As noted earlier, the overwhelming majority of the letters that the Alter Rebbe’s sons included here as part of the Tanya, were intended to encourage active divine service, particularly through the giving of tzedakah for the Kollel Chabad Fund. (This Fund supported fellow chassidim who had settled in the Holy Land, there to serve G‑d through Torah and prayer.)
Accordingly, these themes should be sought even in a letter such as the one that follows, which does not refer to them directly. If at all possible, one should also seek to connect this letter to the one which precedes it, and thus understand why the author’s sons placed it where they did.
In the present letter the Alter Rebbe elaborates upon two general categories in the love of G‑d. The first category of love is granted man only as a gift from Above: he cannot attain it by dint of his own service. This pleasurable experience of Divinity is termed ahavah betaanugim (“a love which experiences delights”), and is a foretaste of the World to Come, wherein the soul basks in the rays of the Shechinah. The second category of love for G‑d — longing and thirsting for Him — can be attained through man’s service and meditation.
The connection between this letter and the previous one, and its lesson in man’s divine service (particularly with respect to charity), may then be the following:
The previous letter extolled the merit of serving G‑d through tzedakah, whereby one simultaneously secures the revelations of Gan Eden and of the World to Come, the time of the Resurrection.
The difference in revelation between Gan Eden and the World to Come is that Gan Eden reveals but a “glimmer of a glimmer” of that which is accomplished through the performance of a mitzvah — its “fruits”, while the World to Come reveals the reward of the very essence of the mitzvah. Both Gan Eden and the World to Come — to a greater or lesser degree — reveal and enable the soul to apprehend the essential Divinity that underlies the mitzvah.
But all the merits of both the above levels relate only to a consequence of the mitzvah, viz., its revelations. The nucleus of the mitzvah is the fact that through performing it the individual cleaves to G‑d, for מצוה is related to צוותא, signifying attachment. And this nucleus surfaces at the actual time of performance. It is for this reason that our Sages teach that “Better one hour in repentance and good deeds in this world than all of the World to Come”; the actual practice of repentance and good deeds (for by prefacing the deeds with repentance they become “good” and “luminous”) in this world is superior to all the lofty spiritual levels of Gan Eden and the World to Come.
However, lofty as actual performance may be, its effects are totally concealed; man is neither aware of them nor does his soul perceive them at all. In this letter, therefore, the Alter Rebbe explains the two categories of love, for the love of G‑d is a feeling that is manifest in the soul.
The first, ahavah betaanugim (“a love that experiences delights”), is related to the revelation in the World to Come, at the time of the Resurrection. For just as at that time “the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads, and take delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence,” so too is this love a pleasurable love; in the words of the Alter Rebbe, “It is truly a foretaste of the World to Come.”
The second manner of love — a thirstful longing for G‑d and a desire to cleave to Him — is a revelation similar to that of Gan Eden, for there too there is a limited degree of longing for G‑d, as explained in the previous letter at length.
Thus, when a Jew performs a mitzvah he not only cleaves to G‑d unawares: some aspect of this contact may also become revealed within his soul — both the revelation which foreshadows that of Gan Eden and even the revelation which anticipates the World to Come at the time of the Resurrection.
And even though ahavah betaanugim is a gift bestowed upon lofty souls from Above, some echo of it may resonate within any Jew when his wholehearted performance of the mitzvot is vitalized by his love of G‑d.
כתיב: מה יפית ומה נעמת, אהבה בתענוגים
It is written, “How beautiful and how pleasant are you, ahavah betaanugim!”
I.e., “How beautiful and pleasant it is to cleave to You with ahavah betaanugim” — with a love that experiences delight in the state of cleaving to the beloved, as opposed to a love in which the lover seeks to cleave to the beloved.
הנה ב׳ מיני אהבות הן
There are two kinds of love, each of which subdivides further.
האחת: אהבה בתענוגים
The first is ahavah betaanugim,
דהיינו, שמתענג על ה׳ עונג נפלא
meaning that one delights wondrously in G‑d,
בשמחה רבה ועצומה, שמחת הנפש וכלותה, בטעמה כי טוב ה׳
with a great and immense joy, the joy of the soul and its yearning as it tastes that G‑d is good
ונעים נעימות עריבות עד להפליא
and as delightful as wondrously sweet delights.
This sweetness is not sensed as a result of one’s comprehension; rather, this is a sensation of wonderment at that which transcends one’s comprehension.
מעין עולם הבא ממש, שנהנין כו׳
It is truly a foretaste of the World to Come, where “[the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads], and take delight [in the radiance of the Divine Presence].”
ועל זה כתיב: שמחו צדיקים בה׳
Concerning this pleasurable experience of G‑dliness it is written, “Rejoice, you righteous, in G‑d,”
ולא כל אדם זוכה לזה
and not everyone merits this.
וזו היא בחינת כהנא ברעותא דלבא, שבזוהר הקדוש
This is the level [of love] which the sacred Zohar refers to in the phrase, kahana bire’uta delibba.
Lit., “The Kohen [serves G‑d] with the [innermost] desire of the heart”]. As opposed to the Levites, whose longing for G‑d surged forth (ratzo) and found outward expression in song, the service of the Kohanim was silent.
ועל זה נאמר: עבודת מתנה וגו׳
Moreover, of this [level of love] it is said, “[I shall grant you your priestly] service as a gift,”
The priestly level of love, ahavah betaanugim, is a gift from Above.
והזר הקרב וגו׳
“and the stranger who comes nigh — i.e., to this manner of service — [is liable to death],”
כי אין דרך להשיגה על ידי יגיעת בשר, כמו היראה
for there is no way to attain it by human efforts, as there is with the awe of G‑d,
ששואלין עליה: יגעת ביראה
concerning which [the departed soul] is asked [in the next world], “Did you labor with awe?”
I.e., “Did you toil to acquire an awe of G‑d?”
ואוי לבשר שלא נתייגע ביראה
Likewise, “Woe to the mortal who did not labor with awe,”
כמו שכתוב בראשית חכמה
as is written in Reishit Chochmah.
וכתיב ביראה: אם תבקשנה ככסף וגו׳
Of awe it is also written,“If you will seek it like silver, [and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will attain a fear of G‑d...].”
מלמד שצריכה יגיעה רבה ועצומה, כמחפש אחר אוצרות
This shows that it requires great and intense exertion, as when one searches for treasure.
It has already been explained (in Part I, ch. 42) that when one digs for a treasure that he knows beyond the shadow of a doubt lies buried in the depths of the earth, he will seek it tirelessly. Knowing with certainty that the fear of heaven lies buried in the understanding of the heart of every Jew, will lead to similar untiring efforts in revealing this spiritual treasure.
However, this only applies to the fear and awe of G‑d; even the loftiest degree of awe, yirah ilaah, is attainable through man’s efforts.
אבל אהבה רבה זו אהבה בתענוגים נופלת לאדם מאליה מלמעלה, בלי שיכין ויכוון לה
By contrast, this great love (ahavah betaanugim) comes upon a man by itself, from Above, without his preparing and intending himself for it,
אך ורק אחר שנתייגע ביראת הרוממות
but only after he has exerted himself in yirat haromemut, to attain the higher level of fear wherein he stands in awe of G‑d’s Majesty,
והגיע לתכלית מה שיוכל להשיג ממנה, לפי בחינת נשמתו
and after he has attained the maximum he is able to attain of that [awe], according to the level of his soul;
אזי ממילא באה האהבה בתענוגים מלמעלה לשכון ולתייחד עם היראה
then, of itself, the ahavah betaanugim comes from Above to dwell, and to become united, with the awe.
כי דרכו של איש לחזר כו׳, כמו שכתוב בלקוטי אמרים
For “It is the way of the man to search [for the woman],” as explained in Likkutei Amarim.
In Part I, ch. 43, the Alter Rebbe explains that love is termed “man” or “male”, while fear is termed “woman” (as in the verse, “A woman who fears G‑d...”). In spiritual terms, “It is the way of the man to search for the woman” means that the love of G‑d searches for the fear of G‑d and dwells with it.
Having spoken until now of the higher category in the love of G‑d called ahavah betaanugim, the Alter Rebbe now proceeds to consider the lesser love, ahavah zuta.