Friday, November 25, 2005

LESSONS IN TANYA: Shabbat, November 26, 2005


Due to Shabbat observance, the Shabbat edition of Lessons In Tanya is sent on Friday. Shabbat Shalom!

Cheshvan 24, 5766 * November 26, 2005


Today's Lesson:

Iggeret HaKodesh
Epistle Thirty-One

[Interdependence and brotherly love among Jews strike far deeper than the visible interpersonal plane.

Indeed, if they are lacking, the pain is felt by the Shechinah itself, the Divine Presence.

For the Divine Presence is the heart of the Jewish people, who themselves constitute the organs. A deep-seated organic disorder that affects the circulatory system, affects the entire body, including even the heart itself].

Well known at the gates, [1] is the statement in the Tikkunim [2] that the "Shechinah is ailing in the exile," as it were.

[The previous Epistle opened with the phrase, "It is well known...," because it cited a widely-known statement from the Talmud.

Here, however, the Alter Rebbe opens with a more esoteric quotation from the Zohar, which is well known only in more scholarly circles, among those who sit at the city gates, for this was where judges and scholars traditionally used to congregate].

This [anthropomorphism] draws a comparison with a physical ailment, distinguishing, [of course,] between the holy [and the mundane; [3] i.e., bearing in mind the utter disparity between a physical ailment and the state metaphorically described as an "ailment" of the Shechinah].

The cause of illness or health lies in the distribution and flow of the life-force from the heart to all the organs, [this life- force] being vested in the blood of life which flows from the heart to all the organs; and the spirit of life and the blood [4] circulates all around into all the limbs, through the veins [5] that are embedded in them, and returns to the heart.

Now, if the circulation and flow of this spirit of life is always as it should be, in its proper order as arranged for it by the Fountainhead of Life, then the individual is perfectly healthy.

For all the limbs are bound together and receive their appropriate vitality from the heart through this circulation.

But should there be any disorder in any place, restraining, hindering or reducing the circulation and flow of the blood with the spirit of life vested in it, then this bond - which connects all the limbs with the heart by means of this circulation - is severed [which would extinguish life], or diminished, in which case the individual will fall ill and sick [May G-d protect us!].

[The interconnection of all the organs with the heart, thus also impacts on the heart itself].

Precisely so, metaphorically speaking, all the souls of Israel are regarded as the organs of the Shechinah, [6] which is called the "heart", as it is written, [7] "The Rock, My Heart"; [8] and as it is written, [9] "And I will dwell with-in them."

The meaning [of this comparison between the Shechinah and the heart that supplies all the organs with blood] is:

The [10] term Shechinah, [deriving as it does from the verb "lishkon" "to rest" or "to dwell"], denotes that the light of G-d abides in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, in order to endow them with life.

This life-force is drawn forth by means of a prior investment in the souls of Israel.

[This is so] because none of the created beings stand in any comparable relation to the Creator; for [11] "all that are before Him are esteemed as truly naught."

Thus it is impossible for them to receive life-force from His light and effluence, to become created beings ex nihilo into substantiality, and to be living and subsisting, except by means of the souls.

[The Divine light is first drawn down into the Jewish souls, and thereafter into the rest of creation.

The blessings which we recite follow the same order: "...our G-d, King of the universe."

It is by His first becoming "our G-d," whereby the Divine life- force flows into the Jewish people, that He then becomes "King of the universe]."

[For it is the Jewish souls] that rose in His thought, i.e., [their source is in His thought], and thus preceded the creation of the worlds, which came about through [Divine] Speech.

[Mortal thought is internal and personal, inasmuch as it serves the individual himself, whereas speech is external, its purpose being to communicate with others.

So, too, Jewish souls derive from the internal aspect of G-dliness, while the rest of creation derives from the external aspect.

And in order that the Divine life-force be drawn down into the worlds, which represent an external level of creation, it must first be drawn into Jewish souls, the internal level of creation].

Thus our Sages, of blessed memory, said: [12] "With whom did the Holy One, blessed be He, take counsel [concerning the creation of the worlds? - With Jewish souls]," as is known from elsewhere.

[Jewish souls are thus so superior to the created worlds that G-d took counsel with them about the very creation of the worlds.

* * *

The above discussion relates only to the drawing down of Divine vitality from the Shechinah into the created worlds, which parallels the emanation of the spirit of life from the heart and its diffusion throughout the entire body.

The Alter Rebbe will now go on to explain the second aspect of this analogy - how the spirit of life returns to the heart from the other organs.

In the analogue likewise, the G-dly life-force within the worlds pulsates in an ongoing dual dynamic called ratzo vashov ("advance and retreat"): the G-dly life-force is first drawn downward, from the Shechinah to the worlds, and then it returns to its source, as a result of the Torah study and the spiritual service of created beings].

And it is well known at the gates [1] that every downflow of [Divine] life-force and [all] effluence from the upper worlds to the worlds which are lower than them, are as stated in the Sefer Yetzirah: [13] "Their beginning [i.e., the beginning of the uppermost levels of creation] is wedged in their culmination [i.e., in the nethermost part of the lowest level of creation], and their culmination is wedged in their beginning."

In the writings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, this [dual direction] is referred to as Or Yashar ("direct light") and Or Chozer ("reflected light"), [i.e., light reflected upwards from the lower level back to the upper]; as it is also written, [14] "And the Chayot were advancing and retreating," [first proceeding away from their Source and then retreating to it].

The above verse refers to the holy Chayot ("creatures") of the Divine Chariot.

The Kabbalah explains that this is an allusion to the Divine life-force of all worlds and created beings: it first emanates from its Source and then returns to it.

I.e., not only is the Divine life-force drawn from the Shechinah down into creation, but it also returns from created beings back to its original Source.

Thus, according to these words and this truth, which is impossible to explain properly in writing, the Shechinah is referred to as the "heart", and the souls as "organs".

This teaches us that when all the souls are attached and bound together, the circulation and flow of the life-force and of the effluence [from the Shechinah to the worlds and from the worlds back to the Shechinah] is continuous, and "their culmination is wedged in their beginning," thus binding and joining them all - [all the souls, and through them all the worlds] - to the One G-d, so that they will cleave to Him.

Thus it is written, [15] "You are standing firm this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d (Havayah Elokei-chem)."

The verse specifies "all of you," [i.e., a situation in which all Jews stand united together]. Moreover, it specifies "before", [implying that this togetherness enables all Jews to relate to Divinity at the level at which the Name Havayah precedes and transcends its subsequent self-imposed descent to become Elokeichem, the life-force that empowers souls.

This can take place only when there is a sense of unity between all the levels which the above verse goes on to enumerate]:

"Your heads..." [i.e, those with the loftiest souls], "from the hewer of your wood..." [i.e., those of more modest spiritual stature.

The Alter Rebbe elaborates on this unity between unequals in Likkutei Torah, at the beginning of Parshat Nitzavim].

This will clarify the teaching of our Sages, [16] of blessed memory, that the destruction of the Second Temple and the fall of Israel into exile, and the withdrawal of the Shechinah and its descent to Edom, into a state of exile, as it were, [for when the Jews are exiled, so too is the Shechinah], [17] - all this was because of the sin of groundless hatred [between one Jew and another] and dissension between their hearts (May the Merciful One save us!).

And this is why [the Shechinah] is referred to metaphorically as ailing [in times of exile, as quoted above].

As for [18] the phrases [in the Amidah], "He supports those who are fallen and heals those who are sick," in plural form - [although reference is being made to the Shechinah], this alludes to all the organs....

[The plural form includes the souls which are the "organs of the Shechinah," inasmuch as they are animated by it; they, too, are in ailing health, and they, too, are supported and healed].


1. Note of the Rebbe: "See Metzudat David on Mishlei
2. Note of the Rebbe: "Tikkunei Zohar 25; see there at
3. From the Havdalah (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 234),
paraphrasing Vayikra 10:10.
4. Note of the Rebbe: "I.e., `and the spirit of
life which is vested within [the blood]...,' as is soon
5. The phrase in the current editions ("and the veins") is
emended here according to the Luach HaTikkun of the Rebbe
6. Zohar III, 17a.
7. Tehillim 73:26.
8. Translated according to Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2.
9. Shmot 25:8.
10. Note of the Rebbe: "See Tanya, ch. 41; et al."
11. Zohar I, 11b.
12. See Ruth Rabbah, sec. 2; Bereishit Rabbah 8:7.
13. 1:7.
14. Yechezkel 1:14.
15. Devarim 29:9.
16. Yoma 9b.
17. Megillah 29b (as quoted in Ein Yaakov); cf. Tanya, ch. 17.
18. The phrase in the current editions ("As it is written...") is
emended here to "As for...," according to the Luach HaTikkun
of the Rebbe. The closing statement of the Epistle is
thus presented in the classic Rabbinic style of question and
answer, whereby a possible difficulty is anticipated and


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