Shoulders of Giants

Shoulders of Giants

On the Shoulders of Giants

How far does human effort reach? Is it even possible for a person to communicate with the infinite G-d? The ultimate self-made man is limited by his efforts to succeed—then what is effort for?

This is part three of a series on the Rebbe’s ma’amer, V’Avrohom Zokein, 5738 (1977), from Parshas Chayei Sara. Open part one and two in a new tab. View and download the PDF here (for iPhone, here).

ד) וְהִנֵה מְצַד הַהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת דְתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת בְּעִנְיָנֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי שְׁהוּא רוּבּוֹ כְּכּוּלוֹ רַע27, צָרִיךְ לִנְקוֹתָן מִכָּל פְּסוֹלֶת הַנוֹפֶל בָּהֶן28,

Physical reality is made up of both good and evil: everything can be used for either one. When we use physicality for holy purposes, the potential good is actualized. Since Torah and mitzvos become a part of physical reality, they’re affected by the evil that exists within the mundane.

וּכְּמוֹ בְּלִימוּד הַתּוֹרָה, שְׁמִצַד זֶה שְׁהַתּוֹרָה נִתְלַבְּשָׁה בְּשֵׂכֶל אֱנוּשִׁי וּבְּעִנְיָנִים גַשְׁמִיִים הַרֵי אֶפְשָׁר29שְׁהַלִימוּד שֶׁלֹו יִהְיֶ’ה שֶׁלֹא לִשְׁמָהּ וְעַד לְדַרְגָא הָכִי תַּחְתּוֹנָה בְּשֶׁלֹא לִשְׁמָהּ, וְעַל דֶרֶךְ זֶה בְּמִצְווֹת30.

Learning Torah is so great that at times learning is a higher priority than mitzvos. The way Torah exists down here however—where it can be understood by the human mind, and relates to physical occurrences—can be learned for ulterior motives. 

It’s entirely possible for Torah to be learned for pleasure and even self-aggrandizement. 

וְזֶהוּ מַה שְׁהַלְבוּשִׁים דְתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת צְרִיכִים לְרְחִיצָה וּכִּיבּוּס, שְׁיִהְיֶ’ה לְבוּשִׁים נְקִיִים וְכוּלְהוּ (וְאַפִילוּ לֹא יִהְיוּ בְּאוֹפֶן דְ״מַלְבּוּשַׁי אֶגְאָלְתִּי״31), בְּדוּגְמַת לְבוּשׁ הַגַשְׁמִי שְׁבִּכְדֵי שְׁיִהְיֶ’ה זַךְ וְנָקִי צָרִיךְ לִרְחוֹץ וּלְכַבֵּס אוֹתוֹ28.

Like physical clothing, the protective garments of Torah and mitzvos need cleaning. Even if our garments aren’t “blood-stained”—our ulterior motives aren’t so bad— they need to be cleaned and rid of filth that may have stuck. Although learning Torah for the sake of pleasure may even be a good thing, it’s still an ulterior motive.

Previously we explained that doing mitzvos and learning Torah creates a protective layer for the soul. The soul is finite and needs these protective garments to be able to handle G-d’s infinite light. The cleaner and more refined the garment, the better suited we are to experience the infinite.

[וְגַם לְאַחֲרֵי שְׁהָאָדָם מְכַבֵּס אֶת הַלְבוּשִׁים דְתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת שְׁיִהְיוּ נְקִיִים מִכָּל פְּסוֹלֶת כוּלהוּ, בִּכְדֵי שְׁיַעֲלוּ לְמַעֲלָה, צְרִיכִים הֵם לְהִזְדַכֵךְ עַל יְדֵי הַמַלְאָכִים, דְגָפִיף לְהוֹן וְנָשִׁיק לְהוֹן32.

Even after the protective garments of Torah and mitzvos have been cleaned, it’s not enough for them to ascend on high. The garments of Torah and mitzvos first need to be caressed, kissed by angels. Only then can they ascend on high.

