"I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Ex. 20:2)

There are two levels of desire: one that precedes and transcends intellect, and another that is beneath intellect and proceeds from it.

Lower Desire

When a person uses the three faculties of his brain to contemplate and ponder the awesomeness of the divine reality, he comes to recognize G‑d in his heart and a desire to cleave to Him. It is man's entire purpose to contemplate G‑d's greatness…

Although it is said that "no thought can grasp Him" - this is true only of G‑d's essence. One can grasp, however, G‑d's radiance. Indeed, it is man's entire purpose to contemplate G‑d's greatness - that He created an infinite number of supernal and lower worlds, that He sustains them and brings them out of nothingness every moment.

This meditation varies according to the individual. But each person can use his capacity for meditation to expand his mind, to ignite his heart and soul, to tie his soul to G‑d and cleave to Him - all according to the depth of his intelligence, his wisdom, and diligence.

This meditation leads to a desire to do that which brings one closer to G‑d and to shun that which achieves the opposite. This level of desire is beneath the brain, meaning that it proceeds from the brain's meditation and will vary in intensity according to the measure of the meditation.

Higher Desire

There is, however, a higher level of desire, one that is quite beyond the sort born of the intellect. This desire stems from the nothingness of his perception (and that of all creatures) in the face of the divine essence and His infinite exaltedness. Here we can say that no thought grasps Him at all. He is beyond the category of being known. The terms divine immanence and divine transcendence (in Hebrew, "memalei" and "sovev") are meaningful only in the context of divine radiance. But He Himself is beyond such categories. The soul is thus stirred to escape from its sheath with a desire and yearning to pour herself into the bosom of her Father, the divine essence before Whom all is naught.

This wondrous desire was felt by the souls of the Jewish people on Shavuot, during the giving of the Torah. Thus, their souls left them after each of the Ten Commandments. Each commandment was a communication of G‑d's essence to the souls and resulted in their soul's flight.

The Soul's Essence

Man was created in the image of G‑d. The essence of the soul, which stems from G‑d's essence, does not descend into the body and animal soul. Only a ray of the soul extends and enters the consciousness of the intellect and emotions. The soul's core is far beyond the category of human intellect. It remains joined to its Source in the living G‑d with an eternal bond. It has only one desire and that is toward her Father in heaven alone - forever, unchanging, in a state of selflessness and nullification to Him. Only a ray of the soul extends and enters the consciousness of the intellect and emotions…

The soul experiences changes only in the lower aspects of the soul, which enter the human consciousness. But the soul's essence hovers above, "surrounding", transcending the person (like the divine essence in relation to the world).

On Shavuot, through the giving of the Torah, this level of the soul was revealed, in a powerful way, within the human consciousness. That their souls flew away after each utterance means that they were raised beyond the scale of intellect and were enveloped within the Divine.

The above idea is expressed in the first statement at Sinai, "I am Havayah your G‑d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt (in Hebrew, "Mitzrayim").

"I …": the nameless "I", the divine essence which is beyond all description.

"…am Havayah your G‑d": the divine spark that resides within you, the essence of the soul, which remains beyond human consciousness.

"…who has taken you out of the land of Egypt": all the worlds and levels that are beneath this level of the soul's essence are called Egypt (in Hebrew "Mitzrayim", which means "limitations") by comparison. All other states of interaction with the divine are limited to certain confines and borders.

When this level of the soul is revealed, we fulfill the Mishnaic dictum: "Nullify your desire before His desire" (Avot 4:2). You allow the higher desire, the essence of the soul, to illuminate your being so that your will is G‑d's will…

First, let us explain a similar dictum: "Make your desire like His desire". This dictum refers to a person whose desire is outside the divine realm, but who through meditation on G‑d's greatness, modifies his will to conform to the divine will. This is the lower desire discussed above.

"Nullify your desire before His desire", on the other hand, means that you have no desire outside of G‑dliness. You allow the higher desire, the essence of the soul, to illuminate your being so that your will is G‑d's will.


G‑d commands Moses to take the soul's lower desire - which is born of the soul's head and brain, and which is clothed in human consciousness - and tie it, elevate it to the greatest heights, to its source and root: the soul's essence which hovers above, transcendent. Otherwise, the soul does not illuminate the body because of misdeeds that separate the person from divinity. The body is severed from the head.

Moses is to raise the "head" of man - the source for lower desire - and unite it with the essence of the soul, a level at which the essence of G‑d is fully revealed.

Adapted from a discourse in Likutei Torah (first published in 1800)

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