This letter was addressed to R. Avraham Eliyahu Axelrod, an active communal Rabbi in Baltimore.

B”H, 16 Shvat, 5708

Greetings and blessings,

In response to your letter, with regard to the statements in Tanya, ch. 20, that letters come into being when one thinks how to bring one’s desires from a potential state to actual expression (similar statements are found in Boneh Yerushalayim, sec. 132):

You note that the revelation in one’s heart [that comes] from the mind and also the knowledge in one’s mind is also impossible without letters. Thus the letters exist even before the level of thought.

[In resolution, it appears] that in these chapters1 in Tanya, the objective is to explain the concept of unity, [to clarify that His oneness is the same] after the world was created as before the world was created.

[To clarify:] The [spiritual cosmos] is divided into two [categories of] worlds: hidden worlds and revealed worlds which are brought into being from the letters of thought and the letters of speech respectively, as explained in several sources (the most fundamental, Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 11). With regard to this, [the Alter Rebbe] explains [in these chapters] that the letters of the sublime thought and speech are consummately united [with their source] after they came into actual expression, as they were before they came into actual expression.

Even before their creation, the worlds existed [in a state of potential] within their source in the most sublime spiritual levels until the rung in which [G‑d] assessed [within Himself] the potential [for their existence]. On these levels, however, they do not exist as independent entities and separate beings. Rather, they exist [on the level of potential] within their source.

On this basis, we can understand the intent [of the analogy of] the letters. For [the letters that exist on] a level above thought do not exist as separate and independent entities. For what is perceived is solely the intellectual concept or the emotion. One conceives of the idea and feels love, not the letters [that make possible that conception or feeling].2

The sequence involved is as follows: Through one’s connection ([achieved through the attribute of] Daas) to the knowledge of G‑d, for example, the will to know is revealed within him. As a result, the conceptualization of the idea is revealed from the power of intellect in a flash of inclusive abstract thought (Chochmah). Afterwards, through his bond to the concept, he deepens his understanding of this idea (the inner dimension of Binah). As a result, [feelings of] love for G‑d and fear of Him are generated within him. He begins to think and contemplate how he will satisfy his thirst through the Torah and its mitzvos in thought, speech, and deed. At this point, it is necessary that letters [which can be perceived] be generated. Note the explanation of all this in the maamar entitled Lulav VeAravah, 5659. See also the maamar entitled Ein Omdin (in the series of maamarim entitled Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah, 5666).

It is apparent that (on a revealed level), it is possible to skip certain steps in this sequence; for example, a person who cries suddenly during the Ten Days of Teshuvah. As explained (Siddur HaAriZal; quoted in the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, sec. 584), this is because, at this time, he is being judged in the spiritual realms. Although he is not aware of this through his conscious powers, this can cause him to begin reciting Tehillim or the like unexpectedly, or thoughts of teshuvah willsuddenly be aroused within him and he will begin verbally confessing his sins. In this entire sequence, the letters of speech become a garment for the ray of the essence of his soul without any intermediaries.

Aside from the fact that this sequence of disproportionate advance comes only on rare occasions, also in a hidden way and bederech maavir,3 this ray also passes through the intermediate levels. See Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 8, [which states]: “Within every thought in this world is enclothed an emotional attribute.”

It is apparent that there is no contradiction between the above and the explanation of the concept of Rosh Chodesh when Malchus receives influence from Chochmah and Binah and not from Z’eir Anpin, which is comparable to one speaking about wisdom and ideas.4 For even in such a circumstance, one must have a love for intellectual ideas and a fear that his course of study may lead him on a crooked path in the comprehension of the idea, and the like. See also Or HaTorah, [Bereishis,]p. 52, in the conclusion of [the maamar entitled] VeHayah Midai Chodesh, and [the maamar] in the Siddur on the verse “lehodia livnei haadam”concerning the emotional attributes within intellect, for the letters in thought emanate from them.

With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson