In connection with the parsha – where Moshe pleads for forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf and asks Hashem to reveal His ways – we share a letter of the Rebbe in which he explains two ways to arrive at the understanding and service of G-d: “G-d is all” and “All is G-d.” This eye-opening letter explains briefly yet clearly a basic teaching of chasidus – the making of an abode for G-d in this lowest physical world. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
Shushan Purim, 5712
Brooklyn 13, N.Y.
Greeting and Blessing
In reply to your letter, briefly:
You ask how can we reconcile the attributes of G-d of mercifulness and kindness with cosmic catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and the like, involving the loss of human life, etc.?
There are many circumstances involved in each event, in addition to time and location. However, there is one general answer to such apparently inexplicable occurrences, which will become clearer through the following illustration: Suppose one encounters an individual for a brief period of time, finding him asleep, or engaged in some arduous toil. Now if the observer should want to conclude from what he sees during that brief period of time as to the nature of the individual he had observed. He would then conclude that the individual has an unproductive existence – in the first instance; or leads a life of torture – in the second instance. Obviously, both conclusions are erroneous, inasmuch as what he saw was only a fraction of the individual’s life, and the state of sleep was only a period of rest and preparation for activity, and – in the second instance – the toil was a means of remuneration or other satisfaction which by far outweighs the effort involved. The truth is that any shortsighted observation, covering only fraction of time or of the subject, is bound to be erroneous, and what may appear as negative will assume quite a different appearance if the full truth of the before and after were known.
Similarly in the case of any human observation of a world event. The subject of such an observation is thus taken out of its frame of eternity, of a chain of events that occurred before and will occur afterwards. Obviously we cannot expect to judge about the nature of such an event with any degree of accuracy. A volcanic eruption or an earthquake and the like are but one link in an long chain of events that began with the creation of the world and will continue to the end of times, and we have no way of interpreting a single event by isolating it from the rest.
2) The difference between ‘G-d is All,’ and “All is G-d,’ is in the approach and deduction. In the first instance, our starting point is G-d, and through study and research we can deduce that G-d’s Being is revealed in material and natural things. Our study of the Unity of G-d and His other attributes will lead us to recognizing the same attributes in nature and the world around us, the practical results of which find expression of unity among mankind and the practice of G-d’s precepts as the proper application of G-d’s attributes in our own life, etc. One who sets out on this path dedicates himself wholly to communion with G-d. He is averse to all material aspects of life, including even the bare necessities connected with his physical wellbeing, and tries to avoid them as much as possible. Being engaged in spiritual communion with G-d, he considers all material and physical necessities, even those permitted by the Torah, as a hindrance in his consecrated life. However, his intelligence convinces him that the material and physical world is but an expression of the Divine Being, and that in them, too, G-d is to be found. Hence he serves G-d even while engaged in the unavoidable material aspects of life, and does so with joy, inasmuch as it is in them and through them that he recognizes the greatness of the Creator and they help strengthen his unity with G-d.
In the second part of the statement ‘All is G-d,’ the starting point is the outer shell of the universe and all material things in it, a study of which will lead to the conclusion that there is cosmic unity in the whole world and that there is a Divine ‘spark’ vitalizing everything, and consequently One creator.
Thus we have two ways in the service of G-d, of which the first is the easier one, while the second leads to better fulfillment of the objective – to make this lowest physical world an abode for G-d.
3) An observation of my own: It seems a novel way of trying to learn Chassidus by correspondence. Even where there is no other choice, it is difficult to cover such a subject in the course of a letter. But in your case, you are within personal reach of receiving oral and fuller explanations, in the normal course of study under the teachers of Chassidus in Tomchei Tmimim and with the aid of the senior students who have been learning Chassidus for years. Why not use this better method?
With all good wishes,