Likutei Amarim Chapter 51, Class 1

Beginning of Chapter 51

The title-page of Tanya tells us that the entire work is based upon the verse (Devarim 30:14), “For this thing (the Torah) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” And the concluding phrase (“that you may do it”) implies that the ultimate purpose of the entire Torah is the fulfillment of the mitzvot in practice.

In order to clarify this, ch. 35 began to explain the purpose of the entire Seder Hishtalshelut (“chain of descent” of spiritual levels from the highest emanation of the Creator down to our physical world), and of man’s serving G‑d. The purpose of both is to bring a revelation of G‑d’s Presence into this lowly world, and to elevate the world spiritually so that it may become a fitting dwelling-place for His Presence.

To further explain this, ch. 35 quoted the words of the Yenuka in the Zohar that a Jew should not walk four cubits bareheaded because the Shechinah dwells above his head. This light of the Divine Presence, continues the Zohar, resembles the light of a lamp, where oil and wick are needed for the flame to keep burning. A Jew should therefore be aware, says the Zohar, of the Shechinah above him and keep it supplied with “oil” (good deeds), in order to ensure that the “flame” of the Shechinah keeps its hold on the “wick” (the physical body).

Basing himself upon this analogy of the Zohar, the Alter Rebbe asked (in the same chapter) why the “oil” — fuel — for the light of the Shechinah has to be good deeds. The divine soul is “truly a part of G‑d above” (ch. 2); why is it not sufficient to serve as this “fuel”? He answers that the divine soul, even of a perfect tzaddik, is a conscious entity. This conscious existence of the soul does not become utterly overwhelmed and nullified by G‑d’s Presence in the world to the extent that the soul can become one with G‑d’s Presence. Therefore the soul cannot serve as fuel for the light of the Shechinah, for the “oil” must become totally converted into light (just as physical fuel is consumed, as it burns, to become converted into light), whereas the soul remains in conscious existence. Only good deeds — mitzvot — can serve as fuel for the light of the Shechinah, for they are G‑d’s Will and His wisdom, which are expressions of His essence and thus utterly united with Him. For the soul to become united with G‑d, it must therefore perform mitzvot.

In this union of the soul with G‑d through mitzvot (ch. 35 continues) there are two levels. Through Torah study, the light of the Shechinah is revealed within the soul, together with the soul’s two inner “garments” — thought and speech — which become absorbed into G‑d’s light and united with it in utter oneness. But for the Shechinah to rest upon the physical body and upon the animal soul that animates it, mitzvot must be performed in actual deed, on the physical level — and this can take place only through the medium of the animating (or vital) soul, together with the body.

In further chapters, the Alter Rebbe explained how the ultimate purpose of the entire Seder Hishtalshelut is the practical performance of mitzvot, which alone can reveal G‑d’s presence in this physical world. From there, he went on to say that in order to observe the mitzvot properly, with enthusiasm and “soul”, one must have kavanah — devout concentration, animated by the awe and love of G‑d. And in chs. 41-50 the Alter Rebbe proceeded to elaborate on various means of arriving at the different forms and levels of awe and love of G‑d.

Ch. 51 now explains further the teaching of the Yenuka — that “this light (of the Shechinah) needs oil.” In the Zohar, “oil” usually refers to the Sefirah of Chochmah (lit., “wisdom”). Here, though, the Yenuka takes it to refer to good deeds. What is the connection between practical mitzvot — and “oil”, which refers to Chochmah? To clarify this, ch. 51 will explain the meaning of the concept that the Shechinah “dwells” (or “rests”) upon something, and how practical mitzvot do indeed derive from the Divine level of Chochmah, which is why they can serve as the “oil” which enables the light of the Shechinah to remain burning upon the “wick” — the human body.

והנה לתוספת ביאור לשון הינוקא דלעיל

For further explanation of the words of the Yenuka, mentioned earlier, in ch. 35, where the Yenuka was quoted as saying that the light of the Shechinah, which dwells upon a Jew, needs “oil”, meaning good deeds,

Now what connection do good deeds have with oil, which usually refers to Chochmah?

