smallest,” is integral to the entire community of Israel. This means that within each and every Jew—within each individual who belongs to the community—the entire community of Israel is concealed. In an even deeper sense, each individual is a part of the essence, and hence within each part the entire essence is present. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “when you grasp a part of the essence, you grasp the essence in its entirety.” (Keter Shem Tov Ha-shalem, Hosafot, #227.)

There is a distinction between the juxtaposition of the “community” with the “individual” (כלל ופרט), on the one hand, and the juxtaposition of the “part” with the “essence” (חלק ועצם) on the other hand:

In the case of the community and the individual (כלל ופרט) it is true that within each individual stands the entirety of the community. This is because the community is only complete when it is constituted by all its individuals; there is nothing within the community except that which is encompassed by its individuals. This means that the community is constituted by all its individual constituents together, and the significance of the community is bound up with, and dependent on, each individual. It therefore transpires that the entire community is relevant to, and is enfolded within, each individual.

Nevertheless, when one grasps the significance of only a single individual, one has not grasped the significance of the community in its entirety, one has only grasped that lone individual. This is because there is a distinction between the individual as he stands within the community and the individual as he stands independently.

This means that when we say that the entire community is encompassed within each of its individual constituents, this applies only insofar as the individual relates to the community; insofar as they all stand together; insofar as the community is constituted by them. To that degree we say that in each individual the entire community is encompassed. But when we grasp the significance of the individual as he is found in isolation, then one has grasped nothing more than the significance of that individual alone, and one has not grasped the significance of the community as a whole.

By way of example, there is a rule that “any expression of sanctity may not be recited in a quorum of fewer than ten.” (Talmud, Berachot, 21b.) In this case a community is constituted of ten individuals, and in each of these ten individuals the community is enfolded. Nevertheless, when one speaks only to one of them one has only grasped that individual alone, and one has not grasped the community as a whole, for so long as one has taken the individual as he stands alone one has not grasped the community.

By contrast, in the case of a part and the essence (חלק ועצם) when one grasps part of it, so long as one has grasped even one part, one has grasped the entire essence.

This will be understood through the analogy of the body being alive. The collective life of the body is one essence within which there are many parts; the head is alive, the hand is alive, and the foot is alive etc. So long as one has grasped hold of one part of this life, meaning that one has grasped the life of one limb, one has thereby grasped the entire essence of the body being alive. This is because the life within each part is a part of the same essence, and an essence is indivisible. Therefore in each part the entire essence is enfolded, for the life of all the parts is one and the same.


Part 2: Essential Love and the Transcendence of Self

When we speak of the interinclusion of the souls of Israel we say that this is not a matter of individual and community, but rather a matter of part and essence. All souls are rooted in the divine essence, and the divine essence is the essence that is unfolded in each of the individual souls, in all the parts, and it is the same essence throughout. It therefore transpires that when you grasp hold of one Jew one has grasped hold of all Jews, for the essence of the collective Israel is found in each soul individually.

This is the meaning of the Alter Rebbe’s statement in Tanya, Chapter 32, that the souls are “twinned” (מתאימות). The conception that the souls are “twinned” is loftier than the conception mentioned subsequently, that “there is one father for all of us.” That the souls are “twinned” means that they are all one essence, an essence that self-unfolds and self-differentiates into many parts and yet remains the same essence throughout.

Thereby we can understand the statement of the Baal Shem Tov regarding love of Israel, that one must love a Jew who is found at the ends of the earth though one has never seen him and never heard of him. (Keter Shem Tov Ha-shalem, Hosafot, #133. Hayom Yom, Kislev 15.)

This raises the question: How is it possible to love someone about whom one does not know at all? So long as you know about someone you can love them. But how is it possible to love someone who you have never seen or heard of?

Similarly, the general commandment, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra, 19:18) is also not understood. The meaning of this is that one should love the other precisely as one loves oneself. That is, just the same way one loves oneself—with a love that is not circumscribed by reason and knowledge but is rather an essential love—so one must love another Jew with the same essential love. How is it possible to love the other with essential love? You and the other are apparently two separate entities. You are yourself, and the other is the other. Accordingly, how is it possible to love the other as you love yourself?

But this is understood in light of the above, that you and the other are not two separate entities, but you are rather one essence that aportions itself asunder into two parts. Since the essence that stands within both parts is the same, they are in fact both the same entity, and therefore there can be a commandment, “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” for this does not mean to have love for another but to have love for your very own self, and therefore the love of one’s fellow can be an essential love; since this is an essential love, by dint of the essence, it does not matter whether or not when has ever seen the other. From the essential perspective you are a single essence.

This explains what we discussed earlier, that every Jew, irrespective of his previous station and situation, can enfold himself together with all Jews, [in the concluding words of the Torah that are read on Simchat Torah:] “before the eyes of all Israel,” as a part of the essence. Thereby one has the capacity to conclude the Torah and to begin again from [the first words of the Torah:] “Bereishit Bara — In the beginning G‑d created.” This is because within you inheres “before the eyes of all Israel”—meaning that you have transcended your individual existence and you no longer think of yourself as an independent entity, but have instead become a part of the essence of Israel.

This means that the spiritual return (תשובה) that is attained on Simchat Torah touches the singular essence of the soul (יחידה שבנפש) that is bound into the singularity of G‑d—the essence of the soul in which all the souls are aligned—for which reason the individual stands as an embodied actualization of the commandment “love your fellow as yourself,” “before the eyes of all Israel.” Then you touch not only the essence of the infinite light (עצמות אור אין סוף), nor merely the essence of the infinite (עצמות אין סוף), but rather G‑d’s ultimate essence and being (עצמות ומהות ממש). Then you can go forth and continue to read “Bereishit Bara — In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth,” and the word “bara” can be read as revelation (cf. Talmud, Chulin, 43b), meaning that it is revealed to you that the entire being of the heavens and the earth and all their hosts is nothing more than divine revelation, that the being of the world is only divinity and there is nothing apart from G‑d (אין עוד מלבדו).


Part 3: The Foundation of Lasting Fellowship

This also explains the phrase from the High Holiday prayers, “they shall all be made into a united fellowship (אגודה אחת) to actualize your will with a complete heart.” This means that there can only be “a united fellowship” when its purpose is “to actualize your will.” This doesn’t mean that a united fellowship might exist anyway, while lacking the purpose “to actualize your will.” But rather that such a fellowship can only exist if its purpose is “to actualize your will.” If this is missing then no such fellowship can exist.

Not only can there be no communal fellowship; even a fellowship of two people cannot exist [so long as such a purpose is absent]. Since they are two seperate people, whose faces are not the same and whose opinions are not the same, even while they have united with regard to a specific enterprise, this is nothing more than a superficial togetherness that depends on that specific enterprise. But in their essential being they are two distinct individuals, and there is no fellowship at all.

When the fellowship is formed in order “to actualize your will with a complete heart,” meaning for the sake of Torah and the commandments, then the Torah reveals the essence of the soul, and on the part of the essence of the soul all Jews are literally one entity, as explained above.

This is the content of the story that the Rebbe [i.e. R. Yosef Yitsḥak] once told about a certain person of stature who cried bitterly when his son was not in good health. Later he lamented that he would not have cried so bitterly if it had been another Jewish child, which indicates that he feels himself and the other Jew to be two separate entities. This constitutes a de facto proof that he is still standing at the very beginning of spiritual work and development, for if his spiritual work would be true then the Torah and the commandments would have revealed the essence of his soul in which all are one entity.

It transpires that only when we all join together “to actualize your will with a complete heart” can it be a true fellowship. Whereas with regard to other causes … though people may be bound together regarding a specific enterprise, they nevertheless remain separate entities for the following reasons:

  1. In all their other affairs they have no relationship, for their opinions are not the same, and they are indeed utterly different in essence. This one is distinct and that one is distinct. It is only with regard to one particular thing that they have united, and only with regard to that particular thing and with the particular faculties that relate to it.

  2. Even regarding that specific endeavor itself they are also not truly united, meaning that even in this specific endeavor they are two separate entities. Since in the totality of their identities they are two separate people (as explained above), even when it comes to this specific endeavor, each of them acts in a way that is circumscribed by their own existence and their own feelings. It is only on the superficial level that they act in concert.

  3. Even insofar as they are superficially united regarding this specific endeavor, this too is not something that will last. Since in their fundamental being they are separate from one another, and for each of them their own fundamental being and their other concerns are a greater priority and more important than this specific endeavor, as soon as this specific endeavor will come into conflict with their own being they will separate from one another and even the superficial fellowship will disintegrate.

