The reader is advised to review our first installment of the Arizal's teachings on parashat Behar: Shabbat: Relaxation-Elevation. The following is a direct continuation of that excerpt.

[The above] is [the basis of] the explanation of the statement of the Zohar (III:108a) that the sabbatical year "occurs" in the lower hei [of the name Havayah], whereas the jubilee year "occurs" in the upper hei. We have explained how the sabbatical year occurs in the lower hei, namely, that [in this year] the worlds do not ascend collectively any higher than the lower hei, i.e. malchut of Atzilut, but from there upwards nothing ascends.

Thus there are three degrees of ascent….

As explained in the previous installment, even though in the sabbatical year the three lower worlds of Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya do ascend, they collectively can be considered "female" (i.e. malchut) relative to the world of Atzilut. Thus, whatever ascent occurs during the sabbatical year may be considered an ascent of malchut, nothing more.

The mystical meaning of the jubilee year, signified by the upper hei [of the name Havayah] is as follows:

[This year] undergoes everything that occurs in the sabbatical year, plus an additional [ascent]: there is an ascent within Atzilut itself. Zeir Anpin ascends to the level of bina, which is signified by the upper hei [of the name Havayah]. Higher than this, however, there is no ascent whatsoever.

Thus there are three degrees of ascent: the sabbatical year, in which ascent occurs only as far up as malchut [of Atzilut], the jubilee year, in which ascent occurs up to the level of bina [of Atzilut], and Shabbat, in which all levels ascend.

You will therefore observe that all the laws that apply during the sabbatical year apply as well during the jubilee year, with some few additional restrictions, due to the additional ascent in the jubilee over and above that of the sabbatical year.

The addition [in the jubilee year] is that bondsmen are released from slavery. This is analogous to the exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people as a whole also went "out of the house of bondage." (Ex. 20:2) [Freedom] can only occur by means of Imma, i.e. by her opening up her Fifty Gates [of bina], as we have explained with regard to Pesach and Shavuot.

Freedom is thus the release of consciousness from its constricted state….

Shavuot occurs fifty days after Pesach; these fifty days correspond to the Fifty Gates of bina. "Freedom" is thus the release of consciousness from its constricted state, wherein it lacks the fifty levels of divine understanding.

It is for the same reason that the jubilee occurs after fifty years, corresponding to the Fifty Gates of bina, in contrast to the sabbatical year, which occurs after seven years. [The sabbatical year] corresponds [therefore] to the lower hei, which is the "daughter" of the seven [sefirot of the emotions].

Malchut receives its light from the six sefirot above it. This is reflected in the fact that the sabbatical year, in which the lower worlds ascend to malchut of Atzilut, occurs after six years, corresponding to the input of the six higher sefirot into malchut.

Now, we see that on Shabbat all types of work are forbidden, while on the festivals, preparation of food is allowed, and in the sabbatical year all types of work are permitted except those pertaining to working the land. In order to understand this difference, we will first explain the significance of the prohibition of work in general.

Bear in mind that we have already explained that the origin of all this is what happened to the kings who died in the land of Edom.

The account of the deaths of the kings of Edom is the allegorical correlate of the shattering of the vessels of the world of Tohu.

Because they died, we have to elevate and revive them.

This refers to our task of "elevating the sparks" of Tohu that became embedded in our material world.

For we cause Zeir Anpin and Nukva to couple, and through our prayers and good deeds we cause [the sparks of] these fallen kings to ascend, as "feminine waters", to malchut.

Our task is to harness the material aspects of this world for divine purposes….

Our task is to harness the material aspects of this world (including the mental and emotional energies, etc., allied with the material world) for divine purposes, i.e. to infuse divine consciousness into this world. This we accomplish primarily through prayer, the ascent of consciousness into divine consciousness, and "good deeds", whether the performance of actual, formal mitzvot, or of general deeds that serve to increase divine consciousness in the world.

