Part (a)

The Alter Rebbe wrote this letter of condolence to his Chasidim 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 Chasidim 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.

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

כז מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב לְיוֹשְׁבֵי אֶרֶץ הַקֹּדֶשׁ תִּבָּנֶה וְתִכּוֹנֵן בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן

to console them with redoubled support2

לְנַחֲמָם בְּכִפְלַיִים לְתוּשִׁיָּה,

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).

עַל פְּטִירַת הָרַב הַגָּאוֹן הַמְפוּרְסָם אִישׁ אֱלֹקִים קָדוֹשׁ, נֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַמּוּד הַיְמָנִי פַּטִּישׁ הֶחָזָק, מוֹרֵנוּ הָרַב וְרַבֵּנוּ רַבִּי מְנַחֵם מֶענְדְּל נִשְׁמָתוֹ עֵדֶן.

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

אֲהוּבַיי אַחַיי וְרֵעַיי אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשִׁי כוּ',

Likkutei Haggahot on the 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 Midrash5: “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, “he called her by his own name,”6 while “and so forth” indicates a love even greater—a bond with the ultimate soul-level of yechidah.

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

ה' עֲלֵיהֶם יִחְיוּ חַיִּים עַד הָעוֹלָם,

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 Chasidut, it is intended “to be mamshich the makif into the pnimi.”)

and your children with you, the seed of truth;

וְצֶאֱצָאֵיהֶם אִתָּם זֶרַע אֱמֶת

may you be blessed by G-d for evermore.

בְּרוּכֵי ה' הֵמָּה מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם.

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

אַחֲרֵי דְּרִישַׁת שְׁלוֹמָם כְּמִשְׁפָּט לְאוֹהֲבֵי שְׁמוֹ,

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

בָּאתִי לְדַבֵּר עַל לֵב נִדְכָּאִים הַנֶּאֱנָחִים וְהַנֶּאֱנָקִים, וּלְנַחֲמָם בְּכִפְלַיִים לְתוּשִׁיָּה,

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

אֲשֶׁר שָׁמְעָה אָזְנִי וַתָּבֶן לָהּ,

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

עַל מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "דְּשָׁבַק חַיִּים לְכָל חַי" –

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:

For “a tzaddik lives by his faith,”10

כִּי "צַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה",

and by “the awe of G-d [which leads] to life,”11

וּבְ"יִרְאַת ה' לְחַיִּים",

and by the flashing and fiery sparks12 of his love [for G-d, that is even greater] than life,

וּבְרִשְׁפֵי אֵשׁ שַׁלְהֶבֶת אַהֲבָתוֹ מֵחַיִּים,

investing in them—in his faith and awe and love—the life of his ruach [13and, moreover, of his neshamah] throughout his life.

לְכָל בָּהֶן חַיֵּי רוּחוֹ [נוסח אחר: וְנִשְׁמָתוֹ] כָּל יְמֵי חֶלְדּוֹ,

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.

When, at the time of his passing, G-d elevates his ruach

וַיְהִי בְּהַעֲלוֹת ה' רוּחוֹ,

and gathers up his soul unto Himself14

וְנִשְׁמָתוֹ אֵלָיו יֶאֱסוֹף,

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

וְיַעֲלֶה בְּעִילּוּי אַחַר עִילּוּי עַד רוּם הַמַּעֲלוֹת –

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

שָׁבַק חַיֵּי רוּחוֹ,

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,

"פְּעוּלָּתוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָבַד בָּהּ" לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל,

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—

“the labor of a tzaddik for life,”15

פְּעוּלַּת צַדִּיק לְחַיִּים

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—

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

לְכָל חַי, הִיא נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חַי

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

הַקְּשׁוּרָה בְּנַפְשׁוֹ בְּחַבְלֵי עֲבוֹתוֹת אַהֲבָה רַבָּה וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם, בַּל תִּמּוֹט לָנֶצַח,

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

אֲשֶׁר "מִי הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים", לְדָבְקָה בַּה' חַיִּים –

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

בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ תִּדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ,

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

וְהָיְתָה צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים אֶת ה',

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

בְּחַיֵּי רוּחַ אַפֵּינוּ

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

אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְנוּ בְּצִלּוֹ נִחְיֶה בַגּוֹיִם,

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.

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

אֲשֶׁר שָׁבַק לָנוּ, בְּכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד

corresponding to the degree of his genuine bond 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

כְּפִי בְּחִינַת הִתְקַשְּׁרוּתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת, וְאַהֲבָתוֹ אַהֲבַת אֱמֶת הַטְּהוֹרָה, "מִקֶּרֶב אִישׁ וְלֵב עָמוֹק",

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.

For “as in water, face [answers to face, so is the heart of man to man]”20: the individual’s love for the tzaddik reflects back to him, eliciting a love of the tzaddik for him,

כִּי "כַּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים וְכוּ'",

and “spirit rouses spirit and brings forth spirit”21the spirit of love that one has for the tzaddik draws down the ruach, the superior spirit of the tzaddik.

וְ"רוּחַ אַיְיתִי רוּחַ וְאַמְשִׁיךְ רוּחַ",

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

וְרוּחוֹ עוֹמֶדֶת בְּקִרְבֵּינוּ מַמָּשׁ,

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

כִּי בִּרְאוֹתוֹ יְלָדָיו מַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו בְּקִרְבּוֹ יַקְדִּישׁוּ שְׁמוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

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

אֲשֶׁר יִתְגַּדֵּל וְיִתְקַדֵּשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר נֵלֵךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה אֲשֶׁר הוֹרָנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו,

and we will walk in his ways forevermore.

וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹרְחוֹתָיו נֶצַח סֶלָה וָעֶד.

With regard to the above sentence, the Rebbe notes that the Zohar (Part II, p. 215a, and Part III, end of Parashat 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.”