Tanya, your road to spiritual health

Continuation of Chapter 46. Previous lectures can be heard by clicking the link below.

HaRav Shneur Zalman Miliadi

Judaism עותק התניא הנדיר
עותק התניא הנדיר


וזה שאמר אסף ברוח הקדש בעד כל כנסת ישראל שבגולה

This is also the meaning of what Asaf said,16 under Divine inspiration, on behalf of the whole community of Israel who were later to be in exile:17

The barriers that conceal holiness are particularly strong during the time of exile. Concerning that time Asaf said:

ואני בער ולא אדע, בהמות הייתי עמך, ואני תמיד עמך

“And I am foolish and know and feel not; I was as a beast before You. [Yet] I am continually with You.”

כלומר, שאף על פי שאני כבהמה בהיותי עמך

This means18 that even though I am as a “beast” when I am with You,

Even when I perform a mitzvah and am thus united with You, I am still like a beast.

ולא אדע ולא ארגיש בנפשי יחוד זה

my soul being unaware of, and insensitive to, this union achieved between my soul and G‑d through performing a mitzvah; for were I to be aware and sensitive, my soul would be affected in a manner

שתפול עליה אימתה ופחד תחלה, ואחר כך אהבה רבה בתענוגים או כרשפי אש

which should bring down upon it fear and awe first, followed by a great love of delights, a love wherein the soul derives great pleasure from G‑dliness, or a love like fiery flames of ardent longing for G‑dliness,

כמדת הצדיקים שנזדכך חומרם

like the quality of the tzaddikim whose corporeality has been refined;

When tzaddikim perform a mitzvah they actually feel how it unifies their soul with G‑d. This, in turn, awakens within their soul a feeling of fear and awe of G‑d, followed by a feeling of intense love of Him. This, of course, is not the case with these who “feel not.”

וכנודע שדעת הוא לשון הרגשה בנפש, והוא כולל חסד וגבורה

for, as is known, the term Daat connotes a sensitivity of the soul, and this is comprised of Chesed andGevurah.

Chesed gives rise to love and Gevurah to fear. Only when one possesses the attribute of Daat and spiritual sensitivity, will one experience the kinds of love and fear of G‑d described above.

אף על פי כן אני תמיד עמך, כי אין החומר מונע יחוד הנפש באור אין סוף ברוך הוא, הממלא כל עלמין

Nevertheless, “I am continually with You,” for the corporeality of the body does not prevent the union of the soul with the light of the blessed Ein Sof, Who fills all worlds,

Corporeality can only prevent the soul from being conscious of its unity with G‑d, inasmuch as it hinders therevelation and awareness of the unity accomplished during the performance of a mitzvah. It cannot, however, hinder the actual unity objectively effected.

וכמו שכתוב: גם חושך לא יחשיך ממך

and as it is written:19 “Even darkness cannot obscure You.”


Accordingly,20 since (as above) every Jew who performs a mitzvah is granted the unity and sanctity of “Supreme Holiness,” even when he does not perceive it, as does a tzaddik,

יובן חומר עונש איסור מלאכה בשבתות וחמץ בפסח, השוה לכל נפש

one will be able to understand the severity of the punishment for transgressing the prohibition of work on Sabbath or that of leavened bread on Passover, which equally applies to all.

The very same severe punishment applies equally to the loftiest tzaddik and to the coarsest boor, were either of them, heaven forfend, to transgress one of the above-mentioned prohibitions. The reason:

-לפי שאף בנפש בור ועם הארץ גמור מאיר אור קדושת שבת ויום טוב, ונידון בנפשו בכרת וסקילה על חילול קדושה זו

For even in the soul of an uncultured and completely illiterate person shines the light of the sanctity of Sabbath or Festival; hence he faces capital punishment by Karet for eating leavened bread on Passoverand stoning for doing a prohibited form of labor on Sabbath, for the profanation of this sanctity which illuminates his soul.

Though a particular individual may not feel this sanctity, still, as explained earlier, this sanctity does indeed illuminate his soul. This being the case, the soul of this individual is tainted by his misdeed in a manner equal to that of a tzaddik in similar circumstances. It is for this reason that the manner of punishment applies equally to all.

וגם משהו חמץ, או טלטול מוקצה, פוגם בקדושה שעל נפשו כמו בקדושת נפש הצדיק

Similarly, the transgression involving the slightest amount of leaven on Passover, or the moving of muktzehon Sabbath, blemishes the sanctity which rests on his (the uncultured person’s) soul just as it would the sanctity of the soul of a tzaddik,

כי תורה אחת לכולנו

for we all have one Torah: the laws of the Torah apply equally to all Jews.

From all the above it becomes eminently clear that though a person may not feel the sanctity brought about by the performance of a mitzvah, so much so that he is likened to a beast, nevertheless, through his performance of a mitzvah,this “beast” is unified with G‑d to the same degree as the greatest sage. Indeed, this is the implication of the verse, “Beasts I am with You, [yet] I am constantly with You.”

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that there is a definite reason why the similarity to a beast is described in the plural (“beasts I am with you”). This tells us that the performance of a mitzvah on the level of a beast — with neither comprehension nor feeling — is related to the spiritual level which transcends comprehension and feeling, this level too being termed “beast” since it is not in the realm of comprehension, rather transcending it. Thus there are two levels of “beasts”, that which is lower than the realm of comprehension and that which is above it. Both are alluded to by the same word, since the two are connected.

ומה שכתוב: בהמות, לשון רבים

(21And as for the use of the plural form “beasts”, which is inconsistent both with the singular form mentioned earlier (“and I am a fool”) and with the singular form mentioned later (“And I am constantly...”),

לרמז כי לפניו יתברך גם בחינת דעת העליון, הכולל חסד וגבורה, נדמה כבהמות ועשייה גופנית לגבי אור אין סוף

this intimates that before Him, even Daat Elyon (“Supernal Knowledge”) — which comprises Chesedand Gevurah — is like “beasts” and a physical creation (i.e., the physical world of Asiyah, not its spiritual counterpart), when compared with the light of the Ein Sof,

כמו שכתוב: כולם בחכמה עשית

as it is written:22 “You made (עשית) them all with wisdom,” thereby comparing the level of Chochmah(“wisdom”) with Asiyah (“physical creation”). From G‑d’s perspective, Chochmah and Asiyah are equally distant.

ונקרא בהמה רבה, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

And this is called Behemah Rabbah (“a great beast”), denoting that level of “beast” which transcends understanding rather than that which lacks comprehension, as is explained elsewhere.

והוא שם ב״ן, בגימטריא בהמ״ה, שלפני האצילות

And this is the level of the Supernal Name of “Ban” (one of the four variations of the Tetragrammaton, corresponding with the number 52), with the same numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Behemah (“beast”), which is on a level even preceding Atzilut).

We thus see that even one who performs mitzvot on the level of a “fool” or “beast”, neither comprehending nor sensing the unity and holiness achieved and drawn down through his actions, — even such a person, too, attains a union with the level of “beast” that transcends even that most lofty of levels — Daat of Atzilut.




16.  Tehillim 73:22-23.

17.  Concerning the statement that “this is also the meaning of what Asaf said, under Divine inspiration...,” the Rebbe remarks that the Alter Rebbe is not in the habit of naming the individual who authored a specific verse, nor is he in the habit of remarking that it was first uttered under Divine inspiration.

An exception was made here, the Rebbe explains, because Asaf is addressing himself to the problem of “a wicked man who prospers” and “a righteous man who suffers.” Asaf is also speaking either about himself, or, at least, about those Jews who lived in his time, for in the same chapter he explicitly says “...until I came to the Holy Temple.” I.e., he is referring to a time when the Temple is standing. Now at that time corporeality did not conceal G‑dliness to the same degree as it does now. This being so, how do Asaf’s words apply to our times?

The Alter Rebbe answers this by saying that in this verse Asaf was not talking about himself and his generation, but about the Jewish community in times of exile. Though he was no prophet (as Rashi states in Megillah 14a), he was nevertheless able to speak of the future, for he spoke under Divine inspiration. Daniel likewise foresaw and foretold many future episodes, even though (asRashi mentions in his commentary to Daniel) he too was no prophet.

In the next footnote the Rebbe will offer evidence that in the verse, “So foolish was I...,” Asaf speaks of the Jews in time of exile.

18.  The Rebbe notes that with the words “This means,” the Alter Rebbe is saying, that unlike the previous verses which speak of Asaf’s own time, this verse refers to the Jewish community in exile. Proof that this is indeed so, lies in the fact that after saying, “And I am foolish and know not,” he goes on to say, “I was as a beast before You.” If Asaf is speaking of himself, his final words are superfluous.

We must therefore say that he is speaking of the time of exile, when the veil of corporeality is so palpable that “even when I am with You” — even in the midst of performing a mitzvah, at which time a Jew is at one with G‑d — still “I am as a beast,” unable to feel this union with G‑d. This also explains why the Alter Rebbe quotes the beginning of the verse (“And I am foolish and know not”), when he mainly addresses himself to the latter part of the verse. He does so because the opening words prove that the phrase, “I was as a beast before You,” speaks of the Jewish people in times of exile.

19.  Tehillim 139:12.

20.  The Rebbe explains that with the Alter Rebbe’s statement — “Accordingly, one will be able to understand...” — a number of very problematic issues are resolved. Firstly: How is it possible that an illiterate person be subject to the same severe punishment as a tzaddik, for transgressing the prohibition of work on the Sabbath or that of leavened bread on Passover? The punishment results from the individual’s desecration of the sanctity which pervades the Sabbath and festivals. However, this sanctity does not rest upon the illiterate person. Why, then, should he be so severely punished?

Even if we posit that the illiterate person, too, possesses some miniscule measure of the sanctity of the Sabbath and Festivals, we must still understand why the same measure of punishment “equally applies to all.” Reason dictates that the illiterate’s punishment should be much less severe than that of the tzaddik, inasmuch as he harbors but an echo of the sanctity enjoyed by thetzaddik.

According to what the Alter Rebbe has just now explained, the matter becomes entirely understandable. For within the soul of the illiterate person there radiates the light of the sanctity of those holy days in the same measure as within the soul of a tzaddik. The only difference between the two is that the tzaddik feels this sanctity while the illiterate person does not.

The Rebbe adds that this explanation also helps us understand why the Alter Rebbe cited evidence specifically from transgressing the prohibitions of the Sabbath and Festivals. These prohibitions, says the Rebbe, are not intrinsic to the acts themselves, for doing these selfsame things on any other day is not prohibited at all. Rather, these are prohibitions which apply to the individual: he is not permitted to perform such labor on the Sabbath.

This being so, we must surely say that the light of Sabbath illumines the soul of an illiterate person just as it does that of a tzaddik. Were we not to say so, then the question of why the punishment is not for the inherent wrong of the act itself, but for the person's performance of this act on the Shabbath. If the illiterate person's soul is not illumined to the same degree as the tzaddik's, it is unthinkable that the punishment should be the same.

21.  Parentheses are in the original text.

22.  Tehillim 104:24.