Igeret HaTeshuva - Teshuvah Letter

Baal HaTanya and Shulchan Aruch - Alter Rebbe

In the Tanya edition published in Zolkvi in the year m'vasseir tov ("Herald of Good," numerically equivalent to 5559, or 1799), the first version of Igeret Hateshuva was printed. It was not divided into chapters and there are variances (from the present text) in content.

Chapter 1

By way of introduction to Iggeret HaTeshuvah it should be noted that the Alter Rebbe is known as “Master of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch.” The Rebbe - 7th Chabad Rabbi once remarked that “Master of the Tanya” means that the Alter Rebbe is an arbiter in the esoteric dimension of the Torah, and “Master of the Shulchan Aruch” signifies that his halachic rulings are authoritative.

Furthermore, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe - 6th Chabad Rabbi once stated in a public address that the four parts of Tanya correspond to the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch. In this connection the Rebbe gives an explanation — both according to Chassidut and according to the revealed strata of the Torah — of the relation between the third part of Tanya, Iggeret HaTeshuvah, and the third section of the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer.

According to Chassidut the relation between the two is clarified by a statement in ch. 4 of Iggeret HaTeshuvah — that the lower and higher levels of teshuvah (which together encompass all the degrees of repentance) are respectively indicated by the lower and higher letters hei of the ineffable Name of G‑d. In terms of their spiritual personality, so to speak, these two letters are feminine: both are receptors, the higher hei (representing the level of Binah) being impregnated by Chochmah, and the lower hei (representing Malchut) being impregnated by the six emotive Sefirot. This feminine element connects Iggeret HaTeshuvah with Even HaEzer, which codifies the laws involving women.

chanoch adds: Without going into details Teshuvah is dealing with feminine essence which is the essence of receiving.

As to the revealed plane of the Torah, we find that the Talmudic Tractate Gittin, which deals with the laws of divorce, precedes Tractate Kiddushin, which deals with the laws of marriage. In the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah, Maimonides explains this order by quoting the verse, - Devarim 24:2 “When she leaves his house she may go and marry another man”; here, too, divorce precedes marriage. Historically, as well, the Midrash points out that the root of the word used by the Torah to say that Elohim banished Adam from the Garden of Eden ( ויגרש ) is the same as the root of the word for divorce ( גרושין). Accordingly, the Sages compare his state to that of “a Jewish divorcee,” who is permitted to remarry her former husband. And indeed, when G‑d later gave the Torah to the Jewish people he “sanctified us ( קדשנו) with His Mitzvot.” In the Holy Tongue this verb shares a common root with the word for marriage, or betrothal ( קדושין). In this connection the Alter Rebbe said above that HaShem having “sanctified us with His Mitzvot” parallels what a man declares when betrothing a wife: “You are hereby consecrated unto me.”

This dynamic — marriage in the wake of divorce — is echoed in the spiritual use of these terms. The connection to teshuvah is thus readily apparent: A “marriage” is conceivable after a state of “divorce” only when there was teshuvah in the interim. For as the Alter Rebbe stated earlier on, “Indeed, it is impossible for the wicked to begin to serve HaShem without first repenting for their past.”

In Scripture, too, we find repentance depicted as the reconcilement of a divorced couple, culminating in remarriage. For sin banishes the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, the Mother of all souls. In the words of the prophet, ובפשעיכם שלחה אמכם — “Because of your transgressions was your Mother sent away.” This is the selfsame verb that the Torah uses for divorce: ושלחה מביתו — “And he will send her away from his house.” And it is repentance that undoes this spiritual divorce, to the point that HaShem can ask His people the rhetorical question: “Where is your mother’s bill of divorce?” — for as a result of His people’s repentance, the divorce is annulled.

In the plainly manifest levels of the Torah as well, there is explicit evidence in the Gemara that repentance resembles remarriage following divorce. R. Yochanan teaches that repentance overrides a prohibition stated in the Torah, and cites the following verse: “If a man sends away his wife and she leaves him for another man, will he return to her again?.... Yet though you have strayed..., return to Me!” Thus, argues R. Yochanan, HaShem is saying here that repentance overrides the prohibition that “her first husband...may not remarry her” [if she married another man in the interim]. Here too, then, remarriage following divorce is a paradigm of repentance.

chanoch adds: This paragraph is a good argument to the charge that the Jews are no longer HaShems first born and have been replaced by the "new Israel".

Thus, there is a clear correspondence between the third part of Tanya, Iggeret HaTeshuvah, and the third section of the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, which deals with the laws involving women.

תניא בסוף יומא: שלשה חלוקי כפרה הם

It has been taught in a Beraita at the end of Tractate Yoma:17 There are three types of atonement, varying according to the different categories of transgression,

ותשובה עם כל אחד

and repentance [necessarily] accompanies each of them.

עבר על מצות עשה ושב, אינו זז משם עד שמוחלין לו

If one failed to fulfill a positive Mitzvah and repented, he is forgiven forthwith.

עבר על מצות לא תעשה ושב, תשובה תולה ויום הכפורים מכפר

If one violated a prohibitive Mitzvah and repented, his repentance is tentative, and Yom Kippur atones.

In this instance repentance alone does not suffice to secure complete forgiveness; it only guarantees that he will not be punished until the arrival of Yom Kippur, at which time he is completely forgiven.

פירוש: דאף על גב דלענין קיום, מצות עשה גדולה, שדוחה את לא תעשה

This means that though, in terms of fulfillment, a positive Mitzvah is superior, for which reason it supersedes a prohibitive Mitzvah,

When positive and negative Mitzvot conflict, the positive command takes precedence and overrides the prohibition. (For example: the wearing of tzitzit made of an admixture of wool and linen, despite the prohibition of kilayim, or shaatnez.) Since observing a positive command thus appears to be of more value than observing a prohibition, why do we say that if one transgresses a positive command repentance alone suffices, whereas if one transgresses a prohibition forgiveness cannot be secured by repentance alone, and one must await the advent of Yom Kippur?

The Alter Rebbe will now address himself to this question. His answer will also enable us to understand the spiritual effects of the performance of a positive command and the spiritual blemish that results from transgressing a negative command. Insight into the mitzvot from this perspective will in turn enable us to understand why a positive command supersedes a negative command, and why it is nevertheless more difficult to attain atonement for transgressing a negative command.

Briefly, the answer is as follows: When one performs a positive command he not only fulfills G‑d’s Will, but also draws down a flow of Divine light into the higher spiritual realms and upon his own soul. The reason: each positive Mitzvah is likened to a bodily organ. (Note of the Rebbe: “As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: ‘The 248 organs correspond to the 248 positive Mitzvot.’”)

This means to say that just as a bodily organ is a receptacle for the life-force which it elicits from the soul, so, too, is each positive Mitzvah a vessel that draws down Divine effluence and vitality from the infinite Ein Sof-light. Moreover, just as the life-force of the soul is enclothed within the various limbs, so, too, does the life-force drawn down through the performance of a positive command become enclothed (i.e., internalized) within the worlds.

Fulfilling a negative Mitzvah — by not committing the transgression — is also a fulfillment of the Divine Will. As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: “If one passively refrains all his days from sin, he is rewarded (Note of the Rebbe: ‘but only’) as though he had actively performed a Mitzvah.” However, since such performance does not result from any action on his part as in the case of a positive command — he merely fulfills G‑d’s Will by not transgressing — its result is of lesser spiritual value. For the purpose of Torah and mitzvot is to draw down Divine illumination through the performance of the 248 positive Mitzvot, and to dispel the spirit of impurity through the observance of the 365 prohibitions (as explained earlier in Part I, ch. 37, p. 492-3).

Thus, in a situation where positive and negative precepts clash and the question is which one is to be set aside, the positive command supersedes the negative. For it is impossible that doing the prohibited deed will impart a spirit of impurity, inasmuch as its prohibition is being overruled because the Torah so dictates. Conversely, (even) if the Torah were to direct that one should neglect the positive command, the action that would draw down Divine illumination would still be lacking.

For this reason a positive command supersedes a prohibition: the deficiency normally wrought by transgressing a prohibition does not result when the Torah commands that it be set aside, while the dividend gained by fulfilling a positive command — the drawing down of the Divine light — is realized.

However, in light of the above, it would seem that the same reasoning should apply with regard to transgressions: a higher degree of repentance should be necessary for violating a positive command than for transgressing a negative command — yet according to the above quotation from the Gemara in Yoma the opposite is true.

The explanation is as follows. The advantage of the positive command — the G‑dly light that it draws into the soul — cannot be won through repentance in any event; all that repentance can now secure is forgiveness for the transgression. Not so with regard to transgressing a prohibition, where repentance can rectify the misdeed entirely. Furthermore, since the misdeed actively blemished the individual’s soul and the celestial realms as well, mere repentance does not suffice: only Yom Kippur can completely obliterate the blemish that it brought about.

This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:

היינו משום שעל ידי קיום מצות עשה, ממשיך אור ושפע בעולמות עליונים מהארת אור אין סוף ברוך הוא

this superiority of the positive Mitzvah that makes it supersede a negative Mitzvah is so because by performing a positive Mitzvah one precipitates an illumination and flow into the higher worlds from the reflected [infinite] Ein Sof-light

כמו שכתוב בזהר: דרמ״ח פיקודין, אינון רמ״ח אברין דמלכא

as we find in the Zohar: “The 248 positive Mitzvot are the 248 ‘organs of the King’ ”

. The 248 positive commands are equated with the emotive attributes of Atzilut which are collectively termed “the King”. Just as an organ serves as a vessel to the soul-faculty enclothed within it, so, too, is each positive command an organ and vessel for a particular effluence of the emotive attributes of Atzilut that are drawn down through the performance of that particular commandment. Thus, through performing positive commands one draws down G‑dliness into the higher worlds.

וגם על נפשו האלקית

and also through the performance of a positive command one draws G‑dliness on to his Divine soul,

כמו שאומרים: אשר קדשנו במצותיו

as we say in the blessings that precede the performance of many mitzvot, “…Who has hallowed us with His commandments.”

I.e., fulfilling a positive Mitzvah has the effect of drawing down Divine light and holiness upon the soul, for which reason it surpasses and supersedes conformity to a negative Mitzvah.

אבל לענין תשובה

But concerning repentance, which would seek to rectify the transgression of a positive command,

אף שמוחלין לו העונש על שמרד במלכותו יתברך, ולא עשה מאמר המלך

though through repentance the punishment for rebelling against G‑d’s rule and not fulfilling the King’s word is commuted,

מכל מקום האור נעדר וכו׳

nonetheless, the illumination which would have been drawn down through the performance of the positive Mitzvah is lacking — even after repentance, so that the sin remains only partially rectified.

וכמאמר רז״ל על פסוק: מעות לא יוכל לתקן, זה שביטל קריאת שמע של ערבית או וכו׳

On the verse, “A crookedness that cannot be corrected,” i.e., even through repentance, our Sages accordingly comment: “This relates to one who neglected the evening [or morning] reading of Shema, or [the evening or morning prayer].”

דאף שנזהר מעתה לקרות קריאת שמע של ערבית ושחרית לעולם

For though he be scrupulous henceforth about reading the morning and evening Shema forevermore, thereby demonstrating his regret,

אין תשובתו מועלת לתקן מה שביטל פעם אחת

his repentance is ineffectual in correcting what he once neglected.

For after all is said and done, the world will forever be lacking the unique gift of Divine light that he could have drawn down through reading the Shema on that particular occasion. Thus, all that repentance can accomplish he is now able to accomplish through repentance alone. No other steps can secure him any further atonement.

So much for him who transgressed a positive precept.

והעובר על מצות לא תעשה, על ידי שנדבק הרע בנפשו, עושה פגם למעלה בשרשה ומקור חוצבה

If one violates a prohibition in thought, speech or action, since thereby evil cleaves to his soul, he [also] impairs its Supernal root and source

בלבושים די׳ ספירות דעשיה, כמו שכתוב בתקוני זהר: לבושין תקינת לון, דמינייהו פרחין נשמתין לבני נשא וכו׳

in the garbs of the Ten Sefirot of Asiyah; as Tikkunei Zohar writes,27 “You have fashioned garbs for [the Sefirot], from which fly forth souls for man...”.

We thus see from Tikkunei Zohar that it is from the “garments”of the Sefirot that souls emanate; when a soul is blemished through sin, these garments are blemished as well.

לכך אין כפרה לנפשו, ולא למעלה, עד יום הכפורים

Therefore there is no atonement for his own soul nor Above until Yom Kippur,

As will be explained a little later, “atonement” means cleansing that which was blemished. This requires not only repentance, but in addition Yom Kippur:

כמו שכתוב: וכפר על הקדש מטומאות בני ישראל ומפשעיהם וכו׳, לפני ה׳ תטהרו

concerning which it is written, “He shall atone for the holy place because of the impurities of the Children of Israel and because of their sins...; before Havayah shall you be purified.”

לפני ה׳ דייקא

“Before G‑d” is stressed.

I.e., the purification granted by Yom Kippur emanates from a level that transcends the Divine Name Havayah, and can even atone for a blemish that resulted from transgressing a prohibitive command.

At any rate, we have seen that in certain respects transgressing a positive Mitzvah has more serious consequences than transgressing a negative Mitzvah.

ולכן אין ללמוד מכאן שום קולא, חס ושלום, במצוות עשה

Hence, one should not (G‑d forbid) infer any leniency in the positive Mitzvah from this Beraita which states that one is immediately forgiven after repenting for having transgressed a positive Mitzvah, while transgressing a negative Mitzvah requires in addition the atonement of Yom Kippur;

ובפרט בתלמוד תורה

particularly ought one not infer any leniency in Torah study.

ואדרבה אמרו רז״ל: ויתר הקב״ה על עבודה זרה וכו׳, אף שהן כריתות ומיתות בית דין, ולא ויתר על ביטול תלמוד תורה

On the contrary, our Sages assert, “G‑d has in certain instances glossed over [even] idolatry, [incest and murder], though excision and capital punishment are involved, but did not excuse the neglect of Torah study.”)

The Beraita with which this chapter opened is now resumed:

עבר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין, תשובה ויום הכפורים תולין, ויסורים ממרקין

If one commits a sin [punishable by] excision or execution, repentance and Yom Kippur are tentative, so that the individual is not punished, and sufferings scour

פירוש: גומרין הכפרה, והוא מלשון מריקה ושטיפה, לצחצח הנפש

i.e., they complete the atonement. [The verb] memarkin denotes the final stage, namely, scouring and rinsing, in order to “polish” the soul,

כי כפרה היא לשון קינוח, שמקנח לכלוך החטא

for kaparah (“atonement”) is the term for the preceding stage of cleaning, removing the uncleanness of the sin),

Sins punishable by excision or execution are not cleaned away through repentance and Yom Kippur alone: the soul must also be scoured and rinsed through suffering, heaven forfend.

שנאמר: ופקדתי בשבט פשעם, ובנגעים עונם

עד כאן לשון הברייתא

Thus far the Beraita with which this chapter opened.

Igeret HaTeshuva

end of Chapter 1

Now the mitzvah of repentance as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin

כדאיתא בגמרא ,פרק ג׳ דסנהדרין, ובחושן משפט, סוף סימן ל״ד, לענין עדות

(2cf. Sanhedrin, ch. 33; Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 34,4 regarding testimony5), where it is stated that if a potential witness simply abandons and does not repeat the transgression that had previously disqualified him, he is once again able to testify.

דהיינו שיגמור בלבו בלב שלם לבל ישוב עוד לכסלה, למרוד במלכותו יתברך

This means that he must resolve in perfect sincerity never again to revert to folly, to rebel against G‑d’s rule;

ולא יעבור עוד מצות המלך, חס ושלום, הן במצות עשה הן במצות לא תעשה

he will never again violate the King’s command, G‑d forbid, neither a positive Mitzvot nor a prohibition.

וזהו עיקר פירוש לשון תשובה: לשוב אל ה׳ בכל לבו ובכל נפשו, לעבדו ולשמור כל מצותיו

This is the basic meaning of the term teshuvah (“repentance”) — to return to G‑d with all one’s heart and soul, to serve Him, and to observe all His commandments.

כמו שכתוב: יעזוב רשע דרכו ואיש און מחשבותיו, וישוב אל ה׳ וגו׳

For so does Scripture state: “Let the wicked abandon his path, and the sinful his thoughts, and return to G‑d….”

ובפרשת נצבים כתיב: ושבת עד ה׳ אלקיך ושמעת בקולו וגו׳ בכל לבבך וגו׳

In the Torah portion of Nitzavim it is likewise written: “You shall return unto the Lord your G‑d and hearken to His voice…with all your heart….”

שובה ישראל עד ה׳ אלקיך וגו׳, השיבנו ה׳ אליך וגו׳

[So, too:] “Return, O Israel, unto the L‑rd your G‑d...”; [and elsewhere:]14 “Bring us back, O L‑rd, unto You….”

Repentance, then, entails returning to G‑d, performing his commandments and refraining from sin.

