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Sunday, 25 Tishrei 5778 / October 15, 2017
Chabad Chassidus is an all-embracing world outlook and way of life which sees the Jew's central purpose as a unifying link between the Creator and His world. Written by the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, Tanya is the central text of Chabad Chassidus. It shows the reader a path to realizing their purpose and developing a deeper relationship with G-d. Choose from one of the two formats available: through Lessons in Tanya - a profound and clear explanation of the Alter Rebbe's writings, or through an audio class.

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Daily Tanya

Iggeret HaKodesh, beginning of Epistle 25

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Iggeret HaKodesh, beginning of Epistle 25

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” — שרתה; as the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, the proper term is “vested” — נתלבשה.)

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.

להבין אמרי בינה

“To comprehend the words of understanding,” i.e., the words of Torah,2

מה שכתוב בספר הנקרא צוואת ריב״ש

stated in the book called Tzavaat Rivash3 (“The Testament of the Baal Shem Tov),”

הגם שבאמת אינה צוואתו כלל, ולא ציוה כלל לפני פטירתו

though in fact it is not at all4 his will or testament, and he did not ordain anything before his passing;

רק הם לקוטי אמרותיו הטהורות

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, טהורה היא, that describes the pristine purity of a soul before it descends from the World of Atzilut; likewise the verse,5 כעצם השמים לטוהר (“as pure as the very heavens”).

שלקטו לקוטי בתר לקוטי

that were gathered as6 “compilations after compilations,”

ולא ידעו לכוין הלשון על מתכונתו

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.

אך המכוון הוא אמת לאמיתו

The connotation, however, of the teachings is absolutely true.

The Alter Rebbe now begins to explain the statement in Tzavaat HaRivash, sec. 120.

והוא בהקדים מאמר רז״ל: כל הכועס, כאילו עובד עבודת כוכבים ומזלות

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.”

והטעם מובן ליודעי בינה

The reason [for this] is clear to those who8 “know un-derstanding,”

לפי שבעת כעסו, נסתלקה ממנו האמונה

because at the time of his anger, faith in G‑d and in His individual Divine Providence has left him.

כי אילו היה מאמין שמאת ה׳ היתה זאת לו, לא היה בכעס כלל

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

ואף שבן אדם, שהוא בעל בחירה, מקללו או מכהו או מזיק ממונו

True, it is a person possessed of free choice that is cursing him, or striking him, or causing damage to his property,

ומתחייב בדיני אדם ובדיני שמים על רוע בחירתו

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.

אף על פי כן, על הניזק כבר נגזר מן השמים

Nevertheless, as regards the person harmed, this [incident] was already decreed in heaven,

והרבה שלוחים למקום

and9 “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 והאלקים אנה לידו — “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.

ולא עוד

And not only this, that a heavenly decree gave permission in principle and made it possible that he suffer injury,

אלא אפילו בשעה זו ממש, שמכהו או מקללו

but even at that very moment at which [the offender] strikes or curses him,

מתלבש בו כח ה׳ ורוח פיו יתברך, המחייהו ומקיימו

there is vested in him (in the offender) a force from G‑d and the breath of His mouth, which animates and sustains him;

וכמו שכתוב: כי ה׳ אמר לו, קלל

as it is written:12 “For G‑d told him, ‘Curse!’”

והיכן אמר לשמעי

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

אלא שמחשבה זו, שנפלה לשמעי בלבו ומוחו, ירדה מאת ה׳

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;

ורוח פיו, המחיה כל צבאם

and13 “the breath of His mouth, [which animates] all the hosts [of heaven],”

החיה רוחו של שמעי, בשעה שדיבר דברים אלו לדוד

animated the spirit of Shimi at the time he spoke those words to David.

כי אילו נסתלק רוח פיו יתברך רגע אחד מרוחו של שמעי, לא יכול לדבר מאומה

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.

* * *

וזהו כי ה׳ אמר לו בעת ההיא ממש: קלל את דוד

(14And that is the meaning of the statement, “For G‑d told him (at that very moment when Shimi was speaking these words), ‘Curse David!’

I.e., G‑d did so by providing Shimi at that time with life and the power of speech.

ומי יאמר לו וגו׳

And who shall say to him, [‘Why did you do so?’]”

In the Table of Glosses and Emendations (Luach He’arot VeTikkunim) which is appended to standard editions of the Tanya, the Rebbe notes that the words “to him” (לו) seem to be unnecessary, inasmuch as the above-quoted verse simply states, without this addition, “And who shall say, ‘Why did you do so?’”

It has been suggested that the Rebbe notes that these words merely “seem” superfluous, rather than stating outright that they are, because at this point the Alter Rebbe is actually referring to another verse:15 “For the word of a king rules, and who shall say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’”

However, rather than adopt this labored assumption, that the Alter Rebbe suddenly changes direction and interpolates one word from another verse, it appears more reasonable to say that the words “to Him” are not intended as a quotation. Rather, since some commentators hold that the conclusion of our verse (“And who shall say to him...”) refers to Shimi, the Alter Rebbe here makes it clear that it in fact speaks of G‑d. I.e., having first related that G‑d “told” Shimi what to do, the verse ends by asking, “Who can possibly say to Him, ‘Why did You do so?’”

Footnotes
1.
HaTamim, Issue II, p. 56.
2.
“Words of understanding” (Mishlei 1:2) has the same meaning as בינה in Shabbat 104a, which Rashi explains to mean “Torah”.
3.
The abbreviation is an acronym of the Heb. for “Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem.”
4.
In the standard editions of Tanya the word כלל (“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.
Shmot 24:6.
6.
Taanit 6b.
7.
Zohar I, 27b; III, 179a; Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 2:3 in the name of the “earliest sages” (חכמים הראשונים); et al.
8.
For an exposition of why the Alter Rebbe specifically uses the phrase “those who ‘know understanding,’” see Likkutei Levi Yitzchak on this passage.
9.
Zohar III, 36b; cf. Taanit 18b.
10.
Shmot 21:13.
11.
I Shmuel 24:14.
12.
II Shmuel 16:10.
13.
Tehillim 33:6.
14.
Parentheses are in the original.
15.
Kohelet 8:4.


Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.
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