אחרי דרישת שלום וחיים

After greetings of life and peace,

פתח דברי יעיר אזן שומעת תוכחת חיים

1may my opening words rouse2 “the ear that hears the life-giving admonition”

אשר הוכיח ה׳ חיים על ידי נביאו, ואמר

that the Living G‑d admonished through His prophet,3 saying:4

חסדי ה׳ כי לא תמנו וגו׳

“The kindnesses of G‑d have surely not ended....”

Surprisingly, the Hebrew verb used here is tamnu (in the first person plural), which would make the phrase mean, “we have not been brought to an end.” If the verse sought to say that (a) the kindnesses “have not ended,” rather than (b) “because of G‑d’s kindnesses we have not been brought to an end,” it should surely have used the verb tamu (in the third person plural), as the Alter Rebbe goes on to point out.

והוה ליה למימר: כי לא תמו

Now, it should really have said ki lo tamu,

כמו שכתוב: כי לא תמו חסדיך וכו׳

as in the phrase,5 “For your kindnesses have not ended....”

The Alter Rebbe answers that our verse indeed implies two ideas: (a) the kindnesses have not ended; (b) we stand in need of חסדי ה׳ (G‑d’s kindnesses), כי לא תמנו — because we are not “perfect” or “complete”. (In the second interpretation, tamnu means “we are not tamim,” as shall soon be explained.)

ויובן על פי מה שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש: אית חסד ואית חסד

This [anomaly] will be understood in the light of a statement in the sacred Zohar:6 “There are [two] different types of Chesed:

אית חסד עולם כו׳

there is Chesed olam..., literally, “a worldlike Chesed,” a degree of kindness which is limited by temporal bounds,

ואית חסד עילאה, דהוא רב חסד כו׳

and there is a superior form of kindness, i.e., rav Chesed (“boundless kindness”)....

Since it is man’s spiritual service that draws down Divine beneficence, the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain what manner of service elicits a downflow of the “Chesed of the world,” and what manner of service draws down the boundless degree of rav Chesed.

כי הנה מודעת זאת, התורה נקראת עוז

Now, it is well known that the Torah is called oz (“strength”),

Thus on the verse,7 “G‑d grants strength to His people,” the Gemara in Tractate Zevachim8 comments, “‘Strength’ alludes to the Torah.”

שהוא לשון גבורה

which is an expression of Gevurah.

Literally, Gevurah means “might”, but more specifically, as the name of one of the Sefirot, it signifies (in contradistinction to Chesed) the withholding of beneficence, as regulated by the Divine attribute of stern justice.

וכמו שאמרו חז״ל: תרי״ג מצות נאמרו למשה מסיני מפי הגבורה

As our Sages, of blessed memory, taught:9 “The 613 commandments were declared unto Moses at Sinai from the Mouth of the Gevurah.”

I.e., the 613 commandments were uttered by G‑d as He manifested Himself in the attribute of Gevurah, for which reason He Himself is here referred to by the name of this attribute.

וכדכתיב: מימינו אש דת למו

It is likewise written:10 “From His right Hand a Torah of fire [was given] unto them”; i.e., it was written in fire, which is an expression of the attribute of Gevurah.

פירוש

This means:

The Alter Rebbe here introduces an explanation which anticipates the following question: Since the Torah of G‑d was given “from His right Hand,” which always connotes kindness and benevolence (and indeed, the Torah has been called11 Torat Chesed — “a Torah of kindness”), how then can the above-quoted verse proceed to say that the Torah is an expression of fire and Gevurah?

שהתורה מקורה ושרשה הוא רק חסדי ה׳, המכונים בשם ימין

The source and root of the Torah is solely “G‑d’s kindnesses,” that are referred to12 as “the right side.”

