In the previous epistle, written to console the Chasidic brotherhood after the passing of the saintly R. Mendele Vitebsker, the Alter Rebbe quotes from the Zohar to the effect that a tzaddik is even more accessible in this world after his passing than while he was still alive. Moreover, after his passing, his Chasidim continue to receive from him both spiritual benefactions, which enhance their Torah study and Divine service, and protection in material matters.

Following that epistle the sons of the author1 placed the present epistle, which the Alter Rebbe wrote by way of consolation to his illustrious colleague, relative-by-marriage, and dear friend, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, following the tragic passing of his son. Here, the Alter Rebbe explains how the passing of a tzaddik “effects salvations in the midst of the earth,” atoning even for intentional sins.

28 This letter was written [by the Alter Rebbe] to his relative-by-marriage—the famous rabbi and Gaon, the G-dly man, the holy man of G-d,2 Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer3

כח מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב לִמְחוּתָּנוֹ, הָרַב הַגָּאוֹן הַמְפוּרְסָם, אִישׁ אֱלֹקִים קְדוֹשׁ ה', נֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַמּוּד הַיְמָנִי, פַּטִּישׁ הֶחָזָק,

our master, R. Levi Yitzchak (may his soul rest in Eden), head of the Rabbinical Court of the holy community of Berditchev,

מוֹרֵנוּ וְרַבֵּנוּ הָרַב לֵוִי יִצְחָק נִשְׁמָתוֹ עֵדֶן, אַב בֵּית־דִּין דִּקְהִלַּת קוֹדֶשׁ בַּארְדִּיטְשׁוֹב,

to console him on the passing4 of his son, the pious rabbi, R. Meir (may his soul rest in Eden).

לְנַחֲמוֹ עַל פְּטִירַת בְּנוֹ הָרַב הֶחָסִיד, מוֹרֵנוּ וְרַבֵּנוּ הָרַב מֵאִיר נִשְׁמָתוֹ עֵדֶן:

“Why was the passage concerning the passing of Miriam5 adjoined to the passage concerning the Red Heifer6?

"לָמָּה נִסְמְכָה פָּרָשַׁת מִרְיָם לְפָרָשַׁת פָּרָה,

”To teach you that just as the Heifer effects atonement, [so does the passing of the righteous].”

לוֹמַר לְךָ: מַה פָּרָה מְכַפֶּרֶת וְכוּ'".

Commenting on this quotation from the Gemara,7 Tosafot8 explains that the Red Heifer atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, and in the same way, the passing of the righteous effects atonement.

Now, it needs to be understood why [the passage concerning the passing of Miriam] was adjoined specifically to [the passage concerning] the Red Heifer

וְצָרִיךְ לְהָבִין, לָמָּה נִסְמְכָה דַּוְקָא לְפָרָה אֲדוּמָּה

(which was prepared outside the three camps,9 and as such was not a sacrifice proper, except that the Torah calls it10 a sin-offering),11

הַנַּעֲשֶׂה חוּץ לְשָׁלֹשׁ מַחֲנוֹת, אֶלָּא דְּחַטָּאת קַרְיֵיהּ רַחֲמָנָא [בכתב יד הנוסחא: ‘הַנַּעֲשֶׂה בַּחוּץ'. ומן תיבת "לשלש" עד תיבת "רחמנא" ליתא בכתב יד]

and it was not adjoined to the passage concerning the sin-offering that was prepared within, on the altar, [and as such effects] actual atonement.

וְלֹא נִסְמְכָה לְפָרָשַׁת חַטָּאת הַנַּעֲשֶׂה בִּפְנִים עַל גַּבֵּי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ – כַּפָּרָה מַמָּשׁ.

Alternatively, the Hebrew text could be understood to mean “on the actual altar of atonement,” or (preferably) that the sin-offering was “actual atonement,” unlike the Red Heifer, which was primarily a rite of purification.

