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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim


Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim
A classic chassidic treatise on the mystic core of spiritual vitality
by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn of Lubavitch

Chapter XXXI

Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

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Be very careful with regard to your souls, [lest] you become [involved] in an undesirable [approach to] study. Do not associate with those whose fundamental intent in their studies and in their contemplation is to develop new insights and build intricate conceptual structures, for by and large their new insights are empty and false. Satirically, one might say that they are developing new insights that were not even revealed to Moshe our teacher.

For every new insight to be developed by an experienced sage was revealed to Moshe at Sinai.[390] As such, the sage is only revealing what is hidden, not developing an insight that is entirely new. Note the explanation of this concept given by the Shaloh, p. 192a,[391] commenting on the phrase:[392] “Grant us our portion in Your Torah.”

A student whose approach is undesirable, by contrast, develops concepts that are truly new, that were never revealed to Moshe at Sinai. Instead, their foundation is false, [for the students] do not know the actual halachah at all. This is the practice of the majority. They do not know the simple meaning of the halachah within its context, because they don’t pay any attention to this matter at all. [Instead,] their desire to develop new insights does not allow them to concentrate on the subject itself; they seek only a new insight.

As is well known, the Zohar, Vol. I, 4b-5a, explains that a person who develops a true and genuine new insight in Nistar, the Torah’s hidden, mystic knowledge, brings about the formation of a new heaven, and [that by developing such a new insight] in Nigleh, the Torah’s revealed, legal realm, one brings about the formation of a new earth. If, however, one develops new concepts that are not genuine, a false heaven and earth are formed, and energy is added to the sitra achra. Certainly, a person who issues a halachic judgment based on such a [false] insight can be considered as one who slays souls, heaven forbid.

Everyone whose heart is touched by the fear of G-d should distance himself further than a bowshot from those who develop new insights based on falsehood and who build conceptual structures based on empty and false pilpulim, [so that] he does not learn from their conduct. As the Shaloh writes, p. 181b, with regard to empty and false analyses and pilpulim, even when [the author of such pilpulim] also conveys very many true concepts, if there is even one untrue concept mixed in together with them, that slight trace causes the entire [composite] to be forbidden. “Who can calculate [the magnitude] of this sinful act, to pervert the words of G-d and the Torah of truth!” Similarly, in several other places in his holy text, he warns severely against such conduct.

The Gaon, the Maharal of Prague, in his text, Derech Chayim on [Pirkei] Avos, [expresses similar concepts] in his commentary on the mishnah 6[:6], which speaks of the 48 attributes through which the Torah is acquired. After explaining all of these attributes, the Maharal takes to account the Torah scholars of his age, and cries out in a bitter voice over the empty pilpulim [in which students are involved]. He explains that the reason why some students do not have a clear awareness of the halachah and why they must research every law and judgment, is that the false [foundation] at the very beginning [of their study] ultimately leads to crookedness and ruin. For they begin to involve themselves in a facetious pilpul about the halachah, knowing [in their own hearts] that they are not speaking genuinely. They reveal Torah insights which are not true. And they say: It is necessary to express cleverness.

This, heaven forbid, shall not be among the Jewish people: to argue cleverly on false premises and to waste time on false matters. For the Torah is a Torah of truth. How could a person think of such conduct?! Instead, it is fitting for a person to tear his heart over the perversion of truth into falsehood, and the declaration that it is necessary to express cleverness.

Their thought — that this will lead them to genuine sharp thinking and true pilpul — is unfounded. For falsehood will never lead to truth, for [the two] do not resemble each other at all. [In a true pilpul,] the questions and the resolutions are of another nature entirely. So how could one shift from such a path to the path of truth. Indeed, the very opposite is true. [Through such “cleverness,”] the person will habituate himself to falsehood and become foolish rather than wise.

If one argues that [such analyses] will sharpen one’s intellect, it is preferable for him to study a profession or humor to sharpen his intellect. For then, he will not be perverting the Torah [and deviating] from the halachah or “conceiving aberration and giving birth to falsehood.”[393] In particular, this applies when the student himself knows that he is not speaking truth; he is intentionally lying. All of his deeds follow falsehood, and his deeds are also false. [The Maharal continues,] extensively [decrying this path].

Genuine pilpul is possible only when first one knows the simple meaning of the halachah guilelessly, in a structured manner, using straightforward terms as explained with regard to the first path mentioned above.[394] Afterwards, if G-d has graciously endowed a person with a capable intellectual potential and broad-minded thought processes, he may delve into a pilpul concerning the subject following the guidelines of the second path mentioned above.5

{This is the intent of [the Maharal in the passage from] Derech Chayim cited above, that first, one should study the Mishnah, and then the Gemara, which includes a pilpul of the concepts mentioned in the Mishnah. In this manner, one profits in that even if one does not comprehend the pilpul [of the Gemara], he will retain at least the straightforward halachic ruling. (He should not, however, issue a halachic ruling based on [his understanding of] the Mishnah alone.)

Similar concepts apply with regard to the comprehension of the concepts within the Gemara. First, he must know the body of the passage. Only afterwards should he delve into pilpul. In addition, the pilpul should be genuine, and it should be structured to lead to a halachic ruling, i.e., studying with the intent of reaching a conclusion that reflects the halachah as explained above. 5

The student will profit from this in that even if he does not reach a consummate appreciation of the pilpul, he will nevertheless retain the comprehension of the passage itself. And if doubts will arise [in his understanding] in the initial phases of the pilpul, since the particular elements of the passage are clear in his [mind, he can rest assured] that ultimately, he will come to a comprehensive appreciation of the subject. Or he should consult a Rav, who will resolve his doubts and enable him to thoroughly grasp [the subject].}

If, however, a student will begin with pilpul before he has a genuine appreciation of the subject in the above manner, as a natural consequence, the pilpul will be false, and he will waste his time with ersatz thoughts. Moreover, his sin is too great for him to bear, for he is perverting truth into falsehood and revealing teachings of the Torah in a manner that does not follow the Halachah. He is dismal, and his Torah is dismal. His lunacy will rest in the grave with him, and ultimately, he will be required to give a reckoning because of this. [Such students] acquire as a heritage a double [portion of] Gehinnom. May G-d protect us from them.


[This chapter emphasizes that a student] should protect himself from empty and false pilpulim. A genuine pilpul is possible only after one achieves an ordered comprehension [of the subject].



  1. (Back to text) See Mehillah 19b; Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 2:4; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, p. 252.

  2. (Back to text) This is contained in his tractate Shavuos, in the chapter entitled Torah Or, entry Maalas lomdeha.

  3. (Back to text) Avos 5:20.

  4. (Back to text) Cf. Tehillim 7:15.

  5. (Back to text) [See ch. 29.]

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