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 the Tanya (Vol. I, p. 10 ff., in the present series). It is clear from internal evidence, as the Rebbe notes, that they were not arranged chronologically. Epistle 20, for example, was written just before the Alter Rebbe’s passing in the year 5573 (1812) while Epistle 27 was written after the passing of R. Mendel of Horodok in 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 25, the preceding one:

After the previous letter discussed how the Shechinah can sometimes be vested in exile, 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 Raaya Mehemna in the Zohar, which can give the mistaken impression that the revealed portion of Torah stems from the Tree of Knowledge 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.1

The Alter Rebbe explains how this is truly not so, for the entire Torah is called the Tree of Life. The intent of Raaya 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.

On the verse, “And the wise shall shine like the radiance of the firmament,”2 Raaya Mehemna on Parashat Nasso3 comments:

בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא פָּרָשַׁת נָשֹׂא: "וְהַמַּשְׂכִּילִים יַזְהִירוּ כְּזֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ" –

“With this work of yours, i.e., of R. Shimon bar Yochai, which is the Book of the Zohar (lit., ‘the Book of Radiance’)

"בְּהַאי חִבּוּרָא דִילָךְ דְּאִיהוּ סֵפֶר הַזֹּהַר,

from the radiance of imma ilaah, which is teshuvah

מִן זָהֳרָא דְּ"אִימָּא עִילָּאָה" תְּשׁוּבָה,

Imma ilaah (lit., “the supernal mother”) is another name for the sefirah of binah in the World of Atzilut. This sefirah relates to teshuvah ilaah, the higher level of repentance, as explained at the end of ch. 8 of Iggeret Hateshuvah,4 quoting the Zohar and Tikkunim.

with those [who study this work], no trial is needed.

בְּאִילֵּין לֹא צָרִיךְ נִסָּיוֹן.

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.”5

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.

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.

וּבְגִין דַּעֲתִידִין יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִטְעַם מֵאִילָנָא דְחַיֵּי, דְּאִיהוּ הַאי סֵפֶר הַזֹּהַר – יִפְּקוּן בֵּיהּ מִן גָּלוּתָא בְּרַחֲמִים,

For them shall be fulfilled the verse, ‘G-d alone will lead them, and there is no strange god with Him.’6

וְיִתְקַיֵּים בְּהוֹן: "ה' בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ, וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר",

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.

And the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil, i.e., prohibition and permission, impurity and purity, will no longer dominate Israel.

וְאִילָנָא דְּטוֹב וָרָע דְּאִיהוּ אִיסּוּר וְהֶיתֵּר טוּמְאָה וְטָהֳרָה – לֹא יִשְׁלְטוּ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל יַתִּיר,

For their sustenance will derive only from the side of the Tree of Life, wherein there is no problematic query, which emanates from the side of evil, and no controversy, which emanates from the spirit of impurity,

דְּהָא, פַּרְנָסָה דִלְהוֹן לָא לֶהֱוֵי אֶלָּא – מִסִּטְרָא דְּאִילָנָא דְחַיֵּי, דְּלֵית תַּמָּן לֹא קַשְׁיָא מִסִּטְרָא דְרַע וְלֹא מַחֲלוֹקֶת מֵרוּחַ הַטּוּמְאָה,

as it is written, ‘And the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the earth.’7

דִּכְתִיב: "וְאֶת רוּחַ הַטּוּמְאָה אַעֲבִיר מִן הָאָרֶץ" –

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,

דְּלָא יִתְפַּרְנְסוּן תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מֵעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ, אֶלָּא, מִסִּטְרָא דְטוֹב – דְּאָכְלִין טָהֳרָה, כָּשֵׁר, הֶיתֵּר,

nor [will they be sustained] by the mixed multitude, who eat that which is impure, ritually unfit, and prohibited.”

וְלָא מֵ"עֵרֶב רַב" דְּאָכְלִין טוּמְאָה, פָּסוּל, אָסוּר כוּ',

The Zohar continues: “While the Tree of Good and Evil dominates [the world]…,

וּבְזִמְנָא דְּאִילָנָא דְטוֹב וָרָע שָׁלְטָא כוּ',

these Sages, who are likened to the Shabbat and festivals,8

אִינוּן חֲכָמִים דְּדַמְיָין לְשַׁבָּתוֹת וְיָמִים טוֹבִים,

have nothing except what is given to them by those who are called ‘unsanctified ones,’

לֵית לְהוֹן, אֶלָּא מַה דְיָהֲבִין לְהוֹן אִינּוּן "חוּלִּין",

just like the Shabbat day, which only has what has been prepared for it on a weekday.

כְּגַוְונָא דְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, דְּלֵית לֵיהּ אֶלָּא מַה דִמְתַקְּנִין לֵיהּ בְּיוֹמָא דְחוֹל.

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.

וּבְזִמְנָא דְּשָׁלְטָא אִילָנָא דְחַיֵּי – אִתְכַּפְיָיא אִילָנָא דְּטוֹב וָרָע, וְלָא יְהֵא לְעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ, אֶלָּא מַה דְיָהֲבִין לְהוֹן תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים,

They will be subjugated to them, as if they did not exist in the world.

וְאִתְכַּפְיָין תְּחוֹתַיְיהוּ, כְּאִלּוּ לָא הֲווּ בְּעָלְמָא.

Accordingly, the prohibited and the permitted, the impure and the pure, will not be removed from the illiterate people.

וְהָכֵי: אִיסּוּר, הֶיתֵּר, טוּמְאָה וְטָהֳרָה – לֹא אִתְעַבֵּר מֵעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ,

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.9

דְּמִסִּטְרַיְיהוּ, לֵית בֵּין גָּלוּתָא לִימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ – אֶלָּא שִׁעְבּוּד מַלְכֻיּוֹת בִּלְבַד,

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.”

דְּאִינוּן – לֹא טָעֲמֵי מֵאִילָנָא דְחַיֵּי, וְצָרִיךְ לוֹן מַתְנִיתִין בְּאִיסּוּר וְהֶיתֵּר טוּמְאָה וְטָהֳרָה".

Here ends the quotation from Raaya Mehemna.

עַד כָּאן בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא:

Now, at first glance, what the words of this passage imply to those who lack understanding10

וְהִנֵּה, הַמּוּבָן מֵהַשְׁקָפָה רִאשׁוֹנָה לִכְאוֹרָה מִלְּשׁוֹן זֶה הַמַּאֲמָר לַחֲסֵירֵי מַדָּע,

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.

שֶׁלִּימּוּד אִיסּוּר וְהֶיתֵּר וְסֵדֶר טְהָרוֹת הוּא מֵאִילָנָא דְּטוֹב וָרָע.

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;

מִלְּבַד שֶׁהוּא פֶּלֶא גָדוֹל מֵחֲמַת עַצְמוֹ,

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”11 and not only the Book of the Zohar.

וְסוֹתֵר פְּשָׁטֵי הַכְּתוּבִים וּמִדְרְשֵׁי רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁכָּל הַתּוֹרָה הַנִּגְלֵית לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ נִקְרָא "עֵץ חַיִּים לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ", וְלֹא סֵפֶר הַזֹּהַר לְבַד,

This is especially so since [the Zohar] was [still] concealed in their days;

וּבִפְרָט – שֶׁהָיָה גָּנוּז בִּימֵיהֶם,

indeed, the whole wisdom of the Kabbalah was hidden in their days and concealed from all the Torah scholars, except for a select few,

וְגַם, כָּל חָכְמַת הַקַּבָּלָה הָיְתָה נִסְתָּרָה בִּימֵיהֶם וְנֶעְלָמָה מִכָּל תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים, כִּי אִם לִיחִידֵי סְגוּלָּה

and even then, [it was studied] in a concealed manner and not publicly, as stated in the Gemara.12

וְאַף גַּם זֹאת בְּהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת וְלֹא בָּרַבִּים, כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא.

Thus, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, stated13 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.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הָאֲרִיזַ"ל, דְּדַוְקָא בְּדוֹרוֹת אֵלּוּ הָאַחֲרוֹנִים, מוּתָּר וּמִצְוָה לְגַלּוֹת זֹאת הַחָכְמָה – וְלֹא בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים,

On this entire subject, see the introduction of R. Chaim Vital to Shaar Hahakdamot, which also appears as the first addendum to Kuntres Etz Chaim by Rabbi Shalom DovBer, fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot), as well as the introduction of his son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, to this Kuntres.

R. Shimon bar Yochai, too, stated in the sacred Zohar14 that permission to reveal [the secrets of the Kabbalah] was only granted to himself and his associates.

וְגַם רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי אָמַר בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ, שֶׁלֹּא נִיתַּן רְשׁוּת לְגַלּוֹת, רַק לוֹ וְלַחֲבֵירָיו לְבַדָּם.

Now, this, too, is a remarkable wonder.

וְאַף גַּם זֹאת – פְּלִיאָה נִשְׂגָּבָה:

For if so, i.e., according to a superficial reading of the above quotation from Raaya 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,

דִּלְפִי זֶה

then the study of [the laws of] ritual prohibition and permission, and surely [the study of] civil laws, such as litigation on monetary matters,15 should not override the obligation of prayer,

לֹא הָיָה לִימּוּד אִיסּוּר וְהֶיתֵּר, וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן דִּינֵי מָמוֹנוֹת, דּוֹחִין מִצְוַת תְּפִלָּה –

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,

שֶׁנִּתְקְנָה עַל פִּי סוֹדוֹת הַזֹּהַר וְיִחוּדִים עֶלְיוֹנִים, לַיּוֹדְעִים –

such as R. Shimon bar Yochai and his associates.

כְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי וַחֲבֵירָיו,

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.

וְזֶה אֵינוֹ,

As stated in the Gemara,16 R. Shimon ben Yochai and his associates, and likewise any others whose Torah study is their sole occupation, do not interrupt [their Torah study] for prayer.17

כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא: דְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי וַחֲבֵירָיו וְכָל מִי שֶׁתּוֹרָתוֹ אוּמָּנֻתוֹ – אֵין מַפְסִיקִין לִתְפִלָּה.

[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 Nezikin18 (lit., “damages”);

וַאֲפִילוּ כְּשֶׁעוֹסֵק בְּדִינֵי מָמוֹנוֹת, כְּרַב יְהוּדָה – דְּ"כוּלְּהוּ תַּנּוּיֵי בִּנְזִיקִין הֲוֵי",

nevertheless, in order not to interrupt his studies, he prayed only every thirty days19 when reviewing his studies, as stated in the Gemara.20

וַאֲפִילוּ הָכֵי, "לַא הֲוֵי מַצְלֵּי אֶלָּא מִתְּלָתִין יוֹמִין לִתְלָתִין יוֹמִין כַּד מְהַדַּר תַּלְמוּדָא", כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא.

Also, in the Jerusalem Talmud, in the first chapter of Berachot,21 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,22 according to R. Shimon bar Yochai.

וּבִירוּשַׁלְמִי פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דִבְרָכוֹת, סְבִירָא לֵיהּ לְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי, דַּאֲפִילוּ לִקְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע, אֵין מַפְסִיקִין כִּי אִם מִמִּקְרָא, וְלֹא מִמִּשְׁנָה, דַּעֲדִיפֵי מִמִּקְרָא לְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי,

He did not differentiate between [studying] the Orders of Zera’im, Moed, and Kodashim and [studying] the Orders of Taharot and Nezikin.23

וְלֹא חִילֵּק בֵּין סֵדֶר זְרָעִים וּמוֹעֵד וְקָדָשִׁים טְהָרוֹת לִנְזִיקִין

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.

(24Actually, he [here] contradicts his own opinion, given in a number of instances in Raaya Mehemna,25 that Mishnah (relative to Scripture) is termed a “handmaiden” (Heb.: shifchah), and so on,

(וְסוֹתֵר דַּעַת עַצְמוֹ בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא בְּכַמָּה מְקוֹמוֹת, דְּ"מִשְׁנָה אִיהִי שִׁפְחָה כוּ'",

and Scripture, the Torah of Moses, is surely superior to the Kabbalah, which is termed a “queen” (Aram.: matronita) in the above-quoted passage in Raaya Mehemna,

וְהַמִּקְרָא שֶׁהוּא תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה וַדַּאי עֲדִיפָא מִקַּבָּלָה, דְּאִיהִי "מַטְרוֹנִיתָא" בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא שָׁם,

while the Written Torah is termed a “king” (Aram.: malka).

וְתוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב הוּא "מַלְכָּא"

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 Jerusalem Talmud, 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”):

(26This is the yesod of abba vested in z’eyr anpin, as stated by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory,27))

(דְּהַיְינוּ "יְסוֹד אַבָּא" הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בִּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין", כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הָאֲרִיזַ"ל)).

To resume the discussion of R. Shimon bar Yochai:

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 Raaya Mehemna) derive from the side of evil and from the spirit of impurity.

וְגַם, פִּלְפּוּל הַקּוּשְׁיוֹת וְתֵירוּצִים, דְּמִסִּטְרָא דְרָע וְרוּחַ הַטּוּמְאָה, אַשְׁכְּחָן בְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאִי, דְּעָסַק בֵּיהּ טוּבָא

[This he did] even when he was in the cave where legal adjudication, especially in civil suits, was obviously uncalled for.

גַּם בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בַּמְּעָרָה,

Indeed, the very fact that he underwent anguish [when forced to hide] in the cave made him worthy of these attainments.

וְאַדְּרַבָּה בִּזְכוּת צַעַר הַמְּעָרָה זָכָה לָזֶה,

For, as stated in the Gemara,28 he countered every problematic query posed by R. Pinchas ben Yair with twenty-four solutions,

כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא, דְּאָמַר לְרַבִּי פִּנְחָס בֶּן יָאִיר אַכָּל קוּשְׁיָא כ"ד פֵּירוּקֵי,

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”].

וְאָמַר לוֹ: "אִילּוּ לֹא רְאִיתַנִי בְּכָךְ כוּ'"

(29In 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 days30 until the time of our holy Master, R. Yehudah Hanasi, who compiled the Mishnayot in six Orders.

(וְגַם בֶּאֱמֶת, עַל כָּרְחֲךָ, עִיקַּר עִסְקֵיהֶם בַּמְּעָרָה הָיָה תּוֹרַת הַמִּשְׁנָיוֹת, תּ"ר סִדְרֵי שֶׁהָיָה בִּימֵיהֶם עַד רַבֵּינוּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ,

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.31)

דְּאִילּוּ סֵפֶר הַזֹּהַר וְהַתִּיקּוּנִים – הָיָה יָכוֹל לִגְמוֹר בְּב' וְג' חֳדָשִׁים, כִּי בְּוַדַּאי לֹא אָמַר דָּבָר אֶחָד ב' פְּעָמִים).

Surely, then, he was occupied almost the entire time with the study of the six hundred Orders of the Mishnah.

Moreover, our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught32 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.

גַּם, אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "מִיּוֹם שֶׁחָרַב בֵּית הַמִּקְדָשׁ, אֵין לוֹ לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא אֶלָּא ד' אַמּוֹת שֶׁל הֲלָכָה בִּלְבַד".

How, then, can we possibly say, as the above passage from Raaya 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?