In the previous Epistle, written to console the chassidic brotherhood after the passing of the saintly R. Mendele Vitebsker, the Alter Rebbe quotes from the Zohar to the effect that a tzaddik is even more accessible in this world after his passing than while he was still alive. Moreover, after his passing his chassidim continue to receive from him both spiritual benefactions which enhance their Torah study and divine service, and protection in material matters.
Following that Epistle the original editors placed the present discourse, which the Alter Rebbe wrote by way of consolation to his illustrious colleague, relative-by-marriage, and dear friend, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, following the tragic passing of his son. Here the Alter Rebbe explains how the passing of a tzaddik “effects salvations in the midst of the earth,” atoning even for intentional sins.
מה שכתב למחותנו, הרב הגאון המפורסם, איש אלקים קדוש ה׳, נר ישראל, עמוד הימני, פטיש החזק
This letter was written [by the Alter Rebbe] to his relative-by-marriage — the famous rabbi and Gaon, the G‑dly man, the holy man of G‑d, Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer —
מורנו הרב לוי יצחק, נשמתו עדן, אב בית דין דקהלה קדושה בארדיטשוב
our master, R. Levi Yitzchak (may his soul rest in Eden), head of the Rabbinical Court of the holy community of Berditchev,
לנחמו על פטירת בנו, הרב החסיד מורנו ורבנו הרב מאיר, נשמתו עדן
to console him on the passing of his son, the pious rabbi, R. Meir (may his soul rest in Eden).
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למה נסמכה פרשת מרים לפרשת פרה
“Why was the passage concerning the passing of Miriam adjoined to the passage concerning the Red Heifer?
לומר לך: מה פרה מכפרת וכו׳
— To teach you that just as the Heifer effects atonement, [so, too, does the passing of the righteous].”
Commenting on this quotation from the Gemara, Tosafot explains that the Red Heifer atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, and in the same way the passing of the righteous effects atonement.
וצריך להבין למה נסמכה דוקא לפרה אדומה
Now it needs to be understood why [the passage concerning the passing of Miriam] was adjoined specifically to [the passage concerning] the Red Heifer
הנעשה חוץ לשלש מחנות, אלא דחטאת קרייה רחמנא
(which was prepared outside the three camps, and as such was not a sacrifice proper, except that the Torah calls it a sin-offering),
ולא נסמכה לפרשת חטאת, הנעשה בפנים על גבי המזבח, כפרה ממש
and it was not adjoined to the passage concerning the sin-offering that was prepared within, on the altar, [and as such effects] actual atonement.
Alternatively, the Hebrew text could be understood to mean “on the actual altar of atonement,” or (preferably) that the sin-offering was “actual atonement,” unlike the Red Heifer which was primarily a rite of purification.
To revert to the question concerning the juxtaposition of the two passages, the Alter Rebbe explains that an offering connoted an “arousal from below,” from the soul of the animal that derives from kelipat nogah. This, in turn, elicited a reciprocal “arousal from Above,” drawing down a finite order of Divine light that can permeate the finite world and be integrated and ingested within it. (This characteristic explains why offerings are referred to as the “food of the altar.”) Being finite, this contracted order of Divine light was only able to effect atonement of unwitting sins, those that derive from undue domination by the animal soul which derives from kelipat nogah.
The Red Heifer, by contrast, produces the “sanctifying purification waters” (Kiddush mei chatat); i.e., it draws down an illumination from the most supremely sanctified levels of Divinity (Kodesh HaElyon) that utterly transcend this world. This intense illumination can transform the darkness of Tohu into the light of Tikkun, and secure purification for even the harshest degree of impurity (Avi Avot HaTumah), which is far lower than kelipat nogah.
In the same way, the passing of a tzaddik draws down a Divine illumination that transcends the world, deriving as it does from that element within the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which is called the Tikkun of Notzer. The name of this Tikkun, which comprises the same letters as Ratzon, brings about an et ratzon, “an auspicious time,” and secures atonement for the sins of the generation, even those that are committed willfully and that derive from the three completely impure kelipot.
In this regard, the passing of a tzaddik is thus more akin to the Red Heifer than to a sin-offering.
אמנם נודע מזהר הקדוש והאריז״ל, סוד הקרבנות שעל גבי המזבח
Now, the mystical principle of the sacrifices offered on the altar is known from the sacred Zohar and from R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory:
הן בחינת העלאת מיין נוקבין, מנפש הבהמית שבנוגה
They are an instance of the elevation of mayin nukvin (lit., “feminine waters”; i.e., a mortally-initiated spiritual arousal) deriving from the animal soul, [which receives its life-force from] kelipat nogah,
אל שרשן ומקורן
[this elevation ascending] to their root and source,
הן בחינת ד׳ חיות שבמרכבה, הנושאות את הכסא
i.e., the forms of the four Animals of the Celestial Chariot which bear the Throne, as described in Ezekiel, ch. 1:
פני שור ופני נשר וכו׳
the Face of the Ox, and the Face of the Eagle, and so on.
The former level of Divinity is the source of the souls of all animals, the latter is the source of the souls of all birds, these being the two categories of creatures from which offerings are brought. (The other two categories, the Face of the Lion and the Face of Man, are alluded to in the closing phrase, “and so on.”)
Offerings thus constitute an elevation and an “arousal from below” from a willing recipient toward the level of Divinity (here called the four Animals of the Chariot) which is the Source of all things within the finite world and which hence has a connection with it.
ועל ידי זה, נמשכים ויורדים מיין דוכרין מבחינת אדם שעל הכסא, הנקרא מלכא וזעיר אנפין
As a result, reciprocating this arousal, the mayin duchrin (the “male waters” from the benefactor Above) are elicited and descend from the level of Divinity called (in Ezekiel) “the Man upon the Throne,” Who is [also] referred to as Malka (“King”) and Z’eir Anpin (i.e., the bracket of six “masculine” attributes preceding the recipient or “feminine” Sefirah of Malchut).
The resultant illumination flows down to the world and becomes vested and integrated within it. Hence, as mentioned above, offerings are termed “food for the altar,” for they draw down a level of Divine light which can be spiritually ingested.
אכן בשריפת הפרה אדומה, הנה על ידי השלכת עץ ארז ואזוב וכו׳
As for the burning of the Red Heifer, however, it is on account of the throwing in of the cedar wood and the hyssop, and so on, the function of both of which is hamshachah, i.e., drawing down sanctity from Above,
ונתינת מים חיים אל האפר
and [moreover] the placing of running water into the ashes,
נקרא בשם קידוש מי חטאת במשנה
that in the Mishnah [this process] is called the “sanctification (Kiddush) of the purifying waters.”
והיא בחינת קדש העליון, הנקרא בשם טלא דבדולחא
This relates — not only etymologically — to Kodesh HaElyon (“the supreme sanctity”), referred to as Tala DiBedulcha (lit., “the Dew of Bdellium”; cf. the Torah’s descriptions of the manna).
Unlike the heavenly benefactions that are termed “rain”, for rain results from an “arousal from below” (as it is written, “And a vapor rose from the ground and watered...”), the above-described “dew” is a spontaneous “arousal from Above” that transcends dependence on any antecedent “arousal from below.”
כמו שכתוב בזהר הקדוש, שהיא בחינת חכמה עילאה ומוחא סתימאה דאריך אנפין
As stated in the sacred Zohar, this [Tala DiBedulcha] is an expression of the Supreme Chochmah and the Mocha Setimaah of Arich Anpin; i.e., it is the level of Chochmah within Keter which entirely transcends the world.
ועלה איתמר בדוכתי טובא בזהר הקדוש: בחכמה איתברירו
Of this [level of Chochmah and Mocha Setimaah] it is said in many places in the sacred Zohar that “through Chochmah they are refined” and rectified;
ואתהפכא חשוכא לנהורא, דהיינו: עולם התיקון
and then, when by means of the “sanctification of the purifying waters” Divine light is drawn down from this level, darkness is converted to light, that is, [to] the World of Tikkun,
שנתברר ונתתקן על ידי מוחא סתימאה דאריך אנפין
which becomes refined and rectified by means of the Mocha Setimaah of Arich Anpin;
מעולם התהו ושבירת הכלים שנפלו בבריאה, יצירה ועשיה וכו׳
[i.e., the World of Tikkun is refined and rectified] from the World of Tohu and the Breaking of the Vessels [whose sparks] fell into [the Worlds of] Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, and so on,
as is known.
The spiritual task of the Jew is to extract, refine and elevate these sparks.
ולזאת מטהרת טומאת המת
This is why [the Red Heifer] purifies one from defilement [contracted by contact] with a corpse,
אף שהוא אבי אבות וכו׳, ולמטה מטה מנוגה
even though this [corpse] is the ultimate degree [of impurity], and far, far lower than Nogah.
For the “sanctification of the purifying waters” is drawn down from the supreme Chochmah and the Mocha Setimaah of Arich Anpin, an illumination that transcends the world so utterly that it is able to transform the world’s darkness into light.
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