An exclusive study of the "revealed" aspect of Torah, often referred to as "nigleh", may provide one with Torah-knowledge. He may acquire profound scholarship. Nonetheless, it allows also the possibility that the student-scholar remain separate from the Torah itself.
On a crude level, it can reflect the Talmudic metaphor of the burglar who prays to G‑d and invokes divine blessing for his immoral activity (Berachot 63b). The criminal believes in G‑d. He believes in the principle and efficacy of prayer, yet he fails to apply that on the practical or personal level. He fails to sense the inherent contradiction in his pursuits, the radical dichotomy between his religious involvement and his personal life coexisting as two altogether separate and unrelated entities.
A more subtle and sophisticated dichotomy is seen in the following incident: There was a man who had studied halachot (the laws), Sifre, Sifra, and Tossefta, and died; R. Nachman was approached to eulogize him, but he said" "How can we eulogize him? Alas! A bag full of books has been lost!" (Megilla 28b, see Rashi ad loc) The man had studied the most difficult texts; he had become very erudite, yet he did not comprehend and absorb what he had learned. He could quote chapter and verse, yet he and his quotations remained distinct from one another. Halacha is no less essential to the mystic than to anyone else....
The Zohar notes that the Hebrew word for donkey,"chamor", is an acronym for the phrase "a wondrous scholar and a rabbi's rabbi", "chacham mufla verav rabanan" (Zohar III; 275b). One can be known as the most wondrous scholar in the world, heading the most prominent academy to train rabbis and Torah-scholars - an expert in pilpulistic methodology; but if unaware of the soul of the Torah, if not touched and penetrated by the oil of the Torah, he remains an insensitive chamor, the proverbial "donkey loaded with books." He carries a whole library on his back, has stupendous knowledge at his finger-tips, yet is not touched by what he has learned.
A person like that may conceivably fall into the category of "a scoundrel and rake within the domain of Torah". He may know, observe and practice all the codified requirements of halacha, yet be and remain a reprobate, a lowlife. (Ramban on Leviticus 19:2)
Halacha is no less essential to the mystic than to anyone else. Where the kabbalist or chassid differs, however, is first and foremost in his approach, in his consciousness of the universal importance of halacha and its dynamic significance. To him the study of Torah is not only a mitzvah on its own, or just a precondition for observing all other mitzvot. It is also the means to become transformed, for himself to become a Torah, a personification of Torah. One of the great Chassidic masters, R. Leib Sarahs, thus said that he traveled far and wide to come to his master, the Maggid of Mezrich, "not to hear words of Torah from him, but to see how he laces and unlaces his shoes!" He saw in the Maggid that ideal personification of Torah, where every act and motion is an expression of the ideals of the Torah. (See J.I. Schochet, The Great Maggid, p. 148) Mysticism...is the "oil of Torah" that penetrates, permeates and illuminates one's whole being....
To the Kabbalaist or chassid, the mitzvot are not only categorical imperatives of formal morality, acts of obedience and submission to G‑d. The term "mitzvah" is an idiom of "tzavta", a Hebrew term meaning "being joined together". It implies being unified with the very act of the mitzvah and its contents, and thus also with the the One Who commanded it. Torah study and mitzvot thus become the ultimate cleaving and attachment to G‑d Himself, the unio mystica.
The underlying premise of mysticism is the all-inclusive exhortation of "You shall be holy" (Leviticus 19:2. see Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, shoresh IV), a sanctification of one's total being, of the totality of life and the world. This is a premise that precludes perfunctory study of Torah or observance of mitzvot.
It is the "oil of Torah" that penetrates, permeates and illuminates one's whole being, and transforms man and Torah into a singular entity. Every action, therefore, becomes a vital reality. This consciousness is tested and verified by the concrete realization of the premise that the purpose of wisdom is that it inspire and lead to an application of teshuva (return to our divine roots) and the practice of good deeds.
The sterile type of life and "scholarship" of the "donkey loaded with books" unfortunately, is quite symptomatic of the modern age and its method of alleged rational inquiry, of "logical positivism" and its atomizing games of linguistic analysis. The mystical dimension forcefully counters this and bears a pervasive message of special relevance to modern man. With this message we are able to extricate ourselves from the contemporary mind- and soul- polluting forces that threaten to stifle us, and to find ourselves. For the mystical aspect of the Torah is the conduit connecting us to ultimate reality. It is the depth of man's soul calling unto the profound depth of the Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein. Thus it brings forth and establishes the ultimate ideal of unity, of oneness, on all levels.
[From "The Mystical Dimension", (vol. I, p. 41- 45)]