Likutei Amarim Chapter 38, Class # 2

Continuation of Chapter 38 

From the beginning of ch. 35 until here, the Alter Rebbe has expounded the phrase “to do it,” — the conclusion of the verse, “For the matter (of observing Torah and mitzvot) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.” He explained that the mitzvot of action (and of speech, which is also deemed “action”) are of paramount importance, since it is through them that we achieve the goal of transforming this physical world into a “dwelling place for G‑d in the lower realms,” i.e., a place where G‑dliness will be revealed to an even greater degree than it is in the higher, spiritual worlds.

This goal will be realized when the energy of the vital soul and the body of every Jew will ascend from kelipat nogah to holiness. Thereby all of kelipat nogah, meaning the vitality of the entire world, will ascend to holiness, and automatically the three impure kelipot will cease to exist. Thus, there will be no obstruction of G‑dliness in the world; G‑dliness will radiate throughout; the world will be G‑d’s “dwelling place.”

Since the entire process hinges on the elevation of a Jew’s body and his vital soul, and since their elevation is accomplished only by means of themitzvot of action, which require their power in performance of the mitzvot,therefore the mitzvot of action are, as said, of paramount importance.

In the discussion that now follows, the Alter Rebbe will examine the other side of the coin. He will explain the importance of kavanah — “devout concentration,” or “intention” — in the performance of mitzvot. As used in this context, kavanah refers to the motivating intention that by performing amitzvah one is united with G‑d, Whose command and Will each mitzvahrepresents.

אך אף על פי כן אמרו: תפלה או שאר ברכה בלא כוונה הן כגוף בלא נשמה

Yet nevertheless, it has been said9 that prayer, or any other blessing, said without kavanah, is like a body without a soul.


This comparison of the words of prayer to a body, and of kavanah to its soul, means [as follows]:

כי כמו שכל הברואים שבעולם הזה שיש להם גוף ונשמה

Just as all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul

שהם נפש כל חי, ורוח בשר איש, ונשמת כל אשר רוח חיים באפיו מכל בעלי חיים

— meaning the Nefesh of every living being, the Ruach of all human flesh, and the Neshamah of all that has the breath of life in its nostrils among all living creatures —

וה׳ מחיה את כולם, ומהוה אותם מאין ליש תמיד באור וחיות שמשפיע בהם

G‑d animates them all, and creates them constantly out of nothingness by the light and vitality which He bestows upon them i.e., upon both the soul and the body; and in support of his contention that the body, too, has a G‑dly life-force (aside from the soul), the Alter Rebbe adds parenthetically:

שגם הגוף החומרי, ואפילו אבנים ועפר הדומם ממש, יש בו אור וחיות ממנו יתברך, שלא יחזור להיות אין ואפס כשהיה

— for even the material body, and furthermore even the very stones and earth which are absolutely inanimate, lacking even that sign of life found in plant-life, i.e., growth,— even the totally inanimate being has within it light and vitality from G‑d, so that it should not revert to naught and nothingness, as it was before it was created.

(Further in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that every existing being would instantly revert to absolute nothingness, were it not for the G‑dly life-force constantly creating it, and keeping it in existence. Thus, even the inanimate beings contain a life-force, and so surely, do the bodies of living creatures.)

ואף על פי כן אין ערך ודמיון כלל בין בחינת אור וחיות המאיר בגוף, לגבי בחינת אור וחיות המאיר בנשמה, שהיא נפש כל חי

(The Alter Rebbe now concludes the sentence begun earlier:) Just as in all the creatures of this world possessing a body and a soul, there is, nevertheless, i.e., despite the fact that body and soul are alike in that they both contain a divine life-force, there is nevertheless no comparison or similarity between the quality of the light and life-force radiating in the body, and the light and life-force radiating in the Neshamah, which is the soul of every living thing.

It is axiomatic that the physical is incomparable to the spiritual (so much so, that philosophers agree that the evolution of the material from the spiritual is the most radical form of creation ex nihilo). The body, being physical, is thus incomparable to the soul, which is spiritual.

This difference between them is obviously due to the difference between the respective divine life-forces creating them. The Alter Rebbe will now explain in what way these life-forces differ. The difference is surely not one of varying degrees of revelation of the divine life-force — that in the body this life-force is in concealment, while in the soul it stands revealed. In this respect body and soul are alike. The veil of kelipat nogah, which obscures G‑dliness in this physical world as a whole, envelops both body and soul. Therefore, just as the body does not attest to the fact that it is the product of divine creative power, so does the soul of living creatures belie the fact that its life-giving properties are G‑dly. Thus, the divine life-force is concealed equally in body and soul. The difference between them lies, rather, in the intensity of G‑dly life-force that each contains: in the body the life-force is contracted, so that the body is a physical being; in the soul the life-force is freely bestowed, and the soul is therefore a spiritual, life-giving being.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

ואף שבשניהם אור אחד שוה בבחינת הסתר פנים

True, in terms of the “concealment of Countenance” i.e., the degree to which the “Countenance,” the inner aspect of the divine life-force, is concealed, the light i.e., the divine creative life-force is the same in both [body and soul] — it is concealed equally in both.

ולבושים שוים שהאור מסתתר ומתעלם ומתלבש בהם

The garments in which the light hides, conceals and clothes itself are identical [in body and soul].

