This letter was sent to R. Yisrael Meir Altein, at that time a shaliach in Pittsburgh.

B”H, 10 Shvat, 5709

Greetings and blessings,

a) I am surprised thatwe received [notification] from you [regarding] the participation of only yourself and Rabbi Shalom Posner in the division of the study of the Talmud.1 After all the years that you have been in your community, have you not been able to bring even one person under your influence? And if this is true with regard to nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah Law,how much more so does it apply with regard to the inner dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos to which the yetzer hara shows much greater opposition and invents all sorts of prepared explanations! When will you finally begin doing your share to spread forth the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings outward? Mashiach is waiting for the activities each one of us will perform so that the answer he gave the Baal Shem Tov will be fulfilled and he will then come and redeem us from exile — the exile of the body and the exile of the soul.

These statements are not being made merely for the sake of making a pointed remark. Instead, [the intention is that you take to heart] what is written in the holy letter of the Baal Shem Tov according to its simple meaning.

My intention in posing [the above questions] is not [merely] to motivate you to find several people who will undertake [to study] selected tractates [for the division of the Talmud]. Instead, it is that you — and your friends in your community — should each create an environment that should be a Lubavitch corner which Divine providence has, for this time, implanted in your community. [In this way, were] the Alter Rebbe to travel around the world and come to your community, he would not come to a foreign place. Instead, he would meet a group of people who identify with him and a house of study identified with him. There would be tattered pages of chassidic texts on the floor, and the air would be filled with the letters of the Torah [studied] with the fear of Heaven in general, and with the letters of Chabad Chassidus in particular. For although [the letters of study] ascend upward, an eternal impression is left in the air. And as is well known, regarding every entity in the sphere of holiness, [even if the entity itself is removed,] the impression remains.

Until when will this task be postponed? In the interim, the entire Jewish people are found in exile, in twofold darkness in which the curse of each day is more severe than that of the preceding one.2 In particular, [this applies at present], when there are those who have begun to call darkness, light, and servitude, redemption.3

b) With regard to the question you posed regarding [G‑d’s] omniscience and [man’s] free choice:4 Since ultimately the Holy One, blessed be He, knows what I will do tomorrow, there [seems to be] no way that I can do anything differently, for were that to be the fact, [G‑d’s] knowledge would be the opposite of the truth.

The explanation of this is simple. The idea of free choice is the concept of the potential to do whatever one chooses without being forced. This is also the case in the above situation. Tomorrow, it is within my potential to do as I choose without any compulsion, and I have the ability to choose the opposite of what is known Above. For the knowledge Above does not compel me in any way and it is not at all related to my choice. The fact that I act in a particular manner is only because I choose to do so without being forced at all.

In addition to the example given in my previous letter4 (a clairvoyant who can foretell what another person will do in the future, in which instance his knowledge [of a future act] does not influence or compel that other person at all), it is possible to bring an example of the opposite of free choice, i.e., an instance when compulsion is involved. For example, so-and-so says that he knows that tomorrow when you throw a stone [in the air], it will ultimately fall to the ground.

When the stone does ultimately fall to the ground, no one would say that it fell because of so-and-so’s knowledge and statement. Instead, the opposite is true. Since the stone will fall downward because of the natural laws that the Holy One, blessed be He, implanted within the world, so-and-so knows that the stone will fall downward. If the natural laws were that the stone would rise, so-and-so would say that the stone would rise.

The same concept applies [to the question you raised]. Since I will choose to do such-and-such tomorrow without being compelled to do so, accordingly, there is knowledge Above [that I will act] in this manner. And tomorrow, were I to choose to do the opposite, there would be knowledge Above that I will act in the opposite manner.

The difference between this example and G‑d’s omniscience involves only [the following]:

i) We understand how so-and-so knows that the stone will fall, because his knowledge is dependent on his awareness of the laws of nature. We cannot understand, however, how it is possible to know in advance what I will choose tomorrow.5 Rambam resolves this point by explaining that G‑d’s way of knowing is not understood, because He and His knowledge are one.6

ii) There is another question: How is it possible that the knowledge of the Creator that brings into being and maintains the existence of all the created beings at every moment does not influence them at all? For G‑d’s thought creates worlds, and in the spiritual realms potential is not removed from actual existence.7 [This question is] resolved [by the explanation] that this knowledge operates in a manner that does not permeate our awareness, as explained in Chassidus.8

In addition to the sources I mentioned in my previous letter, see the conclusion of Tikkunei Zohar Chadash; Pardes Shaar Atzmus VeKeilim, ch. 9; the introduction of the Shelah to the section [of his work entitled] Beis HaBechirah; Toras Chayim, the conclusion of Parshas Vayeira;the note of the Tzemach Tzedek [at the conclusion of] Mitzvas Eved Ivri in Derech Mitzvosecha. There he concludes, “Be very precise [in your study of this,] for [in] it [all the relevant material ] has been finely sifted.”

c) You ask in your previous letter: “What is the meaning of [the phrase] ‘the life-energy of the performance of the mitzvos and their observance’ used in Tanya, ch. 23, p. 56?”

Reply: Note the beginning of ch. 37 [which states] that [when a person puts on tefillin,] [both] the vitality of the parch­ment of the tefillin, etc.,and the power of movement of the vital soul which binds the tefillin on his arm and the like are included in G‑d’s will. The word “life-energy” in ch. 23 was intended to include both of these. Note also Kitzur I to Tanya, p. 11, and the notes there (p. 108) which refer to Torah Or.

d) You [note] that in Tanya, ch. 23, the [Alter Rebbe] writes “but thought... and the power of speech” [and] ask why he adds the word “power” when speaking of speech?

Reply: In my humble opinion, speech itself cannot be united [with the Torah to the same degree] as can thought. Instead, [speech becomes the medium of expression of thought], as [in the relationship between] the body and the soul. It is like the deed of the G‑dly soul, because “the movement of one’s lips is considered deed.”9 Note what is written concerning this in Tanya, ch. 37, and in the third maamar entitled BeYom HaShemini Atzeres in Likkutei Torah.

With regards to all the members of our fellowship. Cer­tainly, the statements in sec. 1 of this letter are relevant to all of them.

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson