Saturday, December 24, 2005

LESSONS IN TANYA: Sunday, December 25, 2005


Kislev 24, 5766 * December 25, 2005


Today's Lesson:

Likutei Amarim
Chapter Two

The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly "a part of G-d above,"

["A part of G-d above" is a quotation from Scripture (Iyov 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word "truly" to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known, (1) some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse (2) describing "great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens" is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase "a part of G-d above" in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word "truly", thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above], as it is written (3) [concerning Adam (whose soul was a comprehensive one, a neshamah klalit, in that it contained all the particular souls of subsequent generations)]: "And He (G-d) blew into his nostrils a soul of life"; [and as we say in prayer concerning the soul of every individual Jew, (4)] "You blew it into me."

[The significance of the verb "to blow" as it relates to the infusion of the Jewish soul is now explained.]

It is written in the Zohar, (5) "He who blows, blows from within him," that is to say, from his inwardness and his innermost being. For it is of his inward and innermost vitality that a man emits through blowing with force.

[Blowing, tires a person much more quickly than speaking, as is readily observed, for it requires a greater exertion of effort and vitality. Hence, the fact that the metaphor of blowing is used to describe G-d's implanting the Jew's soul in his body signifies that this soul originates in the "innermost" aspect of G-dliness.

That the Jew is rooted in G-d's innermost and essential being is indicated further by the designation of the Jewish people as G-d's "children", whose souls originate in His "thought" just as a child stems from his father's brain, as the Alter Rebbe explains presently.]

So, too, allegorically speaking, have Jewish souls risen in the [Divine] thought, (6) [The Jew has his source in Divine "thought" - the innermost level of G-dliness. All other created beings, even angels, are rooted in and created by Divine "speech". Speech is external in comparison with thought], as it is written (7) [regarding the Jewish nation], "Israel is My firstborn son";[and concerning Jews as individuals], (8) "You are children unto G-d your L-rd."

That is to say, [i.e., the significance of the Jew's being called G-d's child is that] just as a child is derived from its father's brain - [his inner and essential being], so too [to use an anthropomorphism] is the soul of every Jew derived from G-d's thought and wisdom.

[The Alter Rebbe now takes this concept a step further. Deriving from G-d's thought and wisdom actually implies that it derives from G-d Himself, as he goes on to explain.]

For (9) "He is wise - [G-d possesses the quality of wisdom] - but not with a wisdom that is known to us [created beings]," because He and His wisdom are one, and as Maimonides writes*, (10) "He is Knowledge and simultaneously the Knower... [Who knows and comprehends - through the "Knowledge"...; [and He is that which is Known]" - G-d is also the subject of knowledge and comprehension, as Maimonides concludes.

This means that G-d's wisdom and comprehension are totally different from man's. In human comprehension there are three separate and distinct components: (a) the person's soul, the "knower" and possessor of knowledge; (b) the power of intellect and comprehension - the "knowledge" - by which the person knows; (c) the subject of the knowledge - the "`known'' - such as a law in the Mishnah or a discussion in the Gemara which is apprehended and known. Concerning G-d's wisdom, however, Maimonides states: "`He is the `Knowledge', the `Knower', and the `Known'." G-d is the means of comprehension - the "Knowledge," and at the same time is He Who understands - the "Knower", and is also that which is understood - the "Known".]

Maimonides continues: "And this is not within the power of any man to comprehend clearly"; as it is written, (11) "Can you find [and understand] G-d by searching?" And it is also written, (12) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts," [says G-d; and consequently "your" [human] thoughts cannot possibly comprehend "My" thoughts.

Since His wisdom is one with G-d Himself, as has been shown, it follows that the Jewish soul, which stems from Divine wisdom (as stated above), actually derives from G-d Himself.

Many Jewish philosophers (13) rejected Maimonides' description of G-d as "the Knower, the Knowledge and the Known." In fact they considered it erroneous to ascribe to G-d a description of any sort - even of the lofty level of intellect of which Maimonides writes - inasmuch as description implies limitation, and G-d is inherently limitless.

The Alter Rebbe therefore points out in this note that the Kabbalists agreed with Maimonides, with the qualification that his concept does not apply to G-d's essence. For His essence is truly infinite - even higher than the inscrutable level of "Knowledge" that Maimonides refers to. Regarding His essence, those who disagree with Maimonides are correct in maintaining that G-d cannot be defined in terms of "knowledge", since He transcends it infinitely. Only after G-d limits the infinite light of His essence through the process of tzimtzum (progressive contractions), and thereby assumes the attribute of Chochmah ("Wisdom"), - only then can it be said of G-d that He is the "Knower, Knowledge and Known."]


The Kabbalists have agreed with him [that G-d can be described as "Knower, Knowledge and Known], as stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. (14) Even according to the Kabbalah of the AriZal [Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory Maimonides'] statement stands.

[The Kabbalah of the AriZal provides an even deeper insight into the limitlessness of G-d's essence, higher than even that level of "knowledge" to which Maimonides refers. Still, even according to the teachings of the AriZal, Maimonides' statement is acceptable - with one proviso, however.]

This is so only when applied to the mystic principle of the clothing of the Ein Sof-light - by means of numerous "contractions [tzimtzumim] - in the vessels of the Sefirot of CHaBaD [ CHaBaD - an acronym of Chochmah, Binah and Daat - "wisdom", "understanding", and "knowledge", respectively; the triad of Sefirot which represent Divine "intellect"] of the world of Atzilut ["Emanation"].

[Through a process of self-limitation called tzimtzum ("contraction"), G-d manifests (or, in kabbalistic terminology, "clothes") His infinite essence (referred to by the Kabbalists as Ein Sof - "the endless, infinite One") in the Sefirot, which are His attributes. This manifestation occurs first in Atzilut; specifically, in CHaBaD of Atzilut - Divine Intellect. Thus, at the level of Atzilut, G-d can indeed be defined in Maimonides' terms of "Knower, Knowledge and Known," i.e ., intellect], but not higher than Atzilut.

[Above the World of Atzilut the Unknowable G-d cannot be defined. Accordingly, in terms of the kabbalistic scale, Maimonides had nothing to say about G-d except from the World of Atzilut and "down".

As explained elsewhere, (15) the Ein Sof, blessed be He, is infinitely exalted over, and transcends, the essence and level of ChaBad. In fact, the level of ChaBad is regarded as being [equally inferior as] material action in relation to Him.

Thus it is written, (16) "You have made them all with wisdom."

["You have conceived them all with wisdom" would seem more appropriate: conceiving, not "making", is surely the proper function of G-d's wisdom. "You have made them all with wisdom" indicates however that to G-d, "wisdom" - the highest level within the Worlds - is as lowly as Asiyah, the lowest level.


[The Alter Rebbe now addresses a difficulty arising from his previous statement that every soul emanates from Divine wisdom. Since all souls emanate from one source - Supernal Wisdom - it should follow that all souls are of the same level and rank. How then do the various levels and ranks found in Jewish souls come about?]

True, there are myriads of different gradations of souls (Neshamot), rank upon rank, ad infinitum. For example, the souls of the Patriarchs and of Moses our Teacher are by far superior to the souls of our own generations, [which belong to] the period preceding the coming [lit., the "heels", i.e., the footsteps] of the Messiah; for [the latter souls] are like the very soles of the feet in comparison with the brain and the head.

[Just as the life-force found in the soles of the feet cannot possibly be compared to that found in the head and brain, so too can there be no comparison between the souls of these present generations and those souls [here called the "head" and "brain"] of earlier generations.

Similarly, within each generation we find the same disparity among Neshamot: there are those who are the "heads (the leaders) of the multitude of Israel," [so designated because] their souls are in the category of "head" and "brain" in comparison with those of the masses and the ignorant.

Likewise [there are similar distinctions] between Nefashot and Nefashot [the soul-levels of Nefesh], for every soul consists of Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah. (17)

[Just as the soul-level of Neshamah varies from one Jew to another, so too do the levels of Ruach and Nefesh.

Thus we see how manifold are the differences in the ranks of souls. Accordingly, we would expect similar variations in their divine sources - the greater the soul, the higher its source.]

Nevertheless, the root of every Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah, from the highest of all ranks to the lowest - [the "lowest" being those souls] embodied within the illiterate and the most light-minded of light- minded Jews, - all are derived, as it were, from the Supreme Mind which is Chochmah Ila'ah (Supernal Wisdom).

