By Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
In “Likutei Amarim,” Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk explains the verse in the Scroll of Eicha, “Nisa levaveinu el kapayim, el El bashamayim/ “We will lift our hearts to the clouds, to God in Heaven.” The expression, “El bashamayim/God in Heaven” appears just twice in the Bible: Here in this verse and in another verse in Deuteronomy, when Moses begs God to allow him to enter the Land of Israel: “For who is El bashamayim/a God in Heaven Who does as Your works and Your mighty acts?”
What is the meaning of “our hearts,” in the first verse? What are “kapayim” and what is “El bashamayim/God in Heaven?”
“Kapayim” – Mitzvahs
Let us begin with “kapayim.” Rebbe Menachem Mendel has a very original explanation. According to the literal meaning, “kapayim,” which means ‘hands,’ refers to the clouds in the heavens, which resemble hands and are, so to speak, the hands of God. Rebbe Menachem Mendel, however, explains that “kapayim” are mitzvahs. This is because a person stretches out his hand to give something. This entire verse alludes to prayer, and as we know, in order for our prayers to ascend, we must give charity, as is written in the Tanya that when the Torah (particularly in the Jerusalem Talmud) writes the word “mitzvah” and does not specify, the mitzvah in question is the mitzvah of giving charity. Rebbe Menachem Mendel says that “kapayim” are mitzvahs, for we use our hands to give something to someone. Every mitzvah is a segulah – an action designed to draw down abundance. Every mitzvah has the power to draw down great abundance to all the worlds, and thus, the mitzvahs are called kapayim. The hand gives abundance and blessing.
“Our Hearts” – Our Intentions
The essence of the abundance that is drawn down depends upon the intention of the person fulfilling the mitzvah. Some people have the intention to draw down material abundance – they want a good livelihood. They believe in God, believe in the Torah and what is written there, “If you walk in my statutes…and I will give gishmeichem/your rains in their proper time. Gishmeichem means ‘your rains’ and it also means materiality in general. This person fulfills the mitzvot of the Torah and believes that through them God will give him his material needs, which does, indeed, happen.
Another type of Jew knows that this is the “World of Falsity” and is not interested in the material. What he wants is spiritual abundance, which is immeasurably loftier. It all depends on what his intention is. In our verse, the word “levaveinu/our hearts” means the thoughts of our hearts. Each person activates God’s kapayim, drawing down and giving abundance to others or the world according to the intention of his own heart when he is fulfilling the mitzvot.
There is, however, a third possible intention: Not to draw down physical abundance, and not even spiritual abundance, but rather, to give pleasure to the Creator. Our mitzvot and positive actions give pleasure and naches to God. Naches is from the Hebrew root nachat, which also means to “land” or “come down.” When we do a mitzvah with this mindset, we draw down abundant Godliness – not because we intended to draw down spirituality or materiality. Rather, our intention was to give God pleasure and naches from our mitzvah. When this is the case, God’s pleasure is drawn down, filling all the worlds with a great influx of spiritual and material abundance. We did not have any spiritual or material intention – all that we wanted to do was to give pleasure to our Father in Heaven. That, however, ultimately brought down the blessing – both spiritual and material.
God in Heaven – Lovingkindness and Abundance
In our verse, the words citing a revelation of Divinity are “el El bashamayim/to God in Heaven.” God’s Name, E-l, is a name of lovingkindness, “Chesed El kol hayom/God’s lovingkindness all day.” God’s greatest lovingkindness is His revelation in Heaven. When He reveals Himself in Heaven, there is also a continuation of His revelation on earth, as in the verse that Moses says, “For who is El bashamayim/a God in Heaven Who does as Your works and Your mighty acts” “that You have begun to show Your servant.” The main point of service of God is to have the intention to bring Him pleasure. When we bring God pleasure, we have drawn down all blessing and good. (In general, discussion of pleasure – regarding both God and people through the fulfillment of God’s will, is one of the innovations of Chassidut).
E-l in Heaven and Havayah on Earth
Rebbe Menachem Mendel continues to explain another verse in Psalms in the same spirit: “He loves righteousness and justice, Havayah’s lovingkindness fills the earth." God’s greatest lovingkindness is that He fills the earth – that the earth is full of revelation of Havayah. In Heaven, God’s Name E-l, the Name of lovingkindness, is revealed – and on earth, His Essential Name, Havayah. Sometimes, when something descends from above to below, it dissipates, and the revelation below is less than the revelation above. The power of lovingkindness, however, is like a waterfall. The higher the place from which it falls, the greater the momentum of the water/chesed/lovingkindness that flows down. It all depends on our intention: That we have no personal gain in fulfilling the mitzvot or in everything that we do– other than to give God pleasure and naches.
Generally, Kabbalists employ focused intentions before performing a mitzvah. According to the pure Torah of the Ba’al Shem Tov, however, the foundation of foundations of Chassidut, when doing a mitzvah we should think, “I simply want to give pleasure to God.” I do not know how to make unifications, I am not clear on the intricacies of God’s transcendence and immanence – I am not a Kabbalist. All I know is that my Father in Heaven commanded me to do something, and that it gives Him naches when I do it. I wish to give God naches with this mitzvah. We will lift our hearts, our intention to give God naches, to kapayim, by performing this mitzvah, which will evoke God’s lovingkindness in Heaven, thus drawing down abundance here on earth, as well.
*Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s teachings at the farbrengen in honor of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Tiberias, Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5779.