As we have seen from the title page, the Alter Rebbe perceives himself as a mere compiler rather than as an author.

Being a letter sent to all Anashmembers of our fellowship, (i.e., the Chasidim), may [G-d] our Stronghold bless and guard them.1

וְהִיא אִגֶּרֶת הַשְּׁלוּחָה לִכְלָלוּת אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵינוּ, יְבָרְכֵם צוּרֵנוּ וְיִשְׁמְרֵם:

To you, [worthy] men, do I call.

אֲלֵיכֶם אִישִׁים אֶקְרָא,

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d, and may the Almighty listen to you, both great in spiritual stature and small,

שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי רוֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק מְבַקְשֵׁי ה', וְיִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיכֶם אֱלֹקִים לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַד קָטָן,

all Anash in our land and in nearby countries:

כָּל אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ דִּמְדִינָתֵינוּ וְסָמוֹכוֹת שֶׁלָּהּ,

may each in his own place achieve peace and eternal life.

אִישׁ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ יָבוֹא לְשָׁלוֹם וְחַיִּים עַד הָעוֹלָם נֶצַח סֶלָה וָעֶד,

Amen. May this be His will.

אָמֵן כֵּן יְהִי רָצוֹן:

It is well known that all Anash are wont to say

הִנֵּה מוּדַעַת זֹאת, כִּי מַרְגְּלָא בְּפוּמֵי דְאִינְשֵׁי בְּכָל אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ לֵאמֹר

that hearing words of moral guidance from a teacher addressing his student individually and directly is not the same as seeing and reading such guidance in books, which are impersonal and addressed to the reading audience at large.

כִּי אֵינָהּ דּוֹמָה שְׁמִיעַת דִּבְרֵי מוּסָר לִרְאִיָּיה וּקְרִיאָה בַּסְּפָרִים,

The spoken word will have far greater effect than the written word, for two reasons. The first:

For the reader, who gains such instruction in books, will read it after his own manner and mind,

שֶׁהַקּוֹרֵא, קוֹרֵא לְפִי דַרְכּוֹ וְדַעְתּוֹ

and will absorb the written message according to his mental grasp and comprehension at that particular time.

וּלְפִי הַשָּׂגַת וּתְפִיסַת שִׂכְלוֹ בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא שָׁם,

Hence, if his intellect and mind are confused and wander about in darkness in ideas pertaining to the service of G-d,

וְאִם שִׂכְלוֹ וְדַעְתּוֹ מְבוּלְבָּלִים וּבַחֲשֵׁכָה יִתְהַלָּכוּ בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה',

he will find it difficult to see the beneficial light hidden in books,

בְּקוֹשִׁי יָכוֹל לִרְאוֹת אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב הַגָּנוּז בַּסְּפָרִים,

although this light will be pleasant to the eyes and healing for the soul.

אַף כִּי מָתוֹק הָאוֹר לָעֵינַיִם וּמַרְפֵּא לָנֶפֶשׁ.

In the case of personal guidance, on the other hand, the mentor can ensure that his message is understood fully and correctly.

The Alter Rebbe now points out a second disadvantage in written advice. By its very nature, its ability to inspire even the understanding reader is restricted to a specific audience. A book does not allow for the subjective differences between one reader’s character and another’s. It will, of necessity, leave some of its readership untouched.

The Alter Rebbe next distinguishes between two categories of inspirational books. In those books belonging to the first category, this problem is more obvious and acute; in those of the second category, less so.

The first category embraces those books that argue for pious conduct on grounds of human intellect. These will surely not affect all readers equally; owing to the diversity of mind and temperament among readers, what profoundly inspires one reader, will leave another indifferent.

The second category comprises those works founded on the teachings of our Sages. It would seem at first glance that in such books, the problem of subjective differences between readers would be irrelevant. Since they are based on Torah, which is pertinent to every Jew without exception, surely every Jew could be guided and inspired by them.

The Alter Rebbe points out, however, that not every Jew is privileged to find his place in Torah and to derive the instruction applicable to him as an individual. Thus, the problem still obtains, though to a lesser degree.

Aside from this aforementioned possibility that the reader’s intellectual shortcomings may prevent him from perceiving the light concealed in the holy books, there is yet another difficulty:

וּבַר מִן דֵּין,

Those books on piety founded on human intelligence surely do not affect all people equally,

הִנֵּה סִפְרֵי הַיִּרְאָה הַבְּנוּיִים עַל פִּי שֵׂכֶל אֱנוֹשִׁי, בְּוַודַּאי אֵינָן שָׁוִין לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ,

for not all intellects and minds are alike,

כִּי אֵין כָּל הַשְּׂכָלִים וְהַדֵּעוֹת שָׁווֹת,

and the intellect of one man is not affected and aroused by that which affects and arouses the intellect of another.

