As we have seen from the title page, the Alter Rebbe perceives himself as a mere compiler rather than as an author.
והיא אגרת השלוחה לכללות אנשי שלומינו יצ״ו יברכם צורנו וישמרם
Being a letter sent to all Anash — members of our fellowship, i.e., the chassidim),may [G‑d] our Stronghold bless and guard them.1
אליכם אישים אקרא
To you [worthy] men, do I call.
שמעו אלי רודפי צדק מבקשי ה׳ וישמע אליכם אלקים, למגדול ועד קטן
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek G‑d, and may the Almighty listen to you, both great in spiritual stature and small,
כל אנ״ש דמדינתינו וסמוכות שלה
all Anash in our land and in nearby countries:
איש על מקומו יבוא לשלום וחיים עד העולם נצח סלה ועד
may each in his own place achieve peace and eternal life.
אמן, כן יהי רצון
Amen. May this be His Will.
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הנה מודעת זאת כי מרגלא בפומי דאינשי בכל אנ״ש לאמר
It is well known that all Anash are wont to say
כי אינה דומה שמיעת דברי מוסר לראייה וקריאה בספרים
that hearing words of moral guidance from a teacher addressing his student individually and directly is not the same as seeing and reading such guidance in books, which are impersonal and addressed to the reading audience at large.
The spoken word will have far greater effect than the written word, for two reasons. The first:
שהקורא קורא לפי דרכו ודעתו
For the reader, who gains such instruction in books, will read it after his own manner and mind,
ולפי השגת ותפיסת שכלו באשר הוא שם
and will absorb the written message according to his mental grasp and comprehension at that particular time.
ואם שכלו ודעתו מבולבלים, ובחשיכה יתהלכו בעבודת ה׳
Hence, if his intellect and mind are confused and wander about in darkness in ideas pertaining to the service of G‑d
בקושי יכול לראות את האור כי טוב הגנוז בספרים
he will find it difficult to see the beneficial light hidden in books,
אף כי מתוק האור לעינים ומרפא לנפש
although this light be pleasant to the eyes and therapeutic for the soul.
In the case of personal guidance, on the other hand, the mentor can ensure that his message is understood fully and correctly.
The Alter Rebbe now points out a second disadvantage in written advice. By its very nature its ability to inspire even the understanding reader is restricted to a specific audience. A book does not allow for the subjective differences between one reader’s character and another’s. It will, of necessity, leave some of its readership untouched.
The Alter Rebbe next distinguishes between two categories of inspirational books. In those books belonging to the first category this problem is more obvious and acute; in those of the second category, less so.
The first category embraces those books that argue for pious conduct on grounds of human intellect. These will surely not affect all readers equally; owing to the diversity of mind and temperament among readers, what profoundly inspires one reader, will leave another indifferent.
The second category comprises those works founded on the teachings of our Sages. It would seem at first glance that in such books the problem of subjective differences between readers would be irrelevant. Since they are based on Torah, which is pertinent to every Jew without exception, surely every Jew could be guided and inspired by them.
The Alter Rebbe points out, however, that not every Jew is privileged to find his place in Torah and to derive the instruction applicable to him as an individual. Thus the problem still obtains, though to a lesser degree.
ובר מן דין
Aside from this aforementioned possibility that the reader’s intellectual shortcomings may prevent him from perceiving the light concealed in the holy books, there is yet another difficulty:
הנה ספרי היראה הבנויים על פי שכל אנושי, בודאי אינם שוין לכל נפש
Those books on piety founded on human intelligence surely do not affect all people equally,
כי אין כל השכלים והדעות שוות
for not all intellects and minds are alike,
ואין שכל אדם זה מתפעל ומתעורר ממה שמתפעל ומתעורר שכל חבירו
and the intellect of one man is not affected and aroused by that which affects and arouses the intellect of another.
וכמו שאמרו רז״ל גבי ברכת חכם הרזים על ששים ריבוא מישראל
As our Sages have said, in reference to the blessing of “He who is wise in secrets” ordained by the Sages to be recited on [witnessing a gathering of] 600,000 Jews,2 whereby we praise G‑d’s omniscience in knowing the secrets of them all:
שאין דעותיהם דומות זו לזו וכו׳
“For their minds (i.e., thoughts, opinions and feelings) are all different from one another.”3
וכמו שכתב הרמב״ן ז״ל במלחמות שם בפירוש הספרי גבי יהושע, שנאמר בו: איש אשר רוח בו
So too does Ramban (of blessed memory) [explain the reason for the blessing] in his Milchamot,4 elaborating on the comment of Sifrei on the verse5 describing Joshua as “a man in whom there is spirit”;
שיכול להלוך נגד רוחו של כל אחד ואחד
Sifrei explains “that he was able to meet the spirit of every man.”6
אלא אפילו בספרי היראה אשר יסודותם בהררי קדש
But even those works of mussar whose foundation is in the peaks of holiness, meaning that they are founded
מדרשי חז״ל אשר רוח ה׳ דבר בם ומלתו על לשונם
on the Midrashim of our Sages “in whom the spirit of G‑d speaks, and His word is on their tongues,”7 — even in the case of such works the aforementioned problem obtains.
ואורייתא וקודשא בריך הוא כולא חד
For although “Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one,”8
וכל ששים רבוא נשמות כללות ישראל, ופרטיהם ופרטי פרטיהם
and all 600,000 general souls of Israel, and the individual souls that are their offshoots,9
עד ניצוץ קל שבקלים ופחותי הערך שבעמינו בני ישראל
down to even the [soul-]spark residing within the most worthless and least estimable members of our people, the Children of Israel,
כולהו מתקשראן באורייתא ואורייתא היא המקשרת אותן להקדוש ברוך הוא
are all bound up with the Torah and the Torah is what binds them to G‑d,
כנודע בזהר הקדוש
as is known from the holy Zohar,10 and since the Torah does contain what is pertinent to every Jew, those works founded on the Torah ought to appeal to every Jewish reader, —
הרי זה דרך כללות לכללות ישראל
yet this is [said] in a general way for the Jewish people as a whole.
This statement of the Zohar speaks of the bond between Jewry in general with the Torah in its entirety. It does not refer to a particular Jew seeking individual instruction in a specific area in the Torah.
ואף שניתנה התורה לידרש בכלל ופרט ופרטי פרטות
It is true that the Torah lends itself to interpretation by the rule of “general principles and specific applications,” and these applications may be further broken down to even more specific details,
לכל נפש פרטית מישראל המושרשת בה
to apply to each individual soul in Israel rooted in the Torah.
Thus the Torah contains not only general instruction for the nation as a whole, but also specific instruction for each individual. Therefore, despite subjective differences between people, every Jew could theoretically find in such works instruction pertinent to his circumstances.
הרי אין כל אדם זוכה להיות מכיר מקומו הפרטי שבתורה
Yet, not every man is privileged to recognize his specific place in the Torah, so that he may know how to derive specific guidance from it.
והנה אף בהלכות איסור והיתר הנגלות לנו ולבנינו
Even in the [Torah-]laws governing things forbidden and permissible which have been11 “revealed to us and to our children [equally]“ (for despite the differences between generations, the law applies equally to all, complete objectivity prevailing), —
מצאנו ראינו מחלוקת תנאים ואמוראים מן הקצה אל הקצה ממש
even in these laws we witness arguments from one extreme to the other between tannaim and amoraim, with one tanna, for instance, declaring perfectly permissible that which another tanna rules absolutely forbidden.
ואלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים
Yet12 “these as well as those are the words of the living G‑d.“
In this phrase the words “living G‑d” appear in the plural form13
על שם מקור החיים לנשמות ישראל
because [the diversity of opinions in the Halachah stems from plurality in] the source of life of the souls of Israel — within the “living G‑d” (i.e., within G‑d as He is the source of life).
הנחלקות דרך כלל לשלשה קוין: ימין, ושמאל, ואמצע, שהם חסד וגבורה וכו׳
The souls, and hence also their source, so to speak, are divided into three general categories: right, left and center, representing kindness (Chesed),severity (Gevurah)… [and beauty (Tiferet)-.
ונשמות ששרשן ממדת חסד הנהגתן גם כן להטות כלפי חסד להקל כו׳ כנודע
Those souls which are rooted in the attribute of kindness tend to be lenient in their halachic decisions, being inclined toward kindness, which dictates that the object be declared permissible and thus capable of being sanctified if used for a sacred purpose, and so on, with the attribute of severity dictating stringency in halachic decisions, and the attribute of beauty mediating, as is known.
In his Iggeret HaKodesh, the Alter Rebbe applies this principle to the legal arguments between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel. The School of Shammai was usually stringent, because their spiritual source was the attribute of severity; the school of Hillel usually lenient because of their source in the attribute of kindness. In certain decisions, however, their positions were reversed. For the realm of holiness is governed by the principle of mutual incorporation (התכללות), with kindness containing elements of severity and vice versa.
Now if one’s individual spiritual tendencies affect the way he views the Torah even in the area of the Halachah, which is intrinsically objective,
וכל שכן וקל וחומר בהנסתרות לה׳ אלקינו
surely, how much more so, will subjective differences play a role in “matters hidden to G‑d Almighty,”
דאינון דחילו ורחימו
namely, to one’s awe and love of G‑d, which are subjective by their very nature, for they express themselves
דבמוחא ולבא דכל חד וחד לפום שיעורא דיליה
in the mind and heart of each person according to his own measure (hisשעור ),
לפום מה דמשער בלביה
according to his heart’s estimation (השערה), and according to the “gate” (שער) that he makes in his heart, to permit his intellectual understanding (of G‑dliness) to pervade his heart and generate within him a love and awe of G‑d,
כמו שכתוב בזהר הקדוש על פסוק: נודע בשערים בעלה וגו׳
as the Zohar14 comments on the verse, “Her husband is known by the gates…”15
The Zohar interprets the “husband” of this verse as a reference to G‑d, Who is the “husband” of the community of Israel. We “know” and attach ourselves to Him “by theshe‘arim,” which the Zohar interprets in the sense of shaar (“gate”), shiur (“measure”), and hash’arah (“estimation”), as explained above. At any rate, we see that being inspired in the love and fear of G‑d is intrinsically subjective. To return to the thread of our earlier argument: If even in the objective halachah we find differences of opinion arising from the variety in human nature, we will surely find a variety of response to inspirational literature. The chassidic saying quoted above, that “seeing” (in books — even Torah books) “is not the same as hearing” (inspiration from a teacher), seems quite justified. How then could the Alter Rebbe now propose to offer the Tanya to his followers as a substitute for the personal guidance that he had been giving them until this time
In answer the Alter Rebbe states that the Tanya is addressed to his chassidim, with whom he has a long-standing relationship, and whose specific needs for guidance are known to him from their personal audiences with him. They will therefore find the advice provided in the Tanya relevant to their individual needs.
Chassidim would add that this includes all those who study the Tanya: the Alter Rebbe knew them all and addressed himself to each one’s needs in the service of G‑d, as though they had spoken to him in private audience. As the Rebbe Rashab phrased it,16“To study the Tanya is to converse with the Alter Rebbe.”
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