Like the preceding epistle, the present one too centers on the theme of tzedakah.

If it is to be performed properly, tzedakah ought to be given unstintingly, and not only after all of one’s own needs and desires have been satisfied. Ideally, it should be given in the spirit of an aphorism that was current among the Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe: “Inside my slice of bread, there is your share too; G‑d is providing for you through me.”1

A man should thus feel obligated to share with others and provide for their needs to the very same degree that he provides for his own wife and children. Performing tzedakah in this manner can only be achieved when one distributes one’s earnings in an utterly selfless manner, doing so entirely for G‑d’s sake. Then, even when one provides for his own family’s needs, he will do so because they are Jewish souls who are part of G‑d Above,2 and as such, he bears a responsibility toward them.

When one acts in this way, he will realize that all needy folk are also Jewish souls and part of G‑d Above; he must therefore concern himself with their needs as well. Though the Torah rules that providing for one’s own wife and children takes precedence over providing for the needs of others, the essential sense of obligation remains the same.

9 My beloved ones,3 my brethren and friends, who are unto me like my soul:

ט אֲהוּבַיי אַחַיי וְרֵעַיי אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשִׁי,

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains in one of his talks4 that when the Alter Rebbe seeks to imbue his followers with the love of their fellow Jews, he addresses them as “my beloved friends,” for by befriending a fellow Jew, one becomes a “beloved friend” of the Alter Rebbe.

Accordingly, it may be said that by heeding the Alter Rebbe’s instructions with regard to tzedakah, one becomes one of the Alter Rebbe’s “beloved brethren.”

I come [herewith] as one who reminds and awakens those who sleep the slumber of “vanities of vanities,”

בָּאתִי כְּמַזְכִּיר וּמְעוֹרֵר יְשֵׁנִים בְּתַרְדֵּמַת הַבְלֵי הֲבָלִים,

Physical things at any time are deemed hevel: being airy and insubstantial, they have no true existence. When they serve no loftier purpose than themselves, they may be given the double epithet used above—havlei havalim,5 airy and foolish trivialities.

and to open the eyes of the blind.

וְלִפְקוֹחַ עֵינֵי הָעִוְרִים

When the soul finds itself within the body and allows itself to be led by it, it resembles a sighted person whose eyes are bound and who, intelligent though he may be, is then led about like an imbecile. If the soul, a part of G‑d Above, descends within a body but cannot restrict it from fulfilling its desires, it is considered to be blinded by the body, as the Tzemach Tzedek writes in Or Hatorah at the conclusion of Parashat Behar.6 The “blindness” caused by the body must be healed so that the soul may once again behold the truth.

Let them look and see to it that all their striving, longing, and aiming, in everything on which the life of their spirit depends,7 should be bound up8

יַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת, לִהְיוֹת כָּל יִשְׁעָם וְחֶפְצָם וּמְגַמָּתָם לְכָל בָּהֶם חַיֵּי רוּחָם

in “the [Divine] Source of the living waters,”9 the “Fountainhead of all life,”10

בִּ"מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים" חַיֵּי הַחַיִּים,

throughout all the days of their lives, with respect to the soul as well as to the flesh.11

כָּל יְמֵי חַיֵּיהֶם, מִנֶּפֶשׁ וְעַד בָּשָׂר.

Not only during prayer or Torah study or while performing mitzvot is a Jew to be bound to G‑d, but even while going about his mundane affairs, he should be attached to Him as well.

I.e., in all mundane matters and in the means by which one earns one’s livelihood, one should not be like those who do everything for their own sake, acting only out of their desire to satisfy themselves and their families, rather than for G‑d’s sake.

דְּהַיְינוּ, כָּל מִילֵּי דְעָלְמָא וְעִסְקֵי פַּרְנָסָה לֹא יִהְיֶה כְּאֵלּוּ דְּעָבְדִין לְגַרְמַיְיהוּ,

Let not the House of Israel be like all the gentiles,

וְלֹא יִהְיֶה בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכָל הַגּוֹיִם,

who12 feed, provide for, and esteem their wives and children out of [self-] love.

דְּזָנִין וּמְפַרְנְסִין וּמוֹקְרִין לִנְשַׁיְיהוּ וּבְנַיְיהוּ מֵאַהֲבָה,

I.e., since one loves himself, he also loves his wife and children, who are a part of him. Rather, his love should be holy in its selflessness.

For it is written: “Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth?”13

כִּי – "מִי כְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל גּוֹי אֶחָד בָּאָרֶץ" כְּתִיב,

This means that even in mundane (“earthly”) matters, they will not, heaven forfend, separate14 [them] from G‑d’s true Unity,

דְּהַיְינוּ – שֶׁגַּם בְּעִנְיְנֵי אֶרֶץ לֹא יַפְרִידוּ [נוסח אחר: יִפָּרְדוּ] מֵאֶחָד הָאֱמֶת חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

The concept of the Unity of G‑d signifies that apart from Him, nothing truly exists.

to bear false witness, heaven forfend, while reciting the Shema every evening and morning with closed eyes,

לְהָעִיד עֵדוּת שֶׁקֶר חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, בִּקְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע עֶרֶב וָבוֹקֶר, בְּעֵינַיִם סְגוּרוֹת,

[saying,] “G‑d is One”15—in the four directions and in the heavens above and on earth below,16 thus attesting to G‑d’s Unity even in the mundane realm,

"ה' אֶחָד" בְּד' רוּחוֹת וּבַשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וּבָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת,

while as the eyes of the blind are opened, and here, the Alter Rebbe addresses those whose eyes are blinded by corporeal matters:

וּבִפְקוֹחַ עֵינֵי הָעִוְרִים

“Can you close your eyes upon Him, as if He is no more?17 (heaven forfend).

"הֲתָעִיף עֵינֶיךָ בּוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ" חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

This means to say that immediately upon opening his eyes after reciting the Shema, such a person can view the world as if it were a self-sufficient entity, separate and distinct from its Creator; accordingly, moreover, he conducts his affairs in a selfish manner rather than for the sake of heaven.

Rather, this [approach] shall be befitting us—

אַךְ בְּזֹאת יֵאוֹת לָנוּ,

that18 all our involvement with mundane affairs should be (conducted) not for its own sake

לִהְיוֹת [נוסח אחר: בִּהְיוֹת] כָּל עִסְקֵינוּ בְּמִילֵּי דְעָלְמָא לֹא לְגַרְמַיְיהוּ,

but in order to animate souls, (i.e., to provide sustenance for fellow Jews, whose souls are veritably, so to speak,) portions of G‑d,

כִּי אִם, לְהַחֲיוֹת נַפְשׁוֹת חֶלְקֵי אֱלֹקוּת,

and to supply what they lack, out of gratuitous kindness.

וּלְמַלֹּאות מַחְסוֹרֵיהֶם בְּחֶסֶד חִנָּם,

In this way, we make the form (the soul) resemble He Who formed it, viz., “G‑d [Who] is One,”

שֶׁבָּזֶה אָנוּ מְדַמִּין הַצּוּרָה לְיוֹצְרָהּ, ה' אֶחָד,

for “the chesed of G‑d endures throughout the day,”19 i.e., at all times—a true chesed20 without thought of reward—

אֲשֶׁר "חֶסֶד אֵל כָּל הַיּוֹם", חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֱמֶת,

that animates the universe and all that fills it, at every single moment.

לְהַחֲיוֹת הָעוֹלָם וּמְלוֹאוֹ בְּכָל רֶגַע וָרֶגַע,

In imitation of G‑d, Who thus dispenses kindness and animates all created beings, man too should act kindly toward others and sustain those in need. Indeed, this should be his ultimate purpose when engaging in his work or in commerce: to be able to provide sustenance for the souls of his fellow Jews.

According to the above, however, one should provide for the needs of others to the very same degree that he provides for his own family. Why, then, should the needs of one’s own family take precedence over the needs of others? The Alter Rebbe answers this by saying:

It is only that according to the Torah,21 a man’s wife and children take precedence over all others,

רַק שֶׁאִשְׁתּוֹ וּבָנָיו שֶׁל אָדָם קוֹדְמִין לַכֹּל עַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה

The Alter Rebbe wrote this epistle in connection with the tzaddikim, R. Mendele Vitebsker and R. Avraham Kalisker, as well as their colleagues and disciples, who at the time of writing had already left the Diaspora and were living in the Holy Land. The Alter Rebbe therefore goes on to say:

except22 for the tzaddikim of the generation, who take precedence over one’s children;

חוּץ מִצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁבַּדּוֹר שֶׁהֵן קוֹדְמִין לְבָנָיו,

moreover, the tzaddikim in the Land of Israel take precedence over the tzaddikim in the Diaspora,

וְצַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל קוֹדְמִין לַצַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּחוּץ לָאָרֶץ,

apart from the fact that they did not leave anyone in the Diaspora comparable to themselves.

לְבַד מִזֹּאת שֶׁלֹּא הִנִּיחוּ כְּמוֹתָן בְּחוּץ לָאָרֶץ,

This will suffice for the discerning.

וְדַי לַמֵבִין.

Therefore, my beloved ones, my brethren:

עַל כֵּן, אֲהוּבַיי אַחַיי,

Direct your hearts to these words which are expressed very briefly,

שִׂימוּ נָא לְבַבְכֶם לָאֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים הַנֶּאֱמָרִים בִּקְצָרָה מְאֹד

(23and face-to-face, please G‑d, I will speak of them at length,)

(וְאִם יִרְצֶה ה' פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֵּר בָּם בַּאֲרוּכָּה),

how in these times, when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us, the principal service of G‑d is the service of charity.