ולא כדעת ההמון שהתשובה היא התענית

This differs from the popular conception that repentance is synonymous with fasting on account of one’s sins.

ואפילו מי שעבר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין, שגמר כפרתו היא על ידי יסורים

Even in the case of sins punishable by excision or execution, where atonement is made complete by suffering, as previously quoted from the Beraita in Yoma,

היינו שהקב״ה מביא עליו יסורים

this means that it is G‑d Who brings suffering upon the sinner, in order to complete his atonement.

chanoch adds: This statement is being made to the religious community. God never brings suffering on a person due to his sins. He allows the effect of suffering to manifest in the persons life to cause him to return to HaShem.

וכמו שכתוב: ופקדתי בשבט וגו׳, ופקדתי דייקא

as the verse clearly specifies, “With a rod shall I remember [their sin]”.

והיינו: כשתשובתו רצויה לפניו יתברך, בשובו אל ה׳ בכל לבו ונפשו מאהבה

That is to say: When G‑d finds his repentance acceptable, as he returns to Him with all his heart and soul, out of love,

אזי באתערותא דלתתא וכמים הפנים וכו׳, אתערותא דלעילא, לעורר האהבה וחסד ה׳ למרק עונו ביסורים בעולם הזה

then following the initiative undertaken from below, and “as water reflects the countenance...,” there is an awakening Above, arousing G‑d’s love and kindness, to scour his sin and entirely cleanse him of it through affliction in This World,

וכמו שכתוב: כי את אשר יאהב ה׳ יוכיח

in the spirit of the verse, “For he whom the L‑rd loves He chastises….”

This is something quite different from any fasts or afflictions that an individual undertakes himself.


ולכן לא הזכירו הרמב״ם והסמ״ג שום תענית כלל במצות התשובה, אף בכריתות ומיתות בית דין

of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance, even in the case of sins punishable by excision or caps

I.e., fasting is not required even with regard to those sins whose atonement is completed through suffering.

chanoch adds: in my opinion, this is because fasting is insufficient to exorcise the sin due to suffering of the fasting is just not suffcient. It requires death not fasting. of course we need to determine which sin is the

Teshuvah being performed.

רק הוידוי ובקשת מחילה, כמו שכתוב בתורה: והתודו את חטאתם וגו׳

They cite only confessing [verbally] and requesting forgiveness; as the Torah prescribes, “They shall confess their sin….”

Why are confession and requesting forgiveness indeed part of repentance?

Every sin consists of a body and a soul. The actual misdeed itself is the “body” of the sin, and the bodily pleasure and ensuing desire with which it was committed are its “soul”. Repentance involves eliminating both these elements.

The “soul” of the sin is eradicated by the earnest regret of the individual, who is mortified and pained by his past. Inasmuch as pain is the opposite of pleasure, it negates the pleasure which had earlier aroused his desire to sin, and thereby obliterates the “soul” of the sin.

But the “body” of the sin also needs to be nullified. Simply refraining from further transgression lacks the action that would negate the sinful act itself, its “body”. This is accomplished through verbal confession, for “verbalization is also considered to be an action.”

At any rate, verbal confession is thus a component of repentance — while fasting is not.

ומה שכתוב ביואל: שובו עדי בכל לבבכם, ובצום ובבכי גו׳

As to what we find in the Book of Yoel, “Return to Me with all your hearts, and with fasting and weeping...,” which would seem to indicate that fasting is in fact part of return and repentance,

היינו לבטל הגזרה שנגזרה, למרק עון הדור על ידי יסורים בארבה

this was to nullify (Note inserted by the Rebbe: ‘…something which relates to the future, while repentance involves forsaking the past’) the heavenly decree that had been issued, to expunge the sin of the generation through the affliction of locusts; it was not part of the act of repentance.

וזהו הטעם בכל תעניות שמתענין על כל צרה שלא תבא על הצבור

This is the rationale for all fasts undertaken for any trouble threatening the community, their purpose being to avert the impending harsh edict,

וכמו שכתוב במגלת אסתר

as in the Book of Esther, where we find that the Queen asked that a fast be proclaimed in order to nullify Haman’s evil decree.

ומה שכתוב בספרי המוסר, ובראשם ספר הרוקח וספר חסידים, הרבה תעניות וסיגופים לעובר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין

Now the classic Mussar works, particularly the Rokeach and Sefer Chassidim, specify numerous fasts and mortifications for sins punishable by excision and execution;

וכן למוציא זרע לבטלה, שחייב מיתה בידי שמים, כמו שכתוב בתורה גבי ער ועונן

likewise numerous fasts are prescribed for the wasteful emission of semen — a sin punishable by death by divine agency, as the Torah recounts of Er and Onan,

chanoch adds: Up to this generation every one dies except for a few souls. Thus the idea of wasting seed is cleansed through death. If one does Teshuvah for this sin will they not die?

ודינן כחייבי כריתות לענין זה

and a sin whose retribution is identical in this respect to that of sins punishable by excision, and hence the numerous fasts prescribed.

All this might lead us to assume that the purpose of fasts is suffering — this being the manner through which atonement is brought to completion by those who are guilty of sins punishable by excision. But it has been previously stated that the suffering which completes atonement is specifically that which comes from Above, and not man made suffering incurred through fasting and the like. The Alter Rebbe answers this seeming contradiction by stating:

היינו: כדי לינצל מעונש יסורים של מעלה, חס ושלום

These above-prescribed fasts and mortifications are intended to avert the punishment of suffering at the hand of heaven, G‑d forbid. (Note of the Rebbe: “This too relates to the future, unlike repentance, which relates to the past.”)

This means that if, G‑d forbid, the punishment of suffering had been decreed upon an individual, he is able to exempt himself from it through these self-imposed fasts.

וגם כדי לזרז ולמהר גמר כפרת נפשו

Another reason [for these fasts] is to urge on and expedite the conclusion of his soul’s atonement.

וגם אולי אינו שב אל ה׳ בכל לבו ונפשו מאהבה, כי אם מיראה

Also, perhaps he is not returning to G‑d with all his heart and soul out of love, but only out of fear.

Such a penitent would not enjoy the Divine reaction that comes “as water reflects the countenance,” and would not be granted the completion of his atonement through suffering. Accordingly, he might undertake these fasts in order to secure this alone. Essentially, however, the suffering that brings about complete atonement (for those guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency) is not meant to be self-inflicted, but rather — heaven forfend — imposed from Above.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

Chapter 2

Repentance, as the Alter Rebbe explained in the opening chapter, is in no way synonymous with fasting for a sin that one has committed; repentance merely entails abandoning the sin for all time. This is so even with regard to transgressions — those punishable by excision or by execution — whose atonement becomes complete through suffering. Even in these instances the suffering is not intended to be self-inflicted through fasting, but is brought on from Above.

אך כל זה לענין כפרה ומחילת העון, שנמחל לו לגמרי מה שעבר על מצות המלך כשעשה תשובה שלמה

However, all this refers to atonement and forgiveness of the sin — [the offender] is pardoned completely for having violated the command of the King once he has repented fully.

Atonement and forgiveness thus do not require fasting. If the individual repents fully:

chanoch adds: if the atonement is out of love and includes awe.

ואין מזכירין לו דבר וחצי דבר ביום הדין, לענשו על זה חס ושלום בעולם הבא, ונפטר לגמרי מן הדין בעולם הבא

No charge nor semblance of an accusation is mentioned against him on the day of judgment so that he should be punished for his sin, G‑d forbid, in the World to Come; in his trial there he is completely exonerated.

אמנם שיהיה לרצון לפני ה׳, ומרוצה וחביב לפניו יתברך כקודם החטא, להיות נחת רוח לקונו מעבודתו, היה צריך להביא קרבן עולה

Nonetheless, in order that he should be acceptable before G‑d, as beloved of Him as before the sin, so that his Creator might derive delight from his service, — [in past times] he would bring an olah offering, in addition to his repentance,

אפילו על מצות עשה קלה שאין בה כרת ומיתת בית דין

even for [transgressing] an ordinary positive commandment that involves no excision or execution.

כמו שדרשו רז״ל בתורת כהנים על פסוק: ונרצה לו

In this spirit our Sages in Torat Kohanim interpret the verse, “It shall be acceptable for him,” — that the olah offering causes a person who violated a positive command to become acceptable to G‑d.

וכדאיתא בגמרא פרק קמא דזבחים, דעולה מכפרת על מצות עשה, והיא דורון לאחר שעשה תשובה ונמחל לו העונש

Thus too we find in the Talmud, in the first chapter of Zevachim, that the olah offering atones for [the violation of] positive commandments; it is a “gift” [that is offered] after one has repented and been pardoned his punishment.

וכאדם שסרח במלך ופייסו על ידי פרקליטין, ומחל לו

This is like the case of a man who displeased his king, appeased him through intercessors, and was forgiven by him;

אף על פי כן שולח דורון ומנחה לפניו, שיתרצה לו לראות פני המלך

still he will send a gift, so that the king might consent that he appear again before his sovereign.

The olah offering was similarly brought as a gift to G‑d after the offender had repented and had been granted a pardon, in order that he once again find favor in His eyes, and be beloved by Him as before the sin.

ולשון מכפרת, וכן מה שכתוב בתורה: ונרצה לו לכפר עליו

(The expression “atones” quoted from the Talmud, and in the verse, “It shall be acceptable for him, to atone for him,”

אין זו כפרת נפשו

does not refer to the soul’s atonement for the sin, for this is accomplished through repentance,

אלא לכפר לפני ה׳, להיות נחת רוח לקונו

but rather (so to speak) his restoration before G‑d, so that he will bring his Creator gratification; no vestige of the sin will remain, and the former offender will be beloved of G‑d as before,

כדאיתא שם בגמרא

as the Talmud teaches there — that once the person has been pardoned, then comes the gift of the olah offering,

וכמו שכתוב: תמים יהיה לרצון

and as the verse states: “It shall be perfect, so that it be acceptable.”)

ועכשיו שאין לנו קרבן להפיק רצון מה׳, התענית הוא במקום קרבן, כמו שכתוב בגמרא: שיהא מיעוט חלבי ודמי שנתמעט כאלו הקרבתי לפניך כו׳

Today, when we have no offerings to call forth G‑d’s pleasure, fasting replaces the offering. As the Talmud says, that the prayer of one who is fasting is: “May my loss of fat and blood brought about through fasting be regarded as though I had offered it to You [as a sacrifice on the altar].”

The purpose of fasting, then, is that one become acceptable to G‑d just as before the sin.

ולכן מצינו בכמה תנאים ואמוראים, שעל דבר קל היו מתענים תעניות הרבה מאד

This is why there are many cases of Talmudic Sages, who for some trivial fault undertook a great many fasts.

כמו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, שהיה מתיר שתהא פרה יוצאה ברצועה שבין קרניה בשבת, וחכמים אוסרים, ופעם אחת יצאה כן פרתו של שכנתו, ולא מיחה בה, והושחרו שיניו מפני הצומות על שלא קיים דברי חביריו,

R. Elazar ben Azariah, for example, contended that a cow may go out wearing its strap between its horns on Shabbat, while his colleagues prohibited it. Once a neighbor’s cow went out with its strap and R. Elazar did not protest. Because he did not support his colleagues‘ view, he fasted so long that his teeth were blackened.

וכן רבי יהושע, שאמר: בושני מדבריכם בית שמאי, והושחרו שיניו מפני הצומות

So, too, R. Joshua once remarked: “I am ashamed of your words, Beit Shammai.” His teeth, too, turned black through fasting.

ורב הונא, פעם אחת נתהפכה לו רצועה של תפילין, והתענה מ׳ צומות

Likewise Rav Huna, because his tefillin strap once turned over, undertook forty fasts.

וכהנה רבות

Indeed, there are many such instances recorded about our Sages.

These fasts were not undertaken for the sake of repentance, nor as self-inflicted suffering in order to complete a process of atonement; these were not sins of the kind that required this. The sole purpose of these fasts was to restore the bonds of love between the former sinner and his Maker.

ועל יסוד זה

On this basis, that fasting substitutes for an offering, and as such has a place even when an individual does not need to undergo suffering in order to attain complete atonement,

לימד האריז״ל לתלמידיו על פי חכמת האמת מספר הצומות לכמה עונות וחטאים

the AriZal taught his disciples, according to the principles of the Kabbalah, the number of fasts to be undertaken for many transgressions,

אף שאין בהן כרת, ולא מיתה בידי שמים

even though they entail neither excision, nor death by divine agency — in which case suffering would be necessary.

כמו על הכעס, קנ״א תעניות וכו׳

Examples: for anger — 151 fasts;

ואפילו על איסור דרבנן, כמו סתם יינם, יתענה ע״ג תעניות וכו׳

even for transgressing a Rabbinic prohibition, such as drinking the wine of non-Jews — seventy-three fasts;

וכן על ביטול מצות עשה דרבנן, כמו תפלה, יתענה ס״א תעניות וכו׳

likewise for neglecting a positive Rabbinic enactment, such as prayer — sixty-one fasts.

Note on Prayer

The Rebbe notes that we cannot adduce from here that the Alter Rebbe is of the opinion that the obligation of prayer is of Rabbinic origin. (This would be consonant with the statement in his Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Tefillah, Section 106; it is also implied in the beginning of ch. 38 of Tanya [Vol. II in this series, p. 514], and in Likkutei Torah, Parshat Balak 70c. However, in the famous letter of the Alter Rebbe that appears in Beit Rebbe, Part I, p. 20a, he states outright that prayer is of Torah origin. In Mishnat Yoel this whole issue is debated and explained. In any event, no proof can be derived from the above text.) For according to all opinions the specific times for prayer are of Rabbinic origin; when one neglects this aspect of prayer, then the AriZal prescribes sixty-one fasts.

ודרך כלל, סוד התענית היא סגולה נפלאה להתגלות רצון העליון ברוך הוא

As a general rule, the mystery of fasting is wondrously effective for the revelation of the Supreme Will,

כמו הקרבן, שנאמר בו: ריח ניחוח לה׳

similar to an offering, of which it is said, “An aroma pleasing to G‑d.”

וכמו שכתוב בישעיהו: הלזה תקרא צום ויום רצון לה׳

Thus in Isaiah we find, “Do you call this a fast and a day desirable to G‑d?!”

מכלל שהצום הנרצה הוא יום רצון

Obviously, an acceptable fast is a “desirable day.”.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

beginning of Chapter 3

Though fasting is not at all necessary for attaining atonement, it was explained above that nevertheless it has a salutary effect as a substitute for the olah offering. In Temple times this sacrifice was offered (even) for transgressing a positive command, in order to make the former offender once again acceptable and beloved of G‑d. Accordingly, the AriZal derived from the Kabbalah the number of fasts to be undertaken for numerous transgressions, even those that are not subject to the punishment of excision or death by Divine decree.

והנה חכמי המוסר האחרונים נחלקו במי שחטא חטא אחד פעמים רבות׳

The latter Mussar sages — those who lived after the Ari — were divided in their opinions about one who repeated a sin many times.

דיש אומרים שצריך להתענות מספר הצומות לאותו חטא פעמים רבות, כפי המספר אשר חטא׳

Some contend that he must fast the number of fasts appropriate to that sin according to the number of transgressions.

כגון המוציא זרע לבטלה, שמספר הצומות המפורש בתיקוני תשובה מהאריז״ל הן פ״ד תעניות׳

For example, the number of fasts prescribed in the penances of the AriZal for wasteful emission of semen is eighty-four.

ואם חטא בזה עשר או עשרים פעמים, על דרך משל, צריך להתענות עשר או עשרים פעמים פ״ד׳

If someone commits this sin ten or twenty times, say, he must fast ten or twenty times eighty-four, and so on in all instances.

דומיא דקרבן חטאת, שחייב להביא על כל פעם ופעם׳

This is comparable to the chatat offering (Note of the Rebbe: “i.e., all the chatat offerings”) required for every instance of violation.

ויש מדמין ענין זה לקרבן עולה, הבאה על מצות עשה׳

Others compare these fasts to the olah offering brought for neglect of a positive command.

Note of the Rebbe: “As distinct from other olah offerings; see the various types of offerings in Maimonides‘ preface to his Commentary on the Mishnayot of Tractate Kodashim.”

דאפילו עבר על כמה מצוות עשה, מתכפר בעולה אחת, כדאיתא בגמרא, פרק קמא דזבחים׳

The violation of a number of positive commands is atoned for and the individual finds favor in G‑d’s eyes by one olah, as the Talmud explains in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1.

והכרעה המקובלת בזה להתענות ג׳ פעמים כפי מספר הצומות דחטא זה, דהיינו רנ״ב צומות על הוצאות שכבת זרע לבטלה, וכן בשאר חטאים ועונות׳

The accepted decision in this dispute is to undertake three times the number of fasts prescribed for that particular sin, i.e., 252 fasts (three times eighty-four) for wasteful emission, and similarly for other sins oft repeated.

והטעם הוא על פי מה שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש, סוף פרשת נח: כיון דחב בר נש קמיה קודשא בריך הוא, זמנא חדא עביד רשימו כו׳׳

This is based on a teaching in the Zohar, at the end of Parshat Noach: “As soon as mortal man sins once against the Holy One, blessed be He, he makes an impression [Above; should he sin a second time, the impact of his sin is even greater];

זמנא תליתאה, אתפשט ההוא כתמא מסטרא דא לסטרא דא כו׳׳

the third time he commits the sin, the stain penetrates from one side through the other;...“

לכן צריך מספר הצומות גם כן ג׳ פעמים וכו׳

therefore the number of fasts ought also be three.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

middle of Chapter 3

אבל כל זה באדם חזק ובריא, שאין ריבוי הצומות מזיק לו כלל לבריאות גופו, וכמו בדורות הראשונים

However, all this1 applies to the strong and robust, whose physical health would not be harmed at all by repeated fasts, as in the generations of yore.

אבל מי שריבוי הצומות מזיק לו, שאפשר שיבוא לידי חולי או מיחוש, חס ושלום, כמו בדורותינו אלה

But whoever would be affected by many fasts, and might thereby suffer illness or pain, G‑d forbid, as in contemporary generations,

אסור לו להרבות בתעניות, אפילו על כריתות ומיתות בית דין, ומכל שכן על מצוות עשה ומצוות לא תעשה שאין בהן כרת

is forbidden to undertake numerous fasts, even for sins punishable by excision or execution, and certainly not for [violation of] the positive and prohibitive commands that do not involve excision.

אלא כפי אשר ישער בנפשו שבודאי לא יזיק לו כלל

Instead [the measure of fasting is] the personal estimate of what will not harm him at all.

כי אפילו בדורות הראשונים, בימי תנאים ואמוראים, לא היו מתענין בכהאי גוונא אלא הבריאים, דמצו לצעורי נפשייהו

For even in those early generations, in the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim, only the robust who could mortify themselves fasted so frequently.

ודלא מצי לצעורי נפשיה ומתענה, נקרא חוטא בגמרא, פרק קמא דתענית

But whoever cannot fast yet does so, is called a “sinner” in Tractate Taanit, ch. 1.

ואפילו מתענה על עבירות שבידו, כדפירש רש״י שם

This applies even to one who fasts for specifically known sins, as Rashi explains there,

The very same author of the opinion that he who fasts frequently is considered “holy”, because (as Rashi explains) his sins are thereby expunged, goes on to state that he is considered a sinner if he cannot fast yet does so.

וכדאיתא בגמרא, פרק קמא דזבחים, שאין לך אדם מישראל שאינו מחויב עשה וכו׳

and it is written in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1, that “there is no one of Israel who is not guilty of [transgressing] a positive commandment…,”

Thus, though there are always sins for which one should fast, one should do so only if this will in no way impair his health; otherwise, he is considered a sinner,

ומכל שכן מי שהוא בעל תורה, שחוטא ונענש בכפליים

especially if he is a student of Torah, in which case he is doubly punished,

כי מחמת חלישות התענית, לא יוכל לעסוק בה כראוי

for the weakness resulting from his fast prevents him from studying Torah properly.

אלא מה תקנתיה

What, then, is his remedy?

I.e., what is such a person to do in order to be beloved by his Creator as he was before his sin?

כדכתיב: וחטאך בצדקה פרוק

He should comply with the verse that says, “Redeem your sin with charity.”

וכמו שכתבו הפוסקים, ליתן בעד כל יום תענית של תשובה ערך ח״י גדולים פוליש

And, indeed, the codifiers of Torah law specified that one should donate the equivalent of eighteen [large Polish] coins called “gedolim Polish” for each day of repentance.

והעשיר יוסיף לפי עשרו וכו׳

The wealthy should add to this amount for the redemption of each fast-day according to his means,

כמו שכתב המגן אברהם, הלכות תענית

as stated in Magen Avraham in the Laws of Fasts.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

end of Chapter 3

ומכל מקום, כל בעל נפש החפץ קרבת ה׳, לתקן נפשו, להשיבה אל ה׳ בתשובה מעולה מן המובחר, יחמיר על עצמו

Nevertheless, though it has just been stated that in contemporary generations when excessive fasting causes illness and pain, the fasts of penance should be substituted by charity, every man of spirit who desires to be close to G‑d, to amend his nefesh (his soul), to restore it to G‑d with the finest and most preferred repentance, should be stringent with himself.

Note of the Rebbe: “In this and all similar contexts, the term specifically used is nefesh [as distinct from the other four terms for the various levels of the soul] — possibly in view of the statement in the Zohar III (24b) and Sefer HaGilgulim, et al., that ’it is specifically the level of nefesh that sins.‘”

להשלים על כל פנים פעם אחת כל ימי חייו, מספר הצומות לכל עון ועון מעונות החמורים שחייבין עליהם מיתה על כל פנים, ואפילו בידי שמים בלבד

He should complete, at least once during his lifetime, the number of fasts for every grave sin incurring death at least, if only death by divine agency.

כגון להוצאות זרע לבטלה, פ״ד צומות פעם אחת בימי חייו

For example, for wasteful emission [he should undergo the series of] eight-four fasts once in his life.

ויכול לדחותן לימים הקצרים בחורף, ויתענה כעשר תעניות על דרך משל בחורף אחד או פחות

He may postpone the fasts until the short winter days and fast some ten days or less, for example, in one winter,

ויגמור מספר הפ״ד צומות בט׳ שנים או יותר, כפי כחו

and complete the series of eighty-four in nine or more years, according to his stamina.

וגם יכול לאכול מעט כג׳ שעות לפני נץ החמה, ואף על פי כן נחשב לתענית אם התנה כן

(Besides, he may also eat a little about three hours before sunrise, and this would still be considered a fast, if he so stipulated.)

ולתשלום רנ״ב צומות כנ״ל, יתענה עוד ד׳ פעמים פ״ד עד אחר חצות היום בלבד

For the completion of the above-mentioned 252 fasts — three times eighty-four, this being the accepted arbitration in the above difference of opinion, so that one undertakes three times the number of fasts prescribed for this specific sin, even if it was committed many times — he may fast another four times eighty-four only until past noon;

דמיחשב גם כן תענית בירושלמי, וב׳ חצאי יום נחשבים לו ליום אחד לענין זה

this, too, the Talmud Yerushalmi3 considers a fast. In this context, moreover, two half-days are reckoned as one full day.

וכן לשאר עונות כיוצא בהן

This approach applies to other, similar sins as well,

Until now the Alter Rebbe addressed himself to those sins which at least incur death by divine agency. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that this approach also applies to sins which do not incur such a harsh penalty but are similarly grave — “similar sins” — such as those which are actually comparable to idolatry, murder, and so on, as mentioned in ch. 7 below. Concerning these sins as well, the Alter Rebbe is saying here, one should be stringent and undertake the required number of fasts at least once in his lifetime.

אשר כל לב יודע מרת נפשו וחפץ בהצדקה

for each heart knows its own anguish and desires its vindication.

And this vindication is enhanced by fasting.

אכן מספר הצומות העודפים על רנ״ב וכהאי גוונא

However, there still remain the fasts in excess of (for example) the 252, i.e., whatever number exceeds three times the prescribed number of fasts for any particular sin,

שהיה צריך להתענות, לחוש לדעת המחמירים להתענות מספר הצומות שעל כל חטא וחטא כפי מספר הפעמים שחטא כנ״ל

that one ought to fast in deference to the more stringent opinion insisting on the appropriate number of fasts for every violation committed, as noted above.

יפדה כולן בצדקה, ערך ח״י גדולים פוליש בעד כל יום

He may redeem them all by charity to the value of eighteen “gedolim Polish” for each fast-day.

וכן שאר כל תעניות שצריך להתענות על עבירות שאין בהן מיתה

So, too, [charity may redeem] all other fasts that he should have undergone for sins not entailing death,

ואפילו על ביטול מצות עשה דאורייתא ודרבנן

and even for neglecting a positive , whether Mitzvah explicit in the Torah or Rabbinically ordained,

ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם

and for [neglect of the positive command of]4 “Torah study, which is equivalent to them all,”

כפי המספר המפורש בתיקוני התשובה מהאר״י ורובם נזכרים במשנת חסידים במסכת התשובה

according to the number of fasts prescribed by the penances of the AriZal. (5Most of these are noted in Mishnat Chassidim, Tractate Teshuvah.)

הכל אשר לכל יפדה בצדקה כנ״ל, אי לא מצי לצעורי נפשיה

All of these fasts, then, he may redeem as explained above, if he cannot mortify himself.

ואף שיעלה לסך מסויים, אין לחוש משום: אל יבזבז יותר מחומש

Though this might amount to a very considerable sum, he need not fear violating the injunction that “one should not extravagantly distribute more than one fifth [of one’s property to charity],”

דלא מקרי בזבוז בכהאי גוונא, מאחר שעושה לפדות נפשו מתעניות וסגופים

for this kind of giving cannot be termed “extravagant distribution,” since he does it to redeem himself from fasting and affliction.

ולא גרעא מרפואת הגוף ושאר צרכיו

This is no less necessary than healing his body or his other needs, in which one does not restrict one’s spending to a fifth of his means.

ולפי שמספר הצומות המוזכרים בתקוני התשובה הנ״ל רבו במאד מאד

Since the number of fasts enumerated in the above-mentioned penances of the AriZal is exceedingly great,

לכן נהגו עכשיו כל החרדים לדבר ה׳ להרבות מאד מאד בצדקה

all who revere the word of G‑d are now accustomed to being unstintingly generous with charity, which is given in place of fasting,

מחמת חלישות הדור, דלא מצי לשעורי נפשם כולי האי

for the prevalent lack of stamina prevents them from mortifying themselves to this extent.

וכמו שכתוב במקום אחר על פסוק: חסדי ה׳ כי לא תמנו

(A comment is made elsewhere on this subject on the words, “The kindnesses of G‑d, for they are not concluded.”)

The last three Hebrew words, here translated “for they are not concluded,” may also be interpreted to mean “for we are not perfect.” Accordingly, in Epistle 10 of Iggeret HaKodesh, the Alter Rebbe explains the verse thus: Since “we are not perfect,” burdened as we are by sins that plead for rectification, we are in need of G‑d’s infinite kindness and charity. And in order to elicit kindness and pardon of an infinite order, man for his part must exceed the conventional, finite bounds of charity.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

beginning of Chapter 4

Certain penitential fasts, then, are to be actually undertaken, while others are to be redeemed through charity.

ואולם כל הנ״ל הוא לגמר הכפרה ומירוק הנפש לה׳ אחר התשובה

However, all we have said refers to the culmination of the atonement — to polishing the soul clean before G‑d, so that no vestige of former sin remains, after repentance,

כמו שכתוב לעיל מהגמרא, פרק קמא דזבחים, דעולה דורון היא לאחר שריצה הפרקליט וכו׳

as cited above from the Talmud, ch. 1 of Zevachim, where the olah sacrifice brought for transgressing a positive command is described as the gift offered to the offended party after an intercessor’s successful plea.

The above-mentioned fasts (or their counterpart in charity) serve a similar function.

אמנם התחלת מצות התשובה ועיקרה

But the beginning of the mitzvah of teshuvah and its core

לשוב עד ה׳ באמת ובלב שלם

is a true and wholehearted return to G‑d.

As will soon become apparent, this “return (lit.:) until G‑d” means returning until the point that one has restored completeness to Havayah, the Four-Letter Name of G‑d, that is to be found within every Jewish soul.

chanoch adds: contemplate this phrase "Havayah is found within every Jewish soul."

The letters that comprise the Tetragrammaton are (in descending order) yud and hei, and vav and hei.

ההכרח לבאר היטב בהרחבת הביאור

This must now be explained thoroughly and comprehensively.

בהקדים מה שכתוב בזהר הקדוש בביאור מלת תשובה על דרך הסוד

Let us begin with the Zohar’s interpretation of teshuvah according to Sod, the mystical approach to the Torah:

תשוב ה׳

“[Teshuvah is] tashuv hei (‘the hei is to be returned’);

The function of teshuvah is to return the letter hei of the Divine Name Havayah — to reattach it to the level represented by the letter that precedes it, just as it was attached to it before the individual sinned.

ה׳ תתאה תשובה תתאה

[the reconnection of] the latter hei [to the preceding letter vav] is teshuvah tata‘ah (’lower-level teshuvah‘);

ה׳ עילאה תשובה עילאה

[the reconnection of] the former hei [to the preceding letter yud] is teshuvah ila‘ah (’higher-level teshuvah‘).“

וגם מה שכתוב בזהר הקדוש בקצת מקומות שאין תשובה מועלת לפוגם בריתו ומוציא זרע לבטלה

We must also note that the Zohar states several times that teshuvah is ineffective for violation of the covenant and for the wasteful emission of semen.

והוא דבר תמוה מאד, שאין לך דבר עומד בפני התשובה, ואפילו עבודה זרה וגילוי עריות וכו׳

This is most astonishing, for “nothing can stand in the way of teshuvah, even idolatry, incest, and so on.”

Jews are commanded to give up their lives rather than transgress these prohibitions, yet repentance atones even for them. How, then, can it be that there are other sins for which repentance is ineffective?

ופירש בראשית חכמה שכוונת הזוהר שאין מועלת תשובה תתאה, כי אם תשובה עילאה וכו׳

The Reishit Chochmah explains that the intention of the Zohar is that though teshuvah tata‘ah (the conventional level of repentance) is not effective, teshuvah ila’ah is.

הנה להבין זאת מעט מזעיר

To grasp even a minute glimmer of this,

Note of the Rebbe: “Perhaps this expression is used (as opposed to, say, מעט מן המעט) because the former term (מעט) suggests that the extent of understanding is minute, while the latter term (מזעיר) suggests that qualitatively too this understanding is a mere glimmer.”

צריך להקדים מה שמבואר מהכתוב ומדברי רז״ל, ענין הכרת ומיתה בידי שמים

we must preface what Scripture and our Sages say about [what is entailed by] excision and death by divine agency.

כשעבר עבירה שחייבים עליה כרת, הי׳ מת ממש קודם חמשים שנה

A violator of a sin punishable by excision would actually die before his fiftieth year.

Note of the Rebbe: “Possibly the Alter Rebbe’s intention here is to negate the opinion of the Ramban at the end of Parshat Acharei.” The Ramban says there that it is sometimes possible that violators liable to excision “are not punished by physical excision; sometimes they may live to a ripe old age.” In specifying here that they would “actually” die, the Alter Rebbe evidently seeks to negate this opinion.

ובמיתה בידי שמים, מת ממש קודם ששים שנה

In the case of death by divine agency he would actually die before sixty,

כחנניה בן עזור הנביא, בירמיהו

like the prophet Chananiah ben Azur in Jeremiah Chapter 28.

As a result of his false prophecy, G‑d told him, “I shall banish you from the face of the earth….” This resulted in his actual death.

ולפעמים גם במיתה בידי שמים נפרעין לאלתר, כמו שמצינו בער ואונן

(Indeed, there have been instances in which the punishment of death by divine agency was also meted out instantly, as with Er and Onan.)

This involved a sin incurring death by divine agency.

In any event, both Scripture and the Sages attest that those guilty of sins punishable by excision or death by divine agency would actually die before they reached the age of fifty or sixty. This leads to the following question:

והרי נמצאו בכל דור כמה וכמה חייבי כריתות ומיתות, והאריכו ימיהם ושנותיהם בנעימים

But in every generation there are so many individuals liable to excision and death who nevertheless enjoy extended and pleasant days and years!

Asked why the Alter Rebbe added the word “pleasant”, the Rebbe replied that this was done “in order to rule out the (labored) interpretation that this punishment was undergone by virtue of their having suffered poverty or the like, which is also called ‘death’ in Scripture (Shmot 4:19) and in Rabbinic terminology (quoted in Rashi, ad loc.).”

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

middle of Chapter 4

אך הענין יובן על פי מה שכתוב: כי חלק ה׳ עמו וגו׳

The key to this will be found in the phrase, “For [G‑d’s] people are part of G‑d...”;

חלק משם הוי׳ ברוך הוא

[they are] part of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

כדכתיב: ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים

Thus, describing G‑d’s infusion of a soul into the body of Adam, it is written: “And He blew into his nostrils a soul of life,”

ומאן דנפח מתוכו נפח וכו׳

and, as the Zohar comments, “He who blows, does so from within him, etc.”

The metaphor of blowing signifies that the soul of a Jew originates in the innermost aspect of G‑dliness — in the Tetragrammaton, as shall be soon explained.

ואף שאין לו דמות הגוף וכו׳ חס ושלום

Now [G‑d] has no bodily form, and so on, G‑d forbid.

How, then, is it possible to say that G‑d “blew”, and to speak of a “part” of Himself?

אך דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם

However, the Torah “speaks as in the language of men,” i.e., anthropomorphically.

כי כמו שיש הפרש והבדל גדול באדם התחתון, על דרך משל, בין ההבל שיוצא מפיו בדבורו להבל היוצא על ידי נפיחה

By way of analogy: There exists a vast difference in the case of mortal man between the breath issuing from his mouth while speaking and the breath of forceful blowing.

