[14.]

The answer lies in what the Master of the Academy revealed to Rashbi about the elevated stature of the yesh, of created physicality. He revealed that the yesh is lofty not only by virtue of its root in the primal (“early”) levels of Elokus; beyond this, it is the source and prerequisite of everything.

Rashbi knew that the yesh was “chosen from the beginning, from aforetime,”1 i.e., that it comes into being by virtue of the Essence of the Infinite One.2 Beyond this, the Master of the Academy revealed to him that the physical yesh is the source of everything — that the wondrous revelations of Gan Eden and of the World of the Resurrection3 and of the World to Come4 all depend on man’s present avodah in the sifting and refining of the physical yesh. And this refinement of physicalitytransmutes it into a vessel that will reveal Atzmus, the Divine Essence. The Master of the Academy further taught that physicality is refined and uplifted by means of both subjugation (iskafya) and transformation (is’hapcha), despite the withholding of light and the multitude of obstacles that obstruct the progress of this avodah.

Now, Rashbi of course knew of these two modes of avodah. The point was that at his level he was utterly removed from physical things and more particularly from any hankering after the pleasures they offer.

In a parallel case, a certain chassid of stature once complained to the Tzemach Tzedek that he lacked a desire to study.

“If so,” responded the Tzemach Tzedek, “good for you! You can open a book and study. But what can I do? I do have a desire to study!”

In other words, a person who has no desire to study can impel himself to study by the self-discipline of iskafya, whereas one who has a natural desire to study is doing so not as the result of avodah but [merely] out of pleasure.

So, too, with Rashbi: for him the yesh, or created physicality, was of such questionable existence that he could not even relate to it as a subject worthy of abstinence. Rather, in physical things he saw the Divine light and vitality. Now, the Divine vitality to be found in physical things is of a lower level than the vitality to be found in the lofty levels of the Sefiros of the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, and certainly lower than the light to be found in the Supernal Partzufim that transcend the World of Atzilus. This is why in his eyes the physical yesh was of no account whatever.

And at this point comes the teaching of the Master of the Academy. He reveals to Rashbi that not only does the physical yesh stem from a root in sovev, the transcendent mode of Divine illumination; in addition, the physical yesh intrinsically contains a hidden or pnimi, the immanent mode of Divine illumination.

In these terms we can understand the above quotation from the Zohar about “a wooden beam that does not catch fire.” If the wood does not reveal the light that is hidden in it, then it must be splintered until it does give off light. The goal of man’s avodah is thus to take such steps as will make the yesh reveal its inner light. Hence with the body, the goal is not simply that it be nullified, but that it should reveal its inner light, so that the light of the body and the light of the soul will combine and radiate.

[15.]

Now, the Sages teach that “one should stand up to pray5 only in an earnest frame of mind.” What is this earnest frame of mind, and why does specifically this serve as a preparation for prayer? Rashi explains the phrase as signifying humility and lowliness of spirit. These are no doubt positive attributes, good middos, and in their inward dimension they are also characteristically chassidic attributes. But what is their specific connection with prayer?

* * *

Attributes, by the way, exist at a variety of levels. Some negative attributes ought to be distanced and utterly dislodged; examples are falsehood and anger and pride. Some of these attributes, however, need to remain, though in judicious measure. Thus, for example, the Sages teach that “a Torah scholar ought to have an eighth part of an eighth part”6 — “that is,” explains Rashi, “a miniscule measure of pride, so that lightminded people should not treat him with scorn, and so that they should feel compelled to accept his words.” That is the opinion of Rav.

Rava warns that extreme vigilance is needed in both the positive and the negative parameters of pride. As he expresses it, “Both he who has some and he who has none deserve to be placed under a ban.” Rabbi Nachman the son of Rabbi Yitzchak holds that one may not have “even the tiniest fraction of [pride].” And, indeed, it is in this light that Rambam paraphrases7 the above teaching of Rava. Likewise, Semag counts the harboring of pride among the actual prohibitive commandments.

The distancing of pride is part of one’s inward avodah. Thus the story has been handed down of a certain chassid of stature who was so humble of spirit that someone objected: “But doesn’t the Torah obligate a scholar to have an eighth part of an eighth part of pride?”

“True,” he said, “but you have to know which end to start with, with the talmid chacham or with the eighth of an eighth….”

