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“And These are the Laws, 5711”

Adapted from Torah Ohr by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

The 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 generation.

In the discourses by this title, the Rebbes, beginning with the Alter Rebbe in Torah Ohr, point out the discrepancy in the verse:

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 are few.

Most souls are of the lower worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah. These souls are called “animal seed” because, like animals, they lack Da’as.

[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 heart.

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.

The consciousness 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 bittul hayesh.

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.”

[In 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 psyche.]

The souls of Atzilus are therefore called “human seed,” since human “adam” is numerically equivalent to ma”h (“what?”)[2], which signifies nullification [because that which is null is transparent and one says of it “What is this?”]

The Shepherd

It is Moshe’s task, as one of the Seven Shepherds, to nurture these souls and draw Da’as into them.

[The 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.”

In 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 Ohr 33d.]

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 river”:

“Your forefathers 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 cause]

Yet, primordially, 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.”] (Torah Ohr)

[Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Marcus]


[1] From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe."

[2] Pardes, Shaar Erchei Hakinuyim, erech Adam.

Rabbi 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.


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