This letter comments on a discourse (in Tzavaat Harivash, sec. 120 in the Kehot edition) in which the Baal Shem Tov explains that though all things emanate from G-d through His attributes of love and awe, these attributes can find themselves in a state of exile.

The Baal Shem Tov goes on to say that in the same way, a worshipper who finds that his endeavors to concentrate are being disturbed by someone speaking should consider: “Why did G-d bring me here, where this talker is disturbing my prayers? After all, everything is Providential.”

Indeed it is, explains the Baal Shem Tov: this man’s talk is a spark of the radiance of the Shechinah that has descended and now “abides” in his mouth in order that the worshipper should exert himself so strenuously that he will be able to ignore the disturbance. (The verb used in the above-quoted version of the teaching is “abides”—שָׁרְתָה; as the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, the proper term is “vested”—נִתְלַבְּשָׁה.)

Especially so, the text there goes on to say, if the person speaking is a heathen or a child, then the realization that the Shechinah has (as it were) contracted itself to such a degree should surely bring the worshipper to ever-increasing fervor.

It would seem that the opponents of Chasidism seized upon this statement of the Baal Shem Tov: they could not understand how one could possibly say that the Shechinah “abided” (or even was “vested”) within a heathen.

The Alter Rebbe explains this in the present letter, beginning with the teaching of the Sages that “whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater.” A Jew, he explains, must know that everything comes from G-d. When someone strikes him or angers him with words, he should remind himself that at that very moment, a glimmer of the Divine Presence—which provides life to all creatures and to this individual as well—has vested itself within that person.

The Alter Rebbe goes on to prove this from King David’s response when Shimi ben Geira cursed him. King David said: “For G-d told him, ‘Curse!’” Although we do not find it explicitly stated that G-d told Shimi to curse David, still, since G-d’s spirit animated Shimi at the moment that he cursed David, thus providing him with the strength to do so, David considered this as if “G-d told him to curse.” Indeed, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain, a glimmer or radiance of the Shechinah vests itself even in kelipot.

Throughout this discussion, the Alter Rebbe does not actually quote the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching nor the above objection to it. The reason for the latter omission may perhaps be understood in light of the fact that the Alter Rebbe was prepared for mesirut nefesh, literally risking his life, not to be sundered from any teaching or even the slightest gesture of the Baal Shem Tov, even if it would only appear to be so in the eyes of the beholder.1

It is thus reasonable to assume that here, as well, the Alter Rebbe chose not to even mention an objection raised against a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov; he merely clarifies the concepts involved, and the objection falls away as a matter of course.

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

לְהָבִין אִמְרֵי בִינָה,

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

מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בַּסֵּפֶר הַנִּקְרָא "צַוָּואַת רִיבָ"שׁ",

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

הֲגַם שֶׁבֶּאֱמֶת אֵינָהּ צַוָּואָתוֹ כְּלָל, וְלֹא צִיוָּה כְּלָל לִפְנֵי פְטִירָתוֹ,

they (i.e., the teachings in this book) are merely gleanings of his pure sayings

רַק הֵם לִקּוּטֵי אִמְרוֹתָיו הַטְּהוֹרוֹת,

The adjective (“pure”) recalls the phrase in the morning blessings, טְהוֹרָה הִיא, that describes the pristine purity of a soul before it descends from the World of Atzilut; likewise, the verse, כְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר (“as pure as the very heavens”5).

that were gathered as “compilations after compilations,”6

שֶׁלִּקְּטוּ לְקוּטֵי בָּתַר לְקוּטֵי,

and [the compilers] did not know how to phrase his teachings exactly.

וְלֹא יָדְעוּ לְכַוֵּין הַלָּשׁוֹן עַל מַתְכּוּנְתּוֹ,

The Baal Shem Tov used to speak in Yiddish, and the teachings in Tzavaat Harivash are recorded in Hebrew.

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

אַךְ הַמְכֻוָּון – הוּא אֱמֶת לַאֲמִיתּוֹ.

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

And this [will be understood] by first considering the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory: “Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater.”7

וְהוּא, בְּהַקְדִּים מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "כָּל הַכּוֹעֵס כְּאִילּוּ עוֹבֵד עַכּוּ"ם וְכוּ'",

The reason [for this] is clear to “those who know understanding,”8

וְהַטַּעַם מוּבָן לְיוֹדְעֵי בִינָה,

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

לְפִי שֶׁבְּעֵת כַּעֲסוֹ נִסְתַּלְּקָה מִמֶּנּוּ הָאֱמוּנָה,

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

כִּי אִילּוּ הָיָה מַאֲמִין שֶׁמֵּאֵת ה' הָיְתָה זֹאת לוֹ – לֹא הָיָה בְּכַעַס כְּלָל.

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

וְאַף שֶׁבֶּן־אָדָם שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל בְּחִירָה מְקַלְּלוֹ אוֹ מַכֵּהוּ אוֹ מַזִּיק מָמוֹנוֹ

and [therefore] guilty according to the laws of man and the laws of heaven for his evil choice.

וּמִתְחַיֵּיב בְּדִינֵי אָדָם וּבְדִינֵי שָׁמַיִם עַל רוֹעַ בְּחִירָתוֹ,

The perpetrator for his part cannot plead innocence on the grounds that he is merely an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence.

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

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, עַל הַנִּיזָּק כְּבָר נִגְזַר מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם,

and “G-d has many agents”9 through whom He can act,

וְהַרְבֵּה שְׁלוּחִים לַמָּקוֹם.

Hence, even if the offending party had chosen otherwise, the incident would have befallen the victim in any case.

This discussion recalls the teaching of the Mechilta cited by Rashi on the verse, וְהָאֱלֹקִים אִנָּה לְיָדוֹ—“and G-d caused it to happen to him.”10 For to such a case, the Mechilta applies the verse, “From evildoers, there emerges evil.”11 This means that though it was decreed from above that someone should sustain an injury, G-d brings it about that a particular person should inflict it.

That context, however, speaks of an unwitting injury. In the case of a potentially willful offender, if instead of choosing freely to act in an evil manner he chose to do otherwise, the event would still have occurred, for “G-d has many agents,” as quoted above.

At any rate, it is thus clear that the victim has no cause to be angry with the offender, for the true cause of the offense was not him, but a heavenly decree.

The Alter Rebbe now takes this one step further: Not only does the heavenly decree give the offender an undefined potential to do harm, but moreover, the particular thought to do it and the power to do it, all come about from G-d. (At the same time, since man has freedom of choice, he can of course choose to reject such a thought and refrain from doing such a deed.)

Anger thus remains unjustifiable. For the offended party is not angry that the other party made an evil choice; what angers him is the damage done to him. His anger thus results from his lack of belief that the true cause for his mishap is not a particular individual’s evil choice but a heavenly decree.

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

וְלֹא עוֹד,

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

אֶלָּא אֲפִילוּ בְּשָׁעָה זוֹ מַמָּשׁ שֶׁמַּכֵּהוּ אוֹ מְקַלְּלוֹ –

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

מִתְלַבֵּשׁ בּוֹ כֹּחַ ה' וְרוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַמְחַיֵּיהוּ וּמְקַיְּימוֹ,

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

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "כִּי ה' אָמַר לוֹ קַלֵּל",

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

וְהֵיכָן אָמַר לְשִׁמְעִי?

Only, this thought that occurred in Shimi’s heart and mind to curse David descended from G-d, Who was thus responsible for such a thought entering Shimi’s mind,

אֶלָּא שֶׁמַּחֲשָׁבָה זוֹ שֶׁנָּפְלָה לְשִׁמְעִי בְּלִבּוֹ וּמוֹחוֹ – יָרְדָה מֵאֵת ה',

and “the breath of His mouth, which animates all the hosts [of heaven],”13

וְ"רוּחַ פִּיו הַמְחַיֶּה כָּל צְבָאָם"

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

הֶחֱיָה רוּחוֹ שֶׁל שִׁמְעִי בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁדִּיבֶּר דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ לְדָוִד,

for if the breath of G-d’s mouth had departed from the spirit of Shimi for a single moment, he could not have spoken at all.

כִּי אִילּוּ נִסְתַּלֵּק רוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ רֶגַע אֶחָד מֵרוּחוֹ שֶׁל שִׁמְעִי – לֹא יָכוֹל לְדַבֵּר מְאוּמָה.

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

(וְזֶהוּ "כִּי ה' אָמַר לוֹ" – בָּעֵת הַהִיא מַמָּשׁ – "קַלֵּל" אֶת דָּוִד,

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

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

"וּמִי יֹאמַר לוֹ וְגוֹ'".

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

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

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