כי שניהם הם מעולם הזה, שבכללותו מסתתר בשוה האור והחיות שמרוח פיו יתברך

For both [body and soul] are of this world where, throughout the world and all its creatures (spiritual as well as physical), the light and life-force issuing from “the breath of [G‑d’s] mouth” are equally concealed,

בבחינת הסתר פנים, וירידת המדרגות בהשתלשלות העולמות ממדרגה למדרגה בצמצומים רבים ועצומים

by “concealment of the Countenance,” and [by] the descent of the life-force from level to level, by means of numerous powerful tzimtzumim (contractions)through the various levels [constituting] the chain-like succession of worlds,

עד שנתלבש בקליפת נוגה, להחיות כללות עולם הזה החומרי

finally clothing itself in kelipat nogah, in order to give life to the totality of this material world.

The Alter Rebbe has here described the process whereby the divine life-force descends from its lofty, G‑dly origin to the point where it creates and gives life to physical matter; i.e., from “the breath of G‑d’s mouth” — a reference to Malchut of the World of Atzilut — to the World of material Asiyah.

He defines various steps in this process: (1) “descent from level to level”; (2) “numerous tzimtzumim”; (3) “powerful tzimtzumim”; (4) “clothing itself inkelipat nogah.”

Let us examine them individually:

(1) “Descent from level to level:” To reach down to the level of Asiyah, the life-force must first descend form the World of Atzilut to Beriah, thence toYetzirah, and finally to Asiyah. Within each of these Worlds there are many levels, and the life-force must descend through them all before reaching the next lowest World.

(2) “Numerous tzimtzumim:” Each descent of the life-force entails a “contraction” of the light and life-force, lessening its intensity.

But descent and tzimtzumim alone, no matter how numerous, will still not make possible the creation of a physical being; the divine life-force would still be at a level where anything created by it would be a spiritual being, albeit of a lower grade of spirituality. The creation of physical matter presupposes another condition, viz.:

(3) “Powerful tzimtzumim:” I.e., tzimtzumim which entirely change thecharacter of the life-force (and not only its intensity), to the point where it can create and give life to material beings. But even this type of tzimtzum cannot produce a world like ours, in which it is not apparent that G‑d is the Creator, and where, in fact, G‑d’s creations can be used in defiance of His Will. This is achieved only when —

(4) “The life-force… clothes itself in kelipat nogah” (and thereby also in the other kelipot, as will soon be explained). As defined in the first chapter ofTanya, kelipat nogah is a mixture of good and evil. Therefore, whatever receives its G‑dly life-force through the veil of kelipat nogah (in which the life-force is clothed) can be utilized either for a holy purpose, in serving G‑d’s Will through performing a mitzvah, or for an unholy purpose, in violating His Will through a sinful act.

In summary: Through many descents and powerful tzimtzumim, the G‑dly life-force clothes itself in kelipat nogah, and thereby gives life to all the creatures of this world.

The Alter Rebbe now distinguishes between permitted and forbidden objects. The former receive their life-force directly through kelipat nogah; for the latter to receive the G‑dly life-force clothed in kelipat nogah, it must first descend still further, to be veiled in the three completely impure kelipot.

דהיינו כל דברים המותרים והטהורים שבעולם הזה, וממנה ועל ידה מושפעים דברים הטמאים כי היא בחינה ממוצעת, כנ״ל

This means: (1) all things of this world that are permitted and pure which receive their vitality directly via kelipat nogah; and from and through [kelipat nogah] evolve (2) all impure, forbidden things, which derive their vitality from the three impure kelipot;yet their vitality too, stems from nogah since it is the intermediary level between holiness (where all life originates) and the three impure kelipot, as mentioned above.

We can conclude from this that there is no difference between the life-force of the soul and that of the body in terms of revelation or concealment. Since both body and soul are of this world, the life-force in them is equally concealed in the veil of kelipat nogah.

אף על פי כן, ההארה, שהיא המשכת החיות אשר ה׳ מאיר ומחיה דרך לבוש זה

Nevertheless, the [G‑dly] illumination, meaning the flow of vitality by which G‑d illumines and gives life to all creatures of this world by way of this garment i.e.,kelipat nogah,

אינה שוה בכולן, בבחינת צמצום והתפשטות

is not the same for them all, and the difference between the life-force of the various creatures is in terms of contraction and expansion. In some creatures the life-force is constricted and limited, while in others it finds broader expression.

The difference between “concealment” (hester) of the life-force and its “contraction” (tzimtzum) can be expressed as follows:

Suppose one hangs a thick curtain on a window to screen out the sunlight. The light entering the room through the curtain will be of an entirely different quality; in fact it might be described as a mere echo of the original light. This is “concealment”.

If on the other hand, one boards up the window and leaves only a tiny hole by which the light may pass, the light shining through the hole, though greatly restricted, will be the same, qualitatively, as the original light. This is what is meant by “contraction”.

So it is too with regard to our subject: Kelipat nogah is the thick curtain which veils the divine creative power equally from all creatures of this world. This “curtained” light varies, however, from one creature to another in degree of contraction.

[in the next class] The Alter Rebbe will go on to enumerate these differences.



9 Shnei Luchot HaBerit, Vol. I, p. 249b.


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