To the members of the community of…

לאנשי קהלת וכו'

It has already been noted that the Alter Rebbe devoted many of the letters that comprise Iggeret Hakodesh to the theme of tzedakah, particularly when dedicated to the support of those who engage in Torah study and Divine service in Eretz Yisrael. As its opening salutation indicates, the present letter is one of those sent to a particular community. Its economic state was dismal,1 and word had reached the Alter Rebbe that its charitable contributions for the Kollel Chabad Fund had fallen off accordingly.

The Alter Rebbe therefore writes that he is aware of their hardships, but it remains imperative that they maintain their regular level of generosity. The reasons he enumerates are based on the requirements of Torah law as well as on considerations that surpass the letter of the law.

My beloved, my brethren and friends, who are to me like my own soul.

אֲהוּבַיי, אַחַיי וְרֵעַיי אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשִׁי!

Certain qualities are uniquely found in the closeness and love of brothers, and other qualities, in the warm devotion of friends.2 In writing “my brethren and friends,” the Alter Rebbe indicates that his letter wells from both kinds of brotherlines.

The hardships of these times are not hidden from me,

הִנֵּה, לֹא נֶעְלַם מִמֶּנִּי צוֹק הָעִתִּים,

in that the means for earning a livelihood have declined,

אֲשֶׁר נִתְדַּלְדְּלָה הַפַּרְנָסָה,

especially among those known to me from your community, whose hands have faltered,

וּבִפְרָט הַיְדוּעִים לִי מִמַּחֲנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מָטָה יָדָם

so that they are without any providers at all,3 with no work available for either husband or wife,

בְּלִי שׁוּם מַשְׁעֵן וּמַשְׁעֵנָה,

and they literally borrow in order to eat.4

וּמַמָּשׁ לוֹוִים וְאוֹכְלִים,

May G‑d show them compassion and speedily bring them respite from their straits.

ה' יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם וְיַרְחִיב לָהֶם בַּצַּר בְּקָרוֹב,

Nonetheless, they are not acting rightly unto their souls,

וְעִם כָּל זֶה, לֹא טוֹב הֵם עוֹשִׂים לְנַפְשָׁם,

according to reports that they close their hand, which all their life long, to this very day, has been open

לְפִי הַנִּשְׁמַע, אֲשֶׁר קָפְצוּ יָדָם הַפְּתוּחָה מֵעוֹדָם עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה,

to give with a full hand and a generous eye5 for all vital necessities to satisfy the needs of the “clean” destitutes6

לִיתֵּן בְּיָד מְלֵאָה וְעַיִן יָפָה לְכָל הִצְטָרְכוּת הַהֶכְרֵחִיִים לְדֵי מַחְסוֹרֵי הָאֶבְיוֹנִים נְקִיִּים,

whose eyes are lifted unto us.

אֲשֶׁר עֵינֵיהֶם נְשׂוּאוֹת אֵלֵינוּ,

This refers to the destitute of Eretz Yisrael, who had absolutely no means of support other than the charitable fund of Kollel Chabad.

If we will not pity them, heaven forfend, who will?

וְאִם אָנוּ לֹא נְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, מִי יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם?

And it is written, “…so that your brother may live with you”7!

"וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ" כְּתִיב!

I.e., one should share with his brethren even that which is most essential for one’s own life.

As to the ruling of the Sages that “Your own life takes precedence,”8 this applies only in a case “when one has a pitcher of water in hand…,”

וְלֹא אָמְרוּ "חַיֶּיךָ קוֹדְמִין", אֶלָּא כְּשֶׁ"בְּיַד אֶחָד קִיתּוֹן שֶׁל מַיִם וְכוּ'",

If a traveler in the desert has just enough water to sustain his own life until civilization is reached, and if he shares it with his friend they will both inevitably die, then his own life takes precedence.

that is, when it is equally essential that both drink in order to save their lives from thirst.

שֶׁהוּא דָּבָר הַשָּׁוֶה לִשְׁנֵיהֶם בְּשָׁוֶה לִשְׁתּוֹת לְהָשִׁיב נַפְשָׁם בַּצָּמָא.

