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Tanya for Shabbos, 4 Elul, 5774 - August 30, 2014

As Divided for a Leap Year

Tanya for 4 Elul

3 Elul, 5774 - August 29, 20145 Elul, 5774 - August 31, 2014

Epistle Eleven

[Like most of the components of Iggeret HaKodesh, this pastoral letter too was addressed to the chassidic community as a whole. Why, then, echoing the words first addressed to Daniel ("To enlighten you with understanding"), [1] does the Alter Rebbe open it in the singular?

In this letter the Alter Rebbe demands spiritual service of a caliber so seemingly formidable as to be attainable only by a chosen few. For in it he calls upon the reader not to desire physical things, even those things that are essential for his wellbeing and utilized in his service of G-d.

Even such essentials, states the Alter Rebbe, should not be desired for their physicality but for their spirituality, for the spark of G-dliness found within them. So much so, that even if a person finds that he is lacking (G-d forbid) life's essentials, he should not be pained by their absence; rather he should rejoice in his belief that this is indeed for his good, as shall soon be explained. Such a lofty response to deprivation would seem to be within the reach of only a very restricted elite.

The Alter Rebbe therefore begins this letter in the singular, indicating that every single individual can attain this level of divine service. For it requires only an absolute faith in G-d, and this lies hidden within every Jew; let him but unveil this faith, and he will be able to live by it.]

"To enlighten you with understanding" that not by this path will the light of G-d dwell within [one], [2] i.e., by desiring the [3] "life of flesh," and children, and sustenance, [The Alter Rebbe is negating a desire that emanates from a craving for pleasure, rather than a desire that results from purposeful need.] for on this our Sages, of blessed memory, said, [4] "Nullify your will [out of deference to His will]."

[This] means [not that one should set aside his own will because it does not coincide with G-d's will, but] that [from the outset] one's will should be [so] nullified that he has no desire whatever for any worldly matters that are incorporated within the three general categories of [5] "children, life, and sustenance."

[Although these are essentials, and though they affect one's divine service, they should be desired not for themselves, but only insofar as they further the accomplishment of one's spiritual tasks.

The above directive to "nullify" thus implies bittul bimetzi-ut, an utter nullification of the self. Confronted by a scholar of stature, a lesser scholar may experience self-effacement -- but he still remains a self- assertive personality. Utter nullification, by contrast, means that this sensation of self ceases to exist. In similar vein, nullifying one's own wishes before G-d connotes the absence of any wishes other than G-d's.]

[One should thus live] in the spirit of the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, that [6] "Against your will do you live." [I.e., one should view the corporeal aspects of his life as being contrary to his will, and surely so with regard to the corporeal aspects of children and sustenance.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how a Jew can achieve a total lack of yearning for the physicality of things, even things that are essential.

According to the explanation that follows, it will be seen that one can go beyond this, and even not be pained by their absence. Indeed, this equanimity in the face of deprivation proves that he derives no pleasure from these things when he does have them.

For it is possible for a person not to derive (conscious) pleasure from something [7] and still delight in it subconsciously; the proof of this is that he grieves mightily at its loss, and pain is the exact counterpart of pleasure.]

The clarification of this matter, [how one can achieve a state of not desiring the physicality of even those things most crucial to his existence, is as follows]:

This [can be achieved] only [when there is] an absolute belief in the Yotzer Bereishit.

[Literally, as in the opening words of the Aleinu prayer, [8] this phrase refers to G-d as "the One Who formed the first beginnings of Creation." In the Kabbalistic lexicon, however, reishit also connotes the Sefirah called Chochmah (lit., "wisdom"). The Alter Rebbe hence uses this phrase here to allude to G-d as "the One Who created [everything] by means of reishit," i.e., by means of the Sefirah of Chochmah.]

This means that the creation of yesh ["that which exists"] out of the state of ayin [lit., "nothingness"] which is called reishit Chochmah,

Loosely, the phrase yesh me-ayin means "something from nothing," i.e., creation ex nihilo. Here, however, the meaning of ayin is not "non-being" or "non-existence", for we cannot say that the source of creation is "non-being" when [9] "Everything is from You": all of creation comes from G-dliness, the only entity that has true existence.

