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As Divided for a Regular Year
Tanya for 6 Kislev
It does not apply to [the study of] the order of Hishtalshelut, [the chainlike stages of progressive self-screening whereby the Divine light descends from level to level until ultimately this corporeal world is created]:
Even if one does comprehend the external aspect [of the existence of the Sefirot and spiritual levels involved, this is not intrinsically as worthy as the study of the laws of the mitzvot, where one comprehends and grasps their essence.
[Knowledge of the various spiritual levels may indeed be superior for an unrelated reason, namely, that it leads to a "complete heart" (lev shalem), a wholehearted awe of G-d - and this, as the Alter Rebbe will later say, is the purpose of all the mitzvot.
Intrinsically, however, gaining this knowledge is not superior to studying the laws governing the performance of the mitzvot, whose essence he can understand.]
Moreover, this [study] is considered [in certain cases] the equivalent of actual performance, as it is written,  "This is the law [of the burnt offering and the meal offering...]."
[The Gemara comments on this,  "He who occupies himself with these laws is considered as if he had actually offered a burnt offering and a meal offering."
Mastering the revealed laws of the commandments is thus, in one sense, superior to delving into the innermost dimension (the pnimiyut) of the Torah, on esoteric subjects such as the order of Hishtalshelut.
For the study of the laws relates to the essence of the subject at hand, such as the physical objects with which the commandments are performed.
G-d's wisdom, moreover, which is inherent in these laws, descends and permeates the physical objects around which the laws revolve.
It is thus the essence of G-d's wisdom that the student comprehends, and thereby he becomes involved in the "wondrous union" described in chapter 5 of Tanya, whereby his mortal intellect simultaneously "encompasses and is encompassed by" the Divine wisdom embodied in the Torah which he is studying.
This intellectual union in turn unites his soul (which transcends his intellect) with the infinite light that is vested in the wisdom of the Torah.
The above is true only when he understands the essence of his subject.
This is the case when he studies (for example) the laws regulating the observance of the commandments.
If, by contrast, his subject is the hierarchies of angels in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, or, yet higher, the configurations of Sefirot within the World of Atzilut, then his grasp is no more than external: he may indeed be aware of his subject's existence, but he will be unable to know its essence.
And now, all the above notwithstanding, the Alter Rebbe is about to point out the superior aspect of the study of Hishtalshelut.]
However, the knowledge of the existence of the Hishtalshelut is also a lofty and exalted mitzvah. 
Indeed, it outweighs them all, [all of the mitzvot and the study of the laws of the Torah.]
Moreover, this leads to a "whole heart," [for the latter verse concludes, "and serve Him with a whole heart"; i.e., a knowledge of G-d leads one to serve Him with one's entire being.
As explained in Likkutei Torah, in the discourse beginning VeLo Tashbit, this refers to serving G-d with awe - and this is the ultimate intent of all the mitzvot, as the Torah states,  "G-d has commanded us to perform all these statutes so that we may fear the L-rd our G-d."
And it is the study of the innermost dimensions of the Torah and a knowledge of the various spiritual levels which comprise the order of Hishtalshelut that enable one to fulfill the mitzvah of "knowing G-d," which leads in turn to the "whole heart" of "fearing Him."
Thus the Alter Rebbe concludes]:
And this is the essential thing: [the wholehearted awe of G-d is the ultimate purpose of all the commandments.
As mentioned above, one can attain this state only through a knowledge of the order of Hishtalshelut, even though this knowledge is merely an awareness of its existence and not a grasp of its essence.]
The comprehension of existence entails divesting [this subject] of any physicality....
[In other words, one should endeavor to picture its spirituality.
Hence, as the Rebbe Shlita has often stressed, one should study the innermost and mystical dimension of the Torah in such a way that one  "derives sustenance from it" (yitparnesun min'ay) - viz., the "sustenance" derived from comprehension.
And soundly-based comprehension can be secured only when this dimension of the Torah is studied with the intellectual elucidation afforded by the teachings of Chabad.]
However, this mitzvah [of knowing G-d and apprehending Divinity] is but one mitzvah of the 613, and a man must fulfill all 613, for they descend from the essence of the external aspect of the vessels of Atzilut, [a source whose standing was explained above.]
Hence, one must extensively study all 613 mitzvot, and [hence] fulfill them in actual practice in thought, speech and deed - which parallel Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah respectively - in order to purify whatever needs purification [beirur] there.
[As previously explained, the extraction and elevation of the sparks exiled in the various worlds is the ultimate purpose of creation.]
[The Alter Rebbe will now state that beyond the above-discussed superior quality of mitzvot requiring action (as well as the study of their laws), they are also essentially superior to the source of the soul, by virtue of their source.
Thus, the love and awe experienced by the soul, though spiritual in nature, pale in comparison to these mitzvot (even though they are performed with physical entities), not only because these mitzvot and the extraction of the sparks accomplished thereby are the ultimate purpose of creation, but in essence too they are superior to the source of the soul.]
For the truth is that the purifications in Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah of the 288 [sparks of Tohu] by means of the Torah and mitzvot that man fulfills in thought, speech and deed, are superior in their source to the Nefesh-Ruach-Neshamah of man [that possess the love and fear of G-d.]
