Publishers of
Chassidic thought
in clearly explained English


Es Shabsosai Tishmoru


In this week’s Torah portion we read, “Observe My Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary,” wherein the plural is used with respect to the Sabbath. This implies two Sabbaths, in accordance with the teaching, “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, ‘If the Jews would only observe two Sabbaths properly, they would immediately be redeemed.’” This does not necessarily refer to two separate Sabbaths, though, for even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—which the Kabbalah calls “lower-order Shabbos” (Shabbos tataah) and “higher-order Shabbos” (Shabbos ilaah).

Based on the above, the statement can be reconciled with a parallel teaching in the Jerusalem Talmud: “If the Jews had only observed one Sabbath properly, the son of David [i.e., the Messiah] would have come immediately.” The first teaching, too, refers to only one Shabbos, and the meaning is that if the two levels within each Sabbath are observed properly, we would be redeemed from exile. This is what is meant by the plural used in our verse: “Observe My Sabbaths.”

To appreciate this, it is necessary to understand the concept of Shabbos.

***Shabbos: Elevation of the Universe

Shabbos isn’t just a “day of rest,” as the popular expression goes. That would seem to imply that Shabbos is simply one of the days of the week, except that we observe it by taking the day off to commemorate G-d’s having rested on the seventh day. Under that scenario, even if we devote this time off to prayer and study of Torah, the day itself is just another day. In fact, though, that isn’t the case at all. There is something qualitatively different about the day of Shabbos, something that radically distinguishes it from the preceding six days of the week. And that is this: on Shabbos, the entire universe—our material world and all the spiritual realms—is elevated to a higher spiritual level; all the worlds enter into a higher plane of existence.

In particular, the Torah study and good deeds we have performed throughout the week ascend heavenward on Shabbos. More technically, it isn’t quite the case that our weekday worship is directly elevated on Shabbos; it is simply not possible, because of its essential nature, for worship performed during the week to be included within Shabbos. However, within each weekday, there is a glimmer of Shabbos—an element, at least, of the radiance of Shabbos—and that is prayer. Each day, at the time of prayer, the Torah and mitzvos we have performed that day are absorbed and ascend to a higher spiritual level. The prayers of each day of the week, with the Torah and good deeds that have been absorbed within them, are then included within Shabbos itself. That is why prayer is called olas tamid, “a regular [i.e., constant, recurring] offering”—lit., “a regular elevation”—while Shabbos is called olas Shabbos, “a Sabbath offering”—lit., “a Sabbath elevation.” Prayer, which is a regular, recurring event, is so called on account of the elevation of the worlds to a much higher level at the time of prayer—just as Shabbos is called “a Sabbath elevation” because of the elevation of the worlds that occurs on Shabbos.

Yet the above concept—that Shabbos involves raising all of creation to a higher spiritual level—raises a question as well. It is fundamental to Jewish belief that G-d is omnipresent, as it is written, “The whole earth is full of His glory” and “G-d is the L-rd in the heavens above and on the earth below.” As the Kabbalah states, “there is no place devoid of Him.” In that case, what is meant by spiritual “elevation” of the worlds? Wherever they are on the spiritual hierarchy, G-d is already there; how can they get any higher? Yet the Torah itself—whose language is precise—uses the term olas Shabbos, which denotes actual elevation.

***Souls Descend into this World for the Purpose of Ascent

There is a well-known question concerning why our souls descend from heaven, where they enjoyed an entirely spiritual existence, to live life upon this lowly earth, invested within physical bodies and subject to all the pitfalls that entails. The answer given is that our sojourn on earth enables our souls to ascend, afterward, to an even higher spiritual level; the descent, great as it was, was for the ultimate purpose of even higher ascent. The same question raised above can be asked about this teaching: if G-d is everywhere anyway, what is the meaning of souls “ascending” to a higher level?

The answer to this question as it applies to souls will help us to understand the answer with respect to Shabbos.

***Nature of the Soul’s Descent

To begin with, let us attempt to appreciate the nature of the soul’s descent. G-d created the universe and all its contents by means of the ten utterances detailed in the first chapter of Genesis (“Let there be light,” and so on); we likewise read,“By the word of G-d were the heavens created, and by the breath of His mouth, all their hosts.” Thus, the process of creation is likened to speech. This metaphor applies to every created entity in the universe; even angels (the hosts of heaven) were brought into being by “the breath of His mouth.” By contrast, the Jewish soul is described as originating on a spiritual plane superior to G-d’s “speech”; it is said to have “arisen in [G-d’s] thought.” The Torah’s metaphors are not arbitrary; they reflect the underlying reality of what is being described. Specifically, the contrast between speech and thought points up some essential differences between the rest of creation and the Jewish soul.

Jewish mysticism interprets the metaphor of the universe having been created by G-d’s spoken word in terms of the utter insignificance of creation as compared to G-d Himself. The faculty of speech in a person is a function of the soul; it is one of the three vehicles—thought, speech, and action—by means of which the soul expresses itself. But it is obvious that a single letter or word that a person utters is completely insignificant in relation to the total soul, which is expressing itself through that speech. The soul is not changed or depleted by the person’s speech; in fact, one could speak endlessly and not affect the soul. By telling us that creation derives merely from the “word” of G-d, the Torah is saying that all the realms, including even spiritual entities like angels and the life force animating them all, are nothing but a manifestation (ha’arah) of G-d, which, from the perspective of G-d Himself, is virtually nonexistent, utterly insignificant.

By contrast, the Jewish soul derives not from G-d’s speech, but from His thought, and is thus closer to G-d than anything else in the universe. Granted, thought itself is also insignificant before G-d, just as a person’s thought is merely a function, an expressive faculty, of the soul. The soul can think endless thoughts and not become changed or depleted; any individual thought is utterly insignificant in relation to the soul itself. Nevertheless, thought is certainly superior to speech. This expresses the superiority of the Jewish soul over the rest of creation, for, as noted above, the metaphor is precise in all its particulars, as will now be explained.

We mentioned above that both speech and thought are vehicles through which the soul expresses itself. In the terminology of Jewish mysticism, they are said to be “garments” of the soul. Yet there are different kinds of garment. Speech is analogized to an outer garment: just as one does not wear, for example, one’s overcoat at all times, putting it on only when one wishes to go outside, so does one not speak constantly. In fact, it is easier for a person not to speak; one only speaks if there is something one wishes to express to another. Thought, on the other hand, is comparable to an inner garment that one always wears, even when alone; it is impossible to be without thought.

One advantage of thought over speech, then, is that thought is constant. Another is this: just as the soul is eternal, so is the soul’s thought, for the relationship between sechel—the soul’s inherent intellectual faculties—and machshavah—the expression of that abstract intellect as actual thought—is such that the two are inseparable. Sechel and machshavah are described in Kabbalah as “two friends that do not separate,” and are compared to “a snail, whose garment [i.e., shell] is of its very self.”

Accordingly, the universe and all its contents—created through G-d’s word—are of limited duration. They came into being during the six days of creation, which was the “time to speak” alluded to in Ecclesiastes, and they will eventually end after the six thousand years allotted for the world’s existence, since there is also a “time to be silent.” The Midrash adduces support for the proposition of the world’s temporal duration from the verse, “all the days of the earth.” The Jewish soul, by contrast—having been created through G-d’s thought—is not of limited duration. It existed prior to the six days of creation, As our Sages teach on the verse, “They dwelt there with the king, in his service”: “[Prior to creation,] the souls of the righteous dwelt with the King—the King of kings—the Holy One, blessed is He; the Holy One, blessed is He, consulted with them and created the world.” and as stated in the previous paragraph, it is eternal.

One might ask, if the soul is derived from G-d’s thought, which is one with G-d Himself, how can we account for the fact that souls differ from one another in spiritual stature? Should not all souls be the same, just as G-d is Himself One? The answer is that the 600,000 general Jewish souls (which, in turn, divide further into branches, which themselves divide into countless sparks) can be compared to the 600,000 letters of a Torah scroll. The Torah, too, is the expression of G-d’s thought, yet contains numerous letters of different kinds. Yet this does not negate its being associated with G-d’s thought—one with G-d Himself.

In light of the above, we can better appreciate the immeasurable difference between the Jewish soul and the rest of creation. The question thus becomes all the stronger: what possible reason could there be that would justify the soul’s descent into this lowly, physical world? Every day, in our prayers, we beseech G-d, Whom we address as “exalted from the time of creation,” to have mercy on our souls, which descended so low—why is all this necessary? As stated above, this inconceivable descent is said to be worthwhile in light of its underlying purpose: to enable the soul to ultimately ascend even higher. We must, therefore—now that we understand something of how profound a descent this actually was—examine just what is meant by the “ascent” that is said to justify it all.

***“Creator of Holy Ones, Praised Be Your Name Forever”

Specifically, we must come to understand the meaning of “ascent” relative to the spiritual level on which the souls originated in heaven. That souls ascend to heaven after completing life on earth is obvious; our question, though, was: since the souls were already in heaven to begin with, what is the meaning of the teaching that descending into this world enables them thereafter to ascend even higher?

To appreciate the answer, we need to understand more precisely the level on which souls originate. This is alluded to by the liturgical phrase, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name forever.”

