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וילבש צדקה כשריון, וכובע ישועה בראשו

“And1 He garbed himself with tzedakah2 as with a coat of mail, and a helmet of salvation upon his head.”

This verse in fact speaks of G‑d’s promised actions in defense of His people. Nevertheless, the deeds of Jews that mirror G‑d’s deeds serve as a vessel which can receive (or as a means which can bring about) G‑d’s reciprocal action.3 Hence when Jews act in a righteous and charitable manner, in the spirit of the term tzedakah, such conduct attracts and calls forth Divine activity on their behalf. In particular, a Jew’s Divine service that resembles G‑d’s own acts of tzedakah contains within it a protective “coat of mail” for his body and a “helmet of salvation” for his head.

ודרשו רז״ל: מה שריון זה, כל קליפה וקליפה מצטרפת לשריון גדול, אף צדקה, כל פרוטה ופרוטה מצטרפת לחשבון גדול

[On this verse] our Sages, of blessed memory, commented:4 “Just as with chain mail all the individual scales add up to form a large coat of mail, so it is with charity: all the individual coins [given to charity] add up to a great amount.”

The Alter Rebbe now anticipates a question: What is gained by this analogy? Surely it is just as obvious that “all the individual coins [given to charity] add up to a great amount” as it is that “all the individual scales add up to form a large coat of mail.”

פירוש: שהשריון עשוי קשקשים על נקבים, והם מגינים שלא יכנס חץ בנקבים, וככה הוא מעשה הצדקה

This means — and this is the additional point being made here — that just as the mail is made of scales covering gaps, and these shield one against any arrow entering through the gaps, so it is with the act of charity.

I.e., as will presently be explained, the spiritual dynamic of charity comprises (a) an element that corresponds to the chinks in a coat of mail, and (b) an element that corresponds to the protective scales (the coins) that cover those gaps.

* * *

וביאור הענין: כי גדולה צדקה מכל המצות

The meaning of this [is as follows]: Charity is greater than all the commandments,

שמהן נעשים לבושים להנשמה

for [their performance] produces “garments” for the soul.5

The performance of the commandments provides the “garments” that enable the soul to withstand the intense degree of Divine revelation to which it will be exposed in Gan Eden, instead of being nullified by it.

הנמשכים מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

[These garments] are drawn forth from the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof,

Deriving from a source which is infinite, they enable the soul to cope with the infinite degree of revelation which it will encounter in Gan Eden.

מבחינת סובב כל עלמין

from the level of sovev kol almin.

Unlike the mode of life-giving Divine illumination called memaleh kol almin (lit., “filling all worlds”), which becomes integrated and manifest within the creatures it animates, the mode of Divine illumination called sovev kol almin (lit., “encompassing all worlds”) is not limited to the finite spiritual capacity of created beings; it transcends and affects them from afar, so to speak.

(כמבואר הפירוש ממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין בלקוטי אמרים, עיין שם)

(6The meaning of memaleh kol almin and sovev kol almin has been explained in Likkutei Amarim;7 see there.)

באתערותא דלתתא, היא מצות ה׳ ורצון העליון ברוך הוא

[These garments are brought into being] by an “arousal from below,” i.e., the [fulfillment of the] commands of G‑d and the will of the Supreme Being.

Since the commandments emanate from G‑d’s Supreme Will, from the level of sovev kol almin, they serve as the source for the above-mentioned garments.

ועיקר המשכה זו מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא, הוא לבוש ואור מקיף לי׳ ספירות דאצילות, בריאה, יצירה, עשיה

The essence of this efflux from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light is a garment and encompassing light for the Ten Sefirot of [the Four Worlds:] Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah,

המשתלשלות מעילה לעילה וממדרגה למדרגה כו׳

which evolve from cause to cause and from rung to rung,

הנקראות בשם ממלא כל עלמין

[these Sefirot] being referred to as memaleh kol almin.

The Alter Rebbe now answers the following question: Since the Sefirot themselves are the Divinity of the Four Worlds, why do they need the infinite Ein Sof-light as a garment?

פירוש: כי אור אין סוף ברוך הוא מתלבש ומאיר בתוך כל השתלשלות העשר ספירות דאצילות, בריאה, יצירה, עשיה

This means that the Ein Sof-light vests itself and radiates in an indwelling manner within the entire evolving chain of the Ten Sefirot of [the Worlds of] Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah;

והוא המאציל העשר ספירות דאצילות המשתלשלות לבריאה, יצירה, עשיה

[moreover,] it gives rise to the Ten Sefirot of [the World of] Atzilut which evolve into [the Worlds of] Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah,

The Sefirot of Atzilut thus serve as the Divine illumination for the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. This is made possible —

על ידי צמצום עצום המבואר בעץ חיים

by means of an immense contraction (tzimtzum) which is explained in Etz Chayim.

This contraction involves not only a quantitative lessening of spiritual illumination, but more importantly a qualitative diminution; the hitherto infinite light is contracted to so great a degree that it can emanate and illuminate in a finite manner.

ונקרא אור פנימי

[The resultant light] is referred to as an indwelling light (or pnimi) — a light that vests itself in an inward manner within created beings, inasmuch as it is contracted to match the spiritual capacity of the particular created being in which it is clothed.

ועל ידי קיום המצות, נמשך אור מקיף הנ״ל, ומאיר תוך העשר ספירות דאצילות, בריאה, יצירה, עשיה, ומתייחד עם האור פנימי

Now, by the fulfillment of the commandments, the above-mentioned encompassing light is elicited and radiates within the Ten Sefirot of [the Worlds of] Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, thereby uniting with the indwelling light.

When this occurs, the infinite and transcendent light (or makkif) permeates the indwelling light (or pnimi) of Seder Hishtalshelut — the self-obscuring and chain-like descent of the Divine life-force through which increasingly material worlds come into being.

ונקרא יחוד קודשא בריך הוא

This is referred to as the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, the epithet “holy” (kadosh) signifying His separateness from the world, hence the level of sovev kol almin,

ושכינתיה, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

and His Shechinah, the indwelling light which is so called because the Divine Presence descends and dwells (שכן) within the created worlds, as is explained elsewhere.8

It is explained in another context that the performance of mitzvot results in this union of the Holy One, blessed be He, with His Shechinah. This is why we say לשם יחוד (“For the sake of the union of the Holy One, blessed be He, with His Shechinah”) before we perform certain mitzvot: for it is they that fuse the light of sovev kol almin, known as “the Holy One, blessed be He,” with the light of memaleh kol almin, known as the Shechinah. Thus, the main radiation of Divine light drawn down through the performance of commandments, is effected within the evolution of the Sefirot of the Four Worlds.

ומהארה דהארה מאור מקיף הנ״ל, על ידי צמצום רב

And from a reflection of a reflection of the above-mentioned encompassing light, by means of a powerful contraction,

נעשה לבוש לבחינת נפש, רוח, נשמה, של האדם בגן עדן התחתון והעליון

a garment is made in the Lower and Upper Garden of Eden for the [soul-levels called] Nefesh-Ruach-Neshamah of man,

שיוכלו ליהנות ולהשיג איזה השגה והארה מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא, כמו שמבואר במקום אחר

enabling them to derive pleasure and attain some apprehension and illumination from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light which is diffused in the Garden of Eden, as is explained elsewhere.9

For, unaided, the finite soul would never be able to apprehend this infinite radiance.

וזה שאמרו רז״ל: שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא

This is the meaning of the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory:10 “In this world there is no reward for [the fulfillment of] the commandments.”

They do not say that “in this world there is no reward granted”; rather, that “there exists no reward in this world.”

כי בעולם הזה הגשמי ובעל גבול וצמצום רב ועצום מאד מאד

For in this world, which is physical, and in a state of limitation, a state of great and most extreme contraction,

אי אפשר להתלבש שום הארה מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

it is impossible that any reflection of the [infinite] Ein Sof-light should become invested,

כי אם על ידי י׳ ספירות, הנקראים גופא בזוהר הקדוש

except by means of the Ten Sefirot, which, in the sacred Zohar,11 are referred to as the “Body”:

The Alter Rebbe will soon explain that just as body and soul are incomparable, so too are the Sefirot infinitely distant from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light.

As a reward for performance of the commandments one is enabled to draw down the infinite degree of light, but this light cannot possibly descend within this world, which is bounded. Thus, “In this world there is no reward for [the fufillment of] the commandments.” No such revelation can possibly be clothed in this world, for whatever illuminates and clothes itself in this world derives merely from the level of the Ten Sefirot, which the Zohar terms the “Body”. Thus, for example:

חסד דרועא ימינא כו׳

“[The Sefirah of] Chesed (‘kindness’) is [called] the [Supernal] ‘right arm,’ [Gevurah (‘severity’) is [called] the ‘left arm,’]” and so on.

לפי שכמו שאין ערוך לו להגוף הגשמי, לגבי הנשמה

For just as there is no comparison between the physical body and the soul,

כך אין ערוך כלל לי׳ ספירות דאצילות, לגבי המאציל העליון, אין סוף ברוך הוא

so there is no comparison whatever between the Ten Sefirot of Atzilut and the Supreme Emanator, the [infinite] Ein Sof.

כי אפילו חכמה עילאה, שהיא ראשיתן, היא בבחינת עשיה גופנית לגבי אין סוף ברוך הוא

For in relation to the Ein Sof even the Supreme Chochmah (“wisdom”), which is the first of the Sefirot, is on the plane of material action,

כמו שמבואר בלקוטי אמרים

as is explained in Likkutei Amarim.12

ואי לזאת, במעשה הצדקה וגמילות חסדים, שאדם אוכל מפירותיהן בעולם הזה

Therefore, through the practice of charity and deeds of kindness, whose fruits man enjoys partially in this world,13

Since some minute quantity of the reward for the fulfillment of these commandments is enjoyed within this world, it follows that a microscopic ray of the infinite light of sovev kol almin does descend into this world. This is possible, because:

יש נקבים, על דרך משל, בלבוש העליון המקיף על גופא, הם הכלים די׳ ספירות

there appear, metaphorically speaking, gaps in the supernal garment that envelops the “Body”, [which is] the vessels of the Ten Sefirot.

להאיר מהם ולהשפיע אור ושפע

Through these [gaps] light and abundance are irradiated and diffused,

מחסד, דרועא ימינא, אורך ימים בעולם הזה הגשמי

so that from [the Sefirah of] “Chesed, [which is] the right arm,” [there results] longevity in this physical world;

ועושר וכבוד מדרועא שמאלא

and from “the left arm,” which is the Sefirah of Gevurah, [there result] wealth and honor,

וכן בתפארת

and likewise with beauty, that emanates from the Sefirah of Tiferet,

והוד והדר וחדוה וכו׳

and majesty (hod), splendor (hadar) and gladness (chedvah), etc., from the respective Sefirot of Hod, Yesod, etc.14

אך כדי שלא ינקו החיצונים למעלה מאור ושפע המשתלשל ויורד למטה מטה עד עולם הזה הגשמי

But in order to prevent the forces of evil from drawing, on high, from the light and abundance which evolves and descends netherwards, as far down as this physical world,

When this spiritual energy descends to such a lowly level, it is possible for the kelipot and sitra achra to derive nurture from it as well. In order to forestall this,

וכן, למטה, להגין על האדם ולשמרו ולהצילו מכל דבר רע בגשמיות וברוחניות

and likewise, here below, in order to shield man, and to guard him and save him from all physical and spiritual harm, which could conceivably result if the kelipot and sitra achra were to derive nurture from this source,

לזאת חוזר ומאיר אור המקיף, וסותם הנקב, על דרך משל

the encompassing light is reflected back, and, figuratively speaking, fills the breach,

Once the encompassing light has (so to speak) shone down into this world through the chink produced by man’s charitable deeds, it is then reflected back in order to fill the very same breach. This deprives the forces of evil of any possible nurture via the same avenue,

כי הוא מבחינת אין סוף וסובב כל עלמין, כנ״ל

for this [encompassing light] belongs to the category of Infinitude and sovev kol almin, as mentioned above — and this infinitely transcendent degree of light (called or makkif) is a source from which the forces of evil are unable to derive any sustenance.

We thus see why tzedakah, producing its own provident “gaps” and its own protective “scales”, is likened to a coat of mail. Moreover:

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: מצטרפת לחשבון גדול דייקא

And this is [what underlies] the [above-quoted] teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory: “[Just as with chain mail all the individual scales add up to form a large coat of mail, so it is with charity: all the individual coins] add up to a great amount.” The word “great” is used advisedly,

(כי גדול הוי׳ ומהולל מאד, בלי סוף ותכלית וגבול (חס ושלום

in the spirit of the verse,15 “Great is Havayah and exceedingly glorified”— without end, limit or restriction (16heaven forfend).

Thus, by means of the coins given to charity one draws down spiritual light from the level denoted by the phrase, “Great is Havayah.” The Four-Letter Divine Name alludes to the Ten Sefirot — for the letter yud represents the level of Chochmah; the first letter hei represents the level of Binah; vav represents the six middot, the spiritual emotions; and the final hei represents Malchut.17 These Sefirot are sustained by the Ein Sof and partake of its infinite greatness.

אך מי הוא הגורם לירידת האור והשפע לעולם הזה הגשמי מי׳ ספירות, הנקראים גופא

But what causes the descent to this physical world of the light and abundance from [a source as lofty as] the Ten Sefirot [of the World of Atzilut], which are referred to as the Body?

הוא היחוד הנ״ל

It is the above-mentioned union of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shechinah — the infinite degree of radiation permeating the Sefirot and the subsequent worlds — and this union is brought about by the performance of the mitzvot;

שהיא תוספת הארה והשפעה מבחינת אור אין סוף, המאציל העליון ברוך הוא

for it is an additional radiation and effluence from the light of the Ein Sof, the Supreme Emanator [of the Ten Sefirot],

ביתר שאת על ההארה וההשפעה שבתחילת האצילות וההשתלשלות וכו׳

in a measure exceeding the radiation and effluence at the beginning of the emanation in the World of Atzilut and subsequent evolution.

Inasmuch as the additional measure of infinite radiation and effluence far transcends Atzilut — so much so, that in comparison to it the World of Atzilut and our grossly corporeal World of Asiyah are equally distant — it enables the radiation of Atzilut to find its way into this world.

וראשית תוספת ההארה וההשפעה היא לראשית הי׳ ספירות

And the additional radiation and effluence is first bestowed upon [the Sefirah of Chochmah, which is] the first of the Ten Sefirot.

וזה הוא: וכובע ישועה בראשו

This is the meaning of [the above-quoted phrase], “and a helmet of salvation (ישועה) upon his head.”

ישועה הוא מלשון: וישע ה׳ אל הבל ואל מנחתו

For ישועה shares a root with וישע, which is the verb in the phrase,18 “And G‑d turned toward Abel and his gift.”

The word yeshuah thus means “turning toward” and (by extension) “drawing down.”

והוא ירידת האור והשפע דש״ע נהורין שבזוהר הקדוש

This alludes to the drawing down of the light and abundance of the shin-ayin nehorin, the “three-hundred-and-seventy lights” spoken of in the holy Zohar.19

This light is much loftier than the Ten Sefirot of Atzilut: The letter shin, whose numerical value is 300, alludes to the three intellectual faculties of ChaBaD insofar as they exist at the spiritual level termed “hundreds”; the letter ayin, whose numerical value is 70, hints at the seven emotive attributes, each of which incorporates ten elements. This lofty illumination — the “helmet of salvation” — is drawn down upon the “head”, i.e., the beginning, of the Ten Sefirot.

וכמו שכתוב: יאר ה׳ פניו אליך

As it is written,20 “May G‑d make His Face (i.e., His inner being) shine upon you” — upon His people in this lowly world.

יאר פניו אתנו סלה

[It is also written]:21 “May He make His Face (i.e., His inner being) shine with us forever.”

אתנו: הוא על ידי מעשה הצדקה

[That which ensures that this Divine light be] “with us,” is the practice of charitable deeds.

וזה הוא: זורע צדקות מצמיח ישועות

And this is the meaning of the phrase,22 “He who sows tzedakot (‘charities’) brings forth yeshuot ('salvations')”; i.e., the distribution of charity results in the salvation brought about by the light of the above-mentioned shin-ayin nehorin.

* * *

וככה יאר ה׳ פניו אליהם

So23 may G‑d make His Face shine upon you,

צדקתם עומדת לעד

and24 “your tzedakah shall endure forever.”

That which is revealed now as a result of an act of tzedakah is merely the “fruit”; the essence of the reward is revealed only at the Time to Come, at the time of the Revival of the Dead — and until that time it remains concealed. Only then will the light of sovev kol almin truly permeate and clothe itself within this world, as explained below in Epistle 32.

וקרנם תרום בישועת מצמיח קרן ישועה, צמח צדקה מהכובע ישועה הנ״ל

May your horn (i.e., power) be exalted by the salvation (yeshuah) of the One25 “Who causes the horn of salvation to sprout” — by a sprouting of the tzedakah [which G‑d does for His people], from the “helmet of salvation” mentioned above,

כנפש תדרשנו

as26 is the wish of one who seeks Him.

——— ● ———

1. Yeshayahu 59:17.
2. The Hebrew word means both “charity” (its primary meaning in this work) and “righteousness”.
3. “This recalls the Alter Rebbe’s interpretation of the teaching, דע מה למעלה: ממך — ‘Know [that] that which is Above [comes about] from you(HaYom Yom, entry for 13 Iyar).” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)
4. Bava Batra 9b.
5. “As explained below, in Epistle 29.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)
6. Parentheses appear in the original text.
7. Ch. 48.
8. “Cf. [Tanya] Part I, ch. 41. However, we cannot say that [the Alter Rebbe] intended to indicate this chapter, for if this were so he would have added ‘in Likkutei Amarim,’ as he had just done in this same epistle with regard to sovev kol almin.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)
9. See below, Epistle 29.
10. Kiddushin 39b.
11. “[The level termed ‘Body’ is] infinitely lower than its soul — the Ein Sof-light.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)
12. “The reference is evidently to Part II, chs. 8-9, which furnishes a more extensive explanation of this subject than is offered here. Even less explanation than here is offered in the Alter Rebbe’s Note to Part I, ch. 2; it is thus clear that the above reference cannot be to this source. It is true that in Iggeret HaTeshuvah, ch. 4 (and elsewhere), the Alter Rebbe when applicable specifies ‘Part II’ of Likkutei Amarim — but this is done only where he wishes to cite an exact location, as we see from his concluding words (‘ch. 11’). This is not the case here.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)
13. Kiddushin 40a.

“It would seem that the Alter Rebbe omitted [the Sefirah of] Netzach. Furthermore, what does he mean by ‘etc.’?“

The above alignment evidently follows Zohar II (98a-b, cited in Tzemach Tzedek on Tehillim 104:1), in which majesty (hod), splendor (hadar) and gladness (chedvah) correspond respectively to [the three Sefirot of] Netzach, Hod and Yesod. (According to what is stated there we may also understand why the Alter Rebbe used these three appelations rather than Netzach, Hod and Yesod.) As to the concluding ‘etc.’, this possibly refers to the Sefirah of Malchut, which is the end product — the ‘etc.’— of the foregoing Sefirot.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)

15. Tehillim 48:2.
16. Parentheses appear in the original text.
17. See above, Iggeret HaTeshuvah, ch. 4.
18. Bereishit 4:4.
19. See Zohar I, 4b; III, 133b; et passim.
20. Bamidbar 6:25.
21. Tehillim 67:2.
22. Liturgy, Morning Prayers.

“Here begins the Alter Rebbe’s request to those who received the letter — those who were to give the charity.” ( — Note of the Rebbe.)

In the original, the recipients of the letter are here addressed in the polite third person of classical Hebrew — “upon them,” “their tzedakah,” and so forth.

24. Cf. Tehillim 112:3.
25. Cf. Liturgy, weekday Shemoneh Esreh.
26. Cf. Eichah 3:25.
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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