Watch: Reb Yoel on Parshas Behar

Watch: A short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Behar with English subtitles and a transcript.

Watch short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Behar with English subtitles and a transcript.

Scroll down for the English transcript.


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In Tanya Chapter 41, the Alter Rebbe quotes a statement from Zohar, specifically mentioning that the citation is from the Zohar on Parshas Behar.

Everything about Tanya is precise. There are plenty of statements from Chazal cited throughout; many lack specific attribution, while others are accompanied by a general reference to the work they’re found in, but without identifying the exact location. Here, however, the Alter Rebbe makes a point of saying that the statement he’s about to quote is in the Zohar of Behar.

The Rebbe learns that the specificity of this reference actually contributes to our understanding of the issue at hand.

The Zohar In Perek Mem-Aleph

In this chapter of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that we must have both ahavah and yirah. These two sentiments are generally described as the foundations of the observance of the positive and negative commandments, respectively: love leads us to get involved in things which bring us closer to Hashem, while fear motivates us to avoid committing transgressions (as explained earlier in Tanya, in Chapter 4).

Now, in Chapter 41, the Alter Rebbe adds that even asei tov—positive activity—requires yirah and accepting the yoke of Heaven. It is in this context that he writes at length about how crucial yirah and kabbolas ol are. He bases this on the fact that the Torah instructs us to serve Hashem (“Va’avad’tem”), just as a slave serves his master. This relationship is predicated on fear of the master, whereas being observant out of love does not meet the requirement of avodas eved. This emphasizes the need for yirah and kabbolas ol in our service of Hashem.

It is in this context that the Zohar in Behar is introduced. The Zohar there states that “just as an ox has a yoke placed upon it first so that it will bring benefit to the world, we must similarly accept the yoke of Heaven first, or else holiness cannot dwell within us.”

Why Is Yirah Necessary?

How does the Zohar—and the fact that it is in Parshas Behar—add to our understanding of the topic? To explain this, we must first elaborate a bit on the chiddush being made in this chapter.

Superficially, the reason why ahavah alone isn’t enough is because without yirah, there is the potential for sin. If this possibility exists, a person obviously won’t be a welcome habitat for holiness.  

This can be explained with a parable: In order to prepare a residence for a human king, the area must first be purged of even the slightest trace of dirt. Then, the space must be filled with tasteful furnishings that are fit for a king.

Similarly, when creating a dirah for Hashem, we must firstly avoid sinning completely—which is the result of fearing Him—and then we must follow up with the good deeds which furnish His dirah, which are the result of a loving urge to be connected to Hashem. Both aspects are equally vital in creating a dirah for Hashem.

However, this idea (that yirah is necessary to stay clear of sinning) is quite simple, and has already been discussed in the previous chapters. The chiddush of this chapter is something else entirely.

The Ox’s Yoke

A person might think that it is enough to have yiras shamayim as the basis for sur mei’ra—avoiding sin, and ahavah as the basis for asei tov—learning Torah and performing mitzvos. However, in this chapter, the Alter Rebbe is mechadesh that this is insufficient.

Although such a person will certainly avoid even the slightest trace of sin, it is not enough for the fear to be concentrated solely on sur mei’ra, while asei tov is addressed only by love. The fear must be present in the asei tov as well.

This is the point the Alter Rebbe is bringing from the Zohar. The Zohar states that an ox is harnessed first “so that it will bring benefit to the world.” The purpose of the yoke is not only to prevent the ox from kicking, but also to assist in plowing and sowing—“to bring benefit.” Similarly, yirah must be present not only to prevent sinning, but also to fuel our positive acts.

The Need For Bittul

Why indeed is it necessary to have yirah for asei tov?

The foremost prerequisite to receiving giluy Elokus and developing a connection to Hashem is bittul, submission. As the Alter Rebbe explained earlier (in Chapter 6), Hashem only dwells in an entity that is battel to Him.

This is why ahavah alone is not enough. When you love someone, it’s not bittul that’s playing a role; ahavah is about your expression of affection and your desire to connect to him. So asei tov that is motivated by love alone and not by fear is lacking, because there is an absence of bittul. Although you may express bittul elsewhere (in the yirah apparent in sur mei’ra), right now the feeling is that of ahavah and not of bittul. And since holiness can only dwell where there is submission, the kedushah is missing as well. In order for “holiness to dwell within us,” as the Zohar says, we must “accept the yoke of Heaven” even for asei tov.

A Paradixical Mountain

This discussion seemingly leaves us with the conclusion that ahavah has no place in avodas Hashem, as even asei tov should be based on yirah. But this is obviously not the case. Doing mitzvos is ultimately associated (not with acting under duress, but) with passion and delight.  When learning Torah and performing mitzvos, ahavah is and should be clearly involved.

This leaves us with a paradox. We are saying that our acts should be driven by love, yet at the same time, it is important for the role of yirah and kabbolas ol to be expanded into the domain of asei tov. How do these two ideas coexist?

It is to answer this question that the Alter Rebbe mentions the source of the Zohar—Parshas Behar. The word behar means “mountain.” The Gemara states that Sinai was chosen for the giving of the Torah because it is the lowest of all the mountains, alluding to the concept of bittul. But in that case, why use a mountain altogether? Hashem should have given the Torah on a flat plain, or perhaps even in a valley!

The answer is that a mountain is necessary, yet it must remain small. To translate this in our avodas Hashem: We must set out to develop love for Hashem; however, the love should not simply be our own instinctive reaction to the realization of Hashem’s greatness. Instead, it should be a feeling we are striving to develop due to Hashem’s command that we love Him. In this way, the ahavah itself is founded on kabbolas ol.

This is the message of this chapter of Tanya. A true slave is submissive to his master in all areas: when he is told to perform an act with his hands, he does so, and when he is told to arouse a feeling of love in his heart, he does so as well! Similarly, bittul and kabbolas ol are the driving force behind asei tov and ahavah, and it is only then that kedushah can dwell within us.

For further study, see Likkutei Sichos vol. 7, pp. 180ff.

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