דהיינו: המשכת בחינת אלקותו יתברך והארה מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

That is: The elicitation of His Divinity, and of a radiation from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light,

אל העולמות עליונים ותחתונים

to the upper and lower worlds,

על ידי האדם הממשיך האור על עצמו

[is effected] by man who draws down the light upon himself

בקיום רמ״ח מצות עשה

by the fulfillment of the 248 positive commandments,

שהו רמ״ח אברים דמלכא

which are13 “the 248 organs of the King”;

פירוש: רמ״ח כלים ולבושים לההארה מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא המלובש בהן

i.e., they are the 248 vessels and garments for the radiation from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light that is vested in them.

Each of the commandments serves as a receptor or vehicle for the particular Divine illumination that vests itself within it, just as each organ of the body is a vehicle or receptor for a particular faculty of the soul — the eye for the power of sight, the ear for the power of hearing, and so on.

ומאור זה יומשך לו דחילו ורחימו בכל מצוה, כנודע

(14And, as is known, from this light awe and love are drawn down upon [a person as he performs] each command.)

The Torah and its commandments are thus a downflow of G‑dliness, springing from His attribute of kindness.

רק שהמשכה זו נתלבשה תחלה במדת גבורתו של הקב״ה, המכונה בשם אש

However, this downflow was first vested in G‑d’s attribute of Gevurah, which is referred to as “fire”,

שהיא בחינת צמצום האור והחיות הנמשכות מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא

and which reflects a contraction (tzimtzum) of the light and life-force that issue from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light,

כדי שתוכל להתלבש במעשה המצות

thus enabling it to become vested in the performance of the commandments,

שרובן ככולן הם בדברים חומריים

practically all of which involve material things,

כציצית ותפילין וקרבנות וצדקה

such as tzitzit (which are made of wool), tefillin (made of leather and parchment), sacrifices (offered from animals, plants and minerals) and charity (that involves money or other material objects).

ואף מצות שהן ברוחניות האדם, כמו יראה ואהבה

Even commandments that involve a man’s spirit, such as awe and love [of G‑d],

אף על פי כן הן בבחינת גבול ומדה, ולא בבחינת אין סוף כלל

are also of limited measure,15 and by no means of infinite extent.

כי אהבה רבה לה׳, בלי קץ וגבול ומדה, אין האדם יכול לסובלה בלבו ולהיות קיים בגופו אפילו רגע

For not even for a moment could man sustain in his heart so intense a love of G‑d as is without end and limitation, and still remain in existence in his body.

Indeed, so intense a love would surely cause the soul to take flight.

וכמאמר רז״ל, שבשעת מתן תורה, שהיתה התגלות אלקותו יתברך ואור אין סוף ברוך הוא בבחינת דיבור והתגלות, פרחה נשמתן כו׳

So it was taught by our Sages, of blessed memory,16 that at the time of the Giving of the Torah, when G‑d’s Divinity, and the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, were manifested [to the Jews at Sinai] at the [direct] level of revealed speech, “their souls took flight” from their bodies.

At that time G‑d restored their souls with the dew that He will use to revive the dead in the time to come. We see, however, that the illumination in itself was so intense that their souls could not remain within their bodies for even one moment.

Since the love presently experienced by a soul within a body does not cause it to flee, it follows that this love is inherently limited. This also applies to the awe and love which are experienced as a result of the Divinity that is revealed in the mitzvot, as mentioned earlier. This is the case because the flow of G‑dliness which descends through the Torah and its finite commandments is restrained by the attribute of Gevurah.

We can now understand the two stages implied in the above-quoted verse: Initially, the Torah indeed proceeds “from His right Hand,” from the boundless kindness of the attribute of Chesed — but it is then communicated to us “from the Mouth of the Gevurah” as “a Torah of fire,” as a law which is delimited and restricted through the Divine attribute of Gevurah, so that it will be able to find expression in the finitude of the mitzvot.

