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.
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, andNeshamah 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 (“physicalAsiyah”), 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 the Hishtalshelut of the Worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, 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 הארץ 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 הארץ 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 Neshamah of 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— Supernal Wisdom.
ובזה יובן מאמר רבותינו ז״ל על פסוק: ולדבקה בו — שכל הדבק בתלמיד חכם מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו נדבק בשכינה ממש
This explains the comment of our Sages20 on the verse,21 “And cleave unto Him”(concerning which the question arises: How can mortal man cleave to G-d? In answer, our Sages comment): “He who cleaves unto a [Torah] scholar is deemed by the Torah as if he had actually become attached to the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).”
This seems difficult to comprehend: How can one equate cleaving to a Torah scholar with cleaving to the Shechinah? However, in light of the above, this is readily understood.
כי על ידי דביקה בתלמידי חכמים, קשורות נפש רוח ונשמה של עמי הארץ ומיוחדות במהותן הראשון ושרשם שבחכמה עילאה
For, through attachment to the scholars, the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of the ignorant are bound up and united with their original essence and their root in Supernal Wisdom,
שהוא יתברך וחכמתו אחד, והוא המדע כו׳
(and thereby with G-d Himself, since) He and His wisdom are one, and “He is the Knowledge...”
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The Tanya compacts four millennia of Jewish wisdom to answer the great personal and existential questions of life. It has revolutionized the way we think about G -d the human soul, the world and our place in it.