Indeed, we have tangibly seen in the case of many such fellowships, which apparently seemed to be strong fellowships, and in the end, when some conflict transpired with the individual existence of the members, these fellowships fell apart and nothing remains of them.

Therefore it is a good idea that any fellowship, whatever purpose it is convened, should incorporate at least some element that is related to Torah and the commandments. This element should be the foundation of the fellowship, through which it will be held together as a lasting fellowship dedicated to whatever voluntary purpose it was convened.


Part 4: The Foundation of Jewish Continuity

This also provides an answer to those who lament that at a time when those who preserve Torah and the commandments are a minority, and those who battle against them are the majority, how is it possible that Torah and the commandments can succeed? According to Torah itself, they argue, the majority are more powerful than the minority, and the law is decided in accord with the majority.

The response to this is that since in activities that are unconnected to Torah and the commandments, and more-so in activities that are against Torah, there can be no majority. Indeed, there cannot even be a fellowship of two people together, as explained above.

Just as it is generally that the Jewish people are a single lamb among seventy wolves and is nevertheless preserved, and more-so, stands tall even as other nations lose their footing—the reason for this is that in each of the seventy nations each individual stands alone, so they have no power, whereas in the case of Israel when the entire Jewish people stand together they attain great strength—the same applies to the Jews themselves: In endeavors that do not accord with Torah and the commandments, not only is there no majority, but there is not even a fellowship of two people united with one mind.

This is the meaning of the formulation מחלוקת קרח ועדתו. It doesn’t mean simply the conflict “of” Korach and his congregation, but rather that he and his congregation were themselves conflicted. Even though it appears that they had one opinion and a single plot, in truth it was a conflict amongst Korach and his congregation, because each of them sought to advance their own being, in the manner described above.

In contrast, when it comes to Torah and the commandments all who unite in a single fellowship to actualize your will with a complete heart actually constitute a true fellowship. Moreover, even if he is indeed only a single individual Torah nevertheless reveals the essence of the soul, by virtue of which he is united with all Jews, from the time of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and onward. Therefore he has the power of a great host with which to fight against those who set themselves against the Torah.


Part 5: Mitzvot as the (Un)Differentiated Essence of G‑d

There is a talk by the Rebbe Rashab, delivered at a Simchat Torah gathering and already published in Torat Shalom (pp. 190). It begins by speaking about the significance of the commandments, “all the mitzvot relate to the essence.” It also explains the concept of union that descends “from above to below” and union that ascends “from below to above.”

When we study this superficially it seems as though this entirely concerns spiritual matters. But in truth it is meant in the simple, physical, sense: the physical actualization of the ritual commandments. It is regarding the physical implementation of the commandments that we say that they relate to the essence, the very essence of G‑d’s self stands in each mitzvah.

Since “an essence is indivisible,” and “when one grasps part of the essence you grasp it in its entirety,” as explained above at length, it transpires that in each individual mitzvah stands the entire essence, in its literal being (עצמות כמו שהוא ממש).

This is the reason that “anyone who is busy with one mitzvah is not required to do another mitzvah” (Talmud, Sukkah 25a). It is explained in Chassidus that this is because each mitzvah encompasses all other mitzvot, and therefore through the one mitzvah one attains the revelation of the other mitzvah too.

This can be explained as follows—I have not seen this explicitly in Chassidus, but this is how the concept seems to work: The fact that the very essence stands in each mitzvah means that each mitzvah is a part of the essence; the essence in its very being, which is everywhere the same, is vested in each individual mitzvah. This is analogous to what was explained above regarding bodily vitality, that there is one vital essence that is vested in all the limbs of the body. Similarly regarding the mitzvot, the very essence in its very being is vested in each individual mitzvah. Therefore in the moment that one actualizes one mitzvah one has thereby grasped the same essence that one grasps through another mitzvah, and therefore one who is busy with one mitzvah is not required to do another mitzvah.

One might question this based on what the story in the Zohar (III, 186a) that the yunuka recognized that someone had not read the Shema by the smell of their garments. The reason that he had not read the Shema was because he was raising money for a poor bride, and the rule is that one who is busy with one mitzvah is not required to do another mitzvah. Seemingly, according to the above explanation that this is because through the mitzvah that he did fulfill he grasped the essence in its very being, precisely as he would have via the second mitzvah, it is not understood why the yunuka recognized that he had not read the Shema. Surely, he was not lacking in the emanation that is drawn forth via reading the Shema?