[In order to help us better understand why the levels of individual souls vary so widely despite their common source, the Alter Rebbe now returns to the analogy of a father and son (used earlier to illustrate the description of Jews as G-d's "children" who are derived from Chochmah Ila'ah - G-d's "brain", as it were).

An explanation in brief: In the analogy we observe that the child's entire body is derived from a drop of semen originating in its father's brain. Yet the many physical components which constitute the child's body are by no means uniform. They vary greatly, from the brain - the highest component - to the nails of the feet, the lowest.

These radical differences come about through the presence of the drop of semen in the mother's womb during the nine months of gestation. It is this period of physical development that produces the differences between one organ and another: the more materialized a particular component of the drop becomes, the more it diverges from its original state and becomes an entity with its own unique physical characteristics. We thus observe that though all the organs share a common source, nevertheless in the process of development there arise differences as radical as that between brain and nails.

Another matter evident from the analogy: Though the nails are the most insignificant part of the child's body, they are still bound and united with their first source - the father's brain. For, like the other parts of the child's body, the nails too receive their nourishment and life from its brain. Since the child's brain retains the essence of its source (the father's brain) and is thus constantly bound to its source, even the nails are therefore bound up with their original source.

The same is true regarding souls. All souls are derived from the same source and root, from Chochmah Ila'ah. But the soul must descend therefrom through a multitude of Worlds and levels, before clothing itself in a physical body. It is this descent that creates changes in the soul's level and differences between one soul and another, for one soul is affected by this descent to a greater degree than another.

The second aspect of the analogy too applies here. Although a soul may descend to the very lowest of levels, it is still bound up and unified with its original source in Chochmah Ila'ah. In the analogy, the nails remain bound to the father's brain through their unity with the son's brain. Similarly, these souls of the lowest level remain bound to their source in Chochmah Ila'ah through their attachment to the souls of the righteous and the sages of their generation, from whom they receive their spiritual nourishment. Even when in this physical world, souls of a higher level (analogous to the child's brain) retain the spiritual level of their source - the level of "head" and "brain"; and through these souls even the souls of lower levels remain bound and unified with their source within G-d. This, briefly, is what the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain.]

[The manner of the soul's descent] is analogous to a child who is derived from his father's brain: even the nails of his feet come into existence from the very same drop of semen [which comes from the father's brain. How then were nails created from it?] - by being in the mother's womb for nine months, descending degree by degree, changing continually, until [even] the nails are formed from it.

[Though the child's organs all derive from the same source - the drop of semen which comes from the father's brain - yet they develop into entities as radically diverse as the brain and the nails.]

[Furthermore: Although the drop has been so altered as to become the substance of the child's nails], yet it is still bound to and united in a wondrous and mighty unity with its original essence and being, namely, the drop [of semen as it came] from the father's brain.

Even now, in the son, the nails receive their nourishment and life from the brain that is in his head.

[The nails derive their life from the child's brain, which in turn retains the substance of its source, the brain of the father. Thus the nails too are bound up - through the brain of the son - with the father's brain.

Evidence is now brought that the nails remain bound to the father's brain:]

As is written in the Gemara (Niddah, ibid. (18)), "From the white [of the father's drop of semen] are formed the veins, the bones and the nails [of the child." According to the Kabbalah too, there is a connection between the nails and the brain, as shall be presently stated.]

(In Etz Chayim, Shaar HaChashmal, it is likewise stated in connection with the esoteric principle of Adam's garments in the Garden of Eden, that they [the garments] were of "nails" [derived] from the cognitive faculty of the brain.)

Exactly so, as it were, is the case with regard to every Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah in the community of Israel on high.

[The soul, too, is changed from its original state by a process of "development" similar to the gestation which transforms the drop of semen; in the case of the soul, however, this process consists of a descent from World to World, and from level to level within each World, as mentioned briefly above.

The Alter Rebbe will now go on to state the details of this descent. Specifically, the soul passes through four spiritual Worlds, in its descent from Supernal Wisdom to the human body. These "Worlds", or stages in the creative process, are (in descending order): Atzilut (the World of Emanation), Beriah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation) and Asiyah (the World of Action). (They are written acrostically as Alef Bet Yud Ayin pronounced ABiYA.)

The function and significance of these "Worlds" will be clarified further in the Tanya; for the moment a brief explanation will suffice.

