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Daily Tanya

Iggeret HaKodesh, end of Epistle 21

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Iggeret HaKodesh, end of Epistle 21

The reason given until this point for dividing one’s annual pledges into weekly or at least monthly payments, was the quality of alacrity in performing a mitzvah. The Alter Rebbe now adds two further reasons for not deferring frequent payments to one consolidated contribution at the end of the year: (a) every single act of tzedakah refines the soul of the donor; (b) every single act of tzedakah brings about a Supernal Union in the Sefirot and Partzufim.1

אך גם זאת מצאנו ראינו בעבודת הצדקה מעלה פרטית גדולה ונפלאה, אין ערוך אליה

Indeed, in the service of charity we have also found and noted a particularly great and incomparably wondrous virtue,

As explained above, in Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle XII, the “act of charity” (maaseh hatzedakah) remains steadily within the conventional limits set by one’s natural inclination. In the case of the “service of charity” (avodat hatzedakah), by contrast, the individual serves G‑d by toiling, refining himself and excelling himself, until he is able to be charitable in a manner that leaps above and beyond his custom and nature.

The Alter Rebbe now teaches that even if the amount one gives is not out of the ordinary, nevertheless, if it is given with great frequency, this too qualifies as divine service, —

להיות מעשה הצדקה נעשית בפעמים רבות

when the act of charity is performed numerous times,

The Alter Rebbe is referring here not to one’s annual pledge but to the actual giving of the numerous increments which add up to its total amount, —

וכל המרבה הרי זה משובח

and whoever does so frequently is praiseworthy,

ולא בפעם אחת ובבת אחת, גם כי הסך הכולל אחד הוא

rather than at one time and all at once, even when the total sum is the same. Even then, it is far preferable to give the same amount over a longer period on numerous occasions,׳—

כמו שכתב הרמב״ם ז״ל, בפירוש המשנה ששנו חכמים ז״ל: והכל לפי רוב המעשה

as R. Moses Maimonides, of blessed memory, wrote in his commentary on the [following] mishnah2 taught by the Sages,3 of blessed memory: “And everything is [judged] according to the multiplicity of action,” as opposed to the stature of the deed.

On this mishnah the Rambam explains that though a one-time donation of (say) a thousand4 gulden is truly praiseworthy, the trait of benevolence does not thereby become embedded within the donor’s psyche to the same extent as it would if he would give these same thousand coins one at a time.

והנה, מלבד כי הרמב״ם ז״ל ביאר היטב טעמו ונימוקו: כדי לזכך הנפש על ידי רבוי המעשה

Now, apart from the underlying reason [for this] that R. Moses Maimonides, of blessed memory, clearly explained, viz., “in order to refine the soul by means of the multiplicity of action,”

הנה מקרא מלא דיבר הכתוב: פעולת צדקה לחיים

an explicit verse in Scripture states that “the effect of tzedakah is for life.”

In his Notes and Emendations at the conclusion of [the Hebrew edition of] Tanya, the Rebbe refers the reader to the following two verses: In Mishlei 10:16 we find, פעולת צדיק לחיים — “The effect of a tzaddik is for life,” and in Mishlei 11:11 we find, כן צדקה לחיים — “So is tzedakah for life.” Accordingly, the Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe’s citation of the three words פעולת צדקה לחיים (“the effect of tzedakah is for life”) as part of “an explicit verse” is problematic.

Seemingly, this difficulty could be resolved by interpreting thus: Since “the effect of a tzaddik” is tzedakah (in the spirit of the verse,5 “G‑d is a ‘tzaddik’: He loves acts of tzedakah”), the verse which states that “the effect of a tzaddik is for life” in fact seeks to imply that “the effect of a tzaddik — viz., tzedakah — is for life.”

From the comment of the Rebbe, however, it is apparent that this interpretation is unsatisfactory, for surely “an explicit verse” should be explicit, without resort to interpretation.

דהיינו, שפעולתה וסגולתה: להמשיך חיים עליונים מחיי החיים, אין סוף ברוך הוא

This means, the effect and mystical consequence [of tzedakah] is to elicit and draw down supernal life from the Fountainhead of Life (lit., “from the Life of life”), the blessed Ein Sof,

לארץ החיים

to the Land of Life, i.e., to Malchut of Atzilut.

The Sefirah of Malchut in the World of Atzilut is known as the “Land of Life” because (relative to the more “heavenly” levels) it is the lowest level within that World. It is known as the “Land of Life” because it provides life to all the created beings of the three lower Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.

The effect of tzedakah, then, is to draw down life-giving Divine energy into the recipient (or “feminine”) attribute called Malchut of Atzilut. The source of this life (the “Fountainhead of Life”) is called Za, which is the last level within the worlds that are Ein Sof, or infinite. The name Za is an acronym of the initials (ז״א) of זעיר אנפין, i.e., the bracket of six masculine middot, or emotive attributes of Atzilut. (This yichud of masculine and feminine middot is the “Supernal Union” spoken of below.)

היא שכינת עוזינו, שעליה נאמר: ואתה מחיה את כולם

[The Land of Life, i.e., Malchut of Atzilut] is the Shechinah which gives us strength,i.e., the Divine Presence that animates and fortifies created beings, of which it is said,6 “And You animate them all.”

The word אתה (“You”) alludes to the Sefirah of Malchut (the source of G‑d’s creative speech) in the World of Atzilut, for its spelling indicates all the letters from alef to tav, from the first letter of the alphabet to the last, while its letter hei, numerically equivalent to five, alludes to the five organs of verbal articulation, the source of the letters.7

והיא סוכת דוד הנופלת עד עפר

[The Shechinah] is identified with8 “the sukkah of David that has fallen” down to the very dust, during the time of exile.9

וכמאמר רז״ל: גלו לאדום, שכינה עמהם כו׳

As our Sages, of blessed memory, taught:10 “When [the Jewish people] were exiled to Edom, the Shechinah went with them...”

Accompanying them in all their wanderings throughout this last and lowest exile of ours, the Shechinah has thereby been humbled down to the lowest depths. At a time like this, acts of tzedakah can reinvigorate it with the infinite life that they elicit from the Fountainhead of Life, the Ein Sof.

כי באתערותא דלתתא, להחיות רוח שפלים, דלית ליה מגרמיה כלום, אתערותא דלעילא

[Tzedakah has this effect] because the arousal [which man initiates] from below, to revive the spirit of the humbled (i.e., the pauper) “who has nothing at all of his own,” elicits an arousal from Above,

The quoted phrase describing the poor is advisedly borrowed from the Kabbalists’ description of the Shechinah as the Sefirah (viz., Malchut of Atzilut) which11 “has nothing at all of its own, but what is given to it by others,” i.e., by the higher Sefirot. The similar phrase quoted above thus highlights the fact that mortal man’s charitable initiative in reviving the spirits of his poor neighbor does not merely echo or parallel the “charity” with which the Ein Sof revives the humbled Shechinah: it quite literally activates it.

Tzedakah, then, draws down life from the Fountainhead of Life to the Sefirah of Malchut of Atzilut, which is also known as the Land of Life, —

ובפרט בהתנדב עם, להחיות יושבי ארץ החיים ממש

especially when people offer voluntarily to sustain the inhabitants of the actual Land of Life, for Eretz Yisrael, the geographical Land of Life, corresponds to the heavenly Land of Life,12 viz., Malchut of Atzilut.

ודי למבין

This will suffice for those who understand.

וכל משכיל על דבר גדול ונפלא כזה

Now whoever is enlightened as to so great and wondrous a matter, i.e., the cosmic dynamic traced above, whereby an act of tzedakah draws down Supernal life from the blessed Ein Sof to animate the exiled Shechinah,

ימצא טוב טעם ודעת כמה גדולים דברי חכמים ז״ל, שאמרו: הכל לפי רוב המעשה

will discover and appreciate how profound are the words of the Sages, of blessed memory, when they said,13 “Everything is [judged] according to the multiplicity of action.”

דהיינו מעשה הצדקה הנעשה בפעמים רבות, להמשיך חיים עליונים, ליחד יחוד עליון, פעמים רבות

This refers to the act of charity which is performed numerous times, thereby eliciting the supreme [form of] life, i.e., life that derives from the infinite Fountainhead of Life, by repeatedly bringing about the Supreme Unification of Kudsha Brich Hu and His Shechinah.

Every act of tzedakah draws Kudsha Brich Hu and Ein Sof downward to His Shechinah, down into the lowest levels of this world.

והיינו נמי כעין מה שכתב הרמב״ם: לזכך הנפש

This is also similar to what Maimonides wrote in praise of the repeated giving of tzedakah: “to refine the soul (nefesh).”

These words allude as well to the Supreme Unification that is thereby effected in the worlds above.

כנודע מזוהר הקדוש, דשכינה נקראת נפש, כי היא חיינו ונפשנו

For, as is known from the sacred Zohar,14 the Shechinah is called nefesh (“Soul”), because it is our life and our soul,

וכתיב: כי שחה לעפר נפשנו

as in the phrase,15 “Our Soul is stooped to the dust,” which alludes to the descent of the Shechinah into exile.

ולכן אמרו רז״ל: גדולה צדקה שמקרבת את הגאולה

And that is why our Sages, of blessed memory, said,16 “Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption near,”

להקימה מעפר מעט מעט

by raising [the Shechinah] from the dust by gradual stages with every act of tzedakah,

עד כי יבא שילה

“until17 Shiloh will come”18i.e., until Mashiach comes,19 at which time the Shechinah will be reinstated to its pristine height.

Appendix to Epistle 21

The Tzemach Tzedek20 asks the following question: Why do our Sages find it necessary to point out that21 “Each and every coin [that a Jew gives for charity] adds up to a large sum,” when in point of fact, whenever a Jew gives even a single coin for charity he is performing a mitzvah commanded in the Torah?

Thus, for example,22 “R. Elazar would give a coin to a poor man, and then pray, for it is written,23 ‘Through tzedek will I behold Your Countenance’” — and tzedek (“righteousness”) is closely related to tzedakah (“charity”). The giving of a single coin thus constitutes a mitzvah worthy of reward, for if24 “G‑d does not withhold the reward of any creature, even for words fitly spoken,” He surely rewards the fulfillment of a fully-fledged commandment ordained by the Torah. This applies especially to the mitzvah of tzedakah, which is25 “equivalent to all the other mitzvot.” Thus, too, the Rambam writes26 that this commandment should be observed even more scrupulously than all other positive commandments. Moreover,27 “Israel will be redeemed [from exile] only by virtue of their acts of charity.” Indeed, G‑d Himself praises Abraham for his charitable conduct,28 which he also taught to his children after him.

Considering, then, the sublime status of every single act of tzedakah, why do the Sages find it necessary to stress that all the individual coins contributed accumulate to total a large sum?

This would suggest, the Tzemach Tzedek goes on to say, that though the reward for one large contribution is greater, our Sages seek here to reassure us that even modest increments add up and become equally worthy of this superior reward.

On the other hand, the very need for this reassurance would lead one to believe that giving one lump sum is superior to making smaller, periodic payments. It will be recalled, however, that the Rambam demurs, noting that “everything is [judged] according to the multiplicity of action” (as opposed to the stature of the deed), so that a generous one-time donation of (say) a hundred gulden is less praiseworthy than a hundred instances of giving one coin at a time.

(And here the Tzemach Tzedek quotes the entire text of our above letter of the Alter Rebbe, with all its explanations on both the revealed and the esoteric planes of the Torah, to demonstrate the superiority of piecemeal giving.) Does this not conflict with the attitude that leads the Sages to go as far as seeking a proof-text to reassure us that many individual coins may be considered to be as valuable as one large sum?

The Tzemach Tzedek goes on to ask another question. The Gemara and the halachic codifiers determine that the mitzvah of tzedakah is properly fulfilled only if one gives a certain mini-mum — not less than a tenth of one’s earnings. Accordingly, if one made numerous charitable contributions, then even though on each such occasion he effected a Supernal Union and drew down Supreme Life to this world, he nevertheless did not perform the mitzvah (in its most complete form) unless he tithed. Conversely, if he gave a tenth or a fifth of his earnings at one time, and thereby brought about a Supernal Union only once, he nevertheless fulfilled the mitzvah properly. How can this be? Why should he be deemed to have fulfilled his obligation better than his friend, whose repeated charitable activity (though totalling less than a tithe) recharged this world with renewed spiritual energy on so many occasions?

In order to resolve this, the Tzemach Tzedek introduces two themes which he expounds at length, but which will be mentioned here only briefly.

(a) In one of the Kabbalistic schemes (אי״ק בכ״ר) by which the letters of the Holy Tongue may be arranged, the alphabet is divided into sets of three letters each. In the first set, the first letter is alef (numerically equivalent to one), the second letter is yud (numerically equivalent to ten), and the third letter is kuf (numerically equivalent to one hundred). The three letters of the second set are beit (two), kaf (twenty), and resh (two hundred). The alphabet goes on in this vein.

These numbers allude to different degrees of divine effluence that may be drawn down to this world. The degree of spirituality that is alluded to by the letter yud is ten times greater than that alluded to by the letter alef; the degree of spirituality alluded to by the letter kuf is ten times greater than the degree of spirituality alluded to by the letter yud; and so on, to one thousand and ten thousand.

In terms of the Sefirot, single digits denote the emotive attributes (the Divine middot), double digits denote the intellective attributes (the Divine mochin), hundreds designate the level of Divinity that transcends Divine intellect, while thousands and tens of thousands respectively denote the levels of Divinity known as Ratzon (“the Divine Will”) and Taanug (“Delight”). In terms of the levels of the soul within an individual Jew, the five classes of numbers correspond to the five soul-levels called (in ascending order) Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah and Yechidah.

Using this numerical scheme of the Hebrew letters, the Tzemach Tzedek explains that by giving tzedakah in a single-digit amount one is only able to illuminate this lowly world with the level of spirituality that is alluded to by a single-digit number, while when one gives a double-digit amount one draws down an illumination that is alluded to by double-digit numbers. And so on, when one gives in the hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands: the larger the amount, that much greater is the commensurate spirituality that is drawn down.

(b) The second theme introduced by the Tzemach Tzedek explains how tzedek (צדק — “righteousness”), which derives from the Sefirah of Malchut, is transformed into tzedakah (צדקה — “charity”) by the addition of the letter hei, and thereby elevated. The added letter hei, numerically equivalent to five, represents the five degrees of Supernal Kindness (ה׳ חסדים).

To revert now to the two manners of giving tzedakah described above. At first glance one is tempted to say that they are entirely different, each possessing a quality that the other lacks. For on the one hand, a person who gives away a hundred gold coins at a time draws down a flow of Divine illumination from the lofty level of “one hundred,” while his friend who gives only a few coins at a time brings down the Divine effluence from no higher than the single-digit level of holiness.

Nevertheless, though the latter and lesser illumination is indeed elicited on each such occasion, even a hundred such occasions are outshone by the brilliant light that derives from a higher level. For relative to higher degrees of holiness, all lower degrees are considered as naught. (Thus, for example, speaking of the hierarchies of angels, it is written that the “horns of the Chayot HaKodesh” are superior to all the inferior levels of angels.)

