According to the above, however, one should provide for the needs of others to the very same degree that he provides for his own family. Why, then, should the needs of one’s own family take precedence over the needs of others? The Alter Rebbe answers this by saying:
It is only that according to the Torah,21 a man’s wife and children take precedence over all others,
רַק שֶׁאִשְׁתּוֹ וּבָנָיו שֶׁל אָדָם קוֹדְמִין לַכֹּל עַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה
The Alter Rebbe wrote this epistle in connection with the tzaddikim, R. Mendele Vitebsker and R. Avraham Kalisker, as well as their colleagues and disciples, who at the time of writing had already left the Diaspora and were living in the Holy Land. The Alter Rebbe therefore goes on to say:
except22 for the tzaddikim of the generation, who take precedence over one’s children;
חוּץ מִצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁבַּדּוֹר שֶׁהֵן קוֹדְמִין לְבָנָיו,
moreover, the tzaddikim in the Land of Israel take precedence over the tzaddikim in the Diaspora,
וְצַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל קוֹדְמִין לַצַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּחוּץ לָאָרֶץ,
apart from the fact that they did not leave anyone in the Diaspora comparable to themselves.
לְבַד מִזֹּאת שֶׁלֹּא הִנִּיחוּ כְּמוֹתָן בְּחוּץ לָאָרֶץ,
This will suffice for the discerning.
Therefore, my beloved ones, my brethren:
עַל כֵּן, אֲהוּבַיי אַחַיי,
Direct your hearts to these words which are expressed very briefly,
שִׂימוּ נָא לְבַבְכֶם לָאֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים הַנֶּאֱמָרִים בִּקְצָרָה מְאֹד
(23and face-to-face, please G‑d, I will speak of them at length,)
(וְאִם יִרְצֶה ה' פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֵּר בָּם בַּאֲרוּכָּה),
how in these times, when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us, the principal service of G‑d is the service of charity.
אֵיךְ הֱיוֹת כָּל עִיקַּר עֲבוֹדַת ה' בָּעִתִּים הַלָּלוּ בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא הִיא עֲבוֹדַת הַצְּדָקָה,
As our Sages, of blessed memory, said: “Israel will be redeemed only through charity.”24
כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל נִגְאָלִין אֶלָּא בִּצְדָקָה".
Our Sages, of blessed memory, did not say that the study of the Torah is equivalent to the performance of acts of lovingkindness,
וְלֹא אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה שָׁקוּל כְּנֶגֶד גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים",
The Mishnah states in Peah: “The study of the Torah is equivalent to them all,”25 i.e., to all the mitzvot previously enumerated in the Mishnah, and these include gemilut chassadim, the performance of acts of lovingkindness,
except in their own days,
for with them, the principal area of Divine service was the study of the Torah, which is why at that time, there were great scholars: tannaim and amoraim.
שֶׁתַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה הָיָה עִיקַּר הָעֲבוֹדָה אֶצְלָם, וְעַל כֵּן הָיוּ חֲכָמִים גְּדוֹלִים תַּנָּאִים וְאַמוֹרָאִים.
However, in a time when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us,
מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא,
as “the Sukkah of David has fallen” to a level of “feet” and “heels,” i.e., to the level of Asiyah,
שֶׁנָּפְלָה "סוּכַּת דָּוִד" עַד בְּחִינַת רַגְלַיִם וַעֲקֵבַיִים, שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה,
I.e., the sefirah called malchut of Atzilut, the Shechinah that vests itself in the lower Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah—also known as the “Sukkah of David,” for David, as the King of Israel, was a merkavah to malchut of Atzilut—has fallen to the lowest level of Asiyah.
there is no way of truly cleaving unto it, i.e., to the Shechinah,
אֵין דֶּרֶךְ לְדָבְקָה בָּהּ בֶּאֱמֶת
and transforming the darkness of the world into its light,26
וּלְהַפְּכָא חֲשׁוֹכָא לִנְהוֹרָא דִּילָהּ
except through a corresponding category of action, and not through intellect and speech alone, as in Torah study,
כִּי אִם בִּבְחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה גַם כֵּן,
namely, the act of charity.