Atzilut (Emanation) is a World where the Ein Sof-light radiates, so that Atzilut is, in effect, G-dliness Itself "transplanted" (so to speak) to a lower level. (This takes place by means of tzimtzum.) For this reason, Atzilut is still united with its source - Ein Sof.

These two characteristics of Atzilut are indicated in its very name. The word Atzilut is etymologically related to two roots:

(a) The verb Otzal, meaning "to delegate", as in the verse, (19) "I (G-d) shall delegate something of your (Moses') spirit and place it upon them (the seventy Elders)." The verse is saying, then, that the spirit of prophecy possessed by the seventy Elders was merely an extension of Moses' spirit, not something new, and separate from him. Similarly, the properties of Atzilut are extensions, on a lower level, of the Ein Sof.

(b) Atzilut is also related to the word "Etzel", meaning "near" -thus indicating the unity of Atzilut with its source.

The World of Beriah (Creation), as its name implies, is a creation, not Divinity itself. It is the first creation to come about in a manner of Yesh Me'Ayin - creatio ex nihilo; from Ayin ("nothingness") there comes about a Yesh, a definite state of existence. Beriah, however, represents merely the passage out of non-existence; it is a state in creation which cannot yet be spoken of as giving rise to proper "existence," definable in terms of form and structure.

Yetzirah (Formation) is the World where that which was created from Ayin assumes shape and form.

The World of Asiyah refers to the completed creation. Understandably, this completed creation is still spiritual. The final world of creation ("physical Asiyah"), comprising our physical world with all its creatures, comes into being only at a later stage.

Together, these worlds form the Seder Hishtalshelut, "the chain-like order of descent," so designated because just as the lowest link in a chain is connected to the highest by means of all the interlocking links, similarly, in the Seder Hishtalshelut, the lowest level in Asiyah is connected to the highest level in Atzilut; all the levels interlock and flow from each other.

In the course of its descent from Chochmah Ila'ah (Supernal Wisdom - the highest level in Atzilut) to the physical body, the soul passes through the entire Seder Hishtalshelut; and, as stated earlier, this descent produces the various levels of souls, just as gestation causes the drop of semen to be transformed into the child's bodily organs, even to the point where it is formed into nails.

After this introduction, we return to the Alter Rebbe's words]:

By [the soul's] descending degree by degree through the Hishtalshelut of the Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, from G-d's wisdom, as it is written: "You have made them all with wisdom (Chochmah)" [i.e., everything emanates from Chochmah, which is the source of all Hishtalshelut, through this descent,] the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant and least worthy come into being.

[Their souls were most strongly affected by this descent, and therefore they are on the lowest level. Similarly, all the various levels of "higher" and "lower" souls are determined by the soul's descent through Hishtalshelut; some souls are affected to a greater degree, others less.

The Alter Rebbe now relates the second point in the analogy to our case. Just as in the analogy, the nails of the child are still bound up with their first source though their being constantly nurtured by the child's brain, so too, in the case of the soul]:

Nevertheless [notwithstanding the fact that they have already become souls of the lower levels - the souls of the ignorant and the least worthy], they [these lesser souls] remain bound and united with a wonderful and mighty unity with their original essence, namely, an extension of Chochmah Ila'ah (Supernal Wisdom), for the nurture and life of the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant are drawn from the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah of the righteous and the sages, the "heads" of Israel in their generation.

[By drawing their nuture and life from those who represent the levels of "head" and "brain", all Jews are bound up with their source in Chochmah Ila'ah - Supernal Wisdom.]

This explains the comment of our Sages (20) on the verse, (21) "And cleave unto Him" [concerning which the question arises: How can mortal man cleave to G-d? In answer, our Sages comment]: "He who cleaves unto a [Torah] scholar is deemed by the Torah as if he had actually become attached to the Shechinah [the Divine Presence]."

[This seems difficult to comprehend: How can one equate cleaving to a Torah scholar with cleaving to the Shechinah? However, in light of the above, this is readily understood.]

For, through attachment to the scholars, the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant are bound up and united with their original essence and their root in Supernal Wisdom, [and thereby with G-d Himself, since] He and His wisdom are one, and "He is the Knowledge..."