והנה, לפי שהמצות ניתנו לנו על ידי התלבשות במדת גבורה וצמצום ההארה כו׳

Now, because the commandments were given to us by being vested in the attribute of Gevurah and by the contraction of the [Divine] radiation...,

לכן רוב המצות יש להן שיעור מצומצם

most commandments have a delimited measure.17

כמו אורך הציצית: י״ב גודלין

For instance, the length of the tzitzit must be twelve times the width of the thumb;18

והתפילין: אצבעים על אצבעים, ומרובעות דוקא

the tefillin — two fingerbreadths by two fingerbreadths, according to the opinion of the Geonim quoted in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch,19 and necessarily square;20

והלולב: ד׳ טפחים, והסוכה: ז׳ טפחים

the lulav — four handbreadths;21 the sukkah — seven handbreadths;22

והשופר: טפח, והמקוה: מ׳ סאה

the shofar — one handbreadth;23 and the mikveh — forty se’ahs.24

וכן בקרבנות, יש להן שיעור מצומצם לזמן

The sacrifices, too, have a delimited measure as regards age,

כמו כבשים בני שנה, ואילים בני שתים, ופרים כו׳

as, for instance, “sheep of one year old,”25 and “rams of two years old,”26 and “oxen....”27

וכן במעשה הצדקה וגמילות חסדים בממונו

The same applies to the act of charity and to the practice of kindness with one’s money;

אף שהיא מהעמודים שהעולם עומד עליהם

even though that is one of the pillars upon which the world stands,28

וכדכתיב: עולם חסד יבנה

as it is written:29 “The world is built by Chesed,”

אפילו הכי, יש לה שיעור קצוב: חומש למצוה מן המובחר

nevertheless, it has a set measure of preferably one fifth [of one’s income],30 if one desires to perform the commandment in the best possible manner,

ומעשר למדה בינונית כו׳

and of one tenth for an average measure31....

וזה נקרא חסד עולם

This is what is called “the Chesed of the world.”

I.e., the Supernal degree of Chesed that is drawn down through this manner of measured charity is termed Chesed olam, “the Chesed of the world.”

פירוש: חסד אל כל היום, המתלבש בעולמות עליונים ותחתונים

This means32 “the Chesed of G‑d that endures throughout the day,” which is vested in the higher and lower worlds

על ידי אתערותא דלתתא

through the arousal from below that is generated by man’s service,

היא מצות הצדקה וחסד שעושים בני אדם זה עם זה

i.e., by the precepts of charity and kindness that people practice for each other.

Kindness between man and his fellow draws down Divine kindness into the higher and lower worlds.

ולפי שהעולם הוא בבחינת גבול ומדה

But because the world is finite and measured —

מהארץ עד לרקיע ת״ק שנה, וכן מרקיע לרקיע כו׳

“From the earth to the heavens there is a distance of 500 years and likewise from one heaven to another [there is a distance of 500 years],”33

ושית אלפי שני הוי עלמא כו׳

and “Six thousand years shall the world exist...”34

לכן ניתן שיעור ומדה גם כן למצות הצדקה והחסד שבתורה

the Torah’s commandment of charity and kindness is also given a limit and measure,

כמו לשאר מצות התורה

as are the other commandments of the Torah.

אך היינו דוקא לשומר התורה, ולא סר ממנה ימין ושמאל, אפילו כמלא נימא

However, this [limitation on charity] applies only to one who observes the Torah and does not depart from it to the right or left, even as much as a hair’s-breadth.

אבל מי שהעביר עליו הדרך, חס ושלום

But as to him who has strayed from the path, Heaven forfend,

מאחר שהעוה דרכו, לתת מגרעות בקדש העליון

inasmuch as he has distorted his course, thus diminishing the Supreme Holiness,

A Jew draws down sanctity from the Supreme Holiness through his performance of the commandments; as we say in the blessings recited before their performance, “...Who has sanctified us with His commandments.” I.e., performing mitzvot elicits a downflow of Supreme Holiness, whereas non-performance depletes it.

שגרע ערכו בחינת המשכתו מה שהיה יכול להמשיך מבחינת אלקותו, והארת האור מאור אין סוף ברוך הוא, אילו היה שומר התורה ומקיימה כהלכתה

that is, he has diminished its value as regards the efflux he could have elicited from G‑d’s Divinity and the radiation [he could have elicited] from the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, had he observed the Torah and fulfilled it as required, —

הרי מעוות זה לא יוכל לתקן כי אם בהמשכת האור העליון שלמעלה מהעולמות, ואינו מתלבש בהן

such distortion cannot be rectified except by an efflux of the Supreme light that transcends the worlds, without being vested in them.

הנקרא חסד עילאה ורב חסד

This is what is called Chesed ilaah (“superior kindness”) and rav Chesed (“abundant kindness”),

לפי שמאיר ומתפשט בבחינת אין סוף, בלי גבול ומדה

because it radiates and diffuses infinitely, without limit and measure,

מאחר שאיננו מצומצם תוך העולמות, אלא בבחינת מקיף עליהן מלמעלה

since it is not contracted within the worlds but encompasses them from above [in equal measure],

מריש כל דרגין עד סוף וכו׳

from the peak of all rungs to the end [of all rungs].

וכשהאדם ממשיכו למטה במעשיו ואתערותא דלתתא

Now, when man draws it downward by means of his deeds and by an arousal from below,

אזי אור עליון זה מאיר ומתפשט תוך העולמות, ומתקן כל מעוות וכל מגרעות שניתנו בקדש העליון

this Supreme light then radiates and extends within the worlds, rectifying all distortions and deficiencies caused in the Kodesh HaElyon,

ומחדש אורן וטובן ביתר שאת ויתר עז, בבחינת אור חדש ממש

and renewing their light and goodness with an intense elevation, on the level of a truly new light.

An act of penitence does not merely uncover a pre-existing light, but calls forth a new and infinite light which is loftier than all the worlds.

לכן אמרו: במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין וכו׳

This is why the Sages taught that35 “In the place (i.e., at the level) where penitents stand, [even the perfectly righteous do not stand].”

The Rebbe notes that in various sources36 this is paraphrased as follows: “In the place where penitents stand even the truly righteous cannot stand.” I.e., the level at which penitents stand steadfastly cannot even be attained by the truly righteous, for the Divine radiance drawn down through repentance is of an utterly superior quality.

והנה עיקר התשובה הוא בלב

Now the essence of penitence is in the heart,

כי על ידי החרטה מעומקא דלבא, מעורר עומק אור העליון הזה

for through regret from the depth of the heart one arouses the [corresponding] depth (i.e., the ultimate degree) of this Supreme light.

I.e., a man’s earnest penitence calls forth the above-described superior spiritual light which rectifies whatever he had been lacking in his fulfillment of the Torah and its mitzvot.

אך כדי להמשיכו, להאיר בעולמות עליונים ותחתונים

But in order to call forth [this light] so that it will radiate in the higher and lower worlds,

צריך אתערותא דלתתא ממש, בבחינת מעשה

there must be an actual arousal from below in the form of action,

דהיינו, מעשה הצדקה וחסד בלי גבול ומדה

viz., the practice of charity and kindness without limit and measure.

דכמו שהאדם משפיע רב חסד

For just as a man dispenses rav Chesed, an infinite abundance of kindness —

פירוש: ח״ס דלי״ת

[the first two letters of חסד] meaning “he pities” [and the last letter when spelled out meaning, in Aramaic,] “him who has not,”

דהיינו לדל ואביון, דלית ליה מגרמיה כלום

implying [that he dispenses his kindness] to the utterly destitute individual who does not have (deleit lei) anything of his own,

ואינו נותן גבול ומדה לנתינתו והשפעתו

without setting a limit or measure to his giving and diffusion —

כך הקב״ה משפיע אורו וטובו בבחינת חסד עילאה, הנקרא רב חסד

so, too, the Holy One, blessed be He, diffuses His light and benign influence in the spirit of the superior Chesed, known as rav Chesed,

המאיר בבחינת אין סוף, בלי גבול ומדה, תוך העולמות עליונים ותחתונים

that radiates infinitely, without limit or measure, within the upper and lower worlds.

