Judaism: Weekly Tanya Lesson: Chapter 2, Part 2
HaRav Shneur Zalman MiliadiRav Shneur Zalman (September 4, 1745 – December 15, 1812) of Liadi, was the founder of Chabad hassidism and the author of many works, among them Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Tanya and the Siiddur Torah Or . Chabad became a worldwide Jewish spiritual outreach movement.
ואף שיש רבבות מיני חלוקי מדרגות בנשמות, גבוה מעל גבוה לאין ק׳
True, there are myriads of different gradations of souls(Neshamot), rank upon rank, ad infinitum.
כמו גודל מעלת נשמות האבות ומשה רבינו, עליו השלום, על נשמות דורותינו אלה דעקבי משיחא
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;
שהם בחינת עקביים ממש לגבי המוח והראש
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.
וכן בכל דור ודור יש ראשי אלפי ישראל, שנשמותיהם הם בחינת ראש ומוח לגבי נשמות ההמון ועמי האר׳
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.
וכן נפשות לגבי נפשות כי כל נפש כלולה מנפש רוח ונשמה
Likewise there are similar distinctions
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.
מכל מקום שורש כל הנפש רוח ונשמה כולם, מראש כל המדריגות עד סוף כל דרגין, המלובש בגוף עמי האר׳ וקל שבקלים
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, —
נמשך ממוח העליון שהיא חכמה עילאה כביכול
all are derived, as it were, from the Supreme Mind which isChochmah 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.
כמשל הבן הנמשך ממוח האב, שאפילו צפרני רגליו נתהוו מטפה זו ממש
[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 semenwhich comes from the father’s brain. How then were nails created from it?
על ידי שהייתה תשעה חדשים בבטן האם, וירדה ממדריגה למדריגה, להשתנות ולהתהוות ממנה צפרנים
— 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.
ועם כל זה עודנה קשורה ומיוחדת ביחוד נפלא ועצום במהותה ועצמותה הראשון, שהיתה טפת מוח האב
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.
וגם עכשיו בבן, יניקת הצפרנים וחיותם נמשכת מהמוח שבראש
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:
כדאיתא בגמרא נדה שם : לובן שממנו גידים ועצמות וצפרנים
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.
וכמו שכתוב בע׳ חיים, שער החשמל, בסוד לבושים של אדם הראשון בגן עדן
(In Etz Chayim, Shaar HaChashmal, it is likewise stated in connection with the esoteric principle of Adam’s garments in the Garden of Eden,
שהיו צפרנים מבחינת מוח תבונה
that they (the garments) were of “nails” [derived] from the cognitive faculty of the brain.)
וככה ממש כביכול בשורש כל הנפש רוח ונשמה של כללות ישראל למעלה
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 אבי”ע, pronounced ABiYA.)
The function and significance of these “Worlds” will be clarified further in theTanya; for the moment a brief explanation will suffice.
Atzilut (Emanation) is a World where the Ein Sof-light radiates, so that Atzilutis, 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 wordAtzilut is etymologically related to two roots: (a) The verb לצא, 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 Ayinassumes 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 inAtzilut; 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 entireSeder 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:
בירידתו ממדריגה למדריגה על ידי השתלשלות העולמות, אצילות בריאה יצירה עשיה מחכמתו יתברך
By [the soul’s] descending degree by degree through theHishtalshelut of the Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah andAsiyah, from G-d’s wisdom,
כדכתיב: כולם בחכמה עשית
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),
נתהוו ממנו נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי האר׳ ופחותי הערך
[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 through their being constantly nurtured by the child’s brain, so too, in the case of the soul:
ועם כל זה עודינה קשורות ומיוחדות ביחוד נפלא ועצום במהותן ועצמותן הראשון, שהיא המשכת חכמה עילאה
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),
כי יניקת וחיות נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי האר׳ הוא מנפש רוח ונשמה של הצדיקים והחכמים ראשי בני ישראל שבדורם
for the nurture and life of the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant are drawn from the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamahof 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 — Supernatural Wisdom.
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