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 5

The previous chapter taught that the Jewish soul is a part of the Tetragrammaton, the internal aspect of G‑dliness, from which it derives. In this it differs from other created beings whose source is more external — the Divine Name Elokim and Supernal speech.

However, in order that the soul be able to become enclothed in a physical body in this corporeal world, it had to descend through ever more concealing planes by means of the letters that comprise the Divine Utterance, “Let us make man.”

Deriving as it does from the internal aspect of the Divine life-force, the soul itself is thus loftier than the degree of Supernal speech; it merely undergoes a descent through Divine speech. It is for this reason that concerning the infusion of man’s soul into the body the Torah uses the expression “He blew,” indicating that it comes from an internal level, for “he who blows, does so from the innermost aspect of his being.”

Because the soul is part of the Tetragrammaton, it also comprises ten faculties that parallel the Ten Sefirot that are found within the Tetragrammaton.

chanoch adds: There are 10 letters in the spelled out Name of HaShem. Here is one example: יוד הי ויו הי. Each letter represents and is a metaphor for each of the Sefirot.

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to say that even though the soul was invested in the body through the external agency of speech — the Utterance “Let us make man”— nevertheless it derives from the internal aspect of speech, namely, “breath”. In this regard man differs from all other creatures, including angels, which derive their existence from the external aspect of speech. Accordingly, both the internal and external aspects of the soul derive from the internal aspect of G‑dliness, the internal aspect of the soul deriving from the internal aspect of G‑dliness, namely, the Tetragrammaton, the external aspect of the soul deriving from the internality of the external level of Divine speech.

והנה המשכת וירידת הנפש האלקית לעולם הזה, להתלבש בגוף האדם

Bringing the G‑dly soul down into this physical world to invest itself in a human body, this process resulting from Divine speech, viz., the Utterance “Let us make man,”

נמשכה מבחינת פנימיות ומקור הדבור

derives from the internal aspect, the source, of speech.

הוא הבל העליון המרומז באות ה׳ תתאה כנ״ל

This is the “breath” of the Supreme One that is indicated in the latter hei [of Havayah, the Four-Letter Name of G‑d] discussed above.

וכמו שכתוב: ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים, ויהי האדם לנפש חיה

As Scripture states concerning the vestiture of the soul within the body, “He blew into his nostrils a breath of life, and man became a living creature,”

ומאן דנפח מתוכיה נפח וכו׳

and “he who blows, does so from within him, [from his inwardness and innermost being].”

Thus, even the external aspect of the soul that is vested within the body is vested in an inward manner, albeit with the inwardness of speech — the internal aspect of the external level of speech. In this regard it is unlike the internal aspect of the soul which emanates from the most internal aspect of G‑dliness.

וזה שנאמר: כי חלק ה׳ עמו, יעקב חבל נחלתו

This, then, is the meaning of the verse, “For [G‑d’s] people is a part of G‑d; Jacob is the rope of His inheritance.”

This verse implies that within the soul there are to be found two levels: the internal aspect of the soul is “part of G‑d”; the external aspect of the soul is the “rope of His inheritance.”

פירוש: כמו חבל, על דרך משל, שראשו אחד קשור למעלה וקצהו למטה

The analogy is of a rope, whose upper end is bound above and the lower end below; so, too, the “upper end” of the soul is “bound Above” and its “lower end” is enclothed within the body.

כי הנה פשט הכתוב מה שנאמר: ויפח, הוא להורות לנו, כמו שעל דרך משל כשהאדם נופח לאיזה מקום

The simple meaning of the words “He blew” stated in reference to the soul’s vestiture within the body is to instruct us that just as, for example, if one blows in some direction,

Note from the Chabad Rebbe: The Rebbe queries why the Alter Rebbe should have introduced the forthcoming analogy with the seemingly superfluous preamble, “The simple meaning of the words ‘He blew’ is to instruct us....”

He proposes that the Alter Rebbe added these words in order to resolve a difficulty which would otherwise be inexplicable. For according to the Alter Rebbe’s explanation, the soul is drawn down in a number of successive stages: its initial source is the internal aspect of the life-force, and thereafter the internal aspect (the “breath”) of speech. (Both these concepts are adduced from the words “He blew,” which indicates inwardness, as mentioned above.) The soul later progresses through the letters of speech (for the Utterance “Let us make man” is composed of actual letters of speech, and does not derive from “blowing”, which is an aspect of breath). Only then does it become actually enclothed within the body of man. This ultimate stage, then, the implanting of the soul “into his nostrils,” comes about from speech, not from G‑d’s having “blown”.

Now speech is heard even if there is an obstruction between speaker and listener. Accordingly, when describing the soul already situated in the body, how is it appropriate to use the image of exhaled breath, that can be prevented by an obstruction from arriving at its destination?

It is this question that the Alter Rebbe answers by saying that the “simple meaning” of the verse is to “instruct us” that even after the Utterance “Let us make man,” i.e., even when the investiture of the soul in the body takes place by means of speech, it still retains the characteristics of “blowing”.

Just as an obstacle can obstruct the passage of breath, so, too, sins can obstruct the soul’s lifeline to G‑dliness. This explains why other creatures which derive their nurture through Divine “speech” are not subject to excision, for the sound of speech can penetrate an obstruction. Souls, however, throughout their sojourn in the body, constantly depend on the nurture which is (so to speak) blown into them; they must always have an unobstructed path to their life-source.

אם יש איזה דבר חוצ׳ ומפסיק בינתיים, אין הבל הנופח עולה ומגיע כלל לאותו מקום

and there is any separation or obstruction there, then the exhaled breath will not reach that place at all,

Note: The first edition of Iggeret HaTeshuvah here cited the instance of a person blowing “into the lungs of an animal.” The Rebbe once explained that this example was chosen because the Alter Rebbe wanted to draw on a source from the Torah, and according to Torah law (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De‘ah, beg. Sec. 39) an animal’s lungs are to be examined by being inflated.

ככה ממש, אם יש דבר חוצ׳ ומפסיק בין גוף האדם לבחינת הבל העליון

— precisely this is the case if any obstruction separates man’s body from the “breath” of the Supreme One, concerning which Scripture states, “He blew.”

אך באמת אין שום דבר גשמי ורוחני חוצ׳ לפניו יתברך

The truth is, though, that nothing material or spiritual is a barrier before Him,

כי הלא את השמים ואת האר׳ אני מלא

for, as the verse states, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”

ומלא כל האר׳ כבודו

Furthermore, Scripture states, “All the world is full of His glory.”

ולית אתר פנוי מיניה

Also, “There is no place devoid of Him,”

בשמים ממעל ועל האר׳ מתחת, אין עוד

[and] “In the heavens above and on the earth below there is none else,”

ואיהו ממלא כל עלמין וכו׳

[and] “He fills all worlds….”

Since G‑d is everywhere and within everything, it is thus seemingly impossible for anything to act as a barrier before Him.

אלא כמו שכתוב בישעיהו: כי אם עונותיכם היו מבדילים ביניכם לבין אלקיכם

But as Isaiah declares, “Only your sins separate you from your G‑d.”

והטעם, לפי שהם נגד רצון העליון ברוך הוא, המחיה את הכל

The reason is that sins oppose the Will of the Supreme One, Who gives life to all,

כמו שכתוב: כל אשר חפ׳ ה׳ עשה בשמים ובאר׳

as in the verse, “Whatever G‑d wills He has done in heaven and earth.”

וכמו שנאמר לעיל, שהוא מקור השפעת שם הוי׳, ונרמז בקוצו של יו״ד

(It has been noted above, that [the Supreme Will] is the source of the sustenance issuing from the Tetragrammaton, and is represented in the “thorn” atop the letter yud.)

Inasmuch as the Tetragrammaton sustains all of creation, it follows that sins, which act in opposition to it, also oppose and conceal the Divine life-force. Sins are thus capable of preventing the Divine “breath” (concerning which it is written “He blew”) from reaching man.

וזהו ענין הכרת

This, then, is the meaning of excision:

שנכרת ונפסק חבל ההמשכה משם ה׳ ברוך הוא, שנמשכה מה׳ תתאה כנ״ל

the “rope” drawn from the final hei in the Four-Letter Name of G‑d is severed, cut off.

As a result, the soul clothed within the body is unable to receive vitality from its source in that Divine Name. During those times when the Jewish people received their vitality only from the “side” of holiness (as for example during the period of the Temple, as the Alter Rebbe will say in the next chapter), the lack of this life-force led to physical death.

וכמו שכתוב בפרשת אמור: ונכרתה הנפש ההיא מלפני, אני ה׳

As the verse says in Parshat Emor: “That soul shall be cut off from before My face; I am G‑d.”

The verse here uses the Tetragrammaton in referring to G‑d. Excision thus involves being sundered from the internal aspect of G‑dliness. It is this that the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say.

מלפני דייקא

The expression chosen is “from before My face”; i.e., the soul is excised from the innermost aspect of G‑dliness, the Tetragrammaton.

ובשאר עבירות שאין בהן כרת

Other sins that do not incur excision

על כל פנים הן פוגמין את הנפש כנודע, ופגם הוא מלשון פגימת הסכין

do cause at least a defect in the soul, in the sense of the defect or nick that invalidates a blade for ritual slaughter.

As with the defective blade, a sin causes something to be lacking in the rope-like flow of life-force from the Tetragrammaton downward to the soul, as is now explained.

והוא על דרך משל מחבל עב, שזור מתרי״ג חבלים דקים

This is analogous to a thick rope woven of 613 thin strands.

ככה חבל ההמשכה הנ״ל כלול מתרי״ג מצות

So, too, the “rope” of the downward flow mentioned above is comprised of the 613 mitzvot, each mitzvah being an individual thin strand.

The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe here offers a remarkably novel thought — that every Jew receives vitality in this world from all 613 mitzvot, even though the commandments given to Kohanim do not apply to commoners, many commandments cannot be performed simultaneously, and the like.

Note continued: Possibly, continues the Rebbe, this may be understood in light of the Alter Rebbe’s explanation in Kuntreis Acharon, in the essay that begins, “To Understand the Details of the Laws...” (p. 159b.) [There the Alter Rebbe writes that even the laws that perhaps never have practical application derive from Supernal Wisdom.]

וכשעובר ח״ו על אחת מהנה, נפסק חבל הדק וכו׳

When one violates one of them, G‑d forbid, a thin strand consisting of that particular commandment is severed….

Should an individual violate many commandments, G‑d forbid, then many strands are severed and the “rope” is grievously weakened. Sins punishable by excision (or death by divine agency) cause the entire “rope” to be severed, heaven forfend.

אך גם בחייב כרת ומיתה, נשאר עדיין בו הרשימו מנפשו האלקית

But even if one has incurred excision or death, there yet remains an impression within him of his Divine soul,

ועל ידי זה יכול לחיות עד נ׳ או ס׳ שנה, ולא יותר

and through this he may live until fifty (in the case of excision) or sixty years (in the case of death by divine agency), but no more.

ומה שכתוב בשם האריז״ל, שנכנסה בו בחינת המקיף וכו׳

(As to the statement attributed to the AriZal, that the makkif, a transcendent level of life-force, enters such an individual, and so on,

Though unable to receive vitality from the internal aspect of G‑dliness, he is still able to receive vitality from this transcendent (lit., “encompassing”) level of G‑dliness. If this is indeed so, why can he not live longer than fifty or sixty years?

אינו ענין לחיי גשמיות הגוף

this is irrelevant to the life of the physical body, which cannot survive once there remains no vestige of the Divine soul,

Note: At this point the Rebbe refers the reader to Likutei Torah, Devarim 62c, where the Alter Rebbe explains that excision applies only to the level of “Yaakov” within the soul, but not to the level of “Yisrael”. He also cites Likutei Torah, Devarim 83b, where the Alter Rebbe speaks of one who has incurred excision. Though of him it is written, “For my father and mother have forsaken me,” yet the continuation of the same verse (Tehillim 27:10) also applies to him: “...but G‑d has taken me in.” The encompassing level of the soul remains intact. Though within his soul the Jew’s innate love of G‑d is not manifest (“does not shed light”), yet in him too this love is still present, though concealed.

ומיירי עד נ׳ שנה

and applies only until fifty years,

I.e., the transcendent level is also found within an individual only so long as he is able to remain alive by virtue of the impression of the Divine soul that is still within his body.

או בזמן הזה, וכדלקמן

or to the contemporary period, as will be noted.)

In this era, when a Jew’s vitality reaches him through becoming clothed in unholy media, it is possible for a person to live even after his soul has been sundered from its source in the Four-Letter Name of G‑d. This is why it is now possible for someone liable to excision or death by divine agency to live longer than fifty or sixty years. And during this time, the holy life-force which must be found within a Jew is received from the transcendent level, as the AriZal teaches.

chanoch adds: The Kabbalah Center teaches that each all night study of Kabbalistic material like the Zohar or the writings of the ARI removes the judgment of 1 Karet - 1 level of cutting off. While i studied with Rabbi Berg and his children there was a period of several months where once a week this was done within each Kabbalah Center where ever in the world. It only stopped when the "Chevre" were too exhausted to continue.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

beginning of Chapter 6

The Alter Rebbe opened the fourth chapter by beginning to explain the concept of repentance according to the mystical approach to the Torah. He prefaced his commentary by noting that according to Scripture and our Sages a person who committed a sin punishable by excision would actually die before his fiftieth year, while one who committed a sin punishable by death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.

The Alter Rebbe thereupon posed the following question: How is it, he asked, that “in every generation there are so many individuals liable to excision and death [by Divine agency] who nevertheless enjoy extended and pleasant days and years!”

In answer, the Alter Rebbe explained that the soul is part of the Divine Name Havayah, the Tetragrammaton. Furthermore, both the internal and external aspects of the soul are “blown” or “breathed” forth, i.e., their source is the innermost reaches of G‑dliness. The innermost core of the soul derives from the internal aspect of the Tetragrammaton, the internal level of holiness. And even the external level of the soul, which is drawn down into man’s body through the Utterance “Let us make man,” derives from the internal aspect of this Utterance. Thus all aspects of the soul, even as enclothed within the body, ultimately derive from an act of “blowing”. And it is noted in ch. 5 that unlike speech, which can be heard even when something separates the listener from the speaker, exhaled breath does not reach its destination when there is an intervening obstruction (in this case, the individual’s sins).

The Alter Rebbe next uses this image and another to explain the concept of excision. The Jewish people’s relationship to G‑d is compared in Scripture to a rope, whose upper end is bound above and whose lower end is bound below — “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] inheritance.” This rope is the lifeline through which G‑dliness is drawn down even into the external aspect of the soul that lodges within the body. Sins, especially those incurring excision, sever this lifeline, thus preventing the life-force which is “blown” forth to penetrate to the soul that is invested in the body. In the past, this meant that a person liable to excision would actually die before his fiftieth year, while a person liable to death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.

In this, the sixth chapter, the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that this applied only during the time when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel, for then each Jew’s spiritual sustenance reached him only from the “side” of holiness — from the Four-Letter Name of the Infinite One.

In times of exile, however, when the Divine presence too is (so to speak) in exile, even the life-force of holiness can be drawn down through a garb of kelipah. It is therefore then possible that even individuals guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency continue to receive their vitality, even though their spiritual lifeline to the Tetragrammaton has been severed. This explains why during the era of exile even those guilty of the above-mentioned sins can live long lives. Parenthetically, this also provides them with the opportunity to repent and rectify their past misdeeds.

אמנם זהו בזמן שהיו ישראל במדרגה עליונה, כשהיתה השכינה שורה בישראל בבית המקדש

However, all this obtained when Israel was on an elevated plane, when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel in the Beit HaMikdash.

Note of the Rebbe: “This indicates the level of the Jewish people at that time.”

Note of the Rebbe: “This applies to the world as a whole and to the Divine Presence. Specifically, with regard to man, there is yet another aspect.”

ואז לא היו מקבלים חיות לגופם רק על ידי נפש האלקית לבדה, מבחינת פנימיות השפע שמשפיע אין סוף ברוך הוא, על ידי שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא, כנ״ל

Then the body received its vitality only through the divine soul, from the innermost source of the life-giving power issuing from the Infinite One, through the Tetragrammaton, as discussed above.

Note of the Rebbe: “I.e., also with regard to each and every individual.”

Thus, if the spiritual lifeline emanating from the Tetragrammaton was severed, it was impossible for them to continue living. However, as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say, once they had fallen from that spiritual height, and thereby diverted the flow of the Divine life-force from its accustomed course, even deliberate transgressors can now receive their vitality as freely as do mere creatures.

אך לאחר שירדו ממדרגתם, וגרמו במעשיהם סוד גלות השכינה

But they then fell from their estate, and through their actions brought about the mystic exile of the Divine Presence,

That the Divine Presence should be in a state of exile among the forces of unholiness is indeed an inconceivable mystery.

Note from the Rebbe: Indicates a source in the Iggeret HaKedoshim - Letter regarding Holiness for further explanation.

כמו שכתוב: ובפשעיכם שולחה אמכם

as the verse states, “Through your sins was your mother banished.”

Note of the Rebbe: “At first glance it is incomprehensible that man’s actions should cause the exile of the Divine Presence. The Alter Rebbe therefore provides proof and also an explanation: (a) proof — that it is indeed so; (b) an explanation — for the Divine Presence is ‘your mother.’”

“Your mother” refers to the Divine Presence, the “mother of the children” (as explained in Part I, ch. 52), also known as Knesset Yisrael, the source of Jewish souls — the level of Malchut of Atzilut. In the context of the letters that constitute the Tetragrammaton, this corresponds to the final hei, from which proceeds the “rope” or “lifeline” to the soul.

דהיינו, שירדה השפעת בחינת ה״א תתאה הנ״ל, ונשתלשלה ממדרגה למדרגה למטה מטה

This means that the benevolence flowing forth from the above-mentioned lower letter hei of the Tetragrammaton was lowered far down, from plane to plane,

עד שנתלבשה השפעתה בי׳ ספירות דנוגה

until it became enclothed in the Ten Sefirot of nogah,

Inasmuch as the kelipah called nogah includes an admixture of goodness, it is composed of Ten Sefirot, corresponding to the Ten Sefirot of holiness.

המשפיעות שפע וחיות על ידי המזלות וכל צבא השמים והשרים שעליהם

which transmit the benevolence and vitality through the hosts of heaven and those charged over them,

“They do so in any case (and not necessarily because of the state of exile discussed here; rather, as a result of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge; see below.

chanoch adds: What is above Heaven? Additional Heavens connected to the worlds of Briah and Atzelut.

לכל החי הגשמי שבעולם הזה, וגם לכל הצומח

to every living physical being in this world, even to vegetation,

כמאמר רז״ל: אין לך כל עשב מלמטה שאין לו מזל וכו׳

as our Sages state: “There is no blade of grass below that has no spirit [Above that smites it and commands it: Grow!]”

Thus, the life-force of all living beings — even of vegetation, which expresses its vitality through growth — derives from the kelipah of nogah.

ואזי יכול גם החוטא ופושעי ישראל לקבל חיות לגופם ונפשם הבהמיות

Hence, even the sinful and deliberate transgressors of Israel may receive vitality [from it] for their bodies and animal souls,

Note of the Rebbe: “It would seem that the text should read ‘transgressor’, in the singular.”

chanoch adds: This is because there is only one transgressor against Israel and that is Satan who utilizes any Creation even those that are connected to HaShem yet not fully. Students of Kabbalah will ask many questions about this statement and contemplate their answers.

כמו שאר בעלי חיים ממש

exactly as other living creatures do,

כמו שנאמר: נמשל כבהמות נדמו

as Scripture states, that there exists a state wherein human beings are “likened and similar to beasts.”


In fact, not only is it possible for the sinner to receive his nurture from kelipah as do animals and other living beings, but indeed,

ביתר שאת וביתר עז

with even greater emphasis and force.

על פי המבואר מזהר הקדוש פרשת פקודי, שכל שפע וחיות הנשפעות לאדם התחתון

For, as explained in the holy Zohar, Parshat Pekudei, all the benevolence and vitality granted mortal man

בשעה ורגע שעושה הרע בעיני ה׳, במעשה או בדיבור או בהרהורי עבירה וכו׳

while he commits evil in the eyes of G‑d, in deed or speech, or by musing on sin, and so on, i.e., through any of the three soul-garments of thought, speech and action, —

The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe may have added the words “and so on” for the following reason. In Part I, ch. 11, the Alter Rebbe differentiates between two situations: (a) contemplating the commission of a sin, (b) “and even where one does not actually contemplate committing a sin, but indulges in contemplation on the carnal union of male and female in general.” The term “and even” seems to imply that the latter form of contemplation is not an entirely distinct form of sin (for which reason no distinct mention of it is made in Iggeret HaTeshuvah). Nevertheless some reference to it must be made here, and this the Alter Rebbe does by adding the words “and so on.”

הכל נשפע לו מהיכלות הסטרא אחרא המבוארים שם בזהר הקדוש

all [this life-force] issues to him from the [various] chambers of the sitra achra described there in the holy Zohar.

והאדם הוא בעל בחירה, אם לקבל השפעתו מהיכלות הסטרא אחרא, או מהיכלות הקדושה שמהם נשפעות כל מחשבות טובות וקדושות וכו׳

The choice is man’s — whether to derive his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achra, or from the chambers of holiness from which flow all good and holy thoughts, and so on.

The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe may have added the words “and so on” for the following reason. In Part I, ch. 11, the Alter Rebbe differentiates between two situations: (a) contemplating the commission of a sin, (b) “and even where one does not actually contemplate committing a sin, but indulges in contemplation on the carnal union of male and female in general.” The term “and even” seems to imply that the latter form of contemplation is not an entirely distinct form of sin (for which reason no distinct mention of it is made in Iggeret HaTeshuvah). Nevertheless some reference to it must be made here, and this the Alter Rebbe does by adding the words “and so on.”

When one’s thoughts, words and deeds are wholesome and holy, he receives his nurture from holiness; when his thoughts, words and deeds are evil, he derives his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achra.

The Rebbe comments that it seems to be entirely superfluous for the Alter Rebbe to state that “the choice is man’s.” He goes on to provide two possible explanations.

Note 1: (a) Paradoxically, this statement is indeed novel: The Alter Rebbe desires to emphasize that even in times of exile, when “through your sins was your mother banished,” and the benevolence flowing forth from the latter hei is enclothed in the kelipah of nogah, man can still choose to receive his vitality from the chambers of holiness.

This is possible because the garment of nogah becomes nullified to its wearer — to holiness, and is thereby itself transformed to goodness and absorbed within holiness. This recalls the statement in Part I, early in ch. 40, that in the case of the holy letters of Torah and prayer, the kelipah of nogah is converted to good and is absorbed into holiness.

(This explanation, that the Alter Rebbe wished to tell us that even in times of exile man can choose to derive his nurture from the chambers of holiness, does not accord with the explanation given in Likutei Biurim BeSefer HaTanya, by Rabbi Yehoshua Korf.)

(b) Another possible explanation (which would also go a long way in explaining why it is specifically here that the Alter Rebbe states that “the choice is man’s”): The Alter Rebbe means to tell us that it is specifically during the times of exile, when they “fell from their estate,” that Jews can choose to receive their vitality from the chambers of sitra achra. This, however, could not be done during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, as explained at the end of ch. 5 above. [For at that time, if the “rope” connecting a person to his spiritual source was severed — if, for example, he committed a sin punishable by excision — he could not live at all; during that period Jews truly could not receive their vitality from the kelipah of nogah.]

chanoch adds: It is extremely important to start to realize the full impact of this state. This is because in the western world we are taught that there is nothing wrong with "looking" only with "touching". Do you see the connection?

כי זה לעומת זה עשה האלקים וכו׳

For “one opposite the other did G‑d make….”

Every manifestation of holiness has a counterpart in the kelipah and sitra achra.

והיכלות הסטרא אחרא מקבלים ויונקים חיותם מהתלבשות והשתלשלות השפע די׳ ספירות דנוגה

The chambers of the sitra achra derive their vitality from the issue of the Ten Sefirot of nogah that is embodied within them and that descends into them by stages,

הכלולה מבחינת טוב ורע, היא בחינת ע׳ הדעת וכו׳, כנודע ליודעי ח״ן

and [this kelipah of nogah] is comprised of good and evil, as in “the Tree of Knowledge [of good and evil],” as is known to those who are knowledgeable in the Kabbalah.

Since the kelipah of nogah is composed of both good and evil it serves as a source, after a multitude of descents, for the evil of the chambers of the sitra achra — the reservoir from which a man is refuelled when he sins in thought, speech or action.

The Alter Rebbe now resumes his explanation of why a sinful person not only receives his vitality from the “other side” like other living creatures, but in fact does so to an even greater degree. Since through his freely-chosen thoughts, words and deeds it was the sinner himself who replenished the reservoirs of the kelipot with life-force of Divine origin, it is he who will now have to swallow the lion’s share of those reservoirs.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

end of Chapter 6

Scripture states: “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] heritage.”

The Rebbe observes that the analogy of the rope is introduced here in terms that suggest that it is a novel thought, when in fact it occupied the whole of the previous chapter. By way of explanation, the Rebbe writes that the Alter Rebbe is indeed introducing a thought that is not only novel but even contrary to what was written in the previous chapter; moreover, this approach will explain much of the variance between the two chapters.

In brief: The Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 4 how a soul is part of the Tetragrammaton. He went on to explain in ch. 5 how this soul-level descends into the body by way of “Jacob, ...the rope of His inheritance, ...whose upper end is bound above and the lower end below.” In ch.6, however, the Alter Rebbe emphasizes that the movements of the lower end of the rope also affect the upper end. Furthermore, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to say here, this rope not only descends as far as “Jacob” but even provides additional life-force to the chambers of unholiness; i.e., the effect of the rope is able to descend even lower than the level of “Jacob” which it itself embodies.

This is the anomaly that the Alter Rebbe resolves, when he repeats that a person’s sins make him descend so sharply that he reaches the lowly level of the very kelipot and sitra achra “from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.” Since the sinful individual sinks to such a low level that in this respect he is a recipient from the kelipot, his “rope” descends there as well, and the kelipot and sitra achra are able to receive their life-force from its lower extremity.

chanoch adds: In the hope of assisting your understanding of this note here is my vision Imagine a rope that is fixed and attached to the Creator himself at the top and attached yet swinging at the bottom which is in the lowest level of the Klipot. How can something be attached and yet swing free? The swing is limited to a specific area of the Klipot. Each Creature has a location on the rope which slides up and down. Thus one can fall and one can rise. As one moves along the rope one impacts the swing of the rope above and below his or her current location.

על דרך משל: כמו החבל שראשו אחד למעלה וראשו השני למטה

The analogy [compares the soul of a Jew] to a rope, with one end above and the other end below.

אם ימשוך אדם בראשו השני, ינענע וימשך אחריו גם ראשו הראשון, כמה שאפשר לו להמשך

When one pulls the lower end he will move and pull after it the higher end as well, as far as it can be pulled.

וככה ממש בשרש נשמת האדם ומקורה מבחינת ה״א תתאה הנ״ל

It is exactly so with regard to the root of the soul of man and its source in the lower letter hei.

הוא ממשיך ומוריד השפעתה על ידי מעשיו הרעים ומחשבותיו

Through one’s evil deeds and thoughts one draws down the life-force [issuing from the higher letter hei]

עד תוך היכלות הסטרא אחרא, כביכול, שמשם מקבל מחשבותיו ומעשיו

into the chambers of the sitra achra, as it were, from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.

Although a person punishable by excision has severed his ropes, so to speak, he is still able to draw down the life-force issuing from the higher letter hei into the chambers of the sitra achra. The reason, as is explained elsewhere in the literature of Chassidut, is that even after the rope is severed, some external vestige of it survives. And it is through this remnant that the life-force of holiness is drawn down into the chambers of the kelipot.

ומפני שהוא הוא הממשיך להם ההשפעה, לכן הוא נוטל חלק בראש, וד״ל

Because it is he, the sinful individual, who draws the flow of vitality into [the chambers of the sitra achra], it is he who receives the greatest portion from them.

I.e., in even greater measure than do other living creatures. Nevertheless, it is explained in the literature of Chassidut that ultimately the sinner will cease to draw vitality from this flow, for the sitra achra can serve a Jew as a source only temporarily.

This will suffice for the understanding.

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: אין בידינו לא משלות הרשעים וכו׳

Hence the statement of our Sages, of blessed memory: “It is not within our hands (i.e., it is not given us) to understand the reason for either the tranquillity of the wicked [or the suffering of the righteous].”

בידינו דוקא, כלומר: בזמן הגלות אחר החורבן

The quotation specifies “in our hands,” i.e., in this time of exile after the Destruction, when the wicked receive added vitality through the kelipot and sitra achra.

וזוהי בחינת גלות השכינה, כביכול

This is an expression of the “Exile of the Divine Presence,” as it were, during which time the life-force emanating from the lower letter hei flows into the kelipot,

להשפיע להיכלות הסטרא אחרא אשר שנאה נפשו ית׳

viz., [G‑d’s] granting [supplementary measures of] life-force to the chambers of the sitra achra that He despises.

וכשהאדם עושה תשובה נכונה, אזי מסלק מהם ההשפעה שהמשיך במעשיו ומחשבותיו

But when the sinner repents appropriately, he then removes from them the life-force that he had drawn into them through his deeds and thoughts,

כי בתשובתו, מחזיר השפעת השכינה למקומה

for by his repentance he returns the flow issuing from the Shechinah to its proper place.

וזהו תשוב ה״א תתאה מבחינת גלות

This, then, is the meaning of [the teaching of the Zohar, quoted in ch. 4, that “teshuvah is] tashuv hei, the return of the lower hei from exile” — that the lower level of repentance consists of returning the Shechinah, which is represented by the lower letter hei of the Tetragrammaton, from its state of exile.

וכמו שכתוב: ושב ה׳ אלקיך את שבותך

As the verse states, “The L‑rd, your G‑d (the source of your soul), will return (i.e., bring back) those of you who return”;

כלומר: עם שבותך

regarding the verb as being intransitive, this means [that G‑d Himself will return] with your return.

chanoch adds: The Name of HaShem is a Verb - That Verb is the verb of "to be". This verb is intransitive. What does intransitive mean? An intransitive verb is defined grammatically is that a verb is intransitive if it does not take a direct object. Hope that helps to understand this meaning. Contemplate this meaning.

וכמאמר רז״ל: והשיב לא נאמר וכו׳


As our Sages have commented on this verse, “Scripture does not say, ‘He shall bring back,’ [but that He Himself will return].”

The verse is thus telling every Jew: When through repentance you extricate yourself from your own spiritual exile, you will thereby liberate “your G‑d” — the Shechinah, the source of your soul — from His exile too.

chanoch adds: This is relating to the Chassidus teaching that HaShem needs Mankind. My Kabbalistic teachers disagree with this teaching. They teach that when a person does Teshuvah thew Hai which represents the Schechinah is reattached to the other letters of the Name and the effect is to return the energy to you that was originally transferred to the Klipot by your acceptance of the thought from the negative system which you allowed to manifest through your words and deeds.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

beginning of Chapter 7

In the language of the Zohar, the lower level of repentance entails returning the lower latter hei of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d to its rightful place — returning the Shechinah, which is the source of Jewish souls, from the exile to which it was banished by transgression. For when a man sins, the Divine vitality that flows forth from the Shechinah descends into the chambers of kelipah and sitra achra, and from there that individual in turn derives nurture at the time of his sins. Repentance redeems the Shechinah from its exile and returns the flow to its proper place.

This was the theme of the previous chapter.

ואולם דרך האמת והישר לבחינת תשובה תתאה ה״א תתאה הנ״ל, הם ב׳ דברים דרך כלל

However, the true and direct path to the lower level of teshuvah, returning the lower letter hei as noted above, involves two general elements.

These two elements are: (a) awakening G‑d’s supreme compassion for his soul, and (b) the subjugation and nullification of evil. Both are necessary in order to ensure that the lower level of repentance will be true and direct.

The Rebbe notes that although we have previously learned (ch. 1) that the kernel of repentance is a firm and wholehearted resolution not to commit a particular sin again, nevertheless without the two basic elements about to be discussed such repentance will be neither true nor direct.

Truth implies permanence, as in the verse, “The lip of truth shall be established forever.” Should one fail to take the preparatory steps about to be mentioned here, it is entirely possible that his forsaking sin — described above as repentance — will not be everlasting, hence not truthful.

Furthermore, these steps also make one’s repentance “direct”. For a state of repentance can also be arrived at very indirectly, as in the case of R. Elazar ben Durdaya, who was led to repentance by circumstances which were in themselves evil. The direct path to repentance, by contrast, is found by means of the steps that the Alter Rebbe now describes.

האחד הוא לעורר רחמים העליונים, ממקור הרחמים, על נשמתו ונפשו האלקית

The first is to awaken supreme compassion from the Source of mercy for one’s Divine spirit and soul,

There are two distinct states of Divine compassion, indicated by the terms “Merciful Father” and “Father of Mercy”. The former term ( אב הרחמן) merely signifies that G‑d possesses the attribute, or middah, of mercy — and since middah means not only “attribute” but also “measure”, it refers to a finite quality of mercy. The latter term ( אב הרחמים) stresses the fact that G‑d is the father, or fountainhead, of all mercy. Arousing His essential quality of mercy “from the Source of mercy” thus means arousing His infinite measure of compassion — supreme compassion.

שנפלה מאיגרא רמה, חיי החיים ברוך הוא

that has fallen from a lofty height (lit., “rooftop”), the Infinite Source of Life,

לבירא עמיקתא

into a deep pit,

Not merely from a rooftop but from a “lofty rooftop”; not merely into a pit, but into a “deep pit.”

הן היכלות הטומאה והסטרא אחרא

namely, the chambers of defilement and sitra achra.

As explained in the previous chapter, a person’s sins degrade his soul to the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra. Finding itself in such a sorry state, such a soul is indeed in need of Divine compassion.

ועל מקורה במקור החיים, הוא שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא

[One should arouse Divine compassion] as well for the source [of the soul] in the Source of Life, the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

Since the soul is rooted in the Tetragrammaton, its degradation — brought about by sin — correspondingly causes the flow of holiness that emanates from the Tetragrammaton to descend into the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra. Hence not only the soul, but its Source too, is to be pitied.

וכמו שכתוב: וישוב אל הוי׳ וירחמהו

As the verse states: “He shall return to G‑d and He will have compassion for him”; i.e., the sinner shall return to G‑d and have compassion for Him.

But how are we to understand the concept of arousing mercy for the Tetragrammaton?

פירוש: לעורר רחמים על השפעת שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא, שנשתלשלה וירדה תוך היכלות הסטרא אחרא הטמאים להחיותם

This means, arousing compassion for the life-giving power issuing from the Four-Letter Name, that has descended by stages into the chambers of the impure sitra achra, to give them vitality.

על ידי מעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו ומחשבותיו הרעים

[This descent was brought about] by the deeds of man, and his evil schemes and thoughts.

Evil thoughts alone suffice to make the vitality descend into the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra.

וכמו שכתוב: מלך אסור ברהטים, ברהיטי מוחא וכו׳

As the verse says, “The king is bound with gutters,” [which is interpreted to mean that “the King is bound] with the gutters of the mind….”

As explained by the Rebbe, the image is of the various channels and gutters of the mind through which thoughts, like gushing currents, rush fleetingly. Thus, even transient evil thoughts that one harbors ephemerally can bind and shackle the King; they can exile the flow of vitality emanating from the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

היא בחינת גלות השכינה כנ״ל

And this state, as noted above, is the exile of the Shechinah — the Divine Presence, the level of Malchut (“Kingship”) of the World of Atzilut.

וזמן המסוגל לזה הוא בתיקון חצות

The auspicious time for this [arousal of compassion] is Tikkun Chatzot, the midnight lament for the exile of the Divine Presence,

כמו שכתוב בסדור בהערה, עיין שם באריכות

as pointed out in the note to Tikkun Chatzot in the Siddur; see there at length.

וזה שכתוב שם: נפלה עטרת ראשינו, אוי נא לנו כי חטאנו

We thus find [in that prayer], “The crown of our head is fallen; woe to us, for we have sinned”; i.e., sin causes the soul’s Source (“the crown of our head”) to topple into the depths of the kelipot and sitra achra.

ולכן נקרא הקב״ה מלך עלוב בפרקי היכלות, כמו שכתב הרמ״ק ז״ל

Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, is called the “humiliated King” in Pirkei Heichalot, as R. Moshe Cordovero wrote,

כי אין לך עלבון גדול מזה

for there is no humiliation deeper than this, than the ignominy of exile within the realm of the kelipot.

ובפרט כאשר יתבונן המשכיל בגדולת אין סוף ברוך הוא, ממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין

Especially when a thoughtful person meditates on the greatness of the Infinite One, Who permeates all worlds and encompasses all worlds, for G‑d provides vitality to created beings both in a manner which “permeates” each recipient according to its individual capacity, as well as in a manner that transcends and “encompasses” them,

כל אחד ואחד לפי שיעור שכלו והבנתו

each person [meditating upon G‑d’s greatness] according to the range of his intellect and understanding,

יתמרמר על זה מאד מאד

he will be extremely grieved over this.

The richer one’s perception of G‑d’s majesty, the more intense will be his feeling of compassion for his own soul and for its Source, the bound and humiliated King.

והב׳: לבטש ולהכניע הקליפה והסטרא אחרא

The second element [in one’s preparation for a true and direct path to repentance] is to crush and subdue the kelipah and sitra achra,

אשר כל חיותה היא רק בחינת גסות והגבהה

whose entire being is simply grossness and arrogance;

כמו שכתוב: אם תגביה כנשר וגו׳

as the verse states, “If you exalt yourself like the eagle….”

והביטוש וההכנעה עד עפר ממש, זוהי מיתתה וביטולה

This crushing and subjugation, absolutely to dust, is its death and nullification.

היינו: על ידי לב נשבר ונדכה, ולהיות נבזה בעיניו נמאס וכו׳

[Evil is crushed] through a broken and contrite heart, a sense of personal unworthiness, repugnance, and so forth.

As explained in Part I, ch. 29, the animal soul — even of a Beinoni, how much more so of a sinner — is the very person himself. When his heart is humbled, his animal soul which derives from kelipah is, of course, humbled as well. Thus, crushing and subduing one’s arrogance crushes the kelipot and sitra achra.

וכמו שכתוב בזהר הקדוש, על פסוק: זבחי אלקים רוח נשברה, לב נשבר ונדכה וגו׳

This is described in the Zohar on the verse, “Offerings to G‑d (Elokim) are a broken spirit; (i.e., the offering consists of breaking the spirit of the kelipot and sitra achra, and this is achieved through) a heart broken and contrite….”

כי כל קרבן מן הבהמה הוא לשם הוי׳, היא מדת הרחמים

For all animal offerings are dedicated to G‑d (the Tetragrammaton), the attribute of mercy.

This is why all verses which speak of offerings to G‑d, refer to Him with the Tetragrammaton.

אבל לשם אלקים, היא מדת הדין, אין מקריבין קרבן בהמה

To Elokim, however, the Name indicating the attribute of justice, no animal offering is brought.

כי אם


I.e., what is considered an offering to Elokim, for the verse does, after all, state “the offerings to Elokim”?

לשבר ולהעביר רוח הטומאה והסטרא אחרא, וזהו רוח נשברה

[the offering is] the shattering and removing of the spirit of defilement and sitra achra. This is the meaning of a “broken spirit.”

והאיך נשברה רוח הסטרא אחרא, כשהלב נשבר ונדכה וכו׳

How is the spirit of the sitra achra broken? When the heart is broken and contrite….

Note of the Rebbe: “This, too, is implied in the Zohar.”

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

middle of Chapter 7

האיך נשבר הלב ונדכה

And how is the heart to be broken and humbled?

הנה מעט מזעיר הוא על ידי סיגופים ותעניות

Only a very minor part of this can be accomplished through mortification and fasts

בדורותינו אלה, שאין לנו כח להתענות הרבה כדוד המלך

in these generations of ours, when we have not the strength to fast as much as did King David;

כמאמר רז״ל על פסוק: ולבי חלל בקרבי, שהרגו בתענית

as our Sages comment on the verse uttered by him, “And my heart is slain within me” — “ for he had destroyed [his Evil Inclination] by fasting.”