This will be understood by prefacing first with an explanation of the aphorism of the Baal Shem Tov, which has already been mentioned, “when one grasps part of the essence you grasp it in its entirety.” We explained above that since the essence is indivisible the essence is found within each of its parts. Yet this exposes an inherent contradiction. If it is the case that “the essence is indivisible” how can it be said that “one grasps part of the essence”—which implies that it is indeed divisible into parts?

The explanation is that since the divine essence is all-powerful, the one for whom impossibility is foreclosed (נמנע הנמנעות), he took his very self, the essence in its literal being, and vested it in a differentiated being, meaning that the essence differentiated the divine self from the divine self (ער האט זיך אליין מבדיל געווען פון זיך), so to say. This means that by dint of being all-powerful, the essence self-enfolds within a differentiated being, in a manner of unrecognized union (דביקות בלתי ניכרת).

The essence did not self-enfold within those things that cleave to G‑d in a recognizable manner. In those things there is only externalized light and revelation, and without the differentiated beings the essence remains intangible. Where did the essence self-enfold? Within differentiated beings; specifically within beings whose union with G‑d goes unrecognized, therein the essence self-enfolded.

Why did the essence self-enfold in a differentiated being specifically, and not in those things that recognizably cleave to G‑d? This is because so it arose in the divine will, meaning that this is the intention of the essence “that He shall have a dwelling for Himself in the lower realms” (Tanya, Chapter 36), that He shall dwell with His entire essence and being within the differentiated beings.

This is the concept of a “part,” that even though the very essence, in its being, is found in each and every part, nevertheless each of them remains merely a part. And this differentiation is by dint of the form and image as it arose in the will of the essence to be, such that each form and image shall be different from the others, and by dint of that differentiation each part is indeed merely a part.

This means that both things are true. On the manifest level the part stands in a differentiated manner, and is therefore described as a mere part. But in truth, since “an essence is indivisible” in grasping the part “you grasp it in its entirety.”

We can thereby understand the significance of the mitzvot. It arose in the essential will that the divine essence should be enfolded in 613 physical mitzvot, in tzitzit made of wool, tefillin made of parchment, and so on. Each physical item is different from the other, and the manner in which the essence is enfolded in each physical mitzvah accords with those specific differentiations. Therefore the essence as it enfolded in that mitzvah is described as a “part,” but since the essence is therein enfolded, and since the essence is indivisible, one nevertheless grasps the entirety of the essence in its very being.

It follows that the Zohar cited above does not contradict the notion that the entire essence is grasped in every mitzvah. The reason that the yunuka was nevertheless able to sense that the mitzvah of reading the Shema had not been performed is due to the particular form of the mitzvah in which the essence has self-enfolded. Since each form is different from the others it follows that the yunuka could discern that the Shema had not been read, because the mitzvah to raise money for a poor bride has a different form and manner than the mitzvah to read the Shema. Despite this difference, “anyone who is busy with one mitzvah is not required to do another mitzvah,” because at the time that one is actualizing the mitzvah one reveals the essence as it is enfolded in the form of reading the Shema, and the essence in its being is the same everywhere, therefore “anyone who is busy with one mitzvah is not required to do another mitzvah.”

Accordingly, we can understand why the ritual actualization of the mitzvah transcends the spiritual intention of the mitzvah. Of course, one must have both elements; the bodily actualization of the mitzvah and the intention of the mitzvah, which is the soul of the mitzvah, as it is said “a mitzvah without intention is like a body without a soul.”

Nevertheless, we see that the main thing is the actualization of the mitzvah. When you are actually fulfilling the mitzvah, but the intention is lacking, the soul is certainly missing, this is not the choicest form of the mitzvah, but you have fulfilled your obligation. Whereas if you intend all the intentions but do not ritually fulfill the mitzvah in actuality, your are missing more than a particular element of the mitzvah. The entire mitzvah is missing.

The reason for this is that the actualization of the mitzvah, the body of the mitzvah, is a differentiated entity and an unrecognized union. Conversely, the intention of the mitzvah, the soul of the mitzvah, is a recognizable union. And we explained above that it arose in the divine will to self-enfold within a state of unrecognized union specifically, and it is specifically therein that the essence stands, therefore it is the actualization of the mitzvah that is of ultimate importance.