צריך לבאר תחלה, להבין קצת, ענין השראת השכינה, שהיתה שורה בבית קודש הקדשים

it is necessary first to explain (so that one may understand a little) the concept of the Shechinah “dwelling” — that it “dwelt” in the Holy of Holies,

Indeed, there are detailed laws defining the marks of respect due to the Holy of Holies because of the “dwelling” there of the Shechinah.

וכן כל מקום השראת השכינה, מה ענינו

and likewise any other place where the Shechinah dwells — what does this concept mean? What is meant when we say that a particular location is distinguished as being a place where the Shechinah dwells, rather than elsewhere?

הלא מלא כל הארץ כבודו, ולית אתר פנוי מיניה

Surely “the whole world is full of His glory,” and “no place is void of Him”!

The Alter Rebbe will now explain that the Shechinah’s “dwelling” upon something means the revelation of that aspect of G‑d’s Presence known as Shechinah. Although G‑d exists everywhere, His existence is concealed. But when the Shechinah “dwells” upon something, this denotes a revelation of G‑dliness.

-אך הענין כדכתיב: ומבשרי אחזה אלוה

However, the key to understanding the subject is to be found in the text,1 “And from my flesh I see G‑d.” The Alter Rebbe understands these words literally: from what we see within ourselves, in our own soul and body, we can visualize the parallel on the spiritual level — in the Divine emanations and the world in general.

שכמו שנשמת האדם היא ממלאה כל רמ״ח אברי הגוף, מראשו ועד רגלו

By way of analogy: The human soul2 pervades all 248 organs of the body, from head (the highest part of the body) to foot (the lowest part of the body);

The soul pervades the body to the extent that no organ or portion of it remains void of the soul.

ואף על פי כן עיקר משכנה והשראתה היא במוחו, ומהמוח מתפשטת לכל האברים

nevertheless, the soul’s principal abode (in a revealed form) and dwelling place (in an all-encompassing, non-revealed form) is in one’s brain, and from the brain the soul is diffused throughout all the organs;

This takes place in all the organs simultaneously, for (as the Rebbe explains) this “diffusion” of the soul refers to the life-force from which the organs derive their vitality — in which respect all organs are equal. This is one aspect of the soul’s emanation from the brain to the organs, and in chassidic terminology it can be termed “light” — a revelation which is equal throughout. A second aspect of the emanation that the organs derive from the soul which is in the brain is the following:

וכל אבר מקבל ממנה חיות וכח הראוי לו לפי מזגו ותכונתו

[moreover,] each organ receives from it (the soul) a different form of life force and functional power appropriate to it according to its (the organ’s) composition and character:

In other words, the difference between the functional ability of one organ and that of another does not derive from the organ itself (like water in a colored glass, for example, which takes on the color of its containing vessel). Rather does each organ draw from the soul its ability to see or hear, and so on, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

העין לראות

the eye receives from the soul a life-force and ability to see; the power of sight accords with the smooth and translucent nature of the tissue of the eye;

והאזן לשמוע, והפה לדבר, והרגלים להלוך

the ear receives from the soul a life-force and ability to hear, the mouth to speak, and the feet to walk3 — each organ in the body, in accordance with its composition and character, receives its life-force and ability from the soul which “dwells” and becomes revealed initially in the brain —

כנראה בחוש, שבמוח מרגיש כל הנפעל ברמ״ח אברים וכל הקורות אותם

as we clearly sense how in the brain one is conscious of all that occurs within the 248 organs and of everything experienced by them, because the brain is the nerve-center and principal abode and source of the life-force of the entire body.

The Rebbe here adds a commentary which clarifies the subject.

By way of introduction: The life-force from the soul which animates the body comprises two aspects. One is its life-giving force — in that the whole body is alive and draws its vitality from the soul. In this aspect, there is no difference between one organ and the next. The head, for example, is no more alive than the foot, just as the foot is no less alive than the head. The entire body, with all its organs, is equally alive throughout. In chassidic terminology, this aspect of the life-giving force is called the ‘light“ of the soul (for light shines equally upon everything around the light-source, regardless of the quality or nature of the objects receiving the light).