With that he proceeded to describe what would happen when one day he would find himself facing the Heavenly Court.

“If first they check how big a talmid chacham I am, and only then check the size of my eighth part of an eighth part, I’m certain that it will be found to be big enough. But what if they first check the size of my eighth part of an eighth part, and then calculate proportionately how big a talmid chacham I should be…?”

So, he concluded, since up there it would be too late to do teshuvah and rectify things, he had decided that the best policy was to keep the pride down to an absolute minimum.

* * *

As we were saying, then, humility and lowliness of spirit are no more than positive and chassidic attributes. Since they are surely required at all times, what is their specific connection with preparation for prayer? Furthermore, the context implies that (a) an earnest frame of mind is distinct from (b) humility and lowliness of spirit. Since it is taught that one should never stand up to pray except in an earnest frame of mind, it is clear that (a) this is the level required for prayer; in order to arrive at that level before one begins to pray, (b) one needs to prepare oneself with humility and lowliness of spirit.

Let us understand. The Sages refer to prayer as a takkanah, an ordinance. As to the origin of the prayer services, Rabbi Yosei ben Rabbi Chanina states that the Patriarchs instituted8 them; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi states that they were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices;the Gemara concludes thatthe Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and that the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices. All, however, agree that prayer is a takkanah.

One of the meanings of this word is “repair,” as with a broken glass vessel9 which can be melted down and reconstituted.

Prayer may be likened to a glass vessel: not only are its contents visible from the outside, but they also lend their appearance to the walls of the vessel; that which is internal affects the externality.

Torah study is likened to a metal vessel which, whether at the level of gold or silver, copper or iron, hides its contents. So, too, Torah study is subject to intellection, which is an obscuring garment.

Not only a metal vessel but even a glass vessel (signifying prayer) can be melted down and reconstituted. This can be done in either of two ways: in the spirit of Rabbi Yosei ben Rabbi Chanina, who states that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services, or in the spirit of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who states that they were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices. And the conclusion of the Gemara was thatthe Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and that the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices.

The prayer services thus comprise three elements: (a) takkanah, or repair; (b) “the Patriarchs instituted them”; (c) “they correspond to the daily sacrifices.”

[16.]

Prayer means refining and elevating one’s animal soul by making the G‑dly soul’s latent faculties manifest. This aspect of one’s Divine service is alluded to in the verse, “A man who shall bring10 from you an offering to G‑d, — of the cattle, of the herd and of the flock shall you bring your offering.” The order of the opening words prompts a well- known query: Surely the verse should have read, “A man of you who shall bring an offering [shall do so in such and such a way].”

Now, the verb used here for “bringing an offering” is yakriv, which shares a common root with the verb meaning “to draw near.” And, indeed, the function of the sacrifices was to bring one’s spiritual faculties and sensibilities closer to G‑d. The irregular order of the opening words of the verse thus allows it to be interpreted as follows: “If a man wants to bring an offering, i.e., if he wants to draw near to G‑d, then from you shall there be a sacrifice to G‑d.” That which needs to be refined and elevatedis one’s own animal soul.

In this context, the herd and the flock refer to the various levels and kinds of animal soul. Since the animal soul is part of the natural order, nothing interests it apart from its attraction to material and physical things; even its intelligence, like that of an animal, serves only to secure bodily pleasure. In some people the animal soul has the violent vigor of an ox; in some people it has the cold stubbornness of a goat; in others it has the more temperate nature of a sheep. It is these animal natures that must be sacrificed (“from you shall there be a sacrifice”) to G‑d: they must be refined and elevated to the realm of holiness.

The way to bring the animal soul’s natural senses near to G‑d is to make the G‑dly soul’s latent faculties manifest. The G‑dly soul does not tell the animal soul, “Go away: I don’t need you!” At first glance it might appear that since the animal soul is naturally interested only in pleasure-seeking it is in fact not needed and should be brushed off by the G‑dly soul, whose only function (so one might think) is to elevate itself in positive ways. This might especially appear so since the G‑dly soul represents the level of tzaddik.

The animal soul, in contrast, being steeped and habituated in natural physicality, represents the level of rasha. This is particularly true of the animal soul’s manifestation as the Evil Inclination. (The intellective level, or seichel, is called the animal soul and the emotive attributes, or middos, are called the Evil Inclination.) Since the Evil Inclination is the evil in a man’s thoughts, words and actions, it is a rasha.

