A teaching of the Kozhnitzer Maggid on prayer from Avodas Israel, Parshat Nitzavim.
A Jew who truly serves G!d is always moving from one level to another, as in the verse, “Thus said the L!RD of Hosts: If you walk in My paths and keep My charge…I will let you move about among those who stand” (1). Finally he will arrive at the highest level, where he will stand like a pillar, having no further to go, for he will truly be before G!d. And this is the standing of the Amidah, the “Standing Prayer.” Then he will be like the angels, as the sages say: “The Holy One of Blessing compared Israel to angels, for it is written ‘angels stood’ and in our verse it is written ‘You are standing today.’ The angels say ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ and Israel says ‘G!d of Abraham, G!d of Isaac, and G!d of Jacob'” (2).
When we say the Korbanot section of the daily prayers (3), we raise all parts of the World of Action and unite them and begin to move into the World of Formation (4). And then we join with the ten kinds of holy angels and begin to sing songs and praises, and this is the Pesukei D’Zimra prayers. And we go from level to level until we reach the royal halls of the World of Creation, and then from hall to hall, uniting the halls, and the souls and spirits (5), until we come to the hall of the Holy of Holies. And from there we come to the fourth world, the Kingdom of the Holy Presence. From there we have no further to go, so we are called “standers,” and this is the “Standing Prayer,” as in the verse, “Pinhas stood and prayed,” and in the Gemara they explain that “There is no standing except in prayer” (6). From there the supernal wisdom flows out to all parts of the cosmos, but still we are called “standers,” [since there is no need to go anywhere,] for everything is bound and united there to G!d’s presence, and this is the meaning of “One.”
When we reach this level of oneness (7), then we begin the Amidah with Baruch atah adoshem, “Blessed are you L!RD…,” and baruch is the source of everything and the supernal wisdom. Then we say “G!d of Abraham,” for he would pass through all the worlds in his service, and because of his good deeds he was chosen to be a vehicle for the sefirah of Chochmah, supernal wisdom, spreading it throughout the world; he is called the “Right Line” (8). Then “G!d of Isaac,” for Isaac beheld all the worlds, and he was chosen to be a vehicle for the sefirah of Binah, supernal understanding, which is the channel of all blessing, for he taught the world that there is Justice and a Judge; he is called the “Left Line.” Then we say “and G!d of Jacob,” for the letter Vav, which means “and,” joins Jacob [to the other patriarchs and their sefirot], since he was true in all his ways, as scripture testifies, “You made Jacob true” (9). And Jacob was chosen to be the vehicle for supernal truth, the “Middle Pillar.”
The first three blessings also parallel the three patriarchs. The first blessing, Avot, is for Abraham [for Abraham is the first patriarch and so stands for Chochmah, the first sefirah, the beginning of Creation], and according to the sages the Torah tells us that the world was created through Abraham, and that everything is contained within him (10). Then in the second blessing, Gevurot, we say “You are mighty,” paralleling Isaac, who stands for the sefirah of Gevurah/Might. In the third blessing, Kedushah, “You are holy” parallels Jacob. Now we can understand the words of the sages above: just as the angels say “Holy! Holy! Holy!” to parallel supernal wisdom, understanding, and truth, so Israel names the three patriarchs who were vehicles of these three virtues.
And this is the meaning of “you are standing before the L!RD,” that is, on the highest level, in G!d’s presence.
1) Zechariah 3:7; the context is a vision of an angel speaking to the future high priest of the rebuilt Temple; “those who stand” seem to be angels, and this is how the Kozhnitzer will read it. 2) See Shemot Rabbah 15:5, which cites Isaiah 6:2-3, our verse, and the opening phrase of the Amidah. 3) The part of the morning service in which we recite the orders of sacrifices; the Kozhnitzer will follow the break-down of the service into four main parts: Korbanot/Birchot Hashachar, Pesukei D’Zimra, Shema, and Amidah. 4) The Kozhnitzer is alluding to the mystical concept of the “Four Worlds,” which were four stages of development in the world’s creation and continue to act as levels of being that bridge the gap between the infinite G!d and the finite world. The four worlds, from “top” to “bottom,” are Atzilut, “Presence” or “Emanation,” Beriyah, “Creation,”Yetzirah, “Formation,” and Assiyah, “Action”; as G!d’s creative power flows down from world to world, it grows ever more concrete, finally resulting in the material world. 5) The Kozhnitzer actually mentions three ascending levels of soul, for which there are not enough words in English: nefesh, ruach, and neshamah. 6) Psalms 106:30; Berachot 6b 7) Having declared the oneness of G!d in the Shema 8) When the ten sefirot are organized in the shape of the Tree of Life, the most common form, then three “lines” are created. The right line includes Chochmah/Wisdom and Hesed/Lovingkindness (with which Abraham is most often associated), the left Binah/ Understanding and Gevurah/Judgment,(with which Isaac is most often associated), and the middle line includes Da’at/Knowledge, here defined as supernal truth, and Tiferet (with which Jacob is most often associated). 9) The letter vav not only means “and,” it comes from the pictograph for “hook” and is the essence of connection; the verse, from Micah 7:20, in original context seems to be talking about G!d keeping faith with Jacob, but in this context is being read as praise of the patriarch. 10) Bereishit Rabbah cites Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of heaven and earth in their making,” reading behibaram, “in their making,” as b’Abraham, “in Abraham,” that is, in Abraham’s merit. The Kozhinitzer is adding another level of interpretation, combining Abraham with Chochmah, to read “with the sefirah of Chochmah,” for Chochmah was the first thing created and held everything within it in potentia.