וְאֵין שֵׂכֶל אָדָם זֶה מִתְפָּעֵל וּמִתְעוֹרֵר מִמַּה שֶּׁמִּתְפָּעֵל וּמִתְעוֹרֵר שֵׂכֶל חֲבֵירוֹ,

As our Sages have said, in reference to the blessing of “He Who is wise in secret” ordained by the Sages to be recited on [witnessing a gathering of] 600,000 Jews,2 whereby we praise G-d’s omniscience in knowing the secrets of them all,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה גַּבֵּי בִּרְכַּת חֲכַם הָרָזִים עַל שִׁשִּׁים רִיבּוֹא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל,

“for their minds (i.e., thoughts, opinions, and feelings) are all different from one another.”3

"שֶׁאֵין דֵּעוֹתֵיהֶם דּוֹמוֹת זוֹ לָזוֹ" וְכוּ',

So, too, does Ramban (of blessed memory) [explain the reason for the blessing] in his Milchamot,4 elaborating on the comment of Sifrei on the verse5 describing Joshua as “a man in whom there is spirit”;

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ן זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה בְּמִלְחָמוֹת שָׁם בְּפֵירוּשׁ הַסִּפְרֵי גַּבֵּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בּוֹ "אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ",

Sifrei explains “that he was able to meet the spirit of every man.”6

שֶׁיָּכוֹל לַהֲלוֹךְ נֶגֶד רוּחוֹ שֶׁל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד וְכוּ'.

But even those works of Mussar, whose foundation is in the peaks of holiness, meaning that they are founded

אֶלָּא אֲפִילוּ בְּסִפְרֵי הַיִּרְאָה אֲשֶׁר יְסוֹדוֹתָם בְּהַרְרֵי קוֹדֶשׁ,

on the Midrashim of our Sages “in whom the spirit of G-d speaks, and His word is on their tongues,”7even in the case of such works, the aforementioned problem obtains,

מִדְרְשֵׁי חֲכָמֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ ה' דִּבֶּר בָּם וּמִלָּתוֹ עַל לְשׁוֹנָם

for although “the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one,”8

וְאוֹרַיְיתָא וְקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא כּוֹלָּא חַד,

and all 600,000 general souls of Israel, and the individual souls that are their offshoots,9

וְכָל שִׁשִּׁים רִבּוֹא נְשָׁמוֹת כְּלָלוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּפְרָטֵיהֶם וּפְרָטֵי פְרָטֵיהֶם

down to even the [soul-]spark residing within the most worthless and least estimable members of our people, the Children of Israel,

עַד נִיצוֹץ קַל שֶׁבְּקַלִּים וּפְחוּתֵי הָעֶרֶךְ שֶׁבְּעַמֵּינוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

are all bound up with the Torah, and the Torah is what binds them to G-d,

– כּוּלְּהוּ מִתְקַשְּׁרָאן בְּאוֹרַיְיתָא, וְאוֹרַיְיתָא – הִיא הַמְקַשֶּׁרֶת אוֹתָן לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא

as is known from the holy Zohar,10 and since the Torah does contain what is pertinent to every Jew, those works founded on the Torah ought to appeal to every Jewish reader

כַּנּוֹדָע בַּזֹּהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ.

yet this is [said] in a general way for the Jewish people as a whole.

הֲרֵי זֶה דֶּרֶךְ כְּלָלוּת לִכְלָלוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל.

This statement of the Zohar speaks of the bond between Jewry in general with the Torah in its entirety. It does not refer to a particular Jew seeking individual instruction in a specific area in the Torah.

It is true that the Torah lends itself to interpretation by the rule of “general principles and specific applications,” and these applications may be further broken down to even more specific details,

וְאַף שֶׁנִּיתְּנָה הַתּוֹרָה לִידָּרֵשׁ בִּכְלָל וּפְרָט וּפְרָטֵי פְרָטוּת

to apply to each individual soul in Israel rooted in the Torah.

לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ פְּרָטִית מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל הַמּוּשְׁרֶשֶׁת בָּהּ,

Thus, the Torah contains not only general instruction for the nation as a whole but also specific instruction for each individual. Therefore, despite subjective differences between people, every Jew could theoretically find in such works instruction pertinent to his circumstances.

Yet, not every man is privileged to recognize his specific place in the Torah so that he may know how to derive specific guidance from it.

הֲרֵי אֵין כָּל אָדָם זוֹכֶה לִהְיוֹת מַכִּיר מְקוֹמוֹ הַפְּרָטִי שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה:

Even in the [Torah-]laws governing things forbidden and permissible, which have been “revealed to us and to our children [equally]”11 (for despite the differences between generations, the law applies equally to all, complete objectivity prevailing),

וְהִנֵּה, אַף בְּהִלְכוֹת אִיסּוּר וְהֶיתֵּר הַנִּגְלוֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ,

even in these laws, we witness arguments from one extreme to the other between Tannaim and Amoraim, with one Tanna, for instance, declaring perfectly permissible that which another Tanna rules absolutely forbidden.

מָצָאנוּ רָאִינוּ מַחֲלוֹקֶת תַּנָּאִים וְאַמוֹרָאִים מִן הַקָּצֶה אֶל הַקָּצֶה מַמָּשׁ,

Yet “these as well as those are the words of the living G-d.”12

וְאֵלּוּ וָאֵלּוּ דִּבְרֵי אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים

In this phrase, the words “living G-d” appear in the plural form13

– לְשׁוֹן רַבִּים –

because [the diversity of opinions in the Halachah stems from plurality in] the source of life of the souls of Israel—within the “living G-d” (i.e., within G-d, as He is the source of life).

עַל שֵׁם מְקוֹר הַחַיִּים לְנִשְׁמוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל

The souls, and hence also their source, so to speak, are divided into three general categories: right, left, and center, representing kindness (chesed), severity (gevurah)…[and beauty (tiferet)].

הַנֶּחְלָקוֹת דֶּרֶךְ כְּלָל לִשְׁלֹשָׁה קַוִּין, יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל וְאֶמְצַע, שֶׁהֵם חֶסֶד וּגְבוּרָה וְכוּ',

Those souls which are rooted in the attribute of kindness tend to be lenient in their halachic decisions, being inclined toward kindness, which dictates that the object be declared permissible and thus capable of being sanctified if used for a sacred purpose, and so on, with the attribute of severity dictating stringency in halachic decisions, and the attribute of beauty mediating, as is known.

וּנְשָׁמוֹת שֶׁשָּׁרְשָׁן מִמִּדַּת חֶסֶד, הַנְהָגָתָן גַּם כֵּן לְהַטּוֹת כְּלַפֵּי חֶסֶד – לְהָקֵל כוּ' כַּנּוֹדָע.

In his Iggeret Hakodesh, the Alter Rebbe applies this principle to the legal arguments between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. The school of Shammai was usually stringent, because their spiritual source was the attribute of severity; the school of Hillel usually lenient because of their source in the attribute of kindness. In certain decisions, however, their positions were reversed, for the realm of holiness is governed by the principle of mutual incorporation (הִתְכַּלְלוּת), with kindness containing elements of severity and vice versa.

Now, if one’s individual spiritual tendencies affect the way he views the Torah even in the area of the Halachah, which is intrinsically objective,

surely, how much more so will subjective differences play a role in “matters hidden to G-d Almighty,”

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן וְקַל וָחֹמֶר בְּהַנִּסְתָּרוֹת לַה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ

namely, to one’s awe and love of G-d, which are subjective by their very nature, for they express themselves

דְּאִינוּן דְּחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ

in the mind and heart of each person according to his own measure (his שעור),

דִּבְמוֹחָא וְלִבָּא דְּכָל חַד וְחַד לְפוּם שִׁיעוּרָא דִילֵיהּ

according to his heart’s estimation (השערה), and according to the “gate” (שער) that he makes in his heart to permit his intellectual understanding (of G-dliness) to pervade his heart and generate within him a love and awe of G-d,

– לְפוּם מַה דִמְשַׁעֵר בְּלִיבֵּיהּ,

as the Zohar14 comments on the verse, “Her husband is known by the gates….”15

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ עַל פָּסוּק "נוֹדָע בַּשְּׁעָרִים בַּעְלָהּ וְגוֹ'":

The Zohar interprets the “husband” of this verse as a reference to G-d, Who is the “husband” of the community of Israel. We “know” and attach ourselves to Him “by the she’arim,” which the Zohar interprets in the sense of shaar (“gate”), shiur (“measure”), and hash’arah (“estimation”), as explained above. At any rate, we see that being inspired in the love and fear of G-d is intrinsically subjective.