אך עיקר הכנעת הלב, להיות נשבר ונדכה

But the true humbling of the heart, so that it be broken and crushed,

והעברת רוח הטומאה והסטרא אחרא

and so that the spirit of impurity and sitra achra will be removed,

הוא להיות ממארי דחושבנא בעומק הדעת

is achieved through being a “master of accounting” with all the profundity of one’s mind.

One’s personal stocktaking should be as scrupulous as the accounting made by the master or owner of a business, to whom every detail is critical.

להעמיק דעתו ובינתו שעה אחת בכל יום או לילה לפני תיקון חצות

One should concentrate his intellect and understanding deeply for a period every day, or at night before Tikkun Chatzot,

להתבונן במה שפעל ועשה בחטאיו, בחינת גלות השכינה כנ״ל

to contemplate how through his sins he has brought about the exile of the Divine Presence, as noted above,

וגרם לעקור נשמתו ונפשו האלקית מחיי החיים ברוך הוא

and caused his spirit and Divine soul to be uprooted from the Divine Source of all Life,

והורידה למקום הטומאה והמות, הן היכלות הסטרא אחרא

and demeaned it to a place of defilement and death, namely, the chambers of the sitra achra,

ונעשית בבחינת מרכבה אליהם

[his soul] becoming a vehicle for them,

Just as a vehicle has no will of its own and is completely subservient to the desires of its driver, so, too, is his soul subservient to the impure chambers of the sitra achra from whence it derives nurture.

לקבל מהם שפע וחיות להשפיע לגופו, כנ״ל

receiving from them vitality to endow his body, as noted above — that the nurture and life-force of the sinner emanate from the kelipot and sitra achra.

Meditation along these lines will bring a man to a state of contrition — itself a fit offering to the Divine Name Elokim.

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: רשעים בחייהם קרויים מתים

Thus our Sages declared that “the wicked while alive (lit., ”in their life“) are called ‘dead’.”

כלומר, שחייהם נמשכים ממקום המות והטומאה

This means to say, that their life is derived from the site of death and impurity — from the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra, as opposed to holiness, which is true life.

וכן מה שכתוב: לא המתים יהללו וגו׳, אינו כלועג לרש, חס ושלום

(Accordingly, the verse that says that “the dead will not praise...” is no “mockery of the impoverished,” G‑d forbid, for it does not refer to those who are physically dead.

אלא הכוונה על הרשעים, שבחייהם קרויים מתים

Rather, the reference is to the wicked who, while alive, are called dead, and being spiritually dead are unable to praise G‑d,

שמבלבלים אותם במחשבות זרות בעודם ברשעם, ואינם חפיצים בתשובה, כנודע

for they are confused with alien thoughts while yet in their wickedness, and do not desire repentance, as is known.)

While in such a state, the evil person will find it well nigh impossible to praise G‑d fittingly, because of the confusing alien thoughts which are thrust upon him.

Thus, an individual will become contrite of heart when he contemplates how his soul has been uprooted from its Source because of a sin incurring excision or death by divine agency.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that even sins which do not carry so harsh a penalty may still have the same effect.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

end of Chapter 7

ואף מי שלא עבר על עון כרת וגם לא על עון מיתה בדי שמים

Even one who has never violated a sin punishable by excision or a sin incurring death by divine agency,

שהוא הוצאת זרע לבטלה וכהאי גוונא

such as vain emission and the like,

אלא שאר עבירות קלות

but other less severe sins,

אף על פי כן, מאחר שהן פוגמים בנשמה ונפש האלקית

nonetheless, since they cause a defect in the spirit and Divine soul,

וכמשל פגימת ופסיקת חבלים דקים כנ״ל

as in the analogy of the fine strands of rope that are defective or severed, as noted above — in ch. 5, which describes the 613 strands that together comprise the lifeline of the soul, and when one transgresses one of the 613 commandments, one of these strands is severed,

הרי בריבוי החטאים יכול להיות פגם כמו בלאו אחד שיש בו כרת ומיתה

therefore, through an accumulation of sins there can eventually be a defect as grave as from one prohibition involving excision or death.

ואפילו בכפילת חטא אחד פעמים רבות

This would be true even when a single sin is repeated numerous times.

Note of the Rebbe: “The proof of the Ran is well known (and it appears as an actual point of law in the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe, Orach Chayim 328:16) — that the repeated transgression of a prohibition of the Torah involving a quantity that is less than the minimal punishable amount, is more serious than transgressing a prohibition that incurs death by lapidation! (Incidentally, this serves to prove (cf. below) that a multitude of seemingly lesser sins can ‘darken as much..., and even more.’)”

Far from merely damaging the selfsame strand repeatedly, the repetition of even the same sin weakens and jeopardizes the rope as a whole.

כמו שהמשיל הנביא החטאים לענן המאפיל אור השמש

In this manner the prophet compares sins to a cloud that dims the light of the sun


כמו שנאמר: מחיתי כעב פשעיך

As the verse states, “I have erased your transgressions like a thick cloud” (that can dissipate).

הם עבירות חמורות, המבדילות בין פנימית השפעת שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא לנפש האלקית

This refers to the grave sins (3that are barriers) between the internal aspect of the power flowing forth from the Tetragrammaton, and the Divine soul.

כהבדלת ענן עב וחשוך המבדיל בין השמים לאר׳ ולדרים עליה, על דרך משל

This is like the separation of a thick, dark cloud that stands between the sun and the earth with its inhabitants.

Note of the Rebbe: “This phrase would appear to be superfluous. Possibly it relates to two details in the analogue: the lower hei (Malchut, earth); the divine soul (‘with its inhabitants’).”

וכענן חטאתיך, הן עבירות קלות שאדם דש בעקביו

[The above verse continues:] “…and your sins like a cloud.” These are the lesser sins that man tramples under his heel,

המבדילות כהבדלת ענן קל וקלוש, על דרך משל

[sins] that obscure as does a thin and wispy cloud.

והנה, כמו שבמשל הזה, אם משים אדם נגד אור השמש בחלון מחיצות קלות וקלושות לרוב מאד, הן מאפילות כמו מחיצה אחת עבה, ויותר

In the illustration, if one obscures the sunlight streaming through a window with many fine and flimsy curtains, they will darken as much as one thick curtain will, and even more.

וככה ממש הוא בנמשל

This is exactly so in the analogue,

בכל עונות שאדם דש בעקביו

with all those cloud-like sins upon which man tramples indifferently, because they seem to be of little import: they obscure the Divine light by their multitudinous repetition as do many fine curtains, “darkening as much as one thick curtain will, and even more”;

ומכל שכן המפורסמות מדברי רז״ל, שהן ממש כעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

and certainly with those sins that our Sages often warned against, that are actually like idolatry, immorality and bloodshed.

כמו העלמת עין מן הצדקה

For example: ignoring the needy,

כמו שכתוב: השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וגו׳

concerning which Scripture writes, “Beware lest there be in your heart something unworthy….”

ובליעל היא עבודת אלילים וכו׳

Beliyaal (here translated “unworthy”) is used in reference to idolatry..., from which we learn that ignoring the needy is likened to idolatry.

והמספר בגנות חבירו, היא לשון הרע, השקולה כעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

Or talebearing, the evil tongue, that is equated to idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed.

וכל הכועס כאילו עובד עבודה זרה

Likewise, the vile-tempered is like the idolatrous,

וכן מי שיש בו גסות הרוח

and so is the arrogant.

וכהנה רבות בגמרא

There are many such cases described in the Talmud — of sins whose punishment is not as severe as that of idolatry and the like, but which nonetheless effect a similar spiritual blemish,

ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולן

and [the sin of neglecting] the study of the Torah equals them all.

כמאמר רז״ל: ויתר הקב״ה על עבודה זרה וכו׳

As our Sages assert, “G‑d has overlooked idolatry, [immorality and bloodshed, but has not overlooked the sin of neglecting Torah study].”

Thus, sins such as ignoring the needy, talebearing, and so on, though not carrying the punishment of excision or death by the hand of heaven, nonetheless sever the soul from its Divine source.

ולכן סידרו בקריאת שמע שעל המטה, לקבל עליו ד׳ מיתות בית דין וכו׳

For this reason it was ordained that in the course of Keriat Shema at the bedside one should accept the four executions of the court, and so on.

Note of the Rebbe: “Even though it is not the function of Iggeret HaTeshuvah to explain the prayers, this comment is relevant here because one of the themes of the bedside Keriat Shema is stocktaking and teshuvah. (See also Part I, end of ch. 7.)”

This acceptance is recited even by those who have never committed capital sins, because many other sins blemish the soul to the same degree as do those which are punishable by any of the four executions administered by the court.

מלבד שעל פי הסוד כל הפוגם באות יו״ד של שם הוי׳ כאילו נתחייב סקילה

Besides, according to Sod, the mystical dimension of the Torah, causing a defect in the yud of the Tetragrammaton is like incurring lapidation;

chanoch adds: Lapidation is death by stoning

והפוגם באות ה״א כאילו נתחייב שריפה

causing a defect in the hei is like incurring burning;

ובאות וי״ו כאילו נתחייב הרג

[causing a defect] in the vav is like incurring the sword;

ובאות ה״א אחרונה כאילו נתחייב חנק

and [causing a defect in] the latter hei is like incurring strangulation.

והמבטל קריאת שמע פוגם באות יו״ד, ותפילין באות ה״א

Neglecting the Shema impairs the yud, and tefillin the hei,

וציצית באות וי״ו ותפלה באות ה״א וכו׳

tzitzit the vav, and prayer the latter hei, and so on.

We thus see that according to the Kabbalah the soul can be blemished through other sins just as by a capital sin. Undertaking the “four executions” clears the soul of these blemishes.

ומזה יוכל המשכיל ללמוד לשאר עונות וחטאים

From this a thinking man can infer for other sins and transgressions (The Rebbe adds: “…which one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton they are related to, and thus, to which manner of execution”),

וביטול תורה כנגד כולן

and for [the sin of] neglecting the study of the Torah, which is equivalent to them all.

All the above lends the thinking person a contrite heart, as he grows aware of the blemish caused even by his supposedly lesser sins.

This contrition is the second preparatory step along the “true and direct” path to the lower level of repentance. For contrition crushes the kelipot and sitra achra and enables a man to repent truthfully, earnestly regretting his past misdeeds and firmly resolving to better his future ways.

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

Chapter 8

Two basic elements, as the Alter Rebbe made clear in the previous chapter, enable the lower level of repentance to be true and direct: (a) considering how one's soul and its Source, the Shechinah, are to be pitied, and arousing Supreme compassion upon them; (b) making a thoughtful, soulful and accurate accounting of the extent to which one's own sins have brought about the “exile of the Shechinah.” This will make one's heart humble and contrite, which in turn will crush the spirit of the kelipot and sitra achra.

והנה אחרי העמקת הדעת בכל הנ"ל

After deeply considering all this,

יוכל לבקש באמת מעומקא דלבא כרוב רחמיך מחה פשעי וכו'

one can truly plead, from his inmost heart, “In accordance with Your abounding compassion, erase my transgressions….”

This verse is recited during Tikkun Chatzot as well as during the bedside reading of Keriat Shema - propitious times for spiritual stocktaking, which will enable him to recite it wholeheartedly.

כי אזי תקבע בלבו באמת גודל הרחמנות על בחי' אלקות שבנפשו ושלמעלה כנ"ל

For by then his heart will be thoroughly impressed with the pathetic state of the spark of Divinity within his soul, and [in his soul's Source] Above, as noted earlier.

ובזה יעורר רחמים העליונים מי"ג מדה"ר הנמשכות מרצון העליון ברוך הוא

He will thereby arouse Supreme mercy, from the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which derive from the Supreme Will,

הנרמז בקוצו של יו"ד

alluded to by the “thorn” atop the yud,

שלמעלה מעלה בחינת ההשפעה הנשפעת מאותיות שם הוי'

which by far transcends the flow issuing from the letters of the Tetragrammaton.

Sins cause a blemish in the individual letters of the Tetragrammaton, as explained above. This causes the flow emanating from there, and from which a Jew derives his life-force, to descend into the kelipot and sitra achra and provide them with additional nurture.

When one arouses the Supreme mercies of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which emanate from the level of the Supreme Will that transcends the letters of the Tetragrammaton, he is then able to rectify the letters and redirect their flow into his soul.

ולכן הי"ג מדות הרחמים מנקים כל הפגמים

Therefore, on account of their lofty origin, these Thirteen Attributes of Mercy correct all defects,

וכמו שכתוב נושא עון ופשע ונקה

as it is written, “He bears sin and transgression…, and cleanses.”

With this awakening of mercies following the contrition,

ושוב אין יניקה להחיצונים והסטטרא אחרא מהשפעת ה"א תתאה כנ"ל

there is no further nurture for the evil (lit., “extraneous”) forces and for the sitra achra from the life-force emanating from the lower hei, as noted.

(ובזה תשוב ה"א תתאה למקומה להתייחד ביה"ו וד"ל)

(The latter hei thereupon returns to its proper place, reunited with [the preceding three letters of the Tetragrammaton,] yud-hei-vav. This will suffice for the understanding.)

This, then, is the meaning of the statement quoted in chapter , that the lower level of teshuvah consists of the “return of the lower hei.”

וכן ממש למטה בנפש האלקית שבאדם

Just as there is a restoration of the hei Above, exactly so below in the Divine soul within man,

שוב אין עונותיכם מבדילים

no more do “your sins separate [you from G-d].”

שכתוב ונקה מנקה הוא לשבים

Thus it is written, naming one of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, “He cleanses,” on which our Sages comment, “He cleanses those who return to Him in penitence,”

לרחוץ ולנקות נפשם מלבושים הצואים הם החיצונים

to lave and cleanse their souls of the soiled garments, which are the evil (lit., “extraneous”) forces, i.e., the kelipot and sitra achra,

כמו שכתוב בגמרא מלפפתו וכו'

that the Talmud describes as [a garment born of a man's sin that] “envelops him….”

ומאחר שרוח עברה ותטהרם

After the “wind [of forgiveness] passes over [the souls of sinners] and purifies them,”

Note of the Rebbe: “Iyov 37:21. The meaning of the verse is that the wind clears the heavens of clouds. So too in analogue, the breath of repentance spirits away the dense cloud of sin.”

אזי תוכל נפשם לשוב עד הוי' ברוך הוא ממש

then their souls are enabled to return literally unto G‑d Himself,

ולעלות מעלה מעלה למקורה ולדבקה בו יתברך ביחוד נפלא

to ascend the greatest heights, to their very Source, and cleave to Him with a remarkable unity,

כמו שהיתה מיוחדת בו יתברך בתכלית היחוד בטרם שנפחה ברוח פיו ית'

in ultimate union with Him, just as before the soul was blown forth by the breath of His mouth

לירד למטה ולהתלבש בגוף האדם

to descend and be incorporated within the body of man.

(וכמו על דרך משל באדם הנופח ברוח פיו בטרם שיוצא הרוח מפיו הוא מיוחד בנפשו)‏

(To illustrate this unity: Before one exhales, the breath is one with the person, inseparably.)

Likewise, just as the soul was utterly united with G‑d before it was “blown” or “breathed” into the body, so too, does it now unite with Him after repentance.

וזו היא תשובה שלימה

This is perfect return - Teshuvah.

והנה בחינת יחוד זה ותשובה זו היא בחינת תשובה עילאה, שלאחר תשובה תתאה

This state of unity and this return are called teshuvah ila'ah, the higher level of repentance, that follows teshuvah tata'ah, the lower level of repentence.

וכמו שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש ברעיא מהימנא פרשת נשא דתשובה עילאה היא דיתעסק באורייתא בדחילו ורחימו דקודשא בריך הוא וכו'

The Zohar, in Ra'aya Mehemna (Parshat Nasso), explains that Teshuvah ila'ah means engaging in the study of the Torah, in awe and love of the Holy One, Blessed be He….

The Zohar goes on to say that doing so makes one worthy of the revelation of the letter vav of the Tetragrammaton,

דאיהו בן י"ה בינה וכו'

for this [letter vav] is the child of yud-hei, or Binah….

Binah is the level of Teshuvah ila'ah, the return of the higher letter hei of the Tetragrammaton. The word itself is a composite of the words “ben yud-hei.” This alludes to the spiritual emotions of love and fear (represented by the letter vav) that are born of the intellective levels of the Tetragrammaton, the yud of Chochmah and the hei of Binah.

