Tanya Chapter 38: The importance of both Kavanah and action in a Mitzvah

Chapter 38: The importance of both Kavanah and action in a Mitzvah

2nd Nissan/(LY) 21st Adar 2

1. Speech versus thought of a Mitzvah:

  • The thought of a Mitzvah is invalid without its speech or action: Based on the information in the previous chapter, one can understand the following law: The Talmud and Poskim rule that thought is unlike speech, and one who thinks the words of Shema in his heart and mind without verbalizing them, does not fulfill the Mitzvah. This applies even if he concentrates on the words in his mind and heart with all his might and strength. Nonetheless, he does not fulfill his obligation, and is required to repeat the reading. The same applies to Birchas Hamazon which is Biblical, as well as all other Rabbinical blessings, and prayer [that one who thinks the words in his heart and mind without verbalizing them, does not fulfill the Mitzvah].
  • The speech or action of a Mitzvah is valid even without its thought: On the other hand, if one verbalized the words, but did not have intent of the heart, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation, Bedieved, and is not required to repeat the prayer with exception to the first verse of Shema and the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, as it states in the Talmud that until here is the mitzvah of concentration and from here and onwards is the mitzvah of reading.
  1. The reason that speech disqualifies the mitzvah and not thought:
  • The G-dly soul requires no fixing-Its purpose is to fix the animal soul: The [G-dly] soul [i.e. Neshama] does not require any refinement or elevation in it of itself with the fulfillment of Mitzvos, and it is rather performed solely for the sake of drawing down Divine light for the sake of refining the animal soul and body.
  • Through speaking with the five organs are one’s mouth and performing the Mitzvos with the other limbs of the body, one draws G-dliness to his body and animal soul. [Accordingly, one does not fulfill his obligation with thinking and concentration if it does not involve an action, as it does nothing to fulfill its purpose of refining the animal soul and body. Nonetheless, thought and concentration also play a vital role in the performance of a Mitzvah, as will now be explained.]

(LY) 22nd Adar 2

  1. The importance of thought despite its lack of disqualification:
  • Action without intent is like a body without a soul: The Sages state that prayer or other blessings without intent is like a body without a soul. [To understand this we must first give the following introduction in explaining the difference between the soul and body, as found amongst all creations of the world.]


  1. Everything, even a rock, has a soul:
  • Every creation has a body and soul: Every creation in this world contains a body and soul. The soul refers to the living soul of every living being whether human or animal.
  • G-d enlivens the body and soul: G-d enlivens all of these creations and constantly creates [their body and soul] from nothingness through a G-dly ray and light which he projects into them. [This G-dly revelation is what recreates the soul and body every moment and prevents its return to nothingness.]
  • Even a rock has a soul: The above concept that every physical creation has a soul applies even to the body in it of itself, and even towards the completely inanimate, such as rocks and earth. Even these creations contain within them may revelation of divine light from G-d which enlivens them in order to prevent them from returning to their original state of absolute nothingness.
  1. No comparison between the soul and the body:
  • Now, despite the above, there is no comparison at all between the revelation of G-dly light and energy that shines in the body, and that which shines in the soul of all living creatures [as will be explained].

3rd Nissan/(LY) 23rd Adar 2

  1. The concealment of the G-dly energy is equal in both the body and soul:
  • In both the body and soul of a creature, the G-dly light which enlivens it, is equally concealed and equally invested in concealing garments.
  • The reason and method for the concealment in this world: Being that both the body and soul exist in this world, their G-dly source both go through a descent through the chain of worlds. It goes through tremendously powerful contractions until it is invested in Kelipas Noga and able to enliven this physical and corporal world, which includes all the permitted and pure matters of his world. Once it reaches this state of concealment, it can then serve as the medium to draw G-dly energy to the Kelipos and impure matters.
  1. The G-dly energy is nonetheless not equal in all creations:
  • The above equality only refers to the contraction of the G-dly energy and its investment in garments and Kelipas Nogah, however, the intensity of the Divine light allocated to the creations are not equal to all. Some go through a stronger and longer process of contraction, while others are more revealed and expanded.

4th Nissan/(LY)24th Adar 2

  1. The difference in the contractions of the G-dly energy found in the various creation:
  • Domeim-The Inanimate: In the physical body, and all inanimate creations such as stone and earth, the G-dly ray is found in an incomparable form of contraction. The Divine vitality given to it is so minute that it does not even have the power of growth.
  • Tzomeiach-Vegetative kingdom: In the vegetative kingdom, the Divine revelation is not as contracted as in the inanimate [and thus it has ability to grow].
  • The four categories of physical creations: In general, the level of revelation is split into four levels, Domeim, Tzomeiach, Chaiy and Midaber which correspond to the four letters of the Divine name of Havayah, from where they receive their Divine energy.
  • Now, there is no comparison between the ray of G-dliness that shines within the inanimate and vegetative kingdoms versus the ray that shines within the animal and human kingdom. This is despite the fact that all the levels contain the same concealment of Divine light, and that the Divine light is invested in the same garment of Nogah.
  1. The difference between the G-dly revelation in the physical Mitzvah versus its Kavana:
  • Just as there is no comparison between the ray of G-dliness that shines within the inanimate and vegetative kingdoms versus the ray that shines within the animal and human kingdom, so too there is no comparison between the infinite Divine light of Or Ein Sof which shines and is invested in the physical Mitzvos without intent versus the Divine light which shines and is invested in the intent of the Mitzvos.
  • The physical Mitzvos, which include all speech dependent commands, draw down the internal will of Hashem without any concealment or garment at all. Nonetheless, this Divine revelation is incomparable in quality to the Divine revelation of the Or Ein Sof drawn to the Kavana of the physical Mitzvah.
  1. What is Kavana of a Mitzvah?
  • The Kavana of a Mitzvah is the intent to attach to Hashem [i.e. Dveikus] through fulfilling His will in the performance of the physical Mitzvos, as G-d and His will are one.
  • The same applies for the intent of Tefila and the reading of the Shema and its blessings, and any other blessing, that one’s intent is to attach one’s mind and intellect to Hashem.

5th Nissan/(LY) 25th Adar 2

  1. The reason the Kavana of a Mitzvah draws down a much greater G-dly revelation:
  • The Kavana of a Mitzvah, which is the Dveikus of the mind and intellect to Hashem, is not in it of itself greater than the Dveikus achieved through the actual physical fulfillment of the Mitzvah. Rather, it is due to the fact that also the Kavana of the Mitzvah is the will of Hashem that its Dveikus is greater, as Hashem desires that one attach one’s mind and intellect to Him through the intent of the physical Mitzvos, and the intent of Kerias Shema, Tefila and the other blessings.
  • Now, the ray of Divine will which shines and is invested in the intent is infinitely greater than the ray of the Divine will that shines and is invested in the physical Mitzvos of action and speech themselves, when done without intent.
  1. Like a soul versus the body:
  • The advantage of the Divine revelation in the Kavana of the Mitzvah is like the advantage of the soul over the body. The body is simply a vessel and garment for the soul, and so too the body of the Mitzvah itself is a vessel and garment for the intent.
  1. The Divine will is the same in the action and Kavana of the Mitzva, however the revelation is different:
  • In both the physical action of the Mitzvah and the intent of the mind, is invested the same will of Hashem which is undefined and has no change or plurality Heaven Forbid.
  • Divine will is united with essence of Hashem: This Divine will is united with the essence of Hashem in the most absolute unity.
  • Divine rays are not equal in them both: Nonetheless, the Divine ray is not equal in them both, in terms of their contraction and dissipation.
  • Gloss-Or versus Keli: (As it states in Eitz Chaim that the Kavana’s of the Mitzvos, and the learning of Torah, is the aspect of Divine light, while the actual Mitzvos are the level of vessels which are contracted, as through the contraction of the light comes the vessels.)
  1. The four levels in the actions and Kavanos of the Mitzvos:
  • The Mitzvos and its Kavana are split to four levels [just as the creations of the world].
  • Action of the Mitzvah: The actual physical Mitzvah themselves contain two levels which are 1) the Mitzvos that contain action and 2) the Mitzvos that are fulfilled through speech and thought, such as Talmud Torah, Tefila, Birchas Hamazon and other blessings.
  • Kavana of the Mitzvah: The Kavanos of the Mitzvos is likewise split to two levels just as there exists two levels of souls in the animal and human body, 1) the soul of animals and 2) the soul of humans.

6th Nissan/(LY) 26th Adar 2

  1. “Human” Kavana-Intellectual:
  • The first, higher, level of Kavana is intellectual love and fear.
  • This refers to one who has ability of knowing G-d, to contemplate His greatness and as a result of his understanding to arouse higher fear in his mind and love of G-d in the right chamber of his heart.
  • The soul thirsts to attach to G-d: The love is aroused to the point that his soul thirsts for G-d, to attach to Him through fulfilling the Torah and Mitzvos which draw the infinite light of Ein Sof onto his soul.
  • Human Kavana: When such an individual learns Torah and fulfills Mitzvos and prays to Hashem and says blessings, then this Kavana is like the soul of a human who contains intellect and freedom of choice and can speak with knowledge.
  1. “Animal” Kavana-Emotional:
  • The second, lower, level of Kavana is a natural and instinctive love and fear.
  • Lack of intellectual capability: This refers to one who does not have the intellectual ability of knowing G-d, to contemplate His greatness, and as a result of his understanding to arouse a revealed love in his heart or fear of Hashem in his mind or heart.
  • Arousing hidden love: Rather, such a person through remembering his love can only arouse the natural love that is hidden in his heart. He brings out this love from its concealed state to its revealed state, at least in his mind.
  • The soul agrees to attach and give up his life to G-d: This means that the will of his mind and the hidden chambers of his heart readily agree and desire with complete and true compliance to actually give up his life for the sake of G-d’s unity, in order to attach to Him his G-dly soul and its garments and incorporate them in His unity which is found in the Torah and Mitzvos.
  • Fear of G-d: This hidden love also includes fear of Hashem, to accept the yoke of Heaven to not rebel against Him, Heaven forbid.
  • Animal Kavana: When one then uses this intent to abstain from performing transgressions and to perform the commands, and he learns and Davens and says blessings with the simple meaning of the words without love and fear aroused in his heart and mind, then this Kavana is like the soul of an animal which does not contain intellect or freedom of choice, and all of its emotions are natural instincts.
  • Natural instinctive emotions like animals: The fear an animal has for matters that threaten it and the love it has for matters that it lusts, are all natural to it and not a result of its understanding or knowledge. Similarly, the fear and love that is hidden in the hearts of every Jew is an inheritance from our forefathers and is like a nature in our souls.

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