If so, since the animal soul beleaguers the G‑dly soul (“the rasha beleaguers the tzaddik”),11 barring its entry to the “little city,”12 which is the individual’s body, then surely the task of the G‑dly soul should be to distance the animal soul and utterly nullify it.

The proper approach, however, is that the G‑dly soul should not repel its animal counterpart but refine it. This it must do by revealing its own powers, though tempered to match the receptive capacity of the animal soul; i.e., the faculties of the G‑dly soul must vest themselves in the intellectual potentials (or “garments”) of the animal soul’s intellect. This does not mean that the G‑dly soul should first understand a concept and then explain it to the animal soul, but that from the outset the G‑dly soul should tackle the subject together with the animal soul — by using intellectual constructs borrowed from worldly affairs.

[17.]

This mode of partnership may be understood by envisaging an eminent sage teaching an ordinary individual. A basic condition is that they study together as if they were compatible colleagues. For a start, this indicates that the sage is humble, as indeed the Torah obliges him to be. Beyond this, his approachability arouses an inner strength in his disciple (for, as was mentioned above, from the perspective of his soul-powers even an ordinary individual can grasp profound concepts). This is also brought about by the fact that the sage considers him worthy of being taught, for all such joint study, especially when the sage teaches with a friendly countenance, sets up an inner bond between the two parties. This is even the case when the listener’s intellectual capacities (“vessels”) are not yet well developed, so that he is not yet fit to digest highly-condensed subjects, but can only appreciate them in a general way.

With his spirits thus uplifted by the sage’s attitude to him, this ordinary student now experiences a sense of closeness to study in general. This shift in perspective is the main change that takes place in him, and though it is somewhat external to the actual subject he is studying, it remains significant. To arrive at one’s destination may indeed be crucial; even more crucial is the ability to step out of one’s present space and take to the road.

To express this shift in perspective in terms of the takkanah or reconstitution discussed above: One of the basic requirements of a mentor who is (so to speak) repairing his disciple, is the ability to extract him from his past predicament in order to set him up on fresh ground.

The above analogy of the sage and his ordinary student throws light on the manner in which the G‑dly soul refines the animal soul by revealing its own powers. If, for example, it is seeking to grasp a concept in Elokus, such as the creation of something from nothing,13 or the love and awe of G‑d, it will do so by using the intellectual potentials (or “garments”) of the animal soul, borrowing concepts from mundane matters. When this happens, not only does the individual’s animal soul grasp the particular concept at hand, but his entire being is suffused and permeated by the pleasantness of it all. And as it comes to occupy a cherished place in his life, he begins to detach himself from the less spiritual concerns in which he was previously rooted.

This, then, is how we can understand the above teaching that “the prayer services were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices”: this teaching alludes to the avodah of prayer in the refinement and uplifting of the animal soul.

[18.]

The second theme of prayer is alluded to by the above- quoted teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.” On the mystical level, this signifies the manifestation of the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, for its own sake. This is the real meaning of the verse, “and to serve Him14 with all your hearts,” on which the Sages comment, “What is this ‘service15 of the heart’? — This is prayer.”

True enough, one of the tasks of the G‑dly soul [in prayer] is to refine and elevate the animal soul, so that it too will arrive at a love of G‑d. Thus it is written, “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d16 with all your heart” (בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ). Since the last word is spelled in a way that suggests duality, the Sages understood the verse to be saying, “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with both your inclinations,17 with the Good Inclination18 and with the Evil Inclination.”19 The Evil Inclination can be brought to a love of G‑d by means of the Good Inclination, the Good Inclination being the manifestation of the faculties and emotive attributes of the G‑dly soul, which is intellective.

At the same time, one’s task during prayer is the manifestation of the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, so that it itself will arrive at a love of G‑d. After all, the commandment to love G‑d is mainly beamed at the soul during its stay here below, when it is vested in the body and the natural soul.

Now, it is also true that when the soul was above, before its descent into a body, it experienced a love of G‑d. Thus it is written, “By the life of the L‑rd G‑d of Israel before whom I have stood...,”20 and this verse alludes to the station of the soul above, before its descent. Likewise, “Every single soul used to stand21 with its own identity22 before the Holy King.” Specifically, the phrase Malka Kaddisha (“the Holy King”) signifies the first six emotive attributes (collectively known as Z’eir Anpin, or Z”a) of the World of Atzilus. [And one of these six middos is Chessed, which finds expression in loving G‑d. The abode of the soul, then, even before its descent into the body, was a realm in which it experienced a love of G‑d.]