For they derive from the Divine Name Sa'g of the internal aspect of Adam Kadmon, while the Nefesh-Ruach-Neshamah that has already been corrected through the Divine Name Ma'h issues [i.e., this Name issues] from the "forehead" [of Adam Kadmon], being a mere reflection [of it, but not of its essence.]
[The Divine Names Sa'g and Ma'h are two of the four Names that echo the varying numerical values which result when the names of the four letters that comprise the Name Havayah are spelled out in any of four different ways.
For example, one possible spelling entails the repeated use of the letter vav, while another possible spelling entails the repeated use of the letter alef.
When the Hebrew names of the four letters yud and hei and vav and hei are written out with the full complement (milui) of the letter vav, the numerical equivalent of the letters used totals 63 (hence the Divine Name sa'g).
When it is written with the full complement of the letter alef, the numerical equivalent of the letters used totals 45 (hence the Divine Name ma'h).
The Kabbalah explains how the Name Sa'g is related to the World of Tohu, while the Name Ma'h is related to the World of Tikkun, which is inferior to it.
The Alter Rebbe is thus stating here that the purifications of the action-related mitzvot find their source in the Divine Name Sa'g that derives from the internal aspect of Adam Kadmon, the primal Divine thought of creation that encompasses all subsequent stages and levels of creation.
By contrast, since the souls of Jews derive from the World of Tikkun (lit., "correction"), the Nefesh or Ruach or Neshamah is of a level at which it was already corrected by means of the Divine Name Ma'h. And this Name is but a glimmer that derives from the "forehead" of Adam Kadmon.]
Hence it is written,  - "...before a king ruled [over the Children of Israel]."
[The verse reads thus: "These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before a king ruled over the Children of Israel."
The Kabbalah understands these "kings" as a reference to the Sefirot in the World of Tohu who reigned before (i.e., on a superior level to) "a king who ruled over the Jews," i.e., the World of Tikkun, which is the source of their souls.
For the World of Tikkun is merely a glimmer of Adam Kadmon, while Tohu (from whence derive the exiled sparks and their purification) stems from the Divine Name Sa'g, which is rooted in the internal level of Adam Kadmon.]
For this reason man is sustained by food of the inorganic, vegetative, and living classes, and purifies them by the Ma'h within him, and lives through them, because they derive from Sa'g.
[Since the soul derives from the World of Tikkun and incorporates the Divine Name Ma'h, it is thereby able to extract and purify the sparks found within the inorganic, vegetative and living classes.
Having refined these sparks that are found within the inorganic, vegetative, and living classes, and having drawn Divine energy upon them from their lofty source in Tohu, man in turn is then invigorated by them with an additional measure of spiritual vitality.
But is it not paradoxical that man, who is so far superior to the inorganic, vegetative and living classes, should derive his sustenance from them?
The teachings of Chassidut find the answer in the verse,  "Not on bread alone does a man live, but on all that comes forth from G-d's mouth does a man live."
It is not the physical, vegetative bread alone that sustains man, but the creative Divine utterance that is found within the bread.
However, since man is provided with his ongoing existence by his own creative Divine utterance, viz.,  "Let us make man," why does he need to be sustained by the creative word that sustains vegetative growth (or, for that matter, the inorganic and living classes of existence)?
The answer lies in the fact that the creative utterance that animates bread derives from a loftier source (the World of Tohu) than the source of the creative utterance that animates man (the World of Tikkun).
In terms of the Divine Names, Sa'g transcends Ma'h.]
Furthermore, [there is yet another reason as to why action-related mitzvot are loftier than the soul's love and fear of G-d], as it is written,  "My Face - [i.e., My innermost dimension, My pnimiyut, as implied by the word panim] - shall not be seen." 
This means that the inwardness of a truly higher degree cannot descend below [in a revealed manner, but only the external aspect and the hinderpart, which are shades of the Supreme Wisdom.
[Thus the love and awe by which a man connects with the Supernal attributes (middot), which are the innermost essence of the Sefirot, cannot draw down into the soul the innermost essence of these attributes, but merely their external aspects.
The action-related mitzvot, by contrast, derive from the Netzach - Hod - Yesod - the external and revelatory aspect - of the Sefirot.
This lower level can descend below in its essential and inward state in action-related mitzvot.]
- (Back to text) Vayikra 7:37.
- (Back to text) Menachot 110a.
- (Back to text) Current Hebrew editions of Tanya read, "a great and exalted mitzvah," which the Rebbe Shlita amends to read "a lofty and exalted mitzvah." This is how the phrase is quoted (and explained) in Likkutei Torah on Vayikra, in the discourse entitled VeLo Tashbit.
- (Back to text) Devarim 4:39.
- (Back to text) I Divrei HaYamim 28:9.
- (Back to text) Devarim 6:24.
- (Back to text) Tikkunei Zohar, end of Tikkun 6; discussed in Likkutei Sichot, Vol. XV, p. 42ff. et al.
- (Back to text) Bereishit 36:31.
- (Back to text) Devarim 8:3.
- (Back to text) Bereishit 1:26.
- (Back to text) Shmot 30:23.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "On this entire subject see above in Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle XIX."