To revert to the question concerning the juxtaposition of the two passages, the Alter Rebbe explains that an offering connoted an “arousal from below,” from the soul of the animal that derives from kelipat nogah. This, in turn, elicited a reciprocal “arousal from Above,” drawing down a finite order of Divine light that can permeate the finite world and be integrated and ingested within it. (This characteristic explains why offerings are referred to as the “food of the altar.”) Being finite, this contracted order of Divine light was only able to effect atonement of unwitting sins, those that derive from undue domination by the animal soul, which derives from kelipat nogah.

The Red Heifer, by contrast, produces the “sanctifying purification waters” (kiddush mei chatat); i.e., it draws down an illumination from the most supremely sanctified levels of Divinity (kodesh ha’elyon) that utterly transcend this world. This intense illumination can transform the darkness of Tohu into the light of Tikkun and secure purification for even the harshest degree of impurity (Avi Avot Hatumah), which is far lower than kelipat nogah.

In the same way, the passing of a tzaddik draws down a Divine illumination that transcends the world, deriving as it does from that element within the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which is called the Tikkun of notzer. The name of this Tikkun, which comprises the same letters as ratzon, brings about an et ratzon, “an auspicious time,” and secures atonement for the sins of the generation, even those that are committed willfully and that derive from the three completely impure kelipot.

In this regard, the passing of a tzaddik is thus more akin to the Red Heifer than to a sin-offering.

Now,12 the mystical principle of the sacrifices offered on the altar is known from the sacred Zohar13 and from Rabbi Yitzchak Luria,14 of blessed memory:

אָמְנָם, נוֹדָע מִזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ וְהָאֲרִיזַ"ל, סוֹד הַקָּרְבָּנוֹת שֶׁעַל גַּבֵּי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ –

They are an instance of the elevation of mayin nukvin (lit., “feminine waters”; i.e., a mortally initiated spiritual arousal) deriving from the animal soul, [which receives its life-force from] kelipat nogah,

הֵן בְּחִינַת הַעֲלָאַת "מַיִּין נוּקְבִין" מִנֶּפֶשׁ הַבַּהֲמִית שֶׁבְּנוֹגַהּ,

[this elevation ascending] to their root and source,

אֶל שָׁרְשָׁן וּמְקוֹרָן –

i.e., the forms of the four Animals of the Celestial Chariot which bear the Throne,15 as described in Ezekiel, ch. 1:

הֵן בְּחִינוֹת ד' חַיּוֹת שֶׁבַּמֶּרְכָּבָה הַנּוֹשְׂאוֹת אֶת הַכִּסֵּא,

the Face of the Ox, and the Face of the Eagle, and so on.

פְּנֵי שׁוֹר וּפְנֵי נֶשֶׁר וְכוּ',

The former level of Divinity is the source of the souls of all animals, and the latter is the source of the souls of all birds, these being the two categories of creatures from which offerings are brought. (The other two categories, the Face of the Lion and the Face of Man, are alluded to in the closing phrase, “and so on.”) Offerings thus constitute an elevation and an “arousal from below” from a willing recipient toward the level of Divinity (here called the four Animals of the Chariot, which is the Source of all things within the finite world and which hence has a connection with it.

As a result, reciprocating this arousal, the mayin duchrin (the “male waters” from the benefactor Above) are elicited and descend from the level of Divinity called (in Ezekiel) “the Man upon the Throne,” Who is [also] referred to as malka (“king”) and z’eyr anpin (i.e., the bracket of six “masculine” attributes preceding the recipient or “feminine” sefirah of malchut).

וְעַל־יְדֵי זֶה נִמְשָׁכִים וְיוֹרְדִים "מַיִּין דּוּכְרִין" מִבְּחִינַת "אָדָם" שֶׁעַל הַכִּסֵּא, הַנִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם "מַלְכָּא" וּ"זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין".

The resultant illumination flows down to the world and becomes vested and integrated within it. Hence, as mentioned above, offerings are termed “food for the altar,” for they draw down a level of Divine light which can be spiritually ingested.

As for the burning of the Red Heifer, however, it is on account of the throwing in of the cedar wood and the hyssop, and so on, the function of both of which is hamshachah, i.e., drawing down sanctity from Above,16

אָכֵן, בִּשְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה אֲדוּמָּה, הִנֵּה עַל־יְדֵי הַשְׁלָכַת עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב וְכוּ'

and [moreover] the placing of running water into the ashes,

וּנְתִינַת מַיִם חַיִּים אֶל הָאֵפֶר –

that in the Mishnah,17 [this process] is called the “sanctification (Kiddush) of the purifying waters.”

נִקְרָא בְּשֵׁם "קִידּוּשׁ מֵי חַטָּאת" בַּמִּשְׁנָה,

This relates—not only etymologically—to kodesh ha’elyon (“the supreme sanctity”), referred to as Tala Dibedulcha (lit., “the Dew of Bdellium”; cf. the Torah’s descriptions of the manna18).

וְהִיא בְּחִינַת "קֹדֶשׁ הָעֶלְיוֹן", הַנִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם "טַלָּא דִבְדוּלְחָא",

Unlike the heavenly benefactions that are termed “rain,” for rain results from an “arousal from below” (as it is written, “And a vapor rose from the ground and watered…”19), the above-described “dew” is a spontaneous “arousal from Above” that transcends dependence on any antecedent “arousal from below.”

As stated in the sacred Zohar,20 this [Tala Dibedulcha] is an expression of the supreme chochmah and the mocha setimaah of arich anpin; i.e., it is the level of chochmah within keter which entirely transcends the world.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ, שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת "חָכְמָה עִילָּאָה" וּ"מוֹחָא סְתִימָאָה" דַ"אֲרִיךְ אַנְפִּין",

Of this [level of chochmah and mocha setimaah], it is said in many places in the sacred Zohar that “through chochmah they are refined” and rectified21;

וַעֲלָהּ אִיתְמַר בְּדוּכְתֵּי טוּבָא בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ: "בְּחָכְמָה אִתְבְּרִירוּ",

and then, when by means of the “sanctification of the purifying waters,” Divine light is drawn down from this level, darkness is converted to light, that is, [to] the World of Tikkun,

וְ"אִתְהַפְּכָא חֲשׁוֹכָא לִנְהוֹרָא", דְּהַיְינוּ עוֹלַם הַתִּיקּוּן,

which becomes refined and rectified by means of the mocha setimaah of arich anpin;

שֶׁנִּתְבָּרֵר וְנִתְתַּקֵּן עַל־יְדֵי "מוֹחָא סְתִימָאָה" דַ"אֲרִיךְ אַנְפִּין",

[i.e., the World of Tikkun is refined and rectified] from the World of Tohu and the breaking of the vessels [whose sparks] fell into [the Worlds of] Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, and so on,

מֵעוֹלַם הַתֹּהוּ וּשְׁבִירַת הַכֵּלִים, שֶׁנָּפְלוּ בִּבְרִיאָה־יְצִירָה־עֲשִׂיָּה וְכוּ',

as is known.


The spiritual task of the Jew is to extract, refine, and elevate these sparks.

This is why [the Red Heifer] purifies one from defilement [contracted by contact] with a corpse,

וְלָזֹאת – מְטַהֶרֶת טוּמְאַת הַמֵּת,

even though this [corpse] is the ultimate degree [of impurity] and far, far lower than nogah.

אַף שֶׁהוּא אֲבִי אֲבוֹת וְכוּ', וּלְמַטָּה מַּטָּה מִנּוֹגַהּ:

For the “sanctification of the purifying waters” is drawn down from the supreme chochmah and the mocha setimaah of arich anpin, an illumination that transcends the world so utterly that it is able to transform the world’s darkness into light.