Continuation of Chapter 33
The Alter Rebbe here introduces an analogy which traces the early evolution of an idea or a desire from the moment that it first occurs in one’s mind and heart. At that stage the idea or desire is formless, not yet having the shape or form of words. It is pure desire, pure idea. The desire of an English-speaking person, for example, feels no different from that of a Hebrew speaker.
It is only when it reaches the stage of applied, or practical thought, that the idea or desire takes on the form of what are called “letters of thought,” which may later be expressed in speech.
Now, the “letters” of thought and speech are, of course, seminally contained in the original idea or desire — it is only that at that point their existence is completely nullified; it is as though these “letters” were non-existent; only the idea or desire is felt.
Stated in the terms which the Alter Rebbe employs, the idea and desire are described as part of the “ten soul-powers,” of which three (ChaBaD) belong to the intellect, and seven (the middot) comprise one’s emotional range. These ten faculties are the “source and root” of thought and speech, for one thinks and speaks of that which he understands or feels. These faculties are called the “substance and essence of the soul,” in comparison with thought and speech which are merely the soul’s “garments,” i.e., its modes of external expression.
To relate the analogy to the point under discussion: Every created being derives its existence and life from Divine “speech”, i.e., the “letters” of G‑d’s command that created it. Since nothing is “outside” G‑d, this creative “speech” and the beings created thereby are contained within G‑d, in the same way as the words one speaks were previously contained within the desire of the heart. All of creation is therefore nullified before G‑d, just as the “letters” of speech are nullified within the idea or desire which is their source, where only the desire is felt, not the “letters.”
In the Alter Rebbe’s words:
כביטול אותיות הדבור והמחשבה במקורן ושרשן, הוא מהות הנפש ועצמותה, שהן עשר בחינותיה, חכמה בינה ודעת וכו׳
[All created beings are nullified before G‑d] just as the letters of speech and thought are nullified within their source and root, i.e., the soul’s substance and essence, meaning its ten faculties — Chochmah, Binah, Daat… and the middot,
שאין בהם בחינת אותיות עדיין קודם שמתלבשות בלבוש המחשבה (כמו שנתבאר בפרק כ׳ וכא באריכות, עיין שם)
in which there are no letters as yet, prior to their being clothed in the garment of thought (as has been explained at length in chs. 20 and 21).