The “holy ones” referred to are the Jewish souls. We find a similar usage of this term in the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, where (immediately after invoking the angels’ praises of G-d) we recite, “Holy ones praise You every day, forever”—referring to the souls. This order is appropriate, as souls are superior to angels, and we are thus progressing from lesser praise to greater praise. Angels may be said to have bodies, and thus to take up space; for example, the Talmud speaks of an angel so huge its height is a five-hundred-year journey, and the Midrash mentions that an angel can take up a third of the earth. It follows that angels are also bound by time, as space and time are both creations of G-d and are of the same quality. That is why angels have a fixed time at which to sing G-d’s praise. By contrast, souls are not bound by time or space; that is why they are referred to as “holy ones.” The Hebrew word for “holy,” kadosh, connotes apartness, separateness: souls, in their heavenly state, have no bodies and do not take up space; for that reason they are also separate and apart from the constraints of time. Thus, their praise of G-d—unlike that of the angelic beings—is not only every day, but also unceasing, as in the liturgical expression we are discussing: “Holy ones praise You every day, forever.” This also explains the teaching that souls constantly ascend to ever-higher spiritual levels, as it is written, “They will go from strength to strength.” This spiritual advancement is only accomplished by singing G-d’s praises, and it is precisely because the souls are constantly doing so that they are always rising in level.

Another implication of the expression, “Holy ones praise You every day, forever” is based on the plural phrase “holy ones” referring not to many individual souls, but to many levels and degrees of soul. Since G-d Himself is infinite, there is no limit to the degree of G-dly comprehension the souls are capable of in heaven. In fact, “heaven” (gan eden) is defined by the spiritual bliss the souls experience from comprehending the G-dliness which is revealed to them there—referred to in the Talmud as “the radiance of the Divine Presence.” It is over this perception of G-dliness that the souls sing praise. Each time a soul advances in its ability to perceive these G-dly revelations, it is said to ascend to a higher level of heaven. There are thus an infinite number of degrees or levels of heaven, each populated by souls of higher and higher spiritual stature. And all of these endless classes of souls, higher upon higher to the very highest degree—the “holy ones”—praise G-d unceasingly—“every day, forever.”

Yet for all that, it is said of the souls, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name forever.” Even the loftiest of souls, on the loftiest level of heaven, can only sing the praises of G-d’s name, as opposed to G-d Himself, because that is all they can perceive. This is the meaning of the teaching that in heaven, the souls delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence (ziv haShechinah), and not the Divine Presence itself. G-d Himself is utterly beyond all perception; it is only His radiance, what the Zohar calls His “light,” as it were (as in the expression Or Ein Sof, “the Light of the Infinite One”), that is manifest—even in heaven.

***The Metaphor of G-d’s “Light”

What we perceive as the light of the sun as it shines upon the earth and its inhabitants is utterly naught relative to the sun itself, its source. It makes no difference whatsoever to the sun whether its light even reaches the earth at all; if clouds block it before it gets here, or if some individual draws the curtain, there is certainly no change effected in the sun itself. Similarly, the expression “Light of the Infinite One” describes a mere emanation (ha’arah) from G-d Himself, relative to Whom it is utterly insignificant. Yet even an emanation from G-d is G-dly and unlimited; the Or Ein Sof would completely overwhelm the finite, created universe if it were not prevented from doing so. Thus, through a lengthy series of contractions or concealments (tzimtzumim), some glimmer, at least, of this G-dly light becomes perceptible to the “holy ones” described above—the Jewish souls.

This metaphoric distinction between G-d Himself and His light is the same as that between G-d Himself and His name, and that is why it is said that the holy ones praise—specifically—G-d’s name.

***The Metaphor of G-d’s “Name”

In the Midrash, for example, it is taught, “Before the world was created, there was only the Holy One, may He be blessed, and His Great Name.” These metaphors—G-d’s “light,” G-d’s “name”—all lead to the same end and have the same purpose: to understand the concept of the G-dly life force that animates all realms, and how it does not implicate G-d’s Essence at all. Each source simply expresses the same idea through its own terminology and metaphor.

Scripture itself expresses this concept in terms of a “name.” The very first mention of a name in the Bible is in Genesis 2:19, where we read that G-d brought all the animals and birds He had created to Adam “to see what he would call [them],” and that “whatever the man called each living thing was its name.” One may wonder: what was Adam’s great accomplishment in naming all the creatures? It seems obvious that whatever one calls a previously unnamed thing becomes its name; why does the Torah go out of its way to point out that, indeed, such was the case? However, the context provides insight into this episode. In Genesis 2:18, we are told, “G-d said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper as his counterpart.’” Then, in the next verse, we find the statement that G-d brought every living creature before Adam, who accurately named each. Finally, in Genesis 2:20, it is written, “Adam named every domestic animal, bird of the sky, and beast of the field, but Adam did not find a compatible helper.” Then the Torah goes on to recount how G-d created Eve.

The meaning of all this lies in the fact that in Hebrew, the concept of a name is much more than simply an arbitrary label useful for identifying something. As explained elsewhere, the letters which form the name of a thing in Hebrew—the Holy Tongue—are nothing less than the conduits by which the Divine life force is transmitted to the thing from G-d, bringing it into being in its unique form and maintaining its existence as a discrete entity. Thus, a Hebrew name—by definition—expresses the spiritual essence of the thing named; it encapsulates the very life force that shapes its being. Adam, the actual handiwork of G-d, was so spiritually attuned that he was able to perceive the G-dly life force that defined each creature, and accurately identified each by the name expressing that spirituality: “whatever the man called each living thing was [in fact] its name.” And that clarifies the place of this episode in the creation narrative: G-d says that He wants to provide Man with a helpful counterpart; He brings every living creature before Adam so the man could gaze into their respective essences and see whether any were suitable; nothing on earth but Woman was a fitting counterpart to Man.

Yet, even though the name of something is bound up with that thing’s essence, it is not the same as the essence. A person’s name, for example, has no tangible connection, and certainly no resemblance, to the person him- or herself. It is actually insignificant relative to the person him- or herself; it is only important for others—when one is alone, one has no use for a name. Still, in some mysterious way, the name represents the person to others, it calls that person to mind.

The same is true of the soul. Prior to its investiture within a body, the soul is not called by any name; neither is a body without a soul called by name. A name only comes into play with respect to a soul within a body, because, as explained above, the concept of a name does not apply to the essence of a thing itself; it is only to express that essence to others that the name is used. In the case of the soul, its essence transcends the idea of a name. The function of the name is to bind the soul and body together, to express the vitality of the soul within the body.

This is a general principle: whenever a greater thing is revealed or expressed to a lesser thing, we can use the term “name” to describe that revelation or expression. The greater thing, the higher level, exists in its own right and has no need of expression; and the lesser thing, the lower level—by virtue of its limitations relative to the higher—is incapable of relating to the higher level on the latter’s natural plane. The higher level must be packaged, as it were, for consumption by the lower; it must be presented in the right way in order for the lower level to benefit. This transmission from higher to lower is a function of “name,” as we have been describing that concept, because it is not at all the higher level itself that is transmitted to the lower, but merely some aspect of it that conveys to the lower some inkling of the higher—just as someone’s name in no way “contains” that actual, physical person, yet somehow calls that person to mind in all respects.

It is not the soul itself that animates the body, then, pervading and enabling each of its 248 limbs with their own particular function; rather, it is a mere extension or manifestation of the soul that does this, and which is rooted in and called forth by the letters of the person’s Hebrew name. That is the fundamental reason that a soul has no name before descending into a body: the very idea of a name only applies to the expression or radiation (ha’arah) of the soul throughout the body; the soul in its own right has no need of a name. Before descending into a body, this radiance, so to speak, of the soul was subsumed within the soul itself, where it was as naught.

Contemplation of all the foregoing enables us to appreciate with greater understanding what is meant by metaphors like the name of G-d. On the one hand, we must appreciate that the expression “G-d’s name” describes something truly G-dly, just as a person’s name reflects that person’s spiritual essence and is not simply arbitrary. On the other hand, just as someone’s name does not cause that person to physically materialize and is in no conceivable way literally connected to the person him- or herself, we should realize that G-d’s name is not at all the same as G-d Himself, relative to Whom His name is utterly insignificant.

Likewise, it will be understood that G-d’s animating and sustaining all realms, from the loftiest spiritual universe to this lowly physical world, is but a function of His name, not His Essence—for nothing could withstand G-d’s very Essence.

Before moving on, it would be worthwhile to add an insight drawn from the explanatory supplement (beiur) to this discourse. A fundamental teaching of Lurianic Kabbalah is found in the work Eitz Chaimto the effect that the first step toward creation may be thought of as G-d “making room” for the possibility of finite existence. We may think of this as G-d “clearing space” in which to make the universe—for, although G-d remains omnipresent (even within the cleared space), were His omnipresence revealed everywhere, nothing else could exist, by definition. Accordingly, G-d concealed His omnipresence so that the universe could exist within the resulting empty space, or void (makom panuy; chalal). The result was a “space” in which the Or Ein Sof (but not the En Sof, which is unaffected by all this) had been hidden from the perception of the beings to be created within that space—although it, too, remained essentially unchanged. In fact, even within the cleared space, a vestige or residue or impression (reshimu) of the Or Ein Sof remained. It was now possible for created entities to exist within the empty space without being utterly overwhelmed by G-d’s all-pervasive omnipresence and dissolving once more into G-dliness. This reshimu—residue of G-dly light—is not explained in Eitz Chaim itself, but in the work Emek HaMelech it is taught that it refers to letters (which constitute 231 “portals,” forward and backward).