The effect of these activities is, as we said, that the sparks, or potentials, of holiness inherent but trapped within material reality are "liberated" and enabled to "ascend" to the level of malchut of Atzilut. Malchut of Atzilut is the source of consciousness for the lower worlds. This released spiritual energy serves to develop or empower malchut, rendering it fit to couple with Zeir Anpin. The ascent of these released sparks is our act of initiative that catalyzes this coupling. In Lurianic terms, this is called "arousal from below"; in Zoharic terms, it is called "the ascent of feminine waters".

The coupling of Zeir Anpin and Nukva is the unification of emotion and expression. This, as we have explained previously, is necessary in order that the female drive for expressing divinity in the world be properly inspired by divine emotion and not sidetracked into the enhancement of the existential reality it is intended to elevate. The accomplishments of our feminine consciousness, i.e. our prayers and good deeds, "inspire" our male consciousness, i.e. our abstract orientation towards divinity, to "couple" with our feminine consciousness, as we have also explained previously.

This causes the [fallen kings] to be renewed and revived. This process will continue until, with G‑d's help, our righteous Mashiach arrives. When all [the sparks of] these kings will be able to be elevated, and the good and holiness within them will be rectified and purified [from the dross attached to them], the "shells" will be left by itself, as dross. At that time, it is written, "death will be swallowed up forever." (Isaiah 25:8)

Presently, the negative ("evil") energies and contexts in which the sparks of Tohu are embedded derive their energy to exist from the sparks they host. Once these sparks are all liberated and re-ascend, however, the encasing shell of evil has no life-force, and therefore disintegrates. Our task in life may therefore be seen as "decontextualizing" the energies of this world from evil and reorienting them toward holiness.

Thus, all our prayers and good deeds in this world are only in order to purify and elevate [the sparks of] these seven [fallen] kings.

The purpose of work is to refine and elevate reality….

Now, on weekdays, we are allowed to work, for work implies that things need to be worked on by our efforts. [This would not be the case] had G‑d created the world the way it will be in the [messianic] future. [Of that time] it is written, "Let there be an abundance of grain on the earth," (Psalms 72:16) and we are taught that the earth will produce [fully baked] cakes, etc. (Ketubot 111b) We would not have perform numerous forms of work in order to eat. Nowadays, however, we do indeed have to perform numerous forms of work in order to eat, to plow, to plant, to remove the hay, straw, and bran - which are the "shells", and then to prepare it through fire, i.e. to bake the bread - this being the culmination of the process, giving us a finished product. The same is true of other forms of work [other than preparing bread].

This recalls Rabbi Akiva's response to Tinneius Rufus regarding beans, which must be [cooked in order to be] sweetened, and wheat, which must be ground, etc. (Midrash Tanchuma, Tazria 5)

The Roman general Tinneius Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: "Whose deeds are nicer, those of the Holy One, blessed be He, or of man?" He answered, "Those of man!" Tinneius Rufus asked further, "Look at heaven and earth! Can man make anything like this?" Rabbi Akiva responded, "Don't talk to me about things that are beyond mankind's ability, but about things which are in his purview." He said, "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" He said back, "I knew you were planning to ask me about this. That's why I said that the deeds of man are nicer than those of the Holy One, blessed be He."

Rabbi Akiva then brought him ears of grain and baked cakes, and said to him, "This was done by the Holy One, blessed be He, and this was done by man. Is not this [cake] nicer than these ears of grain?" Tinneius Rufus then asked him, "If He wants us circumcised, why doesn't He bring the child out of his mother's womb already circumcised?" Rabbi Akiva answered him, "Why does his umbilical cord come out with him, attached to his stomach, and his mother cuts it? As to why he does not emerge already circumcised, it is because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the commandments to Israel only for their own purification. Thus, King David said, "The word of G‑d is pure." (Psalms 18:31)

From this passage from the Midrash, we see that the purpose of work is to refine and elevate reality.

Everything that makes up all the worlds derives from these seven kings….

As we have explained, everything that makes up all the worlds derives from these seven kings; there is nothing that is not derived from them. Now, had these kings not died and become nullified, and had not the "shells" been formed from their remains, it would not be necessary for us to purify them; they would be intrinsically purified and would require no rectification whatsoever. But now that they have died and require rectification, we need our prayers, good deeds, and mitzvot in order to rectify them and elevate them as "feminine waters".

