Weekly Tanya lecture: Chap. 36, class 1

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In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe began to explain why the observance of the practical mitzvot is the ultimate purpose of Torah and of one’s spiritual service to G‑d. (This practical aspect is underscored by the conclusion of the verse, “For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.”) He explained that only mitzvot observed through action draw down the light of the Shechinah upon one’s animal soul and body (rather than upon the divine soul alone, as do the mitzvotperformed only in thought and speech).

Yet this does not answer one question satisfactorily: Why is the illumination of the body and animal soul so important that those (practical) mitzvot which accomplish this illumination should be considered one’s primary objective?

The Alter Rebbe addresses this question in ch. 36. He explains that G‑d’s purpose in Creation is that he might have a dwelling place “in the lower realms”; specifically, in this physical world. In this world of doubled and redoubled spiritual darkness, His Ein Sof-light would radiate even more powerfully than it does in the higher, spiritual realms, through man’s transforming the darkness into light.

In man, the microcosm, the animal soul and the body are “the lower realms.” Therefore, the practical mitzvot which draw the light of the Shechinah upon them constitute man’s ultimate purpose.

Furthermore, through the practical mitzvot, and through their elevating effect on the body and animal soul, the material world in its entirety becomes a “dwelling place” for G‑d. (This, however, properly belongs to the discussion in ch. 37.)

והנה מודעת זאת מאמר רז״ל שתכלית בריאת עולם הזה הוא שנתאוה הקדוש ברוך הוא להיות לו דירה בתחתונים

In a well-known statement, our Rabbis declare1 that the purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms.

He desired that the essence of His Ein Sof-light be revealed as it is, without veil or concealment, amidst the lower creations. Our Sages use the word “abode”, or “dwelling place,” to describe such revelation. Just as a man’s home serves as an abode for his essence, so too, is this world intended to be an “abode” for G‑d’s Essence.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain the phrase “the lower realms” mentioned above. He shows that this refers specifically to our physical world.

The explanation in brief:

The terms “higher” and “lower” realms do not denote degrees of respective importance in the sight of G‑d, or of closeness to Him. In G‑d’s eyes all the worlds, from the highest to the lowest, are equally insignificant; all are equally remote from Him. On the other hand, He fills the lowest world just as He fills the highest.

Thus, the terms “higher” and “lower” must be understood as a standard of comparison within the numerous worlds. They indicate to what degree G‑dliness isrevealed in each individual world: the more revelation, the “higher” the world; the more obscurity and concealment, the “lower”. From this standpoint, our physical world is the very lowest, for here G‑dliness is most veiled and concealed.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

והנה לא שייך לפניו יתברך בחינת מעלה ומטה, כי הוא יתברך ממלא כל עלמין בשוה

But surely, before G‑d (i.e., in His sight) the distinction of “higher” and “lower” is not valid, one world is no higher than another, for he pervades all worlds equally. What, then, do our Sages mean by saying that “G‑d desired an abode in the ‘lower’ realms?”

אלא ביאור הענין

The explanation of the matter, however, is that G‑d desired an abode in that realm considered “lower” within the ranks of the worlds as follows:

כי קודם שנברא העולם היה הוא לבדו יתברך יחיד ומיוחד, וממלא כל כל המקום הזה שברא בו העולם

Before the world (any world) was created, there was only He alone, one and unique, filling all the space in which He created the world. Anything that could be conceived of as a “space” or possibility for creation, was filled with the Ein Sof-light.

וגם עתה כן הוא לפניו יתברך

In His view, indeed, it is still the same now. Creation wrought no change in His unity; He is One alone now just as He was prior to creation.

רק שהשינוי הוא אל המקבלים חיותו ואורו יתברך

The change applies only to the recipients of His vivifying force and His light — before creation there was none to receive the Divine life-force and light; Creation brought into being these recipients,

שמקבלים על ידי לבושים רבים המכסים ומסתירים אורו יתברך

who receive [this life-force and light- by way of numerous “garments” which veil and conceal G‑d’s light for without such garments they could not bear its intensity, and would cease to exist.

כדכתיב, כי לא יראני האדם וחי

So it is written:2 “For no man can see Me and live.”

Furthermore, not only man, a physical being, but even spiritual beings such as angels are unable to receive the divine light and life-force without concealing garments.

וכדפירשו רז״ל, שאפילו מלאכים הנקראים חיות אין רואין כו׳

And as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, interpret the word וחי (“...and live”) in this verse, as referring to angels; thus3: “Even angels, called חיות (‘[holy- chayyot’) cannot see...” G‑dliness, except by way of garments which conceal Him, thereby enabling them to receive His light.

The degree of concealment varies, however, from world to world and from level to level. Here the distinction between “higher” and “lower” realms becomes valid, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

וזהו ענין השתלשלות העולמות וירידתם ממדרגה למדרגה

This concealment is the subject of the Hishtalshelut (the chain-like, graded and downward succession) of the worlds, and their descent from level to level,

על ידי ריבוי הלבושים המסתירים האור והחיות שממנו יתברך

through the many “garments” that conceal the light and the life-force emanating from Him (— the more concealment, the lower the descent);

עד שנברא עולם הזה הגשמי והחומרי ממש

culminating in the creation of this physical, gross world.

This world is not only physical — so that the truth of G‑d’s creative power is not in evidence; it is also gross, in that the lie is held up as a truth.

FOOTNOTES    

1. Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 7:1.

2. Shmot 33:20.

3. Sifrei, end of Parshat Behaalotecha; Bamidbar Rabbah, end of Parshat Nasso.








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