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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

Thou Hast Hemmed Me In Behind and Before

Thou hast hemmed me in behind and before, meaning the revelation and concealment of the face of the Creator. This is because indeed, “His kingdom ruleth over all,” and everything will return to its root because there is no place vacant of him. But the difference is in present tense or future tense, because who connects the two worlds, discovers His clothing in the present: everything that is done is a clothing for the revelation of divinity.

And this is deemed the present tense, meaning that now, too, he comes out in royal clothes and evidently shows that the rider is not subordinate to the horse. But although it seemingly appears that the horse leads the rider, the truth is that the horse is provoked to any movement only by the sensation of the rider’s bridle and headstall. And this is called “the construction of the stature of divinity,” and it is also called “face-to-face.”

But one who has not yet come to dedicate all his movements to the Creator alone, and the horse does not equalize its movements to the rider’s bridle and headstall, but appears to do the opposite, and the handmaid appears to rule the mistress, this is called “behind.” Hence, you should not think that you are drawing away from holiness, for “that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all.”

Thus says the Lord: “Surely with a mighty hand,” etc., “For he that is banished be not an outcast from him.” And every wheel turns to come to holiness, its root. Therefore, although it seems that the horse leads the rider by its base desire, the truth is not so. It is the rider who leads the horse to his destination. However, it is not apparent in the present, but in the future. Hence, that way there is contact, as well, but it is back to back, meaning not by the will of the dresser or that of the dressee.

But those who follow His will discover for themselves the royal dresses in the present, connected face to face through the will of the dresser, for that is precisely His wish.

And this is the meaning of “Because thou hast not served the Lord thy God with joyfulness.” For you will serve Him anyhow, but the difference is that this way is “in siege and in distress,” meaning unwillingly, and the other way is by reason of the abundance of all things, meaning willingly.

It is also written in the Midrash: “The Creator gazes upon the deeds of the righteous and the deeds of the wicked, and He does not know which the Creator wants, whether the deeds of the righteous, etc. When He says, ‘And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided,’ meaning in the deeds of the righteous.”

This means that the Creator examines, meaning connects with all the deeds and conducts, and everything returns to its root. Hence, the question is, “Which way is more desirable? In that regard, the Midrash is assisted by the verse, “And God saw the light, that it was good,” meaning disclosure, which is in the deeds of the righteous. This is our sages’ meaning in saying, “Long and short, and short and long.”


This is the meaning of “In wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures.” Everything is kept in the 32 paths of wisdom; hence, “the earth is full of Thy creatures and no place is vacant from it, for everything goes to its root. Now, however, it is concealed, and therefore called Olam (world), from the word He’elem (concealment).

And the Light that hides and clothes in the word is called “a point,” considered a Yod. It is divided into the two Heys: the concealed world and the revealed world. And the whole of man’s work is to reveal this point and extend it from the world to the world in the form of Vav, meaning the Vav between the Heys, to reveal to all the plentiful Light that extends from the Surrounding Light to the surrounded, meaning the two Heys, as in Bina, Yesod, Malchut.

Surrender, Division, Mitigation (Sweetening)

There are three discernments required of a man in the desirable path: surrender, division, mitigation (sweetening), meaning “Lights with deficient writing,” [1] since the Light of this world was created out of darkness, “as far as light excelleth darkness,” and “What good is a candle during the day?”, its light does not shine in the daytime. This is the meaning of the Klipa (peel) that precedes the fruit. For this reason, who becomes a partner to the Creator in the act of creation, brings the Light out of the darkness, meaning considers how lowly and base one is, compared to the sublime Kedusha (holiness), and how filthy are one’s clothes. Through it, the Light becomes surrounded.

And in regards to the Creator’s question, “to fear the Great and Terrible Name,” he intensifies with great strength to subdue the evil within, so the evil servant and evil maid will surrender to the mistress, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleanness, until he feels in his soul that the awakening for externality has expired and surrendered. At that time, he will be rewarded with “division,” distinguishing between the Light and the darkness, and will not replace bad for good and good for bad. And should he replace, meaning awaken to a necessary inclination, it will be dedicated to the Creator only. This is considered “mitigation,” the craving for the Creator, as in genuine love.