What does “ascend on high” mean? The Arizal taught that everything that exists has a soul—even leaves and stones have a spark of G-dliness that “existifies” it. That spark is its soul. Kabbalah explains that physical reality is made up of both good and evil—the potential for both. The good within the mundane is that spark of G-dliness, its soul. The soul and G-dliness in general is likened to fire—just as fire ascends, constantly pulling away at its wick, G-dliness too wants to reattach itself to G-d. This is its nature. When we “elevate” an object and make it holy, we are exposing the object’s holy potential. When we turn paper, for example, into something holy—we reveal that its soul is from a higher place. This happens with every mitzvah and the Torah we learn. And this is why proper intent is so crucial—if the purpose of learning Torah is to expose its G-dly identity, then we need to clean our garments—let go of ulterior motives. If our intent is what helps expose the G-dliness of the mitzvah and the learning, then our intent needs to be “clean.” 

וְהָעִנְיָן הוּא דְהִנֵה כְּתִיב33, ״אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא,״ שְׁמִפְּנֵי שְׁהָאָדָם נִמְצָא בָּאָרֶץ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי לָכֵן יֵשׁ בֹּו חֵטְא, חֵטְא מִלְשׁוֹן חִסָרֹון34 (עַל כָּל פָּנִים).

No matter what, no one is perfect, as the verse states, “…There is no righteous man on earth who does good and doesn’t sin.” Being in this physical world is enough for there to be sin (cheit, in Hebrew), means lack or imperfection.

וְהַגַם שְׁהַחֵטְא (הַחִסָרוֹן) הוּא לֹא בְאַשַׁמָתוֹ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, שְׁהַרֵי, ״וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים״35, כִּי אִם כְּמָּה שְׁכָּתוּב,36 ״נוֹרָא עֲלִילָה עַל בְּנֵי אָדָם״ שְׁרְצוֹן הַקָדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הוּא שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם נִמְצָא בָּעוֹלָם כָּזֶה [וּבְּדוּגְמַת37 מֶלֶךְ שֶׁשָׁלַח אֶת בְּנוֹ לְמְדִינָה רָחוֹקָה בִּכְדֵי לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת חָכְמַת בְּנוֹ שֶׁגַם בָּמְדִינָה הַרָחוֹקָה יַכִּיר אֶת הָאֶמֶת, בְּחִינַת ״וֶאֱמֶת הַוַיֶ’ה לְעוֹלָם״38],

The fact that no one is free from imperfection is not our fault. As the verse says, “And your people, all of them [are] righteous,” nevertheless, “…Awesome in His deeds toward mankind.” It’s G-d’s will for mankind to be in this physical and imperfect world. There’s an analogy of a king who sends his son, heir to the throne, to a faraway land to test his moral compass. He wants to see if his son will be able to recognize truth and virtue even outside of his environment.

אַף עַל פִּי כֵּן, מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁבְּפּוֹעֵל יֵשׁ בּוֹ (חֵטְא מִלְשׁוֹן) חִסָרוֹן, וְגַם הַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת שֶׁלוֹ אֵינָם בְּשְׁלֵימוּת, וּכְּמָּה שֶׁכָּתוּב, ״אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא,״ שֶׁהַחִסָרוֹן (״יֶחֱטָא״) הוּא גַּם בְּהַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת (בְּ״יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב״) (שֶׁלוֹ, לָכֵן בִּכְדֵי שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת שֶׁלוֹ יַעֲלוּ לְמַעֲלָה, צָרִיךְ הוּא לְסִיוּעַ הַמַלְאָכִים].

Nevertheless, since this world is not perfect, neither are the Torah we learn and the mitzvos we do. Since our effort alone isn’t enough, our Torah and mitzvos need the caressing and kissing from angels. 

Paradigm Shift

ה) וְהִנֵה זֶה מַה שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי צְרִיכִים וּזְקוּקִים לָסִיוּעַ הַמַלְאָכִים הוּא לֹא רַק מִפְּנֵי שֶׁעוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי הוּא רוּבּוֹ כְּכוּלוֹ רַע, אֶלָא (גַּם39) מְצַד הַגַשְׁמִיוּת דְעוֹלָם הַזֶה40. שֶׁלִהְיוֹתוֹ גַשְׁמִי הוּא בְּאֵין עָרוֹךְ לָעוֹלָמוֹת הָעֶלְיוֹנִים (הַרוּחֲנִיִּים).

