The Torah of Atzilut — The Torah of Souls


Torah.atzilut_thumbnailShavuot 2016 /5776

Sarah Yehudit Schneider

The Torah revealed at Sinai (on Shavuot) is not the one in our study halls today.  Those Tablets shattered when Moshe, witnessing the Golden Calf, cast them to the ground. HaShem eventually accepted our teshuva and 120 days later (on Yom Kippur) we received their replacement—a second set—related to the first…but different.  At Sinai we got the Torah of Atzilut—the Torah of Unanimity. A searing revelation of presence engraved the souls of an entire nation with the truth-of-the-universe compressed into a single burst of light. But we couldn’t hold on to it. That light receded and on Yom Kippur we received the Torah of Briyah—the Torah of dualities—of permitted/forbidden, pure/impure, guilty/innocent, holy/profane.[1]

Two roads diverged at Sinai, and since we chose the lower one, by building the Golden Calf, the world did not shift tracks and begin its heavenly ascent. Had we secured those Tablets firmly in our grasp, we would have headed straight to Atzilut and the Torah of relevance would have been that one.  Instead we stayed below, in our opaque material world where multiplicity prospers and the guidance we need is how to negotiate paradox.

Still, the Torah of Atzilut hides at the heart of our Torah-of-now and allows us, at moments, to glimpse her charm.

The Torah [of Atzilut] is like unto a beautiful and stately maiden, hidden in a secluded chamber of her palace, who has a beloved that no one knows about but she. Out of his love for her he constantly passes by her courtyard, turning his eyes in every direction hoping to catch a glimpse of her. She knows that her suitor keeps circling her gate, so what does she do? She opens a small window in her secret palace and, for a moment, allows her beloved to peek at her face, and then she quickly hides again…He is drawn to her with heart and soul, being and might. [Zohar 2:99a]

The Midrash states that when we study Torah down here below, HaShem (so to speak) sits opposite us and studies the equivalent Torah above.[2] Yet the Torah of His Beit Midrash is the Torah of Atzilut—the letters of light that comprise the souls of all creation (נשמת פנימיות דכל הבריאה כולה…האותיות שנבראו בהן שמים וארץ).[3]  And just as our study draws forth insights about the nature of Divinity, His study unpacks the glorious potential of each soul and drives the unfolding of history.

Tsadok elaborates:

שלש אהבות יש, אהבת הקב”ה והתורה וישראל…ובתנא דבי אליהו רבה “דרכן של בני אדם לומר אהבת תורה קודמת וכו’, ואני אומר אהבת ישראל קודמת וכו'”…אך מצד הש”י – ראשית תבואתה, torah.of.soulsהיינו הפרי והתבואה שרצה להכניס בזריעת העולם הם נפשות דישראל.  והם כוללים כל התורה כולה, רק שאצלם הוא סתום והתורה הוא פירוש על זה. וכן מי שהגיע לשלמות, אהבת ישראל קודמת שהם העיקר ושרש התורה, ואח”כ הוא התורה לפרש ולהבין המעמקים הגנוזים בכל נפש פרטי מישראל.

There are three loves: Love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of the people Israel…[4]

The way of mankind is to ascribe a higher status to love of Torah than love of each other …I [HaShem] say that love of my people is the priority.[5] 

HaShem created the universe to bring forth the souls of Israel.  Just as there are 600,000 letters of the Torah, so are there 600,000 root souls in the spiritual community of Israel.[6]  Each individual that comes into the world embodies some unique piece of one of these sixty myriad letters.  Just as there is a scroll of ink on parchment, so is there a scroll of souls that includes the entire unfolding of generations.  The sum-total of the soul-sparks of Israel comprise a single and complete Torah…the real Torah…HaShem’s Torah.3 Yet this scroll of souls is virtually impossible to read.  Its lights are too bright and too complex for the human mind to fathom, at least at our earlier stages of development.  And so, the Torah of ink on parchment serves as its commentary, presenting the same teachings in a more condensed and readable format.  In our immaturity we don’t see that the commentary is only an aid to enable our access to the real Torah, the Torah of souls.  But, as we grow and mature and move toward perfection, we come to see things more from HaShem’s perspective which assigns priority to the people whose souls are actually the inner lights of the Torah now manifest to us as ink on parchment.  From HaShem’s perspective, love of the people Israel is actually love of Torah.  The whole point is to learn to read the living Torah that shines through each person as he or she dances out the teaching of the letter that is the root of his or her soul.  The printed Torah then comes afterwards to help articulate all the hidden implications that emanate from every single holy spark of soul.

Every year when Shavuot comes round we meet up again with our Torah of Atzilut. May we hold it fast this time and close to heart that we become seers (and true practitioners) of Your Scroll of Souls. May we, the people of Tsion, shine this new light out into the world—the light of our ethical Torah and the light of our Torah of souls—and may it bring truth and peace to every corner of the globe.

כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר-יְהֹוָה מִירוּשָׁלָם

“…For Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem”[Micha 4:2].


[1] R. Shlomo Elyahev (Leshem), HaDrush Olam HaTohu, chelek 2, drush 4, anaf 22, siman 5.

[2] Tanna Debe Eliyahu Rabba, chapt. 18.

[3] R. Shlomo Elyahev (Leshem), Sefer HaKlallim, klal 18, anaf 10, siman 3, ot 12, ma’arekhet haB”N, seif 2.

[4] R. Tsadok HaKohen, ot 196.

[5] Tanna deBe Eliyahu Rabba, 14.

[6] Rabbi Natan Neta Shapira, Megale Amukot on Vayetchanan.

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