אֵיךְ הֱיוֹת כָּל עִיקַּר עֲבוֹדַת ה' בָּעִתִּים הַלָּלוּ בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא הִיא עֲבוֹדַת הַצְּדָקָה,

As our Sages, of blessed memory, said: “Israel will be redeemed only through charity.”24

כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל נִגְאָלִין אֶלָּא בִּצְדָקָה".

Our Sages, of blessed memory, did not say that the study of the Torah is equivalent to the performance of acts of lovingkindness,

וְלֹא אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה שָׁקוּל כְּנֶגֶד גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים",

The Mishnah states in Peah: “The study of the Torah is equivalent to them all,”25 i.e., to all the mitzvot previously enumerated in the Mishnah, and these include gemilut chassadim, the performance of acts of lovingkindness,

except in their own days,

אֶלָּא בִּימֵיהֶם,

for with them, the principal area of Divine service was the study of the Torah, which is why at that time, there were great scholars: tannaim and amoraim.

שֶׁתַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה הָיָה עִיקַּר הָעֲבוֹדָה אֶצְלָם, וְעַל כֵּן הָיוּ חֲכָמִים גְּדוֹלִים תַּנָּאִים וְאַמוֹרָאִים.

However, in a time when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us,

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא,

as “the Sukkah of David has fallen” to a level of “feet” and “heels,” i.e., to the level of Asiyah,

שֶׁנָּפְלָה "סוּכַּת דָּוִד" עַד בְּחִינַת רַגְלַיִם וַעֲקֵבַיִים, שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה,

I.e., the sefirah called malchut of Atzilut, the Shechinah that vests itself in the lower Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah—also known as the “Sukkah of David,” for David, as the King of Israel, was a merkavah to malchut of Atzilut—has fallen to the lowest level of Asiyah.

there is no way of truly cleaving unto it, i.e., to the Shechinah,

אֵין דֶּרֶךְ לְדָבְקָה בָּהּ בֶּאֱמֶת

and transforming the darkness of the world into its light,26

וּלְהַפְּכָא חֲשׁוֹכָא לִנְהוֹרָא דִּילָהּ [נוסח אחר: דִּילֵיהּ]

except through a corresponding category of action, and not through intellect and speech alone, as in Torah study,

כִּי אִם בִּבְחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה גַם כֵּן,

namely, the act of charity.

שֶׁהִיא מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה,

But why is charity unique among all the many commandments that involve action?

As is known to the scholarly, “action” with reference to Divinity is the diffusion and downward flow of vitality to the lowest depths—to he who has nothing of his own.

כַּיָּדוּעַ לַמַּשְׂכִּילִים, שֶׁבְּחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה בֵּאלֹקוּת – הִיא בְּחִינַת הַשְׁפָּעַת וְהַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת לְמַטָּה מַּטָּה לְמַאן דְּלֵית לֵיהּ מִגַּרְמֵיהּ כְּלוּם.

Among the currents of Divine influence that descend into the various worlds, there are those that are called “thought” and “speech.” The flow of vitality to the very lowest level—to the World of Asiyah, where G‑dliness is not at all manifest—is called “action.”

The act of giving tzedakah thus truly corresponds to the spiritual level of Asiyah, inasmuch as it too provides beneficence to one “who has nothing of his own.”

Whoever sacrifices his impulse in this respect, i.e., with respect to charity,

וְכָל הַזּוֹבֵחַ אֶת יִצְרוֹ בָּזֶה

and opens his hand and heart,

וּפוֹתֵחַ יָדוֹ וּלְבָבוֹ,

[thereby] causes “the other [i.e., evil] side” of the universe to be subjugated27

אִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא

and “converts the darkness into the light”28 of G‑d, blessed be He, Who, in the time when the footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us, dwells over us in a state of action;

וּמְהַפֵּךְ חֲשׁוֹכָא לְאוֹר הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הַשּׁוֹכֵן עָלֵינוּ בִּבְחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא,

moreover, he will merit to “behold Eye to eye, G‑d returning to Zion….”29

וְיִזְכֶּה לִרְאוֹת "עַיִן בְּעַיִן בְּשׁוּב ה' צִיּוֹן" כוּ':

At that time, the physical eye, though yet retaining its physicality, will behold G‑dliness as it is beheld by the supernal eye. Thus, within the physicality of the World of Asiyah, there will be revealed the level of certainty in spiritual perception, which is called vision—a level that far surpasses the furthest attainments of the intellect.