שביוצא בדיבורו מלובש בו כח וחיות מעט מזעיר

The breath that issues with his speech embodies the soul’s power and life-force only minimally,

והוא בבחינת חיצוניות מנפש החיה שבקרבו

and that is only from the superficial aspect of the soul that dwells within him.

אבל ביוצא בכח הנופח דמתוכו נפח

But the breath that issues when he blows forcefully, from deep within himself,

מלובש בו כח וחיות פנימית מבחינת נפש החיה וכו׳

embodies the internal power and life-force of the vivifying soul….

Just as there exists a vast difference between man’s speaking and forceful blowing:

ככה ממש, על דרך משל, המבדיל הבדלות לאין קץ

Precisely so in the analogy [of Creation], allowing for the infinite differentiations involved [between Creator and created],

יש הפרש עצום מאד למעלה

there exists a prodigious difference Above,

בין כל צבא השמים, ואפילו המלאכים, שנבראו מאין ליש

between all the hosts of heaven, even the spiritual beings like angels, who were created ex nihilo, [and the soul of man].

וחיים וקיימים מבחינת חיצוניות החיות והשפע שמשפיע אין סוף ברוך הוא להחיות העולמות

They derive their life and existence from the external aspect of the life-force issuing forth from the Infinite One to vitalize creation.

ובחינה זו נקראת בשם רוח פיו, על דרך משל, כמו שכתוב: וברוח פיו כל צבאם

his [external] aspect of the life-giving power is called the “breath of His mouth,” as it were, as the verse states: “By the breath of His mouth all their hosts [were created].”

והיא בחינת חיות המלובשת באותיות שבעשרה מאמרות

This is the creative power embodied in the letters of the Ten Utterances

שהן בחינת כלים והמשכות וכו׳, כמו שכתוב בלקוטי אמרים חלק ב׳ פרק י״א

(these letters being in the nature of vessels, and a drawing down and so forth of the life-force, as explained in Likutei Amarim, Part II, ch. 11).

ובין נשמת האדם שנמשכה תחלה מבחינת פנימיות החיות והשפע שמשפיע אין סוף ברוך הוא

In contrast, the soul of man derives initially from the innermost dimension of the life-force and flow issuing from the Infinite One,

כמו שכתוב: ויפח וגו׳

as in the verse quoted above, “And He blew….”

As mentioned earlier, this verb indicates the internal aspect of the Divine flow of life-force, for “he who blows, does so from his innermost being.”

Thus, the soul originated in the internal aspect of the life-force and flow issuing from G‑d. It is only afterwards, in order to enable it to be invested within the body, that the soul descended to a more external level, as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say.

ואחר כך ירדה בסתר המדרגה, גם כן על ידי בחינת האותיות שבמאמר: נעשה אדם וגו׳

It then descended through ever more concealing planes, also (like the angels who were created by means of “letters”) by means of the letters that comprise the Divine Utterance, “Let us make man...,”

כדי להתלבש בגוף עולם הזה התחתון

in order that it could eventually be invested in a body in this inferior, [physical] world.

This, then, is the difference between souls and angels: Souls derive from the innermost aspect of G‑dliness, the Tetragrammaton, while angels are rooted in the external aspect of G‑dliness, the Divine Name Elokim, as is now explained.

ולכן נקראו המלאכים בשם אלקים בכתוב

For this reason Scripture calls the angels “Elokim”,

וכמו שכתוב: כי ה׳ אלקיכם הוא אלקי האלקים גו׳

as in the phrase, “For the L‑rd your G‑d, He is the G‑d of G‑ds (Elokim).,” the last word here referring to angels,

The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe cites three verses to adduce that angels are called Elokim, possibly in order to allude to the three general categories of angels — in the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. The angels closest to souls (souls having “arisen in the Divine thought”) are those of the World of Beriah, the World of Thought. They are alluded to in the first verse, which states that “Your G‑d,” i.e., the G‑d of souls, is “the G‑d of angels.” The second verse, which mentions neither “Your G‑d” nor the Tetragrammaton, may be said to refer to the angels in the World of Yetzirah. The final verse, which speaks of the angels who give testimony with regard to the worldly affairs of man, may be said to apply to the angels of the nethermost world, the World of Asiyah.

הודו לאלקי האלקים גו׳

[and likewise], “Praise the G‑d of G‑ds (Elokim).,” once again referring to angels by the name “Elokim”,

ויבואו בני האלקים להתייצב גו׳

and (in yet another reference to angels), “The sons of G‑d (Elokim) came to present themselves….”

The Name Elokim is applied to angels:

לפי שיניקת חיותם היא מבחינת חיצוניות, שהיא בחינת האותיות לבד

Because they derive their nurture from the external degree [of G‑dliness], which is merely the state of “letters”.

ושם אלקים הוא בחינת חיצוניות לגבי שם הויה ברוך הוא

Similarly, the Name Elokim is an external state relative to the Tetragrammaton.

אבל נשמת האדם, שהיא מבחינת פנימיות החיות, היא חלק שם הויה ברוך הוא

But the soul of man, deriving from the internal aspect of the G‑dly vivifying power, is a part of the Tetragrammaton,

כי שם הויה מורה על פנימיות החיות, שהיא למעלה מעלה מבחינת האותיות

for the Tetragrammaton indicates the innermost dimension of the life-giving power, which far transcends the state of letters.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

middle of Chapter 4

וביאור הענין

To explain: What characteristics of the soul also characterize Havayah, the Four-Letter Name of G‑d, and thus indicate that the soul is indeed a part of that Name? In answer to this question, the Alter Rebbe now explains that just as the Ten Sefirot are included within the Tetragrammaton, so, too, there are ten corresponding faculties that are intrinsic to the soul.

כנודע מאמר אליהו: אנת הוא דאפיקת עשר תיקונין, וקרינן להון עשר ספירן, לאנהגא בהון עלמין סתימין וכו׳

There is a well-known statement of Eliyahu, in the passage entitled Patach Eliyahu, in the introduction to Tikkunei Zohar: “You are He Who elicited the ten tikkunim (lit., ‘garments’) which we call the Ten Sefirot, by which to conduct the concealed worlds…[and the revealed worlds...].1

אנת הוא חכים, ולא בחכמה ידיעא

You are wise, but not with a knowable attribute of wisdom;

אנת הוא מבין, ולא בבינה ידיעא וכו׳

You understand, but not with a knowable attribute of understanding; and so on“ — with regard to the remaining Sefirot.

וכל הי׳ ספירות נכללות ונרמזות בשם הויה ברוך הוא

All the Ten Sefirot are included and represented in their source, the Tetragrammaton. The Alter Rebbe now shows how the various Sefirot find expression in the four letters that comprise this Divine Name, Havayah.

כי היו״ד, שהיא בחינת נקודה לבד, מרמזת לחכמתו ית׳

The yud, which is a simple point, extending in neither length nor breadth, indicates G‑d’s Wisdom, the Sefirah of Chochmah,

שהיא בבחינת העלם והסתר קודם שבאה לבחינת התפשטות וגילוי ההשגה וההבנה

which is the state of concealment and obscurity, before it develops into a state of expansion and revelation in comprehension and understanding.

והקו׳ שעל היו״ד רומז לבחינת רצון העליון ברוך הוא, שלמעלה מעלה ממדרגת בחינת חכמה עילאה כנודע

(2The “thorn” above3 the yud indicates the Supreme Will, this being the level of Keter, which transcends by far the level of Chochmah Ila‘ah, Supernal Wisdom, as is known.)

ואחר שבאה לבחינת התפשטות וגילוי ההשגה וההבנה לעלמין סתימין

When [the seminal “point” of Chochmah] is eventually amplified and revealed as something comprehensible to the concealed worlds, i.e., when it descends to the level and Sefirah of Binah,

נכללת ונרמזת באות ה׳, שיש לה בחינת התפשטות לרוחב, המורה ומרמז על הרחבת הביאור וההבנה

it is then contained and represented in the letter hei of the Tetragrammaton. This letter extends in breadth, implying a breadth of explanation and understanding, which is the function of Binah.

וגם לאורך, המורה על בחינת ההמשכה וההשפעה מלמעלה למטה לעלמין סתימין

[The letter hei] also extends in length, to indicate extension and flow downward into the concealed worlds. The hidden worlds are nourished from the level of Binah, so that they may have an understanding of G‑dliness.

