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Tanya for Thursday, 25 Tishrei, 5777 - October 27, 2016

As Divided for a Leap Year

Tanya for 25 Tishrei

24 Tishrei, 5777 - October 26, 201626 Tishrei, 5777 - October 28, 2016

Epistle Twenty-Five

[This letter comments on a discourse (in Tzavaat HaRivash, sec. 120 in the Kehot editions) in which the Baal Shem Tov explains that though all things emanate from G-d through His attributes of love and awe, these attributes can find themselves in a state of exile.

The Baal Shem Tov goes on to say that in the same way, a worshiper who finds that his endeavors to concentrate are being disturbed by someone speaking should consider: "Why did G-d bring me here, where this talker is disturbing my prayers? After all, everything is Providential."

Indeed it is, explains the Baal Shem Tov: this man's talk is a spark of the radiance of the Shechinah that has descended and now "abides" in his mouth, in order that the worshiper should exert himself so strenuously that he will be able to ignore the disturbance.

(The verb used in the above-quoted version of the teaching is "abides" - as the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, the proper term is "vested.")

Especially so, the text there goes on to say, if the person speaking is a heathen or a child, then the realization that the Shechinah has (as it were) contracted itself to such a degree should surely bring the worshiper to ever-increasing fervor.

It would seem that the opponents of Chassidism seized upon this statement of the Baal Shem Tov: they could not understand how one could possibly say that the Shechinah "abided" (or even was "vested") within a heathen.

The Alter Rebbe explains this in the present letter, beginning with the teaching of the Sages that "Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater."

A Jew, he explains, must know that everything comes from G-d.

When someone strikes him or angers him with words, he should remind himself that at that very moment, a glimmer of the Divine Presence - which provides life to all creatures and to this individual as well - has vested itself within that person.

The Alter Rebbe goes on to prove this from King David's response when Shimi ben Geira cursed him. King David said: "For G-d told him, `Curse!'"

Although we do not find it explicitly stated that G-d told Shimi to curse David, still, since G-d's spirit animated Shimi at the moment that he cursed David, thus providing him with the strength to do so, David considered this as if "G-d told him to curse."

Indeed, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain, a glimmer or irradiation of the Shechinah vests itself even in kelipot.

Throughout this discussion the Alter Rebbe does not actually quote the Baal Shem Tov's teaching nor the above objection to it.

The reason for the latter omission may perhaps be understood in light of the fact that the Alter Rebbe was prepared for mesirut nefesh, literally risking his life, not to be sundered from any teaching or even the slightest gesture of the Baal Shem Tov, even if it would only appear to be so in the eyes of the beholder. [1]

It is thus reasonable to assume that here as well, the Alter Rebbe chose not to even mention an objection raised against a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov; he merely clarifies the concepts involved, and the objection falls away as a matter of course.]

"To comprehend the words of understanding," [i.e., the words of Torah, [2] stated in the book called Tzavaat Rivash [3] ("The Testament of the Baal Shem Tov)," though in fact it is not at all [4] his will or testament, and he did not ordain anything before his passing; they [i.e., the teachings in this book] are merely gleanings of his pure sayings.

[The adjective ("pure") recalls the phrase in the morning blessings, "Tehora he" that describes the pristine purity of a soul before it descends from the World of Atzilut; likewise the verse, [5] K'etzem Hashamyim L'Tohar ("as pure as the very heavens").

These teachings/words] that were gathered as [6] "compilations after compilations," and [the compilers] did not know how to phrase his teachings exactly. [For the Baal Shem Tov used to speak in Yiddish, and the teachings in Tzavaat HaRivash are recorded in Hebrew].

The connotation, however, of the teachings is absolutely true. [The Alter Rebbe now begins to explain the statement in Tzavaat HaRivash, sec. 120].

And this [will be understood] by first considering the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory: [7] "Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater."

The reason [for this] is clear to those who [8] "know understanding," because at the time of his anger, faith [in G-d and in His individual Divine Providence] has left him.

For were he to believe that what happened to him was G-d's doing, he would not be angry at all.

True, it is a person possessed of free choice that is cursing him, or striking him, or causing damage to his property, and [therefore] guilty according to the laws of man and the laws of heaven for his evil choice.

[The perpetrator for his part cannot plead innocence on the grounds that he is merely an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence].

Nevertheless, as regards the person harmed, this [incident] was already decreed in heaven, and [9] "G-d has many agents" [through whom He can act.

Hence, even if the offending party had chosen otherwise, the incident would have befallen the victim in any case.

This discussion recalls the teaching of the Mechilta cited by Rashi on the verse, [10] - "and G-d caused it to happen to him."

For to such a case the Mechilta applies the verse, [11] "From evildoers there emerges evil."

This means that though it was decreed from above that someone should sustain an injury, G-d brings it about that a particular person should inflict it.

That context, however, speaks of an unwitting injury.

In the case of a potentially willful offender, if instead of choosing freely to act in an evil manner he chose to do otherwise, the event would still have occurred, for "G-d has many agents," as quoted above.

At any rate, it is thus clear that the victim has no cause to be angry with the offender, for the true cause of the offense was not him, but a heavenly decree.

The Alter Rebbe now takes this one step further:

Not only does the heavenly decree give the offender an undefined potential to do harm, but moreover, the particular thought to do it and the power to do it, all come about from G-d.

(At the same time, since man has freedom of choice, he can of course choose to reject such a thought and refrain from doing such a deed.)

Anger thus remains unjustifiable.

For the offended party is not angry that the other party made an evil choice; what angers him is the damage done to him. His anger thus results from his lack of belief that the true cause for his mishap is not a particular individual's evil choice, but a heavenly decree].

And not only this, [that a heavenly decree gave permission in principle and made it possible that he suffer injury], but even at that very moment at which [the offender] strikes or curses him, there is vested in him [in the offender] a force from G-d and the breath of His mouth, which animates and sustains him; as it is written: [12] "For G-d told him, `Curse!'"

Now where did He say so to Shimi? [Where do we find it written that G-d told him to curse David?]

But this thought that occurred in Shimi's heart and mind [to curse David], descended from G-d, [Who was thus responsible for such a thought entering Shimi's mind]; and [13] "the breath of His mouth, [which animates] all the hosts [of heaven]," animated the spirit of Shimi at the time he spoke those words to David.

For if the breath of G-d's mouth had departed from the spirit of Shimi for a single moment, he could not have spoken at all.



  1. (Back to text) HaTamim, Issue II, p. 56.

  2. (Back to text) "Words of understanding" (Mishlei 1:2) has the same meaning as Binah in Shabbat 104a, which Rashi explains to mean "Torah".

  3. (Back to text) The abbreviation is an acronym of the Heb. for "Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem."

  4. (Back to text) In the standard editions of Tanya the word klal ("at all") does not appear. It has been added in accordance with an emendation of the Tzemach Tzedek, quoted in Luach HaTikkun at the end of the Hebrew editions of Tanya.

  5. (Back to text) Shmot 24:6.

  6. (Back to text) Taanit 6b.

  7. (Back to text) Zohar I, 27b; III, 179a; Rambam, Hilchot De'ot 2:3 in the name of the "earliest sages" (Chachamim Rishonim); et al.

  8. (Back to text) For an exposition of why the Alter Rebbe specifically uses the phrase "those who `know understanding,'" see Likkutei Levi Yitzchak on this passage.

  9. (Back to text) Zohar III, 36b; cf. Taanit 18b.

  10. (Back to text) Shmot 21:13.

  11. (Back to text) I Shmuel 24:14.

  12. (Back to text) II Shmuel 16:10.

  13. (Back to text) Tehillim 33:6.

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