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Va'achaltem Achol


This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, deals in large part with various types of sacrifices that were offered up to G-d. By Torah law, sacrificial rites were the exclusive responsibility of Aaron the high priest and his descendants, the kohanim (priests); even if the individual propounding the sacrifice was not himself a kohen, a member of this priestly lineage had to perform the actual service. The institution of sacrifices is laden with mystical significance. In examining this, as well as the special role played by Aaron and his descendants, we will also learn a fundamental truth about the nature of souls and their refinement in the Messianic era.
By way of introduction, let us take note of a Midrashic comment on a seemingly unrelated passage elsewhere.1
In the book of Joel, we read,2 “And you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and you will praise the name of G-d your L-rd Who has dealt wondrously with you, and My people shall never be ashamed. And you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am G-d, your L-rd, and there is none else, and My people shall never be ashamed.” The Midrash, referring to the fact that the meaning, “you shall eat in plenty” is conveyed by reiterating the Hebrew word for “you shall eat,”3 remarks4 that the righteous are given a double blessing—also implied by repetition of the phrase, “and My people shall never be ashamed.”
To appreciate this, we must begin by examining the mystical purpose underlying the act of eating.5
***The spiritual hierarchy of creation: Seder HaHishtalshelus
Our physical world—indeed, the entire universe—is not all there is to creation. Actually, it is but the proverbial tip of the iceberg: the cosmos as we know it is the final stage in an infinite continuum of progressively lesser manifestations of G-dliness that begins with G-d and ends up as the actual contents of this material world. Everything that exists, even the stones underfoot, is essentially a reflection of G-d, and possesses a spiritual life force that perpetuates its existence.6 Although this continuum is indeed infinite, it can be grouped into four broad categories, distinguished by the degree of G-dliness perceptible within each. These are the four spiritual realms, or “worlds,” known (from highest to lowest) as Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Furthermore, within each realm, G-d manifests Himself in ten progressively lower stages; these are the ten Sefiros. Each realm is inhabited by spiritual beings, such as angels and souls—including our own. However, these are not unique entities. Rather, our souls (for the most part)7 are extensions of higher-order souls that populate the upper realms; angels of one world, whose purpose is to channel spirituality to a single specific destination, derive from more comprehensive angels above; and so on. Thus, the spiritual life force of everything reaches us by way of this great spiritual hierarchy of creation (Seder HaHishtalshelus in Hebrew). G-dly life force flowing from the Sefirah of Malchus, the lowest point in the realm of Atzilus (wherein all is one with G-d), is invested within the Sefirah of Chochmah (the highest) in the realm of Beriah, and so on progressively downward. In Beriah, the G-dly life force animates the beings of Beriah, ethereal creatures sustained by only the purest elements of the life force. What is “left over,” so to speak—the life force that (relative to the beings of Beriah) is too “coarse” to be absorbed—is transmitted onward into the realm of Yetzirah, where it gives life to the inhabitants of that realm, and so on.8
***The cosmic ecosystem and the spiritual root of food
The above can be thought of as analogous to a sort of cosmic ecosystem, in which each level “digests” what it can absorb and passes the remainder on for consumption by lesser beings, whose “systems,” as it were, are compatible with it.
More specifically, what sustains and nourishes the angels—their “food”—is the transmission to them of spiritual power and fortitude to perceive G-dliness, and to worship G-d with all their hearts. This is alluded to by the comment of the Midrash9 on the verse,10 “For My name is within him”: “The ministering angels are nourished by naught but the Radiance of the Divine Presence, as it is written11 ‘And You give life to them all.’” This spiritual nourishment is passed, in progressively lower form, from one level to the next through myriad12 intermediaries—the angels of the various worlds—until it reaches this lowest of all realms, where it takes the form of physical food.13
In particular, the souls of animals are derived from the “face of an ox” (angels characterized by the attribute of Gevurah, strength) in Ezekiel’s vision.14 The souls of birds stem from the “face of an eagle,” and so on. As spiritual influence, sustenance, is manifested on high and transmitted to the angels, it trickles down through the many stages in the spiritual hierarchy and is ultimately expressed in the form of blessing for the season and all its crops—that is, actual food.