Another reason why our Torah and mitzvos need angels’ help, is because they’re physical. Physicality is completely not relative to spirituality—the two are infinitely beyond compare.

The words of Torah and prayer we say are physical and are elevated by our intent and sincerity. Although words of Torah and prayer are G-dliness exposed, since they’re physical, they need help to jump the gap between the material and the physical. Physicality is inferior to spirituality in the following two ways: a) The G-dly light that causes existence is dimmed until it becomes physicality. b) This dimmed version of G-dliness is masked and concealed.

Whenever a gap is jumped—from physicality to spirituality or from one stage in Gan Eden to the next—the previous stage needs to be abandoned. Our Torah and mitzvos are further elevated by the kissing of angels. Similarly a soul’s ascent in Gan Eden needs help to go from stage to stage.

וְעַל דֶרֶךְ הַיָדוּעָ בְּנוֹגֵעַ לְנִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם, שֶׁאַפִילוּ צַדִּיק גָמוּר כְּשֶׁעוֹלֶה לְגַן עֵדֶן צָרִיךְ טְבִילָה בְּנָהָר דִינוֹר בִּכְדֵי לִשְׁכֹּוחַ עַל חֵיזוֹ דְהַאי עַלְמָא, כִּי מְצַד הָאֵין עָרוֹךְ דְעוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי לְגַן עֵדֶן הַרֵי אַפִילוּ מִקְצַת מֵעִנְיָנֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶה מוֹנֵעַ מִלַעֲלוּת לְגַן עֵדֶן41 [וּבְּדוּגְמַת הָעַלִיוֹת שֶׁבְּדַרְגוֹת דְגַן עֵדֶן שֶׁמִגַן עֵדֶן הַתַּחְתּוֹן לָגַן עֵדֶן הָעֶליוֹן וְכוּלהוּ,שְׁמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁהָעַלִיוֹת הֵם בְּאֵין עָרוֹךְ, צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת תְּחִילָה בִּיטוּל הָהַשָּׂגָה דְגַן עֵדֶן הַתַּחְתּוֹן41. וּכְּיָדוּעָ הַמָשָׁל מֵעִנְיָן הַשָּׂגַת הַשֵׂכֶל, שֶׁבִּכְדֵי לָבוֹא לְהַשָּׂגָה עֶלְיוֹנָה שֶׁבְּאֵין עָרוֹךְ לְהַשָּׂגָה הַקוֹדֶמֶת (אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁגַם הַשָּׂגָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה הִיא בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה הַגַשְׁמִי) צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת תְּחִילָה בִּיטוּל הַשָּׂגָה הַקוֹדֶמֶת.

Take the soul for example: When the soul of even a complete tzaddik ascends to Gan Eden, it needs to be immersed in the Dinor River to forget having seen this world. Since this world is completely incomparable to spirituality, even the smallest remnant of earthiness prevents the soul from entering Gan EdenEven within Gan Eden, there are countless levels and dimensions in ascending quality—and each one is unparalleled to the next. To understand the souls ascent, let’s take learning new ideas for example: When we try to understand an entirely new idea, one we’ve never heard of—even if this idea exists in physical reality—we need to drop any preconceived notions.

We learn new ideas by comparing them to what we already know. However, when we try to understand something that is truly new to us, that’s incomparable to anything we’ve learned before, our efforts to try fitting this new idea into our old frame of reference prove worthless. In such a case, we’re simply recycling our old ideas instead of trying to understand. To understand a new idea, we need the humility, simplicity and open-mindedness to let go of what we imagine this new idea might be and try to get it for what it is.