The meaning of all this—as well as the meaning of Eitz Chaim’s teaching that G-d’s light “withdrew”; after all, the metaphor of light is not meant in a spatial sense to begin with, and even if it were, G-d is everywhere, so to where could His light withdraw—lies in the nature of letters as vehicles for the transmission of ideas. The idea itself is intellect; it is a concept in one’s mind. Once that concept is conveyed to another, the second person also has the same idea; knows the same concept. How, exactly, does an intellectual concept travel? The answer is that it was formulated by the first person into words—which, of course, are made up of individual letters—and the combination of those letters somehow contains that idea. Anyone who hears or reads that particular configuration of letters will “get” the idea—provided that person him- or herself possesses sufficient intelligence. Einstein formulated his theory into the famous equation “E=MC2,” and almost everyone is perfectly familiar with those individual symbols. Still, most people could stare at that equation forever and just not “get it,” not understand the concept it expresses, because they themselves do not have the requisite ability. The same applies if a person reads something in a language he or she does not understand. This is because the letters are not of the same stuff as the idea; they are fundamentally unrelated.

The key point about all this is that, even if the reader does not understand the intellect behind the letters, it is still there—that combination of letters still signifies the idea to a person able to understand it. Otherwise, however, the meaning is hidden; it is as though the idea is being withheld from expression to that person. This is the meaning of the mystical reshimu, the residue or impression left by the Or Ein Sof after it “withdrew” in the initial tzimtzum. Recall that G-d’s “light” and His “name” refer to the same thing. Metaphorically speaking, the tzimtzum was G-d’s withholding of the meaning from the letters of His name—that is, from the vehicle through which the content would otherwise be expressed to the universe. The reshimu is the letters of G-d’s name thus deprived—from our limited perspective, from the perspective of the universe—of their content, but which, nonetheless, continue to signify the same thing.

***Even G-d’s Name Transcends Creation

In fact, there is more to it than that, because actually, even G-d’s name transcends creation. It is written, “Let them praise the name of G-d, for His name alone is sublime; its radiance is upon the earth and heavens.” That is, even G-d’s name is too sublimely exalted to be the direct source of the universe’s life force. Instead, it is only the radiance of G-d’s name that animates the earth and heavens; a mere extension of G-d’s name, that bears a similar relationship to G-d’s name as G-d’s name does to G-d Himself—as discussed above.

The expression quoted earlier from the Shemoneh Esreh prayer—“holy ones praise You every day, forever”—is part of a sentence that reads in full, “You are holy; and Your name is holy; and holy ones praise You every day, forever.” Based on what we have just said, the meaning of “Your name is holy” becomes clear. As stated in our earlier discussion, the Hebrew word for “holy,” kadosh, connotes separateness: such an exalted state as to be entirely apart from all mundane things. “Your name is holy” means that not only G-d Himself (“You are holy”), but even His name, is so supremely exalted above creation as to bear no relation to creation at all. That which fills the earth and heavens as the soul fills the body, animating each individual creation with its own unique share of G-dly life force, is only the radiance of G-d’s name—the “name of His Name,” one might say.

This is hinted at by our Sages’ homiletic interpretation of the verse, “Come and behold the works of G-d, Who has wrought desolations (shamos) in the land”: “Do not read shamos (desolations), but sheimos (names).” The works of creation, from the highest realm to the lowest, could not withstand G-dly radiance directly from His blessed Great Name; G-d’s creative life force could only be channeled to the various works of creation through a series of intermediate steps, each of which only gives life to the level beneath it by means of its name, in the metaphoric sense explained above. Each created entity, whether an angel or a rock, thus receives its vitality in a measure appropriate for that being, through an endless series of reflections (or “names”) and reflections of reflections, etc.—yet, of course, they all ultimately originate from G-d. (This accounts for the many differences within the various realms: each represents a unique expression of G-dliness, in which His radiance is manifest to a different degree.) The “works of G-d” are thus a function of His “names” in the land, the created universe. In the Kabbalistic work Pardes, the phenomenon is mentioned of two Divine names containing identical letters, although one signifies a vastly higher spiritual level than the other. (One might think this should be impossible, since, as mentioned earlier in the main text, it is the letters of the name of a thing that deliver its spiritual life force—if the letters are identical, should not then the two things be the same?) See there for the reason. Based on this, one can also understand how it can be that two people may have the same name but different qualities.

Now, as explained above, a name is utterly insignificant, truly as nothing, relative to the essence of the thing named. All these successive reflections of G-dliness, these various names, are all insignificant relative to G-d Himself. A deeper meaning of the verse thus emerges. The specific Divine name in the phrase “Come and behold the works of G-d” is the Tetragrammaton, Havayah, which alludes to G-d’s ability to create something from nothing. It is inconceivable that G-d Himself should condescend to create anything at all; before Him, all is insignificant anyway, completely empty of substance. That is why the Psalmist exclaims, “Come and behold the wondrous works of Havayah—He before Whom even the most exalted creations are as naught; the blessed Infinite One, Who, by His mere Word, continually brings the universe into being from utter nothingness—in that He has, nevertheless, condescended to set what is really just so much desolation, just so much emptiness and insignificance, in the land, in the created universe!” This is possible because, as explained, the vitality of all created things does not reach them directly from G-d, but rather through a series of names, which are themselves insignificant—mere “desolation”—relative to what is above them.

All this, then, brings out the underlying import of the phrase, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name”: that throughout the countless levels of spiritual worlds, populated by “holy ones”—souls—of higher and higher spiritual stature, all these holy ones, on even the very highest of levels, can praise nothing more than G-d’s name, not G-d Himself.

***“Something from Something” (Yesh MiYesh) and “Something from Nothing” (Yesh MeAyin)

The phrase “Creator of holy ones” hints at a similar idea. As mentioned elsewhere, there are two basic paradigms for the way G-d transmits His influence into the universe. We have just explained that, in one sense, there are countless intermediate steps between G-d and the end result of creation, i.e., this physical world. By the first paradigm, each successive stage is a reflection of its immediately antecedent level, such that the antecedent level is actually implicit within the succeeding level. As a simple example, if one says “the sky is blue,” it is certain that the person is expressing an antecedent thought that the sky is blue. The statement did not arise out of nothing; it did not absolutely originate with the speaker’s utterance. It was, instead, already contained (albeit in potential) within the thought. Conversely, the thought is implicit within the statement, so that a person who hears that statement can infer with certainty that the speaker had had such a thought. This paradigm is therefore described as “something from something” (yesh miyesh): each successive stage in the process of creation is not truly new; it implies an underlying antecedent level on the spiritual hierarchy. The contrasting paradigm, of course, is “something from nothing” (yesh me’ayin), in which creation or revelation does not express a preexisting antecedent, but comes directly from G-d.

Now, the entire order of progressive manifestation of one level of spirituality within the next, and that itself within the next, and so on—known as the Seder Hishtalshelus (“order of progression” or “chain of descent”), the spiritual hierarchy of creation—follows the model of the ten Sefiros, or ten principal means of Divine manifestation. To facilitate our comprehension of G-dliness, humanity was created in the image of G-d, and our own intellectual and emotional makeup is modeled after the Sefiros, and called by the same names. The very highest human attribute is intellect; specifically, within the intellect, the very highest, or first, faculty is the point at which new ideas occur to the person, seemingly coming out of nowhere. This is called chochmah in Hebrew. At this initial stage, new ideas are but unformed glimmers; they must be developed and expanded until the person achieves thorough understanding. That next stage is known as binah (“understanding”). Even complete understanding, however, can remain an intellectual abstraction; it does not necessarily mean the person will do anything. When a person progresses to the next level, internalizing the knowledge so thoroughly that it actually affects one’s feelings and motivates one’s behavior, that is known as daas. Along those lines, an idea can progress further, working its way through motivating the gamut of human emotions—each of which corresponds to a particular Sefirah—and ultimately finding expression either as a verbal statement or an actual deed. This final stage, at which the original idea is expressed beyond the person, is associated with Malchus, the final, or “lowest” of the ten Sefiros.

Again, all the above helps us to understand how G-d manifests Himself in the universe. The point at which G-d’s creative life force makes its initial appearance within creation—the very first stage in the creative process—is referred to as the Sefirah of Chochmah, similar to the mysterious way in which the very first spark of an idea springs suddenly to mind. The next stage in the manifestation of the G-dly life force of the universe is termed Binah, and so on, down to the point of expression on an entirely different plane, corresponding to the Sefirah of Malchus (“Sovereignty”).