***The mystical purpose of eating
The purpose of all this is realized when we eat the food. For, not only angels, but also souls are extensions of souls in the upper realms, as mentioned above, and the souls in the realm of Beriah (for example) are of superior stature15 to the angels of that realm. When a person—a soul—eats, the spiritual life force of the food—stemming from the “face of an ox,” etc. of Ezekiel’s vision—is elevated to its own inner source, which is the “face of a man” in that vision.16 That is why mankind, specifically, is able to elevate the spirituality of food: our own root in the “face of a man” enables us to affect spiritual levels derived from there.17, 18
***Refinement of present-day souls in the Messianic era
It emerges from the above that, in a sense, angels are to souls as animals are to humankind—since angels are derived from the chayos hakodesh, holy creatures, of Ezekiel’s vision, whereas humanity stems from the Heavenly Man. However, even the souls of the present day are considered as “animals” in relation to the new souls that will be revealed in the future, in the time of the Messiah. The souls of today will themselves have to be elevated and absorbed into those higher-order souls; this will be accomplished through today’s souls taking on a corporeal aspect and descending into physical food—the leviathan19 and shor habar20 which, according to the Talmud,21 will be consumed at the feast of the righteous when the Messiah arrives.
It is close to certain that only a “spark” and “beam” of the present-day souls will descend and be invested within the physical leviathan and shor habar; through the righteous eating this spark and beam in the form of physical food, the root soul will be elevated as well. We find this same phenomenon with respect to sacrifices: the soul of an animal is derived from the angels and chayos hakodesh (as explained in the main text), and, although not physically invested within the animal, all those heavenly levels are elevated through the animal’s soul being raised up as a sacrifice.
The reason for this is that, in the present era, G-dly light22 is manifest exclusively in the manner of Memalei Kol Almin—the immanent aspect of G-d within creation—the source of which is the thin line or beam of light that followed the initial tzimtzum (“contraction” or “concealment”) of the light of the Infinite One.23 All present-day souls stem from this level. In the Messianic future, however, the aspect of Sovev Kol Almin will be revealed, which represents the “sphere” that preceded the “line.” The souls that will be revealed in the Messiah’s time will be of this order, and thus much higher in spiritual stature.
This, then, is the implication of the construction meaning, “you shall eat plentifully,” vaachaltem achol, which is actually a doubling of the Hebrew word for eating. This can be understood to imply, “you shall eat that which has already been eaten”—in other words, bearing in mind that the function of eating is the elevation of the spiritual life force of the food, vaachaltem achol means “you will elevate further that which has already been partially elevated.” The souls of today, which were already on the elevated spiritual plane of “man,” will be “eaten” by the loftier souls of the Messianic future and raised even higher.
***Ascendancy of the feminine in the Messianic future
This is reflected in the continuation of the verse, “you will praise [He] Who has dealt wondrously (lehafli) with you.” In the Messianic future, after all the spiritual refinements and elevations have been accomplished—that is, after the material substance of this world has been elevated by the souls of today, and the souls of today have themselves been elevated by the souls to be revealed in the future—will come fulfillment of the verse24 “a woman of valor is the crown of her husband,” when all spirituality will be transmitted through the Sefirah of Malchus. As explained elsewhere,25 G-d’s attribute of sovereignty—the Sefirah of Malchus—is associated with femininity, and the higher emotional attributes—the Sefiros collectively known by the abbreviation za—with masculinity. Furthermore, Malchus, or Sovereignty, the lowest Sefirah, is inherently linked with the transcendent level of Kesser, or Crown,26 which is superior to all ten Sefiros, even the highest, as it is taught,27 “the beginning is wedged in the end.”28 Whereas, in the present day, the Sefirah of Malchus (the “woman of valor”) depends upon the Sefiros of za (her “husband”) for receipt of spiritual sustenance, in the Messianic era this dynamic will be reversed. Then, Malchus, presently the lowest Sefirah, will assume the role of Kesser, the source of G-dly influence transmitted to all ten Sefiros (including, of course, za). The “woman of valor” will rise to a level superior to that of her “husband,” za; this is the symbolism of the crown, which sits atop even the highest level of a person. This reversal of roles, with Malchus transmitting spiritual influence from below up to the higher Sefiros, is described as or chozer, a reflected light—i.e., the spirituality that had come down to Malchus is “reflected back” to illuminate the higher Sefiros. (However, this reflected light reaches even higher than its original starting point.)29
This is the wondrous, amazing, thing (peleh): Malchus, presently the last step in the process of spiritual transmission, will then be the first.
***The wedding blessing “may there speedily be heard…the sound of a bride” and its relation to the verse, “my people will never be ashamed.”
Based on all the foregoing, we can understand the allusion of “and my people will never be ashamed.”
In one of the traditional seven blessings (sheva berachos) recited at a wedding,30 we say, “may there speedily be heard…the sound of a bride.” This hints at our theme. “Sound” represents the drawing forth of spiritual influence, and the way things stand now—in this pre-Messianic age—spiritual influence is transmitted through the masculine aspect, as intimated by the verse,31 “The voice is the voice of Jacob.” The feminine aspect—Malchus, the “bride”—has no voice, for it is not a source of influence, but a receiver. (That is the inner reason why, according to Jewish law, only the groom recites the wedding formula, “you are betrothed to me with this ring,” while the bride is silent.32) The wish “may there speedily be heard…the sound of a bride” mystically refers to the Messianic ascendancy of Malchus, when it is she that will be the source of spiritual influence: her voice will then be heard.
Now, a person who merely receives from another, without contributing anything him- or herself, is naturally ashamed. Indeed, in our specific context, the Mishnah teaches,33 “the bride averts her face and eats”; she is ashamed, in accordance with the teaching,34 “a sign [tending to support a certain ruling of Jewish law] is that a person who eats of his fellow [i.e., who is sustained by someone else] is ashamed to look at him.” In the future, however, when Malchus is the crown of her husband, transmitting influence instead of receiving it, “my people will never be ashamed.”
This also explains the doubled blessing implied by the phrase vaachaltem achol: i.e., not only will you rise even higher than before (through the second elevation by the souls of the Messianic era), but you will actually be made a bestower of influence, rather than a receiver.35
In the Midrash known as Tanna DeVei Eliyahu,36 the word lehafli in the phrase “Who has dealt wondrously with you” is seemingly explained in a different manner. There, the meaning ascribed is “to separate or distinguish” as in Rashi’s explanation of the verse,37 “[when a person…] sets aside an offering.” The Midrash states, “what is the meaning of lehafli? To distinguish between the deeds of the righteous and the deeds of the wicked in Purgatory.” Nevertheless, the interpretation of Tanna DeVei Eliyahu can be reconciled with the usual interpretation of lehafli in the sense of “wonder,” as follows:
A teaching reminiscent of that in Tanna DeVei Eliyahu states:38 “The verse,39 ‘And the L-rd said “Let there be light”’ refers to the deeds of the righteous. However, we are not told which He prefers [the deeds of the righteous or of the wicked]. Once the Torah continues,40 ‘And the L-rd saw that the light was good,’ it becomes clear that He prefers the deeds of the righteous.” At first reading, this teaching seems to have no intelligible meaning: what question can there be about this? The answer, however, is that it is referring to that sublime level of G-d that utterly transcends creation. After all, G-d is certainly not affected by anything we mortals can do, as Scripture states,41 “If you are righteous, what have you given Him?” Similarly,42 “All is considered as naught before Him,” and43 “[To You,] darkness and light are the same.”44 Yet, despite G-d’s transcendence—by definition—over the entirety of creation, including the distinction between good and evil, He nevertheless chose to limit Himself, as it were, to prefer good exclusively. This is a wonder in and of itself. And this is also the meaning of the passage in Tanna DeVei Eliyahu. Notwithstanding that G-d is the greatest wonder of all, utterly transcending both good and evil, he nevertheless chooses to distinguish between them—amazing!
***Samson’s riddle
Thus far, we have established that the spiritual dynamic of eating is elevation of the food to a higher spiritual level, and that even those who are refined enough to perform this elevation will themselves be elevated in the time of the Messiah. All this will serve as background, enabling us to understand the role of Aaron the High Priest in sacrificial rites.
The Midrash45 relates the verse,46 “This is the offering of Aaron…on the day that he is anointed,” to an incident involving Samson and the Philistines. In the book of Judges,47 we read that Samson was on his way to see his fiancé among the Philistines when he was attacked by a lion, which he killed. When he passed the spot again, he noticed that bees had settled into the carcass and were producing honey, which he ate. Later, at his wedding feast, he challenged the Philistines with a riddle:48 “Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The Midrash says that Samson wondered to himself how it could be that, as a lion—which eats all other animals—should itself become a source of food, so Aaron the High Priest—who, according to Torah law, must eat of all sacrifices—should himself need to offer a sacrifice, as it is written, “This is the offering of Aaron.”