וּכְּמוֹ רַבִּי זֵירָא כִּי סָלִיק לָאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל יָתִיב42מֵאָה תַּעֲנִיתָא (אוֹ מ’ תַּעֲנִיוֹת43) לִשְׂכֹּוחַ תַּלְמוּד בַּבְלִי בִּכְדֵי שֶׁיוּכָל לִלְמוֹד תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשַׁלְמִי44], עַל דֶרֶךְ זֶה הוּא גַּם בְּנוֹגֵעַ לְהַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְווֹת שֶׁל הָאָדָם, שֶׁמְצַד הֶיוֹתָן מְלוּבָּשׁוֹת בָּעִנְיָנִים גַשְׁמִיִּים, צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת תְּחִלָה שֶׁיִזְדַכְּכוּ וִיתְפַּשְׁטוּ מִגַשְׁמִיוּתָן עַל יְדֵי הַמַלְאָכִים.

Rabbi Zeyra, for example, fasted one hundred fasts (forty, according to the Maharshal) when he moved from Bavel to the Holy Land. The fasts were to forget Babylonian Talmud in order to learn the Jerusalem Talmud. So too our Torah and mitzvos—in order for them to reach their fullest potential, we need the help of angels to refine them and un-physicalize them.

R’ Zeyra was an amora, who lived in Eretz Yisroel. He was born in Bavel, and was a student R’ Chisda, R’ Huna and R’ Yehuda bar Yechezkel at the yeshiva in Pumbedisa. R’ Zeyra loved and wanted very much to go to Eretz Yisroel. Before leaving, he fasted one hundred days in order to forget the learning style of the yeshivos in Bavel. He did this so that the dialectic style of learning of Bavel wouldn’t impede his openness to the learning style in the Holy Land (Bava Metzia, 85a). He was so excited to arrive in Eretz Yisroel that he crossed the Jordan River fully clothed. An onlooking non-believer made fun of him, to which he answered, “Why shouldn’t I be excited when I seek a blessing that was denied to Moshe and Aharon?” (Yerushalmi, Shevuos, 35c).


This installment explained why the motivation behind our Torah learning and mitzvah doing needs to be adjusted. In the first part, the Rebbe explained that physicality—which is what we use to do Torah and mitzvos—needs to be rid of its evil potential in order to elevate it. In the second part, he explained that to elevate our Torah and mitzvos—they need to lose their physical limitations. In both instances, it’s our intent that needs purifying.

27. תניא פ”ז (יא, ב).

28. תו”א משפטים עו, א.

29. ראה קונטרס עה”ח פי”א.

30. ראה אוה”ת לתהלים שם, שענין כיבוס הלבושים הוא “דאל”כ י”ל הם מטונפים שיש מצוה שלא לשמה”.

31. ישעי’ סג, ג. אוה”ת לתהלים שם.

32. ראה זח”א כג, ב. ח”ב רא, ב. תו”א מקץ מג, סע”א ואילך. סידור רעג, ב.

33. קהלת ז, כ.

34. לקו”ת מטות פב, א. נצבים נא, א. ד”ה על כן יאמרו המושלים תרצ”א בתחלתו (סה”מ קונטרסים ח”א קצא, ב. סה”מ תרצ”א ע’ שיז). ובכ”מ.

35. ישעי’ ס, כא.

36. תהלים סו, ה. תנחומא וישב ד. וראה תו”ח תולדות יג, א ואילך.

37. ראה המשך תרס”ו ס”ע שפ ואילך.

38. תהלים קיז, ב.

39. ראה תניא פ”מ (נד, ב), שעוה”ז הוא עולם השפל בב’ בחינות: (א) ש”ההארה שבו מצומצמת מאד עד קצה האחרון ולכן הוא חומרי וגשמי”. (ב) שהארה זו גופא “היא בלבושים ומסכים רבים כו'”.

40. וע”ד המבואר בתניא שם בנוגע ל”אותיות הקדושות של דברי תורה ותפלה”, ש”מאחר שהקול והדיבור הוא גשמי” – העלאתן למעלה היא דוקא ע”י הכוונה המתלבשת בהם – אף ששתיהן (האותיות והכוונה) שוות בזה שאינן בבחי’ הסתר.

41. תו”א מקץ לא, סע”א. המשך תרס”ו ע’ טו. ובכ”מ.

42. ב”מ פה, א.

43. גירסת הרש”ל שם, ועוד – ראה דק”ס שם.

44. המשך תרס”ו שם. המשך תער”ב ח”ב ע’ א’נ ואילך.

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