Nevertheless, it is after the G‑dly soul’s descent into the body and the natural soul that the commandment to love G‑d mainly applies, and itis fulfilled by revealing the latent faculties of the G‑dly soul itself. This is the avodah signified by the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs,” and it consists of drawing Divine energy downward. “The actions of the Patriarchs23 are a guidepost for their sons,” inasmuch as they opened up the conduit for this mode of avodah, whereby the revelation of light below is elicited from above. Moreover, [as a metaphor for their utter self-annulment in deference to the will of their Driver,] it is taught that “the Patriarchs were a veritable chariot.”24 Even after they were vested in bodies here below, they remained in exactly the same state in which they had been above, as is explained in Tanya.25

These, then, are the two tasks of the avodah of prayer, as discussed above. One task is to refine and uplift the animal soul. The other is to reveal the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, so that even after being vested in the body and natural soul its intellective and emotive attributes26 will all remain manifest, just as they were before that descent.

[19.]

Essentially, however, prayer signifies takkanah, or repair,27 while the above two tasks are merely two different approaches to this end. One approach is alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were made to correspond to the daily sacrifices; this approach seeks to refine and elevate the animal soul. The other approach is alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs; this approach seeks to reveal the faculties of the G‑dly soul itself, for its own sake. Essentially, though, prayer in its own right signifies takkanah, or repair.

This implies a melting process. Thus, when the Gemara states that glass vessels “once broken can be repaired”28 (i.e., they can be redeemed from a state of impurity), Rashi explains: “They can be melted down and reconstituted as vessels.” In terms of avodah, this melting process signifies mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice. [This is called for in two directions, as will presently be explained.]

In Jacob’s dream, “Behold a ladder29 was set on the earth, and its top reached up to the heavens.” The terms “earth” and “heavens” here signify materiality and spirituality. Moreover, the letter hei (at the end of artzah) indicates the lowest levels of materiality, and the letter hei (at the end of hashamaymah) indicates the loftiest levels of spirituality. This is no mere column that simply joins floor and roof. This is a ladder, by means of which one can ascend from the lowliest depths to the loftiest heights, and by means of which one can draw down light from the loftiest heights to illuminate the lowliest depths.

The ladder thus represents the dual function of prayer: to elevate the holy sparks hidden in materiality and to elicit a downward flow of Divine beneficence. And the process of repair or reconstitution which is effected by means of prayer takes place in both of these directions: in the way alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were made to correspond to the daily sacrifices, and in the way alluded to by the teaching that the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.

It was stated above that takkanah, repairing or reconstituting a vessel by melting it down, necessitates self-sacrifice; more precisely, two kinds of self-sacrifice — of the animal soul and of the G‑dly soul.

The mesirus nefesh demanded of the animal soul is that the individual should not seek the physicality of material things but their utility, thereby transforming them into vessels to contain Divinity.

The mesirus nefesh demanded of the G‑dly soul is that the individual should not seek merely blissful manifestations of Divinity;30 he should mainly seek to draw down the Atzmus, the Essence of Divinity. In other words, he should not be satisfied with the revelation of Divine light at the immanent level of memaleh kol almin, which is merely daas tachton and yichuda tata’a, the lower level of appreciation of the Divine Unity. Rather, he should eagerly yearn to draw down a revelation of Divine light at the transcendent level of sovev kol almin, which is daas elyon and yichuda ila’a, the higher level of appreciation of the Divine Unity.

[20.]

Why, though, should the G‑dly soul be expected to make such a great sacrifice — to forgo its desire to relish the experience of Divine revelation? After all, who can enjoy the delights of the infinitelight as much as a G‑dly soul? Besides, the ultimate purpose of the soul’s descent is to illuminate the darkness of the body and of the natural intellective soul so that they, too, should desire to cleave to Divinity, which is the ultimate good. Why, then, should the G‑dly soul not desire such revelations?

The answer is that all such giluyim appear in gradated levels, and between one level and the next the light diminishes. This diminution is possible because a revelation of Divine light is not something absolute but merely a thrust in a certain direction.

Moreover, this diminution takes place even in the highest revelations. Thus it is stated, “Until the world was created31 there existed only Him and His Name.” On this there is a classic query: Before the world was created there was no one to call Him by His Name. (As the query makes clear, a name presupposes the existence of some additional entity.) In the case of G‑d, His Name signifies the level of Malchus of the Ein Sof. [Thus we see that evenat this lofty level there is an outward revelation of Elokus for the benefit of lower worlds.] Indeed, this is one of the highest revelations, stemming from before the First Tzimtzum that took place in the Ein Sof-light.

The First Tzimtzum caused the infinite light to actually depart and be concealed, unlike the tzimtzumim that took place later in Seder Hishtalshelus, whereby, stage by stage, the light merely diminished. As Chassidus explains, though the lights at the various later levelsare distinct and utterly removed from each other, they still all belong to the same chainlike progression of self-concealment and gradual descent which is called Seder Hishtalshelus. In fact this very term derives from a word meaning “chain.” The lowest linkof a chain of even hundreds of thousands of links may belower, out of all proportion, to the highest link; nevertheless, since the upper end of each link is firmly grasped within the lower end of the link above it, and vice versa, the very lowest link remains connected with the very highest. In the analog, the light from above comes all the way down, though in diminishing stages.

This is not the case when one compares the Ein Sof-light after the [First] Tzimtzum with the Ein Sof-light before the [First] Tzimtzum. It is not merely lower, out of all proportion (be’ein aroch); there is no possible relationship between the two. In this case, therefore, the self-screening called tzimtzum is expressed not in a mere diminution of the light but in its departure.

We can now better understand the phrase, “Until the world was created there existed only Him and His Name,” for the very word for “world” (olam) derives from the root meaning “obscurity” (he’elem). Hence: Until the great self-concealment of the First Tzimtzum, there existed only Him and His Name.This means that even His Name, which signifies the lofty level of Malchus of the Ein Sof, is an instance of revelation for the sake of lower worlds.

[21.]

[At this point, the infinite light before the First Tzimtzum is the focus of an intricate Kabbalistic discussion, whose linguistic subtleties defy intelligible translation.

The discussion demonstrates why the main task of the avodah of prayer is to elicit and draw down Divinity at no less a level than Atzmus.]

[22.]

Now, how can one draw down Atzmus, the Divine Essence?

The Zohar states: “No thought can grasp You”32 — but He can be grasped through re’usa delibba, the innermost yearning of the heart.33 Intellectual means cannot grasp Atzmus, nor can they grasp even the revelations at the level of the World of Atzilus, and certainly not above the World of Atzilus. Indeed, Chassidus explains that we can apprehend Divinity at the level of Atzilus only by way of negative abstraction. Thus, for example, it is written, “You are wise,34 but not with a knowable wisdom.” The wisdom of the World of Beriah (and so, too, of Yetzirah and Asiyah) is called“knowable wisdom,” becausewe can have some conception of it by means of an analogy with the faculties of man’s soul. As to the wisdom of the World of Atzilus, we cannot understand itat all, except to recognize that it does not resemble knowable wisdom; i.e., we can understand only by negative abstraction.

This applies even more to the levels of Divinity which are higher than the Seder Hishtalshelus at the level of Atzilus: intellectual means cannot grasp them. However, these levels of Divinity can be elicited by means of avodah. This is not the case with Atzmus, which can be elicited only by means of re’usa delibba: only mesirus nefesh can grasp Atzmus.

Chassidus illustrates the difference between these means of connection by comparing the ways in which a son and a disciple call forth the innermost essence of their father or teacher.

It is written, “And these are the offspring35 of Aharon and Moshe....” As Rashi points out, “the verse lists only the offspring of Aharon, yet they are called the offspring of Moshe because he taught them Torah.” For on this passage the Sages state: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonasan, ‘Whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is regarded by Scripture as if he were his father [...].36 Aharon was their father yet Moshe taught them, and that is why they are called his offspring.’”

Here the son and the disciple are equated, as also in the teaching of the Midrash that “a man’s disciple is called his son.”37 Nevertheless they are different from each other. The son is actually born of him. The disciple, by contrast, is merely “regarded as if...” and is “called his son,” because the input (hashpaah) of one’s intellect is [merely] called by the same name as the input of one’s essence from which a son is born.

[23.]

This resemblance explains why disciples are sometimes described as being “made.” For example: “Whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is regarded by Scripture as if he had made him,”38 implying that their study brings a new creature into being.

An instance of this was mentioned above. Since the soul of even a simple and unlettered person is innately complete, he too is theoretically able to grasp concepts, except that his brain matter has not been developed by intellectual exercise. If so, whoever teaches him Torah actually makes him, just as the making of a son brings a new creature into being.

Nevertheless, the disciple is merely called by the name of the one who taught him Torah, and a name is no more than an outward revelation; the disciple is not an actual son. For though the input of one’s intellect is truly input (hashpaah), it is termed no more than or (“light”), whereas the input of one’s essence (hashpaah atzmis) is termed shefa (“beneficent influx”). It is true that with time, as may be observed, a disciple’s intellectual capabilities often come to resemble those of his mentor; nevertheless, such attainments are still only in the realm of or. The reason is that these attainments affect only the vessels of the mind, but not the vessels of the brain. (As the Yiddish idiom expresses it, “You can’t supply a man with a new head.”)39 In contrast, the input of one’s essence affects not only the vessels of the mind but also the vessels of the brain.

Hence there is a difference between the way in which a son and a disciple elicit responses from the father or mentor. Both the son and the disciple call forth the essential powers of the father or mentor. However, even the most superior kind of disciple (“one who increases the wisdom of his mentor”)40 calls forth only the outward revelations (the giluyim) of the mentor, whereas the son calls forth the essence (the atzmus) of the mentor or father. Though the revelations called forth by the disciple are actual or (“light”), these revelations do not compare with the quintessential essence (etzem atzmuso) of the mentor or father which the son calls forth.

[24.]

By way of analogy, the above distinction between the disciple and the son serves to illustrate the distinction between the self-sacrifice of the animal soul and the self-sacrifice of the G‑dly soul. The animal soul’s self-sacrifice calls forth revelations, making Elokus manifest down here below. (In contrast: The future revelation of Atzmus that will result from our present avodah will come in the form of a reward granted from above.) The G‑dly soul’s self-sacrifice is different: it spurns [the experiential delight of] mere revelations, and thereby elicits Atzmus.

In a well-known instance of this, the Alter Rebbe once fell on the floor in a state of rapture and said: “‘Whom do I have in the heavens?41 And on earth I desire nothing with You’ [i.e., nothing in addition to Yourself alone]. I don’t want the bliss of the Lower Garden of Eden; I don’t want the bliss of the Higher Garden of Eden; I want You alone!”

This incident exemplifies the basic avodah of the G‑dly soul itself: to desire the Essence (the Atzmus)of the Infinite One. This is what is meant by “the earnest frame of mind”42 which should precede prayer, and which is the basis for the avodah of prayer, as follows.

The structured meditation called hisbonenus comprises two stages. The first consists of the concentrated study of a text concerning Elokus, with the intent of understanding a subject such ascreation ex nihilo, just as one studies the detailed arguments of a legal subject in the revealed plane of the Torah. There, once a scholar has mastered the halachic subject, he meditates upon it comprehensively, complete with its intellectual delight.

The same is true (to use the above example) of the scholar who has been studying about creation ex nihilo, the creation of yesh from ayin. First he studies the particulars of the subject: how the [Divine] ayin is constantly present in the created yesh, thereby maintaining it in existence and continuously animating it;how as this takes place the Creator is hidden from the created being;43 how His simultaneous presence and absence are polar opposites, yet both are needed in order to enable the yesh to come into being and to remain in existence; and how this [paradox] demonstrates the manner in which G‑d works wondrously, bonding spirituality with materiality. Having thoroughly analyzed and digested the particular arguments and explanations in an orderly fashion in the vessels of his mind and the vessels of his brain, he then meditates upon the subject comprehensively.

His contemplation of the condensed heart of the subject helps him absorb and integrate it. At the same time, this contemplation arouses within him a sense of wonderment at the Divine grace underlying the marvel of creation, whereby G‑d in His kindness created a physical brain that can serve to comprehend such sublime concepts.

[Until here we have been speaking of the first stage in the structured meditation called hisbonenus — the stage which grows out of the concentrated study of a text concerning Elokus, in preparation for prayer.] The second stage takes place while one is actually praying. At this time one experiences a G‑dly delight in the subject of his meditation.

To distinguish: While the individual is at the first stage of meditation, he is focused only on comprehending the concept at hand, and his enthused wonderment over the condensed heart of the concept is restricted to its uplifting intensity. While he is at the second stage, during the actual time of prayer, he soars beyond comprehension and experiences the sweet pleasantness of Elokus. He utterly shakes off his intellection and arrives at a yearning for the Divine Essence that transcends the bounds of intellect.

[25.]

[To revert to the Talmudic teachings quoted above:] With this we can more richly understand the teaching that “one should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.” For prayer itself signifies takkanah, implyingrepair or reconstitution, and this, as we have explained, necessitates self-sacrifice.

The first kind of self-sacrifice is hinted at in the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices.” This is the self-sacrifice practiced by the natural soul [i.e., the animal soul], by virtue of which it seeks the revelation of Divinity in all kinds of physical things in this world below. The second kind of self-sacrifice is hinted at in the teaching that “the prayer services were instituted by the Patriarchs.” This is the self-sacrifice practiced by the G‑dly soul, by virtue of which it spurns giluyim, mere outward revelations of Divinity, seeking instead to elicit and draw downward nothing less than Atzmus, the Divine Essence.

The latter mode of avodah throws light on the wording of the above teaching that “one should stand up to pray only in an earnest frame of mind.”44 For it is specifically the physical brain that G‑d enabled to serve as a vessel or tool for even the sublime kind of conception which is the subject of the latter mode of avodah.

As quoted above, the Gemara concludes that the Patriarchs instituted the prayer services and the Sages related them to the daily sacrifices. To translate this into the terms of an individual’s work schedule: One’s avodah cannot begin with self-sacrifice; it should begin with intellectually- monitored endeavors45 through which the G‑dly soul will surface and become manifest. This requires a humble submissiveness to the Divine Will, so that one’s materiality will be brought low and the corporeal vessel will be minimized — by refining them, which is the goal of the daily sacrifices. Only after this stage can one proceed to the more inward stage of avodah — the G‑dly soul’s self-sacrifice of forgoing [the spiritual blandishments of] mere revelations of Divinity; instead, the G‑dly soul will focus its yearning on the eliciting of Atzmus, the Essence of Divinity.

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With the above insights we can now appreciate why Rashbi was so overwhelmed by the teaching that the Master of the Academy revealed46 to him: “A wooden beam that does not catch fire and give off light should be splintered. A body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed; the body will then become receptive to the soul’s light, and they will hold together and become luminous.”

From this teaching Rashbi understood that every yesh gashmi, every created material entity, contains an or atzmi pnimi, an inward light that reflects the Divine Essence called Atzmus. He understood that the physical brain can become a vessel for Atzmus, and that a man’s avodah should strive to reveal the above-described inward light that it contains.

Rashbi had already known47 that the yesh is rooted in Atzmus, that created physicality is rooted in the very Essence of Divinity. What he did not know until the Master of the Academy revealed it to him was that the physical yesh is the source of everything, and that only by nullifying and refining the physical vessel can its lofty source be revealed.

We can now also understand his exclamation, “Teaching, O teaching! I have been pursuing you from the day I was born!” [For it was asked above,48 how could he have been pursuing something of which he did not know? The answer:] Rashbi had already known that the created yesh, all of material creation, was rooted in the true [Divine] yesh. However, since material creation belongs to the level of mere revelations of Divinity, he had previously burned up its materiality.49 Only after the teaching of the Master of the Academy was revealed to him was he able to say, “And now this teaching has been made known to me from its root, the Source of All.” Only now did he appreciate the cardinal principle that the nullification of the physical vessel must be accomplished only by refining and uplifting it; only now did he appreciate that this is the way to call forth and draw down Atzmus, because specifically in this way does one fulfill the Divine intent in creating physical entities — namely, that Atzmus be revealed in physicality.

It was from this realization that Rashbi was so overwrought and enraptured that “he stooped down and kissed the dust:” it was at this point that he fully recognized the sublime stature of created physicality. At this point he fully recognized the ultimate purpose for which the worlds came into being by means of Hishtalshelus, the Creator’s progressive self-screening. For, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Chapter 36 of Tanya, “The purpose for which this world was created is that the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower realms.”50