The focus of the present letter is the distinctive value of studying the halachot, the laws of the Torah. The Sages deem these laws to be the “crown of Torah” because the supernal will is most fully revealed within the laws of the Oral Torah, inasmuch as they clearly spell out G-d’s will with regard to the performance of the mitzvot.

In fact, as the Alter Rebbe explains, the supernal will as expressed in the mitzvot derives from an even higher level of Divinity than does the chochmah (“wisdom”) of the Torah. Indeed, it is this Divine Will that furnishes the “garments” which enable the soul to absorb the Divine radiance that is manifest in the Garden of Eden.

“A woman of valor is the crown of her husband….”

"אֵשֶׁת חַיִל עֲטֶרֶת בַּעְלָהּ כוּ'".

This verse in the Book of Proverbs1 is a metaphor for the Torah. The Torah is also likened to a wife in another verse: “See to live your life with the woman whom you love,”2 which our Sages, of blessed memory, explain3 to mean the Torah.

Here, too, “a woman of valor” refers to the Torah. More specifically, within the Torah itself, the Oral Torah is the “wife” and the Written Torah is the “husband.” The “woman of valor,” which the Alter Rebbe will later explain refers to the halachot of Torah, serves as the “crown” to her husband, the Written Torah.

The Gemara, in ch. 4 of Megillah,4 [commenting on the teaching of our Sages in Avot5 that] “He who makes use of the crown passes away [from this world],” states: “This applies to one who makes use of one who studies halachot, which are the crown of the Torah….”

אִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק ד' דִּמְגִילָּה: "וּדְאִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בְּתַגָּא חֳלָף כוּ'" – "זֶה הַמִּשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בְּמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹנֶה הֲלָכוֹת, כִּתְרָהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה כוּ'",

Unlike the gloss of the Bach,6 who omits “the crown of the Torah,” the Alter Rebbe here accepts the standard printed version as quoted above.

The Gemara in Megillah goes on to say: “It was taught in the Academy of Elijah that ‘Whoever studies halachot is assured [of a share in Olam Haba—the World to Come].”’

"תָּנָא דְּבֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ, כָּל הַשּׁוֹנֶה הֲלָכוֹת מוּבְטָח לוֹ כוּ'".

At the conclusion of Tractate Niddah,7 the text reads, “Whoever studies halachot daily….” Rashi explains there that the term halachot refers to Mishnah, Baraita, and Halachah L’Moshe MiSinai. In Epistle 23 (above), the Alter Rebbe (based on Rashi elsewhere8) defines halachot as “clearly adjudicated laws of practical application.”

Now, it needs to be understood why the halachot are referred to as a “crown” or “the crown of the Torah.”

וְצָרִיךְ לְהָבִין, לָמָּה נִקְרְאוּ הַהֲלָכוֹת בְּשֵׁם "תַּגָּא" וְ"כִתְרָהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה"?

Furthermore, why is it that he who studies specifically halachot is assured [of a share in the World to Come] and not other Torah subjects, such as Scriptures, Midrash, and the like?

וְגַם, לָמָּה "הַשּׁוֹנֶה הֲלָכוֹת" דַּוְקָא "מוּבְטָח לוֹ כוּ'", וְלֹא שְׁאָר דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה?

One also needs to understand the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, in ch. 11 of Menachot,9 that “even if one studied only a single chapter in the morning [and a single chapter in the evening], he has fulfilled his obligation [to study Torah].’’

וְכֵן לְהָבִין מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה בְּפֶרֶק י"א דִּמְנָחוֹת: "אֲפִילוּ לֹא שָׁנָה אָדָם אֶלָּא פֶּרֶק אֶחָד שַׁחֲרִית כוּ'" יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ,

The Gemara states there that the individual has fulfilled the commandment that “this book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth.”10 According to a second opinion cited later in the Gemara, that this verse does not constitute an obligation, it is to be understood that according to this opinion, it is still obligatory to study Torah at all times; however, if one is unable to do so, he can fulfill his obligation by studying a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening.

Why is one’s duty not fulfilled by other Torah subjects?

וְלָמָּה אֵינוֹ יוֹצֵא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בִּשְׁאָר דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה?

The expression “one chapter” indicates that the study is of Mishnah, the Oral Torah. Why can one not fulfill his obligation with the study of Scripture, Midrash, and the like?

However, it is well known that Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory, stated11 that [the soul of] every Jew needs to be reincarnated many times until he will fulfill12 all 613 commandments of the Torah in thought, speech, and action, i.e., using all three soul-garments with which one performs the commandments.

אַךְ מוּדַעַת זֹאת, מַה שֶּׁאָמַר הָאֲרִיזַ"ל, שֶׁכָּל אָדָם מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל צָרִיךְ לָבֹא בְּגִלְגּוּלִים רַבִּים עַד שֶׁיְּקַיֵּים כָּל תַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת הַתּוֹרָה בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה דִּיבּוּר וּמַעֲשֶׂה,

This is in order to complete the garments of his soul and to correct them so that no garment will be incomplete.

לְהַשְׁלִים לְבוּשֵׁי נַפְשׁוֹ וּלְתַקְּנָם שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא לְבוּשָׁא דְחַסְרָא כוּ',

As explained in the Tanya, Part I, ch. 4, the Divine soul has three garments—the thought, speech, and action of the 613 commandments of the Torah. If the performance of one of these commandments is lacking, the soul’s garments are incomplete. It is thus necessary for each soul to perform all of the commandments.

Excepted13 are the commandments incumbent only upon a king14 because he discharges the obligation of all of Israel, as he is a corporate collective of them all.15

לְבַד מִצְוֹת הַתְּלוּיוֹת בַּמֶּלֶךְ, שֶׁהוּא מוֹצִיא כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי הוּא כְּלָלוּת כּוּלָּם כוּ',

All Jews are incorporated within the king. When he performs those commandments that depend upon him, it is therefore considered as if all the Jewish people had performed them. As to the other commandments, however, if in one incarnation an individual did not perform them all, he must be reincarnated so that he will be able to do so.

Why must one have the garments of all 613 commandments?

The reason is in order to garb all the 613 aspects and powers of one’s soul,

וְהַטַּעַם הוּא – כְּדֵי לְהַלְבִּישׁ כָּל תַּרְיַ"ג בְּחִינוֹת וְכֹחוֹת שֶׁבְּנַפְשׁוֹ,

These 613 “organs” of the soul (see ibid., ch. 4) must all be clothed in the garments of the mitzvot.

so that not one of them—of these 613 aspects and powers of the soul—will be lacking.

אַחַת מֵהֵנָּה לֹא נֶעְדָּרָה כוּ'.

An explanation for the indispensability of these garments is given in the Zohar16 and is understandable by every thinking person.

וּבֵיאוּר עִנְיַן הֶכְרַח וְצוֹרֶךְ לְבוּשִׁים אֵלּוּ, מְבוֹאָר בַּזֹּהַר, וּמוּבָן לְכָל מַשְׂכִּיל,

For the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah in man are created entities and hence inherently limited, and it is impossible for any created being to attain any apprehension of the blessed Creator and Former of all, Who is infinite.

כִּי לִהְיוֹת שֶׁנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁבְּאָדָם הֵן בְּחִינוֹת נִבְרָאִים, וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לְשׁוּם נִבְרָא לְהַשִּׂיג שׁוּם הַשָּׂגָה בְּבוֹרֵא וְיוֹצֵר הַכֹּל, אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

This, of course, is true with respect to Divinity, as it totally transcends all worlds.

Moreover, even after G-d has radiated [a glimmer] of His blessed light and has caused an emanation in the form of an evolution of numerous [descending] degrees, level beyond level,

וְגַם אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר הֵאִיר ה' מֵאוֹרוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְהֶאֱצִיל בִּבְחִינַת הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת מַדְרֵגוֹת רַבּוֹת, מַדְרֵגָה אַחַר מַדְרֵגָה,

by way of intense contractions and numerous, immense garments that obscure G-dliness

בִּבְחִינַת צִמְצוּמִים עֲצוּמִים וּלְבוּשִׁים רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים

these are familiar to the students of the Kabbalah,

הַיְדוּעִים לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן,

and in the Idra Rabba,17 these [contracted degrees of Divine illumination] are referred to as “hairs,”

וְנִקְרָאִים בְּאִדְרָא רַבָּה בְּשֵׁם "שְׂעָרוֹת",

Because the life-force present in hair is so tenuous that it does not even convey sensation, the subtle glimmers of Divine energy that filter through the above-described contractions are referred to metaphorically as “hairs.”

and as is written in Daniel, “And the hair of His head is like white wool…”18 (from which we see that certain degrees of spiritual downflow are referred to by the term “hair”)

וּכְדִכְתִיב בְּדָנִיֵּאל: "וּשְׂעַר רֵישֵׁיהּ כַּעֲמַר נְקֵא כוּ'",

nevertheless, even after the screening effected by these mighty contractions, neither the nefesh nor the ruach and neshamah can endure the light,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, לֹא יָכְלָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אוֹ הָרוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה לְמִסְבַּל הָאוֹר,

for the light is good and sweet…so intensely so, in fact, that no created being can receive it without expiring, as will soon be explained.

כִּי טוֹב וּמָתוֹק הָאוֹר וְכוּ',

As it is written, “to behold the pleasantness (no’am) of G-d.”19 [The term no’am] denotes pleasantness, agreeableness, and sweetness, and an infinitely intense delight,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "לַחֲזוֹת בְּנוֹעַם ה'", לְשׁוֹן נְעִימוּת וַעֲרֵיבוּת וּמְתִיקוּת וְתַעֲנוּג עָצוּם לְאֵין קֵץ,

as it is written, “Then you will delight yourself in G-d,”20

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל ה'",

and21 “He will sate your soul with a pleasurable thirst (tzachtzachot)….”22

"וְהִשְׂבִּיעַ בְּצַחְצָחוֹת כוּ'",

[The word tzachtzachot] is related to23 tzichei tzama (“parched with thirst”); it denotes a thirst that cannot be slaked, for the pleasure involved is endless,

לְשׁוֹן "צִחֵה צָמָא",

as stated in the Zohar.24

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר,

It is not in [the soul’s] power to absorb the pleasantness and agreeableness of the [above] pleasurable thirst without leaving its husk, i.e., its limitation, and becoming wholly nullified, just like a candle-flame [becomes entirely nullified] in a torch,

וְאֵין בְּכֹחָהּ לְקַבֵּל הַנְּעִימוּת וַעֲרֵיבוּת הַצַּחְצָחוֹת, שֶׁלֹּא תֵּצֵא מִנַּרְתֵּקָהּ וְתִתְבַּטֵּל מִמְּצִיאוּתָהּ כְּנֵר בַּאֲבוּקָה.

Just as the light of a candle loses its identity as an independent luminary once it is confronted by the intense diffusion of a fiery torch, so would the soul cease to exist as an independent entity if it were to absorb the radiance emanating from the intense light and sweetness of G-dliness,

were it not that from this very light, there will evolve and issue forth some minute radiance, by way of an evolution of level after level, with multitudinous contractions,

אִם לֹא, שֶׁמִּבְּחִינַת אוֹר זֶה עַצְמוֹ – תִּשְׁתַּלְשֵׁל וְתִמָּשֵׁךְ מִמֶּנּוּ אֵיזוֹ הֶאָרָה מוּעֶטֶת, בְּדֶרֶךְ הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת מַדְרֵיגָה אַחַר מַדְרֵגָה בְּצִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים,

until a single garment is created of [this contracted light], a creation akin to the nature of this light, with which to garb the nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.

עַד שֶׁיִּבָּרֵא מִמֶּנָּה לְבוּשׁ אֶחָד נִבְרָא, מֵעֵין מַהוּת אוֹר זֶה, לְהַלְבִּישׁ הַנֶּפֶשׁ רוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה,

By way of this garment, which is akin to this light, [the soul] can derive enjoyment from the ray of this light, and apprehend it, without becoming wholly nullified out of existence.

וְדֶרֶךְ לְבוּשׁ זֶה, שֶׁהוּא מֵעֵין אוֹר זֶה תּוּכַל לֵיהָנוֹת מִזִּיו אוֹר זֶה וּלְהַשִּׂיגוֹ, וְלֹא תִתְבַּטֵּל מִמְּצִיאוּתָהּ,

Since this garment derives from this light, it not only withstands its intensity itself but also enables the soul to receive the light. Being a created entity, this garment can be “worn” by the soul. And what is this garment? It is the garment of mitzvot.

This is analogous to someone looking at the sun through a fine and lucid speculum.

וְכִמְשַׁל הָרוֹאֶה בַּשֶּׁמֶשׁ דֶּרֶךְ עֲשָׁשִׁית זַכָּה וּמְאִירָה וְכוּ',

Thus, it is written, “And Moses entered the midst of the cloud, and he ascended [the mountain]”25;

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן, וַיַּעַל כוּ'",

that is, he vested himself in the cloud, and ascended, and saw by way of the cloud…. I.e., the cloud served as a garment by means of which Moses was able to receive the revelations on Sinai.

שֶׁנִּתְלַבֵּשׁ בֶּעָנָן וְעָלָה וְרָאָה דֶּרֶךְ הֶעָנָן וְכוּ',

Thus, it is explained in the Zohar, Volume II, pp. 210 and 229.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר חֵלֶק ב' דַּף ר"י וְרכ"ט.