ואחר כך, כשנמשכה המשכה והשפעה זו יותר למטה לעלמין אתגליין

In the next stage, when this extension and flow are drawn still lower into the revealed worlds,

וכמו האדם שרוצה לגלות חכמתו לאחרים על ידי דבורו, על דרך משל

which may be compared, by way of analogy, to one who wishes4 to reveal his thoughts to another through his speech,

נכללת ונרמזת המשכה זו באותיות ו״ה

this extension is contained and represented in the [final] letters vav and hei [of the Tetragrammaton].

כי הוי״ו מורה על ההמשכה מלמעלה למטה

For the letter vav, which is shaped like a vertical line, indicates downward extension. There is another connection between this stage and the letter vav:

וגם המשכה זו היא על ידי מדת חסדו וטובו ושאר מדותיו הקדושות, הנכללת בדרך כלל במספר שש שבפסוק: לך ה׳ הגדולה וגו׳ עד לך ה׳ הממלכה, ולא עד בכלל

Also, this downward flow into the revealed worlds is effected through the Divine traits of benevolence and goodness and [G‑d’s] other holy traits, included in general terms in the six attributes, the numerical equivalent of vav, in the verse,5 “Yours, O G‑d, is greatness...,” — until “Yours, O G‑d, is sovereignty...,” but not including it.

כי מדת מלכותו ית׳ נקראת בשם דבר ה׳ For His attribute of sovereignty is called the “Word of G‑d” (and speech is not one of the middot, the spiritual emotive attributes),

כמו שכתוב: באשר דבר מלך שלטון

as in the verse,6 “Wherever the word of the king holds sway.” Supernal speech, then, is related to Malchut, G‑d’s sovereignty.

ונכללת ונרמזת באות ה׳ אחרונה של שם ה׳

This [attribute of sovereignty] is contained and represented in the final hei of the Tetragrammaton, in the following manner:

כי פנימיות ומקור הדבור הוא ההבל העולה מן הלב, ומתחלק לה׳ מוצאות הפה: אחה״ע מהגרון וכו׳

The internal aspect and the source of speech is the breath that rises from the heart, then is particularized into the five oral articulations (five being the numerical equivalent of the letter hei). [One of these produces the bracket of letters] alef, chet, hei and ayin from the throat, another produces the bracket of letters beit, vav, mem and pei from the lips, and so on. At any rate, the internal aspect of speech is breath.

וגם הברת הה״א היא בחינת הבל לבד

In particular, the enunciation of the letter hei is solely unvocalized breath,

כמו שכתוב: אתא קלילא דלית בה מששא

as in the phrase,7 “A light letter without substance.” Emanating, as it does, solely from the breath, it alludes to the level of Malchut and speech whose internal aspect is “breath”.

ואף שאין לו דמות הגוף חס ושלום

Now “He has no corporeal form,” G‑d forbid. How, then, can one differentiate Above between those letters that possess substance and those that do not?

אך דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם

Nevertheless, “the Torah speaks as in the language of men.” Since on the mortal plane this differentiation exists, it is also applied to the Divine plane, for spiritually, too, there exists a corresponding difference between the letter hei and the other letters.


Moreover (i.e., there is yet another reason why this analogy is apt, notwithstanding the fact that G‑d has no corporeal form):

שגם דבר ה׳ כ״ב אותיות המתחלקות לה׳ חלקי המוצאות, ובהן נברא כל יצור

for G‑d’s speech as well consists, as it were, of twenty-two letters that separate into the five articulations that produce the Divine speech from which all beings were created.

וכמו שכתוב בליקוטי אמרים חלק ב׳ פי״א ביאור ענין אותיות אלו

(8For a discussion of these letters and their significance, see Likutei Amarim, Part II, ch. 11.) We thus see that all the Ten Sefirot are included and represented within the Tetragrammaton. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain that likewise within the soul, which is part of the Tetragrammaton, there exist ten corresponding levels or faculties. FOOTNOTES 1. The Rebbe asks the following question: The statement that the purpose of the Ten Sefirot (which, as he shall soon say, are included within the Tetragrammaton) is “to conduct the concealed worlds,” seems to contradict the earlier statement that the Tetragrammaton transcends by far the state of “letters” (from which the various worlds and their creatures come into being). The Alter Rebbe resolves this, explains the Rebbe, by now going on to quote, “You are wise, but not with a knowable attribute of wisdom; You understand, but not with a knowable attribute of understanding....” This cannot possibly refer to the state of “letters”, since their purpose is to make known and to reveal (as oft stated in Part II of Tanya). Rather, the above-mentioned conduct of the worlds first relates only to the “concealed worlds,” worlds that are “not known.” 2. Parentheses are in the original text. 3. Note of the Rebbe: “The Alter Rebbe stresses ‘above’, for the ‘thorn’ that projects beneath the yud has a different significance.” 4. Note of the Rebbe: “In the analogy the Alter Rebbe speaks of ‘one who wishes to reveal his thoughts to another,’ for this mirrors the ‘Divine traits of benevolence and goodness’ that are mentioned below.” 5. I Divrei HaYamim 29:11. 6. Kohelet 8:4. 7. From the hymn entitled Akdamut. 8. Parentheses are in the original text.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

end of Chapter 4

וככה ממש, על דרך משל, המבדיל הבדלות לאין ק׳, בנשמת האדם

Analogously, exactly the same applies to the soul of man, again keeping in mind the infinite separation between the Creator and the created soul,

שהיא בחינת נפש האלקית דמתוכיה נפח

which is the divine soul which “He blew from within Himself.” Since the soul derives from the internal aspect of G‑dliness, the Tetragrammaton, which comprises the Ten Sefirot, the soul likewise comprises the following characteristics:

יש בה בחינת שכל הנעלם, המרומז באות יו״ד

There is [the initial state of Chochmah,] the hidden concept alluded to by the letter yud, Just as the letter yud lacks length and breadth and is but a simple point, so, too, is Chochmah a faculty that lacks intellectual length and breadth, merely —

שבכחו לצאת אל הגילוי, להבין ולהשכיל באמתתו ית׳ ובגדולתו

possessing the potential of being revealed, and thereby understanding and conceiving G‑d’s true existence and greatness,

כל חד וחד לפום שיעורא דיליה, לפי רוחב שכלו ובינתו

in each person according to his measure, according to the breadth of his intellect and understanding. While the degree of one’s comprehension of G‑dliness depends on the breadth of one’s intellect, a Jew’s essential ability to find G‑d’s true being and greatness securely integrated in his mind, stems from the soul’s attribute of Chochmah, alluded to in the letter yud.

וכפי אשר מעמיק שכלו ומרחיב דעתו ובינתו להתבונן בגדולתו ית׳

As a man deepens his intelligence, as he broadens his mind and comprehension, to contemplate G‑d’s greatness,

אזי מרומזת בינתו באות ה״א, שיש לה רוחב

his now-developed understanding, the faculty of Binah, is alluded to by the letter hei, that has breadth, indicating the breadth of his understanding.

וגם אורך, המורה על ההמשכה מלמעלה למטה

[The hei] also has length, to indicate downward extension,

להוליד מבינתו והתבוננותו בגדולת ה׳ אהבה ויראה ותולדותיהן

so that from his understanding and contemplation of G‑d’s greatness, he arouses love and fear and their offspring, i.e., the other emotive attributes, which are termed the offspring or branches of love and fear,

במוחו ותעלומות לבו

in his mind and in the recesses of his heart, At this early stage in the generation of the spiritual emotions of love and fear and so on, they are not yet manifest.

ואחר כך בבחינת התגלות לבו

until ultimately they find overt expression in his heart. The downward progression of intellect into the realm of emotions is thus indicated by the vertical length of the letter hei.

ומזה נמשכה עבודה האמיתית בעסק התורה והמצות, בקול ודבור או מעשה

These [spiritual emotions] lead to the true service of G‑d, in Torah study and mitzvah observance, with voice and speech or with deed. True divine service is that which is motivated by the love and awe of G‑d, as explained above in Part I, ch. 4.

הן אותיות וא״ו ה״א וכו׳

This is the import of the [final] letters vav and hei [of the Four-Letter Name, Havayah]..., for vav alludes to voice and speech, while hei alludes to action.

וגם ההתבוננות, להבין ולהשכיל באמתתו וגדולתו ית׳, נמשכה גם כן מן התורה

Furthermore, contemplation that endeavors to understand and conceive of G‑d’s true being, also derives from Torah, I.e., such contemplation must necessarily be preceded by the study of Torah,

דאורייתא מחכמה נפקא, היא בחינת יו״ד של שם הויה וכו׳

for1 “Torah proceeds from Chochmah,” which is the yud of the Tetragrammaton. FOOTNOTES 1. Zohar II, 85a, 121a.