Iggeres Ha’Kodesh Epistle 2, Class 2

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


And, as is known, “All that are before Him are esteemed as nothing.”

וְכַנּוֹדָע, דְּכוּלָּא “קַמֵּיהּ” דַּוְוקָא – כְּלָא חָשִׁיב,

A being of even the highest conceivable spiritual level is of absolutely no account indeed; it is nullified out of existence when in G‑d’s presence, when it is “before Him,” for nothing exists before G‑d other than Himself.

Hence, whoever is more “before Him”—whoever is closer to G‑d—is that much more like nothing, naught, and nonexistent.

וְאִם כֵּן, כָּל שֶׁהוּא “קַמֵּיהּ” יוֹתֵר – הוּא יוֹתֵר כְּלָא וְאַיִן וָאֶפֶס.

This [self-effacing response to Divine favors] is the level of the “right side” of holiness and of “chesed unto Abraham”—the Divine lovingkindness that is bestowed upon Abraham, as in the verse, “You grant truth to Jacob, lovingkindness unto Abraham,”15

וְזוֹ הִיא בְּחִינַת יָמִין שֶׁבִּקְדוּשָּׁה וְחֶסֶד לְאַבְרָהָם,

who said, “I am dust and ashes.”16

שֶׁאָמַר “אָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר”.

The kindness that G‑d showed Abraham motivated him to attain the ultimate degree of humility that this statement expresses. Just as in the heavenly realms, “the right arm of Divine chesed” causes recipients of the chesed to lose their independent identity in the identity of the Bestower of lovingkindness, so, too, does it affect mortals upon whom it is bestowed, making them likewise humble and self-effacing.

This [humility born of kindness] is also the characteristic trait of Jacob,

וְזוֹ הִיא גַּם כֵּן מִדָּתוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב,

and therewith, he justified himself for his fear of Esau and did not regard the [Divine] promise given to him as being sufficient: “And behold, I am with you [and I shall protect you wherever you go].”17

וּבָזֹאת הִתְנַצֵּל עַל יִרְאָתוֹ מִפְּנֵי עֵשָׂו, וְלֹא דַי לוֹ בְּהַבְטָחָתוֹ “וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ כוּ’” –

[This was so,] because Jacob regarded himself as utterly insignificant on account of the multitude of [G‑d’s] favors,

מִפְּנֵי הֱיוֹת קָטָן יַעֲקֹב בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד בְּעֵינָיו, מֵחֲמַת רִיבּוּי הַחֲסָדִים

[as he said,] “for [only] with my staff [did I cross the Jordan, and now I have [enough property for] two camps],”18

“כִּי בְמַקְלִי כוּ’”,

and he considered himself as being utterly unfit and unworthy to be saved, and so on.

וְאֵינוֹ רָאוּי וּכְדַאי כְּלָל לְהִנָּצֵל כוּ’,

As our Sages, of blessed memory, expressed it, “[Jacob was apprehensive,] lest sin would cause [him not to be saved],”19

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה “שֶׁמָּא יִגְרוֹם הַחֵטְא”,

for it appeared to him that he had sinned.

שֶׁנִּדְמֶה בְעֵינָיו שֶׁחָטָא.

I have become small” thus means that the multitude of kindnesses bestowed upon Jacob caused him to feel so small and insignificant that he feared that he had sinned and hence needed once again to beseech G‑d that He save him from his brother Esau. And, indeed, every Jew would do well to follow in the footsteps of his father Jacob, becoming ever more humble with every successive act of kindness that G‑d shows him.

The Rebbe once explained why at the outset of this epistle, the Alter Rebbe uses an expression in which the word chesed is repeated: בְּכָל חֶסֶד וָחֶסֶד. (This is translated above, “with every single favor [that G‑d bestows upon man].”) In general, there are two modes of Divine kindness: (a) that which descends to man within the ordered framework of created worlds and becomes manifest in a natural manner and (b) that which transcends the conventions of the created universe and whose manifestation is supernatural.

This is why the Alter Rebbe there goes on to say that (a) “chesed is the right arm” as well as (b) “His right arm embraces me.” The former phrase alludes to the chesed of the supernal sefirot, a finite mode of Divine kindness that is analogous to the finite degree of life-force that is clothed in the human arm; the latter phrase alludes to the infinite mode of Divine kindness that is analogous to the infinite degree of life-force that transcends the limitation of being clothed in a particular organ and is thus said to be “encompassing” (makif) or “embracing.”




15. Micah 7:20; Abraham personifies the attribute of chesed.

16. Genesis 18:27.

17. Ibid. 28:15.

18. Ibid. 32:11.

19. Berachot 4a.

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