Part (a)

In the present letter the Alter Rebbe bemoans the fact that his chassidim trouble him by seeking advice on physical matters, such as their livelihood s. Such advice, he argues, is within the province of prophets, not of Torah scholars. In conclusion he explains how one should accept physical suffering in such a way that it enhances his love and fear of G‑d.

The opening and closing passages of the original letter, which were not reproduced in Tanya,1 throw considerable light on the middle passage, which appears below.

At the beginning of the original letter, the Alter Rebbe defines set times during which he will henceforth receive people for private audience — yechidut. He then protests in strong terms that the many requests for advice on mundane affairs interfere with other areas of his Torah activity. As our Sages ask,2 “Is it conceivable that Moses spent the whole day judging? When would he then find time to study Torah?”

This leads on to the portion of the letter that appears here in Tanya. In the original letter, the Alter Rebbe then concludes by declaring that the appointed times for visits and private audiences must be adhered to. Moreover, he “penalizes” those who will not heed his decree, going so far as to threaten to leave the country if he is not heeded.

As we all know, however, chassidim in every generation have in fact asked their Rebbe for advice in mundane matters and, moreover, each of the Rebbeim has in fact obliged. How is this possible? Elder chassidim of earlier generations used to explain that the Alter Rebbe himself sanctions this conduct — in the letter that he wrote “close to the time of his passing,”3 regarding the value of “fraternity and counsel from afar with regard to all family matters....”

אהוביי אחיי ורעיי

My beloved, my brethren and friends:

מאהבה מסותרת, תוכחת מגולה

Out of [my] hidden love [for you, springs] an overt rebuke.4

לכו נא ונוכחה

“Come now and let us debate”;5

זכרו ימות עולם, בינו שנות דור ודור

remember the days of old, consider the years of every generation.6

ההיתה כזאת מימות עולם, ואיה איפוא מצאתם מנהג זה, באחד מכל ספרי חכמי ישראל הראשונים והאחרונים

Has such a thing ever happened in days past? Where indeed have you found such a custom in any of the books of the early or latter sages of Israel,

להיות מנהג ותיקון לשאול בעצה בגשמיות, כדת מה לעשות בעניני העולם הגשמי

that it should be the custom and established norm to ask for advice in mundane matters, as to what one ought to do in matters of the physical world?

אף לגדולי חכמי ישראל הראשונים, כתנאים ואמוראים, אשר כל רז לא אנס להו, ונהירין להון שבילין דרקיע

[Such questions were not asked] even of the greatest of the former sages of Israel, such as the tannaim and amoraim, the authors of the Mishnah and the Gemara,7 “from whom no secret was hidden,” and8 “for whom all the paths of heaven were clearly illuminated,”

כי אם לנביאים ממש אשר היו לפנים בישראל, כשמואל הרואה, אשר הלך אליו שאול לדרוש ה׳, על דבר האתונות שנאבדו לאביו

but only of actual prophets who used to live among the Jewish people, such as Samuel the Seer to whom Saul went to inquire of G‑d through him about the donkeys that his father had lost.

Why, indeed, were sages of stature such as the tannaim and amoraim not asked about mundane matters?

כי באמת כל עניני אדם, לבד מדברי תורה ויראת שמים, אינם מושגים רק בנבואה

For in fact all matters pertaining to man, except for words of Torah and the fear of heaven, are apprehended only by prophecy.

ולא לחכמים לחם

[As the verse states,9] “there is no bread unto the wise,”

כמאמר רז״ל: הכל בידי שמים, חוץ מיראת שמים

and as our Sages, of blessed memory, said,10 “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.”

ושבעה דברים מכוסים כו׳: אין אדם יודע במה משתכר, ומלכות בית דוד מתי תחזור כו׳

Likewise,11 “Seven things are hidden...: no man knows how he will earn his living, nor when the Kingdom of David will be restored...,” i.e., when Mashiach will come.

הנה הושוו זה לזה

Note that these [two questions] are likened to one another. Just as no one knows exactly when Mashiach will come, so, too, no one knows by what means he in fact will obtain his sustenance.

ומה שכתוב בישעיה: יועץ וחכם חרשים

As for the phrase in Isaiah,12 “A counselor and a man whose wisdom silences all,” suggesting that Torah wisdom qualifies one to advise in other fields as well, —

וכן מה שאמרו רז״ל: ונהנין ממנו עצה ותושיה

and also, as for the statement of our Sages,13 of blessed memory, regarding one who studies Torah lishmah, “for its own sake,” that “people derive from him the benefit of etzah (counsel) and tushiyah (wisdom),” —

היינו בדברי תורה, הנקרא תושיה

these teachings refer specifically to [counsel in] matters of the Torah, which is called14 tushiyah (assistance).

כמאמר רז״ל: יועץ, זה שיודע לעבר שנים ולקבוע חדשים

Thus the Sages, of blessed memory, said: A counselor is one who knows how to intercalate years, making certain years leap years by interpolating an additional month of Adar, and how to determine the months, establishing what day is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the lunar month,

שסוד העיבור קרוי עצה וסוד בלשון התורה, כדאיתא בסנהדרין דף פ״ז, עיין שם בפירוש רש״י

for in Torah terminology the principle of intercalation is called “counsel” and “a secret,” as stated in Tractate Sanhedrin, p. 87; see the commentary of Rashi there, which states explicitly that the terms “counselor” and “advice” are related to the principle of intercalation.

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