Article No. 40, 1990
It is written (Deuteronomy 7:7-8), “It is not because you are more in number than any of the peoples that the Lord desired you, for you are the least of all the peoples. Because the Lord loves you, and because He keeps the oath that He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Our sages said (Hulin 89), “‘It is not because you are more in number,’ said the Creator to Israel, ‘that I desire you, for even when I bestow upon you greatness, you diminish yourselves before Me.’”
We should understand what this comes to teach us, that our sages said that the Creator said to Israel, “I desire you, for even when I bestow upon you greatness, you diminish yourselves before Me.” If the Creator said, “Although I bestow upon you greatness, you diminish yourselves before flesh and blood,” I would understand this. But our sages said, “You diminish yourselves before Me,” meaning before the Creator. What degree is it, that if the Creator gives a person greatness, he does not pride himself before the Creator because the Creator gave him greatness?
If the king gives greatness to a person and extols him before the ministers, does the person pride himself before the king, as well? Can this be? If so, why is it important that they do not pride themselves before the Creator but diminish themselves before Him? In other words, before whom do they diminish themselves? It stands to reason that when a person understands the greatness of the King, he lowers himself even more before the king.
In order to understand this, we must remember the order of the work, which is the correction of creation. That is, in order to achieve Dvekut [adhesion], called “equivalence of form,” meaning in order to be rewarded with vessels of bestowal, a correction took place, which is called “Tzimtzum [restriction] and concealment on the Kedusha [holiness].” That is, the taste of Torah and Mitzvot [commandments/good deeds], where the delight and pleasure that He wished to give to the created beings became concealed. This is called “His desire to do good to His creations,” where everything He wanted to give to the creatures is clothed in Torah and Mitzvot, which The Zohar calls “613 Pekudin [Aramaic: deposits].”
It is as it is said in the Sulam [“Ladder” commentary on The Zohar], that Pekudin comes from the word Pikadon [Hebrew: deposit], for in each Mitzva [singular of Mitzvot] there is a special light clothed in that Mitzva. But because of the Tzimtzum and the concealment over them because of the correction of creation, in order to reach the light that is clothed in them, and for a person to receive the delight and pleasure clothed in them, he must first acquire the suitable Kelim [vessels] for the light, since there must be equivalence of form with the light—as the light gives, so the Kli [vessel] should work in order to bestow.
However, by nature, man has a desire to receive for himself, and not a desire to bestow. Thus, how can a person change his nature, which the Creator created? Our sages said about this, “The Creator said, ‘I have created the evil inclination; I have created the Torah as a spice.’” In other words, the Torah advises a person how to emerge from self-love and acquire the desire to bestow. The Zohar says that in that state, the 613 Mitzvot are called “613 Eitin [Aramaic: counsels],” meaning 613 counsels by which to acquire the desire to bestow, for only in the desire to bestow can the light, which is called “good and does good,” clothe.
Our sages said about this, “One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvot, even Lo Lishma [not for Her sake], since from Lo Lishma, he will come to Lishma [for Her sake].” Because the light in it reforms him, by this he will achieve the degree of Lishma.
Concerning Lo Lishma, there are many discernments:
1) Learning in order to provoke. This manner is the worst. Our sages said about this (Berachot 17), “Anyone who engages in Torah Lo Lishma would be better off not being born.”
2) Learning in order to be called “Rabbi.”
In those two discernments, he wants reward from people, and does not want the Creator to reward him for his work.
3) Learning in order for the Creator to reward him in this world—to have life, provision, health, etc.
4) Learning so the Creator will reward him in the next world.
5) He engages in Torah and Mitzvot because he feels that he is serving a great King. Therefore, he derives pleasure from engaging in Torah and Mitzvot. That is, because of this joy that he feels, that he is serving a great King, it is worthwhile for him to work. It follows that one who works because he is serving a great King also cannot be regarded as pure Lishma, although he is working for the sake of the Creator, meaning that he does not want any reward for his work. Yet, he does yearn to feel a good taste in this work because he is feeling a great King.
So, we must know that this is still not considered pure Lishma, since in the end, he yearns for the pleasure he will feel during the work. The pleasure he feels during the work is the reason he wants to be a servant of the Creator. It follows that the pleasure that the desire feels during the work is the only thing that makes him engage in Torah and Mitzvot. Hence, this, too, is considered Lo Lishma. However, this Lo Lishma brings him to Lishma, since the light in it reforms him.
This is as it is written in the “Introduction to The Book of Zohar” (Items 30-31), “The second division is from thirteen years and on. At that point, the point in his heart—which is the Achoraim [posterior] of Nefesh of Kedusha [holiness] dressed in his will to receive—is given strength. At that time one begins to enter the system of the worlds of Kedusha, to the extent that one observes Torah and Mitzvot. The primary aim is to obtain and intensify the spiritual will to receive. Yet, it is a much more important degree than the first; this is the degree that brings one to Lishma, as our sages said, ‘One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvot Lo Lishma, as from Lo Lishma, one comes to Lishma.’
“This is considered the maidservant of Kedusha who serves her mistress, which is the Holy Shechina [Divinity]. The maidservant brings one to Lishma, and he is rewarded with the instilling of the Shechina. Yet, one should take every measure suited to bring one to Lishma. And the final degree in this division is to become infatuated with the Creator just as one becomes infatuated in corporeal love, until the object of infatuation remains before one’s eyes all day and all night, as the poet said, ‘When I remember Him, He does not let me sleep.’”
After all this, begins the order of Lishma, called “desire to bestow.” And here, a person cannot bring himself to work entirely in order to bestow, meaning to want only to bestow upon the Creator “because He is great and ruling.” Man has no idea how to achieve this. This is regarded as the desire to bestow being in exile in Egypt. A person can understand this desire only above reason, since within reason, there is no grip on understanding this.
In other words, a person cannot understand how it is possible to do something from which one does not enjoy. It follows that even if a person does not require any reward for his work, what compels him to work is that the Creator will enjoy. From this he derives his pleasure. Hence, there is already a matter of pleasure here, meaning that he enjoys serving the King; this is his pleasure. But how can it be otherwise, that he will work without pleasure?
Therefore, when it is said that man must work in order to bestow, this is called “above reason.” Anything that is above reason, the will to receive for oneself is absent there. In other words, a person is told that he must work only so the Creator will enjoy this work. At that time, it is said that the person should be happy that he is serving a great King.
However, if the great King were to reveal His greatness and importance, the pleasure would be within reason. That is, the mind understands that it is worthwhile to serve a great King. But when a person must have faith in the greatness and importance of the King, he feels that he is serving a small king. Therefore, when he says above reason that He is a great King, there is no room for the will to receive to agree to this work, since all the pleasure is built on above reason.
Thus, it is clear why the body does not want to work when it does not see the importance of the King. Rather, it is told, although the mind necessitates, if the greatness of the King is not revealed, there is no more room there for the will to receive for himself. Thus, how can one work “because He is great and ruling”? This would be good if it were revealed, but Pharaoh king of Egypt, who said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice,” governs this discernment of the greatness of the Creator.
Hence, the work is mainly in this place, meaning that here begins the matter of Lishma, meaning that he wants to work so the Creator will enjoy his work, and it does not matter to him what taste he feels. In other words, the work he does is to him as though he felt that the King is great, while in fact, he feels that the “Shechina [Divinity] is in the dust.” That is, he does not feel any importance, but tastes the taste of dust. And yet, he overcomes and says, “It is as important to me, as though I felt that I was serving a great King.” At that time, the will to receive certainly enjoys, as well, since he does not need to believe in the greatness and importance of the King.
However, how can one muster the strength to overcome the body when he feels that the Shechina is in the dust? What joy can he receive from this work? Even more perplexing, how can one need and want to work when he feels no taste in it? This would be understandable if he had no choice; we can understand when a person is forced to work. But how is it possible to want such a work, which feels tasteless? And since he does not have the strength to overcome and feel joy in such a work, how can he serve the King in such a lowly state, when he feels the taste of dust while serving the King?
Hence, in this regard, he does not ask the Creator to give him the revelation of His greatness, so he will feel a good taste in it. Rather, he asks the Creator to give him strength to be able to overcome the body and work gladly because now he can work only for the Creator, since the will to receive does not enjoy work that tastes like dust. Therefore, why is he working? Certainly, only for the sake of the Creator. There is no room for such work within reason, and in this work, a person sees that it is inherently impossible that he will want to work in such a manner.
In this work, in such a state, a person sees that there is no way that he will be able to work with the desire to bestow and not for his own sake. Such a thing can happen only through a miracle from above. And indeed, this is called “the exodus from Egypt,” meaning to emerge from the mind he has by nature, where it is possible to move unless he enjoys it. Conversely, here he is asking the Creator to give him the strength to work where he has no feeling or flavor, but to believe that the Creator enjoys this work, since it is all in order to bestow.
For this reason, this prayer is an honest prayer, since a person sees that he cannot hope to ever be able to do anything in order to bestow. It follows that a person feels that he is lost. At that time he has close contact with the Creator, and this is something that a person should appreciate—that he is asking the Creator to help him and there is no one in the world who can save him.
Yet, here comes the most difficult question: Who told the person that the Creator derives contentment from this work, which tastes like dust, and that this is the work that one should ask of the Creator because he wants to do everything only so that the Creator will enjoy?
The answer to this is “faith in the sages.” We must believe their words. It follows that this prayer that a person prays that the Creator will help him so he can work in a state of lowliness, and the taste is only the taste of dust, this can be only on the basis of faith in the sages, to believe them that only in this way can we achieve a state of Lishma, and not for our own benefit. In other words, only they know what is Lishma and how to achieve it.
According to the above, we can interpret what we asked about what our sages said about the verse, “It is not because you are more in number.” “The Creator said to Israel, ‘I desire you, for even when I bestow upon you greatness, you diminish yourselves before Me.’” We asked, Is it customary that one whom the king extols prides himself before the king? Thus, why do they tell us that Israel diminish themselves before the Creator?
We explained above that there are two discernments in the work: 1) When the Creator shines for him while he engages in Torah and Mitzvot and feels a good taste in the work, and feels the greatness of the Creator, that he is serving a great King and has already achieved the degree of “When I remember Him, it does not let me sleep.” 2) The work Lishma, meaning to bestow and not in order to receive reward. At that time, a person’s body resists because he does not feel any flavor in the work. However, he does not want any feeling of the greatness of the Creator because then this feeling gives him a reason that because of this feeling that he feels when engaging in Torah and Mitzvot, it compels him to engage in Torah and Mitzvot. It follows that it is no longer only for the sake of the Creator, but his own pleasure is included in it, too.
And since this work is entirely above reason, since there is no intellect in the world that can understand such a thing, and this discernment is called “Shechina in the dust,” and a person must believe that specifically from this work the Creator derives contentment, this is called work in the manner of “You diminish yourselves before Me.”
That is, when the Creator let them feel the greatness of the Creator, they do not say, “Now we do not need to work above reason, since the body, too, when it feels the greatness of the Creator, annuls “as a candle before a torch.” Instead, they say, “We want to work in the manner for, ‘for you are the least of all the peoples,’” meaning that all the peoples in a person say that this work is contemptible, inferior, and lowly, meaning that it is “Shechina in the dust.”
As our sages said, “‘It is not because you are more in number,’ said the Creator to Israel, ‘that I desire you, for even when I bestow upon you greatness, you diminish yourselves before Me.’” “I gave greatness to Abraham.” Certainly, at that time, he should be happy because he already feels the greatness of the Creator and he will no longer have resistance from the body. Yet, he diminishes himself and says, “And I am dust and ashes.”
In other words, he said to the Creator, “I yearn for the state of the work that was in a manner of, “I am the Lord your God,” in the manner of dust and ashes, meaning to the time when the work was to him “Shechina in the dust.” At that time, he was certain that his work was entirely to bestow, that the will to receive has no part in this. It follows that this does not mean that he diminishes himself before the Creator, meaning that he does not pride himself before the Creator. Rather, it means that he is diminishing himself in order to work in a state of lowliness, although the Creator is giving him greatness.
Likewise, the Creator gave greatness to Moses and to Aaron, and they said, “What about us?” In other words, they yearned for work, for a time when to them the Shechina was in the dust. At that time, when they feel no flavor in the work, the wicked comes and asks the “What” question, meaning “What is this work for you?” that you want to work specifically in this contemptible work? The wicked asks, “What is this work for you?” because then they were certain that their work was completely to bestow, and the will to receive had no part in it.
It is the same with David. The Creator gave him greatness, and he said, “And I,” meaning “I am the Lord your God.” This work was to him—when he wanted to take upon himself the burden of the kingdom of heaven, called “I am the Lord your God”—to his body, it was in the manner of “And I am a worm and not a man.”
The Even Ezra asks about the words, “And I am a worm and not a man.” He says, “It is unlikely that one will say about himself that he is not a man. He only speaks against the enemies, that they despise him and he is not regarded as anything in their eyes.”
Here, too, the meaning is that when the Creator gave him greatness, he did not say, “Now I no longer need to wage war against the body, since the body will annul before the Creator as a candle before a torch.” Instead, he said, “I yearn for a state of lowliness, so that my enemies, meaning the nations of the world within my body, will despise my work, since they said, “to work only in order to bestow,” and he would have no feeling in the work. This is a sign that he is not a man at all—when they despise the order of his work. This is regarded as “Israel diminishing yourselves before Me.”