( (22) As for those who willfully sin and rebel against the Torah sages: [How do they receive their spiritual nurture and life? Spiritual life and nurture flow only where there is a desire to nurture and give life. In answer to this, the text continues]:

The nurture of their Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah comes from the hind- part, as it were, of the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the scholars.)

[Nurture from "the hind-part" can be understood by way of comparison to one who gives an object to his enemy - obviously, not out of a true desire to give, but rather due to some external factor. The grudging reluctance with which he gives will be reflected in his manner; he will turn away from him, tossing the object to his enemy over his shoulder. The same is true in the spiritual sphere. When spiritual nurture is given unwillingly, it is described as coming from "the hind-part" of the giver - an external level of nurture.

Nevertheless, even those who rebel against the sages receive some measure of spiritual nourishment from them. For every soul, without exception, must be bound up with its root and source, as explained earlier. The level of nurture they receive, is however, is from the "hind-part" of the souls of the sages.

[Having (23) concluded that every Jew has a holy soul which emanates "from above" (from Supernal Wisdom), the Alter Rebbe now states that even the quality (the "rank" or "level") of each individual soul is determined only by factors "from above" - spiritual factors, such as the soul's above-mentioned descent through Hishtalshelut.

No actions of this physical world can determine its quality and rank. The Alter Rebbe makes this statement indirectly by clarifying a quotation from the Zohar which seems to indicate the contrary.]

As for what is written in the Zohar (24) and in Zohar Chadash (25) that the essential factor is to conduct oneself in a holy manner during sexual union, which is not the case with the children of the ignorant and their ilk [who do not conduct themselves thus,

The ignorant - as the Zohar goes on to imply - draw down for their child a soul of a lower level, which seems to indicate that an action occurring in this physical world can, in fact, affect the soul's level. Not so, declares the Alter Rebbe. The Zohar is not referring to the soul at all, but to the soul's spiritual "garment" - as follows]:

this is because no Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah is without a garment which stems from the Nefesh of its father's and mother's essence.

All the commandments that it fulfills are influenced by that garment - [it is through this garment that the soul achieves its ability to affect the body and to perform the commandments involving physical matters]; even the benevolence that flows to one from heaven is all given through that garment. [Because the soul is so strongly bound up with this garment, the Zohar refers to the garment, in this context, as the person's "soul".]

Now, if the person sanctifies himself, he will bring forth a holy garment for the neshamah of his child, [thereby enabling the child to serve G-d more readily.] However great a soul it may be, it still needs the father's sanctification [at the time of intercourse.]

But the soul itself [as distinct from its "garment" is not affected by the parents' sanctification; in fact] it sometimes happens that the soul of an infinitely lofty person comes to be the son of an ignoble and lowly person....

All this has been explained by Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, in Likutei Torah on Parshat Vayera, and in Taamei HaMitzvot on Parshat Bereishit.

[Thus the physical world - of which the parents are a part - can in no way affect the soul's spiritual rank. Even the statement of the Zohar that the essential factor regarding the state of the soul is the holy manner of conduct during sexual union, pertains only to the soul's "garment". The soul itself, with all its various levels, emanates "from above."


1. See Tamid 29a.
2. Devarim 1:28.
3. Bereishit 2:7.
4. Siddur, Morning Prayer; cf. Berachot 60b.
5. Not found in our editions of the Zohar.
6. See Bereishit Rabbah 1:4.
7. Shmot 4:22.
8. Devarim 14:1.
9. Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar.
10. Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:10.
11. Iyov 11:7.
12. Yeshayahu 55:8.
13. Including Rabbi Yehudah Loewe (Maharal) of Prague in his Gevurot
14. Shaar Mahut VeHanhagah, ch. 13.
15. See, e.g., Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah (Tanya, Part II), ch. 9.
16. Tehillim 104:24.
17. See Zohar I, 206a; also Rabbi Yeshayahu Hurwitz, Shnei Luchot
HaBrit I, 9b.
18. 31a.
19. Bamidbar 11:17.
20. Ketubbot 111b.
21. Devarim 30:20.
22. Parentheses are in the original text.
23. This interpretation of the following passage of Tanya follows a
comment of the Rebbe. This paragraph forms (for the most
part) a translation of this comment.
24. See Zohar II, 204b; III, 80-82.
25. Bereishit, p. 11.


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