The letters that comprise Iggeret HaKodesh were written over many years and assembled in their present order by the sons of the Alter Rebbe after his passing, as they explain in their introduction (“Approbation”) to Tanya (Vol. I, p. 19ff., in the present series). It is clear from internal evidence, as the Rebbe notes, that they were not arranged chronologically. Epistle XX, for example, was written just before the Alter Rebbe’s passing in the year 5573 (1812), while Epistle XXVII was written after the passing of R. Mendel of Horodok, about the year 5549 (1789).
Instead, the Rebbe suggests, one can sometimes seek thematic connections to explain the sequence of letters. The present letter, for example, manifests the following connection with Epistle XXV, the preceding one:
After the previous letter discussed how the Shechinah can sometimes be vested in kelipot, the present letter explains that this state of exile brings the Torah, too, to a state of concealment, as kelipot obscure its radiance. It is the task of the Jew to remove this concealment by toiling in the study of the Torah.
The above form of divine service in Torah study supplements another form — separating good from evil, the permitted from the prohibited, and the kasher from the pasul. For the Torah, too, is vested within good and evil, and it is the task of the Jew studying Torah to separate and purify the positive element from each of these dual compounds, and to elevate it to the holy “side” of the universe.
Accordingly, the Alter Rebbe begins the present letter by explaining a statement of Ra’aya Mehemna in the Zohar, which can give the mistaken impression that the revealed portion of Torah stems from the Tree of Good and Evil, while the esoteric portion of Torah, which in the main will be revealed in the Time to Come (with the arrival of Mashiach), derives from the Tree of Life.
The Alter Rebbe explains how this is truly not so, for the entire Torah is called the Tree of Life. The intent of Ra’aya Mehemna is that the revealed portion of Torah descended and was vested within good and evil, and hence speaks of kasher and pasul, permitted and prohibited, and the like. With the study of Torah, a Jew separates the good from the evil, and elevates it.
ברעיא מהימנא, פרשת נשא: והמשכילים יזהירו כזהר הרקיע
On the verse, “And the wise shall shine like the radiance of the firmament,” Ra’aya Mehemna on Parshat Nasso comments:
בהאי חבורא דילך, דאיהו ספר הזהר
“With this work of yours, i.e., of R. Shimon bar Yochai, which is the Book of the Zohar (lit., ‘the Book of Radiance’)
מן זוהרא דאימא עילאה: תשובה
from the radiance of Imma Ila’ah, which is teshuvah, —
Imma Ila’ah (lit., “the Supernal Mother”) is another name for the Sefirah of Binah in the World of Atzilut. This Sefirah relates to teshuvah ila’ah, the higher level of repentance, as explained at the end of ch. 8 of Iggeret HaTeshuvah, quoting the Zohar and Tikkunim.
באילין לא צריך נסיון
with those [who study this work] no trial is needed.
The Zohar previously states that at the time of the final Redemption the Jewish people will be put to the test; those who belong to the “good side” of the universe will withstand it, while those who belong to the “side of evil” will not. As it is written, “Many will be refined and bleached and chastened, but the wicked will act wickedly; none of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand.”
The Zohar then states (as above) that those who study the Tree of Life, the Zohar, which is “from the side of Binah” (lit., “understanding”, alluding to the perception of the mystical essence of the Torah), will not be put to the test.
ובגין דעתידין ישראל למטעם מאילנא דחיי, דאיהו האי ספר הזהר, יפקון ביה מן גלותא ברחמי
Because eventually the Jewish people will taste of the Tree of Life, which is this Book of the Zohar, they will go out of exile with it, in mercy.
ויתקיים בהון: ה׳ בדד ינחנו, ואין עמו אל נכר
For them shall be fulfilled the verse, ‘G‑d alone will lead them, and there is no strange god with Him.’
In seeking their Redemption they will not have to resort to the favors of the gentile nations, whose patron angels are known as “strange gods.” Rather, G‑d Himself will lead them out of exile and redeem them.
ואילנא דטוב ורע, דאיהו איסור והיתר, טומאה וטהרה, לא שלטא על ישראל יתיר
And the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil, i.e., prohibition and permission, impurity and purity, will no longer dominate Israel.
דהא פרנסה דלהון לא להוי אלא מסטרא דאילנא דחיי, דלית תמן לא קשיא מסטרא דרע, ולא מחלוקת מרוח הטומאה
For their sustenance will derive only from the side of the Tree of Life, where there is no problematic query, which emanates from the side of evil, and no controversy, which emanates from the spirit of impurity;
דכתיב: ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ
as it is written, ‘And the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the earth.’
דלא יתפרנסון תלמידי חכמים מעמי הארץ, אלא מסטרא דטוב, דאכלין טהרה, כשר, היתר
Thus, the Torah scholars will not be sustained by illiterate people, but from the side of the good, who eat that which is pure, kosher and permitted;
ולא מערב רב, דאכלין טומאה, פסול, איסור
nor [will they be sustained] by the mixed multitude, who eat that which is impure, ritually unfit, and prohibited.”
ובזמנא דאילנא דטוב ורע שלטא כו׳
The Zohar continues: “While the Tree of Good and Evil dominates [the world],...
אינון חכמים, דדמיין לשבתות וימים טובים
these Sages, who are likened to the Sabbaths and festivals,
לית לון אלא מה דיהבין לון אינון חולין
have nothing except what is given to them by those who are called ‘unsanctified ones,’
כגוונא דיום השבת, דלית ליה אלא מה דמתקנין ליה ביומא דחול
just like the Sabbath day, which only has what has been prepared for it on a weekday.
ובזמנא דשלטא אילנא דחיי, אתכפייא אילנא דטוב ורע, ולא יהא לעמי הארץ אלא מה דיהבין להון תלמידי חכמים
However, when the Tree of Life will dominate, the Tree of Good and Evil will be suppressed, and the illiterate people will only have what the Torah scholars give them.
ואתכפיין תחותייהו וכאלו לא הוו בעלמא
They will be subjugated to them, as if they did not exist in the world.
והכי איסור והיתר, טומאה וטהרה, לא אתעבר מעמי הארץ
Accordingly, the prohibited and the permitted, the impure and the pure, will not be removed from the illiterate people.
דמסטרייהו, לית בין גלותא לימות המשיח, אלא שעבוד מלכיות בלבד
As regards them, there will be no difference between the era of exile and the days of Mashiach, except for [the Jewish people’s release from] servitude to the nations.
דאינון לא טעמין מאילנא דחיי, וצריך לון מתניתין באיסור והיתר, טומאה וטהרה
For they will not have tasted of the Tree of Life, and will require the Mishnayot [which set out the laws] of prohibition and permission, impurity and purity.”
עד כאן ברעיא מהימנא
Here ends the quotation from Ra’aya Mehemna.
* * *
והנה המובן מהשקפה ראשונה לכאורה מלשון זה המאמר לחסירי מדע
Now, at first glance, what the words of this passage imply to those who lack understanding
שלימוד איסור והיתר וסדר טהרות, הוא מאילנא דטוב ורע
is that the study of [the laws of] ritual prohibition and permission, and the Order of Taharot, where the laws of purity and impurity are found, relates [only] to the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil.
מלבד שהוא פלא גדול מחמת עצמו
Now this is most surprising in itself, that a particular area within the Torah should be designated as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus relating it to kelipat nogah, which is an admixture of good and evil;
וסותר פשטי הכתובים ומדרשי רבותינו ז״ל, שכל התורה הנגלית לנו ולבנינו נקראת: עץ חיים למחזיקים בה, ולא ספר הזהר לבד
moreover, this contradicts the plain meaning of Scripture and the teachings of our Sages, of blessed memory, that the entire Torah that has been revealed to us and to our children, i.e., the dimension of nigleh, is called “A tree of life to those who hold fast to it,” and not only the Book of the Zohar.
ובפרט שהיה גנוז בימיהם
This is especially so, since [the Zohar] was [still] concealed in their days;
וגם כל חכמת הקבלה היתה נסתרה בימיהם, ונעלמה מכל תלמידי חכמים, כי אם ליחידי סגולה
indeed, the whole wisdom of the Kabbalah was hidden in their days and concealed from all the Torah scholars, except for a select few,
ואף גם זאת, בהצנע לכת ולא ברבים, כדאיתא בגמרא
and even then, [it was studied] in a concealed manner and not publicly, as stated in the Gemara.
וכמו שכתב האריז״ל, דדוקא בדורות אלו האחרונים, מותר ומצוה לגלות זאת החכמה, ולא בדורות הראשונים
Thus R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, wrote that it is only in these latter generations that “it is permitted and obligatory to reveal this wisdom” — i.e., the Kabbalah, which illuminates the esoteric dimension of the Torah — but not in the earlier generations.
On this entire subject, see the introduction of R. Chayim Vital to Shaar HaHakdamot, which also appears as the first addendum to Kuntres Etz Chayim by the Rebbe Rashab (in the Kehot edition entitled Otzar HaChassidim), as well as the introduction of the Rebbe Rayatz to this Kuntres.
וגם רבי שמעון בר יוחאי אמר בזהר הקדוש, שלא ניתן רשות לגלות רק לו ולחביריו לבדם
R. Shimon bar Yochai, too, stated in the sacred Zohar that permission to reveal [the secrets of the Kabbalah] was only granted to himself and his associates.
ואך גם זאת פליאה נשגבה
Now this, too, is a remarkable wonder.
For if so, i.e., according to a superficial reading of the above quotation from Ra’aya Mehemna, from which it would appear that only the Zohar is called the Tree of Life, while the revealed plane of the Torah is considered the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,
לא היה לימוד איסור והיתר, וכל שכן דיני ממונות, דוחין מצות תפלה
then the study of [the laws of] ritual prohibition and permission, and surely [the study of] civil laws, such as litigation on monetary matters, should not override the obligation of prayer,
שנתקנה על פי סודות הזהר ויחודים עליונים, ליודעים
which is set out according to the secrets of the Zohar and on the Supernal Unions (of the various Divine Names and Supernal Sefirot), for those who are familiar with them,
כרבי שמעון בר יוחאי וחביריו
such as R. Shimon bar Yochai and his associates.
But this is not the case. In fact, the study of the laws of what is ritually prohibited or permitted, and even the study of civil law, does override the obligation to pray at fixed times.
כדאיתא בגמרא, דרבי שמעון בן יוחאי וחביריו, וכל מי שתורתו אומנותו, אין מפסיקין לתפלה
As stated in the Gemara, R. Shimon bar Yochai and his associates, and likewise any others whose Torah study is their sole occupation, do not interrupt [their Torah study] for prayer.
ואפילו כשעוסק בדיני ממונות, כרב יהודה, דכולהו תנויי בנזיקין הוי
[This applies] even when one is occupied with the study of civil law, like Rav Yehudah, all of whose studies were in the Order of Nezikin (lit., “damages”);
ואפילו הכי, לא הוי מצלי אלא מתלתין יומין לתלתין יומין, כד מהדר תלמודא, כדאיתא בגמרא
nevertheless, in order not to interrupt his studies, he prayed only every thirty days when reviewing his studies, as stated in the Gemara.
ובירושלמי, פרק קמא דברכות, סבירא ליה לרבי שמעון בר יוחאי דאפילו לקריאת שמע אין מפסיקין, כי אם ממקרא ולא ממשנה, דעדיפי ממקרא, לרבי שמעון בר יוחאי
Also, in the Talmud Yerushalmi, in the first chapter of Berachot, R. Shimon bar Yochai is of the opinion that even for the Reading of Shema one interrupts only the study of Scripture, but not of Mishnah, the Oral Torah, the study of which is superior to the study of Scripture, according to R. Shimon bar Yochai.
ולא חילק בין סדר זרעים ומועד וקדשים, לטהרות ונזיקין
He did not differentiate between [studying] the Orders of Zera’im, Moed and Kodashim, and [studying] the Orders of Taharot and Nezikin.
He thus holds that even when studying the monetary laws in the Order of Nezikin one should not interrupt one’s studies for the Reading of Shema.
(וסותר דעת עצמו ברעיא מהימנא בכמה מקומות, דמשנה איהי שפחה כו׳
(Actually, he [here] contradicts his own opinion, given in a number of instances in Ra’aya Mehemna, that Mishnah (relative to Scripture) is termed a “handmaiden” (Heb.: shifchah), and so on;
והמקרא, שהוא תורת משה, ודאי עדיפא מקבלה, דאיהי מטרוניתא ברעיא מהימנא שם
and Scripture, the Torah of Moses, is surely superior to the Kabbalah, which is termed a “queen” (Aram.: matrunita) in the above-quoted passage in Ra’aya Mehemna,
ותורה שבכתב הוא מלכא
while the Written Torah is termed a “king” (Aram.: malka).
Thus, according to the last-quoted set of terms from R. Shimon bar Yochai, Scripture is superior even to Kabbalah and surely to Mishnah. From the previous passage, however, as cited in the Talmud Yerushalmi, it would seem that he maintains that Mishnah is superior to Scripture, for one does not interrupt one’s study of Mishnah in order to read Shema at its prescribed time, though one does interrupt one’s study of Scripture.
Here the Alter Rebbe interpolates a Kabbalistic definition of the term malka (“king”):
(דהיינו יסוד אבא, המלובש בזעיר אנפין, כמו שכתב האריז״ל))
(This is the Yesod of Abba vested in Z’eir Anpin, as stated by R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory.))
To resume the discussion of R. Shimon bar Yochai:
וגם פלפול הקושיות ותירוצים, דמסטרא דרע ורוח הטומאה, אשכחן ברבי שמעון בר יוחאי, דעסק ביה טובא
Moreover, we find that R. Shimon bar Yochai dealt considerably (not only with the mere statements of law in the Mishnayot, but) also with the argumentation of problems and solutions, which (according to the original quotation from Ra’aya Mehemna) derive from the side of evil and from the spirit of impurity.
גם בהיותו במערה
[This he did] even when he was in the cave, where legal adjudication, especially in civil suits, was obviously uncalled for.
ואדרבה, בזכות צער המערה זכה לזה
Indeed, the very fact that he underwent anguish [when forced to hide] in the cave made him worthy of these attainments.
כדאיתא בגמרא, דאמר לרבי פנחס בן יאיר אכל קושיא, כ״ד פירוקי
For, as stated in the Gemara, he countered every problematic query posed by R. Pinchas ben Yair with twenty-four solutions,
ואמר ליה: אלמלא לא ראיתני בכך כו׳
and [R. Shimon] said to him: “If you had not seen me like this,” in this sorry state in the cave, [“you would not have found me like this”].
(וגם באמת, על כרחך עיקר עסקיהם במערה היה תורת המשניות, ת״ר סדרי שהיה בימיהם עד רבינו הקדוש
(In fact, their principal occupation in the cave — the principal occupation of Rashbi and his son, R. Eliezer — must have been with the teachings of the Mishnayot, i.e., the six hundred Orders extant in those days until the time of our holy Master, R. Yehudah HaNasi, who compiled the Mishnayot in six Orders.
דאילו ספר הזהר והתיקונים היה יכול לגמור בב׳ וג׳ חדשים, כי בודאי לא אמר דבר אחד ב׳ פעמים)
For he could have completed the Zohar and the Tikkunim, the Tikkunei Zohar, in two or three months; for surely he did not repeat the same subject twice.)
Surely, then, he was occupied almost the entire time with the study of the six hundred Orders of the Mishnah.
גם אמרו רבותינו ז״ל: מיום שחרב בית המקדש אין לו להקדוש ברוך הוא אלא ד׳ אמות של הלכה בלבד
Moreover, our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught that “Since the day the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has only the four cubits of Halachah.” The study of Torah law thus takes the place of the Holy Temple.
How, then, can we possibly say, as the above passage from Ra’aya Mehemna might superficially indicate, that the study of the laws of ritual permissibility, and the like, is designated as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thus related to kelipat nogah, which is an admixture of good and evil?
ועוד יש להפליא, הפלא ופלא
There is yet further cause to be exceedingly amazed — at how “those who lack understanding” comprehend this quotation from Ra’aya Mehemna.
This statement comes in addition to the two preceding causes for surprise at their misunderstanding of this quotation: (a) that a portion of the Torah could be termed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; (b) according to their understanding of the Ra’aya Mehemna the study of issur and hetter does not supersede the obligation to pray at fixed times, even though the prayers were arranged according to the secrets of the Zohar and the Supernal Unions; whereas the fact is that for those individuals whose only occupation is the study of Torah, the study of issur and hetter does indeed take precedence over the mitzvah of prayer.
In addition to these two problematic queries, there is now a third:
איך אפשר שלימות המשיח, לא יצטרכו לידע הלכות איסור והיתר, וטומאה וטהרה
How is it possible that in the days of Mashiach people will not need to know the laws of ritual prohibition and permission, and of impurity and purity?
כי איך ישחטו הקרבנות, וגם חולין, אם לא ידעו הלכות דרסה וחלדה ושהיה, הפוסלים השחיטה, ופגימת הסכין
For how will they slaughter the sacrifices, and likewise animals for common use, if they will not know the laws of drassah, chaladah, and shehiyah, any of which disqualifies the slaughtering, and [likewise, the laws regarding] a defective knife?
וכי יולד איש בטבעו שיהא שוחט בלי שהיה ודרסה, וגם הסכין תהיה בריאה ועומדת בלי פגימה לעולם
Will there ever be born a man who by his very nature will [invariably] slaughter without shehiyah or drassah? Will the knife also remain perfect and unblemished forever?
Since these are physical impossibilities, people will obviously have to know the practical laws governing ritual slaughter.
ועוד הרבה הלכות: חלב ודם, ושאר איסורין
There are also many more laws relating to sacrificial offerings and so on, [such as those regarding] fat, blood, and other prohibitions.
וגם טומאת המת יהיו צריכין לידע, כדכתיב: הנער בן מאה שנה ימות
People then will also need to know [the laws regarding] the impurity imparted by a corpse; as it is written, “A young man will die at the age of a hundred.”
And if there will be death in the world, these laws will of course be needed.
וגם טומאת יולדת צריך לידע, דכתיב: הרה ויולדת יחדיו
It will be further necessary to know the laws governing the impurity of a woman who has given birth; as it is written, “A pregnant woman, and one who gives birth together” [will be among those restored to the Holy Land at the time of the Redemption through Mashiach].
אם תלד אשה בכל יום מביאה אחת
If a woman will give birth every day, [these successive births] resulting from one marital union,
In Time to Come pregnancy will not last nine months; on the same day that a woman conceives she will give birth. Moreover, additional children will be born on successive days from that same conception.
אף על פי כן, דין איסור טומאתה לא ישתנה
nevertheless, the law with respect to the restrictions resulting from her impurity will not change.
It will thus still be necessary to know the laws regarding the ritual impurity of a woman who has given birth.
The Rebbe writes that the above elucidation — that a woman will give birth on the very day that she conceives — “accords with the explanation by the AriZal [of the teaching of the Sages in Tractate Shabbat 30b, that ‘In future time a woman will give birth every day’], in Likkutei HaShas (cited in the Miluim to Tehillim by the Tzemach Tzedek, ch. 20; also [in Biurei HaZohar of the Tzemach Tzedek, Vol. II, p. 827 ff.] at the end of s.v. Ginta). It differs from the commentary of Rashi [on the above teaching] in Tractate Shabbat 30b. See also Chiddushei Aggadot [of Maharsha] there.”
Commenting on the above-quoted phrase (“A pregnant woman, and one who gives birth together”), from which the Gemara derives its teaching that “In future time a woman will give birth every day,” Rashi explains that on the day a woman conceives a new child she will bear a previously-conceived child. For, as the Maharsha explains: It cannot mean that the conception and birth of the same child will take place on the very same day, for then the proof offered there in the Gemara regarding a chicken that laid eggs daily would not apply. For even a chicken does not lay the egg on the same day that it was fertilized; as the Gemara states in Tractate Bechorot, it takes twenty-one days. This means, as Rashi explains, that twenty-one days must elapse from the time of fertilization to the time the egg is laid. The AriZal, however, understands the Gemara in Tractate Shabbat to mean that a child will be conceived and born on the same day.
Parenthetically, the Tzemach Tzedek in the source quoted above quotes the Midrash Rabbah on Parshat Noach (beginning of sec. 36), to the effect that before the Flood as well, a woman would conceive and give birth on the very same day.
A further point: The Alter Rebbe added that the above-mentioned successive daily births would result “from one marital union.” This translation assumes that the unvocalized Hebrew text (מביאה אחת) is to be pronounced mibiah achat. Others, however, have assumed that it is to be pronounced meiviah achat; hence, “if a woman will give birth every day, she brings one [offering].” On this interpretation the Rebbe comments: “What connection does this have to our subject? (Especially, since this law [of impurity] also applies nowadays [i.e., prior to the arrival of Mashiach]. My opinion is that the phrase means ‘from one marital union.’ [I.e., further children will be born on subsequent days from that one marital union.]”
