Like most of the components of Iggeret Hakodesh, this pastoral letter too was addressed to the Chasidic community as a whole. Why, then, echoing the words first addressed to Daniel (“To enlighten you with understanding”),1 does the Alter Rebbe open it in the singular?

In this letter, the Alter Rebbe demands spiritual service of a caliber so seemingly formidable as to be attainable only by a chosen few. For in it he calls upon the reader not to desire physical things, even those things that are essential for his well-being and utilized in his service of G-d.

Even such essentials, states the Alter Rebbe, should not be desired for their physicality but for their spirituality, for the spark of G-dliness found within them. So much so that even if a person finds that he is lacking (G-d forbid) life’s essentials, he should not be pained by their absence; rather, he should rejoice in his belief that this is indeed for his good, as shall soon be explained. Such a lofty response to deprivation would seem to be within the reach of only a very restricted elite.

The Alter Rebbe therefore begins this letter in the singular, indicating that every single individual can attain this level of divine service. For it requires only an absolute faith in G-d, and this lies hidden within every Jew; let him but unveil this faith, and he will be able to live by it.

“To enlighten you with understanding”

"לְהַשְׂכִּילְךָ בִּינָה",

that not by this path will the light of G-d dwell within [one],2

כִּי לֹא זוֹ הַדֶּרֶךְ יִשְׁכּוֹן אוֹר ה'

i.e., by desiring the3 “life of flesh,” and children, and sustenance,

לִהְיוֹת חָפֵץ בְּחַיֵּי בְשָׂרִים וּבָנֵי וּמְזוֹנֵי,

The Alter Rebbe is negating a desire that emanates from a craving for pleasure, rather than a desire that results from purposeful need.

for on this our Sages, of blessed memory, said, “Nullify your will [out of deference to His will].”4

כִּי עַל זֶה אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "בַּטֵּל רְצוֹנְךָ כוּ'",

This means not that one should set aside his own will because it does not coincide with G-d’s will but that from the outset, one’s will should be [so] nullified that he has no desire whatsoever for any worldly matters

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רְצוֹנוֹ בָּטֵל בִּמְצִיאוּת, וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לוֹ שׁוּם רָצוֹן כְּלָל בְּעִנְיְנֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶּה כּוּלָּם,

that are incorporated within the three general categories of 5 “children, life, and sustenance.’’

הַנִּכְלָלִים בְּבָנֵי חַיֵּי וּמְזוֹנֵי,

Although these are essentials, and though they affect one’s Divine service, they should be desired not for themselves but only insofar as they further the accomplishment of one’s spiritual tasks.

The above directive to “nullify” thus implies bittul bimetziut, an utter nullification of the self. Confronted by a scholar of stature, a lesser scholar may experience self-effacement—but he still remains a self-assertive personality. Utter nullification, by contrast, means that this sensation of self ceases to exist. In a similar vein, nullifying one’s own wishes before G-d connotes the absence of any wishes other than G-d’s.

[One should thus live] in the spirit of the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, that “Against your will do you live.”6 I.e., one should view the corporeal aspects of his life as being contrary to his will and surely so with regard to the corporeal aspects of children and sustenance.

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה שֶׁ"עַל כָּרְחָךְ אַתָּה חַי";

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how a Jew can achieve a total lack of yearning for the physicality of things, even things that are essential. According to the explanation that follows, it will be seen that one can go beyond this and even not be pained by their absence. Indeed, this equanimity in the face of deprivation proves that he derives no pleasure from these things when he does have them.

For it is possible for a person not to derive (conscious) pleasure from something7 and still delight in it subconsciously; the proof of this is that he grieves mightily at its loss, and pain is the exact counterpart of pleasure.

The clarification of this matter, how one can achieve a state of not desiring the physicality of even those things most crucial to his existence, [is as follows]:

וּבֵיאוּר הָעִנְיָן,

This [can be achieved] only [when there is] an absolute belief in the Yotzer Bereishit.

