These are the Laws, 5711”
Adapted from Torah Ohr by Rabbi Yossi Marcus
following discourse discusses the mystical meaning of the first verse
of Mishpatim. In its simple meaning the verse speaks of the laws of purchasing
a Hebrew servant. In its mystical meaning, it speaks of the function of
Moshe as the one who imparts Divine consciousness to the souls of his
the discourses by this title, the Rebbes, beginning with the Alter Rebbe
in Torah Ohr, point out the discrepancy in the verse:
verse begins in the plural, “These are the laws that you should place
before them,” and then continues with a singular address, “when
you buy a Hebrew servant,” which in Hebrew should have been ki
siknu—not the singular ki sikneh.
Rebbes explain that “if you buy” is indeed not an address to the Jewish
people, the “them,” but rather to Moshe. In other words, Moshe is commanded
by G-d to “purchase” the Hebrew servant, the Jew. What this all means
is the subject of the discourse.
discourse, based on one by the same title in Torah Ohr, was delivered
by the Rebbe just two weeks after his official assumption of leadership
of Chabad on 10 Shevat 5711, one year after his father-in-law’s passing
in 5710 (1950).
And these are
the laws that you should place before them [or “to their inner selves”]:
when you purchase a Hebrew servant: for six years shall he work and on
the seventh he shall go free.
There are in general
two types of souls: the souls of Atzilus, “human seed,” and the souls
of the lower worlds, “animal seed.”
(These two types
are referred to in the verse in Jeremiah (31:26), “Behold days are coming,
says G-d, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with
human seed and animal seed.” [In
its literal context, this verse refers to G-d blessing the land with fertile
humans and livestock.])
The souls of Atzilus
Most souls are of
the lower worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah. These souls are called
“animal seed” because, like animals, they lack Da’as.
lit. means “intelligence,” but in its wider meaning, Da’as refers to the
ability to internalize wisdom and understanding and the capacity to achieve
Divine consciousness, as shall be explained.]
As the Alter Rebbe
explains in Tanya (ch. 3), when a person has Chochmah and Binah without
Da’as—wisdom and understanding that is not internalized—his religious
experience is not real. It is useless fantasies that have no bearing on
the person’s personality, his middos (lit. emotions).
A child, even one
with great wisdom, lacks even the most elementary level of Da’as and cannot
be held repsponsible for his actions. What he understands intellectually
is entirely distinct from his conscience and sense of responsiblity.
Da’as is the act
of attaching oneself to a concept, to unite with it so much that it becomes
more than an abstract intellectual matter and is actually felt in the
Atzilus vs. BIYA
As mentioned, the
“animal” souls stem from the lower worlds. And even the loftiest of the
three lower worlds, Beriah, does not experience Da’as.
of the world of Beriah is nullified to the Divine but only on the level
of bitttul hayesh, nullification of a being. [I.e.,
there is a distinct self, but that self is nullified. Nullification is
not natural to it.] The angels of Beriah are therefore called beasts
and animals, since they lack Da’as. Their nullification is only one of
The creatures of
Beriah understand Divinity, they know Divinity, but their
knowledge and understanding does not become them.
Comes along Atzilus
and says: “Not only does one understand that it is so, not only does one
know that it is so—but one actually becomes this way.”
the original Yiddish: “Kumt tzu gein Atzilus un zogt: ‘Nit nor m’farshteit
az s’iz azoi, nit nor m’iz masig az s’iz azoi, nuhr m’vert takkeh azoi.’”]
By contrast, the
consciousness of Atzilus is one of bittul bimtziut, existential
nullification. [There is no distinct self
that is nullified. The self of Atzilus is inherently null. Nullification
is natural to it, not an extraneous concept superimposed upon its true
The souls of Atzilus
are therefore called “human seed,” since human “adam” is numerically
equivalent to ma”h (“what?”), which signifies
nullification [because that which is null
is transparent and one says of it “What is this?”]
It is Moshe’s task,
as one of the Seven Shepherds, to nurture these souls and draw Da’as into
Seven Shepherds and Eight Princes: Micah (5:4) prophesies that “This
shall assure peace: If Assyria will come into our land and if he will
tread upon our palaces, we will erect against him seven shepherds and
eight princes.” The Talmud (Sukkah 52b) identifies these shepherds and
princes: “Who are these seven shepherds? Dovid in the middle, Adam, Seth,
and Mesushelach on his right, and Avraham, Yaakov, and Moshe on his left.
And who are the eight princes? Yishai, Shaul, Shmuel, Amos, Tzefaniah,
Tzidkiyah, Moshiach, and Eliyahu.”
short, the difference between the shepherds and the princes is that the
shepherds “feed” the people, nurtur them in an internal way (ohr pnimi),
while the princes influence the people in a transcendent way (makkif).
For example, within a tzadik there are these two aspects: when he teaches
Torah, he is nourishing the student like a shepherd, affecting him in
an internal way. By contrast, when the student watches the tzadik praying,
this awesome and inspiring sight provides the student with nourishment
as well, but not a specific nourishment. It is undefined manner, makkif-like—similar
to the impression made on a person from the regal and charismatic bearing
of a prince as opposed to an actual thought that he has learned. See Torah
How is Moshe able
to fulfill such a task?
Because, in truth,
even the lower souls possess Da’as—albeit in primeval form. So Moshe does
not need to create a new phenomenon within them—which would be a far more
difficult task—he need only reveal what is dormant within them.
(For all souls, even
those of the lower worlds, derive originally from “the other side of the
dwelled on the other side of the river…” [Joshua
24:2, read in the Haggadah]. The Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov,
stem from the level of the “other side of the river,” and all of their
descendents are rooted in this level. “The river” refers to the level
of Chochmah, and ”the other side of the river”—eiver hayarden—refers
to what is beyond Chochmah.
The reference of
the river to Chochmah is seen in the verse (Gen. 2:10), “the river emerges
from Eden to water the garden and from there branches out to four heads…”
The river itself is Chochmah, which is one seminal point, which then emerges
and divides into various facets in Binah.)
When you purchase
an eved ivri…
Hence the command
to Moshe: “When you purchase the Hebrew servant.”
The Hebrew servant,
eved ivri, refers to a soul of the lower world. He is called a
servant, not a son, since he serves G-d in the manner of bittul hayesh:
he is nullified to G-d’s will but this nullification is not his natural
condition. He does not possess Da’as. He is not like a son, a tzadik [who
is an extension of his father and who is inherently devoted to his father’s
he is an ivri, which means “from the other side.” [Avraham,
father of all Jews, is called Ivri, a Hebrew, because he lived
on the “other side” (eiver) of the river Jordan and because he
was conceptually on “the other side” of the world with his lonely belief
in Monotheism.] The eved ivri’s soul is rooted in a place
that does possess Da’as even if it is not manifest.
Moshe is to buy this
soul. What is the significance of buying? When an object is purchased,
nothing new is created. There is merely a change in ownership, a transfer
from one domain to another. Similarly, Moshe “buys” the Hebrew servant,
meaning that he does not create anything new within the souls of the lower
worlds, rather he moves their Da’as from one domain to another, from the
hidden to the revealed. (Vi’aileh Hamishpatim 5711)
For six years
shall he work… Once the servant experiences Da’as [either by receiving
it from the Moshe of his generation and or developing it through meditative
prayer], he is capable of “working for six years.” As explained in Tanya
(ch. 15), a man can be completely righteous in his actions but would not
be called one who “serves” G-d, oved Elokim [since his service
extends only as far as his natural inclination allows]. Only with Da’as
can a person truly and internally serve G-d.
Six years he shall
work refers to the six millennia of history, where it the task of
the eved ivri to work at transforming his nature and to keep growing
from one level to the next.
But in the seventh
year he shall go free, in the seventh millennia, we will no longer
exist in the realm of levels—ups and downs—but rather will experience
tranquility for eternal life.
According to some,
the mitzvos will be nullified in the world to come, but this opinion is
not the accepted view. Rather, the mitzvos will continue to exist, but
on far loftier plane. [“May the Merciful
One grant us the Day that is all Shabbos and tranquility for life everlasting.”]
by Rabbi Yosef Marcus]
From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the
Pardes, Shaar Erchei Hakinuyim, erech Adam.
Yossi Marcus is director of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California.
He is also the editor of the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators
at Kehot Publication Society.