It will readily be seen that the entire order of progression by which the universe comes into being follows the paradigm of yesh miyesh, “something from something.” That is because each successive stage is merely a development, an expansion, of the previous level: Chochmah is developed into Binah, which progresses to the point at which it “sinks in” and is internalized as Daas, from which point it motivates various emotions that ultimately shape its final expression. In theory, even the final stage—the actual deed performed as a result of that first glimmer of an idea—reflects the influence of and expresses all the antecedent stages, right up through the initial inspiration, Chochmah. Put another way, all successive stages are already implicit within Chochmah. In this sense, it is stated, “You have made them all with wisdom”—that is, all the works of creation were made manifest out of their implicit state within the Sefirah of Chochmah, Wisdom. That is the meaning of the teaching that G-d could have created the universe, not by means of ten utterances, but by just one: all ten Sefiros are included within the first, Chochmah, about which it is said (in answer to the apparently inconsistent fact that, in the Biblical account of creation, there are only nine explicit utterances), “[The phrase] ‘In the beginning’ is also an utterance.” Indeed, the Aramaic Biblical translator Yonason ben Uziel renders “In the beginning” as “with Chochmah.” The foregoing is true also of the spiritual counterparts to these human characteristics.

By contrast, Chochmah itself is radically different. It alone follows the paradigm of yesh me’ayin, “something from nothing.” It is written, “From where shall wisdom be found,” which can be interpreted to mean that the Sefirah of Chochmah (“wisdom”) is itself derived from the lofty spiritual level known as ayin (“where,” or “nothingness”). This refers to the Source of creation, that great and unknowable “Nothingness” from which the initial creative spark of Chochmah springs, as an idea spontaneously occurs to a person out of nowhere. This is none other than the inconceivable Name of G-d that, as discussed at length above, is the Source of creation.

Now, it will be recalled that earlier, we said that the Jewish soul derives not from G-d’s speech, but His thought, and is thus closer to G-d than anything else in the universe. Specifically, souls are called kedoshim, “holy ones,” since their source is the lofty spiritual level known as Chochmah Ilaah, G-d’s “Supernal Wisdom,” which is itself termed kadosh, “holy.” In light of this lofty status of the soul, we wondered what is meant by the teaching that its descent into this physical world is for the purpose of an even greater subsequent ascent: how much higher can it get? Yet now, in light of our discussion, we realize that even the spiritual level of Chochmah Ilaah, the source of souls, is merely a creation out of utter nothingness—it is literally insignificant relative to the name of G-d from which it springs.

And this is also alluded to by the phrase, “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name”: for all that the holy ones, or souls, are so lofty, they are nonetheless merely creations out of utter nothingness next to G-d’s holy name, which is the limit of what they can praise.

Can the souls somehow bridge that inconceivable gap; can they somehow—impossibly—reach higher and touch, as it were, something more?

If so, surely, descent into a physical body is well worth it.

***G-d Both Transcends Creation (Sovev Kol Almin) and Fills Creation (Memalei Kol Almin); Reward for the Righteous Will Be in the Future to Come

At this point, we are finally able to appreciate the nature of the ascent that souls experience after their bodily sojourn in this world. What is more, the explanation of this concept will shed light on another puzzling teaching of our Sages: that “reward for the righteous will be in the Future to Come.”

The expression “the Future to Come” refers to the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, which is to take place after the Messiah arrives. After all, if it referred to what is termed Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden; heaven, where souls go after leaving their physical bodies—it would be inappropriate to call it the future, since heaven exists in the present. Even now, souls are enjoying the bliss of heaven, where, as we mentioned much earlier, they bask in the “radiance of the Divine Presence” and sing praise to G-d’s name. Yet this mere radiance of the Divine Presence is not the full measure of reward for the righteous—that is, for the mitzvos they have performed in this world. The full and appropriate reward for observing mitzvos will only come in the Messianic Future, when the souls have returned to their physical bodies once more. This is actually the “ascent” of the souls—yet how strange this seems! Why should the primary reward for spiritual virtue be held in reserve specifically until the soul is reinvested within a physical body?

The answer lies in the Kabbalistic teaching that the blessed Infinite One (Ein Sof) both transcends all realms (Sovev Kol Almin) and fills all realms (Memalei Kol Almin).

The concept of transmission or bestowal of influence is utterly inapplicable to G-d Himself—His blessed Essence, as it were (Atzmuso Yisbareich). We speak, instead, of the Divine life force that shines forth, that extends, from G-d to animate the worlds as the “Light of the blessed Infinite One” (Or Ein Sof); this is intended to capitalize on the distinction between light, which is what shines forth from the sun, and the actual sun itself, which does not extend anywhere. This is merely a physical metaphor; in more abstract terms, we can say that since G-d Himself is the Life of all life and the Sustainer of all life, the existence of life is automatically implied by this property, so to speak, of G-d. This “creation by extension”—as a corollary of G-d’s Own inherent character (metaphorically speaking)—is a form of revelation, akin to radiance or light. This is what is meant by the Light of the blessed Infinite One.

This light itself has two distinct aspects. On the one hand, nothing could exist without a measure of G-dly life force sustaining it; it is thus clear from the very existence of various creations that G-d’s life force, or light, pervades all things. Moreover, each created entity receives its vitality in a measure appropriate for that being—otherwise, everything would be the same. This immanent aspect of G-d within creation is called Memalei Kol Almin, that aspect of G-d’s light that “fills all realms.”

This is something like the manner in which the soul animates the body. Each of the body’s 248 limbs and organs has a specific function and ability: the eye sees, the ear hears, etc. It is the life force invested within each organ that enables it to function in the manner appropriate to that organ, and this life force is attributable to the soul. However, this life force is not the soul itself; it is, rather, that subtle property we have described above as the “radiance” of the soul. The soul itself is described as nishmas ruach chaim, “the soul (neshamah) of the spirit of life.” It follows that the body must come to life when the soul is present, by virtue of the very nature of the soul as lifegiver. But the actual soul is not what is invested within the eye so that it can see, or the ear so that it can hear, etc. These organs derive their life force, and even their specific abilities, from the mere fact of the soul, not the soul itself, in the manner we have likened to radiance or aura. Another way of understanding this is through the metaphor of one’s name, which has been developed above. When a person is alone, he or she has no use for a name. To draw that person’s attention to another, though, the other person calls the first by name. Obviously, the first person is not absorbed into the second when called by name, but a connection has nevertheless been established. In a similar way, the body’s life force is called forth from the soul through the person’s name—more specifically, through the actual letters making up that name—but the name is not identical with the soul.

And yet the analogy to G-d is (of course) inexact. To a certain extent, the soul does actually reside within the body, and is thus affected by what happens to the body. This is not true at all of G-d, Who is in no way “personally” clothed within creation, and Whom creation does not affect in the slightest, as we recite, “You were the same before the world was created, [and] You are the same since the world has been created.” The Torah expressly states, “I, G-d, have not changed,” because He is kadosh—separate and apart—and is not invested within creation in any way.

In fact, investiture within creation is not even possible for G-d’s light; it is only after numerous levels of concealment (tzimtzumim), filtering or dimming it, metaphorically speaking, that the Light of the Infinite One can be clothed within creation. Certainly, then, whatever life force is derived by the created worlds—higher and lower—is not G-d Himself (G-d forbid) but merely a manifestation of His “aura.” For this reason He is called, not “the One Who gives life to the universe,” but “the One Who gives life to life itself,” “the One Who sustains life”—because, in this context, the life of the universe is derived from G-d’s light, and G-d, in turn, is the One Who gives life to what is, relative to everything else in creation, this source of life. That is why it is written, “For with You is the source of life,” and not “For You are the Source of life.” Even the life of life itself—the Light of the Infinite One—is not G-d Himself, is not “You,” but is merely “with You,” insignificant relative to You Yourself. This is similar to what was quoted earlier to the effect that “before the world was created, there was only the Holy One, may He be blessed, and His name,” which was, however, utterly as naught relative to Him.

Now, although G-d’s light is not identical with G-d Himself, it is nonetheless infinite, since it reflects G-d, Who is infinite. In this sense, the expression Or Ein Sof, which we have been translating as “Light of the Infinite One,” can also signify “Infinite Light.” It is called Shmo HaGadol, His Great Name. This is alluded to by the Aramaic expression, yehei Shmei Rabbah mevarach (“may His Great Name be blessed”), which we say during the recitation of Kaddish. The word mevarach, “be blessed,” also connotes “be drawn forth,” and the implication is that we want the spiritual level of G-d’s Great Name to be drawn forth upon the worlds. The reason the universe, unlike the light, is finite, however, is that the various tzimtzumim, contractions or concealments, mentioned in the previous paragraph prevent the infinity of the light from being revealed.

The result of all these tzimtzumim is that aspect of G-dly revelation we refer to as immanent within creation, or Memalei Kol Almin—that aspect of G-d’s light that “fills all realms,” each receiving the precise measure of G-dly life force that uniquely defines it. The first glimmer of this filtered or contracted light is manifest within the spiritual level of Chochmah, making Chochmah the highest point in the spiritual hierarchy of creation, or Seder Hishtalshelus; from there it proceeds through numerous further contractions to the point where G-d’s immanent light is invested within even the lowest physical object.

And yet the entire Seder Hishtalshelus, the sum total of all that revelation, is utterly insignificant next to the Infinite Light in its natural state, so to speak, not as it is perceptible to us by virtue of being already invested within and expressed through the numerous individual entities of creation. To revisit what was said above, it is the life force invested within each organ that enables it to function in the manner appropriate to that organ: the eyes see, the fingers touch and feel, the stomach digests, the feet move—all these things allow us to perceive that there is life in those organs. But life is not sight; nor is it touch, nor digestion, nor movement. To say that life is sight, for example, would utterly fail to capture what life is, and would leave out virtually everything there really is to life. Life—in the abstract—cannot be defined at all; we can only describe what it does (life is what makes everything function or “live”; without life, everything would be dead) but as for what life actually is, who can know? Whatever it is though, we do know one thing: life is not sight, or digestion, or any of those specific manifestations of its presence within an organ. Life itself is abstract, and applies to all organs equally; in fact, it applies to all species equally; in fact, it even applies to plants. Perhaps this concept is analogous to how G-d’s immanent light, Memalei Kol Almin—invested in and manifest through the various entities of creation—is insignificant relative to the light of G-d in the abstract, prior to its specific expression through individual entities. This “raw” light, as it were, by virtue of its being, after all, light, the manifestation of G-dliness (implying that there is something to be manifest to), is what allows for the possibility of creation at all—in principle—but without distinction as to what can be created. It is that aspect of G-dly revelation we refer to as Sovev Kol Almin—that aspect of G-d’s light that simply “transcends all realms.”

The word sovev literally means “surround.” Yet it should not be supposed that the spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin merely surrounds all realms in the sense that it transcends them from above, but does not also pervade them completely. On the contrary, what is meant by the transcendence of Sovev Kol Almin is not spatial, but conceptual: it can be likened to “a wheel within a wheel,” in the sense that the area of the circle of the smaller wheel is fully a part of the area of the circle of the larger wheel. That is, the outer wheel or circle has a certain area, and everything within its circumference is equally a part of that area—irrespective of whether we also define a smaller area as an inner circle within the greater circle. When one is referring to the inner circle, one may meaningfully speak of its own particular area, but with respect to the outer circle it is all the same: the contents of the inner wheel and what is beyond its circumference are, without distinction, within the outer circle.

The same applies to a smaller sphere within a larger one. Since spheres are three dimensional, it is possible to use the terms “up” and “down,” “above” and “below,” in discussing them. But these are relative terms; they only have meaning if we assume a fixed reference point. If the reference is the floor, one might describe the top (itself a relative term!) of a sphere as “up” relative to the bottom of the sphere, and as “above” the bottom of the sphere. But if the reference point is the ceiling, it is the part of the sphere that was formerly described as the bottom that is now “up,” and “above” the part that was formerly the top. This may not be a very practical example when confined to a sphere in a room, but astronomers deal with this all the time relative to planets and the like in the void of space—there really is no objective up or down. Thus, if we speak of a sphere within a sphere, we cannot objectively say that the top of the outer sphere is “above” the inner sphere and the bottom of the outer sphere is “below” the inner sphere. Instead, from an objective standpoint, we would have to say that the so-called bottom of the outer sphere is just as much “above” the inner sphere as the so-called “top.” Put another way, those two points are equally “outside” of the inner sphere—without any distinction whatsoever as to “above” or “below.” The point is this: not only does the outer sphere “transcend” the inner in the same way as an outer circle transcends an inner circle (because, as in that example, the volume of the smaller sphere is entirely included within the volume of the outer sphere; the contents of a box within a room are just as much within the room as items not in the box), but there is also no difference in the degree or quality of the transcendence. This is the meaning of the verse, “The Eternal G-d is a shelter [above], with [His] everlasting arms [supporting] beneath”: G-d is just the same “below” as “above.”

Now, as stated, what differentiates Memalei from Sovev is that Memalei refers to the G-dly light as it has already been invested within specific creations through dimming or concealment (tzimtzum). Thus, by definition, it is no longer truly infinite, as in its natural state of Or Ein Sof, the Infinite Light. Accordingly, we can readily see that Memalei bears no comparison whatsoever to Sovev, which has not been limited by investiture within any specific thing—not even to the extent that “one” compares to “one million.” Numerically, “one” bears at least some relationship, albeit a small one, to even the largest number, but relative to infinity, both one and the largest number possible are equally insignificant—the comparison simply doesn’t apply. Similarly, there is no comparison whatever between the finite, contracted light that extends into and is invested within the worlds—Memalei Kol Almin—and the Infinite Light itself—Sovev Kol Almin—that is not grasped by and invested within the worlds.

Finally, then, we realize that this—inconceivable as it is—this is to be the ascent of the soul in the Future to Come, and why it is specifically through descent into a physical body in this world: Notwithstanding all we have said about the lofty stature of the Jewish soul and how it “arose in G-d’s thought,” how its source is the spiritual level of Chochmah Ilaah (G-d’s supernal Wisdom), we now realize that this is only an aspect—albeit the very highest—of Memalei Kol Almin. Likewise, we explained the phrase “Creator of holy ones, praised be Your name” to mean that the soul, exalted as it may be, is nevertheless a creation out of utter nothingness, as it were, and the highest it can aspire to praise is G-d’s name—associated with Memalei—its source. Yet the ascent will be the revelation of the light of Sovev Kol Almin that will take place in the Future to Come, at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. Open perception of this level, and the resultant bittul—utter absorption into G-dliness—this will entail, is the ultimate ascent of the soul, indeed. And it makes perfect sense, in fact it now seems almost obvious, that this will involve the body as well as the soul: since Sovev is “uniform, treating small and great alike,” since Sovev knows no distinction between higher or lower, its open revelation affects everything—even this lowest realm of Asiyah, even the very substance of our physical bodies. To G-d, it’s all the same, and that is the level of G-dly revelation we will then experience.

This awesome destiny, this ascent, this revelation, is merited through one thing only: actual performance of mitzvos in this world. That is another reason the revelation of Sovev should be manifest to souls within bodies. The purpose for which the soul descends into the body to begin with is to perform mitzvos, as it is written, “today, to do them”—that is, now, in this physical world, is the time to perform mitzvos; they cannot be done in heaven, before the soul is born; nor can they any longer be done after the soul departs. This is also why each soul must be reincarnated until it has finally, over the course of all its lives, been able to fulfill all of the Torah’s 613 mitzvos—it is only by means of the mitzvos that this awesome revelation of the Future to Come is brought about.

***The Reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah Itself

This is what is meant by the statement of the Mishnah that “the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.” When G-d created the universe, He made something out of nothing; the purpose and foundation of all mitzvos is to make nothing out of that something. That is, we must take the physical objects and substances of this world and use them in the service of G-d, thereby nullifying their apparent status as entities that exist in their own right and demonstrating that they are, in reality, nothing but vehicles for G-dliness. This is exemplified by the mitzvah of tefillin, which contain physical parchment on which is written that G-d is One. Parchment symbolizes the created universe in all its multiplicity, Parchment derives from the spiritual level known as kelipas nogah, which—precisely in order to enable us to elevate it into Oneness, as discussed in the main text—has the status of a separate entity in its own right. and its use to proclaim the unity of G-d reflects (and effects) the elevation of all that diversity into G-d’s true Oneness. Thus, our Rabbis taught that “the entire Torah is linked to tefillin,” since all mitzvos serve this function.

Indeed, it is taught, “The world stands upon three things: upon Torah, upon Divine service, and upon acts of kindness.” These three categories comprise all the mitzvos, and each of these categories illustrates the above:

Divine service is exemplified by the sacrificial offerings in the Holy Temple. The essence of these rites was when the animal or bird of the sacrifice would be consumed by a heavenly fire that would miraculously descend upon the altar; the physical sacrifice—“something”—was thus nullified and absorbed into pure spirituality—“nothing.”

Likewise, acts of kindness are exemplified by charity. In order to earn money, one generally puts one’s all into the work; one gives it all one’s got. If, then, one turns around and gives that money, for which one worked with every fiber of one’s being, to the poor—to a person characterized as a “have not”; a person said to have nothing of his or her own (les lei migarmei klum)—that, too, symbolizes the negation of something to nothing. This is consistent with the principle that kindness is a trait of our forefather Abraham (chessed leAvraham), who was the very embodiment of bittul (utter humility; self-negation), as he remarked, “I am [but] dust and ashes.”

The same is true of Torah study. True, this involves G-dly revelations and spirituality flowing from heaven to the student—seemingly “nothing” to “something,” not the other way around—but this only comes about if one has first made oneself a fitting receptacle for those gifts, utterly batel (nullified) before G-d. In the Shema prayer, the exhortation to study Torah (“and you shall speak of them”) comes in proximity to the idea that one must love G-d with all one’s soul. Loving G-d with all one’s soul is interpreted as meaning, “even if it means you must give up your soul”—that is, even if you must sacrifice your life for G-d. But if that is the interpretation, why did the verse not say “with all your body”? The answer is that the verse is also intended to apply to the subsequent reference to Torah study: it is hinting that one should not allow one’s sense of self (“all your soul”) to interfere with the transmission of G-dliness. Instead, one’s attitude should be one of total bittul to the Torah and its holiness, in the sense of “My words that I have placed into your mouth,” and “I am the Mishnah that is speaking though your mouth,” and in the sense of what is written of debates between the Academies of Hillel and Shammai to the effect that their respective statements are not their own, but literally “words of the Living G-d.” If one considers learning Torah to be one’s own accomplishment, one’s own words, nothing will come of it (except, perhaps, some book knowledge); it is only if one considers oneself an empty vessel into which the words of Torah can flow directly from G-d that the spirituality will descend.

In sum, the purpose and foundation of all mitzvos is the negation of something to nothing, as it is written,“G-d has commanded us to fulfill all these statutes, in order that we might fear G-d”: at root, the gist of all mitzvos is fear of G-d.

Now, at present, all the above is figurative. The person is not literally nothing; he or she continues to exist as a separate entity, but simply defers to G-d. This is not like the state of true bittul that prevails in the spiritual realm of Atzilus, in which all ten Sefiros are literally batel to G-d, the blessed Ein Sof. In that realm, although we can indeed speak of ten Sefiros, it is nevertheless said that “He and the things He has caused to come into being (garmohi) are One”—that is, that the ten Sefiros are in a state of true, literal bittul to the Light of the Ein Sof invested within them. Thus, in the realm of Atzilus, the attribute, or Sefirah, of Chessed (Benevolence) is analogized to G-d’s right hand: in reaching out to help someone, the hand has a function of its own and is distinguishable from other limbs, yet it remains fully a part of, and is in no way separate from, the body itself. However, despite this disparity between true bittul and the figurative bittul that we can achieve in this physical realm, our bittul is nevertheless a necessary prerequisite for our attaining true bittul.

This will come about through revelation of Sovev Kol Almin in the Future to Come. On the level of Sovev, there is literally no difference between the spiritual and the physical; between the Realm of Atzilus (the highest realm) and that of Asiyah (the lowest). Thus, even physically, here in the Realm of Asiyah, our very bodies, our own right hands—reaching out to give charity—will be literally, not just figuratively, batel to G-d; just as truly one with Him as is the Sefirah of Chessed in the Realm of Atzilus. But this will only happen by virtue of the person having previously—in these pre-Messianic times—achieved at least the figurative sort of bittul that is the limit of our present capability, by actually reaching out and giving charity. The same applies to our own wisdom (chochmah) and brains becoming vessels to G-d’s Supernal Wisdom (Chochmah Ilaah)—in which is clothed the light of the Ein Sof—through the prerequisite of present-day Torah study, etc.

Thus, the reward of a mitzvah really and truly is the mitzvah itself. The essence of all mitzvos is bittul, negation of something to nothing; and when we do that, the Messianic consequence, the reward, is true bittul, the ultimate bittul, wherein we will be really nullified to G-d—the true “Nothingness,” the Source from which all existence stems—through open manifestation of the Light of the blessed Ein Sof.

And every Jew actually has this bittul; we each, after all, subject ourselves to G-d at least a little, according to our own degree. Some individuals do so by subduing their natural impulses in deference to G-d’s will (iskafya), while others succeed in transforming their natures entirely, to the point that even their natural tendencies are only for the G-dly (is’hapcha). One way or the other, though, it is by virtue of this present-day bittul that we each have a share in the World to Come. This also affords insight into the aptness of the teaching that one who does not bow, as required, when reciting the Modim portion of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer will not be included in the Resurrection of the Dead. Bowing during Modim demonstrates deference and bittul to G-d, and one who refuses to do this evidences a total lack of these qualities. Since, as we have explained, the Resurrection of the Dead is a phenomenon essentially linked to bittul—it is only possible in consequence of the manifestation of Sovev Kol Almin, in the face of which everything is utterly batel and soul and body are entirely equivalent—it follows that one who has no bittul cannot experience this.

***Bittul and Shabbos

At this point—in light of all that has been said until now—we are finally in a position to understand the meaning of the concept that was mentioned at the beginning of this discourse: that there are actually two distinct levels within each Shabbos:

As stated at the outset, there is something qualitatively different about the day of Shabbos, something that radically distinguishes it from the preceding six days of the week. On Shabbos, the entire universe—our material world and all the spiritual realms—is elevated to a higher spiritual level; all the worlds enter into a higher plane of existence. We now understand that this elevation does not refer to a higher location; it is not meant in a spatial sense at all. Rather, as with the so-called ascent of souls in the Future to Come, the elevation is a function of bittul: on Shabbos, all of creation is able to lose itself completely, to transcend the illusory appearance of independent existence, and be absorbed within the all-encompassing unity of G-d.

The very word Shabbos signifies this. The Torah tells us, “And He rested on the seventh day,” but this is difficult to understand: G-d does not get tired, so what is meant by saying that after the six days of creation, He rested? The answer lies in the Hebrew word used for “rested”: the verb vayishbos, “and He rested,” is derived from the noun shabbos. So, to rephrase the question, what is the meaning of the statement, “And He ‘shabbosed’ on the seventh day”? What, precisely, did happen?

To understand this, we should note what has been explained elsewhere to the effect that a person who focuses his or her attention on a certain task finds his or her faculties preoccupied with that task. The person may not, for example, concentrate on, or even hear, what someone else is saying because, for the moment, the first person’s mind and faculty of hearing are tied up. When the person completes the task, his or her faculties are freed up, causing a certain feeling of liberation and satisfaction. In a similar fashion, G-d concentrated or focused His Divine creative attributes during the six days of the week. This is the inner meaning of the verse, “In six days, G-d made [the heavens and the earth]”: on each day of creation, G-d called into play one of His six “emotional” attributes or Sefiros, known as His middos. It required many tzimtzumim—contractions or concealments—for G-d’s attributes to be capable of expression within the created universe; during the six days of creation, G-d condensed or concentrated His Chochmah and six middos to the point they could be expressed through the ten utterances by which the heavens and the earth were created. On the seventh day, however, He rested, meaning not that G-d was tired, of course, but rather something akin to that just described: on the seventh day, Shabbos, all those Divine faculties invested within creation—comprising the entire life-force of the universe—were released from containment within creation, released from all those tzimtzumim, and rose back up to their source in G-d. This is why Shabbos is associated with Divine satisfaction and why the universe is said to experience a collective elevation in spiritual stature on Shabbos.

The above explains why, in the biblical         account of the six days of creation, the Divine name Elokim is used. The name Elokim signifies G-d as He restrains or conceals Himself through tzimtzum; as opposed to the name Havayah, which refers to G-d in all His unrestrained splendor. Thus, at the conclusion of the six days of creation, we are told vayechal Elokim—“G-d [Elokim] finished.” The implication is that the tzimtzumim, concentration of G-d’s creative energies into creation, came to an end, and, like a person’s faculties when released from concentration, rose once again back to their source—G-d as Havayah, unrestrained and unconcealed, associated with Sovev Kol Almin.

That is why Shabbos is described as “a Sabbath to G-d [Havayah].” Shabbos represents an elevation of the spiritual level of Memalei Kol Almin into that of Sovev Kol Almin,and, consequently, the created worlds—which came into being through the tzimtzumim associated with Memalei—also rise: their status as entities that seem to exist independently of G-d is nullified and they are absorbed into His inconceivable “nothingness.” This is also hinted by the verse, “I, Havayah, search the heart, probe the mind”: Since I am Havayah—since I utterly transcend all, on the level of Sovev Kol Almin—heaven and earth, above and below, are all the same to Me; to Me, darkness is as light and nothing can be hidden; thus, although I am indeed G-d, exalted above all, I can nevertheless see into hearts and minds.

That is also the meaning of, “And the heavens and the earth were finished.” The Hebrew word vayechulu, “were finished,” connotes extinction or wasting away, as in the expression klos hanefesh, pining or longing to the point of wasting away from yearning. On Shabbos, the heavens and the earth were “finished,” their existence as independent entities, separate from G-d, was extinguished and they were elevated to a state of bittul to Him.

All this results from the fact that on Shabbos, the transcendent spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin is revealed, rendering all of creation batel—as naught, similar to what was said earlier regarding the reward of a mitzvah being the mitzvah itself.

The reason seemingly incongruous terms like “ascent” and “elevation” are applied to this phenomenon, despite the fact that G-d is everywhere, lies in the fact that there are two types of revelation of G-dliness. The first is exemplified by the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, about which it is written, “and G-d descended [onto the mountain].” G-d is, indeed, everywhere, so this obviously cannot mean that G-d went from one place to another, such as from heaven “down” onto the mountain. Instead, the verse is to be understood as describing the manner of G-d’s revelation. This physical world does appear, at least, to exist in its own right, and one cannot openly perceive G-d here. That is not the case in the spiritual realms, where G-dliness is more evident. Thus, this world is considered inferior in that respect; it is “lower” not spatially, but in spiritual quality. The verse “and G-d descended” means that, at the giving of the Torah, the world remained as it was in that sense: it did not dissolve into spirituality; it still appeared to exist and to be governed by a natural order. Nevertheless—miraculously—G-d, Who can do anything, “descended” into this physical world; He revealed Himself here anyway. By contrast, the second type of G-dly revelation is that foretold by the verse, speaking of Messianic times, “They will see eye to eye.” This refers to the opposite situation: the spiritual stature of this physical world will be raised up and made equal to that of the (formerly) higher realms, so that it will be natural for even the physical to perceive G-dliness. That is the condition alluded to by the prophecy, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d”: the physical earth itself will perceive G-d. (One can use the analogy of two people, one in a high place and the other in a low place. There are two ways for them to come together: the higher can come down to the lower or the lower can come up to the higher.)

These two paradigms of G-dly revelation are alluded to by the requirement that, when reciting certain blessings within the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, one must “bow at [the word] ‘Blessed’ and straighten at [G-d’s] name.” Bowing—in which one goes from higher to lower—represents (and brings about) the flow of G-dliness from above downward, while straightening up is elevation.

