This letter comments on a discourse (in Tzavaat HaRivash, sec. 120 in the Kehot editions) in which the Baal Shem Tov explains that though all things emanate from G‑d through His attributes of love and awe, these attributes can find themselves in a state of exile.
The Baal Shem Tov goes on to say that in the same way, a worshiper who finds that his endeavors to concentrate are being disturbed by someone speaking should consider: “Why did G‑d bring me here, where this talker is disturbing my prayers? After all, everything is Providential.”
Indeed it is, explains the Baal Shem Tov: this man’s talk is a spark of the radiance of the Shechinah that has descended and now “abides” in his mouth, in order that the worshiper should exert himself so strenuously that he will be able to ignore the disturbance. (The verb used in the above-quoted version of the teaching is “abides” — שרתה; as the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, the proper term is “vested” — נתלבשה.)
Especially so, the text there goes on to say, if the person speaking is a heathen or a child, then the realization that the Shechinah has (as it were) contracted itself to such a degree should surely bring the worshiper to ever-increasing fervor.
It would seem that the opponents of Chassidism seized upon this statement of the Baal Shem Tov: they could not understand how one could possibly say that the Shechinah “abided” (or even was “vested”) within a heathen.
The Alter Rebbe explains this in the present letter, beginning with the teaching of the Sages that “Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater.” A Jew, he explains, must know that everything comes from G‑d. When someone strikes him or angers him with words, he should remind himself that at that very moment, a glimmer of the Divine Presence — which provides life to all creatures and to this individual as well — has vested itself within that person.
The Alter Rebbe goes on to prove this from King David’s response when Shimi ben Geira cursed him. King David said: “For G‑d told him, ‘Curse!’” Although we do not find it explicitly stated that G‑d told Shimi to curse David, still, since G‑d’s spirit animated Shimi at the moment that he cursed David, thus providing him with the strength to do so, David considered this as if “G‑d told him to curse.” Indeed, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain, a glimmer or irradiation of the Shechinah vests itself even in kelipot.
Throughout this discussion the Alter Rebbe does not actually quote the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching nor the above objection to it. The reason for the latter omission may perhaps be understood in light of the fact that the Alter Rebbe was prepared for mesirut nefesh, literally risking his life, not to be sundered from any teaching or even the slightest gesture of the Baal Shem Tov, even if it would only appear to be so in the eyes of the beholder.1
It is thus reasonable to assume that here as well, the Alter Rebbe chose not to even mention an objection raised against a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov; he merely clarifies the concepts involved, and the objection falls away as a matter of course.
להבין אמרי בינה
“To comprehend the words of understanding,” i.e., the words of Torah,2
מה שכתוב בספר הנקרא צוואת ריב״ש
stated in the book called Tzavaat Rivash3 (“The Testament of the Baal Shem Tov),”
הגם שבאמת אינה צוואתו כלל, ולא ציוה כלל לפני פטירתו
though in fact it is not at all4 his will or testament, and he did not ordain anything before his passing;
רק הם לקוטי אמרותיו הטהורות
they (i.e., the teachings in this book) are merely gleanings of his pure sayings
The adjective (“pure”) recalls the phrase in the morning blessings, טהורה היא, that describes the pristine purity of a soul before it descends from the World of Atzilut; likewise the verse,5 כעצם השמים לטוהר (“as pure as the very heavens”).
שלקטו לקוטי בתר לקוטי
that were gathered as6 “compilations after compilations,”
ולא ידעו לכוין הלשון על מתכונתו
and [the compilers] did not know how to phrase his teachings exactly. Read more…….