Abraham's love for God was like ashes in comparison to a majestic tree—yet both are products of the same Divine source. * This metaphor unlocks the layered complexity of how the soul's attributes relate to their celestial origins. * On Tanya for 18 Elul,
The overarching theme here is the profound gap between Divine attributes and their human counterparts, captured brilliantly by the Alter Rebbe's metaphor of "ash and tree." But what does this metaphor really signify?
The Alter Rebbe uses the image of ashes and a tree to explain the difference between Abraham's love for God—described as "magnanimous love" or ahavah rabbah—and the supernal sefirah of chesed from which it derives. Abraham's love, intense as it was, is like the ashes left after a tree is burned. The tree itself, in its full glory, symbolizes the supernal sefirah of chesed, which is "infinitely loftier and more wondrous." Essentially, while Abraham's love was vested in his corporeal body, the supernal love of chesed exists in the realm of Atzilut, infinitely above and beyond. It's a comparison of not just scale, but of quality and essence.
The Maggid of Mezritch's commentary adds another layer. Abraham's utterance, "I am dust and ashes," wasn't a statement of humility but an articulation of this difference. The ash, which remains after the other elements have been consumed, represents the earthly, tangible aspect of love. Meanwhile, the tree in its original form is a composite of various elements, just as Divine love is a multifaceted, infinite reality.
Now, the question arises: How can we understand this in the context of our lives? The writings of the Rambam underscore the Alter Rebbe's message by explaining that the soul of man, vested in corporeality, is inherently limited. While we are endowed with Divine attributes, we must recognize their finite manifestation within us.
But here's the hopeful note: "From my flesh shall I behold God." This passage suggests that despite the disparity, our human attributes can still serve as a conduit to understanding Divine principles, especially as we anticipate the era of ultimate revelation with the coming of Moshiach.
What this means for us is quite transformative. When we engage in acts of love or kindness, rather than seeing them as mere human actions, we can view them as ash that points to a much grander tree. We're connecting with an infinite Divine attribute, albeit in a more constrained, earthly way.