In conclusion, the expression, “a Sabbath to G-d [Havayah],” which we said in the text signifies an elevation of the spiritual level of Memalei Kol Almin into that of Sovev Kol Almin, means “elevation” in the second sense—that of “straightening at G-d’s name.” Certainly, nothing actually travels anywhere; rather, the very quality of Memalei is improved—raised—to the level of Sovev.

Now, it was stated earlier that there are two degrees of bittul. The first is negation of “something” to “nothing,” that is, where there is still something, but it recognizes that its existence is illusory and defers completely to its source—which, however, it cannot really grasp. We said, though, that this figurative bittul is but a prelude and a prerequisite to the revelation of true bittul, which occurs when the source—the actual “nothingness” itself from which all “something” derives—is openly manifest. This is none other than the Light of the blessed Infinite One as it is on the plane of Sovev Kol Almin, which is utterly inconceivable and therefore termed “nothing.” When this exalted level is revealed, the former “something” literally loses its independent existence and is subsumed within its source. This is true bittul.

Again, the elevation that occurs on Shabbos is a function of bittul—and each of the two degrees of bittul just described can be found within Shabbos. That is what is hinted in the teaching about observing two Sabbaths properly, meaning that even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—“lower-order Shabbos” (Shabbos tataah) and “higher-order Shabbos” (Shabbos ilaah). Each of these is so called based upon its degree of bittul.

***Lower-Order Shabbos (Shabbos Tataah)

The concept of Shabbos tataah will be understood through a discussion of the mitzvah of Shevi’is—produce of the Sabbatical year, when land within the Land of Israel must lie fallow. The Sabbatical year (Shemitah) is also a form of Shabbos (as, indeed, we are commanded, “The land shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d”): after every six years of working the land, all agricultural activity must cease for the duration of the seventh. Among the details of this is that any crops that grow of their own accord during the seventh year—even if they are on otherwise private land—are legally ownerless and are available to anyone who wishes to take them. But a person cannot simply take a large supply and store it up for the rest of the year; one may only store Shevi’is fruits at home so long as they remain available also in the field, for foraging animals. Once a particular species of produce is no longer available to animals in the field, anyone who has been storing that species at home must get rid of it as well.

During the six years preceding Shemitah, a person works the land for his or her own benefit—this highlights one’s status as a yesh, a “something” in one’s own right. Once the Sabbatical year arrives, however, one is nullified, rendered ayin: a nonentity, someone with no more legal right to the property than wild animals in the field. Indeed, if he or she still has any Shevi’is-produce at home that is no longer available in the wild, he or she must literally purge such produce from the house. All this constitutes bittul: one is actually nullifying oneself as an independent entity.

The fact that one’s status becomes equal to that of animals is also significant. The distinction between humans and animals—in fact, the four-level hierarchy of mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms generally—is a function of G-d’s immanent aspect within creation, Memalei Kol Almin, by which He infuses each individual thing with just the amount of G-dly life force to make it what it is. The Sabbatical year, however—like Shabbos itself—represents the manifestation of G-d’s transcendent aspect, Sovev Kol Almin, relative to which humans and animals are no different after all; it’s all the same to G-d. This is hinted at by the verse, “O G-d, You save man and beast.” The Divine name Havayah, which we earlier identified with Sovev Kol Almin, is used here; the implication being that on the level of HavayahSovev—there is no distinction between man and beast. When this level is revealed during the Shemitah year, the land and all within it are nullified and elevated into their source.

*** Higher-Order Shabbos (Shabbos Ilaah)

All this, however, is a lower order of Shabbos, Shabbos tataah; it represents deference of something to nothing, but the something does not actually cease to exist. It may feel thoroughly deferential to its source, but, for all that, it’s still there. Higher-order Shabbos, Shabbos ilaah, refers to something more, something we have never yet fully experienced in this world and never will until the Future to Come: it is the actual, open manifestation of the spiritual level of Sovev Kol Almin, in the face of which everything will literally be subsumed within G-d and cease to independently exist.On Shabbos, which is termed “a semblance of the World to Come,” a glimmer of even this sublime level shines forth.

These two levels—Shabbos tataah and Shabbos ilaah—are hinted at, respectively, by the two verses, “He rested on the seventh day from all the labor that He had performed” and “for on it, He rested from all His labor that [He] had created.” To appreciate why, a bit of background information is necessary:

As explained elsewhere and also mentioned in passing above, there are four broad degrees of G-dly manifestation within the spiritual hierarchy of creation. These are known as the Four Worlds or Realms of Atzilus (“Emanation”), Beriah (“Creation”), Yetzirah (“Formation”), and Asiyah (“Action” or “Performance”). Within the spiritual Realm of Atzilus, G-d is so openly manifest that nothing can be said to exist independently of Him; all is clearly seen to be nothing but an attribute of G-d. Technically, within the Realm of Atzilus itself, the Or Ein Sof is manifest within the highest attribute, or Sefirah, of that realm, namely, Chochmah. All the Sefiros combine with one another, and it is by virtue of Chochmah’s presence within all other Sefiros of Atzilus that the Or Ein Sof is manifest throughout that realm, rendering everything within Atzilus batel to G-d. By contrast, in the Realms below Atzilus—that is, in Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, collectively referred to by the abbreviation b’ya—things do appear to exist independently of G-d (as though such a thing were possible).

At each stage within the spiritual hierarchy—all the way up to Chochmah of Atzilus—it is possible to attain an awareness of an immediate source (that is, the next higher spiritual level) and thereby become batel to that antecedent level, to lose all independent existence and become absorbed into the source. This is, in fact, a goal of our worship: to constantly rise from one level to the next, always aware that no matter how high our present level, it is, in effect, as nothing relative to the next step in our spiritual odyssey. Between each stage and the next on this “journey” is a state of repose, where we consolidate our gains and integrate them into ourselves until we are ready to move higher. This whole process reflects the spiritual dynamic of ratzo vashov, “running forth and returning,” that is integral to creation.

The constant striving and progression of ratzo vashov is hinted at by the juxtaposition of the end of Genesis 1:31 (“and the L-rd saw that it was very good”) and the beginning of the following verse, Genesis 2:1 (“The heavens and the earth were finished”). As explained earlier in the main text, the word “finished” implies bittul, pining away from longing for G-d. Thus, these two verses can be read together as follows: “The L-rd saw that it was very good that the heavens and the earth had been created in such a way that it was possible to achieve ongoing bittul, progression ever higher toward union with G-d.”

Thus, throughout the Realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the goal is to ascend into the union with G-d that prevails in the Realm of Atzilus. Since b’ya are all the same in this respect—they all possess the illusion of independent existence—they are all included in the term describing the lowest world, Asiyah—the Realm of Performance. This, then, is the allusion of the verse, “He rested on the seventh day from all the labor that He had performed”: on Shabbos, all the lower realms, b’ya, rise up out of the category of “performance,” asiyah, and are absorbed into the G-dliness manifest within Atzilus. The same applies with respect to Shevi’is and with respect to mitzvos generally, as discussed above—they all represent bittul of something to nothing. This is Shabbos tataah.

However, Atzilus is not the apex of G-dly revelation. Within Atzilus, the Or Ein Sof is manifest within the Sefirah of Chochmah, but in fact, as stated much earlier, even Chochmah of Atzilus is considered but a creation (beriah) out of nothingness relative to G-d. Put another way, there is an inconceivable difference between the Or Ein Sof as it is contracted and compressed within Chochmah of Atzilus and the Or Ein Sof in its natural state, as it were—the all-encompassing light of G-d that is Sovev Kol Almin itself. Relative to the latter level, even Chochmah of Atzilus is considered just another creation—and that is the allusion of “for on it, He rested from all His labor that [He] had created.” The concept of shabbos—rest—from even Chochmah of Atzilus and absorption into the transcendent Nothingness from which it sprang; the reward for the bittul associated with Shabbos tataah; the open revelation of Sovev Kol Almin that will take place in the Future to Come, relative to which there will be no difference between physical and spiritual, body and soul—this is Shabbos ilaah.

***Shabbos Ilaah and Kesser

Earlier, the verse, “From where shall wisdom be found?” was interpreted to mean that the Sefirah of Chochmah (“wisdom”) is itself derived from the lofty spiritual level known as ayin (“where,” or “nothingness”)—which concept was touched upon again in the previous paragraph. It is important to remember that this transcendent Nothingness from which Chochmah sprang is itself merely the name of G-d, not G-d Himself, as was explained at length in connection with the liturgical expression, “Creator of Holy Ones, praised be Your name.”

By the grammatical principle of gematria, the word shmo—“His name”—is numerically equivalent to the word ratzon—“will.” The significance of this is that although Chochmah is considered the highest Sefirah—corresponding to the fact that it is the highest human faculty—there is a spiritual level that transcends even intellect, even Chochmah. This is the faculty of will, as illustrated by the fact that sometimes, a person just wants what he or she wants, regardless of reason. A person’s intellect might clearly understand a thing to be inappropriate for one reason or another, but the person just doesn’t care: will trumps, or transcends, intellect. Because of this, the faculty of will is analogized to a crown—kesser in Hebrew—since a crown, too, sits atop one’s head, encompassing it from above. And, just as a crown is not a part of the person proper, kesser is not reckoned among the Sefiros but is viewed as transcending them. It is, in fact, the intermediate stage between G-d Himself and creation. This is exactly what was said in this discourse about the name of G-d, which is why “His name” is identified with the transcendent level of “will” or Kesser—which we now see to be the same idea as Sovev Kol Almin.

G-d Himself, though, is—of course—not meant by the term “will.” He is the very One Whose will it is (Baal haratzon), not the will; the Luminary (Maor), not the light. He is utterly transcendent of everything, and certainly cannot be described (as is Kesser) as the source of Chochmah.

Subject to that, then, we can say that on Shabbos, all the Worlds rise to the sublime level at which their own source—Chochmah—is in turn absorbed into its source, that is, the level of Sovev Kol Almin. This is an aspect of Shabbos ilaah.

And this—Kesser—is associated with the quality of silence, as it is written, “Bear with me a bit” (katar li z’eir), meaning, “remain silent while I finish what I have to say.” This is the inner meaning of the saying, “A fence around wisdom is silence”: Kesser (silence; bittul) encircles and surrounds wisdom (Chochmah). And the association of silence with Kesser and Sovev Kol Almin—to which sublime level the universe is elevated on Shabbos—adds rich insight into a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud: “It is written,…‘A Sabbath unto G-d [your L-rd.’ This can be interpreted as though it read,] ‘Observe Sabbath as G-d [does]’: just as [He] rested from speaking [that is, from the ten utterances by which He had created the universe], so should you refrain from speaking….Rabbi Chanina stated, ‘[It was only with] difficulty that [the Sages] permitted [even] greetings on Shabbos.’” Why, one might well wonder, would the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud suggest such an unusual practice, to the point that it was only with difficulty that they permitted speaking on Shabbos? However, as we now realize, it was entirely appropriate to consider such a thing, since the very nature of Shabbos is bound up with the concept of silence.

***“My Sabbaths”: Both Levels of Shabbos Belong to G-d

We now understand much more clearly what was stated at the outset: that the wording of the verse “Observe My Sabbaths” implies two Shabboses; even within a single Shabbos there are two distinct levels—Shabbos tataah and Shabbos ilaah. Regarding both of these, one must bear in mind a crucial point:

In striving to better oneself spiritually, in working to rise ever higher in the service of G-d, one is prone to think of oneself, when successful, as having accomplished something. One may look back at one’s spiritual progress and be proud of one’s achievement. However, it is taught that even though we have been given free choice of our own—meaning that, if we do choose good over evil, we ourselves are responsible for that—nevertheless, if not for Divine assistance in the struggle, a person would not be able to stand up to temptation. Thus, one should always be grateful for G-d’s assistance in his or her efforts at worship; one should always be mindful that, no matter how high one has risen spiritually, if not for G-d’s help, he or she would not be there.

With respect to Shabbos ilaah, it is relatively easy to remember this, since, after all, Shabbos ilaah is a manifestation of G-dliness granted from above—one cannot “achieve” it on one’s own. By the wording, “Observe My Sabbaths,” the verse reminds us that both degrees of Shabbos—even Shabbos tataah, which represents a person’s own deference to G-d—are really His. The Shabbos, or bittul, one achieves even on that level is really not one’s own, The danger of viewing even bittul as—paradoxically—one’s own achievement and something to be proud of is hinted in the verse, “his concubine, whose name was Reumah.” The Baal Shem Tov taught that the name Reumah can be read as the two words, reu (the plural command, “Look!”) and mah (lit. “what,” implying nonexistence or bittul; a degree of nothingness that can only be described as “what [is it?]”). In that sense, the phrase would mean, “Look! I am nothing! I have achieved bittul!” but a gift from G-d—and that is exactly how Shabbos is characterized by our Sages: as a Divine gift.

***Tishmoru: A Gift Must Be Preserved

Unlike something one obtains on one’s own, a gift cannot be easily replaced. Even if the recipient locates and buys another just like it, the replacement is simply not the same; it is not what was actually given. Therefore, when someone receives a fine gift, he or she takes pains to preserve it. The same applies to the gift of Shabbos and the spiritual levels it represents. To safeguard the spirituality inherent within even Shabbos tataah, we must avoid things antithetical to such Divine revelation. Even things we all struggle with—transgressions or imperfections like deceit and pride (which are so common they are described as constantly trampled underfoot)—are enough to impede the revelation of G-dliness to a person, as it is written, “One who tells lies shall not be fit [to dwell] before My eyes,” and as it is taught (with respect to a proud person), “I [G-d] and he cannot dwell in the same world.” This is all alluded to by the Hebrew word for “observe [My Sabbaths],” tishmoru, which connotes “safeguard,” “preserve.”

***“And Revere My Sanctuary”

In sum, we have said in this discourse that Shabbos represents the elevation of Memalei Kol Almin—the Divine life force invested within the created universe—into the superior level of Sovev Kol Almin. Furthermore, we learned that the degrees of elevation associated with the two levels of Shabbos are gifts from G-d which should be safeguarded and preserved, as hinted by the wording “Observe My Sabbaths.” By contrast, the verse continues, “and revere My Sanctuary, I am G-d.”

Usually, when we speak of the Sanctuary, we mean the Holy Temple, wherein G-d’s Presence resided within the world. This, however, was built by King Solomon and can thus be called the work of man. What, then, is meant by G-d’s Sanctuary, as it is called in our verse? The answer is: the Torah, as it is taught, “The Holy One, may He be blessed, has no [dwelling place] in His world but the four cubits of Halachah [Torah law].”

Just as the Holy Temple represented the drawing down of the Divine Presence to dwell—miraculously—within this physical world, so is the Torah the drawing down of G-dliness to the point it actually resides within us: we can know it, we can understand it, we can live by and embody it. The Torah is therefore associated with Memalei Kol Almin, that aspect of G-dly revelation that invests itself within each created thing according to its nature; each student according to his or her level of understanding.

Now, as we know so well by this point, Shabbos is associated with the transcendent level of Sovev Kol Almin. Therefore, after telling us to preserve the Shabbos, the verse goes on to make sure we do not fall into a serious error. Since Shabbos is Sovev Kol Almin and Torah is Memalei Kol Almin, it is possible to wrongly suppose that the holiness transmitted to us through Torah is, in some way, inferior. One might even generalize and think that Torah study is not as worthy a use of one’s time as performance of mitzvos; that one should minimize one’s study and, instead, go about looking for mitzvah opportunities. To negate this conclusion, the verse states “Revere My Sanctuary [the Torah, since] I am G-d.”

The Divine name for “G-d” in this phrase is the Tetragrammaton, Havayah. Although, in the context of a verse quoted earlier in the discourse, this name was associated with Sovev Kol Almin, in other contexts it is commonly linked to Memalei. It is also significant that the verse says, “I [Ani] am G-d.” The point was made at length earlier that the name of G-d (even the Tetragrammaton, which is the holiest of the Divine names) is utterly insignificant relative to G-d Himself. Unlike any name, however, the word “I” signifies a level of identity so fundamental that it cannot be expressed as a name. And, unlike a name—which is only useful for others but unnecessary when one is alone—the word “I” is exactly the opposite: it can only be used by its referent; no one else can refer to another as “I.” Thus, the word Ani, “I,” represents G-d’s very Self, so to speak, higher than any name.

In this light, the verse tells us, “Revere My Sanctuary [the Torah, since] I am Havayah.” Do you think that Havayah, the G-dliness expressed through the Torah, the G-dliness invested within every detail of the physical world—the G-dliness that is Memalei Kol Almin—is somehow less than G-dly? Do you think that you need not revere G-d as He fills all realms just the same as G-d as He transcends all realms? Just Whom do you think it is that is dwelling within you as Havayah? It is “I”: I am Havayah! It is none other than I—My very Self, higher than any name—Who nevertheless condescends to relate to you on your level; there is no difference in Me! Thus, revere my Sanctuary—revere the Torah and the spirituality of Memalei—indeed, since it is I.

This profound and awesome concept is consistent with the expression, Oraysa meiChochmah nafkas, “Torah comes from wisdom.” This seems to imply that the spiritual source of the Torah is G-d’s “Wisdom,” the Sefirah of Chochmah—a mere attribute of G-d (albeit the loftiest), not G-d’s very Self. Yet the word nafkas, “comes forth,” is used precisely: Chochmah is not the ultimate source of the Torah (which, as we have said in the main text, is actually much higher than Chochmah), but rather the stage from which the inconceivably lofty spirituality of Torah was able to emerge, to come forth, in revealed form, comprehensible and accessible to us. The Torah itself, though, is, after all, the explanation of the mitzvos, which are G-d’s Will—which transcends reason, transcends Chochmah. Indeed, the 613 mitzvos explicit in the Torah, plus the seven mitzvos enacted by the Rabbis, equal 620—which, by gematria, is numerically equivalent to Kesser, the spiritual level associated with G-d’s Will and Sovev Kol Almin.

Finally, the reason the word tira’u, “revere,” is used with reference to the spirituality of the Torah—“My Sanctuary”—is that this level of spirituality does not remain in the transcendent abstract, but rather reaches down, openly manifest, and penetrates, sinks in, within one’s innermost self. This brings one to a state of awed reverence in the face of that revelation.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin