Part (a)

The Alter Rebbe wrote this letter of condolence to his chassidim in 1788 after the passing of his colleague and mentor, the saintly R. Mendele of Vitebsk (or Horodok), who had settled in the Holy Land in 1777. It concludes by rousing them to the mitzvah of tzedakah in general, and particularly of maintaining the family of R. Mendel.

The Alter Rebbe is here addressing chassidim who in the past had benefited from their connection with the tzaddik both through his advice and blessings on material matters, and through his guidance in matters of the spirit. He comforts them, therefore, with the teaching of the Zohar that a tzaddik is to be found in this world after his passing to a greater extent than while he was physically alive. His disciples are thus able to receive his guidance in their Torah study and divine service to an even greater degree than before. Materially, too, the tzaddik protects this world after his passing even more effectively than he did during his lifetime.

מה שכתב ליושבי ארצנו הקדושה, תבנה ותכונן במהרה בימינו, אמן

This letter was written [by the Alter Rebbe] to the [chassidic] inhabitants of the Holy Land (May it speedily be rebuilt and reestablished in our own days, Amen!),1

לנחמם בכפליים לתושיה

to console them with redoubled support2

על פטירת הרב הגאון המפורסם, איש אלקים קדוש, נר ישראל, עמוד הימין, פטיש החזק, מורנו הרב ר׳ מנחם מענדל, נשמתו עדן

over the passing of the celebrated rabbi and Gaon, holy man of G‑d,3 “lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer,”4 our mentor R. Menachem Mendel (May his soul rest in Eden!).

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אהוביי אחיי ורעיי אשר כנפשי כו׳

My beloved, my brethren and friends, who are [as dear] and so forth [to me] as my soul.

Likkutei Haggahot on Tanya likens the opening three terms of address to the three Scriptural terms of endearment successively addressed by a king to his beloved daughter in the parable cited by the Midrash:5 “My beloved” recalls the paternal love expressed by the phrase “my daughter”; “my brethren” recalls the fraternal love expressed by the phrase “my sister”; and “my friends” recalls the filial love expressed by the phrase “my mother.” The further phrase “as my soul” indicates the love that one has for his own life, as in the phrase of the Zohar,6 “he called her by his own name”; while “and so forth” indicates a love even greater — a bond with the ultimate soul-level of Yechidah.

ה׳ עליהם, יחיו חיים עד העולם

May [the Name of] G‑d be upon you,7 and may you live forever,

According to the above interpretation of Likkutei Haggahot, the Alter Rebbe’s blessing that “the Name of G‑d be upon you” is intended to elicit a transcendent mode of Divine benevolence, while the blessing “may you live forever” is intended to draw down this transcendent benevolence so that it can be internalized within its finite recipients. (Or, in the terms of Chassidut, it is intended “to be mamshich the makkif into the pnimi.”)

וצאצאיהם אתם, זרע אמת

and your children with you, the seed of truth;

ברוכי ה׳ המה, מעתה ועד עולם

may you be blessed by G‑d for evermore.

אחרי דרישת שלומם, כמשפט לאוהבי שמו

Having first duly inquired after the welfare of those who love [G‑d’s] Name,

באתי לדבר על לב נדכאים, הנאנחים והנאנקים, ולנחמם בכפליים לתושיה

I have come to speak to the heart of the smitten, who are sighing and groaning over the passing of R. Mendele, and to console you with redoubled support

אשר שמעה אזני, ותבן לה

with what my ear has heard from others and with what I have understood myself,8

על מאמר רז״ל, דשבק חיים לכל חי

regarding the idiom used by our Sages9 to signify the passing of a tzaddik, “He has left life for all the living.”

If this simply means that others have remained alive after his passing, what are we to make of the expression “left life”? Did he leave them life? Surely, the life they are living is their own.

The Alter Rebbe will explain below that the idiom means quite literally that the tzaddik left something of his own life to others. For the true core of a tzaddik’s life is not fleshly; rather, it comprises the spiritual qualities of faith, awe and love of G‑d. When a tzaddik departs from this world he leaves over his faith, fear and love to all those who are bound to him, so that they will be able to receive even more than they received from him while he lived his physical life together with them. All three qualities are alluded to as “life” in the verses enumerated below:

כי צדיק באמונתו יחיה

For10 “a tzaddik lives by his faith,”

וביראת ה׳ לחיים

and by11 “the awe of G‑d [which leads] to life,”

וברשפי אש שלהבת אהבתו מחיים

and by12 the flashing and fiery sparks of his love [for G‑d, that is even greater] than life,

לכל בהן חיי רוחו [ונשמתו] כל ימי חלדו

investing in them — in his faith and awe and love — the life of his Ruach [13V.L.: and, moreover, of his Neshamah] throughout his life.

As the Alter Rebbe will soon say, disciples receive their influence from the soul-level of the tzaddik which is called Ruach. In addition, as explained in Likkutei Haggahot, those disciples who are also [as close as] children receive their influence from the higher soul-level called Neshamah.

ויהי בהעלות ה׳ רוחו

When, at the time of his passing, G‑d elevates his Ruach

ונשמתו אליו יאסוף

and gathers up his soul unto Himself14

ויעלה בעילוי אחר עילוי, עד רום המעלות

and he ascends from one elevation to the next, to the very highest of levels,

שבק חיי רוחו

he [then] leaves over the life of his Ruach,

פעולתו אשר עבד בה לפנים בישראל

the deeds in which he has formerly labored with Israel, i.e., the faith, fear and love which he drew down to them from his Ruach,

On a less literal level, the Hebrew word lefanim (here translated “formerly”) can also be understood to mean “to the inwardness”; i.e., the tzaddik infused and integrated this faith, fear and love into the innermost core of his disciples, this being׳—

פעולת צדיק לחיים

“the labor of a tzaddik for life,”15

Or, less literally, “a tzaddik’s labor for the living,” to provide them with life. At any rate, at the time of his passing, the tzaddik bequeaths the fruit of his lifelong labors —

לכל חי, היא נפש כל חי

to every living being, that is, to the soul of every living being who lives a life of Torah and mitzvot,

הקשורה בנפשו בחבלי עבותות אהבה רבה ואהבת עולם, בל תמוט לנצח

who is bound to his soul by the thick ropes of a magnanimous love, and an eternal love, that will not be moved forever.

אשר מי האיש החפץ חיים, לדבקה בה׳ חיים

For any man who eagerly desires life16 [and who seeks] to cleave to the living G‑d,

בעבודתו תדבק נפשו

through his service (i.e., through the divine service of the tzaddik) his soul will cleave

והיתה צרורה בצרור החיים את ה׳

and will be bound up in the bond of life with G‑d,17

בחיי רוח אפינו

in the life of the Ruach (literally, the life-giving “breath”) of our nostrils

אשר אמרנו: בצלו נחיה בגוים

of which we have said, “In its [protective] shadow we shall live among the nations.”18

This alludes to the Chayah of the tzaddik, the soul-level which is even loftier than the soul-level called Neshamah, and which infuses the followers of the tzaddik with a transcendent mode of life-force which enables them to withstand challenges from non-Jewish (i.e., unholy) sources.

אשר שבק לנו, בכל אחד ואחד

[This] he left unto us, in each and every individual,

כפי בחינת התקשרותו באמת, ואהבתו אהבת אמת הטהורה, מקרב איש ולב עמוק

corresponding to the degree of his genuine alliance with the tzaddik and his true and pure love of him, from the innermost core of man and from the depths of his heart.19

To the extent of each individual’s bond with the tzaddik, so does the tzaddik share with him his Ruach, and his faith, fear and love of G‑d.

כי כמים הפנים וכו׳

For20 “as in water, face [answers to face, so is the heart of man to man]”: the individual’s love for the tzaddik reflects back to him, eliciting a love of the tzaddik for him,

ורוח אייתי רוח ואמשיך רוח

and21 “spirit rouses spirit and brings forth spirit” — the spirit of love that one has for the tzaddik draws down the Ruach, the superior spirit of the tzaddik.

ורוחו עומדת בקרבינו ממש

For his Ruach remains truly in our midst, within those of us who are bound to him,

כי בראותו ילדיו, מעשה ידיו בקרבו, יקדישו שמו יתברך

when he sees his children, i.e., his disciples,22 who embody the work of his hands, sanctifying [G‑d’s] blessed Name.

אשר יתגדל ויתקדש, כאשר נלך בדרך ישרה אשר הורנו מדרכיו

For [His Name] is magnified and sanctified when we walk in the straight path that he has shown us of his paths,

ונלכה באורחותיו נצח סלה ועד

and we will walk in his ways forevermore.

With regard to the above sentence, the Rebbe notes that the Zohar (Part II, p. 215a; and Part III, end of Parshat Kedoshim) distinguishes between a “path” (derech) and a “way” (orach). “Path” signifies a well-trodden track which the tzaddik has cleared for common use, while “way” suggests a trail that is presently being blazed, according to the spiritual needs of the individual’s divine service. The Rebbe refers the reader to Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim (12b).

The reason that the Alter Rebbe characterizes the tzaddik’s life as consisting of faith, fear and love, is that (as explained in the very first Epistle in this series) faith is the underpinning, the “loins” that support the entire body of a man’s divine service, and this finds expression in his fear and love of G‑d, his “arms”.

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