Judaism: Weekly Tanya Lecture: Chap. 5, Class 1
At the conclusion of the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe depicted the study of Torah as a royal embrace: When one studies Torah, his intellect “embraces” and encompasses the Divine Will and wisdom — and thus he “embraces” the King of kings Himself, since “He and His wisdom are one.” In turn, the “King” (i.e., G-d’s Will and wisdom) “embraces” the mind of the Torah student.
But while it is readily understood that the mind can be described as “embracing” the Torah knowledge that it absorbs, the meaning of Torah’s “embracing” one’s intellect is unclear. In ch. 5 the Alter Rebbe clarifies this point. He does so by elucidating the term “grasp” used in the statement by Elijah (quoted in the previous chapter) that no thought can “grasp” G-d except by way of “grasping” the Torah.
Primarily, however, this chapter aims to show how Torah study is superior to all other mitzvot; not only is one encompassed by G-d’s Will when he studies the Torah, as when he performs any mitzvah, but furthermore, he “embraces” G-d by understanding His wisdom as set forth in Torah.
ולתוספת ביאור באר היטב לשון תפיסא שאמר אליהו: לית מחשבה תפיסא בך כו׳
A further explanation, to more fully elucidate the expression “tefissa” (“grasp”), in the words of Elijah, “No thought can grasp You”:
As explained in ch. 4, we cannot ordinarily “grasp” G-d with our intellect, but only through Torah study. Realizing our inability to comprehend G-dliness will thus explain how we do grasp Him through Torah.
הנה כל שכל כשמשכיל ומשיג בשכלו איזה מושכל, הרי השכל תופס את המושכל ומקיפו בשכלו
When any intellect perceives and understands some intellectual subject, the mind grasps that subject and encompasses it,
והמושכל נתפס ומוקף ומלובש בתוך השכל שהשיגו והשכילו
and the subject is grasped and encompassed by, and is clothed within, the intellect that understood and perceived it.
The subject, which is now within the human intellect, is surrounded and encompassed by that intellect, much as a material object is surrounded by the hand that grasps it.
But the subject can be said to be within the mind only once the mind has fully understood it (as indicated also by the Alter Rebbe’s use of the past tense — “…the intellect that understood and perceived it”). Before mastering the subject, however, while the mind is engaged in analyzing its details, the subject is still “above” the mind, and the relationship between them is the reverse: the mind is “within” the subject and is encompassed by it.
In the Alter Rebbe’s words:
וגם השכל מלובש במושכל בשעה שמשיגו ותופסו בשכלו
Also, the intellect is clothed within the subject at the time of intellectual comprehension and grasping.1
Thus, in the act of understanding an idea the mind both encompasses the concept and is encompassed by it, and this is the significance of the term “grasping” used above.
דרך משל: כשאדם מבין ומשיג איזו הלכה במשנה או בגמרא לאשורה על בוריה
When, for example, one understands and comprehends a particular halachah in the Mishnah or Gemara, clearly and thoroughly, through strenuous application of his mind,
הרי שכלו תופס ומקיף אותה, וגם שכלו מלובש בה באותה שעה
his intellect grasps and encompasses that halakhah, and his intellect is also clothed in it at that time when he strives to understand it.
והנה הלכה זו היא חכמתו ורצונו של הקדוש ברוך הוא
Now, this halachah is the wisdom and Will of G-d — the rationale underlying the halakhah is G-d’s wisdom, and the ruling itself is G-d’s Will, as mentioned in ch. 4.
שעלה ברצונו שכשיטעון ראובן כך וכך, דרך משל, ושמעון כך וכך, יהיה הפסק ביניהם כך וכך
It so arose in His Will that if, for example, Reuven would claim thus and Shimon thus, such and such should be the verdict between them.
ואף אם לא היה ולא יהיה הדבר הזה לעולם, לבא למשפט על טענות ותביעות אלו
Even if it never did nor ever will come to pass that litigation occur over these arguments and claims,
Thus, were the purpose of Torah study only to learn how to practice its laws — in this case: how to resolve this dispute — then the study of such a law would indeed serve no purpose. In fact, however, there is great value in studying even such a halakhah, for thereby one knows G-d’s Will and wisdom, and attaches himself to it, as the Alter Rebbe continues:
מכל מקום, מאחר שכך עלה ברצונו וחכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, שאם יטעון זה כך וזה כך יהיה הפסק כך
yet, since it arose thus in G-d’s Will and wisdom that if one person would claim this way and the other that way, the verdict be such and such,
הרי כשאדם יודע ומשיג בשכלו פסק זה, כהלכה הערוכה במשנה או גמרא או פוסקים
therefore when one knows and comprehends this verdict as a halakhah set forth in the Mishnah or Gemara or Poskim (the halakhic codifiers),
If one arrives at the identical verdict on the basis of any other legal system, this verdict represents human knowledge, not Divine wisdom. If, however, he derives the ruling from Torah,
הרי זה משיג ותופס ומקיף בשכלו רצונו וחכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, דלית מחשבה תפיסא ביה ולא ברצונו וחכמתו
he then actually comprehends and grasps the Will and wisdom of G-d, Whom no thought can grasp, nor [can any thought grasp] His Will and wisdom,
כי אם בהתלבשותם בהלכות הערוכות לפנינו
except when they — G-d’s Will and wisdom — clothe themselves in the halachot set before us.
This is one facet of understanding Torah, namely, that thereby one’s intellect encompasses the Divine Will and wisdom. Furthermore:
וגם שכלו מלובש בהם
His intellect is also clothed within them — within the Divine Will and wisdom contained in Torah; his mind is encompassed by them.
והוא יחוד נפלא, שאין יחוד כמוהו ולא כערכו נמצא כלל בגשמיות
Now this is a most wonderful unity; in the physical realm there in no unity similar or parallel to it, i.e., of two things as disproportionate as human intellect and Torah, G-d’s intellect —
להיות לאחדים ומיוחדים ממש מכל צד ופנה
that they should actually become one and united from every side and angle.
וזאת מעלה יתירה גדולה ונפלאה לאין קץ, אשר במצות ידיעת התורה והשגתה
This is the distinctive, infinitely great and wonderful superiority of the mitzvah of knowing and comprehending Torah
על כל המצות מעשיות, ואפילו על מצות התלויות בדבור, ואפילו על מצות תלמוד תורה שבדיבור
over all the mitzvot involving action, and even over those performed through speech; indeed, even over the mitzvah of oral Torah study.
The precept of Torah study may be performed by reciting passages of Scripture, even if one is ignorant of their meaning. Such study, however, lacks the infinitely superior quality of comprehending Torah, namely:
כי על ידי כל המצות שבדבור ומעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא מלביש את הנפש, ומקיפה אור ה׳ מראשה ועד רגלה
For through all the mitzvot performed in action and speech G-d clothes the soul, and envelops it with His light from “head” to “foot”, i.e., from its highest level to its lowest;
ובידיעת התורה, מלבד שהשכל מלובש בחכמת ה׳, הנה גם חכמת ה׳ בקרבו
while in the case of the knowledge of Torah, apart from the intellect’s being clothed in (i.e., enveloped by) Divine wisdom, the Divine wisdom is also within him, so that he envelops it.
The Rebbe notes:
The process of understanding an idea is as follows: At first one grasps the idea or concept in a general way, and at that time his intellect encompasses the subject. Afterwards, one begins to dissect the general idea through analysis and argument, at which time the subject encompasses his intellect. When he finishes dissecting and analyzing (i.e., once he has mastered the concept thoroughly, in the Alter Rebbe’s words: “The intellect...understood and perceived it...”), his intellect once again encompasses the subject.