לאנשי קהילת

To the members of the community of . . .

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.

אהוביי אחיי ורעיי אשר כנפשי

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

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 brotherliness.

הנה לא נעלם ממני צוק העתים

The hardships of these times are not hidden from me,

אשר נתדלדלה הפרנסה

in that the means for earning a livelihood have declined,

ובפרט הידועים לי ממחניכם, אשר מטה ידם

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

בלי שום משען ומשענה

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

וממש לווים ואוכלים

and they literally borrow in order to eat.4

ה׳ ירחם עליהם, וירחיב להם בצר, בקרוב

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

ועם כל זה, לא טוב הם עושים לנפשם

Nonetheless, they are not acting rightly unto their souls,

לפי הנשמע, אשר קפצו ידם הפתוחה מעודם עד היום הזה

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

ליתן ביד מלאה ועין יפה לכל הצטרכות ההכרחיות, לדי מחסורי האביונים נקיים

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

אשר עיניהם נשואות אלינו

whose eyes are lifted unto us.

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

ואם אנו לא נרחם עליהם, חס ושלום, מי ירחם עליהם

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

וחי אחיך עמך, כתיב

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

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

ולא אמרו: חייך קודמין, אלא כשביד אחד קיתון של מים וכו׳

As to the ruling of the Sages that8 “Your own life takes precedence,” this applies only in a case “when one has a pitcher of water in hand...”;

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.

שהוא דבר השוה לשניהם בשוה לשתות להשיב נפשם בצמא

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

אבל אם העני צריך לחם לפי הטף, ועצים וכסות בקרה, וכהאי גוונא

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

כל דברים אלו קודמין לכל מלבושי כבוד וזבח משפחה, בשר ודגים וכל מטעמים, של האדם וכל בני ביתו

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

ולא שייך בזה: חייך קודמין

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

מאחר שאינן חיי נפש ממש, כמו של העני, שוה בשוה ממש

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

כדאיתא בנדרים, דף פ׳

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

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 take 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 non-essential needs of one’s own family.

והנה זהו על פי שורת הדין גמור

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

אבל באמת, גם אם הוא ענין דלא שייך כל כך האי טעמא

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

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,

ראוי לכל אדם שלא לדקדק להעמיד על הדין

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

רק לדחוק חייו, וליכנס לפני ולפנים משורת הדין

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

ולדאוג לעצמו ממאמר רז״ל, שכל המדקדק בכך, סוף בא לידי כך, חס ושלום

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.

וגם כי כולנו צריכים לרחמי שמים בכל עת

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

באתערותא דלתתא דוקא, בכל עת ובכל שעה

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

לעורר רחמינו על הצריכים לרחמים

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

וכל המאמץ לבבו וכובש רחמיו, יהיה מאיזה טעם שיהיה, גורם כך למעלה לכבוש וכו׳, חס ושלום

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

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.

ומה גם כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ, אשר יעשה טוב תמיד ולא יחטא

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

וצדקה מכפרת, ומגינה מן הפורענות וכו׳

and tzedakah atones,14 and protects against misfortune and the like.15

ולזאת היא רפואת הגוף ונפש ממש

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

אשר עור בעד עור, וכל אשר לאיש יתן בעד נפשו

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

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.

בשגם אנו מאמינים בני מאמינים כי הצדקה אינה רק הלואה להקב״ה

How much more does this apply, when we are18 “believers, the descendants of believers,” in the fact that charity is nothing other than a loan to the Holy One, blessed be He,19

כדכתיב: מלוה ה׳ חונן דל, וגמולו ישלם לו בכפליים בעולם הזה

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

דשכר כל המצוות ליכא בעולם הזה, לבד מצדקה, לפי שהיא טוב לבריות, כדאיתא בקדושין, סוף פרק קמא

For the performance of none of the commandments is rewarded in this world — except for charity,21 because it is beneficial to creatures,22 as is written at the end of the first chapter of Kiddushin.23

וגם יש לחוש לעונש, חס ושלום, כשחבריו נמנים לדבר מצוה, והוא לא נמנה עמהם

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

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.

כנודע ממאמר רז״ל

as is known from the words of our Sages,26 of blessed memory, who teach that standing aside in such circumstances is an instance of27 “an absence for which one cannot [again] be counted.”

ולשומעים יונעם, ותבא עליהם ברכת טוב בכל מילי דמיטב

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

הטיבה ה׳ לטובים וישרים

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

כנפשם ונפש הדורש שלומם מכל לב ונפש

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