Ch. 43, Class 1

Beginning of Chapter 43

The Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter that every Jew has the ability to attain yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear of G‑d. This enables him to perform all the positive commandments and refrain from transgressing all the negative commandments. In the present chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain the two levels of fear of G‑d, yirah tata’ah and yirah ila‘ah, the lower and higher levels of fear respectively.

This distinction clarifies a seeming contradiction. The Mishnah first states:1 “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G‑d].” Wisdom must precede fear. But the Mishnah then goes on to say: “If there is no fear [of G‑d], there is no wisdom.” Fear must precede wisdom!

The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.

The Alter Rebbe also explains in this chapter that just as there are two general levels of fear of G‑d, there are also two general levels of love of G‑d.

והנה על יראה תתאה זו, שהיא לקיום מצותיו יתברך, בבחינת סור מרע ועשה טוב

Concerning this level of yirah tata‘ah of which it was said in the previous chapter that it is in the province of every Jew, which is [necessary] for the fulfillment of His commandments, in both areas of “Turn away from evil and do good,” i.e., in the performance of the negative and positive commands,

אמרו: אם אין יראה, אין חכמה

it was said, by our Sages, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.” If fear of G‑d is lacking, then one cannot properly fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.

ויש בה בחינת קטנות ובחינת גדלות

It (this lower level of fear) comprises a quality of “smallness” and a quality of “greatness”.

The quality of “smallness” describes the fear which is experienced as a result of a Jew’s innate fear of G‑d, and which is merely revealed through meditating upon matters that lead to the fear of G‑d. Since it does not result from contemplating G‑d’s greatness it is deemed “small”. The quality of “greatness” characterizes the fear of G‑d that results from contemplating G‑d’s greatness as it can be discerned from creation.

דהיינו, כשנמשכת בחינת יראה זו מההתבוננות בגדולת ה׳

This means i.e., fear has the quality of “greatness” when this category of the lower level of fear is a result of contemplation on the greatness of G‑d as it is perceived through His providing life to creation —

דאיהו ממלא כל עלמין

that He fills all worlds,

G‑d provides all worlds with vitality by vesting Himself in them. This life-force is attuned to the innate spirituality of the particular world or created being in which it is vested; the higher the world or created being, the loftier its life-force.

ומהארץ לרקיע מהלך ת״ק שנה וכו׳, ובין רקיע לרקיע כו׳

and2 from the earth to the heavens is a distance of 500 years,… and the distance from one heaven to the next… is also a journey of 500 years,

רגלי החיות כנגד כולן וכו׳

[and] “the feet i.e., the lowest level of the angels called chayyot measure up to them all…”

The lowest level of the chayyot transcends all the other levels.

וכן השתלשלות כל העולמות, למעלה מעלה עד רום המעלות

and similarly with one’s contemplation on the evolvement of all the worlds, one above the other to the topmost heights of the most spiritual worlds.

When a person contemplates and gains a deep understanding of the divine life-force that provides life to all worlds and spiritual levels, and hence achieves a fear of G‑d, then this understanding may be described by the term “greatness”. However, if this is the case, why then is this level considered part of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by explaining that since this fear derives from contemplation of G‑dliness as it “fills all worlds” and thus is bound up with them, it is necessarily a lower level of fear. For this life-force is concealed in the worlds in such a way that they are still able to be aware of their own existence and being. As this level, the worlds merely nullify their being and existence in deference to their life-force. This is termed bittul hayesh, the self-nullification of a being that is aware of its own existence.

The fear which results from this contemplation can only belong to the level of bittul hayesh, and not the higher form of nullification known as bittul bimetziut, which is total and complete nullification of self. It is for this reason that even the fear which has the quality of “greatness” is still only on a level of yirah tata‘ah, the lower level of fear. And this is what the Alter Rebbe now says:

אף על פי כן נקראת יראה זו יראה חיצונית ותתאה, מאחר שנמשכת מהעולמות

Nevertheless, this fear is called an external and inferior fear, yirah tata‘ah, since it is derived from the worlds i.e., from understanding the greatness of G‑d as a result of meditating upon the divine life-force which animates them,

שהם לבושים של המלך, הקב״ה, אשר מסתתר ומתעלם ומתלבש בהם, להחיותם ולקיימם, להיות יש מאין וכו׳

for they are “garments” of the King, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who conceals and hides and clothes Himself in them, in these worlds, to animate them and give them existence, that they may existex nihilo,….

Before the worlds were created they did not exist at all; they were in a state of non-being. Through their creation they became “beings”, entities whose existence could be experienced. This is the manner in which the divine life-force animates (and clothes itself in) creation: that created beings should be able to perceive themselves as existing entities which, nevertheless, are nullified to their divine life-force. Therefore, as explained earlier, this contemplation can only result in the level of bittul hayesh and not in bittul bimetziut, which is the level of yirah ila‘ah, the higher level of the fear of G‑d.

רק שהיא השער והפתח לקיום התורה והמצות

It is only that this fear serves as the gate and entrance to the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

For, as mentioned earlier, yirah tata‘ah leads to the performance of Torah and mitzvot. And it is concerning this lower level of fear that our Sages have said, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom”; fear of G‑d must precede the performance of Torah and mitzvot.