Likewise,29 “There are those who earn their World [to Come] in a single hour.” One hour of repentance as earnest and intense as the repentance experienced by R. Elazar ben Durdaya, surpasses the lifelong divine service of a veritable tzaddik, with all his daily love and awe of G‑d. For the sheer power and drive of such repentance reaches up and draws down spiritual energy from a far superior source.

We might therefore be tempted to conclude that one can accomplish more by giving tzedakah in one lump sum, because of its qualitative superiority, than in many increments. Besides, since by giving less than a tithe in many increments one has not fully discharged his obligation, it would appear that there is something lacking in the total sum that he was to give.

How, then are we to understand the Alter Rebbe’s teaching, based on the Rambam, that giving a hundred single coins on a hundred occasions is superior and more worthy of reward than giving them all at once?

The Tzemach Tzedek resolves this in the light of the above-quoted teaching of our Sages that30 “Each and every coin [that a Jew gives for charity] adds up to a large sum.” I.e., his one hundred individual gifts of one coin all accumulate together when he gives the hundredth coin. His cumulative giving can thus draw down spiritual energy from a “triple-digit” source, just as if he had given away all his coins at once. With his modest but steady giving, this unspectacular donor has succeeded in earning both the quantity of the repeated deed (by effecting an oftrepeated Supernal Union) and the quality of the one-time deed (by drawing down illumination from a superior source).

This, concludes the Tzemach Tzedek, is a wondrous and unique characteristic of the mitzvah of tzedakah. The earlier hundred-time or thousand-time gifts do not dissipate; rather, as they accumulate, they are compounded with the later gifts until they ultimately produce one powerful hundredfold or thousandfold mitzvah.

In this light the AriZal interprets the verse,31 וצדקתו עומדת לעד — “and his righteousness (or charity) endures forever”: The spiritual impression (the “letter”) that is inscribed in the Supernal worlds by the mitzvah of tzedakah outlasts the “letters” inscribed by the performance of any other mitzvah.

In summary: The quantitative and qualitative benefits of giving tzedakah in many increments thus enable one to appreciate the teaching of Rambam afresh.

***

The Tzemach Tzedek now proceeds to consider the above-quoted ruling of the author of Levushei Serad.32

Though the Tzemach Tzedek quotes this sage with regard to practice, he himself goes only as far as to say that the last coin in the series grants its giver the merit and the reward of having given the entire amount all at once. The Levushei Serad goes further: On every single occasion that one gives a coin (from the total of a hundred coins that he had decided to give) it is considered as if he had given that total all at once. He argues as follows. This individual had in fact wanted to give the whole amount, but divided it into increments only because he sought to gratify his Maker. Hence, whenever he gives part of it, it is as if he had given the sum of one hundred, one hundred times!

The difference in their opinions could well be understood as follows.

The Tzemach Tzedek discusses the effects of tzedakah in terms of the resultant Supernal Union, and this is accomplished only through one’s actual deed, not through his intent; in point of fact, the larger amount was given only once. The Levushei Serad, by contrast, speaks in terms of the resultant Divine gratification, and this is accomplished through one’s intent as well. Hence, since the donor’s intent as he gives each coin is ultimately to give the entire amount, it follows that the delight he causes his Maker results from each of his smaller gifts as well.

However, as mentioned earlier,33 the Rebbe understands the above letter of the Alter Rebbe as follows: Since the Alter Rebbe discusses the “multiplicity of action” as a continuation of the theme of alacrity, it is obvious that when he recommends that charity be given weekly or monthly, he means thereby to hasten the giving and not delay it. The quality of alacrity obviously outweighs even that of giving in increments, if the latter policy will delay one’s donation. Surely, the hungry recipient or the charitable organization needs to be helped without delay.

The policy of giving in small increments can thus be followed only in a situation such as that which the Levushei Serad posits: If one has a large amount to give on a given day, he should not give the entire amount at once, but rather should give it a little at a time. In this way he has given the entire amount by the end of the day, but has also managed in the course of the day to practice charity many times over.

This will of course be workable only when one’s contributions are not going directly to a poor person on the same day. And, as the Rebbe pointed out above, this was the case with the periodic collections for the Kollel Chabad fund which occasioned Epistle 21.

Footnotes
1.

With regard to the possibility that the Alter Rebbe may be meaning to indicate that one should not give a large amount of tzedakah at the very beginning of the year, the Rebbe notes the following:“

According to this logic the Alter Rebbe is directing that the entire amount should not be given in Tishrei [at the beginning of the year] but only one-twelfth, while the remainder is held back, and no more than one-twelfth given each month thereafter! And this immediately follows his explanation of the praiseworthy quality of prompt performance!“

It is thus self-evident that the Alter Rebbe intends that one should act thus only if it in no way at all conflicts with giving at the earliest possible opportunity and with alacrity. It is also obvious, considering the reason given, that this applies equally to all charities, not only that of the Land of Israel.“

In addition to Maimonides’ above-quoted observation in his Commentary on the Mishnah [that the Mishnah speaks not of the amount of the deed but of the frequency of the deed], this is moreover stated as a legal directive in Levushei Serad, Hilchot Tzedakah 113:215, which is quoted in the discourse beginning LeHavin ... Kol Perutah. (See this separately-published maamar, in which the Tzemach Tzedek discusses all the above at length.)“

It would seem that the Alter Rebbe’s explanation (and this letter in general) relates specifically to the money that was collected for the Kollel, for the following reason: In those days it was conveyed to the Holy Land by a special messenger once a year (having been collected from the various towns only once in many months), as mentioned in many letters of the Rebbeim. This being so, the question naturally arises: What benefit could there possibly be in giving it weekly to a local collector? In this letter, therefore, the Alter Rebbe explains the twofold benefit: (a) promptness; (b) the frequency of the deed.”

2.
Note of the Rebbe: “...And more briefly, as a point of law, in Hilchot Deot 1:7.”
3.
Avot 3:15.
4.
Note of the Rebbe: “The Tzemach Tzedek (loc. cit.) quotes the variant reading of R. Ovadiah of Bartenura: ‘One hundred.’”
5.
Tehillim 11:7.
6.
Nechemiah 9:6.
7.
Note of the Rebbe: “See above, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, end of ch. 2.”
8.
Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 93.
9.
Note of the Rebbe: “...Especially so during ikvot Meshicha [i.e., the generation at the end of the exile, which can hear the approaching ‘footsteps of Mashiach’]; see Iggeret HaKodesh, end of Epistle IX.”
10.
Megillah 29a (according to the text of Ein Yaakov), quoted above in the first part of Tanya, end of ch. 17.
11.
Cf. Zohar I, 249b.
12.
Note of the Rebbe: “Iggeret HaKodesh, end of Epistle VIII.”
13.
Avot 3:15.
14.
See Zohar Chadash, Ruth 84a.
15.
Tehillim 44:26.
16.
Bava Batra 10a.
17.
Bereishit 49:10.
18.
Note of the Rebbe: “This unusual conclusion, ‘Until Shiloh will come’ (cf. the conclusion of ch. 36, et al.), becomes clear in the light of the teaching of the Zohar (I, 237b) on this verse: ‘In another place..., but here the Shechinah will arise....’”
19.
Onkelos and Rashi on Bereishit 49:10, based on Sanhedrin 98b.
20.
Or HaTorah — Inyanim U’Maamarei Razal, p. 40.
21.
Bava Batra 9b.
22.
Ibid. 10a.
23.
Tehillim 17:15.
24.
Bava Kama 38b.
25.
Bava Batra 9a.
26.
Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 10:1.
27.
Shabbat 139a.
28.
Bereishit 18:19.
29.
Avodah Zarah 10b.
30.
Bava Batra 9b.
31.
Tehillim 111:3.
32.
See footnote 24, above.
33.
See footnote 24, above.


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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