Interdependence and brotherly love among Jews strike far deeper than the visible interpersonal plane. Indeed, if they are lacking, the pain is felt by the Shechinah itself, the Divine Presence. For the Divine Presence is the heart of the Jewish people, who themselves constitute the organs. A deep-seated organic disorder that affects the circulatory system, affects the entire body, including even the heart itself.

נודע בשערים

Well known at the gates1

The previous Epistle opened with the phrase, “It is well known...,” because it cited a widely-known statement from the Talmud. Here, however, the Alter Rebbe opens with a more esoteric quotation from the Zohar, which is well known only in more scholarly circles, among those who sit at the city gates, for this was where judges and scholars traditionally used to congregate.

מה שכתוב בתיקונים, דשכינתא איהי מרעא בגלותא, כביכול

is the statement in the Tikkunim2 that the “Shechinah is ailing in the exile,” as it were.

פירוש, על דרך משל: כמו חולי הגוף, המבדיל בין קדש וכו׳

This [anthropomorphism] draws a comparison with a physical ailment, distinguishing, [of course,] between the holy [and the mundane];3 i.e., bearing in mind the utter disparity between a physical ailment and the state metaphorically described as an “ailment” of the Shechinah.

שסיבת החולי והבריאות היא התפשטות והילוך החיות מהלב אל כל האברים

The cause of illness or health lies in the distribution and flow of the life-force from the heart to all the organs,

המלובשת בדם הנפש היוצא מהלב אל כל האברים

[this life-force] being vested in the blood of life which flows from the heart to all the organs;

וסובב סובב הולך הרוח חיים והדם

and the spirit of life and the blood4 circulates all around

תוך תוך כל האברים, על ידי הגידים המובלעים בהם

into all the limbs, through the veins5 that are embedded in them,

וחוזר אל הלב

and returns to the heart.

ואם סיבוב והילוך הרוח חיים הלז הוא כהלכתו תמידי, כסדרו המסודר לו מחיי החיים, ברוך הוא

Now, if the circulation and flow of this spirit of life is always as it should be, in its proper order as arranged for it by the Fountainhead of Life,

אזי האדם בריא בתכלית

then the individual is perfectly healthy.

כי כל האברים מקושרים יחד, ומקבלים חיותם הראוי להם מהלב, על ידי סיבוב הלז

For all the limbs are bound together and receive their appropriate vitality from the heart through this circulation.

אך אם יש איזה קלקול באיזהו מקומן, המונע ומעכב או ממעט סיבוב והילוך הדם עם הרוח חיים המלובש בו

But should there be any disorder in any place, restraining, hindering or reducing the circulation and flow of the blood with the spirit of life vested in it,

אזי נפסק או מתמעט הקשר הלז, המקשר כל האברים אל הלב על ידי סיבוב הלז

then this bond — which connects all the limbs with the heart by means of this circulation — is severed (which would extinguish life), or diminished,

ואזי נופל האדם למשכב וחולי, ה׳ ישמרנו

in which case the individual will fall ill and sick (May G‑d protect us!).

The interconnection of all the organs with the heart, thus also impacts on the heart itself.

וככה ממש, על דרך משל, הנה כל נשמות ישראל נקראים בחינת אברי דשכינתא

Precisely so, metaphorically speaking, all the souls of Israel are regarded as the organs of the Shechinah,6

הנקראת בשם לב, כמו שכתוב: צור לבבי, וכמו שכתוב: ושכנתי בתוכם

which is called the “heart”, as it is written,7 “The Rock, My Heart”;8 and as it is written,9 “And I will dwell within them.”


The meaning (of this comparison between the Shechinah and the heart that supplies all the organs with blood) is:

כי לשון שכינה הוא, שאור הוי׳ שוכן בעולמות בריאה יצירה עשיה, להחיותם

The10 term Shechinah, deriving as it does from the verb לשכון (“to rest” or “to dwell”), denotes that the light of G‑d abides in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, in order to endow them with life.

והמשכת חיות זה היא על ידי התלבשות תחלה בנשמות ישראל

This life-force is drawn forth by means of a prior investment in the souls of Israel.

לפי שכל הנבראים, אין ערוך להם אל הבורא יתברך

[This is so] because none of the created beings stand in any comparable relation to the Creator;

דכולא קמיה כלא ממש חשיבין

for11 “all that are before Him are esteemed as truly naught.”

ואי אפשר להם לקבל חיות מאורו ושפעו יתברך

Thus it is impossible for them to receive life-force from His light and effluence,

להיות נבראים מאין ליש, וחיים וקיימים

to become created beings ex nihilo into substantiality, and to be living and subsisting,

כי אם על ידי הנשמות

except by means of the souls.

The Divine light is first drawn down into the Jewish souls, and thereafter into the rest of creation.

The blessings which we recite follow the same order: “...our G‑d, King of the universe.” It is by His first becoming “our G‑d,” whereby the Divine life-force flows into the Jewish people, that He then becomes “King of the universe.”

שעלו במחשבה

[For it is the Jewish souls] that rose in His thought, i.e., their source is in His thought,

וקדמו לבריאת עולמות, שעל ידי בחינת הדבור

and thus preceded the creation of the worlds, which came about through [Divine] Speech.

Mortal thought is internal and personal, inasmuch as it serves the individual himself, whereas speech is external, its purpose being to communicate with others. So, too, Jewish souls derive from the internal aspect of G‑dliness, while the rest of creation derives from the external aspect. And in order that the Divine life-force be drawn down into the worlds, which represent an external level of creation, it must first be drawn into Jewish souls, the internal level of creation.

כמאמר רז״ל: במי נמלך הקב״ה וכו׳

Thus our Sages, of blessed memory, said:12 “With whom did the Holy One, blessed be He, take counsel [concerning the creation of the worlds? — With Jewish souls],”

כנודע במקום אחר

as is known from elsewhere.

Jewish souls are thus so superior to the created worlds that G‑d took counsel with them about the very creation of the worlds.

* * *

The above discussion relates only to the drawing down of Divine vitality from the Shechinah into the created worlds, which parallels the emanation of the spirit of life from the heart and its diffusion throughout the entire body.

The Alter Rebbe will now go on to explain the second aspect of this analogy — how the spirit of life returns to the heart from the other organs. In the analogue likewise, the G‑dly life-force within the worlds pulsates in an ongoing dual dynamic called ratzo vashov (“advance and retreat”): the G‑dly life-force is first drawn downward, from the Shechinah to the worlds, and then it returns to its source, as a result of the Torah study and the spiritual service of created beings.

ונודע בשערים

And it is well known at the gates13

כי כל המשכת החיות וההשפעה מעליונים לתחתונים מהם

that every downflow of [Divine] life-force and [all] effluence from the upper worlds to the worlds which are lower than them,

הן כמו שכתוב בספר יצירה: נעוץ תחלתן בסופן, וסופן בתחלתן

are as stated in the Sefer Yetzirah:14 “Their beginning (i.e., the beginning of the uppermost levels of creation) is wedged in their culmination (i.e., in the nethermost part of the lowest level of creation), and their culmination is wedged in their beginning.”

ובכתבי האריז״ל, מכונה בשם אור ישר ואור חוזר

In the writings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, this [dual direction] is referred to as Or Yashar (“direct light”) and Or Chozer (“reflected light”), i.e., light reflected upwards from the lower level back to the upper;

וכמו שכתוב: והחיות רצוא ושוב

as it is also written,15 “And the Chayot were advancing and retreating,” first proceeding away from their Source and then retreating to it.

The above verse refers to the holy Chayot (“creatures”) of the Divine Chariot. The Kabbalah explains that this is an allusion to the Divine life-force of all worlds and created beings: it first emanates from its Source and then returns to it. I.e., not only is the Divine life-force drawn from the Shechinah down into creation, but it also returns from created beings back to its original Source.

אשר על כן, על פי הדברים והאמת האלה, אשר אי אפשר לבאר היטב במכתב

Thus, according to these words and this truth, which is impossible to explain properly in writing,

נקראת השכינה בשם לב, והנשמות בשם אברים

the Shechinah is referred to as the “heart”, and the souls as “organs”.

להורות לנו, כי כאשר כל הנשמות דבוקות ומקושרות יחד

This teaches us that when all the souls are attached and bound together,

אזי סיבוב והילוך החיות וההשפעה סובב סובב

the circulation and flow of the life-force and of the effluence from the Shechinah to the worlds and from the worlds back to the Shechinah is continuous,

ונעוץ סופן בתחלתן, לקשר ולחבר כולן להוי׳ אחד, ולדבקה בו יתברך

and “their culmination is wedged in their beginning,” thus binding and joining them all — all the souls, and through them all the worlds — to the One G‑d, so that they will cleave to Him.

וכמו שכתוב: אתם נצבים היום כולכם לפני הוי׳ אלקיכם

Thus it is written,16 “You are standing firm this day, all of you, before the L‑rd your G‑d (Havayah Elokeichem).”

כולכם דייקא, ולפני דייקא

The verse specifies “all of you,” i.e., a situation in which all Jews stand united together. Moreover, it specifies “before”, implying that this togetherness enables all Jews to relate to Divinity at the level at which the Name Havayah precedes and transcends its subsequent self-imposed descent to become Elokeichem, the life-force that empowers souls.

This can take place only when there is a sense of unity between all the levels which the above verse goes on to enumerate:

ראשיכם כו׳ מחוטב עציך כו׳

“Your heads...” (i.e, those with the loftiest souls), “from the hewer of your wood...” (i.e., those of more modest spiritual stature).

The Alter Rebbe elaborates on this unity between unequals in Likkutei Torah, at the beginning of Parshat Nitzavim.

ובזה יובן מאמר רז״ל, כי חורבן בית שני ונפילת ישראל בגלות

This will clarify the teaching of our Sages,17 of blessed memory, that the destruction of the Second Temple and the fall of Israel into exile,

והסתלקות השכינה וירידתה לאדום, בבחינת גלות, כביכול

and the withdrawal of the Shechinah and its descent to Edom, into a state of exile, as it were, for when the Jews are exiled, so too is the Shechinah,18

הכל היה בעון שנאת חנם ופירוד לבבות, רחמנא ליצלן

— all this was because of the sin of groundless hatred [between one Jew and another] and dissension between their hearts (May the Merciful One save us!).

ולכן נקראת חולה, על דרך משל

And this is why [the Shechinah] is referred to metaphorically as ailing (in times of exile, as quoted above).

ומה שכתוב: סומך נופלים ורופא חולים, לשון רבים

As for19 the phrases [in the Amidah], “He supports those who are fallen and heals those who are sick,” in plural form — although reference is being made to the Shechinah,

הם כל האברים וכו׳

this alludes to all the organs....

The plural form includes the souls which are the “organs of the Shechinah,” inasmuch as they are animated by it; they, too, are in ailing health, and they, too, are supported and healed.