By the Grace of G‑d
2 Kislev, 5707 [1946]
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greetings and Blessings!

In1 response to your questions:

1. With regard to the concept of bitachon, and the question of whether it is necessary to create a medium. In the original, keli (lit., “a vessel”) — i.e., a conduit for the downward flow of Divine blessings. [for Divine blessings]: [You write that] you have heard it said that righteous men do not require a medium. Accordingly, [you raise] the question why Avraham found it necessary to employ a tactic, [telling Sarah],2 “Please say that you are my sister.”

In resolution: It is obvious that as a rule, apart from having bitachon, one must also create a medium. Indeed, the entire Tanach. Acronym for Torah (i.e., the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Kesuvim (i.e., the Hagiographa). and the teachings of the Talmudic Sages are filled with [illustrations of] this concept. Endeavors to create a medium within the natural order do not contradict the concept of bitachon, since [every Jew] has been told by G‑d, the L‑rd in Whom he trusts, that He will bless him in all that he does,3 and not when he sits idly (Sifri, Devarim 15:18).

From this one can conclude two things:

(a) Employing a vessel, and the reason for making the vessel, must be dictated only by the fact that we were thus commanded. If, however, one considers [the vessel and its rationale] to be beneficial or harmful in their own right, he is debasing the attribute of bitachon.

(b) One is commanded to do only what he is capable of doing, for4 “the Holy One, blessed be He, does not confront His created beings with unfair demands.” Accordingly, if [at some point] one is incapable of making a vessel, that itself is a sign that the Merciful One has exempted him5 from [the responsibility in this instance]. And this [should] not weaken his bitachon that his request will be fulfilled.

Two questions remain unresolved:

(i) Why were we commanded to create a vessel, when it appears that the vessel in its own right neither helps nor harms?

(ii) What will happen if one does not create a vessel?

With regard to question (i), the reason [for making a vessel] is given in Chassidus. The teachings and philosophy of the chassidic movement (and, in this context, of the Chabad-Lubavitch school of thought in particular). (Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas Tiglachas Metzora KesheYit’har, sec. 3), as follows: By reason of a profound Divine intent, the benevolent influence from Above that is designated for the World of Asiyah6 must be drawn down by natural means.7 Man,8 therefore, reflecting the image of G‑d,9 must likewise create a garment and an occupation for his livelihood. (See Kuntreis U’Maayan, Discourse 25, at length. See also Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBitachon, ch. 3, which is cited in the maamar entitled VeLo Zachar Sar HaMashkim 5677 with a different thrust, but the two stances can be bridged. This is not the place [for further discussion of the issue].)

With regard to question (ii), concerning one who does not create a vessel even though he is able to do so, the Sages (Shabbos 32a) teach: “[In a dangerous situation] a person should never say that a miracle will be performed for him, for perhaps a miracle will not be performed for him.” In such a case, not only will his trust not have been vindicated, but he will certainly be punished for this, for he is “robbing his soul.” (See Derech Mitzvosecha, loc. cit.; Chovos HaLevavos, loc. cit., ch. 4.) And “if a miracle is performed for him, his merits are reduced” (Shabbos, loc. cit.), and he (so to speak) is troubling his Creator (Ramban, Shaar HaGmul, cited in the above-mentioned maamar entitled VeLo Zachar).

[Let us first consider] the case of tzaddikim,. I.e., (pl. of tzaddik), the righteous. even those whose souls are [of the World] of Atzilus10 i.e., the soul that is vested in their physical bodies is actually at the level of Atzilus (Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim, the maamar entitled Od Biur al pasuk Yonasi, end of sec. 1). Notwithstanding [their stature], if they are still distracted by the [mundane] affairs and bothersome troubles of the World of Asiyah — and in the World of Asiyah, as explained above, the downward flow of Divine blessings is elicited by natural conduits11 — such tzaddikim, too,[are obliged to] endeavor to create a worldly medium, for the above reason.

This is not the case with regard to those tzaddikim whose attachment to G‑d12 is not at all disturbed by the world’s troublesome stresses, [and] even while they are strenuously involved in worldly matters they still cleave as truly to G‑d as they do on the Heavenly plane. Since even when they are involved in worldly matters the world counts for nothing, they have no need to make a vessel.

As explained at length in Toras Chayim, in the maamar entitled Ben Poras Yosef, and also in the maamar entitled VaYe’esor Yosef 5656, the Patriarchs were at the former level. This is why they were shepherds, isolated from worldly matters. Hence Avraham, as mentioned above, and likewise Yaakov when confronted by Esav, employed various tactics. Yosef, by contrast, living at the latter level, had no need to create a vessel. Indeed, he was even punished when he did do so.13

At first glance, the above point raises a query. The question is asked (in Toras Chayim, loc. cit., sec. 13, and in the maamar entitled VeLo Zachar... 5677): Why was Yosef punished for employing tactics to secure his release? After all, Yaakov employed various tactics and was not punished. In those sources, the answer is given that Yosef’s spiritual stature transcended the spiritual cosmos,14 higher than the realms of Tohu and Tikkun. Those sources do not spell out the reason presented above in the present letter. Yet this is not at all problematic, because those sources are also addressing another question: Why was Yosef not anxious “lest sin [incriminate him]”15 — unlike Yaakov, who was afraid? The answer there adds to what was already explained in previous chapters [of Toras Chayim] — that Yosef was not distracted by the bothersome troubles of this world, since he transcended all adversaries.

A point to note (from the maamar entitled U’veVoah Lifnei HaMelech 5654):“I saw it stated in the name of one of the men of stature that a person who is confronted by a distressful crisis, Heaven forfend,should place his trust in G‑d. This means that he should not pray concerning this matter nor should he do anything, such as immersing in the mikveh. He should only place his trust in G‑d. This is like remaining silent in a way that expresses awesome self-effacement.”16 This is a wondrous statement.

Another point to note: There is sustenance that comes as “bread from the earth” and there is sustenance that comes as “bread from Heaven.” However, this distinction is only marginally related to the concept discussed above. (See also the beginning of the maamar entitled Ki Savo 5666. [The apparent contradiction] from the beginning of the second maamar entitled Ani LeDodi in Sefer HaMaamarim can be easily resolved.)

* * *

2. [You write that] on the verse, “Please say that you are my sister,” the Midrash comments: “From this [we derive] that one may slaughter [an animal] on Shabbos for the sake of a sick person.” [You add that] certain sources interpret that statement simply: From the fact that Avraham followed a path of tactics, and did not merely rely on his trust in G‑d, we learn that with regard to a sick person, too, “one does not rely on miracles.”17 You ask for further explanation.

Now, you did not cite the source of the Midrash or of the works that explain it. [This is regrettable, for] “letters make one wise.”18 Now, the explanation you cite is problematic, for if [it were to be accepted], the Midrash should have stated, “From this [we derive] that one does not rely on miracles.” Yet, quite to the contrary, we see from the Zohar (I, 82a) that Avraham did rely on a miracle and therefore went down to Egypt. This is explained in the Zohar (III, 52a) as follows: Avraham saw an angel proceeding before Sarah but not before himself, and said, “Behold, she is protected, but I am not protected.” And this was why he said, “Please say that you are my sister.”19

At first glance, the Midrash would appear to indicate the following: From the fact that Avraham asked Sarah to say that she was his sister in order to save Avraham, we derive that a person may transgress in order to save his fellow.

However, this explanation, too, is unsatisfactory. According to this, the statement should have said: “From this we derive that one may desecrate the Shabbos for the sake of a sick person.” Why does it single out the case of slaughtering an animal?

In resolution: There is a well-known question that is posed [only] for the sake of intellectual acuity.20 How did Avraham know that the Egyptians would kill him, transgressing the prohibition against murder in order to avert the prohibition against adultery, and so he said, “Please say...”?

One of the answers proposed is that if they killed Avraham, they would violate a prohibition only once. If instead they took Sarah while he was alive, every act of intimacy would be a violation of the prohibition against adultery.

The Midrash applies this principle to the case of a sick person. We slaughter an animal on Shabbos for the sake of a sick person.We do not say, “Let us rather feed him meat from an animal that was not ritually slaughtered.”21 The rationale is similar. If [one partakes of the meat of] an animal that was not slaughtered ritually, each kazayis22 that one eats constitutes a transgression. By contrast, slaughtering [an animal on Shabbos] violates a single prohibition. (See Rabbeinu Nissim, as quoted in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Shabbos 328:16.)

Another question may well be asked. We have yet to understand how the Midrash can derive the permission to slaughter [an animal on Shabbos] for the sake of a sick person (a one-time violation that is punishable by death) instead of feeding him the meat of a neveilah (an oft-repeated violation that is merely a prohibitive commandment23 ) — from the incident involving Avraham. In the latter instance both transgressions, murder and adultery, are punishable by death.

The rationale underlying this derivation may be understood from [the request made by] Avraham. How could Avraham have known that [the Egyptians] would kill him and thereby violate the capital offense of murder once,in order to spare themselves the repeated violation of the prohibition against adultery, which is also a capital offense? [At this point the letter reviews a battery of halachic sources, and concludes that] the Egyptians would certainly kill him, because it is preferable to violate a severe prohibition once, in order to avert the repeated violation of a lesser prohibition. Thus [this is an appropriate source] from which to derive [the principle] that [an animal] may be slaughtered [on Shabbos] for a sick person.

An alternative resolution: If the Egyptians had abducted [Sarah] and [Avraham] was unable to restrain them, this would constitute despair [on his part], which in the case of robbers dissolves one’s claim to ownership (Bava Kama 144a). It could be argued that in such circumstances, [Sarah] would be considered divorced, for Noahides24 are not required to have a formal bill of divorce, only to separate (Rambam,25 Hilchos Melachim 9:8). If so, [Sarah] would no longer be considered a married woman. Nevertheless, since this would be a reprehensible course of action, [the Egyptians would certainly have opted to kill Avraham].

With blessings of “Immediate teshuvah:. I.e., repentance. immediateRedemption,”26

Chairman of the Executive Committee

Just now I saw that Torah Shleimah (Parshas Lech Lecha, sec. 145) cites the above Midrashic teaching in the name of Midrash Peliah and interprets it as above according to the rationale enunciated by Rabbeinu Nissim.27 However, that source does not discuss the disparity between the case of Avraham, where the two prohibitions are of equal weight, and the case of Shabbos, where the options of shechitah and neveilah are prohibitions of unequal weight.