This discernment comes after he separates between the good and evil, between the Creator’s sublimity and his own baseness, and keeps “So shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee” in himself, for he will be so very ashamed of its doers. Then he will be rewarded with mitigating the remains of his inclination, which cannot be rooted out, and elevate them to their genuine root.

Remember and Keep were Said in One Utterance

“Remember” and “Keep” were said in one utterance. What the mouth cannot say and the ear cannot hear, and the heart cannot think and contemplate, etc. We must understand why this was said in this way, and what does it mean to us?

It is written, “Man and beast Thou preservest, O Lord.” Our sages said, “These are people who are of cunning mind and pretend to be as beasts.” This means that the whole path of creation that the Creator created is regarded as two opposites in one subject, and all the combinations in the world were made in this way, and this is the whole of the act of creation.

The Power of Speech

However, in the act of creation, the Creator revealed only one part of that discernment, as it is written, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” for He took fire and water and mixed them into a single subject. And the Creator imprinted the power of speech in man, so he would partner with Him in the act of creation, so he, too, would create worlds with his speech from this discernment, meaning two opposites in the same subject, for another innovation… world.

This is the way of the righteous, who cleave to the Creator: From all their utterances, the worlds were created according to the word of God, as well as the Operating force in the operated, since it had already imprinted in their mouths the twenty-two letters by which He had created the world. What I wish to say is that they contain that power.

And the reason why the doing does not end in this world by utterances alone is because of the descents of this world in materialization. For this reason, nothing appears by speech, but only by hands and legs. However, in truth, the Creator has imprinted sufficient strength in the speech by which to disclose all the actions, since the force of the Operator is in the operated. And we, too, express in our mouths those twenty-two letters.

Yet, the Klipot cover and weaken that force, and the Creator wished to cleanse Israel from the Klipot, hence He gave them Torah and Mitzvot by which they draw near to his Kedusha (holiness), and the Shechina (Divinity) speaks from their mouths in purity. At that time, they perform deeds with their speech.

Blessing of the Righteous

This is the meaning of the blessings of the righteous, who reveal by their utterances more than a simple man can reveal by hands and legs. This is because a simple man who wishes to do good to one’s friend, give him much money with his hands, and makes him wealthy. Yet, he does not know if this will last very long.

But the whole one, who wishes to do good to his friend, gives him a blessing with his mouth—some short words of richness—and the act of enrichment instantaneously appears on one’s friend, etc.

How is one rewarded with this? This happens through Torah and Mitzvot, meaning that by doing His will, one’s form becomes similar to one’s Maker. In truth, however, the whole issue of Torah and Mitzvot that connect to a person are also of the above-mentioned kind, meaning the two opposites in the same subject. This is the main thing that is desired, since the Creator created the world with the Torah, and the force of the Operator is in the operated. This is the essence of the knowledge, which we do not know: when these two opposites unite into a single Guf (body) in one’s mind, he becomes desirable to his Maker and is considered “a whole man.”

The End of a Matter Is Better than Its Beginning

In essence, the giving of the Torah in this lowly world is an opposite thing, for the angels erred in it. This is the meaning of, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” Interpretation: “The end of a matter” refers to the bottom of the degree, meaning at the creation of the world for all to see, when it requires no scrutiny. This is what the books call “first concepts,” meaning if one does not eat, he will starve; if he touches fire, he will burn; and if he throws himself into the water, he will drown, etc. These things are understood by animals and beasts, too, since the animate mind will tell them this. This is why it is called “the end of a matter.”

“The beginning of a matter” is the mind of the Torah, which is not attained even for the speaking, meaning to the populace, except to the seed of Joseph, God’s select. In the world, good and evil are mixed. To distinguish between good and evil, the writing tells us that the primary way of the good is the “end of a matter,” meaning to behave in a way that the lowly discuss, through what is attained to all the people, but to connect the mind of the Torah to it. This is so because this is the purpose of the opposites in the world, and the whole man must connect and unite in his mind in real unity. And this is called “good,” as it is written, “The end of a matter,” if it is well connected from its start, meaning the mind of the Torah and the animate mind actually connect into one.

Two Opposites in the Same Subject

This is the meaning of the words of our sages, “‘Man and beast Thou preservest, O Lord,’ these are people of a cunning mind, who pretend to be as beasts.” We have explained above that these two opposites unite in them to one. Take for example what is written, “Without flour, there is no Torah; without Torah, there is no flour.” In the first part, it is an animate mind—a mind attained by all. In the second part, it is the mind of the Torah, since how are the provision of flour and the power of the Torah connected? But from the Torah, we understand that the Creator never removes His Providence from the world for even a moment; hence, He benefits those who heed his will and hears their prayer.

Accordingly, those who have been rewarded with their labor being in the Torah certainly do not need to work as the populace, since they ask of the One who truly has, and He will give them, as it is written, “Since they are followers, their Torah is preserved and their work blessed.” The Tana tells us, “Without flour,” etc., meaning that the desirable way is to connect them, meaning to pretend to be as a beast, to know that without flour there is no Torah and hence to try one’s hardest with what his corporeal mind teaches him to do in order to obtain flour and food for his body.

Indeed, the law of the Torah permits, for “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse; He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that wait for His mercy.” Hence, why should He touch and strip a carcass in the market? To not need people, he prefers to engage in the Torah—to fear the Creator and to wait for His mercy, for “He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man,” etc. This is two opposites when they actually unite into one, in those who do as the beast and know that it is futile, and everything comes to him from the King’s table. Such a man is called “whole.”

This is the meaning of the verse, “Happy is the man that hath made the Lord his trust, and hath not turned unto the arrogant, nor unto such as fall away treacherously.” He unites the two things: trusts in the Creator, strains with all his heart to provide food for his home, but knows that all his deeds and all his efforts are but arrogance and treachery, and he puts his trust in the Creator.

It is written, “For the rod of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous.” This means that although their acts are similar, etc. Why? The writing interprets, “that the righteous put not forth their hands unto iniquity,” for they completely assume the burden of the kingdom of heaven and know that He is the one who gives you strength.

The reason for it is to see how far the faith of the righteous reaches. And although the Creator knows the thoughts, the deeds must still be clear to the righteous himself. This is because it is the nature of matter that it does not let the righteous believe in themselves until they evidently and actually see, and they are always afraid lest they will inflict sin and fall from their degree during the deed.

The Quality of Jacob the Patriarch

Now we can understand what our sages said, that Jacob returned to the small tins. It is indeed a wonder that at such a time, when he saw Esau coming to kill him and to rob all that he had, he still considered staying in the place of danger by himself, to salvage the little tins. And he did not believe in his life, as it is written, “Then Jacob was very fearful,” etc. “And he divided the people… into two camps.”

However, this is thoroughly explained with the above-mentioned, because the above-mentioned way—man and beast—was the quality of Jacob the Patriarch, who became an emblem to this quality. It is as it is written in the books: Abraham the Patriarch became an emblem for the quality of love, and Isaac the Patriarch to the quality of fear.

These two qualities are opposites, for one who loves is not afraid and always trusts his loved one, and love covers all transgressions. Conversely, one who fears does not trust, for had he trusted, he would not be afraid at all. But Jacob the Patriarch, the senior from among the Patriarchs, became an emblem of the quality of mercy, meaning these two opposites in the same subject—love and fear together—which is the essence of this quality.

This is the meaning of the verse, “Then Jacob was very fearful,” etc. “And he divided the people… into two camps,” to leave himself some remains. Also, he sent him gifts, perhaps he would make peace with him.

And you see that his conduct in that regard was the same as a completely ordinary person, for what is the difference if a person is worried of starvation and seeks all kinds of tactics all day long to provide for his livelihood and a bit more, or if he is worried that his enemy might rob him of his possessions and kill him, and does all he can in that regard?

This was Rashi’s question: Why was Jacob the Patriarch afraid? After all, He promised him, “And I will keep thee,” etc. He explained that he feared lest he would cause the sin. We should be more meticulous and say that he should have said, “lest he caused, and not lest he would cause.” This reconciles it, since indeed, Jacob the Patriarch had the complete measure of love, meaning confidence, and he had no doubt at all that the Creator would keep him and that he would lack nothing. Yet he behaved like an ordinary person and pretended to fear, as the animate mind necessitates to find a straightforward tactic for it, that he was very fearful of the 400 men with him. By that, he was seemingly distracted from the confidence, in order to truly fear. Through it, he built his guard the way those who fear an enemy do—he divided the camps and gave presents, etc.

And why did he do it if he were not really afraid, for he trusted in the Creator? It was the fear lest he would cause sin, since in his humbleness, the righteous does not believe in himself, that he will not fall from his degree during the act. For this reason, he prepared every worldly means of salvation against the enemy. And after all that, he assumed in his heart that it was arrogance and treachery, and put his trust in the Creator and prayed to the Creator.

Now we understand why he remained for the little tins, to announce that along with the fear, he had the complete measure of love, completely flawless, and he valued even little tins, for he knew full well that no enemy and foe would touch his possessions, at all.

Difference between One who Serves the Creator and One who Does Not

This distinguishes between one who serves the Creator and one who does not. One who is truly afraid and does not trust, would not notice the little tins at a time of worry lest an enemy might come and strike mothers with their children, and would destroy everything. But a servant of the Creator, along with the labor and effort due to the fear, knows for certain and trusts His mercy—that all is his and that no stranger will control his possessions. And even at such a time, he is able to watch over the little tins, like the righteous, who are fund of their wealth.

Hence, in the giving of the Torah, we were given the strength, through “remember and keep were said in one utterance. What the mouth cannot say, and the ear to hear and the heart to think and contemplate.” This means that it is written that “Remember” is the love and “Keep” is the fear, which are two opposites. They were said to us and given to us as one, to unite them. And although they are really opposite, and it is incomprehensible to the corporeal mind and heart how such a thing can exist in reality, it is the power of the Torah that one who cleaves to it is rewarded with it—being connected and united in his heart, as in the quality of Jacob the Patriarch.

The Klipa of Ishmael and the Klipa of Esau

This is what Jacob said during the years of famine: “Why do you fear?” And Rashi interprets, “Why do you fear Ishmael and the children of Esau as though you were satiated?” This is perplexing: The children of Esau dwelled in Seir, and the children of Ishmael in the Paran desert, and what business did they have with them? He had more to worry about the Canaanite and the Hittite, his neighbors in the land.

This is reconciled by the above-mentioned: Rashi made two interpretations: 1—why should you appear satiated, and 2—why should you be slimmed by famine? Now we understand that this is what Jacob had told them: “If you eat to the full, you should fear Ishmael; and if you eat little, you should fear Esau. This means that it is written that Ishmael is the Sigim (dross) of silver (love) and Esau is Sigim of gold (fear).

And this is what Jacob had taught his sons: if you keep to the quality of love, and trust in the Creator that His hand will not grow short even in the years of famine, you should fear the Klipa of Ishmael. And if you hold only to the quality of fear and restrict you eating, you should fear the Klipa of Esau, who nurses off of that quality. Hence, best eat to satiation and to unite a thing at that time with the quality of fear: Go down and buy for us from Egypt, for thus you will be saved from both Klipot.

[1] Translator’s Note: In Hebrew, words can be written with or without vowels. In the case of the word, “Light,” it means writing with or without the letter Vav.

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