Tanya study, your road to a healthy spiritual life

Today's lecture is a continuation of Chapter 50. Each lecture stands alone, but previous classes can be accessed by clicking on the link below.

HaRav Shneur Zalman Miliadi, | updated: 09:00

Judaism Lubavitcher Rebbe - Chabad photo
Lubavitcher Rebbe - Chabad photo


אך יש עוד בחינת אהבה העולה על כולנה, כמעלת הזהב על הכסף

There is, however, another level of love which excels all these aforementioned levels, as gold is superior to silver.

This superiority subsists not in degree or intensity, but rather in quality and character. This is not just a quantitative superiority — in that gold (in the analogy) is worth more than silver, a small quantity of it fetching a higher price than a large quantity of silver. The superiority of gold lies in the fact that the most refined type of gold possesses a captivating luster which glistens in the eyes of the beholder (as explained in the Zohar5). All other types of gold are related to this type. Silver, on the other hand, does not possess this quality.

The same distinction exists between the form of love described in this chapter, which has the characteristic of thirst and rapturous expiry into G‑dliness, and the other forms of love which do not have this quality.

והיא אהבה כרשפי אש

This is a love like glowing coals of fire — a burning love, unlike the aforementioned forms of love which are essentially “like water,” for the soul is drawn with a yearning towards G‑d, like water which flows and is attracted in a certain direction. (Hence in the wording of the Prayer for Rain said on Shemini Atzeret: “Remember our forefather who was drawn after You like water”.) This love, on the other hand, has a totally different quality — that of glowing coals of fire.6

מבחינת גבורות עליונות דבינה עילאה

This derives from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher Binah. In other words, the source of this love is from the level of Gevurah in Binah.

דהיינו, שעל ידי התבוננות בגדולת אין סוף ברוך הוא, דכולא קמיה כלא ממש חשיב

The arousal of this love comes about through meditation on the greatness of the Infinite One, before Whom all is considered as absolute nothingness.

תתלהט ותתלהב הנפש ליקר תפארת גדולתו, ולאסתכלא ביקרא דמלכא

Then, the soul becomes inflamed and flares up towards the precious splendor of His greatness, in order to gaze upon the glory of the King. This is the content of this love.

כרשפי אש שלהבת עזה העולה למעלה

It is like glowing, fiery coals of a mighty flame which surges upward (not a love which is drawn towards some object, but one which ascends with the burning fire of klot hanefesh),

וליפרד מהפתילה והעצים שנאחזת בהן

and it strives to be parted from the wick and wood on which it has taken hold.

In the same way, the soul seeks to tear away from the body, which is compared to a wick (ch. 35) and to wood (ch. 29), in relation to the fire and light of the soul.7

והיינו על ידי תגבורת יסוד האש אלקי שבנפש האלקית

This results from the predominance of the element of divine Fire that is in the divine soul, unlike other forms of love which derive from the element of Water in the divine soul.

ומזה באה לידי צמאון, וכמו שכתוב: צמאה לך נפשי

From this, the soul comes to a thirst. Just as, in the physical domain, one becomes thirsty when the element of Fire predominates, so it is in the spiritual domain, too: the ascendancy of the divine soul’s element of Fire creates a thirst within the soul, as it is written:8 “My soul thirsts for You.”9

ואחר כך לבחינת חולת אהבה

Then it reaches the level of “lovesickness”,10 where the soul is sick with love of G‑d, just as an unquenched physical thirst brings on a state of sickness.

ואחר כך באה לידי כלות הנפש ממש, כמו שכתוב: וגם כלתה נפשי

And then it comes to a virtual expiring of the soul (klot hanefesh), as it is written:11 “And my soul expires.” If not for the consequent contrary sensation of “retreat” and restraining oneself (as explained further), the soul would literally expire.

והנה מכאן יצא שורש הלוים למטה

From here, from the level of the Higher Gevurot of the Higher Binah, is derived the source of the divine service of the Levites below in this world.

ולעתיד, שהעולם יתעלה, יהיו הם הכהנים, וכמו שכתב האר״י ז״ל על פסוק: והכהנים הלוים, שהלוים של עכשיו יהיו כהנים לעתיד

(12In the future, when the world will be elevated, they will be the Kohanim13 (unlike now, when the Levites are secondary to them, as it is written:14 “They shall accompany you and serve you”), as our Master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, commented on the verse,15 “But the Kohanim, the Levites...” — that the Levites of today will become the Kohanim of the future.)16

ועבודת הלוים היתה להרים קול רינה ותודה, בשירה וזמרה, בניגון ונעימה

The Levites‘ service of G‑d was to raise their voice in melody and thanksgiving, with song and music, tunefulness and harmony. Music characteristically combines varied and even opposite moods, some serious (stemming from Gevurah) and others happy (stemming from Chesed).

בבחינת רצוא ושוב

Their music progressed in a manner of advance and retreat (ratzo, literally “running”, and shov, “returning”). This echoed their form of serving G‑d: the headlong advance towards klot hanefesh, and the restraint, retreat and return from that point.

שהיא בחינת אהבה עזה זו, כשלהבת היוצאה מן הבזק, כדאיתא בגמרא פרק ב׳ דחגיגה

Such is the nature of this intense love, like a flame that flashes out of the bazak, as is mentioned in the Gemara (Chagigah, ch. 2).17

One translation of bazak is a crucible for refining gold, in which the flame flashes forth and immediately withdraws. In Yechezkel 1:14, the angels called holy chayyot “run to and from (ratzo vashov) like the appearance of the bazak.” Likewise, the love of G‑d we are discussing in this chapter first experiences ratzo, a state in which the soul surges forward as if about to expire. But then comes shov, as it is written in Sefer Yetzirah: “If your heart runs, return to One.” In other words, when your heart seeks to undergo klot hanefesh, expiring into G‑dliness, then you should return to “One” — withhold yourself from this course and return, in order to bring the revelation of G‑d’s Oneness into this physical world. At this point one realizes that klot hanefesh is not the Divine intent, which is, rather, that the soul remain in the body and observe Torah and the mitzvot, thereby revealing the “One”, G‑d’s unity, in the world.


5.  Zohar II, 148a.

6.  The Rebbe comments that this appears to contradict a statement of the Alter Rebbe in ch. 9. He speaks there of one who has attained “a love of G‑d, burning in his heart like a flame,...[and] his soul will...pine with desire,...rising to attain to the level of ahavah rabbah (‘abundant love’),” — and this higher level of love stems from “the element of Water.”

Here, however, the Alter Rebbe says that the superior form of love is that which “burns in one’s heart like a flame,...his soul pining with desire” — “as gold is superior to silver.”

The Rebbe answers his question by citing the response of the Tzemach Tzedek (in Or HaTorah, Parshat Achrei,pp. 95-96) to a similar question. The Tzemach Tzedekexplains that there are two kinds of silver, ordinary silver and silver which has been refined sevenfold. This latter form of silver is even more valuable than gold. The same is true regarding the various forms of love: When the love is on the level of ordinary silver, then love which is like “flaming fire” and likened to gold is superior to it. However, “the great love of delights” is similar to that form of silver which is superior to gold.

7.  “I.e., within the body itself this differentiation is between action and speech — and thought. (See Likkutei Torah,beginning of Parshat Achrei.)” (— Note of the Rebbe.)

8.  Tehillim 63:2.

9.  The Rebbe comments that we cannot simply say that the Alter Rebbe quotes this verse in order to prove that a soul longs for G‑d. (a) This is self-evident. (b) If proof is nevertheless needed, the Alter Rebbe should also have supported his statement that the soul reaches the point of “love-sickness” by citing the verse, “...for I am sick with love.” (c) If it is indeed necessary to prove that the soul thirsts for G‑d, why does he not cite the verse in all the previous places in Tanya where he speaks of the soul’s thirst for G‑dliness?

The Rebbe therefore explains that proof is specifically necessary here, for in this instance we are speaking of the divine soul’s longing for G‑d, as opposed to the longing of the body and animal soul. For even when the divine soul finds itself in this world it still remains “truly a part of G‑d above.” Since thirsting after and longing for G‑d generally results from the person’s distance from Him, and the divine soul is not distant from Him, what is the reason for its longing?

In the case of a penitent this longing would be understandable. For as explained in ch. 7, the penitent’s soul thirsts for G‑d like the parched desert soil thirsts for water. Here, however, we are speaking of an individual who has transcended even the level of “longing exceedingly for his Father’s house.” How, then, can we say that a person so close to G‑d longs and thirsts for Him?

The Alter Rebbe therefore cites the verse which says that “my soul thirsts after you.” This was spoken by King David, who was of such a superior spiritual level that he had completely vanquished his evil inclination and had transformed his animal soul into holiness. Our Sages attest to this, when in commenting upon the verse, “My heart is slain within me,” they note that King David completely eradicated his evil inclination through fasting. When a person like King David who was totally devoid of any evil inclination states that his soul thirsts for G‑d, he is surely referring to his divine soul. Thus we see from this verse that it is indeed possible for the divine soul of a totally righteous individual to thirst after G‑d.

But the question still remains: How is it that someone so close to G‑d still longs for Him?

This is answered in the concluding section of the verse which states: “...in a land of barren wilderness.” Since King David composed this psalm in the Judean Desert, while exiled from Jerusalem, he was in a state of longing. Spiritually as well: when a divine soul finds itself in this world it is in a desert. While it may attain a lofty degree of comprehension of G‑dliness, thus finding itself in aJudean desert, its present spiritual state cannot at all compare to its former spiritual state, before its descent into this world. Hence its thirst for G‑d.

In addition, writes the Rebbe, it may be said that the quoted verse also serves to show that the very contemplation itself leads to this thirst, for the phrase, “My soul thirsts after You,” is preceded by the words, “L‑rd, You are my G‑d: I shall seek You.” Thus, meditating upon G‑d’s greatness, whereby the person seeks G‑d, leads to “thirsting after You.”

This is also shown by the verse, “My soul expires [with rapture for G‑d],” wherein King David — a completely righteous individual, not a penitent — demonstrates his soul’s longing for G‑d.

10.  Shir HaShirim 2:5.

11.  Tehillim 84:3.

12.  Parentheses are in the original text.

13.  The Rebbe notes that by saying that the Levites of today will become Kohanim in the future, the Alter Rebbe anticipates the following question:

Earlier on it was stated that the love which is like “flaming fire” is superior to the degree of priestly love. The Alter Rebbe now states that the love likened to “flaming fire” is related to the Levites. However, since the Levites are on a lower level than the Kohanim, how can it be that their love is superior to priestly love?

This is answered by saying that the Levites‘ love is indeed superior; the world, however, is in need of elevation. When this shall come to pass, the present-day Levites will indeed become the Kohanim of the future, and will cease being subservient to them.

14.  Bamidbar 18:2.

15.  Yechezkel 44:15.

16.  The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe adds the words "of today" ("the Levites of today will become the Kohanim of the future") in order to forestall the following question: The Torah was given "unto us and unto our children, forever" (Devarim 29:28). Rambam comments that we learn from this verse that one of the foremost principles of the Torah is that it remains immutable (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 9). How then can we possibly say that one of the laws of the Torah will (heaven forbid) be changed, so that the Levites become Kohanim, with all the changes in Torah law that such a transformation entails?

The Alter Rebbe therefore writes that this does not mean that those Levites born in the future will become Kohanim. Rather, it means that those Jews who are presently Levites will be born in the future into priestly families, thereby making them lawful Kohanim.

This, however, lead to another question: If this is the case, then there is nothing novel about it; it goes without saying that any child born to a Kohen is himself a Kohen.

The answer to this, says the Rebbe, lies in the fact that Levites are born as such because their soul's spiritual source and therefore their divine service - both in the Temple as well as now - is that of Gevurah. So, too, with regard to Kohanim: their source is Chesed. Since in the time after Mashiach's coming the service prompted by Gevurah will surpass that of Chesed, those who today are Levites will be born into priestly families so as to attain their superior spiritual level.

17.  13b.