Rather, ayin here means "incomprehensible", for that which a created being understands he terms "existing" while that which totally transcends his understanding he denotes as "non-existing", inasmuch as it does not exist within the world of his understanding.

Yesh me-ayin thus describes the creation of something that comes into existence from the ayin of Chochmah. Chochmah in turn is known as reishit (lit., "first"), as in the verse, [10] "Reishit chochmah...." The level of emanation called Chochmah is deemed to be "first" because it is the first of the Sefirot and as such serves as a source of creation, unlike the levels of Divinity preceding it which are too high, so to speak, to emanate down to the level of creation.]

i.e., the Divine [Sefirah of] Chochmah which is not apprehensible to any created being, [and which is the level of Divinity described above as Yotzer Bereishit, that refers to G-d as "the One Who created (everything) by means of reishit," i.e., by means of the Sefirah of Chochmah,] - this creation occurs at every time [11] and moment at which all created beings come into being ex nihilo [yesh me-ayin] through G-d's wisdom which animates everything. [12]

[G-d not only vitalizes all beings but also creates them, and since creation takes place ex nihilo it must occur constantly.

For it is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidut that the relationship between Creator and created differs from the ilah ve-alul ("cause and effect") relationship of, for example, intellect and emotions. Once emotions are brought about by the intellect, they can then continue to exist independently, because in truth the intellect merely serves to reveal pre-existing emotions; it does not actually create them.

Creation ex nihilo however, involves creating a being that previously did not exist at all. The ayin that creates must therefore continuously vest itself within the created being, so as to constantly effect the phenomenon of creation. (This is explained in Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah, [13] a priori from the splitting of the Red Sea.)

This is also the meaning of the statement, [14] "He Who in His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of creation...." G-d constantly creates the universe anew from the ayin of Chochmah.]

Now when a man will contemplate in the depths of his understanding and will [moreover] picture in his mind how he comes into being ex nihilo at every single moment, [so that he is affected at every moment of his existence by G-dŐs wisdom,] how can he entertain the thought that he is suffering, or has any afflictions related to "children, life, [i.e., health,] and sustenance," or whatever other worldly sufferings?

For the ayin which is G-d's Chochmah is the source of life, goodness and delight. It is the Eden that transcends the World to Come, [The World to Come - the Garden of Eden - is the most sublime form of bliss experienced by the soul in apprehending G-dliness. This level, lofty as it may be, is however but a garden, a stage once removed from the spiritual delights which flow to it from the source which is called Eden. It is this level of Divinity that constantly creates and vitalizes all living beings.] except that, because it is not apprehensible, one imagines that he is suffering, or afflicted.

In truth, however, [15] "No evil descends from above," and everything is good, though it is not apprehended [as such] because of its immense and abundant goodness, [at a level which is inconceivable to man.]

The life-force of all things, even those that we perceive as evil, as found within its source is truly good. In fact, it is such a lofty manner of good that it remains faithful to its source, and as such is not apprehensible to man as good. In this it differs from the other form of good that is able to descend to so low a level that even mortals can perceive its goodness.

This higher form of goodness, because it retains its status at the outset of its revelation, is clothed in this world in a garb of pain and evil, inasmuch as its goodness has yet to be revealed to man.

This may be more fully understood in light of the Alter Rebbe's explanation [16] of the verse, [17] "Happy is the man whom You, G-d, chasten." (In the original of this verse in the Holy Tongue, the Divine Name is spelled with yud and hei, which are also the first two letters of the Four-Letter Divine Name.) The Alter Rebbe explains there that suffering stems from the revelation of these first two letters "in the hidden world" (i.e., on a plane which is hidden from our understanding), before the revelation of the latter two letters (vav and hei) descends into the "revealed world." Thus, suffering as found within its source is truly good.