The Rebbe concludes: “This also solves the problem raised by the Maharsha.” In his Chiddushei Aggadot, the Maharsha asks: How can there possibly be additional births on subsequent days, when marital relations are forbidden for seven or fourteen days after birth? This question is answered by the above statement, that successive births will result from a single conception. This statement also accords with the reference made in the Gemara to a chicken, which lays eggs on different days from the same fertilization.
The Rebbe also refers to the Gemara (Niddah 27a) which relates that a certain woman’s conception resulted in the birth of two children, three months apart.
ואין להאריך בדבר הפשוט
There is no need to dwell on something so obvious — as the fact that these laws will still apply in the time of Mashiach, so that then, too, it will be necessary to know the laws of issur and hetter, and purity and impurity,
ומפורסם הפכו בכל הש״ס ומדרשים
when the entire Talmud and the Midrashim make known the reverse [of the misleading impression formed by a superficial reading of our opening quotation from Ra’aya Mehemna].
דפריך: הלכתא למשיחא
[For example:] The question is asked, “A law for the time of the Messiah?!”
I.e., why state now a law that will only apply to Messianic times? At that time, however, it will obviously be necessary to know it.
ואליהו בא לפשוט כל הספיקות, ופרשה זו עתיד אליהו לדורשה כו׳
Likewise we find that Elijah will come to clarify all doubts; and “This passage Elijah will expound in the future”; and so on.
ועוד אינו מובן מה שכתוב, דלא יתפרנסון תלמידי חכמים מעמי הארץ כו׳
Also not understandable is the statement (in Ra’aya Mehemna) that “the Torah scholars will not be sustained by illiterate people, and so on,”
As stated above, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is the root of issur and hetter, will not dominate the Jewish people, because “the Torah scholars will not be sustained by illiterate people,” —
ולא מערב רב, דאכלין פסול טמא ואסור, חס ושלום
nor by the mixed multitude, who eat that which is ritually unfit, impure, and prohibited, heaven forfend.
דהא גם בזמן בית שני, לא היו מתפרנסין מעמי הארץ דאכלין פסול ואסור, חס ושלום
Even during the time of the Second Temple they were not supported by the illiterate people who ate that which is ritually unfit and prohibited, heaven forfend,
שהרי תלמידי חכמים היו להם שדות וכרמים, כעמי הארץ
for the Torah scholars had fields and vineyards of their own, just like the illiterate people.
ואפילו הכי היו עוסקים בלימוד איסור והיתר, וטומאה וטהרה
Nevertheless, they engaged in the study of [the laws of] issur and hetter, and of impurity and purity —
כל הזוגות שהיו בימי בית שני
[for example,] all the pairs [of leading Sages] who lived at the time of the Second Temple —
והעמידו תלמידים לאלפים ורבבות
and they raised disciples in the legal of the Torah in the thousands and tens of thousands,
ולימוד הנסתר בהסתר כו׳
while the study of the esoteric [of the Torah] took place in secret, and so on.
We thus see that the fact that Torah scholars need not be sustained by the illiterate is in no way a cause for their not studying (G‑d forbid) the laws of issur and hetter and purity and impurity.
* * *
The Alter Rebbe will now point out that a careful reading of the passage from Ra’aya Mehemna reveals that it is not the laws themselves nor the study of them that are termed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather, this term is applied to the actual food or other things which are prohibited or permitted, and which derive their life-force from kelipat nogah — for this is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as will soon be explained.
אך באמת, כשתדקדק בלשון רעיא מהימנא דלעיל
But in truth, if you examine closely the above-quoted text of Ra’aya Mehemna —
ואילנא דטוב ורע, דאיהו איסור והיתר כו׳
“And the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil, i.e., prohibition and permission...” —
ולא אמר תורת איסור והיתר, או הלכות איסור והיתר
[you will note that] it does not say “the teachings (i.e., studying the subjects) of prohibition and permission,” nor “the laws of prohibition and permission,” which would suggest that they are (G‑d forbid) the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
אלא רצה לומר, דגוף דבר האסור והדבר המותר, הוא מאילנא דטוב ורע
Rather, it means to say that the actual thing which is prohibited, or the thing which is permitted, is of the Tree of Good and Evil,
שהוא קליפת נוגה, כמו שכתוב בעץ חיים
i.e., of kelipat nogah, as stated in Etz Chayim.
וזהו לשון אסור, שהקליפה שורה עליו, ואינו יכול לעלות למעלה, כדבר המותר
This, in fact, is the root of “assur” (meaning “forbidden”; lit., “bound”): the kelipah hovers over [the forbidden thing] so that it cannot rise aloft to holiness like that which is “muttar” (meaning “permitted”; lit., “unbound”);
דהיינו, שאינו קשור ואסור בקליפה
[while “muttar”] means that [a permitted object] is not tied and bound (“assur”) to the kelipah that would anchor it,
ויוכל לעלות על ידי האדם האוכלו, בכוונה לה׳
and is [therefore] able to ascend by means of the person eating it with his mind on G‑d, e.g., in order to have the strength to serve Him.
The same applies when there is no specific intent,
כל אדם העובד ה׳, שבכח האכילה ההיא לומד ומתפלל לה׳
with any person who serves G‑d, who studies [Torah] and prays to G‑d with the energy derived from this eating,
ונמצא שנעשו אותיות התורה והתפלה העולה לה׳, מכח הנברר מהמאכל ההוא
so that the letters of Torah and of prayer which ascend to G‑d are formed out of the energy distilled from that food.
In other words, the life-force that derives from kelipat nogah is thereby elevated to G‑d.
This is so during the week: In order for the food eaten on weekdays to be elevated, it must be utilized for Torah or prayer.
אבל בשבת, שיש עליה לקליפת נוגה בעצמה, עם החיצוניות שבכל העולמות
But on the Sabbath, the kelipat nogah itself is elevated, together with the external aspect of all the worlds, for the Sabbath is characterized by the “elevation of the worlds” (aliyat haolamot).
לכן מצוה לאכול כל תענוגים בשבת
It is therefore a mitzvah to eat all kinds of pleasurable things on the Sabbath, for the sake of oneg Shabbat (“enjoying the Sabbath”), irrespective of the fact that it gives one the strength to serve G‑d,
ולהרבות בבשר ויין
and to partake of more meat and wine than usual,
אף שבחול נקרא זולל וסובא
even though on a weekday one would be called a glutton and a drunkard.
מה שאין כן בדבר איסור
It is otherwise with a forbidden thing.
שאינו יכול לעלות, לא בשבת ולא בחול, גם כשמתפלל ולומד בכח ההוא
It cannot ascend [to holiness,] neither on the Sabbath nor on a weekday, even if one were to pray and study with that energy, i.e., with the energy derived from eating it׳—
אם לא שאכל לפיקוח נפש, שהתירו רז״ל, ונעשה היתר גמור
unless one ate in order to save an endangered life, which is permitted by our Sages, of blessed memory, so that [the food] becomes [entirely] permissible.
אבל הלימוד בתורה, אף הלכות איסור והיתר, טומאה וטהרה
But the study of Torah, even the laws of issur and hetter, impurity and purity, i.e., not the objects but the laws concerning them,
שהם המשניות וברייתות שבגמרא
those being the Mishnayot and the Beraitot in the Gemara that address these issues,
ופוסקים, המבארים ומבררים דבריהם להלכה למעשה
and the codifiers who explain and clarify their words for practical application,
הן הן גופי תורה שבעל פה
these constitute the body of the Oral Torah,
שהיא ספירת מלכות דאצילות, כדאיתא בזהר הקדוש, במקומות אין מספר
which is the Sefirah of Malchut in [the World of] Atzilut, as stated in innumerable places in the sacred Zohar.
ובריש תיקונים: מלכות: פה, ותורה שבעל פה קרינן לה
It is likewise written at the beginning of the Tikkunim, “Malchut (lit.,‘sovereignty’) — that is the Mouth, which we call the Oral Torah.”
ובאצילות, איהו וגרמוהי חד בהון
And in Atzilut, “He and His causations (garmohi; lit., ‘organs’) are one in them.” I.e., the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, and the vessels (kelim) which emanate from Him, and so too His attributes, are all one with Him — in the Sefirot.
דהיינו, שאור אין סוף ברוך הוא מתייחד באצילות בתכלית היחוד, שהוא ורצונו וחכמתו המלובשים בדבורו, שנקרא מלכות, הכל אחד
That is, the [infinite] Ein Sof-light unites itself in Atzilut in an absolute unity, so that He, and His will and wisdom — vested in His speech, which is called Malchut — are entirely one.
This indivisible level of Divinity can thus not be described in compound terms, as the Tree of Knowledge of [both] Good and Evil. And the laws of the Oral Torah — in the Mishnayot, the Beraitot and the legal codes — which relate to the Sefirah of Malchut in the World of Atzilut, partake of the same indivisible unity. These laws can thus not be described in terms of the Tree of Knowledge of [both] Good and Evil.
* * *
The above refers to the Sefirah of Malchut of Atzilut only so long as it remains on its home ground, so to speak, i.e., in the World of Atzilut. Likewise, the above refers to the Torah laws only so long as they are in their pristine state, i.e, at the sublime level of Malchut of Atzilut.
However, as the laws become vested within lower realms, they can become subject to a measure of concealment. Likewise, as the Sefirah of Malchut of Atzilut becomes vested in lower Worlds, it too is subject to this state of concealment. It is then called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because it is vested within kelipat nogah. This vestiture takes place for the sake of one of the ultimate spiritual tasks of man — beirurim, i.e., sifting and refining the physicality of this world, in order to elevate the divine sparks from the evil which encumbers them.
This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain.
ומה שאמר האריז״ל שהמשניות הן במלכות דיצירה
As to the statement of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, that the Mishnayot relate to [the Sefirah of] Malchut in [the World of] Yetzirah, whereas we have just quoted the Zohar to the effect that the Mishnayot relate to the Sefirah of Malchut in the World of Atzilut,
רצונו לומר: לבוש מלכות דיצירה שנתלבשה בה מלכות דאצילות
he referred to the garment of Malchut of Yetzirah in which Malchut of Atzilut is vested; only after Malchut of Atzilut descends to the World of Yetzirah and is vested there, can it be said that Mishnayot relate to Yetzirah.
ומלכות דיצירה נקרא שפחה לגבי מלכות דאצילות
And Malchut of Yetzirah is referred to as a handmaiden (shifchah), relative to Malchut of Atzilut, which is vested in it.
This answers an earlier question. The Alter Rebbe had quoted the Talmud Yerushalmi (ch. 1 of Berachot) to the effect that R. Shimon bar Yochai maintains that for the Reading of Shema one interrupts the study of Scripture, though not of Mishnah, which is loftier than Scripture. This was contradicted by statements of R. Shimon bar Yochai himself in Ra’aya Mehemna, to the effect that Mishnah is referred to as the handmaiden while Scripture is referred to as the king.
According to the above, however, there is no contradiction. So long as Mishnah is in its primary and fundamental state, it belongs to the level of Malchut of Atzilut; it is referred to as a handmaiden only after it is vested within Malchut of Yetzirah. This difference between the way something exists in its essential state and the way it exists as it is vested in a lower state of being, applies to Scripture as well, as will soon be explained.
ומלכות דבריאה נקרא אמה
By contrast, Malchut of Beriah (which is a lower World) is referred to as a maid (amah), denoting a level superior to the level of shifchah.
ותדע ממה שאמר האריז״ל, דמקרא, דהיינו תורה שבכתב, הוא בעשיה
Proof of this — that there is a significant difference between the way something exists in its essential state (be’etzem) and the way it exists as it is vested (behitlabshut) in a lower level — may be gained from the statement of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, that Scripture, i.e., the Written Torah, is in Asiyah,
והרי מפורש בזהר ובכתבי האריז״ל, מקומות אין מספר, שהיא תפארת, שהוא זעיר אנפין דאצילות
even though it is explicit in innumerable places in the Zohar and the writings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, that it is [the Sefirah of] Tiferet, which is the Z’eir Anpin of Atzilut.
As such it is even higher than Malchut of Atzilut; how, then, can it be said that Scripture is in Asiyah?
אלא, שמתלבשת בעשיה
Rather, this means that it vests itself in Asiyah.
וכן הוא בהדיא בספר הכוונות, שמקרא ומשנה ותלמוד וקבלה, כולם באצילות
Thus it is taught explicitly in Sefer HaKavanot — that Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud and Kabbalah are all in Atzilut,
אלא שמקרא מתלבש עד עשיה
except that Scripture vests itself as far [“down”] as Asiyah,
The Written Torah hinges on its letters, which are inscribed with tangible ink on tangible parchment, and hence related to Asiyah, the “World of Action.”
ומשנה עד היצירה
and Mishnah [vests itself only] as far [“down”] as Yetzirah,
The Mishnah consists mainly of laws, such as those determining ritual validity or invalidity. These two states ultimately derive from the corresponding middot of Chesed and Gevurah, the Divine “emotive attributes” of benevolence and severity. Hence these laws are vested in the World of Yetzirah, for “the six [emotive] Sefirot ‘nest’ in Yetzirah.”
and Talmud is vested as far [“down”] as Beriah.
The Talmud elucidates the laws. It thus relates to Beriah, the “World of Comprehension,” which is illumined by Binah (“understanding”), for “the Supernal Mother (i.e., Binah) ‘nests’ in the [World of the] Throne,” i.e., in Beriah.
* * *
והנה, כשהמלכות דאצילות מתלבשת בקליפת נוגה, כדי לברר הניצוצות שנפלו בחטא אדם הראשון
Now, when Malchut of Atzilut is vested in kelipat nogah in order to extract and refine the sparks that fell with the sin of Adam,
וגם הרפ״ח ניצוצין שנפלו בשבירת הכלים
as well as the 288 sparks that fell with the “breaking of the vessels,”
The concept of shevirat hakelim (the primordial “breaking of the vessels”) and the elevation of the 288 sparks of holiness hidden in the material world is explained at length elsewhere in the literature of Chassidut.
אזי גם המלכות דאצילות נקראת בשם עץ הדעת טוב ורע, לגבי זעיר אנפין דאצילות
Malchut of Atzilut, too, is then referred to as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, relative to Z’eir Anpin of Atzilut
שאינו יורד שם, ונקרא עץ חיים
which does not descend there and which is referred to as the Tree of Life.
והנה התלבשות המלכות בקליפת נוגה, הוא סוד גלות השכינה
And the investiture of [the Sefirah of] Malchut in kelipat nogah is the Kabbalistic principle of the exile of the Shechinah,
אשר שלט האדם באדם כו׳
whereby “man rules over man, to his detriment.”
In Epistle 25 (above), the Alter Rebbe quotes the exposition of this verse in Sefer HaGilgulim. During the time of exile, the “evil man” (of kelipah) rules over the “sacred man” (i.e., the holy “side” of the universe). At this time, the Divine Presence is in a state of exile within the universe. However, this temporary dominion of evil is “to his [ultimate] detriment,” for its underlying intent is that the sparks of holiness that are embedded within evil, be extracted and elevated.
* * *
The Alter Rebbe will now answer another question which he himself had posed earlier.
The Ra’aya Mehemna had stated that so long as the bipolar influence of the Tree of Knowledge of [both] Good and Evil is dominant in the world, Torah scholars (who are likened to the Shabbat and festivals) are supported only by their unlettered (“weekday”) brethren, whose food is sometimes pure but sometimes not. This is why the scholars engage in the study of the correspondingly bipolar laws of issur vs. hetter (ritual prohibition vs. permission), and the like.
Concerning this statement the Alter Rebbe asked above: Even though the Sages in Second Temple times tilled their own fields and vineyards, did they not mainly study the very same laws of issur and hetter, and the like?
In reply, the Alter Rebbe now explains the meaning of this passage from Ra’aya Mehemna.
During the present era of exile, when the world is dominated by the influence of the Tree of Knowledge of [both] Good and Evil, the Divine Presence grants life-force to the chitzonim. These negative forces belong to the ambivalent realm of kelipat nogah, which veils the holy potential embedded in the material things of this world. (Torah scholars are nourished only by the distilled essence of the Divinely-endowed life-force.)
In order to extract and refine the sparks of holiness hidden in this material world during this era of exile, scholars study the laws of prohibition and permission, and the like. Through painstaking debate and deliberation, they isolate and salvage that which is permitted from that which is prohibited, and that which is pure from that which is impure. Ultimately, their Torah study removes the Divinely-imposed veil, so that a clear adjudication of the law results.
This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:
וזהו שכתוב ברעיא מהימנא: ובזמנא דאילנא דטוב ורע שלטא כו׳, אינון כו׳
And this is the meaning of the statement in Ra’aya Mehemna: “While the Tree of Good and Evil dominates [the world],... these [Sages, who are likened to the Sabbaths and festivals, have nothing except what is given to them by those who are called ‘unsanctified ones,’...].”
דהיינו: בזמן גלות השכינה, שמשפעת לחיצונים שהם בקליפת נוגה, שהערב רב יונקים משם
This means that at the time of the exile of the Shechinah — which grants life-force to the chitzonim that belong in the realm of kelipat nogah, from which the “mixed multitude” derive their life-force,
ומתמציתו ניזונין תלמידי חכמים בגלות
and from whose distilled essence the Torah scholars are nourished during the exile, —
ואז, עיקר עבודת האדם, ועיקר עסק התורה והמצות, הוא לברר הניצוצות, כנודע מהאריז״ל
at this time the main spiritual task of man, and the main purpose of being engaged in Torah and the commandments, is to disencumber and elevate the sparks, as is known from the teachings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory.
לכן, עיקר ענין הלימוד הוא בעיון ופלפול הלכה, באיסור והיתר, טומאה וטהרה
For this reason, study chiefly involves deliberation and argumentation on the laws of issur and hetter, impurity and purity,
לברר המותר והטהור מהאסור והטמא, על ידי עיון ופלפול הלכה, בחכמה בינה ודעת
in order to disencumber the permitted and the pure from the forbidden and the impure by means of deliberation and argumentation on the law — with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, with all the three intellective faculties of the soul that clarify the law.
כנודע, דאורייתא מחכמה נפקת, ובחכמה דייקא אתברירו
For as is known, the Torah derives from Chochmah. Hence, [the sparks of holiness hidden in a legal question] can be extracted and elevated only through Chochmah.
והיינו חכמה עילאה דאצילות, המלובשת במלכות דאצילות
Specifically: the Supernal Chochmah of Atzilut which is vested in Malchut of Atzilut —
סוד תורה שבעל פה
this being the Kabbalistic principle of the Oral Torah
(בסוד אבא יסד ברתא)
(according to the Kabbalistic principle by which “the ‘father’ (i.e., Chochmah of Atzilut) begat (lit., ‘founded’) the ‘daughter’ (i.e., Malchut of Atzilut)”) —
המלובשת במלכות דיצירה
which, in turn, is vested in Malchut of Yetzirah.
[סוד] המשניות (וברייתות המלובשות בקליפת נוגה, שכנגד עולם היצירה
[This accords with the Kabbalistic principle of] the Mishnayot (and the Beraitot that are vested in the kelipat nogah, which corresponds to the World of Yetzirah;
ששם מתחיל בחינת הדעת [נ"א הרע] שבנוגה)
for there begins the Knowledge [of Good and Evil] [or: “[for there begins] the evil”] which is inherent in nogah), for the kelipat nogah in the World of Yetzirah is equally good and evil.
[נוסח אחר: והברייתות המלובשות בקליפת נוגה שכנגד עולם העשיה, ששם מתחיל בחינת הרע שבנוגה]
[A variant reading: “and the Beraitot that are vested in the kelipat nogah which corresponds to the World of Asiyah, from where there begins the evil of nogah”], for the kelipat nogah of Asiyah is mostly evil and minimally good.
The above is known from the teachings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory.
* * *
והמשכיל יבין ענין פלא גדול מזה מאד, מה נעשה בשמים ממעל, על ידי עיון ובירור הלכה פסוקה, מן הגמרא ופוסקים ראשונים ואחרונים
Now, the intelligent will understand something far more remarkable, namely, what happens in heaven above through the deliberation and elucidation of an adjudged ruling — of the Gemara and of the earlier and latter codifiers —
מה שהיה בהעלם דבר קודם העיון הלז
which, before this deliberation, had been concealed.
כי על ידי זה, מעלה הלכה זו מהקליפות שהיו מעלימים ומכסים אותה, שלא היתה ידועה כלל, או שלא היתה מובנת היטב בטעמה
For by means of this [clarification] one elevates this ruling from the kelipot that were hiding and covering it in such a way that it was not known at all, or that its reasoning was not clearly understood.
שהטעם הוא סוד הספירה חכמה עילאה, שנפלו ממנה ניצוצות בקליפות, בשבירת הכלים
For the reason [underlying a particular halachah] derives mystically from the Sefirah of Supernal Chochmah, from which sparks fell into the kelipot as a result of the primordial “breaking of the vessels.”
והם שם בבחינת גלות, שהקליפות שולטים עליהם, ומעלימים חכמת התורה מעליונים ומתחתונים
[As to these sparks of Chochmah which constitute the reasons,] they are there in a state of exile, because the kelipot rule over them and hide the wisdom of the Torah from both the higher and lower beings — both from the created beings of the higher worlds, such as angels and souls, and from man situated here in this lowly world.
וזהו שכתוב ברעיא מהימנא, שהקושיא היא מסטרא דרע
This is why it is stated in Ra’aya Mehemna, as quoted at the beginning of the present letter, that “a problematic query ... emanates from the side of evil.”
Since it creates difficulty in the comprehension of a Torah concept, it derives from the evil kelipot which conceal the Chochmah of the Torah.
* * *
והנה העליונים, אין להם כח לברר ולהעלות מהשבירה שבקליפת נוגה
Now, the celestial beings (i.e., the souls and angels in the higher worlds) do not have the power to disencumber and elevate that which is in kelipat nogah (i.e., the sparks that are exiled there) as a result of the “breaking of the vessels.”
אלא התחתונים לבד
Only the terrestrial beings, the souls situated in this world, [can do this],
לפי שהם מלובשים בגוף חומרי, משכא דחויא, מקליפת נוגה
for they are vested in a material body that is known as the “hide of the serpent,” which derives from kelipat nogah.
As explained above, when this concept appeared in ch. 31 of Tanya (quoting the Zohar), the “serpent” refers to the “three utterly impure kelipot,” while the body that derives its vitality from kelipat nogah is called the “hide of the serpent.”
והם מתישים כחה, בשבירת התאוות
These [embodied souls] weaken its strength, the strength of this kelipah, by crushing the passions,
ואתכפיא סטרא אחרא, ויתפרדו כל פועלי און
thereby subjugating the sitra achra, so that “all the workers of evil (i.e., the kelipot) will be dispersed.”
Thus, only souls in this world are able to extract the holy sparks from the kelipot and elevate them. For this reason, they alone are able to elevate the Chochmah of Torah which the kelipot obscure.
ולכן באים העליונים לשמוע חידושי תורה מהתחתונים
This is why the celestial beings, the souls of the higher worlds, come to hear innovative insights into the Torah from the terrestrial beings, from the souls here in this world —
מה שמחדשים ומגלים תעלומות החכמה, שהיו כבושים בגולה עד עתה
[to hear] the secrets of wisdom which they innovate and reveal, and which until this time had been in bondage in exile.
וכל איש ישראל יוכל לגלות תעלומות חכמה, (לגלות) ולחדש שכל חדש
Every Jew is able to reveal secrets of wisdom, (to reveal) and to discover a new insight,
הן בהלכות הן באגדות, הן בנגלה הן בנסתר
whether it be in the laws or in homiletics, in the revealed or in the mystical [planes of the Torah],
כפי בחינת שרש נשמתו
according to the nature of his soul’s root, and its consequent affinity with each of the above categories of the Torah.
Indeed, one is obliged to do so — to uncover hitherto-concealed insights into the Torah, and to reveal the secrets of wisdom,
להשלים נשמתו, בהעלאת כל הניצוצות שנפלו לחלקה ולגורלה, כנודע
in order to perfect his soul by elevating all the sparks that have been allotted to it, as is known.
(וכל דברי תורה, ובפרט דבר הלכה, היא ניצוץ מהשכינה, שהיא היא דבר ה׳
(Moreover, every Torah teaching, and especially a halachic teaching, is a spark of the Shechinah, which is the word of G‑d.
כדאיתא בגמרא: דבר ה׳, זו הלכה
In the words of the Gemara, “The phrase ‘word of G‑d’ denotes the Halachah.”
סוד מלכות דאצילות, המלבשת לחכמה דאצילות, ומלובשים במלכות דיצירה
This accords with the Kabbalistic principle regarding Malchut of Atzilut which garbs the Chochmah of Atzilut, [both of] which are vested in Malchut of Yetzirah,
וירדו בקליפת נוגה בשבירת הכלים
and with the “breaking of the vessels” they descended into kelipat nogah.)
The words of Torah in general, and particularly the halachic “word of G‑d,” are thus exiled within the kelipot that conceal them. Accordingly, a scholar who brings to light a teaching long hidden in the Torah or who resolves a problematic query and thereby clearly articulates a particular law, releases the pertinent spark of the Shechinah from the kelipot.
וזהו שכתוב בגמרא: כל העוסק בתורה, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא, מעלה אני עליו כאלו פדאני ואת בני מבין האומות העולם
Thus the Gemara teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, says of whoever engages in the study of the Torah..., “I account it as if he had redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world.”
For Torah study redeems the sparks of the Shechinah — the sparks of the “word of G‑d” — from their exile within the kelipot.
* * *
The above applies nowadays, when the Shechinah is exiled in kelipat nogah; hence the main function of Torah study is to seek out and elevate the sparks of holiness from the kelipot. Hence, too, the current concentration on the laws of issur and hetter, kasher and passul, and the like.
אבל בצאת השכינה מקליפת נוגה [נ"א מהקליפות]
But when the Shechinah will emerge from kelipat nogah [or: from the kelipot],
אחר שיושלם בירור הניצוצות, ויופרד הרע מהטוב, ויתפרדו כל פועלי און
after the extraction of the sparks will be completed, and the evil of the kelipot will be separated from the good of holiness, “and all the workers of evil will be dispersed,”
ולא שלטא אילנא דטוב ורע, בצאת הטוב ממנה
and the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil (which is of kelipat nogah and which prevails during the time of exile) will no longer be dominant, because the good will have departed from it,
Kelipat nogah is influential only by virtue of its minimal component of good; as soon as this is extracted, kelipat nogah will have no dominion whatever.
אזי לא יהיה עסק התורה והמצות לברר בירורין
then people will engage in the study of Torah and in the observance of the commandments not in order to extract the sparks, as in the present,
כי אם ליחד יחודים עליונים יותר, להמשיך אורות עליונים יותר, שלמעלה מהאצילות
but in order to bring about the consummation of yichudim (“unions” or “marriages” of Sefirot) more sublime than those which are effected through our present Torah study — in order to call forth more sublime lights, transcending Atzilut.
כמו שכתב האריז״ל
This is explained in the writings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory.
והכל על ידי פנימיות התורה, לקיים המצות בכוונות עליונות, שמכונות לאורות עליונים
Everything [will be accomplished] by means of the pnimiyut of the Torah, the esoteric dimension of the Torah, by the performance of the commandments with lofty mystical devotions directed to [drawing down] sublime “lights” [from the Divine Luminary].
כי שרש המצות הוא למעלה מעלה, באין סוף ברוך הוא
For the root of the commandments is exceedingly high, in the blessed Ein Sof, at a level loftier than Atzilut.
(ומה שאמרו רז״ל, דמצות בטילות לעתיד לבא
(As for the statement of our Sages, of blessed memory, that “the commandments will be abrogated in the future,”
היינו בתחיית המתים
this refers to the era of the Resurrection of the Dead.
אבל לימות המשיח, קודם תחיית המתים, אין בטלים)
In the days of the Messiah, however, before the Resurrection of the Dead, they will not be abrogated.)
At that time, the observance of mitzvot will draw down to this world even higher levels of G‑dliness than those drawn down by the current observance of mitzvot.
ולכן יהיה גם עיקר עסק התורה גם כן בפנימיות המצות, וטעמיהם הנסתרים
This is why Torah study will then be mainly directed to the pnimiyut (the innermost, mystical depths) of the commandments, and their hidden reasons.
Specifically: Gaining insights into the dynamics of the above-mentioned yichudim, and thereby understanding why the scrupulous performance of the commandments brings about these Supernal “unions” which give birth to renewed diffusions of the Divine light that animates this world.
אבל הנגלות יהיו גלוים וידועים לכל איש ישראל, בידיעה בתחלה, בלי שכחה
The revealed aspects of the Torah, however, will be manifest and known to every Jew, by an innate and unforgotten knowledge.
Review will thus be unnecessary.
ואין צריך לעסוק בהם, אלא לערב רב
Only the mixed multitude (and not the Jews) will have to toil in these [aspects of the Torah],
שלא יזכו למטעם מאילנא דחיי, שהוא פנימיות התורה והמצוה
because they will not have merited to taste from the Tree of Life, i.e., the pnimiyut of the Torah and of the commandments.
וצריכים לעסוק [בתורה] במשנה, להתיש כח הסטרא אחרא הדבוק בהם (על ידי עסק התורה)
They will [therefore] need to engage [in Torah] in Mishnah, in order to weaken (by their occupation with Torah) the power of the sitra achra that cleaves to them,
שלא תשלוט בהם, להחטיאם
so that it will not dominate them and cause them to sin.
כדכתיב: והחוטא בן מאה שנה יקולל, שיהיו חוטאים מערב רב
Thus it is written, “And the sinner at the age of a hundred will be cursed.” This refers to the sinners of the mixed multitude.
Thus, even with the arrival of the Messiah there will be sinners among the mixed multitude, since the sitra achra cleaves to them. They will therefore require means by which to weaken it, so that they will not sin.
Nor will they need only the revealed aspects of the Torah in order to repel the sitra achra.
וגם למעשה יהיו צריכים לפרטי הלכות אסור וטומאה יותר מישראל
In addition, on the practical level, they will need the detailed rulings of prohibition and impurity more than the Jews.
שלא יארע להם פסול וטומאה ואסור
For the latter, nothing will occur that is ritually unfit, impure, or forbidden,
כי לא יאונה כו׳
since “there shall not befall [any sin to the righteous]” — and in the era of Mashiach, all Jews will be at the level of the “righteous”.
וגם אפשר, וקרוב הדבר, שידעו מפנימיות התורה, כל גופי התורה הנגלית
It is also possible, and indeed probable, that [the Jewish people] will know all the fundamentals of the revealed plane of the Torah from the pnimiyut of the Torah,
כמו אברהם אבינו, עליו השלום
as was the case with our father Abraham, peace be to him.
The Gemara relates that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah even before it was given at Sinai. Now there are passages and commandments to which he could not possibly have related on a physical level.
Inscribed on the tiny parchment scrolls within tefillin, for example, are Biblical passages which record the Exodus from Egypt — a land to which his descendants had not yet been exiled. The mode of Abraham’s performance of the commandments was thus spiritual and esoteric, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Torah Or and Likkutei Torah.
Abraham thus knew all the revealed aspects of Torah from its esoteric core. In Time to Come all Jews will know the Torah in a similar manner.
ולכן אין צריך לעסוק בהם כלל
They will therefore not need to occupy themselves with them — with the laws defining what is permitted or prohibited, pure or impure — at all.
מה שאין כן בזמן בית שני, היו צריכים לעסוק
At the time of the Second Temple, by contrast, although the scholars did not derive their sustenance from the illiterate, for they had their own fields and vineyards, they needed to be involved in these [laws],
גם כי לא בשביל הלכה למעשה בלבד, אלא שזהו עיקר העבודה
and not only for their practical application, but because this is the main purpose of divine service —
להתיש כח הסטרא אחרא, ולהעלות ניצוצי הקדושה, על ידי התורה והעבודה, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר
to weaken the power of the sitra achra and to elevate the sparks of holiness by means of Torah study and worship, as is explained elsewhere.
* * *
ואחר הדברים והאמת האלו, יובן היטב בתוספת ביאור הרעיא מהימנא דלעיל
After the above words of truth it will be possible to clearly understand the earlier-quoted passage from Ra’aya Mehemna,
במה שאמר: אילנא דטוב ורע כו׳
which spoke of “the Tree of Good and Evil, [i.e., prohibition and permission],”
רצונו לומר: קליפת נוגה, שהוא עיקר עולם הזה
meaning kelipat nogah, which is the mainstay of this world,
כמו שכתוב בעץ חיים
as is written in Etz Chayim.
At the moment, until Mashiach arrives, the dominant influence in this material world is kelipat nogah, the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” After his arrival, however, this dominion will cease, and man’s divine service will be directed not to extracting the sparks of holiness hidden in the material world, but to bringing about ever higher Supernal unions, as explained above.
This will suffice for the discerning.
In the middle of the above Epistle, the Alter Rebbe stated that if “one ate [forbidden food] in order to save an endangered life,... [the food] becomes [entirely] permissible.”
The Rebbe notes that this concept is problematic; indeed, many editions of the Tanya omit the word “entirely”, which is evidently why it found its way into current editions as a bracketed text.
The Rebbe goes on to distinguish between prohibition (issur) and impurity (tumah). When something is prohibited, one can sense its inherent evil; for example, forbidden foods clog the mind and heart with spiritual congestion. Thus, even if a pregnant woman scented forbidden food on Yom Kippur and the Torah permitted her to eat it (if her life would otherwise be in danger), eating that food would still becloud her soul.
Moreover, even when the prohibition was not intrinsic to the food, but a thought or a statement invalidated it, as for example when an animal was slaughtered with idolatrous intent, eating this food leaves its imprint. Thus, for example, the Midrash traces the wayward path of Elisha ben Avuyah (known as “Acher”) to very early beginnings — before his birth his mother had tasted food that was prepared for idolatrous worship.
In light of the above, the Rebbe goes on to note, we can understand why a nursing mother who has eaten forbidden food, even when permitted to do so because her life was endangered, should refrain from nursing her child. For although eating this food was in fact halachically permitted, the nature of the food and the spiritual blemish which it imparts to her infant remain unchanged.
This is especially so, according to the halachic determination (with regard to one who is ill as well), that a life-threatening situation merely sets aside a prohibition; it does not make the prohibited object permissible.
As the Rebbe concludes, the above considerations evidently explain why in current editions of Iggeret HaKodesh — regarding the food eaten in a life-threatening situation that becomes “[entirely] permissible” — the word “entirely” is bracket-ed, and in many editions never appeared.