הוּא רַק אֱמוּנָה אֲמִיתִּית בְּ"יוֹצֵר בְּרֵאשִׁית",

Literally, as in the opening words of the Aleinu prayer,8 this phrase refers to G-d as “the One Who formed the first beginnings of Creation.” In the Kabbalistic lexicon, however, reishit also connotes the sefirah called chochmah (lit., “wisdom”). The Alter Rebbe hence uses this phrase here to allude to G-d as “the One Who created [everything] by means of reishit,” i.e., by means of the sefirah of chochmah.

This means that the creation of yesh (“that which exists”) out of the state of ayin (lit., “nothingness”), which is called reishit chochmah,

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁהַבְּרִיאָה "יֵשׁ" מֵ"אַיִן", הַנִּקְרֵאת "רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה" –

Loosely, the phrase yesh me’ayin means “something from nothing,” i.e., creation ex nihilo. Here, however, the meaning of ayin is not “nonbeing” or “nonexistence,” for we cannot say that the source of creation is “nonbeing” when “everything is from You”9: all of creation comes from G-dliness, the only entity that has true existence. Rather, ayin here means “incomprehensible,” for that which a created being understands he terms “existing” while that which totally transcends his understanding he denotes as “nonexisting,” inasmuch as it does not exist within the world of his understanding.

Yesh me’ayin thus describes the creation of something that comes into existence from the ayin of chochmah. Chochmah in turn is known as reishit (lit., “first”), as in the verse,10Reishit chochmah….” The level of emanation called chochmah is deemed to be “first” because it is the first of the sefirot and as such serves as a source of creation, unlike the levels of Divinity preceding it, which are too high, so to speak, to emanate down to the level of creation.

i.e., the Divine [sefirah of] chochmah which is not apprehensible to any created being and which is the level of Divinity described above as Yotzer Bereishit, that refers to G-d as “the One Who created [everything] by means of reishit,” i.e., by means of the sefirah of chochmah,

וְהִיא חָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁאֵינָהּ מוּשֶּׂגֶת לְשׁוּם נִבְרָא –

this creation occurs at every time11 and moment

הַבְּרִיאָה הַזֹּאת, הִיא בְּכָל עֵת וָרֶגַע,

at which all created beings come into being ex nihilo (yesh me’ayin)

שֶׁמִּתְהַוִּים כָּל הַבְּרוּאִים "יֵשׁ" מֵ"אַיִן"

through G-d’s wisdom, which animates everything.12

מֵחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַמְחַיָּה אֶת הַכֹּל,

G-d not only vitalizes all beings but also creates them, and since creation takes place ex nihilo, it must occur constantly.

For it is explained at length in the teachings of Chasidut that the relationship between Creator and created differs from the ilah ve’alul (“cause and effect”) relationship of, for example, intellect and emotions. Once emotions are brought about by the intellect, they can then continue to exist independently because in truth, the intellect merely serves to reveal pre-existing emotions; it does not actually create them.

Creation ex nihilo, however, involves creating a being that previously did not exist at all. The ayin that creates must therefore continuously vest itself within the created being so as to constantly effect the phenomenon of creation. (This is explained in Shaar Hayichud VeHaEmunah,13 a priori from the splitting of the Red Sea.)

This is also the meaning of the statement, “He Who in His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of creation….”14 G-d constantly creates the universe anew from the ayin of chochmah.

Now, when a man will contemplate in the depths of his understanding

וּכְשֶׁיִּתְבּוֹנֵן הָאָדָם בְּעוֹמֶק הֲבָנָתוֹ,

and will [moreover] picture in his mind how he comes into being ex nihilo at every single moment, so that he is affected at every moment of his existence by G-d’s wisdom,

וִיצַיֵּיר בְּדַעְתּוֹ הֲוָויָיתוֹ מֵ"אַיִן" בְּכָל רֶגַע וָרֶגַע מַמָּשׁ,

how can he entertain the thought that he is suffering,

הַאֵיךְ יַעֲלֶה עַל דַּעְתּוֹ כִּי רַע לוֹ,

or has any afflictions related to “children, life, i.e., health, and sustenance,”

אוֹ שׁוּם יִסּוּרִים מִבָּנֵי חַיֵּי וּמְזוֹנֵי,

or whatever other worldly sufferings?

אוֹ שְׁאָרֵי יִסּוּרִין בָּעוֹלָם,

For the ayin, which is G-d’s chochmah, is the source of life, goodness, and delight.

הֲרֵי הָ"אַיִן", שֶׁהִיא חָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הוּא מְקוֹר הַחַיִּים וְהַטּוֹב וְהָעוֹנֶג,

It is the Eden that transcends the World to Come,

וְהוּא הָעֵדֶן שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵעוֹלָם־הַבָּא,

The World to Come—the Garden of Eden—is the most sublime form of bliss experienced by the soul in apprehending G-dliness. This level, lofty as it may be, is however but a garden, a stage once removed from the spiritual delights which flow to it from the source which is called Eden. It is this level of Divinity that constantly creates and vitalizes all living beings.

except that, because it is not apprehensible, one imagines that he is suffering or afflicted.

רַק, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מוּשָּׂג, לָכֵן נִדְמֶה לוֹ רַע אוֹ יִסּוּרִים,

In truth, however, “No evil descends from above,”15 and everything is good,

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת אֵין רַע יוֹרֵד מִלְמַעְלָה, וְהַכֹּל טוֹב,

though it is not apprehended [as such] because of its immense and abundant goodness, at a level which is inconceivable to man.

רַק שֶׁאֵינוֹ מוּשָּׂג לְגוֹדְלוֹ וְרַב טוּבוֹ.

The life-force of all things, even those that we perceive as evil, as found within its source is truly good. In fact, it is such a lofty manner of good that it remains faithful to its source and as such is not apprehensible to man as good. In this, it differs from the other form of good that is able to descend to so low a level that even mortals can perceive its goodness. This higher form of goodness, because it retains its status at the outset of its revelation, is clothed in this world in a garb of pain and evil, inasmuch as its goodness has yet to be revealed to man.

This may be more fully understood in light of the Alter Rebbe’s explanation16 of the verse, “Happy is the man whom You, G-d, chasten.”17 (In the original of this verse in the Holy Tongue, the Divine Name is spelled with yud and hey, which are also the first two letters of the Four-Letter Divine Name.)

The Alter Rebbe explains there that suffering stems from the revelation of these first two letters “in the hidden world” (i.e., on a plane which is hidden from our understanding) before the revelation of the latter two letters (vav and hey) descends into the “revealed world.” Thus, suffering as found within its source is truly good.

In this spirit, the Alter Rebbe explains18 the conduct of Nachum Ish Gamzu, whose response to all occurrences was the remark, Gam zu letovah—“This, too, is for the good.”19 This remark not only meant that an event that seemed to be evil would eventually evolve into good but that the event itself, by virtue of its source, was good in its present form as well; its inherent goodness would be revealed at some later date.

And this is the essence20 of the faith for which man was created:21

וְזֶהוּ עִיקַּר הָאֱמוּנָה שֶׁבִּשְׁבִילָהּ נִבְרָא הָאָדָם,

to believe that “There is no place void of Him”22i.e., G-d is everywhere

לְהַאֲמִין דְּ"לֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִינֵיהּ",

and “In the light of the King’s countenance, there is life.”23

וּ"בְאוֹר פְּנֵי מֶלֶךְ חַיִּים",

When one encounters the King face-to-face, he is granted life. If in this temporal world, a man sentenced to death should encounter his king, his sentence may be commuted and he is granted life, for “In the light of the king’s countenance, there is life.” The same is true Above: the omnipresence of G-d, the King of the world, provides everything with life.

Accordingly, “Strength and gladness are in His place,”24

וְעַל כֵּן "עוֹז וְחֶדְוָה בִּמְקוֹמוֹ" –

The fact that G-d is found everywhere should encourage a man by strengthening his trust and thereby filling him with joy, for whatever predicament he finds himself in, G-d is there too. And wherever G-d is present, there is “strength and gladness.”

because He is but good all the time.

הוֹאִיל וְהוּא רַק טוֹב כָּל הַיּוֹם.