In this spirit, the Alter Rebbe explains [18] the conduct of Nachum Ish Gamzu, whose response to all occurrences was the remark, [19] Gam zu letovah "This, too, is for the good." This remark not only meant that an event that seemed to be evil would eventually evolve into good, but that the event itself, by virtue of its source, was good in its present form as well; its inherent goodness would be revealed at some later date.]

And this is the essence [20] of the faith for which man was created: [21] to believe that [22] "There is no place void of Him" - [i.e., G-d is everywhere] and [23] "In the light of the King's countenance there is life."

[When one encounters the King face to face, he is granted life. If in this temporal world a man sentenced to death should encounter his king, his sentence may be commuted and he is granted life, for "In the light of the king's countenance there is life." The same is true Above: the omnipresence of G-d, the King of the world, provides everything with life.]

Accordingly, [24] "Strength and gladness are in His place," [The fact that G-d is found everywhere should encourage a man by strengthening his trust, and thereby fill him with joy, for whatever predicament he finds himself in, G-d is there too. And wherever G-d is present, there is "strength and gladness." ] because He is but good all the time.

Therefore, first of all, [25] man ought to be happy and joyous at every time [26] and hour, and truly live by his faith [27] in G-d, Who animates him and acts kindly towards him at every moment. [28]

But he who is grieved and laments demonstrates [29] that he is undergoing some hardship and suffering, and lacks some goodness; he is [heaven forfend] like a heretic, who denies G-d's omnipresence.

[For if he would truly believe, he would realize (as above) that "In the light of the King's countenance there is life," and "Strength and joy are in His place," so that he indeed lacks nothing.]

This is why the Sages of Truth, the Kabbalists, strongly rejected the trait of sadness, [for it contradicts a Jew's true faith that "There is no place devoid of Him."]

The truly faithful, however, is not perturbed [30] by any suffering whatever, and with respect to all mundane matters, "yes" and "no" are all the same to him, in true equality.

But he to whom they are not the same, demonstrates [31] that he is one of the eirev rav, who act but for themselves; [32] he loves himself to the extent that [33] he removes himself from under the hand [i.e., the authority] of G-d, and lives the life of the gentiles, -- [all] because of his self-love.

This is why he desires the "life of the flesh," [34] and "children and sustenance," for that is his good.

[Indeed,] it would have been better for him had he not been created. For the main purpose of man's creation in this world is to test him by these trials and physical tribulations, to ascertain what is in his heart: [35] whether his heart will turn towards other gods, namely the passions of the body which evolve from the sitra achra, and desire these, [Since the kelipot and sitra achra, the forces of evil and un-holiness, are termed "other gods," the passions that they generate are likewise termed "other gods."] or whether his desire and wish is to live the true life which evolves from the living G-d. [36]

One must believe that he really lives it, i.e., the true life, and that all his needs, and everything related to himself, truly evolve in all their details not from the sitra achra, for [37] "By G-d are the steps of man made firm," [38] and [39] "While there is [yet] no word [on my tongue, You, G-d, know it all]." [Thus, G-d is aware of all man's thoughts, words and deeds, even before man thinks, speaks or does them.] Accordingly, everything is absolutely good, except that it is not apprehended as such by man.

When one believes this truly, everything becomes good even on a revealed level. For by such a faith, in which one believes that what manifestly seems to be evil in fact receives its entire vitality from the Supreme Good, i.e., from G-d's Chochmah which is not apprehensible, and which is the Eden that transcends the World to Come [40] - by this faith the imagined evil is truly absorbed and sublimated in the concealed Supreme Good, so that the good becomes palpably revealed to the physical eye.



  1. (Back to text) Daniel 9:22.

  2. (Back to text) Cf. Iyov 38:19.

  3. (Back to text) Cf. Mishlei 14:30.

  4. (Back to text) Avot 2:4.

  5. (Back to text) Cf. Moed Katan 28a.

  6. (Back to text) Avot 4:22.

  7. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita:In the words of the adage, "A constant delight is no delight."

  8. (Back to text) Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 84.

  9. (Back to text) I Divrei HaYamim 29:14.

  10. (Back to text) Tehillim 111:10; Mishlei 4:7.

  11. (Back to text) See footnote 25, below.

  12. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita:As above in Shaar HaYichud Veha Emunah, ch.2.

  13. (Back to text) Loc. cit.

  14. (Back to text) Morning prayers; Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 44.

  15. (Back to text) Cf. Bereishit Rabbah 51:3.

  16. (Back to text) In ch. 26 of Part I, above.

  17. (Back to text) Tehillim 94:12.

  18. (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 62a.

  19. (Back to text) Taanit 21a.

  20. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita:Cf. Raaya Mehemna, Zohar II, 25a; the beginning of the [Mishneh Torah of the] Rambam; and above, p. 83b [i.e., Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 7].

  21. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita :From this phrase one may understand that from here on the Alter Rebbe adds a vital emphasis regarding the conclusion drawn from the above contemplation: (a) it should affect one at every moment and hour, and (b) one should truly live with it.

  22. (Back to text) Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 57.

  23. (Back to text) Mishlei 16:15.

  24. (Back to text) I Divrei HaYamim 16:27.

  25. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: For, as explained above, we are speaking of the Yotzer Bereishit ["the One Who formed the first beginnings of Creation"].

  26. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: This may be seen as a hint that [one should maintain this happy frame of mind at all times, despite the vagaries of life's] 28 different and opposite "times" (as listed in Kohelet 3:2 ff.). The same hint may also be perceived at the beginning of the present Epistle ("at every time and moment").

  27. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: Since it is for the sake of [his faith] that he was created - and he is alive at all times and hours.

  28. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: This is another reason why [the above- described train of thinking] should be maintained at all times and hours.

  29. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: [The second word in the Hebrew phrase Mar-eh Be-atzmo (here translated "demonstrates"; lit., "shows concerning himself")] is seemingly superfluous and also unexpected. Perhaps it suggests that [such a response to hardship] runs contrary to the very essence - Etzem - of one's creation and existence (for [a faith in G-d's ever-present goodness is] the purpose, as stated above, for which he was created).

  30. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: This echoes Yeshayahu 28:16; see the Targum there [which translates Lo Yachish as Lo Yizda-az-un - "...will not be agitated"]. In our text, too, the verb should perhaps be spelled thus [with a yud replacing the vav]. See also the Targum of Kohelet 2:25 [which translates Umi Yachush as De-is lei Chash-asha - "...who is apprehensive"].

  31. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: As above, footnote 29.

  32. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 6, end of p. 22a; cf. Iggeret HaKodesh, beginning of sec. 22; see also Part I [of Tanya], conclusion of ch. 1 (with regard to gentiles).

  33. (Back to text) The explanatory phrase "to the extent that" was inserted by the Rebbe Shlita.

  34. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: This [reason] was not stressed above for it is self-understood, and is the simple meaning of the expression as often quoted by our Sages. This, however, is not the case here: after the Alter Rebbe has focussed on life in the light of the King's countenance, it is obvious that this is what should have been desired.

  35. (Back to text) Cf. Devarim 8:2.

  36. (Back to text) In the text here follow the words, Af She-aino Yachol - "though he is unable." A gloss, inserted at this point by the original publishers of this Hebrew edition, notes the anomalous nature of this phrase and comments that it does not appear in some manuscripts. An alternative version reads, "...or whether his desire and wish - though he is unable [to actually do so] - is to live the true life." According to this version the phrase is parenthetical.

  37. (Back to text) Tehillim 37:23.

  38. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: The choice of this particular verse here might appear problematic, when numerous verses about Divine Providence appear in Scripture before this one. [Its relevance to our context] becomes clear, however, in light of a comment of our Sages specifically on this verse (Chullin, end of p. 7b): ["A man does not (even have something trivial happen to him, such as)] bruise [his finger, without its having been decreed from Above"]. Here too, then, we observe the extreme precision of the Alter Rebbe's writing, even with regard to words that might seem to be mere stylistic embellishments."

  39. (Back to text) Tehillim 139:4.

  40. (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita:Cf. the teaching of our Sages in Berachot 34b.

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