Iggeres Ha’Kodesh Epistle 11, Class 1

Tanya/Iggeres Ha’Kodesh – The Holy Epistle, Epistle 11, Class 1


Like most of the components of Iggeret Hakodesh, this pastoral letter too was addressed to the Chasidic community as a whole. Why, then, echoing the words first addressed to Daniel (“To enlighten you with understanding”),1 does the Alter Rebbe open it in the singular?

In this letter, the Alter Rebbe demands spiritual service of a caliber so seemingly formidable as to be attainable only by a chosen few. For in it he calls upon the reader not to desire physical things, even those things that are essential for his well-being and utilized in his service of G‑d.

Even such essentials, states the Alter Rebbe, should not be desired for their physicality but for their spirituality, for the spark of G‑dliness found within them. So much so that even if a person finds that he is lacking (G‑d forbid) life’s essentials, he should not be pained by their absence; rather, he should rejoice in his belief that this is indeed for his good, as shall soon be explained. Such a lofty response to deprivation would seem to be within the reach of only a very restricted elite.

The Alter Rebbe therefore begins this letter in the singular, indicating that every single individual can attain this level of divine service. For it requires only an absolute faith in G‑d, and this lies hidden within every Jew; let him but unveil this faith, and he will be able to live by it.

11 “To enlighten you with understanding”

יא ”לְהַשְׂכִּילְךָ בִּינָה”,

that not by this path will the light of G‑d dwell within [one],2

כִּי לֹא זוֹ הַדֶּרֶךְ יִשְׁכּוֹן אוֹר ה’

i.e., by desiring the3 “life of flesh,” and children, and sustenance,

לִהְיוֹת חָפֵץ בְּחַיֵּי בְשָׂרִים וּבָנֵי וּמְזוֹנֵי,

The Alter Rebbe is negating a desire that emanates from a craving for pleasure, rather than a desire that results from purposeful need.

for on this our Sages, of blessed memory, said, “Nullify your will [out of deference to His will].”4

כִּי עַל זֶה אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה “בַּטֵּל רְצוֹנְךָ כוּ’”,

This means not that one should set aside his own will because it does not coincide with G‑d’s will but that from the outset, one’s will should be [so] nullified that he has no desire whatsoever for any worldly matters

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רְצוֹנוֹ בָּטֵל בִּמְצִיאוּת, וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לוֹ שׁוּם רָצוֹן כְּלָל בְּעִנְיְנֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶּה כּוּלָּם,

that are incorporated within the three general categories of 5 “children, life, and sustenance.’’

הַנִּכְלָלִים בְּבָנֵי חַיֵּי וּמְזוֹנֵי,

Although these are essentials, and though they affect one’s Divine service, they should be desired not for themselves but only insofar as they further the accomplishment of one’s spiritual tasks.

The above directive to “nullify” thus implies bittul bimetziut, an utter nullification of the self. Confronted by a scholar of stature, a lesser scholar may experience self-effacement—but he still remains a self-assertive personality. Utter nullification, by contrast, means that this sensation of self ceases to exist. In a similar vein, nullifying one’s own wishes before G‑d connotes the absence of any wishes other than G‑d’s.

[One should thus live] in the spirit of the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, that “Against your will do you live.”6 I.e., one should view the corporeal aspects of his life as being contrary to his will and surely so with regard to the corporeal aspects of children and sustenance.

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה שֶׁ”עַל כָּרְחָךְ אַתָּה חַי”;

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how a Jew can achieve a total lack of yearning for the physicality of things, even things that are essential. According to the explanation that follows, it will be seen that one can go beyond this and even not be pained by their absence. Indeed, this equanimity in the face of deprivation proves that he derives no pleasure from these things when he does have them.

For it is possible for a person not to derive (conscious) pleasure from something7 and still delight in it subconsciously; the proof of this is that he grieves mightily at its loss, and pain is the exact counterpart of pleasure.




1. Daniel 9:22.

2. Cf. Job 38:19.

3. Cf. Proverbs 14:30.

4. Avot 2:4.

5. Cf. Moed Kattan 28a.

6. Avot 4:22.

7. Note by the Rebbe: “In the words of the adage, ‘A constant delight is no delight.’”

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