But if a pauper needs bread for the mouths of babes, and firewood and clothes against the cold, and the like,

אֲבָל אִם הֶעָנִי צָרִיךְ לֶחֶם לְפִי הַטַּף וְעֵצִים וּכְסוּת בַּקָּרָה וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא,

then all these take precedence over any fine apparel and family feasts, with meat and fish and all kinds of delicacies, for oneself and all of one’s household.9

כָּל דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ קוֹדְמִין לְכָל מַלְבּוּשֵׁי כָבוֹד וְזֶבַח מִשְׁפָּחָה בָּשָׂר וְדָגִים וְכָל מַטְעַמִּים שֶׁל הָאָדָם וְכָל בְּנֵי בֵיתוֹ,

The rule that “your own life takes precedence” does not apply in such a case,

וְלֹא שַׁיָּיךְ בָּזֶה "חַיֶּיךָ קוֹדְמִין",

because these are not really essential to life, as are [the needs] of the poor, in true equality,

מֵאַחַר שֶׁאֵינָן חַיֵּי נֶפֶשׁ מַמָּשׁ כְּמוֹ שֶׁל הֶעָנִי, שָׁוֶה בְּשָׁוֶה מַמָּשׁ,

as is discussed in Nedarim, page 80[b].

כִּדְאִיתָא בִּנְדָרִים דַּף פ'.

The Gemara speaks there about a stream that originates in one town and flows through another. If it does not provide enough drinking water for both towns, the water rights belong to the inhabitants of the first town. The same applies to the water that both towns need for their livestock or for washing their clothes. If, however, the second town needs drinking water for its citizens while the first town only needs the water for washing clothes, then the needs of the second town prevail.

We thus see that if the respective needs are not exactly equal, then one does not say “one’s own life takes precedence,” even in a situation where one’s own needs are quite real and far from frivolous. When fathers and mothers are crying out for bread for their little ones, and for firewood and clothing to protect them from the cold, this surely takes precedence over the valid but nonessential needs of one’s own family.

Now, the above follows the exact requirements of the law.

וְהִנֵּה, זֶהוּ עַל פִּי שׁוּרַת הַדִּין גָּמוּר.

In fact, however, even in a case where such reasoning does not so fully apply,

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת, גַּם אִם הוּא עִנְיָן דְּלֹא שַׁיָּיךְ כָּל כָּךְ הַאי טַעֲמָא

I.e., even when (a) one is called upon to share not luxuries but one’s own slice of bread, or even when (b) the poor are not crying out for food and clothing but for other essentials,

it is not proper that any man insist on the letter of the law;

רָאוּי לְכָל אָדָם שֶׁלֹּא לְדַקְדֵּק לְהַעֲמִיד עַל הַדִּין,

rather, he should impose austerity on his own life and go far beyond the [demands of the] letter of the law.

רַק לִדְחוֹק חַיָּיו וְלִיכָּנֵס לִפְנַי וְלִפְנִים מִשּׁוּרַת הַדִּין,

Moreover, one should be concerned,10 for his own sake, with the teaching of our Sages,11 of blessed memory, that—even in a situation where “that which is yours takes precedence over that which belongs to others”—he who is exacting in this matter, and does not go beyond the letter of the law, “will eventually be brought to this matter”: he himself will ultimately need charity, heaven forfend.

וְלִדְאוֹג לְעַצְמוֹ מִמַּאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁכָּל הַמְדַקְדֵּק בְּכָךְ – סוֹף בָּא לִידֵי כָךְ, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

And after all, all of us need the mercies of heaven at all times,12

וְגַם, כִּי כּוּלָּנוּ צְרִיכִים לְרַחֲמֵי שָׁמַיִם בְּכָל עֵת,

[which are elicited] only through an arousal from below, at all times and at every moment,

בְּאִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְתַתָּא דַּוְקָא בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה,

by arousing our compassion for those who are in need of compassion.

לְעוֹרֵר רַחֲמֵינוּ עַל הַצְּרִיכִים לְרַחֲמִים,

But whoever hardens his heart and suppresses his compassion, for whatever reason, causes the same above—the suppression of [Divine compassion], heaven forfend.

וְכָל הַמְאַמֵּץ לְבָבוֹ וְכוֹבֵשׁ רַחֲמָיו, יִהְיֶה מֵאֵיזֶה טַעַם שֶׁיִּהְיֶה – גּוֹרֵם כָּךְ לְמַעְלָה, לִכְבּוֹשׁ וְכוּ' חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

All this, however, affects only the future. [The Rebbe, however, notes:] “And the present as well, causing one to give until the recipient is equal ‘with you.” [Cf. footnote 7, above.] There is, however, an aspect of tzedakah that also affects the past, [and the Rebbe adds:] “causing one to give to an even greater degree than what he keeps for himself, since this is” to secure the rectification and atonement of his past sins.

After all, furthermore, “There is not a righteous person upon earth who does good”13—always—“and does not sin,”

וּמַה גַּם, "כִּי אָדָם אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב – תָּמִיד – וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא",

and tzedakah atones14 and protects against misfortune and the like.15

וְהַצְּדָקָה מְכַפֶּרֶת וּמְגִינָּה מִן הַפּוּרְעָנוּת וְכוּ',

[Charity] is thus an actual cure for body and soul,16

וְלָזֹאת הִיא רְפוּאַת הַגּוּף וְנֶפֶשׁ מַמָּשׁ,

with respect to which [it is written],“Skin for skin—a limb for a limb, and all that a man has he will give for his soul,”17 i.e., to save his life.

אֲשֶׁר "עוֹר בְּעַד עוֹר וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לָאִישׁ יִתֵּן בְּעַד נַפְשׁוֹ".

Setting a limit to the amount one distributes for charity is thus just as unthinkable as limiting the sum one would spend in order to be cured and to stay alive.

How much more does this apply when we are “believers, the descendants of believers,”18 in the fact that charity is nothing other than a loan to the Holy One, blessed be He,19

בְּשֶׁגַּם, אָנוּ מַאֲמִינִים בְּנֵי מַאֲמִינִים, כִּי הַצְּדָקָה, אֵינָהּ רַק הַלְוָאָה לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

as it is written, “He who is gracious unto the poor, lends unto G‑d, and He will repay him his good deed”20—twofold, in this world.

כְּדִכְתִיב: "מַלְוֵה ה' חוֹנֵן דָל, וּגְמוּלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם לוֹ" בְּכִפְלַיִים בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

For the performance of none of the commandments is rewarded in this world—except for charity21 because it is beneficial to creatures,22 as is written at the end of the first chapter of Kiddushin.23

דִּשְׂכַר כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת לֵיכָּא בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, לְבַד מִצְּדָקָה, לְפִי שֶׁהוּא טוֹב לַבְּרִיּוֹת, כִּדְאִיתָא בְּקִדּוּשִׁין סוֹף פֶּרֶק קַמָּא.

Also, one should be concerned about punishment,24 heaven forfend, when one’s companions associate for the sake of a mitzvah and he does not join them,25

וְגַם יֵשׁ לָחוּשׁ לְעוֹנֶשׁ, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, כְּשֶׁחֲבֵרָיו נִמְנִים לִדְבַר מִצְוָה וְהוּא לֹא נִמְנֶה עִמָּהֶם,

This would be the case if one were to absent oneself when the other members of one’s community were joining forces for the sake of the charitable cause under discussion, viz., the Kollel Chabad Fund.

as is known from the words of our Sages,26 of blessed memory, who teach that standing aside in such circumstances is an instance of “an absence for which one cannot [again] be counted.”27

כַּנּוֹדָע מִמַּאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה.

May life be pleasant for those who give heed, and may blessings of all kinds of goodness rest upon them.28

וְלַשּׁוֹמְעִים יוּנְעַם, וְתָבוֹא עֲלֵיהֶם בִּרְכַּת טוֹב, בְּכָל מִילֵּי דְמֵיטַב,

“Act benevolently, O G‑d, toward the good and the upright,”29

הֵטִיבָה ה' לַטּוֹבִים וִישָׁרִים,

as is their wish and as is the wish of [the writer], who seeks their welfare with all his heart and soul.

כְּנַפְשָׁם וְנֶפֶשׁ הַדּוֹרֵשׁ שְׁלוֹמָם מִכָּל לֵב וָנֶפֶשׁ: