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As Divided for a Regular Year
Tanya for 4 Cheshvan
It is clear from internal evidence, as the Rebbe Shlita notes, that they were not arranged chronologically.
Epistle XX, for example, was written just before the Alter Rebbe's passing in the year 5573 (1812), while Epistle XXVII was written after the passing of R. Mendel of Horodok, about the year 5549 (1789).
Instead, the Rebbe Shlita suggests, one can sometimes seek thematic connections to explain the sequence of letters.
The present letter, for example, manifests the following connection with Epistle XXV, the preceding one:
After the previous letter discussed how the Shechinah can sometimes be vested in kelipot, the present letter explains that this state of exile brings the Torah, too, to a state of concealment, as kelipot obscure its radiance. It is the task of the Jew to remove this concealment by toiling in the study of the Torah.
The above form of divine service in Torah study supplements another form - separating good from evil, the permitted from the prohibited, and the kasher from the pasul.
For the Torah, too, is vested within good and evil, and it is the task of the Jew studying Torah to separate and purify the positive element from each of these dual compounds, and to elevate it to the holy "side" of the universe.
Accordingly, the Alter Rebbe begins the present letter by explaining a statement of Ra'aya Mehemna in the Zohar, which can give the mistaken impression that the revealed portion of Torah stems from the Tree of Good and Evil, while the esoteric portion of Torah, which in the main will be revealed in the Time to Come (with the arrival of Mashiach), derives from the Tree of Life.
The Alter Rebbe explains how this is truly not so, for the entire Torah is called the Tree of Life.
The intent of Ra'aya Mehemna is that the revealed portion of Torah descended and was vested within good and evil, and hence speaks of kasher and pasul, permitted and prohibited, and the like.
With the study of Torah, a Jew separates the good from the evil, and elevates it.]
"With this work of yours, [i.e., of R. Shimon bar Yochai], which is the Book of the Zohar [lit., `the Book of Radiance'] from the radiance of Imma Ila'ah, which is teshuvah, - with those [who study this work] no trial is needed.
[Imma Ila'ah (lit., "the Supernal Mother") is another name for the Sefirah of Binah in the World of Atzilut. This Sefirah relates to teshuvah ila'ah, the higher level of repentance, as explained at the end of ch. 8 of Iggeret HaTeshuvah,  quoting the Zohar and Tikkunim.
The Zohar previously states that at the time of the final Redemption the Jewish people will be put to the test; those who belong to the "good side" of the universe will withstand it, while those who belong to the "side of evil" will not.
As it is written,  "Many will be refined and bleached and chastened, but the wicked will act wickedly; none of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand."
The Zohar then states (as above) that those who study the Tree of Life, the Zohar, which is "from the side of Binah" (lit., "understanding", alluding to the perception of the mystical essence of the Torah), will not be put to the test.]
Because eventually the Jewish people will taste of the Tree of Life, which is this Book of the Zohar, they will go out of exile with it, in mercy.
For them shall be fulfilled the verse,  `G-d alone will lead them, and there is no strange god with Him.'
[In seeking their Redemption they will not have to resort to the favors of the gentile nations, whose patron angels are known as "strange gods." Rather, G-d Himself will lead them out of exile and redeem them.]
And the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil, i.e., prohibition and permission, impurity and purity, will no longer dominate Israel.
For their sustenance will derive only from the side of the Tree of Life, where there is no problematic query, which emanates from the side of evil, and no contro-versy, which emanates from the spirit of impurity; as it is written,  `And the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the earth.'
Thus, the Torah scholars will not be sustained by illiterate people, but from the side of the good, who eat that which is pure, kosher and permitted; nor [will they be sustained] by the mixed multitude, who eat that which is impure, ritually unfit, and prohibited."
[The Zohar continues]: "While the Tree of Good and Evil dominates [the world],... these Sages, who are likened to the Sabbaths and festivals,  have nothing except what is given to them by those who are called `unsanctified ones,' just like the Sabbath day, which only has what has been prepared for it on a weekday.
However, when the Tree of Life will dominate, the Tree of Good and Evil will be suppressed, and the illiterate people will only have what the Torah scholars give them.
They will be subjugated to them, as if they did not exist in the world.
Accordingly, the prohibited and the permitted, the impure and the pure, will not be removed from the illiterate people.
As regards them, there will be no difference between the era of exile and the days of Mashiach, except for [the Jewish people's release from] servitude to the nations. 
For they will not have tasted of the Tree of Life, and will require the Mishnayot [which set out the laws] of prohibition and permission, impurity and purity."
Here ends the quotation from Ra'aya Mehemna.
Now, at first glance, what the words of this passage imply to those who lack understanding  is that the study of [the laws of] ritual prohibition and permission, and the Order of Taharot, [where the laws of purity and impurity are found], relates [only] to the Tree of [Knowledge of] Good and Evil.
Now this is most surprising in itself, [that a particular area within the Torah should be designated as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus relating it to kelipat nogah, which is an admixture of good and evil]; moreover, this contradicts the plain meaning of Scripture and the teachings of our Sages, of blessed memory, that the entire Torah that has been revealed to us and to our children, [i.e., the dimension of nigleh], is called  "A tree of life to those who hold fast to it," [and not only the Book of the Zohar].
This is especially so, since [the Zohar] was [still] concealed in their days; indeed, the whole wisdom of the Kabbalah was hidden in their days and concealed from all the Torah scholars, except for a select few, and even then, [it was studied] in a concealed manner and not publicly, as stated in the Gemara. 
Thus R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, wrote  that it is only in these latter generations that "it is permitted and obligatory to reveal this wisdom" - [i.e., the Kabbalah, which illuminates the esoteric dimension of the Torah] - but not in the earlier generations.
[On this entire subject, see the introduction of R. Chayim Vital to Shaar HaHakdamot, which also appears as the first addendum to Kuntres Etz Chayim by the Rebbe Rashab (in the Kehot edition entitled Otzar HaChassidim), as well as the intro-duction of the Rebbe Rayatz to this Kuntres].
R. Shimon bar Yochai, too, stated in the sacred Zohar  that permission to reveal [the secrets of the Kabbalah] was only granted to himself and his associates.
Now this, too, is a remarkable wonder.
For if so, [i.e., according to a superficial reading of the above quotation from Ra'aya Mehemna, from which it would appear that only the Zohar is called the Tree of Life, while the revealed plane of the Torah is considered the Tree of Knowledge of Go od and Evil], then the study of [the laws of] ritual prohibition and permission, and surely [the study of] civil laws, such as litigation on monetary matters,  should not override the obligation of prayer, which is set out according to the secrets of the Zohar and on the Supernal Unions [of the various Divine Names and Supernal Sefirot], for those who are familiar with them, such as R. Shimon bar Yochai and his associates.
But this is not the case. [In fact, the study of the laws of what is ritually prohibited or permitted, and even the study of civil law, does override the obligation to pray at fixed times.]
[This applies] even when one is occupied with the study of civil law, like Rav Yehudah, all of whose studies were in the Order of Nezikin  [lit., "damages"]; nevertheless, [in order not to interrupt his studies], he prayed only every thirty days  when reviewing his studies, as stated in the Gemara. 
Also, in the Talmud Yerushalmi, in the first chapter of Berachot,  R. Shimon bar Yochai is of the opinion that even for the Reading of Shema one interrupts only the study of Scripture, but not of Mishnah, [the Oral Torah], the study of which is superior to the study of Scripture,  according to R. Shimon bar Yochai.
He did not differentiate between [studying] the Orders of Zera'im, Moed and Kodashim, and [studying] the Orders of Taharot and Nezikin. 
[He thus holds that even when studying the monetary laws in the Order of Nezikin one should not interrupt one's studies for the Reading of Shema.]
 (Actually, he [here] contradicts his own opinion, given in a number of instances in Ra'aya Mehemna,  that Mishnah [relative to Scripture] is termed a "handmaiden" [Heb.: shifchah], and so on; and Scripture, the Torah of Moses, is surely superior to the Kabbalah, which is termed a "queen" [Aram.: matrunita] in the above-quoted passage in Ra'aya Mehemna, while the Written Torah is termed a "king" [Aram.: malka.
Thus, according to the last-quoted set of terms from R. Shimon bar Yochai, Scripture is superior even to Kabbalah and surely to Mishnah. From the previous passage, however, as cited in the Talmud Yerushalmi, it would seem that he maintains that Mishnah is superior to Scripture, for one does not interrupt one's study of Mishnah in order to read Shema at its prescribed time, though one does interrupt one's study of Scripture.
Here the Alter Rebbe interpolates a Kabbalistic definition of the term malka "king":]
[To resume the discussion of R. Shimon bar Yochai]:
Moreover, we find that R. Shimon bar Yochai dealt considerably [not only with the mere statements of law in the Mishnayot, but] also with the argumentation of problems and solutions, which [according to the original quotation from Ra'aya Mehemna] derive from the side of evil and from the spirit of impurity.
[This he did] even when he was in the cave, [where legal adjudication, especially in civil suits, was obviously uncalled for].
Indeed, the very fact that he underwent anguish [when forced to hide] in the cave made him worthy of these attainments.
For, as stated in the Gemara,  he countered every problematic query posed by R. Pinchas ben Yair with twenty-four solutions, and [R. Shimon] said to him: "If you had not seen me like this," [in this sorry state in the cave, ["you would not have found me like this"].
( In fact, their principal occupation in the cave - [the principal occupation of Rashbi and his son, R. Eliezer] - must have been with the teachings of the Mishnayot, i.e., the six hundred Orders extant in those days  until the time of our holy Master, [R. Yehudah HaNasi, who compiled the Mishnayot in six Orders].
For he could have completed the Zohar and the Tikkunim, [the Tikkunei Zohar], in two or three months; for surely he did not repeat the same subject twice. )
[Surely, then, he was occupied almost the entire time with the study of the six hundred Orders of the Mishnah].
Moreover, our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught  that "Since the day the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has only the four cubits of Halachah." [The study of Torah law thus takes the place of the Holy Temple.
How, then, can we possibly say, as the above passage from Ra'aya Mehemna might superficially indicate, that the study of the laws of ritual permissibility, and the like, is designated as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thus related to kelipat nogah, which is an admixture of good and evil]?
- (Back to text) These Kabbalistic terms are borrowed from Bereishit 2:9.
- (Back to text) Daniel 12:3.
- (Back to text) Zohar III, 124b.
- (Back to text) Vol. III, p. 1089, in the present work.
- (Back to text) Daniel 12:10.
- (Back to text) Devarim 32:12.
- (Back to text) Zechariah 13:2.
- (Back to text) Zohar III, 29a, b.
- (Back to text) Cf. Berachot 34b.
- (Back to text) Following early editions of the Tanya, the correct Hebrew text here reads chaseirei (spelled with a resh), meaning "those who lack." Other editions appear to read chassidei (spelled with a daled), and have led to some mistranslation.
- (Back to text) Mishlei 3:18.
- (Back to text) Chagigah 11b; 13a.
- (Back to text) See Shaar HaGilgulim, end of Introduction XV; et al.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "See beginning of Idra Rabbah (Zohar III, 127b ff.) and many other places in the Zohar where Rashbi expresses himself similarly."
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "It could be suggested that civil law is singled out, for in this field the law of the Torah [sometimes] takes into account `the custom of local merchants' or `the law of the land' or a waiver by one of the parties to a transaction; and so on." [Hence the most "remarkable wonder" would be that the study of such a seemingly mundane level of law should override the seemingly more spiritual occupation of prayer.]
- (Back to text) Shabbat 11a.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "Many have asked: `If so, how were the Supernal Unions (yichudim) usually effected by daily prayer, accomplished [by them]?' For an answer, see Torah Or 38d, 69a, et al. [where it is explained that these holy Sages were so self-effacing and so G-d-fearing that their Torah study bore spiritual results which others can only achieve through prayer]."
- (Back to text) Berachot 20a.
- (Back to text) See note 17, above.
- (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 35a.
- (Back to text) End of Law 2.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "It could be suggested that the Alter Rebbe adds the reason, since the reason too is part of the question, as is soon stated. Note that Mishnah is the revealed level of the Torah, while Scripture is related to Kabbalah ( see the commentary in Likkutei Torah on the maamar beginning Lo Tashbit). But see Hilchot Talmud Torah of the Alter Rebbe, beginning of sec. 2, [from which it would seem that Kabbalah is related to the Oral Torah, not to Scripture]."
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "The Alter Rebbe omits the Order of Nashim, etc. (See Likkutei Levi Yitzchak on Tanya.)"
[Explaining this omission, the father of the Rebbe Shlita states there that the Alter Rebbe's point could not be proved from the fact that the study of Nashim (which deals with marriage and divorce, etc.) overrides the Reading of Shema. For, as the Gemara says regarding the erasing of the Divine Name in the course of the purification of a sotah (the woman suspected of adultery), G-d is even willing to allow the Divine Name to be erased, so long as this will restore peace between a husband and h is wife. It is thus to be expected that the Reading of Shema, whose essence is the affirmation of the unity of the Divine Name, should defer to the study of this particular Order. Other Kabbalistic reasons are offered there as well.]
- (Back to text) These parentheses/brackets are in the original text.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "This requires further examination and research [to find where Rashbi actually states this in Ra'aya Mehemna]. See Zohar I, 27b (and in the Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar XIV, foot of p. 71 ff.); also Biurei HaZohar ther e [by the Mitteler Rebbe], (as well as by the Tzemach Tzedek, Volume II)."
- (Back to text) Shaar HaMitzvot, Parshat Vaetchanan; et al.
- (Back to text) Shabbat 33b.
- (Back to text) Chagigah 14a and Rashi there.
- (Back to text) The author of Minchat Elazar poses the following question (Divrei Torah 8:70): The study of the Mishnayot would likewise not have taken more than several months, if they did not debate all the legal problems and solutions involved. We can thus say the same for their study of the Zohar and Tikkunei Zohar: while several months would suffice for the bare-bone text itself, even thirteen years would not suffice for discussing and plumbing its depths! The Rebbe Shlita answers this by noting that the Alter Rebbe anticipated this question in this very letter.
He prefaces the fact that it took the compiler of the Gemara, R. Ashi, a full ten years to study the first and second editions of the Talmud which then comprised only six Orders. R. Shimon, who was of far greater stature (see Eruvin 54a) and studied the six hundred Orders of the Mishnah in much greater depth, propounding twenty-four solutions to every problem, surely was fully occupied in the cave with the study of the Mishnah.
With regard to the Zohar and Tikkunei Zohar, however, since the Alter Rebbe here quoted the Ra'aya Mehemna to the effect that they contain "no problematic query, which emanates from the side of evil, and no controversy, which emanates from the spirit of impurity," there were then no questions nor disputations. Surely, then, this took no more than several months.
- (Back to text) Berachot 8a.
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