***To refine others, one must oneself be refined.
This will be understood in light of the teaching49 on the verse,50 “If it should be eaten at all,”51 that sacrifices involve two types of eating. The first is when the offering is consumed by mortals—i.e., the Kohanim (priests); this is what actually effects atonement for the person bringing the offering.52 The second is consumption of the sacrifice in a spiritual sense—i.e., its elevation to a higher spiritual level, in reference to which it is taught that a lion of fire descends from heaven and consumes it.53 This refers to the Shem Mah, the Divine Name of 4554, descending and raising up the Shem Ban, the Divine Name of 52.55 It signifies elevation of the sacrifice through the spiritual level associated with the “face of a lion” in Ezekiel’s vision.56 Nevertheless, this relates to the aspects of the sacrifice associated with the chayos hakodesh, and takes place on the relatively superficial level of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the locus of Ezekiel’s vision. Elevation of the superior spiritual level of “man,”57 which includes all the other levels, is not accomplished through the offering of the sacrifice per se, but through its consumption by mortal man, who was created in G-d’s image (as it says,58 “You [the Jewish people] are called ‘man,’” and 59 “Let us make man in our image”). This is the concept underlying the principle60 that, by the Kohanim eating of the offering, the proponent of the sacrifice achieves atonement. It thus develops that Aaron and the spiritual level associated with the face of a lion have this in common: Aaron, like the lion, refines and elevates (namely, the sparks of holiness of the Name of 52). ***separate comment:*** For the souls of animals are, to elaborate on what was explained above61 about their spiritual source in the chayos hakodesh, actually not descended from that level directly. Instead, in accordance with the process described above,62 the spiritual life force left over from the chayos is channeled to the ofanim, spiritual beings inferior to the chayos63; the life force that cannot be used by the ofanim is only then passed on to become the souls of animals. The souls of animals are thus more precisely said to derive from the “sediments,” or leftovers, of the ofanim, that have not been refined. As just stated in the main text, their refinement is through the face of a lion—a level superior not only to the sediments of the ofanim but even to the ofanim themselves.
Now, to refine something, one must oneself be thoroughly refined. How can one raise something higher if one is oneself mired below? This is what is hinted by the statement,64 “You have not [even] conquered what is adjacent to your own palace, yet you seek to go in conquest of what is far afield?!” This is also the underlying reason it is forbidden to eat before prayer.65 As explained above, the spiritual function of eating is that one thereby elevates the G-dly life force of the food. On the verse,66 “the altar was of wood, three cubits high…this is the table that is before G-d,” the Talmud67 notes “[the verse] opens using [the word] ‘altar,’ yet ends [describing the same thing] as ‘table.’” This identity of “altar” and “table” hints at the fact that today, when we no longer have the sacrificial altar to atone for us and elevate us spiritually, our tables—our consumption of food—accomplishes the same function. We must each stand in the place of Aaron, raising our food “offering” on high.68 When one rises in the morning, one is still bound to the corporeal aspects of existence, and is not in a position to accomplish anything spiritual by eating. It is only after drawing G-dliness upon oneself through prayer—specifically, through the eighteen blessings of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer69—that one has the spiritual wherewithal to elevate one’s food.
Clearly, then, if the “face of a lion,” which is symbolized by the fiery lion that consumes sacrificial offerings, can elevate those offerings, it must itself be a level that has already attained refinement. Likewise, Aaron—whose actual eating of the sacrifices elicits their spiritual “consumption” and elevation by the Heavenly Man upon the throne (a level superior to the face of a lion)—must himself be thoroughly refined. The common function of Aaron and the spiritual lion is hinted at by the fact that the Hebrew words “Aaron” and “lion” are both formed from letters that can be recombined into words for “sight.”70 This is because they both stem from a lofty spiritual level,71 although Aaron’s level is superior. The Hebrew name Aaron can also be separated into components consisting of the letter alef, the word har (“mountain”), and the letter nun.72 The spiritual level associated with Aaron is a conduit for sublimely exalted spiritual levels, the refinement of which is complete. That is why Moses himself said of them both,73 “What are we?” Similarly, we find,74 “As for Aaron, what is he?” In other words, Aaron, like Moses, was of the lofty spiritual level associated with the word “what”: it was as though they had no independent existence, by virtue of their utter nullity to and identification with G-d. That being the case, we can well understand what puzzled Sampson, what—as the above-cited Midrash tells us—he considered a wonder. The verse, “this is the offering of Aaron” means that Aaron himself must bring an offering, an act that serves to elevate the proponent of the sacrifice. Yet how could it be that Aaron, who was thoroughly refined—so much so that it was his task to eat of and thereby spiritually elevate all other offerings—should nevertheless be in need of elevation through an offering of his own?
***The riddle explained
The answer, however, lies in what was said earlier in connection with the verse, vaachaltem achol. The souls of today—even those so thoroughly refined that they in turn refine others—will themselves be “eaten”—refined and elevated even higher—by the new souls to be revealed in the time of the Messiah. And this is also precisely the meaning of Samson’s riddle, “out of the eater came forth food”: by being reincarnated in the form of the leviathan and the shor habar, the one who was the eater will in turn become food.
The Talmud states75 that Samson was named for G-d. In Hebrew, his name, Shimshon, is similar to the word for sun, shemesh, as in the verse,76 “For G-d, the L-rd, is a sun and a shield.” The spiritual energy of the Divine name used in this verse for “G-d,” Havayah, is too potent for created beings to withstand, and, so that we not be overwhelmed, the name Elokim (“the L-rd”) shields it from our perception like a covering over the brilliant sun.77 The angels of Atzilus, Beriah, and Asiyah—including the spiritual level associated with the lion of fire that descends to eat sacrificial offerings—receive their life force through the name Elokim, yet constantly yearn to be reabsorbed into the higher spiritual level of the name Havayah; this is analogous to the absorption and assimilation of food into the eater.78 This is what is meant by the verse,79 “I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey,” and is the symbolism of the rest of Samson’s riddle. As the Biblical account relates,80 “from the carcass of the lion, the honey came”; that is, the eater—the lion of fire—will cease to exist in its own right and instead will be reabsorbed into a higher spiritual level.
***The significance of anointing oil
This leads us into the second part of the verse cited earlier,81 “This is the offering of Aaron…on the day that he is anointed.” The high priests were anointed with a sacred preparation of oil82 described as shemen mishchas kodesh. Literally, this simply means “sacred anointing oil,” but, since the word mishchas implies “drawing forth,” the phrase can also be interpreted as “oil (shemen) that draws forth (mishchas) the sublime spiritual level known as ‘Holy’ (kodesh).” Kodesh is a reference to the Sefirah of Chochmah within the realm of Atzilus—the highest level in the highest realm. In order to elicit this sublime level and empower it to descend into our world, the oil itself must represent an even higher spiritual level.83 For this exalted level to be manifest within Aaron, it was necessary for him to bring his own offering, that is, to be like food—susceptible of absorption into a higher level—rather than like an eater himself. (One should not wonder how this can be, seeing that Aaron was already so utterly nullified to G-dliness as to be described simply as “what”.84 For there are many levels of bittul, nullity before G-d. Bittul is associated with Chochmah (as evidenced by the fact that the word chochmah can be rearranged to spell koach mah, “an indefinable force,” or “the force of mah [‘what’]”). There is Chochmah Tataah—lower-order Chochmah, Chochmah Ilaah—higher order Chochmah, and endless other degrees. With respect to the shemen mishchas kodesh—the sacred anointing oil representing Chochmah Ilaah and still higher—even Aaron assumed the aspect of “food,” something to be elevated even further.
***The significance of “on the day that he is anointed”
Now, the verse says, “This is the offering of Aaron…on the day that he is anointed.” Yet this seems strange, for, as the Torah goes on to specify,85 the offering was to be brought on an ongoing basis, every day from then on. In light of that, the verse should have said “from the day that he is anointed,” not “on the day….” The explanation of this lies in the significance of the word “day.” It signifies light and revelation, as in, for example,86 “And the L-rd called the light, ‘day.’” Chassidic philosophy also explains the wording of the Sefiras HaOmer text along these lines,87 as well as the plea,88 “renew our days as of old.”89 The Hebrew word for “from the day” is miyom, which only allows for a literal interpretation. However, since the Hebrew letter beis is a prefix that can mean not only “on” (as in “on the day”) but also “with,” the word beyom—with a beis—is used instead. This allows the verse to be interpreted as follows: “the regular offering of Aaron, which is to be brought every day from now on, will be infused with the spirituality flowing into it from the level associated with his anointing”—i.e., the shemen mishchas kodesh explained above.