שכולם הם בבחינת דלי״ת אצלו יתברך

For in relation to Him, blessed be He, all are in a state of deleit (“having nothing”),

דלית להון מגרמיהון כלום

inasmuch as they have nothing at all of their own,

וכולא קמיה כלא חשיבי

and all before Him are considered as nothing.

Since all of creation is of no account in the eyes of G‑d, anything received from His hand is not deserved, but a gratuitous gift; as, indeed, is the very fact that mortal endeavors are able to draw down Divine light.

At any rate, boundless tzedakah and kindness draw down the degree of Divine radiance that transcends all worlds.

ועל ידי זה נתקנו כל הפגמים שפגם האדם בעונותיו למעלה, בעולמות עליונים ותחתונים

All the blemishes that a man caused above, in the upper and the lower worlds, through his sins, are thereby rectified.

Thus, the measured performance of tzedakah and Chesed draws down Chesed olam, which is a worldlike (hence, a finite) degree of Divine benevolence, while the boundless performance of tzedakah and Chesed draws down rav Chesed, an infinite degree of Divine benevolence.

וזהו שכתוב: עשה צדקה ומשפט, נבחר לה׳ מזבח

And this is the meaning of the verse,37 “G‑d prefers tzedakah and justice38 over offerings,”

לפי שהקרבנות הן בבחינת שיעור ומדה וגבול

because the sacrifices are defined in terms of quantity, dimension and limitation,

מה שאין כן בצדקה, שיוכל לפזר בלי גבול לתקן עונותיו

while charity can be dispensed without limit, for the purpose of rectifying one’s sins.

Although (like the sacrifices) tzedakah also effects atonement, it may be offered (unlike the sacrifices) without limit. It is therefore able to draw down Divine illumination that is correspondingly infinite, and thereby secure a superior order of atonement.

ומה שכתוב: המבזבז אל יבזבז יותר מחומש

As for the ruling that39 “He who is unstinting [in his charitable giving] should not expend more than one fifth [of his earnings],”

היינו דוקא במי שלא חטא

this applies only to one who has not sinned,

או שתקן חטאיו בסיגופים ותעניות

or who has rectified his sins by means of self-mortification and fasts,

כראוי לתקן כל הפגמים למעלה

as indeed all the blemishes Above should be rectified.

Since such an individual need not give tzedakah to rectify his sins, he should not give more than a fifth.

אבל מי שצריך לתקן נפשו עדיין

But as to him who still needs to remedy his soul,

פשיטא דלא גרעה רפואת הנפש מרפואת הגוף

the healing of the soul is obviously no less a priority than the healing of the body,

שאין כסף נחשב

where money does not count.

וכל אשר לאיש יתן בעד נפשו, כתיב

As Scripture states,40 “Whatever a man has he will give on behalf of his soul.”

The simple meaning of the verse is that a person will forego all his wealth in order to save his life. However, since the word “soul” is used rather than “life”, we may also understand this to mean that a person will give everything he has in order to save and rectify his soul.

* * *

The Alter Rebbe now returns to the verse quoted at the outset of this Iggeret HaKodesh: חסדי ה׳ כי לא תמנו וגו׳ — “The kindnesses of G‑d have surely not ended....”

There he had asked: If the verse refers only to G‑d’s kindness, why does it use the verb tamnu (in the first person plural), which would make the phrase mean, “we have not been brought to an end,” rather than tamu (in the third person plural), which would mean that “the kindnesses have not ended”?

He answers this by saying that חסדי ה׳ (“the kindnesses of G‑d”) refers also to the giving of tzedakah without limitation. Accordingly, the verse may be understood, as he now goes on to explain:

והנה מדת חסד זו, בלי גבול ומדה, נקראת על שמו של הקב״ה

Now, since this is G‑d’s manner of practicing benevolence, this mode of unlimited kindness is known by the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, [viz.,]

חסדי ה׳

“The kindnesses of G‑d,”

כדכתיב: וחסד ה׳ מעולם ועד עולם כו׳

as it is written,41 “and G‑d’s Chesed is everlasting....”

כי הגם שכל ישראל הם רחמנים וגומלי חסדים

For though42 “All of Israel are compassionate and practice kindly deeds,”

ברם יש גבול ומדה לרחמי האדם

nevertheless there is a limit and measure to man’s compassion.

אבל הקב״ה נקרא אין סוף ברוך הוא

But the Holy One, blessed be He, is called the Ein Sof“the Infinite One,”

ולמדותיו אין סוף

and His attributes (like Himself) have no end,

כדכתיב: כי לא כלו רחמיו

as it is written,43 “...for His mercies never cease.”

When a Jew echoes G‑d’s boundless kindness and compassion, his actions are thus termed “G‑d’s acts of kindness.”

וזהו שאמר הנביא אחר החורבן והגלות: חסדי ה׳, כי לא תמנו וגו'

And this is the meaning of the prophet’s words,44 after the Destruction and the exile: “The kindnesses of G‑d have surely not ended (ki lo tamnu).”

פירוש: לפי שלא תמנו, שאין אנו תמימים ושלמים, בלי שום חטא ופגם בנפש ובעולמות עליונים

That is: “Because we are not perfect,45 inasmuch as we are not perfect (temimim) and whole, without any sin or blemish in our soul nor in the higher worlds,

על כן צריכין אנו להתנהג בחסדי ה׳, שהם בלי גבול ותכלית

we therefore need to conduct ourselves in accordance with ‘G‑d’s kindnesses,’ that are without limit or end,

כדי לעורר עלינו רחמים וחסד עילאה, שהוא רב חסד ורחמים, בלי גבול ותכלית

in order to call down upon ourselves Supreme compassion, i.e., rav Chesed, and unlimited, infinite compassion,

כמו שכתוב: כי לא כלו רחמיו

as it is written, at the conclusion of this verse, ‘for His mercies never cease....’”

Since we are in need of drawing down this level of compassion, our own practice of kindness must echo “G‑d’s kindness.”

Thus the Prophet is telling the generations that follow the Destruction that they should practice unbounded kindness because they are not in a state of tamnu. Being imperfect, we need to arouse G‑d’s infinite kindness and compassion in order to rectify any sins and blemishes.

(Moreover, since these latter generations are too weak to engage in fasting and self-mortification, the only means now available to secure full atonement is through tzedakah.46)

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בצדקה

And this is what our Sages, of blessed memory, meant by saying that47 “Israel will be redeemed only through charity.”

שיעשו גם אם יהיו פטורים מדינא

[This refers to the charity] that they will perform even if they are legally not obligated,

כי אין בן דוד בא כו׳

for48[Mashiach] the son of David will not come [until the pocket will be empty of even the smallest coin].”

I.e., even if (Heaven forfend) there will not be a solitary coin left in one’s pocket, tzedakah will still be given. And it is this boundless level of tzedakah that secures a complete atonement for the sins of our people, after which49 “they will immediately be redeemed.”

The Rebbe explains that the Alter Rebbe does not conclude the above-mentioned quotation about the precondition for the coming of Mashiach because it is quite possible that he did not want to write out the last words (viz., “until the pocket will be empty of even the smallest coin”); and this precondition of the Sages can be fulfilled on the spiritual level, by conducting oneself with the humility of the destitute.

This could also explain why the Alter Rebbe does not say...כשיהיו (“when they are legally not obligated”), but rather...אם יהיו (“if they are legally not obligated”).