Now, just as it is with regard to the four worlds - Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya - namely, that they need to be rectified, so it is with regard to the souls, for they derive from these [worlds], i.e. from that which remains after the purification process required by the [four] worlds.

The divine soul, of course, originates in G‑d Himself. Nonetheless, as we say in the morning blessings every day, "The soul which You have placed in me is pure; You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me…." The soul is pure divinity when it descends into the world of Atzilut; "You created it" - refers to the soul as it descends further, into the world of Beriya ("creation"); "You formed it" - this refers to the soul as it descends into the world of Yetzira; "You breathed it into me" - this refers to the soul as it descends into the world of Asiya. In other words, as the soul descends on its way into the body, it undergoes a process of consciousness-constriction paralleling the levels of consciousness defined as the four worlds. As part of this process, the soul picks up the perspective of the "sparks" of the world of Tohu that could not be assimilated into these worlds. A "world" is an objective state of consciousness; the soul is a subjective creature - at least it becomes one as it descends the rungs of consciousness. The sparks of Tohu too coarse to be absorbed into the worlds, i.e. the subjective elements, get taken up and integrated into the consciousness of the soul.

Furthermore, even all the lowest aspects of this world are [derived from the holy sparks of Tohu, that is,] from the coarsest refuse left from those seven kings. [Since the material aspects of this world are derived from the coarsest aspects of Tohu,] they can therefore be refined only after numerous processes of rectification and types of work.

For this reason, every type work done in this world is employed for some active mitzvah. For example, if one goes to plow the ground, he can perform the mitzvah of "you shall not plow with an ox and a donkey [harnessed] together." (Deut. 22:10) If one goes to plant, he can perform the mitzvah of "you shall not plant your vineyard with mixed species." (Ibid. 22:9) The same applies to all other types of work. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Know Him in all your ways." (Proverbs 3:6)

All this is in order that we may elevate those kings by means of our work and the power of the active mitzvot that they entail. Through this [holy use of our power to work in these ways] these types of work are elevated.

Then, when the bread has been finished and a person eats it, the [spark of divine life force in the bread] returns [upward,] being elevated, and becomes an integral part of the limbs of this person. And so it is with all things, in the secret of "Know Him in all your ways," as we have said. This principle can be applied in all details [of life], if someone seeks to understand these details fully.

If someone examines his life deeply enough, he will see how the above principle - that holy use of the material world increases the power of holiness in the world - holds true in all circumstances.

We shall therefore now repeat that even the lowly forms of physical labor performed in this world exist in order that we elevate the seven kings with them. And all types of work exist in the context of this world, the [physical correlate of the] world of Asiya.

Therefore, the numerical value of the word for "work" [in Hebrew, "melachah", 96] is the same as that of the two divine names "El" and "Ado-nai" together.

"Melachah" is spelled: mem-lamed-alef-chaf-hei = 40 + 30 + 1 + 20 + 5 = 96.

"E-l" is spelled: alef-lamed = 1 + 30 = 31. Adonai: alef-dalet-nun-yud = 1 + 4 + 50 + 10 = 65. 31 + 65 = 96.

The divine name Ado-nai ("My lord") is associated with the sefira of malchut and the world of Asiya.

As we have said, on weekdays all types of work are permitted, as long as in doing them one does not commit any sin. For if he does, they will not be elevated; on the contrary, this will increase the power of evil. [The sparks within them are elevated] only when they are performed in an completely permitted manner - fulfilling the verse, "Know Him in all your ways," as we said - and with the intention of elevating thereby the Seven Kings.

This applies both to [what we do in order to elevate the sparks of] this world and [to what we do] in order to elevate the supernal worlds and to elevate the souls. We accomplish all this ourselves, with the power of the work of our hands (i.e. our prayers and [mitzvot, such as] tzitzit, tefilin, and lulav, etc.), for it is possible to elevate [the sparks of holiness present in] the workday [aspect of Creation] only via our own efforts. This is why work is permitted and why we have been commanded to perform the various commandments, and especially the inner dimension of our prayers.

Click here to continue on to the next installment: "Shabbat: New Souls, New Songs".

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutimand Taamei HaMitzvot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.