Like most of the components of Iggeret HaKodesh, this pastoral letter too was addressed to the chassidic community as a whole. Why, then, echoing the words first addressed to Daniel (“To enlighten you with understanding”),1 does the Alter Rebbe open it in the singular?

In this letter the Alter Rebbe demands spiritual service of a caliber so seemingly formidable as to be attainable only by a chosen few. For in it he calls upon the reader not to desire physical things, even those things that are essential for his wellbeing and utilized in his service of G‑d.

Even such essentials, states the Alter Rebbe, should not be desired for their physicality but for their spirituality, for the spark of G‑dliness found within them. So much so, that even if a person finds that he is lacking (G‑d forbid) life’s essentials, he should not be pained by their absence; rather he should rejoice in his belief that this is indeed for his good, as shall soon be explained. Such a lofty response to deprivation would seem to be within the reach of only a very restricted elite.

The Alter Rebbe therefore begins this letter in the singular, indicating that every single individual can attain this level of divine service. For it requires only an absolute faith in G‑d, and this lies hidden within every Jew; let him but unveil this faith, and he will be able to live by it.

להשכילך בינה

“To enlighten you with understanding”

כי לא זו הדרך ישכון אור ה׳

that not by this path will the light of G‑d dwell within [one],2

להיות חפץ בחיי בשרים, ובני ומזוני

i.e., by desiring the3 “life of flesh,” and children, and sustenance,

The Alter Rebbe is negating a desire that emanates from a craving for pleasure, rather than a desire that results from purposeful need.

כי על זה אמרו רז״ל: בטל רצונך כו׳

for on this our Sages, of blessed memory, said,4 “Nullify your will [out of deference to His will].”

דהיינו, שיהיה רצונו בטל במציאות, ולא יהיה לו שום רצון כלל בעניני עולם הזה כולם

This means not that one should set aside his own will because it does not coincide with G‑d’s will, but that from the outset one’s will should be [so] nullified that he has no desire whatever for any worldly matters

הנכללים בבני, חיי ומזוני

that are incorporated within the three general categories of5 “children, life, and sustenance.”

Although these are essentials, and though they affect one’s divine service, they should be desired not for themselves, but only insofar as they further the accomplishment of one’s spiritual tasks.

The above directive to “nullify” thus implies bittul bimetziut, an utter nullification of the self. Confronted by a scholar of stature, a lesser scholar may experience self-effacement — but he still remains a self-assertive personality. Utter nullification, by contrast, means that this sensation of self ceases to exist. In similar vein, nullifying one’s own wishes before G‑d connotes the absence of any wishes other than G‑d’s.

וכמאמר רז״ל: שעל כרחך אתה חי

[One should thus live] in the spirit of the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, that6 “Against your will do you live.” I.e., one should view the corporeal aspects of his life as being contrary to his will, and surely so with regard to the corporeal aspects of children and sustenance.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how a Jew can achieve a total lack of yearning for the physicality of things, even things that are essential. According to the explanation that follows, it will be seen that one can go beyond this, and even not be pained by their absence. Indeed, this equanimity in the face of deprivation proves that he derives no pleasure from these things when he does have them.

For it is possible for a person not to derive (conscious) pleasure from something7 and still delight in it subconsciously; the proof of this is that he grieves mightily at its loss, and pain is the exact counterpart of pleasure.

וביאור הענין

The clarification of this matter, how one can achieve a state of not desiring the physicality of even those things most crucial to his existence, [is as follows]:

הוא רק אמונה אמיתית ביוצר בראשית

This [can be achieved] only [when there is] an absolute belief in the Yotzer Bereishit.

Literally, as in the opening words of the Aleinu prayer,8 this phrase refers to G‑d as “the One Who formed the first beginnings of Creation.” In the Kabbalistic lexicon, however, reishit also connotes the Sefirah called Chochmah (lit., “wisdom”). The Alter Rebbe hence uses this phrase here to allude to G‑d as “the One Who created [everything] by means of reishit,” i.e., by means of the Sefirah of Chochmah.

דהיינו שהבריאה יש מאין, הנקראת ראשית חכמה

This means that the creation of yesh (“that which exists”) out of the state of ayin (lit., “nothingness”) which is called reishit Chochmah,

Loosely, the phrase yesh me’ayin means “something from nothing,” i.e., creation ex nihilo. Here, however, the meaning of ayin is not “non-being” or “non-existence”, for we cannot say that the source of creation is “non-being” when9 “Everything is from You”: all of creation comes from G‑dliness, the only entity that has true existence. Rather, ayin here means “incomprehensible”, for that which a created being understands he terms “existing” while that which totally transcends his understanding he denotes as “non-existing”, inasmuch as it does not exist within the world of his understanding.

Yesh me’ayin thus describes the creation of something that comes into existence from the ayin of Chochmah. Chochmah in turn is known as reishit (lit., “first”), as in the verse,10Reishit chochmah....” The level of emanation called Chochmah is deemed to be “first” because it is the first of the Sefirot and as such serves as a source of creation, unlike the levels of Divinity preceding it which are too high, so to speak, to emanate down to the level of creation.

והיא חכמתו שאינה מושגת לשום נברא

i.e., the Divine [Sefirah of] Chochmah which is not apprehensible to any created being, and which is the level of Divinity described above as Yotzer Bereishit, that refers to G‑d as “the One Who created [everything] by means of reishit,” i.e., by means of the Sefirah of Chochmah, —

הבריאה הזאת היא בכל עת ורגע

this creation occurs at every time11 and moment

שמתהוים כל הברואים יש מאין

at which all created beings come into being ex nihilo (yesh me’ayin)

מחכמתו יתברך המחיה את הכל

through G‑d’s wisdom which animates everything.12

G‑d not only vitalizes all beings but also creates them, and since creation takes place ex nihilo it must occur constantly.

For it is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidut that the relationship between Creator and created differs from the ilah ve’alul (“cause and effect”) relationship of, for example, intellect and emotions. Once emotions are brought about by the intellect, they can then continue to exist independently, because in truth the intellect merely serves to reveal pre-existing emotions; it does not actually create them.

Creation ex nihilo however, involves creating a being that previously did not exist at all. The ayin that creates must therefore continuously vest itself within the created being, so as to constantly effect the phenomenon of creation. (This is explained in Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah,13 a priori from the splitting of the Red Sea.)

This is also the meaning of the statement,14 “He Who in His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of creation....” G‑d constantly creates the universe anew from the ayin of Chochmah.

וכשיתבונן האדם בעומק הבנתו

Now when a man will contemplate in the depths of his understanding

ויצייר בדעתו הווייתו יש מאין בכל רגע ורגע ממש

and will [moreover] picture in his mind how he comes into being ex nihilo at every single moment, so that he is affected at every moment of his existence by G‑d’s wisdom,

האיך יעלה על דעתו כי רע לו

how can he entertain the thought that he is suffering,

או שום יסורים מבני, חיי ומזוני

or has any afflictions related to “children, life, i.e., health, and sustenance,”

או שארי יסורין בעולם

or whatever other worldly sufferings?

הרי האין, שהיא חכמתו יתברך, הוא מקור החיים והטוב והעונג

For the ayin which is G‑d’s Chochmah is the source of life, goodness and delight.

והוא העדן שלמעלה מעולם הבא

It is the Eden that transcends the World to Come,

The World to Come — the Garden of Eden — is the most sublime form of bliss experienced by the soul in apprehending G‑dliness. This level, lofty as it may be, is however but a garden, a stage once removed from the spiritual delights which flow to it from the source which is called Eden. It is this level of Divinity that constantly creates and vitalizes all living beings.

רק מפני שאינו מושג, לכן נדמה לו רע או יסורים

except that, because it is not apprehensible, one imagines that he is suffering, or afflicted.

אבל באמת, אין רע יורד מלמעלה, והכל טוב

In truth, however,15 “No evil descends from above,” and everything is good,

רק שאינו מושג, לגודלו ורב טובו

though it is not apprehended [as such] because of its immense and abundant goodness, at a level which is inconceivable to man.

The life-force of all things, even those that we perceive as evil, as found within its source is truly good. In fact, it is such a lofty manner of good that it remains faithful to its source, and as such is not apprehensible to man as good. In this it differs from the other form of good that is able to descend to so low a level that even mortals can perceive its goodness. This higher form of goodness, because it retains its status at the outset of its revelation, is clothed in this world in a garb of pain and evil, inasmuch as its goodness has yet to be revealed to man.

This may be more fully understood in light of the Alter Rebbe’s explanation16 of the verse,17 “Happy is the man whom You, G‑d, chasten.” (In the original of this verse in the Holy Tongue, the Divine Name is spelled with yud and hei, which are also the first two letters of the Four-Letter Divine Name.) The Alter Rebbe explains there that suffering stems from the revelation of these first two letters “in the hidden world” (i.e., on a plane which is hidden from our understanding), before the revelation of the latter two letters (vav and hei) descends into the “revealed world.” Thus, suffering as found within its source is truly good.

In this spirit, the Alter Rebbe explains18 the conduct of Nachum Ish Gamzu, whose response to all occurrences was the remark,19 Gam zu letovah — “This, too, is for the good.” This remark not only meant that an event that seemed to be evil would eventually evolve into good, but that the event itself, by virtue of its source, was good in its present form as well; its inherent goodness would be revealed at some later date.

וזהו עיקר האמונה שבשבילה נברא האדם

And this is the essence20 of the faith for which man was created:21

להאמין דלית אתר פנוי מיניה

to believe that22 “There is no place void of Him” — i.e., G‑d is everywhere —

ובאור פני מלך, חיים

and23 “In the light of the King’s countenance there is life.”

When one encounters the King face to face, he is granted life. If in this temporal world a man sentenced to death should encounter his king, his sentence may be commuted and he is granted life, for “In the light of the king’s countenance there is life.” The same is true Above: the omnipresence of G‑d, the King of the world, provides everything with life.

ועל כן עוז וחדוה במקומו

Accordingly,24 “Strength and gladness are in His place,”

The fact that G‑d is found everywhere should encourage a man by strengthening his trust, and thereby fill him with joy, for whatever predicament he finds himself in, G‑d is there too. And wherever G‑d is present, there is “strength and gladness.”

הואיל והוא רק טוב כל היום

because He is but good all the time.

ועל כן, ראשית הכל, שישמח האדם ויגל בכל עת ושעה

Therefore, first of all,25 man ought to be happy and joyous at every time26 and hour,

ויחיה ממש באמונתו בה׳, המחיה ומטיב עמו בכל רגע

and truly live by his faith27 in G‑d, Who animates him and acts kindly towards him at every moment.28

ומי שמתעצב ומתאונן

But he who is grieved and laments

מראה בעצמו שיש לו מעט רע ויסורין

demonstrates29 that he is undergoing some hardship and suffering,

וחסר לו איזה טובה

and lacks some goodness;

והרי זה ככופר, חס ושלום

he is (heaven forfend) like a heretic, who denies G‑d’s omnipresence.

For if he would truly believe, he would realize (as above) that “In the light of the King’s countenance there is life,” and “Strength and joy are in His place,” so that he indeed lacks nothing.

ועל כן הרחיקו מדת העצבות במאד חכמי האמת

This is why the Sages of Truth, the Kabbalists, strongly rejected the trait of sadness, for it contradicts a Jew’s true faith that “There is no place devoid of Him.”

אבל המאמין לא יחוש משום יסורין בעולם

The truly faithful, however, is not perturbed30 by any suffering whatever,

ובכל עניני העולם, הן ולאו שוין אצלו בהשוואה אמיתית

and with respect to all mundane matters, “yes” and “no” are all the same to him, in true equality.

ומי שאין שוין לו

But he to whom they are not the same,

מראה בעצמו שהוא מערב רב, דלגרמייהו עבדין

demonstrates31 that he is one of the eirev rav, who act but for themselves;32

ואוהב את עצמו לצאת מתחת יד ה׳ ולחיות בחיי הגוים

he loves himself to the extent that33 he removes himself from under the hand (i.e., the authority) of G‑d, and lives the life of the gentiles, —

בשביל אהבת את עצמו

[all] because of his self-love.

ועל כן הוא חפץ בחיי בשרים ובני ומזוני

This is why he desires the “life of the flesh,”34 and “children and sustenance,”

כי זה טוב לו

for that is his good.

ונוח לו שלא נברא

[Indeed,] it would have been better for him had he not been created.

כי עיקר בריאת האדם בעולם הזה

For the main purpose of man’s creation in this world

הוא בשביל לנסותו בנסיונות אלו

is to test him by these trials and physical tribulations,

ולדעת את אשר בלבבו

to ascertain what is in his heart:35

אם יפנה לבבו אחרי אלהים אחרים

whether his heart will turn towards other gods,

שהם תאוות הגוף, המשתלשלים מסטרא אחרא, ובהם הוא חפץ

namely the passions of the body which evolve from the sitra achra, and desire these,

Since the kelipot and sitra achra, the forces of evil and unholiness, are termed “other gods,” the passions that they generate are likewise termed “other gods.”

או אם חפצו ורצונו לחיות חיים אמיתים, המשתלשלים מאלקים חיים

or whether his desire and wish is to live the true life which evolves from the living G‑d.36

ויאמין שבאמת הוא חי בהם

One must believe that he really lives it, i.e., the true life,

וכל צרכיו וכל עניניו משתלשלים באמת בפרטי פרטיותיהם שלא מסטרא אחרא

and that all his needs, and everything related to himself, truly evolve in all their details not from the sitra achra,

כי מה׳ מצעדי גבר כוננו

for37 “By G‑d are the steps of man made firm,”38

ואין מלה גו׳

and39 “While there is [yet] no word [on my tongue, You, G‑d, know it all].”

Thus, G‑d is aware of all man’s thoughts, words and deeds, even before man thinks, speaks or does them.

ואם כן, הכל טוב בתכלית, רק שאינו מושג

Accordingly, everything is absolutely good, except that it is not apprehended as such by man.

ובאמונה זו באמת, נעשה הכל טוב גם בגלוי

When one believes this truly, everything becomes good even on a revealed level.

שבאמונה זו, שמאמין שהרע הנדמה בגלוי

For by such a faith, in which one believes that what manifestly seems to be evil

כל חיותו הוא מטוב העליון

in fact receives its entire vitality from the Supreme Good,

שהיא חכמתו יתברך, שאינה מושגת

(i.e., from G‑d’s Chochmah which is not apprehensible,

שהיא העדן שלמעלה מעולם הבא

and which is the Eden that transcends the World to Come40), —

הרי באמונה זו נכלל ומתעלה באמת הרע המדומה בטוב העליון הגנוז

by this faith the imagined evil is truly absorbed and sublimated in the concealed Supreme Good, so that the good becomes palpably revealed to the physical eye.