This letter was addressed to Rabbi Y. Partivitch.

2 Kislev, 5707, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greetings and blessings,

In response to your questions:

a) With regard to the concept of bitachon, trust in G‑d [and the question of] whether it is necessary to make a keli, a medium [for Divine blessing]: [You mention that] you have heard that righteous men do not require a medium. Accordingly, [you raise] the question why Avraham found it necessary to employ a [deceptive] tactic, [telling Sarah]:1 “Please say that you are my sister.”

In resolution: It is obvious that aside from [having] bitachon, one must also establish a medium. Indeed, the entire Tanach and the Midrashim of our Sages are filled with [illustrations of] this concept. Endeavors to establish a keli within the natural order are not a contradiction to the concept of bitachon since one has been told in the name of G‑d, the L‑rd in Whom he trusts, that He will bless him “in all that you do,”2 and not when he sits idle (Sifri to Devarim 15:18).

From this, one can conclude two things:

i) The keli and the means one employs must be employed only because we were commanded to. If, however, one thinks that [the keli and the means] can — in and of themselves — cause benefit or harm, he tarnishes the attribute of bitachon.

ii) A person was commanded to do only what he is capable of. For “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not come to His created beings with excessive demands.”3 Accordingly, if one does not have the capability of making a keli [for a particular matter], that itself is a sign that the Merciful One absolved him from [the responsibility in this instance]. This should not reduce his bitachon that his request will be fulfilled.

Two questions remain unresolved:

i) Why were we commanded to employ a keli, since — in and of itself — the keli can neither cause benefit nor harm?

ii) What will happen if a person does not employ a keli?

With regard to the first question, in Chassidus (Derech Mitzvosecha, mitzvas tiglachas metzora, sec. 3), the reason [man must employ a keli is explained as follows:] Because of a very deep intent, [G‑d ordained that] the influence from Above for the world of Asiyah be drawn down through the garments of nature. Accordingly, man, who must act in imitation of the One Above, must also employ a garment and an occupation for his livelihood. (See Kuntreis U’Maayon, Discourse 25, at length. See also Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBitachon, ch. 3, which is quoted in the maamar entitled Velo Zachar Sar HaMashkim, 5677, with a slightly different intent, but the two sources can be resolved. This is not the place [for further discussion of the issue].)

ii) If a person does not employ a keli although he has the potential to do so: With regard to this our Sages (Shabbos 32a) state: “[In a dangerous situation,] a person should never say that a miracle will be performed on his behalf, for perhaps a miracle will not be performed on his behalf” — in which instance, in addition to the fact that his trust will not be fulfilled, he will be punished for this, for he is damaging his soul (Derech Mitzvosecha, loc. cit.; Chovos HaLevavos, loc. cit., ch. 4). “If a miracle is performed on his behalf, his merits are reduced” (Shabbos, loc. cit.) and he causes his Creator extra difficulty [as it were] (Ramban, Shaar HaGmul, as quoted in the maamar entitled Velo Zachar, loc. cit.).

Even righteous men [must endeavor to employ a keli]. [This applies] even to those who are “souls of Atzilus,” i.e., [although] their souls are enclothed in their bodies, they actually [function] on the level of Atzilus (Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim, the maamar entitled Od Biur al haPossuk Yonasi,the conclusion of sec. 1). If, however, the affairs and difficulties of the world of Asiyah, nevertheless,disturb him, [this indicates that] the influence [from Above is coming to him through] a garment and he must endeavor to employ a keli for the reasons explained above.

This, by contrast, does not apply with regard to those righteous men who are not disturbed by the matters of this world from clinging [to G‑d], but instead, despite their involvement in worldly matters that involve much stress, remain in [a state of] genuine attachment to G‑d, comparable [to that which they experienced]in the spiritual realms. Since even in the midst of their involvement in worldly matters the world is not significant for [these individuals] at all, it is not necessary for them to make a keli.

As explained at length in Toras Chayim, inthe maamar entitled Ben Poreis Yosef, and in the maamar entitled Vayaasor Yosef, 5656, the Patriarchs were on the first level. Therefore they were shepherds, [living] isolated from worldly matters. [Hence,] Avraham, as mentioned above, and Yaakov, when confronted by Esav, employed several tactics. Yosef, by contrast, was on the second level. Therefore it was not necessary for him to employ a keli. On the contrary, he was punished for doing so.

On the surface, a question can be raised concerning the above: In Toras Chayim, loc. cit., ch. 13, and in the maamar entitled Velo Zachar..., 5677, it is asked: Why was Yosef punished for employing tactics to be released? Yaakov also employed tactics and was not punished.

In those sources, the answer is given that Yosef’s rung was above the spiritual cosmos, above the realms of Tohu and Tikkun. Those sources do not provide the answer given in this letter. This, however, is not a reason to question [the above interpretation]. For those sources are explaining why Yosef did not worry why sin would have an effect as Yaakov did. Therefore it adds to the concept stated in the previous chapters [of Toras Chayim] — that Yosef was not disturbed by the difficulties of the world — [stating] that Yosef was above all adversaries.

Note also the maamar entitled U’Vivoah Lifnei HaMelech, 5654, which states: “I saw in the name of one of the men of great stature that a person who is confronted with a great difficulty, Heaven forbid, should place his bitachon in G‑d. He should not pray concerning the matter or do anything; e.g., go to the mikveh or the like. Instead, he should have bitachon in G‑d. This is the concept of silence which reflects an awesome commitment.” This is a wondrous statement.

Also note: There is sustenance that comes as “bread from the earth” and there is sustenance that comes as “bread from Heaven.” This concept is, however, only slightly related to the above concept. (See also the beginning of the maamar entitled Ki Savo, 5666. [The apparent contradiction] from the beginning of the second maamar entitled Ani LiDodi in Sefer HaMaamarim can be easily resolved.)

* * *

b) [You write that] on the verse “Please say that you are my sister,” the Midrash comments: “From here, [we derive] that one may slaughter [an animal] on Shabbos for the sake of a sick person.” Sacred texts interpret the statement simply: From the fact that Avraham employed tactics and did not merely place his bitachon in G‑d, we learn that even with regard to a sick person, we do not rely on miracles. You ask for further explanation.

You did not cite the source of the Midrash or the texts that explain it. [Consulting the original source is valuable, for as our Sages state:]4 “Letters endow one with wisdom.” The explanation you cite is problematic, for if [this were the intent,] the Midrash should have stated: “From here, [we derive] that we do not rely on miracles.” Note the Zohar I, 82a, which states that Avraham relied on a miracle. Therefore he descended to Egypt. The Zohar III, 52a, explains this concept saying that he saw an angel proceeding before Sarah but not before him. He said: “She is protected, but I am not protected.” For this reason, he said: “Please say that you are my sister.”5

On the surface, the intent of the Midrash can be explained as follows: From the fact that Avraham asked Sarah to say that she was his sister to save Avraham, we derive that a person may perform a transgression in order to save his colleague.

According to this, however, it should have said: “From here, [we derive] that we may desecrate the Shabbos on behalf of a sick person.” Why did it mention slaughtering [an animal] specifically?

To resolve [this point]: There is a well-known question asked for the sake of intellectual acuity:6 How did Avraham know that the Egyptians would kill him, transgressing the prohibition against murder so that they would not transgress the prohibition against adultery, and so he said: “Please say...”?

One of the answers given is that if they would kill Avraham, they would violate a prohibition only once. If, by contrast, they would take Sarah while Avraham was still alive, every act of intimacy would be a transgression against the prohibition of adultery.

The Midrash states that similar concepts apply with regard to a sick person. We slaughter an animal for his sake on Shabbos rather than feed him meat from an animal that was not ritually slaughtered. The rationale for this follows the same principle. When [partaking of the meat of] an animal that was not slaughtered ritually, one transgresses with each kezayis7that one eats, while when slaughtering [an animal on Shabbos], one performs only a single prohibition (Rabbeinu Nissim,as quoted by Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchos Shabbos, sec. 328:16).

One should not continue questioning: How can the Midrash derive that [an animal is slaughtered] for a sick person — a transgression for which one is worthy of death, although one violates it only once — instead of feeding him meat from an animal that was not slaughtered ritually — a prohibition that involves merely a negative commandment,8 although it is violated many times — from the instance involving Avraham? In that instance, both transgressions — murder and adultery — are punishable by death.

The resolution may also be understood from [the request made by] Avraham. How could Avraham have known that they would kill him and violate the prohibition against murder, once, in order to save themselves from [transgressing] the prohibition against adultery [several times]? [There was another option.] They could have engaged in relations with her in an abnormal manner. In that instance, [the man] also derives pleasure (see Rashi, Sanhedrin 66b, s.v. limiutei) and yet he is not worthy of death (Sanhedrin 58b).

This forces us to conclude that since relations in an abnormal manner are considered reprehensible (see Tosafos, Sanhedrin 57b, s.v. linaarah), such an act would not be performed even by gentiles, because — due to the flood — the nations at large restrained themselves from forbidden relations (Bereishis Rabbah 80:6; see the question of Ramban in his commentary to Bereishis 34:7; see also the commentary of R. Zaev Einhorn to Bereishis Rabbah, loc. cit.). Hence, they would certainly kill him [rather than act in this manner], because it is preferable to transgress a severe prohibition once than to transgress a lesser prohibition many times. Therefore he asked her: “Please say....” Thus [this is an appropriate source] from which to derive [the concept] that [an animal] may be slaughtered for a sick person.

Alternatively, it is possible to resolve the question in another manner. Were the Egyptians to have taken [Sarah] by force without [Avraham] being able to prevent them, this could be considered despair which absolves one’s ownership, as is the law with regard to thieves (Bava Kama 114a). It is possible to say that in such an instance, [Sarah] would have been divorced, for Noachides9 do not have a requirement for a formal bill of divorce.10 All that is required is that they separate from each other (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 9:8). If so, [Sarah] would no longer have been a married woman. Nevertheless, this is a reprehensible manner of conduct. [Hence, rather than continually act in this manner, the Egyptians would have killed Avraham.]

With the blessing “Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,”

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee

I just saw that Toras Shleimah, Parshas Lech Lecha, sec. 145, quotes the above Midrash in the name of the Midrash Peliah and interprets it according to the concept cited in the name of Rabbeinu Nissim.11 There, however, there is no discussion of the question arising from the fact that with regard to Avraham, the prohibitions are of equal weight while this is not the case with regard to the prohibitions against slaughtering an animal on Shabbos and eating meat from an animal that was not slaughtered ritually.