Iggeres Ha’Kodesh Epistle 2, Class 1

Tanya/ Iggeres Ha’Kodesh – The Holy Epistle, Epistle 2, Class 1


Upon his Arrival from Petersburg

אחר ביאתו מפטרבורג

The Alter Rebbe sent this pastoral letter to all his followers upon his release from the imprisonment brought about by calumnies instigated by the opponents of Chasidism.1 This slander resulted from his selfless and tireless efforts to strengthen the Chasidic movement and disseminate its teachings. His subsequent release (also) served as a nod of approval from the government for their continued dissemination.

The Rebbes, the successive leaders of the Chabad Chasidic school of thought, have taught that the Alter Rebbe’s arrest resulted from an indictment voiced in the Heavenly Court against his doctrine of clothing the teachings of Chasidism in intellectual terms.2 (In fact, the very word ChaBaD, naming the movement he founded and the teachings he first articulated, is an acronym for chochmahbinah, and daat, “wisdom,” “understanding,” and “knowledge,” respectively.) The same voice, moreover, disapproved of the fact that the Alter Rebbe beamed these teachings at the Jewish masses.

The Alter Rebbe wrote this epistle in order that it be clearly understood that his release from physical incarceration resulted directly from his being cleared of all spiritual charges. Indeed, a clear signal and an extra measure of strength was thereby given from Above that the teachings of Chasidism be promulgated according to the Alter Rebbe’s approach of making them intelligible and accessible to all.

With the Alter Rebbe’s release, there thus began a second era in the dissemination of Chasidism. This is alluded to by this letter, which is numbered Iggeret Hakodesh, Epistle 2. It will be noted that the number 2 is mentioned only after the heading, “Upon his Arrival from Petersburg.” Now, Epistle 27 also has a prefatory heading that explains why it was written. There, however, the number of the epistle appears first, and only then is it followed by the introductory heading. Here, the order is inverted because the second period (or, in Chasidic terminology, “the second degree of greatness”3), which is alluded to by the number 2, began with the Alter Rebbe’s arrival from Petersburg.

“I have become small from all the favors and from all [the truth].”4

“קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל כוּ’”.

These words were uttered by Jacob as an introduction to his plea to G‑d that He save him from Esau. Although G‑d had previously assured him5 that He would accompany and protect him wherever he went, Jacob nonetheless feared that all the kindnesses that G‑d had already shown him had made him “small,” i.e., had reduced his merits. He thus feared that he was possibly in a state in which he would have to ask G‑d anew, “Save me….”6

This means—


Rashi comments that “I have become small” is a result of “all the favors and all the truth”7; i.e., “My merits have diminished because of the favors and truth You have done with me.” Ramban argues that this comment is inconsistent with the “language of the verse,” which states that “I have become small,” not that the speaker’s merits have become small; there is a diminution in quality rather than in quantity.8

Ramban therefore understands “I have become small” to mean: “I am unworthy of receiving all your kindness and truth.”9 Thus, according to Ramban, “I have become small” is not a result of G‑d’s “kindness and truth” but rather an expression of the speaker’s being unworthy of receiving G‑d’s “kindness and truth.”

The Alter Rebbe, however, is going to explain this verse according to the commentary of Rashi: “from all the kindness” simply means that it was the kindness that made Jacob feel “small.” At the same time, though, the Alter Rebbe will understand “I have become small” as referring to the speaker himself: it is he himself who has become diminished as a result of G‑d’s many kindnesses and His truth. (Thus, not only have the particular person’s merits become lessened, which results in his diminishment,10 but he himself is directly affected as a result of the “kindness and truth.”)

Although it is the person himself (and not the tally of his merits) that has become diminished, nonetheless, this diminution is a result of the “kindness and truth.” This, then, is what the Alter Rebbe intends by saying “This means”—

that with every single favor that G‑d bestows upon a man, he ought to become very humble.

שֶׁבְּכָל חֶסֶד וָחֶסֶד שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עוֹשֶׂה לְאָדָם צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת שְׁפַל רוּחַ בִּמְאֹד.

For [the supernal sefirah of] “chesed is the right arm,”11

כִּי חֶסֶד דְּרוֹעָא יְמִינָא,

and, as Scripture states, “His right arm embraces me,”12

“וִימִינוֹ תְּחַבְּקֵנִי”,

which refers to the state of G‑d actually bringing him close [to Himself], far more intensely than before.

שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת קִרְבַת אֱלֹהִים מַמָּשׁ בְּיֶתֶר שְׂאֵת מִלְּפָנִים,

Every Divine act of chesed brings a man closer to G‑d.

And whoever is [brought] exceedingly close to G‑d, being raised aloft to great heights,13

וְכָל הַקָּרוֹב אֶל ה’ בְּיֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְהַגְבֵּהַּ לְמַעְלָה מַעְלָה,

ought to be ever more humble, to the lowliest plane,

צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת יוֹתֵר שְׁפַל רוּחַ לְמַטָּה מַטָּה,

as it is written, “From afar has G‑d appeared to me.”14

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב “מֵרָחוֹק ה’ נִרְאָה לִי”.

When G‑d appears to an individual through a particular manifestation of kindness, this should make him perceive himself as being in relation to G‑d—“afar,” i.e., humbly distant from Him. Alternatively, the verse may be implying that perceiving oneself as being “afar” is the very means by which to attain a state in which “G‑d has appeared to me.”




1.  See The Arrest and Liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi by Rabbi Avraham Chanoch Glitzenstein, translated by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet (Kehot, N.Y., 1964; 2011). To this day, the Alter Rebbe’s release in 1798 is celebrated annually on 19–20 Kislev.

2.  See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 1, p. 74.

3.  See Or HatorahBehaalotecha, p. 367 ff.

4.  Genesis 32:11.

5.  Ibid. 28:15.

6.  Ibid. 32:12.

7.  Note by the Rebbe: “Based on Shabbat 32a.”

8.  Note by the Rebbe: “See Chiddushei Aggadot, loc. cit.”

9.  Note by the Rebbe: “Similarly in Bereishit Rabbah on this verse.”

10.  Note by the Rebbe: “Cf. Chiddushei Aggadot, loc. cit.”

11.  Tikkunei Zohar, Introduction II, s.v. Patach Eliyahu.

12.  Song of Songs 2:6.

13.  Cf. Isaiah 7:11.

14.  Jeremiah 31:2.

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