In their Approbation to the Tanya,1 the author’s sons write that the discourses and open letters together, entitled Iggeret Hakodesh2 (“The Holy Epistle”), as well as the further discourses, entitled Kuntres Acharon (“Later Pamphlet”), were all “recorded personally by [the Alter Rebbe’s] own holy hand in his own saintly expression…. These discourses are [collectively] entitled Iggeret Hakodesh, being mostly epistles sent by his holy eminence to teach the people of G-d the way by which they should walk and the deed which they should do.”

Accordingly, the author’s learned sons saw fit to publish them together with the preceding sections of the Tanya.

The first epistle opens with a reference to the Chasidic custom (a custom that thrives to this day) of apportioning the tractates of the Talmud for study among the members of each congregation or community so that the entire work is completed in the course of a year. The conclusion of the year’s study and the reallocation of tractates are traditionally celebrated on Yud-Tes Kislev, the anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s liberation from imprisonment and capital sentence in Leningrad in 1798.

The Rebbe has noted on a number of occasions that the collective completion of the Talmud by a number of individuals is considered as if each one of the group had completed the entire Talmud himself. He explains that this is similar to the law with regard to performing a prohibited labor on Shabbat: If doing the labor requires the efforts of two individuals, each of them is considered to have performed the entire labor.3 So, too, since the various individuals partake in the collective study of the Talmud, for they cannot complete it single-handedly in the course of a year, it is considered as if each one of them had studied the entire Talmud.

To return to the central theme of this opening epistle: The Alter Rebbe explains here that the study of the laws set out in the Oral Torah elevates the soul of the Jew and assists him in his spiritual service of meditating upon G-d’s greatness and arousing within himself a love and awe of Him.

On the circumstances of its composition, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of blessed memory, has conveyed to us the following: “During a Simchat Beit Hashoevah gathering in the year 5648 (תרמ"ח ;1887), my revered father related that the epistle opening with ‘We begin with a benediction’ was written by the Alter Rebbe in three stages in three different years.

“The first stage: When the Alter Rebbe decided to make the journey to study at the feet of the Maggid of Mezritch, he presented his disciples with a ‘note of arousal.’ It opened with ‘We begin with a benediction’ and concluded, ‘And these [faculties] are the arms and the body of the soul.’

“The second stage was when the Alter Rebbe returned from Mezritch, having had revealed to him by the Maggid at the behest of his mentor, the Baal Shem Tov, and with the blessing of his mentor, Achiyah Hashiloni, his spiritual identity, the purpose of his holy soul’s descent into this world, and the great responsibility and danger that his mission entailed. At that time, the Alter Rebbe wrote the second part of this epistle, beginning with ‘But what gives the power’ and concluding, ‘To the extent of pressing out the soul….’

“Speaking to his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, and to his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Alter Rebbe once described his inner feelings during the first few years after his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch, had revealed to him the message of the Baal Shem Tov [regarding his soul’s mission].

“These were the Alter Rebbe’s words: ‘The simple faith that we, the disciples of the Maggid, had in him, and our self-sacrificing devotion to him, provided us with the potent strength to obey all his directives with extreme precision, with inner and essential self-sacrifice. In the course of several years, when my young, married students settled in various towns and villages, I added three paragraphs to this epistle from “And now” until “there is no goodness but Torah.” This I did in view of the burden placed upon me by my master, the Maggid, and in order to be able to realize, with G-d’s help, the inner intent of my soul’s descent into this world.’”4

1 We begin with a benediction, to bless and to give thanks to G-d, for He is good.5

א פּוֹתְחִין בִּבְרָכָה, לְבָרֵךְ וּלְהוֹדוֹת לַה' כִּי טוֹב.

My soul has heard and been revived by good tidings—

שְׁמוּעָה טוֹבָה שָׁמְעָה וַתְּחִי נַפְשִׁי,

and “good” signifies Torah, as our Sages state in Tractate Avot.6

"אֵין טוֹב אֶלָּא תוֹרָה",

More specifically, it signifies “G-d’s Torah [which] is a perfect whole,”7 for it is the Torah in this state that the same verse describes as “reviving the soul.”

"תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה" –

[The above remarks] refer to the completion of the whole8 Talmud,9 in its entirety,10 in most towns and congregations of Anash, the men of our [Chasidic] brotherhood.

זוֹ הַשְׁלָמַת כָּל הַשַּׁ"ס כּוּלּוֹ בְּרוֹב עֲיָירוֹת וּמִנְיָנִים מֵאַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ,

[So much for] gratitude in respect of past accomplishments; and [now,] a request for the future:

הוֹדָאָה עַל הֶעָבָר וּבַקָּשָׁה עַל הֶעָתִיד,

May G-d thus continue from year to year to grant added strength to your hearts among the mighty,11 with the might of the Torah,

כֹּה יִתֵּן וְכֹה יוֹסִיף ה' לְאַמֵּץ לִבָּם בַּגִּבּוֹרִים מִדֵּי שָׁנָה בְּשָׁנָה, בִּגְבוּרָה שֶׁל תּוֹרָה.

I.e., may G-d increase that which He has previously granted—His increase being even greater than the original blessing12—so that the hearts of those who study Torah be strengthened to such a degree that they will be considered mighty even among the mighty, with their strength deriving from the Torah.

and make known to mankind the might of the Oral Torah13 and its power, which is great.

וּלְהוֹדִיעַ לִבְנֵי אָדָם גְּבוּרָתָהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה וְכֹחָהּ עוֹז;

The might (gevurah) of the Torah relates specifically to the Oral Law. For with regard to the source of the Torah in the supernal sefirot, the Written Torah derives from the sefirah of chochmah, which is aligned with the “right side” of the universe—the attribute of chesed, kindness and benevolence; the Oral Torah derives from the sefirah of binah,14 which is aligned with the “left side” of the universe, the attribute of gevurah, stern judgment and severity.15 (This relationship between binah and gevurah is alluded to in the verse, “I am binah; gevurah is mine.”16)

On the strength that the Oral Law gives the soul of a Jew, King Solomon (peace be to him) explained: She girds her loins with strength….”17

פֵּירֵשׁ שְׁלֹמֹה הַמֶּלֶךְ עָלָיו־הַשָּׁלוֹם "חָגְרָה בְעוֹז מָתְנֶיהָ כוּ'" –

The “woman of valor” lauded by King Solomon at the opening of the relevant chapter is an allegorical allusion to Knesset Yisrael, the Congregation of Israel, which comprises all Jewish souls. In the verse quoted, she “girds her loins with strength.” “Strength” refers to the Torah,18 as in the teaching, “There is no strength but Torah.”19 Thus, the Torah strengthens the loins of the soul, just as a warrior girds his loins to gather maximal strength; but what is meant by “girding the loins of the soul”?

The loins are the underframe that supports the whole body, including the head that is positioned over them;

"מָתְנַיִם", הֵם בְּחִינַת דָבָר הַמַּעֲמִיד כָּל הַגּוּף עִם הָרֹאשׁ הַנִּצָּב וְעוֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם,

it is they that lead and bring [the body] to its desired destination.

וְהֵם הַמּוֹלִיכִים וּמְבִיאִים אוֹתוֹ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצוֹ.

And just as it is with the corporeality of the body, so it is with the spirituality of the Divine soul.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁהוּא בְּגַשְׁמִיּוּת הַגּוּף, כָּךְ הוּא בִּבְחִינַת רוּחָנִיּוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית,

Just as the loins support the corporeal body and head, so do the soul’s loins support and lead the “body” and “head” of the soul to its desired spiritual destination.

[The soul’s loins are] the true belief in the One G-d, the blessed Ein Sof,

הָאֱמוּנָה הָאֲמִיתִּית בַּה' אֶחָד אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

Who permeates all worlds with a vitality which is indwelling (pnimi), a vitality which is contracted and tailored to the capacity of each individual creature, and Who encompasses all worlds with a vitality that is transcendent (makif) and which cannot therefore clothe itself within created beings in an indwelling manner,

דְּאִיהוּ מְמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין וְסוֹבֵב כָּל עָלְמִין,

there being no place or level of existence void of Him,

וְלֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִינֵּיהּ,

above to no end, for there is no end to the degree of His exalted transcendence beyond all worlds,

לְמַעְלָה עַד אֵין קֵץ

and below to no limit, for there is no limit to His ability to descend to the very lowest levels of creation and clothe Himself within the world, even to the point that the world conceals the G-dliness that is within it,

וּלְמַטָּה עַד אֵין תַּכְלִית,

and likewise in all four directions—east, west, north, and south—truly in a state of infinitude.

וְכֵן לְד' סִטְרִין בִּבְחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף מַמָּשׁ,

All the above refers to the dimension of space.

The same applies to the dimensions of “year” and “soul,” as is known.

וְכֵן בִּבְחִינַת שָׁנָה וְנֶפֶשׁ, כַּנּוֹדָע:

Creation embraces the three dimensions known as “world,” “year,” and “soul,” as is explained in Sefer Yetzirah.20 “World” alludes to space, “year” refers to time, and “soul” denotes life. Just as G-d is one and infinite within the realm of space, so is He one and infinite within the realms of time and life.

Now this faith, this belief in G-d as outlined above, is referred to as the “loins” which uphold and sustain the “head,”

הִנֵּה אֱמוּנָה זוֹ נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם בְּחִינַת "מָתְנַיִם" דָּבָר הַמַּעֲמִיד וּמְקַיֵּים אֶת הָרֹאשׁ,

meaning the intellect that contemplates and concentrates on the greatness of the blessed Ein Sof in the dimensions of “world,” “year,” and “soul,”

הוּא הַשֵּׂכֶל הַמִּתְבּוֹנֵן וּמַעֲמִיק דַּעַת בִּגְדוּלַּת אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בִּבְחִינַת עוֹלָם־שָׁנָה־נֶפֶשׁ,

Thus, this faith sustains the “head,” for the foundation of one’s comprehension of G-d’s greatness is one’ s belief in His unity.

and [that meditates] on the magnitude of His lovingkindness and His wonders with us,

וּבְרוֹב חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו עִמָּנוּ,

making of us “a people near unto Him”21 who can truly “cleave unto Him.”22

לִהְיוֹת "עַם קְרוֹבוֹ", וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ מַמָּשׁ,

Thus, it is known from the teaching, “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world surpasses all the life of the World to Come,”23

כַּנּוֹדָע מִמַּאֲמַר "יָפָה שָׁעָה אַחַת בִּתְשׁוּבָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה מִכָּל חַיֵּי עוֹלָם־הַבָּא",

for [the World to Come] is a mere gleam and reflection of the level [of Divinity] called Shechinah,

שֶׁהוּא רַק זִיו וְהֶאָרָה מִבְּחִינָה הַנִּקְרֵאת "שְׁכִינָה"

which is so called because it is the Shechinah (שְׁכִינָה) “Who dwells” (הַשּׁוֹכֵן) within created beings, and so on,

הַשּׁוֹכֵן כוּ',

Since the Shechinah bears a certain relationship to created beings, it is therefore this level of Divinity that is revealed in Gan Eden—the World to Come, which is but a pale reflection of the Shechinah.

and [the World to Come] was created by the single letter yud of [G-d’s] blessed Name, and so on, as explained by the Sages24 in their exposition of the verse, “for by [the Divine Name that is composed of the letters] yud-hey, G-d is the strength of the worlds” (בְּי־ה ה' צוּר עוֹלָמִים).25

וְנִבְרָא בְּיוּ"ד אַחַת מִשְּׁמוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ כוּ',

Repentance and good deeds, however, truly bring Israel near to their Father in Heaven,

אֲבָל תְּשׁוּבָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים מְקָרְבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם מַמָּשׁ,

unto (as it were) the very Being and Essence of He Who is absolute infinitude.

לְמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ כִּבְיָכוֹל, בְּחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף מַמָּשׁ,

As it is written, “His radiance is upon earth and heaven”26: heaven and earth derive their life-force from a mere glimmer or gleam of G-d’s Essence; not so the Jewish people, of whom the following verse continues: “He raises glory upon His nation.”27

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב "הוֹדוֹ עַל אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם, וַיָּרֶם קֶרֶן לְעַמּוֹ כוּ'",

The word קֶרֶן, here translated “glory,” signifies a thing’s essence.28 The verse thus implies that the Jewish people derive their life-force from G-d’s infinite Essence.

Similarly, before fulfilling many of the mitzvot, we say: “…Who has sanctified us [unto Himself] through His commandments and commanded us [to perform the mitzvah at hand].”29

"אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ כוּ'".

By granting us the ability to perform His commandments, G-d elevates us to His level, to the encompassing level of holiness that utterly transcends the degree of holiness that permeates the worlds.

And reflecting upon G-d’s infinite kindness to us, in that He chose us to be “His nation…, the people close to Him,” will result in a reaction of “waters reflecting the face….”30

וְ"כַמַּיִם הַפָּנִים כוּ'"

From this contemplation are born the intellectually generated or the natural awe and love—the awe and love of G-d that are naturally found within the heart of all Jews and need but be revealed through contemplation,31

לְהוֹלִיד מִתְּבוּנָה זוֹ דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ שִׂכְלִיִּים אוֹ טִבְעִיִּים,

giving rise [either] to (a) a mode of love in which “their heart cried out unto G-d”32 in its yearning to cleave to Him,

לִהְיוֹת בְּחִינַת "צָעַק לִבָּם אֶל ה'",

or to (b) a mode of love characterized by “flashes of fire, a mighty flame.”33

אוֹ בְּחִינַת רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ וְשַׁלְהֶבֶת עַזָּה,

The latter mode of love is the first stage of a dual dynamic34ratzo (“advance”), loving G-d so fiercely and rapturously that the soul almost flees the body;

בִּבְחִינַת "רָצוֹא",

this longing to expire, to lose one’s independent identity in G-d’s all-encompassing unity, [must be] followed by the second stage—shov (“retreat”), a sober and self-effacing return to the Divinely ordained reality of living as a soul enclothed in a body,

וְאַחַר כָּךְ בִּבְחִינַת "שׁוֹב",

so that there be the fear of G-d in one’s heart,

לִהְיוֹת פַּחַד ה' בְּלִבּוֹ

specifically, the superior order of fear whereby [the individual] is abashed by His greatness….

וְלֵיבוֹשׁ מִגְּדוּלָּתוֹ כוּ',

This abashedness restrains him from doing anything that G-d finds displeasing.

This level of awe, fear, and shame [results from] “the left hand that parries,”35

וְהוּא בְּחִינַת "שְׂמֹאל דּוֹחָה",

The Divine “left hand” represents gevurah, the supernal attribute of severity. It holds the worshipper at arm’s length, so to speak, curbing the intense love that would result from his sensation of G-d’s nearness as represented in the phrase, “His right hand embraces me.”36

as it is written concerning the Giving of the Torah: “The people saw and they trembled, and they stood from afar….”37

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּמַתַּן־תּוֹרָה "וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנוּעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחוֹק כוּ'",

The Divine revelation at the Giving of the Torah produced a feeling of awe and self-nullification which found expression in the Jews’ “standing from afar,” fearing as they did to draw close to G-d.

And these [faculties] love and fear are the arms and the body of the soul; love and kindness are the “right arm”; fear and severity are the “left arm.”38

וְהֵן בְּחִינוֹת הַזְּרוֹעוֹת וְהַגּוּף שֶׁבַּנֶּפֶשׁ: