May 5, 2009


The following is a translation of Chapter Five from Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn of Lubavitch (also known by his acronymn as the “Rashab,” 1860-1920), “Tract on Prayer” (Kuntres HaTefillah) (Kehot 1992) by Rabbi Y. Eliezer Danzinger. This key work in Chabad Chassidic thought elucidates the path of contemplative prayer and spiritual refinement. We have taken the liberty of incorporating most of the footnotes into the text and deleting some of the brackets and parentheses.

To explain the matter further: Daas [literally, “knowledge,” refering to the sefirah or divine power that synthesizes opposites], as is known, is what enables a person to bind himself to an idea or concept, and is the medium through which emotions are born. But the bond that daas facilitates between a person and a concept does not indicate its whole essence. For daas is a distinct intellect, as is known, the third of three cognitive faculties of the brain.

[Translator’s Note: Insofar as the cognitive process is concerned, the human brain has three compartments. One corresponds to the faculty of chochmah, the second to bina, and the third to daas. The first two compartments are located at the front of the head, while the third, daas, is located at the back of the head, opposite the forehead. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5704/1944, p. 163.] The substance and essence of daas is the spiritual sense-perception of a concept that it affords. Daas ensures that a concept is more clearly felt and discerned.

In other words, through attachment—by firmly binding himself to the matter that he comprehends—a person can perceive and sense the concept’s inner-core. As a result, his grasp of the matter is greatly enhanced. His understanding is more comprehensive, encompassing a myriad of details; it is more penetrating, placing the matter in closer and in better proximity, as explained earlier. On account of this too, the emotions are aroused, as will be explained later. This sense perception is the essence of daas.

For a person may understand something very well, yet he may not feel it, just as an intelligent child whose understanding is broad nonetheless does not sense the core of a matter. And for this reason, a child under the age of thirteen years is not punishable by Jewish law. He may be astute, bright and perceptive, and fully knowledgeable of all the regulations concerning the positive and negative commandments. Nevertheless, he is not culpable if he transgresses a commandment. For possessing no daas, a child can neither recognize nor feel the essential aspect of mitzvos (divine commandments). Accordingly, our Sages say regarding vows and declarations of consecration: “If the one uttering the vow or declaration knows Whom [he is addressing, viz., G-d, then the utterance is binding]” (Nidah 45b; Rambam, Hilchos Nedarim, ch. 11, par. 1, 2).

Similarly, in worldly concerns: a child may show a keen understanding of monetary matters and prestige; nevertheless, their true significance is foreign to him, since unlike an adult, he cannot discern and sense them. The same applies to the opposite qualities, namely, lowliness and poverty. Unlike an adult who can sense these shortcomings very clearly, a child—though he understands their demerits—cannot feel them.

This is the reason for cruelty. It stems from a lack of empathy. Though a person understands the plight of another, he doesn’t feel it within his soul. As a result, he has no compassion for his fellow. A compassionate person truly feels the other’s ignominy, and on account of this, feels compassion for him. (Accordingly, it is written elsewhere that since mercy stems from daas, they are aligned with one another.) The quality of daas is thus spiritual sense-perception associated with understanding.

(Regarding Iyov, it is similarly written, “He speaks without knowledge [daas]” (Job 34:35). Meaning that Iyov didn’t sense the truth of the subject about which he spoke. For if he had, how could he have said such a thing?) He senses the matter that he understands, through a bond, through strongly affixing his daas to the subject.

Now although sensory perception occurs in the brain (just as its nerves are located physically in the brain, as is known), nevertheless, it extends into the heart. Feeling the matter that is grasped by the mind, a person becomes excited in his heart, the ecstasy being commensurate with the type of mental conception.

In the physical realm, when a person senses the benefits of money or greatness, he feels the matter in his heart, which is then stirred with a love or yearning for it. Conversely, when he senses the shortcoming of lowliness, he wants none of it at all. So too in one’s service of G-d, when a person experiences the essence of a divine insight, the sensation extends automatically into his heart, which then becomes excited over the G-dliness. The ecstasy may be a “close” one, i.e., a yearning to draw near to G-d and cleave to Him. This occurs when reflection concerns either the proximity of G-dliness, or its loftiness, for His greatness cannot be fathomed. (As explained elsewhere, a peripheral love is born from reflection on the closeness of Divinity. A more inward love is generated by meditation on the greatness and loftiness of the blessed Infinite Light.)

Similarly, when a person reflects on how everything is naught in relation to Him, or when he reflects on how the Infinite Light is found below just as above, his emotion of awe is aroused. The specifics concerning reflection on these matters are explained elsewhere. The feeling in the heart and its ecstasy come automatically, without any effort. A person doesn’t need to exert himself in order to sense the G-dly theme in his heart and to be excited with a love or awe. Rather it proceeds and is drawn automatically from the brain to the heart through the medium of daas. First daas draws and elevates the heart’s excitement to the brain, as mentioned above. Afterwards, the ecstasy is drawn from the brain back into the heart. This whole process happens automatically.

Of primary importance is one’s intellectual endeavor. Meaning: The ultimate purpose is the impression (lit. “engraving”) and feeling within the heart, and the manifest excitation of the emotions in the heart. This comprises a person’s primary avodah; whether in and of itself, i.e., the manifest feelings of love and awe of G-d; whether in the animated observance of Torah and mitzvos; or whether in the purification and refinement of one’s natural dispositions, as will be explained. Therefore, it is written, “Know therefore this day, and set it in your heart” (Deuteronomy 4:3). For the main thing is the “setting” in the heart, this being the principal avodah (spiritual work). But this itself, that there should be manifest ecstasy in the heart, depends specifically upon a person exerting his brain.

A person must toil to prolong his reflection and to absorb himself exceedingly well in the essence of the G-dly matter that he comprehends, so that it is felt within his mind. His comprehension is amplified and broadened thereby, affording him a very clear understanding and grasp of the matter in all of its details, and with greater depth, as explained above, until the illumination of the light is tangibly manifest in his mind. Then, automatically, the light is drawn into his heart. The heart, too, then sharply senses the G-dly matter, and the heart’s emotions become ecstatic with true love and awe. This is termed hispa’alus atzmi’im. In other words, his ecstasy is not an artificial one. Rather the heart is truly excited over the G-dliness itself, on account of the sensation of G-dliness felt in his heart.