שֶׁהִיא מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה,
But why is charity unique among all the many commandments that involve action?
As is known to the scholarly, “action” with reference to Divinity is the diffusion and downward flow of vitality to the lowest depths—to he who has nothing of his own.
כַּיָּדוּעַ לַמַּשְׂכִּילִים, שֶׁבְּחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה בֵּאלֹקוּת – הִיא בְּחִינַת הַשְׁפָּעַת וְהַמְשָׁכַת הַחַיּוּת לְמַטָּה מַּטָּה לְמַאן דְּלֵית לֵיהּ מִגַּרְמֵיהּ כְּלוּם.
Among the currents of Divine influence that descend into the various worlds, there are those that are called “thought” and “speech.” The flow of vitality to the very lowest level—to the World of Asiyah, where G‑dliness is not at all manifest—is called “action.”
The act of giving tzedakah thus truly corresponds to the spiritual level of Asiyah, inasmuch as it too provides beneficence to one “who has nothing of his own.”
Whoever sacrifices his impulse in this respect, i.e., with respect to charity,
וְכָל הַזּוֹבֵחַ אֶת יִצְרוֹ בָּזֶה
and opens his hand and heart,
וּפוֹתֵחַ יָדוֹ וּלְבָבוֹ,
[thereby] causes “the other [i.e., evil] side” of the universe to be subjugated27
אִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא
and “converts the darkness into the light”28 of G‑d, blessed be He, Who, in the time when the footsteps of Mashiach are close upon us, dwells over us in a state of action;
וּמְהַפֵּךְ חֲשׁוֹכָא לְאוֹר הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הַשּׁוֹכֵן עָלֵינוּ בִּבְחִינַת עֲשִׂיָּה בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא,
moreover, he will merit to “behold Eye to eye, G‑d returning to Zion….”29
וְיִזְכֶּה לִרְאוֹת "עַיִן בְּעַיִן בְּשׁוּב ה' צִיּוֹן" כוּ':
At that time, the physical eye, though yet retaining its physicality, will behold G‑dliness as it is beheld by the supernal eye. Thus, within the physicality of the World of Asiyah, there will be revealed the level of certainty in spiritual perception, which is called vision—a level that far surpasses the furthest attainments of the intellect.
21. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, sec. 251, and references indicated there.
22. The passage beginning “Except for the tzaddikim…” and concluding “…for the discerning” is added above to the standard printed text according to its Luach Hatikkun (“Table of Corrections”).
23. Parentheses are in the original text.
24. Note by the Rebbe: “See Rambam, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim, beginning of ch. 10, quoted in Tur, Yoreh Deah, beginning of sec. 247. The above quotation does not refer to the similar teaching in the Talmud (Shabbat 139a; Sanhedrin 98a), for there, the verb is נפדה [whereas our text reads נגאלין]. Very often, as is well known, the commentators [(the Radbaz and the Kesef Mishneh and the Glosses on the Tur) who give the teaching of Ulla in the Talmud (loc. cit.) as Rambam’s source] do not intend to quote the exact wording of a particular teaching but rather to cite its content. See also the halachah that immediately follows this statement in the Rambam and the above-named commentaries on it. “As to Mesoret Hashass and the other authorities who argue that the Rambam had before him the text ‘Israel’ (in place of ‘Jerusalem’) in the Talmud, they speak only of the one word ‘Israel,’ and such a variant reading is to be found elsewhere—in Ein Yaakov. A version that would include nigalin, however, I have yet to find in the Talmud or in Yalkut Shimoni. “Moreover, it is more improbable to postulate that the Rambam had a variant reading that is not at all extant than to assume that the Rambam is more explicit than the Talmud, for which reason he very understandably writes nigalin.”
26. An alternate version reads: “to his light”.
27. Cf. Likkutei Amarim, Part I, ch. 27.