ESSAY: A Visitor From Tohu
He came from a one-dimensional world and was driven off by
a builder's measure; then, a kindly sage instructed him on
the art of integration
Son In Law
The legal relationship between G-d and Israel
A Visitor From Tohu
Love your fellow as yourself. Said Rabbi Akiva:
This is a cardinal principle in the Torah.
Sifra on Leviticus 19:18
A gentile once came before Shammai and said: Convert
me to Judaism, on the stipulation that you teach me the entire
Torah as I stand on one leg. Shammai drove him off with
the builder's measuring stick in his hand.
He then came before Hillel, who converted him. Said Hillel
to him: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary---go and
Talmud, Shabbat 31a
The Human Universe
Before the world we know was created, before time and the
very concept before were created, G-d created another world---a world which collapsed under its
own weight. A world of such single-minded intensity that its
own parameters could not contain it. The Kabbalists call this
world the world of Tohu (chaos).
The Tohu reality was comprised of the same elements that
make up our present reality---only their configuration was
different. Our sages
speak of ten divine attributes (sefirot)
that G-d emanated from Himself to serve as the ten basic spiritual
building blocks of creation, from which every object, force
and phenomenon in existence is derived. The universe can thus
be compared to a human being, whose basic intellectual faculties
and character traits are the essence of countless millions
of ideas, feelings, motives and deeds. Indeed, the Talmud
makes this comparison, stating that as the soul fills
the body, so G-d fills the world.
Man, elaborate the kabbalists, who was created in the
image of G-d, also possesses ten basic attributes
(conception, comprehension, perception, attraction, rejection,
synthesis, competitivity, devotion, comunicativity and receptiveness),
from which all elements of his miniature universe
are derived. These mirror the ten supernal sefirot---the character
that G-d projected from Himself to form, sustain and relate
to His creation.
Tohu, too, was a world comprised of the ten supernal sefirot.
However, there they existed as ten distinct elements, devoid
of all relationship with or even tolerance for each other.
In the terminology of kabbalah, they existed one below
the other in a single column, each on a plane of its
own, without any common ground or interaction between them.
If we were to draw a diagram of Tohu's character,
it would look like this:
Imagine a person in whom the attribute of attraction--his
capacity for attachment, love, desire, giving, etc.--excludes
any involvement of his rejective faculty---his
capacity for restraint, apprehension, reverence, etc. Or one
whose competitive faculty does not possess any of the consistency
and staying power of his faculty of devotion.
Or whose mind conceives of ideas it cannot retain since his
faculty of conception is utterly devoid of the
grasping power of comprehension. As these examples
demonstrate, the integration of our various faculties is not
only necessary for a well-balanced personality, but is also
crucial to the function of each individual faculty. Unless
each faculty borrows of the characteristics of
its fellows, its own excesses and one-dimensionality will
That is what happened to the collapsed world of Tohu. The
lack of interaction between the sefirot meant that, ultimately,
they each proved too intense not only for each other but even
for their own vessels---their own defining parameters.
Tohu's vessels shattered from the untempered potency
of the forces they were meant to form and embody. Then, on
the debris of Tohu, G-d created our reality, the world of
In Tikkun the sefirot form a partzuf, a face
Here, the various forces to comprise a world relate and interact
with each other. Each force thus includes in itself elements
of all others, allowing it to mitigate and constructively
focus its powers. Love is tinged with restraint, so that a
father can hug his child without crushing him to death. Desire
is touched with enough inhibition, justice with enough compassion,
drive with enough commitment, not to self-destruct.
But something is undoubtedly lost in the process. The integrated
world of Tikkun has the capacity for stability and constructive
development its chaotic predecessor could not sustain, but
it lacks Tohu's passion and intensity. This is why G-d began
His creation with the false start of Tohu: He
desired to plant sparks of an infinite, uninhibited
essence in the foundations of the correct world
of Tikkun. Our mission in life is to unearth these potent
potentials and unleash them within the Tikkun framework, combining
the best of both worlds---the power of Tohu with the focus
Therein lies the deeper significance of the talmudic statement:
The people of Israel were exiled among the nations only
in order that they gain converts.
A convert is a reclaimed remnant of the world
of Tohu, a fallen spark of great potential that is unearthed
and corrected. Our dispersion to the ends of earth
has brought us in contact with souls that stem from this volatile
period of spiritual prehistory and have been scattered by
Tohu's collapse among the many peoples of the world; the conversion
of these souls to the covenant of the Torah--G-d's blueprint
for a life of Tikkun--results in the constructive realization
of their tremendous power and intensity.
The Talmud, however, is not only speaking of human converts.
Sparks of Tohu are buried in all creatures and elements of
our world, and our contact with these elements (also facilitated
by our dispersion to all corners of the globe) affords us
the opportunity of converting these sparks. Every
time we involve a part of the material reality--a physical
object, a scientific discovery, a cultural phenomenon, etc.--in
our implementation of the divine commandments (mitzvot) of
the Torah, we achieve the correction and integration of the
Tohu spark it contains.
A Doctrine of Relationship
A soul from the columnar world of Tohu, attracted by the
promise of realization that Torah holds, came to the great
sage, Shammai. Teach me the Torah, he requested.
But I want it on one leg.
Shammai was incredulous. On one leg?! This, my friend,
is the three-tiered world of Tikkun. Here, we do things measuredly
and constructively. Go back to where you came from.
The soul then sought out Hillel, who patiently explained:
You are searching for focus, because you sense yourself
filled with intense potentials that threaten to self-destruct
at your unilateral attempts to realize them. So you must learn
to love your fellow as yourself: to recognize that there is
something of him in you and something of you in him. This
is what Torah and Tikkun are all about: relationship and integration.
The rest is commentary...
Once there was a king who had an only daughter. A prince
came and married her. The prince wished to go back to his
land and take his wife with him. Said [the king] to him: The
daughter I gave you is my only one, and I cannot separate
myself from her. I cannot tell you not to take hershe
is your wife. But do me one favor: wherever you go, build
me a small room so that I may live with you, for I cannot
part from my daughter. In the same way, G-d says to
Israel: I gave you the Torah. I cannot part from her.
I cannot tell you not to take her. But wherever you go, make
a home for Me in which I may dwell.
Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 33:1
Our sages have said that a son-in-law is like a son.
Indeed, a son-in-law can be said to be more of a son than
a biological child, since a person does not choose his children,
while a son-in-law is often chosen by the father-in-law
and thus reflects his vision of the self he wishes to propagate
more than does his natural child.
The Torah refers to the people of Israel as G-ds
But it also speaks of a father-in-law/son-in-law relationship
between G-d and Israel, as in the Midrashic analogy quoted
We are G-ds children by virtue of who we are, regardless
of whether we exhibit the qualities our Father in Heaven imbued
in us, regardless of whether our behavior befits that of a
child of G-d. But our status as divine sons-in-law is via
our relationship with His daughter, the Torah. Through our
commitment to and union with the Torah, we are not only His
natural children but His children of choice as
Based on a letter by the Rebbe dated Purim, 5704 (1944)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 The Talmudic sage Shammai was a builder by profession
 Thus, all tenses of past and present
employed in this essay are not to be understood in terms
of linear time, but as connoting the immediate reality we
experience (present), and a higher reality on
which this reality is predicated (past).
 The ten Sefirot are central to all kabbalistic and
chassidic writings. Their are numerous mentions of them
in Zohar, and a major portion of Sefer Yetzirah deals with
them. See also Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 14:24.
 See note #10 on Wet Matzo, WIR vol. VI
 Thus Job proclaims, From my own flesh, I perceive
the Divine (Job 19:26). By contemplating the make-up
of ones own soul and the dynamics of its relationship with
our body, we gain insight into the divine forces of creation
and the manner in which G-d chooses to relate to our existence.
 Talmud, Pesachim 87b.
 Based on Ohr Hatorah, Chanukah 313a.
. Rashi on Talmud, Shabbat 23b. See Yalkut Shimoni,
I Samuel, 24; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 240:24;
Biurei HaGra, ibid.
. Cf. Deuteronomy 22:16: I gave my daughter
to this man.
. Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; et al.
. Igrot Kodesh, vol. I, pp. 262-263.