The second aspect of the soul’s life-force is the specific functional power which each organ draws from the soul. This power is unique to each organ — the eye receives from the soul the power to see, the ear to hear, the mouth to speak, and the foot to walk.

The manner in which the organ receives the latter life-force and functional power can be explained in two ways.

One is that the life-force emanating from the soul to the organ is utterly “plain” and uncompounded, possessing none of the diverse qualities and powers of the various organs. According to this explanation, the various functional powers of the organs would be differentiated (with respect to the life-force emanating to them from the soul) only after that life-force actually becomes enclothed within the organs. For example, only after the life-force becomes enclothed within the eye would it become the power of sight, and only after it becomes enclothed within the ear would it become the power of hearing.

An analogy to this explanation would be water in a colored glass. Although it remains colorless, yet since it is seen through the walls of a white or red vessel, for example, it seems white or red to the viewer. Likewise each organ receives a plain, uncompounded life-force from the soul, and it is the organ that gives the life-force enclothed within it its specific functional ability: the eye enables the life-force to give the power to see, and the ear enables it to give the power to hear.

The second possible explanation — and that accepted by Tanya — is that the soul, despite its pristine, uncompounded essence, includes in potential form all the powers of the various organs, and it is these faculties which each individual organ receives. The eye receives, from the life-force of the soul, the power to see, and the ear receives from it the power to hear. These powers were originally included in potentia within the soul, and each becomes revealed as the life-force becomes enclothed within the respective organ. Thus the power to see or hear does not originate only when the life-force becomes enclothed within the eye or ear; it already exists in potentia within the comprehensive life-force emanating from the soul, although it is not yet revealed. Tanya proceeds to explain that this is the correct explanation.

The commentary of the Rebbe explains why we must accept this second explanation. If we were to say that the various functional powers are not differentiated (in potentia) within the life-force until after it becomes enclothed within the organs (like water or light which does not itself possess a color, but acquires it when viewed through colored glass), then the brain would be conscious of the same sensation from what is experienced in the eye as from what is experienced in the ear, because these sensations have already left their respective organs. (Thus too, water removed from a white vessel is no different from water removed from a red vessel: once removed from the vessel, it loses the vessel’s color. Likewise, “messages” conveying sensations from the eye would be no different from those coming from the ear — since they have already left their respective organs.)

One might argue (according to this explanation which Tanya does not accept) that when a particular organ calls into being a functional power in the life-force drawn into it from the soul, this differentiation becomes acquired in the life-force (like an ingot of silver which, once it has been molded into the shape of a vessel, remains in that shape later, too). According to this argument, the difference effected by each organ in the life-force drawn into it from the soul, remains also in the sensation transmitted from the organ back to the brain — even after it leaves the organ. This would account for the different messages received by the brain for the varying sensations and occurrences experienced by the eye and ear, for example.

If, however, we say that the soul, which is based in the brain, utterly transcends any kind of differentiation (even a differentiation in potentia, in which the various powers of the organs are included within the soul), then the soul within the brain would not distinguish between the sensation of what happens in the eye and the sensation of what happens in the ear or other organs, because the soul itself (according to this explanation) is utterly plain and uncompounded. Even, therefore, if the messages coming from the various organs to the brain are indeed different one from another, yet this difference would not be distinguished by the soul in the brain, which utterly transcends all differences between organic functions.

We must therefore say that a difference exists between the various functional powers later revealed in the organs even before the life-force is actually drawn from the soul to the organs. The Tanya will now explain at which level of the soul this differentiation takes place.




1. Iyov 19:26.

2. “Regarding the text that follows, note Zohar III, 257b.” (- Note of the Rebbe.)

3. The Rebbe writes that the Alter Rebbe specifically chose the four faculties of seeing, hearing, speaking and walking, because these powers correspond to the activities alluded to in the opening verse: “…in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” — namely, thought, speech and action.

Vision and hearing arouse thought. More specifically: vision arouses the aspect of Chochmah and hearing arouses Binah. “The mouth for speaking” refers to speech; “the feet for walking” — action. Within action itself, walking is the lowest form of action. Thus the example given here is action as it descends even to its lowest level (and hence the example of the hand’s action is not given).

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