The same explanation can be applied to the verse,90 “This is the dedication offering for the altar…on the day that it was anointed.” In that context also, the reference is to many offerings (one by each tribal head), only one of which, however, was actually brought on the day the altar was anointed. However, they each were brought “with [the spiritual potency of] ‘the day,’ etc.”
A complementary explanation is that although Aaron’s offering was to be ongoing, each individual offering was “on the day of his anointing,” that is, it drew from a spiritual quality associated with Aaron himself, that of91 “the good oil [running down] upon the head.” Even this, however, was to be elevated through the bittul of Chochmah Ilaah, which transcends Aaron himself.
***The wording, “this is the offering of Aaron”
The Midrash says that Samson wondered how Aaron himself could have had to bring an offering. It concludes, “and which [offering was it? That referred to in the verse] ‘this is the offering of Aaron.’” This seems superfluous until we realize that the Midrash means to emphasize the word “this”—zeh in Hebrew. For, interestingly, all the other offerings mentioned in the same context are also identified by “this”92—but the word is in the feminine (zos) everywhere except with respect to Aaron’s sacrifice, where the masculine (zeh) is used. This is in accordance with what was mentioned above93 to the effect that elevation of sacrifices by the “lion of fire” is associated with the Divine name of 52 (the Shem Ban), whereas the elevation brought about through Aaron is associated with the name of 45 (the Shem Mah94). The Shem Ban is linked to femininity; the Shem Mah, to masculinity. By using the masculine form, zeh, with reference to Aaron’s sacrifice, the Torah is highlighting his superior status as the one who elevates all others. And that is what the Midrash is stressing, as well: Samson wondered how Aaron—already so elevated that he is referred to by zeh—should nevertheless need to bring an offering.
However, this only serves to underscore how lofty is the level of “on the day of his being anointed”: even one already referred to as zeh will thereby be elevated even further.
1 In preparing this maamar for publication in Likkutei Torah, the Tzemach Tzedek included here the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of the midrash. However, the Alter Rebbe did not originally explain this midrash in connection with the present maamar. It was actually delivered as a separate maamar during the week of Parshas Nasso, 5567 (1807), on the occasion of the famous “great wedding” in Zhlobin, White Russia—the marriage of the Alter Rebbe’s granddaughter (Rebbetzin Sara, second daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe) to Rabbi Eliezer, grandson of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. (Note that, almost a year later, in Liadi during the week of Beshalach 5568, the Mitteler Rebbe’s third daughter—Rebbetzin Rivka—also married a grandson of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev—Rabbi Yekusiel Zalman.)
2 Joel 2:26–27
3 (i.e., vaachaltem achol)
4 Yalkut, ad loc.
5 See also, e.g., the adaptation of the discourse, LeHavin Inyan Lechem Mishneh, Words of the Living G-d, vol. 2, chap. 4.
6 See Tanya, Part II, chaps. 1–2. Of course, we mortals cannot usually perceive this aspect of things. However, the more a person refines him- or herself through Torah study, mitzvah observance, and saintly living, the greater is his or her sensitivity to such matters. For example, there is a well-known story relating that, on his deathbed, the Alter Rebbe gestured toward the ceiling and asked his grandson and eventual successor, the Tzemach Tzedek, what he saw there. “I see wooden beams,” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “I see only G-dliness,” his grandfather said. The point is not that the Alter Rebbe realized that even the ceiling beams were essentially a form of G-dly manifestation; certainly the Tzemach Tzedek, too, knew that. The point of the story is that, on the very threshold of the next world, the Alter Rebbe was so spiritually refined, so pure, that he actually saw the beams for what they really were—G-dliness.
7 For, occasionally, souls of higher spiritual realms descend directly into our physical world to accomplish some great spiritual purpose. The soul of the Alter Rebbe was an example. (See the sicha of the Frierdiker Rebbe of Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim 5700 (Sefer HaSichos 5700, p. 88).)
8 As mentioned in the previous chapter, the prophet Ezekiel (see Ezekiel chap. 1) described his prophetic vision of the heavenly hierarchy through which G-d channels His creative vitality to the universe. In brief, he spoke of four spiritual creatures, each of which had four faces: those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These creatures carried aloft “a likeness of a throne” upon which was “a likeness like the appearance of a Man”—a mystical reference to G-d. Chassidic teachings explain that what Ezekiel was describing represented the state of affairs and spiritual relationships at the uppermost reaches of the realm of Beriah.
9 Vayikra Rabbah, end of Mishpatim.
10 Exodus 23:21.
11 Nechemiah 9:6.
12 In the standard printed edition of Likkutei Torah, the Hebrew text (found in the Torah portion Tzav, at the bottom of p. 7, col. b) says ribuy revavos; the first word of this two-word phrase is spelled with the Hebrew letters resh, yud, beis, vav, and yud. The meaning of the phrase is thus “many ten thousands.” However, the maamar as transcribed by the Alter Rebbe’s chassid Rabbi Pinchas Reizes has the phrase ribo rivevan, in which the first word is spelled resh, yud, beis, vav, and alef (Maamarei Admur HaZakein–Hanachos HaRap Zal, 61). This means “ten-thousand ten-thousands,” or 100,000,000. Yet another manuscript, the transcription of the Alter Rebbe’s brother, Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Yanovitch (known as the Maharil), says ribo revavos, in which the first word is spelled (irregularly) resh, yud, beis, and vav—using neither a final yud nor a final alef, and leaving the meaning ambiguous. (A facsimile of the Maharil’s transciption is reprinted on p. 320 of the 5761 (2001) edition of Likkutei Torah.)
13 In this sense, the hierarchy of angels is analogized to the verse (Psalms 103:1) “all my innards.” Moreover, all this is in accordance with the teaching (Bereishis Rabbah 10:7; Zohar I, 251a), that not even a single blade of grass grows in this physical world without being individually directed to do so by a spiritual force known as its mazal. This teaching refers to what we have just said: all physical food owes its sustenance to the influence of its myriad predecessor levels, all the way up to the highest angels of Beriah, which receive their strength and fortitude to perceive G-dliness directly from the Word of G-d (i.e., the Sefirah of Malchus in the Realm of Atzilus).
14 See sup., n. 7.***
15 Lit., bivchinas pnimiyus yoser, “of a more inward [innate?] [or essential] quality.” It is explained in Iggeres HaTeshuvah chap. 4 that souls come from the inward aspect of G-d (so to speak), whereas angels—like everything else in creation—come from G-d’s external aspect. The original state of an angel is simple nonexistence; that is, utter nothingness, the absence of the revelation of G-dliness. The revelation of G-dliness within the angel is something new; it is itself a creation, and must constantly be renewed by G-d. In the absence of that constant recreation, the angel would revert to its original state of utter nonexistence. By contrast, the Jewish soul was not created from utter nothingness; it was a part of G-d Himself. Its existence as a separate entity is not due to creatio ex nihilo, but rather to the tzimtzum—contraction or concealment (see n. 23*** below)—by which G-d withdrew His overwhelming, all-encompassing radiance from our perception so as to allow for the illusion of seemingly separate existence. If, G-d forbid, G-d were to withdraw His constant recreation of the universe, what the soul would revert to is—G-d. (Note that the foregoing statement about angels does not apply to the angel known as “Metat.” (an abbreviation for “Metatron,” which, however—like the names of angels generally—is traditionally not pronounced), since, as the Talmud states (Chagigah, chap. 2), he was originally a human being (with a soul)—the biblical Chanoch (Enoch).)

16 Provided, that is, that the food is kosher and that the person uses the energy from the food for holy purposes—e.g., Torah study and mitzvah performance.
17 Note that the spiritual life force of food stems from the “face of an ox,” the “face of an eagle,” etc. in an outward, or superficial, sense; its inward, more essential, spiritual source is the “face of a man” common to all the holy creatures (chayos hakodesh) of Ezekiel’s vision. By contrast, the Jewish soul is rooted in the “face of a man” only outwardly; its more essential, inward, source is the Heavenly Man (a reference to G-d) on the throne the chayos carried (see sup., n. 7***). Thus, mankind can relate to both higher and lower spiritual levels. This is because, unlike the souls of animals, which were derived (as described in the text) from angels associated with the Sefirah of Gevurah—a Sefirah whose location in the Kabbalistic alignment of Sefiros is in the left column (for a brief explanation of this concept, see Words of the Living G-d, 1:89–90)—the soul of man is of the middle column, which extends throughout all levels, from highest to lowest.
18 All the foregoing describes the spiritual relationship between man and food in one context, that of Olam HaTikkun, the Realm of Repair. For another way of looking at this relationship—in the context of Olam HaTohu, the Realm of Chaos—see, e.g., the adaptations of the discourses, LeHavin Inyan Lechem Mishneh (cited sup., n. 4***) and BeHaalosecha Es HaNeiros, Words of the Living G-d, vol. 4, chap. 3.
19 A colossal serpent-like sea creature.
20 Lit., “ox of the wild”; another giant creature, behemoth.
21 See Bava Basra 75a.
22 A metaphor for the life force and spirituality G-d radiates to the world.
23 This concept is among the most profound subjects in Lurianic Kabbalah. Chassidus explains it in the following manner: The Seder HaHishtalshelus, or spiritual hierarchy of creation described in the text (see p. ***)—in which each spiritual plane derives from antecedent levels, ultimately finding expression in earthly form—is a causal process, each stage leading to the next. Yet there must be more to creation than that. The world as we know it, a finite entity, could never have been created in a direct, cause-and-effect manner, with each successive stage of the creative process simply a logical extension of the stage preceding it, because the First Cause, the starting point in the creative process, is G-d, Who is infinite. No matter how many causal steps were involved, the end result of such a natural evolution (as if such a thing were possible) would never lose its infinity. In order for there to be a world of physical substance, limited in space and time, there had to be, somewhere along the line, a radical break from causal evolution, a creatio ex nihilo that allowed for the innovation of finite, material existence.
G-d as He is in Himself is utterly unknowable, and can only be described as Ein Sof (Infinite). Even before the creative process began, we can (metaphorically) speak of a kind of self-revelation of G-d, similar to a person talking to himself. This is termed the Or Ein Sof (light of the Infinite), and is also infinite. 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. (Note that none of this is intended in a literal, physical, sense, as though the makom panuy or chalal actually exist in a particular location. Rather, this entire Kabbalistic description is a metaphor enabling us mortals to understand, in some limited sense, how G-d brought about the finite universe.) This first act of creation—“making room” for the possibility of finite existence by concealing G-d’s light from our perception—was the radical leap, the dilug (skip) or kefitzah (jump), that allowed for everything else to proceed in a causal process, ultimately resulting in this physical world. It is known as tzimtzum: contraction or concealment.
Once space had been cleared, G-d projected His light into the chalal, actually creating the universe. However, for this physical world to come into being directly, in one step, would have been too great a leap: G-d, the Omnipotent, can do anything, of course, but it was His specific intention to create a world so limited as to be unable to withstand a direct infusion of G-dliness. Instead, the first stage of existence was entirely spiritual, a plane on which G-dliness was mostly perceptible and only slightly concealed—just enough so as not to overwhelm the lofty spiritual beings of that realm. The next lower stage was a spiritual plane of existence in which, although G-dliness was still largely perceptible, slightly more was concealed. This gradual progression was repeated through countless stages until, ultimately, our own world—in which virtually all G-dliness is concealed from our limited perception—could come into being. This lengthy chain of creative stages is the Seder HaHishtalshelus, or spiritual hierarchy of creation, described in the text (hishtalshelus is of the Hebrew root meaning “chain”), consisting of the four broad realms of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the ten Sefiros, etc. Each transition from level to level in this chain of creation is another tzimtzum, contraction or concealment, of the Divine light; however, unlike the tzimtzum harishon—the first, or primordial tzimtzum, which was a radical break, a dilug, with respect to what preceded it—these are viewed as giving rise to their succeeding stages by way of cause and effect (ilah ve’alul). Because it is a “linear” process (again, all in a metaphorical sense)—each stage leading directly to the next, and so on—the projection of G-dly light into the chalal as just described is referred to as a kav (line) and chut (thread)—a beam, as it were—of G-d’s creative light. Since it shines within each realm to the precise degree appropriate to give that realm and all its contents their unique forms, it is also referred to as Memalei Kol Almin, “filling all worlds.” It is the immanent aspect of G-d within creation.
By contrast with the linear kav and chut, it will be remembered that a vestige of the Or Ein Sof continues to fill the chalal all along. This suffuses the entire chalal equally; it is not manifest any differently from one level to the next. The highest pinnacle of the spiritual hierarchy and the lowest—our own world—are equally imbued with and surrounded by this all-pervasive light. It is therefore described as “spherical” (iggul), in the sense that it fills the entire space of the chalal, encompassing (and pervading) its contents uniformly. It is referred to as Sovev Kol Almin, “transcending all worlds”; it is the transcendent aspect of G-d within creation.

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