(ומעלת בעלי תשובה על צדיקים גמורים בזה היא

(Herein lies the superiority of penitents over the perfectly saintly.

Seemingly, the study of Torah permeated with love and fear of G‑d, is not the unique prerogative of penitence; the perfectly saintly do this as well. Wherein lies the superiority of baalei teshuvah?

כמו שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש פרשת חיי שרה: דאינון משכי עלייהו ברעותא דלבא יתיר ובחילא סגי, לאתקרבא למלכא וכו')

As the Zohar states in Parshat Chayei Sarah “They draw upon themselves with a more intense longing of the heart, and with great forcefulness, to approach the King….”)

Igeret HaTeshuva ,

Chapter 9

The Alter Rebbe explained at the conclusion of the previous chapter that through teshuvah ila'ah, the higher level of repentance, the soul is totally cleansed and purified. It then ascends and cleaves to G‑d with the same degree of unity that it enjoyed before it descended into the body. Furthermore, the Alter Rebbe quoted the Zohar to the effect that teshuvah ila'ah involves studying Torah with awe and love of G‑d.

In the fourth chapter, however, he explained that teshuvah ila'ah involves reinstating the higher letter hei of the Tetragrammaton. What possible connection does this have with studying Torah out of love and fear of G‑d, when these two spiritual emotions are related to the letter vav?

In order to resolve this seeming anomaly, the Alter Rebbe will now explain that the love and fear discussed in the present chapter are generated intellectually: they result from meditation upon G‑d's greatness, and are thus the offspring of Binah. It is specifically this kind of love and fear that unites the hei and the vav — the intellect with the resulting emotions.

וביאור הענין, כמו שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש ותיקונים בכמה מקומות

The explanation of this subject — which levels of love and fear are related to the upper hei — is as discussed frequently in the Zohar and Tikunnim

דבינה איהי תשובה עילאה

that Binah is the higher level of teshuvah,

והאם רובצת על האפרוחים וכו'

“the mother crouching over the chicks….”

I.e., Binah is the mother of her offspring — the love and fear of G‑d.

דהיינו שעל ידי שמתבונן בגדולת ה' בהעמקת הדעת

One ought to meditate profoundly and with concentration on the greatness of G‑d

ומוליד מרוח בינתו דחילו ורחימו שכליים

and through his comprehension arouse a sense of intellectual awe and love

ובטוב טעם ודעת

on rational grounds.

כענין שנאמר: לאהבה את ה' אלקיך משום כי הוא חייך וגו'

This love is that of the verse, “To love the L-rd your G‑d…. because He is your life….” — a love based on a reason.

ולא די לו באהבה טבעית המסותרת לבד וכו'

He will not be content with the endowed, latent love alone….

This is concealed in the heart of every Jew and needs but to be revealed; such a worshipper, though, creates instead a love of G‑d through his own intellectual endeavor.

וכן ביראה ופחד

So too with fear and terror of G‑d

או בושה וכו' כנודע

or shame…. as is known.

This is a deeper form of awe in which one feels abashed in G‑d's presence, hence fearing to rebel against Him by sinning.

When one's spiritual emotions of love and fear are born in the mind, then]:

אזי נקראת האם רובצת על האפרוחי' וכו'

this is termed “the mother crouching over the chicks….” Binah has given birth and hovers over her offspring — the love and fear of G‑d.

והנה עיקר האהבה היא אתדבקות רוחא ברוחא

Ahavah, the love of G‑d, is primarily the cleaving of spirit to Spirit,

Note of the Rebbe: “There are many differences between the way in which the `cleaving of spirit to Spirit' is explained here, and earlier on in chapter 49 [of Part I].”

כמו שכתוב: ישקני מנשיקות פיהו וגו' כנודע

as the verse expresses it, “He kisses me with the kisses of his mouth….”

A physical kiss unites the inner breath or spirit of two individuals. Similarly, the internal aspects of the soul and G‑dliness are united through the “breath” or speech of Torah, through good deeds, and more specifically through the concentrated study of Torah, as explained in Part I, Chapter 45.

ועל זה נאמר: ובכל נפשך

With regard to this [cleaving of spirit to Spirit] the verse says5 [that “you shall love the L-rd your G‑d….] with all your soul,”

שהם הם כל חלקי הנפש, שכל ומדות ולבושיהם מחשבה דיבור ומעשה, לדבקה כולן בו יתברך

which means that the love is to be so intense that all aspects of the soul — intellect and emotions, and their garbs of thought, speech and deed — are to cleave to G‑d.

דהיינו: המדות במדותיו יתברך מה הוא רחום וכו'

This means that man's emotive faculties are to be bound up with His6 — “As He is merciful [so should you be merciful]…”

Thus when a person acts kindly out of the attribute of compassion, for example. this emotive faculty of his is bound up with G‑d's.

והשכל בשכלו וחכמתו יתברך

So, too, man's intellect adheres to G‑d's intellect and wisdom;

הוא עיון התורה דאורייתא מחכמה נפקא

this refers to the concentrated study of Torah, for “the Torah issues from Wisdom.”

וכן המחשבה במחשבתו יתברך

So, too, is man's thought [to be united] with G‑d's,

והדיבור בדבר ה' זו הלכה

and his speech [is to be unified with] “the word of G‑d, which is the Halachah,”

וכמו שכתוב: ואשים דברי בפיך

as in the passages which speak of the Torah: “I have placed My word in your mouth,”

ודברי אשר שמתי בפיך

and “My words that I have placed in your mouth.”

והמעשה הוא מעשה הצדקה

Man's deeds [shall likewise be united with His deeds] through works of charity,

להחיות רוח שפלים

to revive the spirit of the crestfallen,

Acting thus unites man with His Maker, for He too provides life and “revives the spirit” of created beings",

כמו שכתוב: כי ששת ימים עשה ה' וגו' כנודע במקום אחר

as the verse states “For six days G‑d wrought….,” as is explained elsewhere.

The expression used concerning G‑d's activity during the Six Days of Creation — a verb expressing action and doing — indicates that the Divine powers had to descend even to the nethermost level of mere action, in order to create and vitalize the inconsequential beings of creation.

וזו היא אתדבקות דרוחא ברוחא, בתכלית הדביקות ויחוד, כשהיא מחמת אהבה וכו'

This is the cleaving of spirit to Spirit — the ultimate attachment and union that result from love….

Ultimate union with G‑d through Torah study is attained only when it is the result of love. Thus, while it is true that when one studies Torah simply out of one's acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven he also achieves a measure of the cleaving of spirit of Spirit, this cannot compare to the degree of attachment that is attained when the same study is motivated by a love of G‑d. Hence, since teshuvah ila'ah is a manifestation of the soul's ultimate attachment with G‑d, it follows that “Teshuva ila'ah means engaging in the study of Torah in awe and love of the Holy One, blessed be He,” as the Zohar teaches.

ולפי שפגם הברית בהוצאת זרע לבטלה

Since the violation of the covenant through wasteful emission,

ואין צריך לומר בעריות, או שאר איסורי ביאה דאורייתא או דרבנן

to say nothing of incestuous relations, or other unions prohibited by the Torah or the Sages

(כי חמורים דברי סופרים וכו')

( for “the words i.e. the prohibitions of the Sages are more grave [than even the words i.e., the prohibitions of the Torah]”),

פוגם במוח

causes a blemish in the mind,

לכן תיקונו הוא, דיתעסק באורייתא דמחכמה נפקא

therefore his rectification is secured by engaging in the study of the Torah, which derives from Wisdom.

This explains why it was stated in Chapter 4 that only teshuvah ila'ah — “engaging in the study of the Torah in awe and love of the Holy One, blessed be He” — is effective in remedying this sin.

וזהו שכתוב בתנא דבי אליהו: אדם עבר עבירה ונתחייב מיתה למקום, מה יעשה ויחיה

We therefore find in Tana devei Eliyahu: "A man commits a sin and is liable to death before Al-mighty (for the above-mentioned sin carries with it the punishment of death by Divine agency); what shall he do and live?

אם היה רגיל לקרות דף אחד יקרא ב' דפים, לשנות פרק אחד ישנה ב' פרקים וכו'

If he was accustomed to studying one page [of Written Law], let him study two; if he was accustomed to studying one chapter [of the Oral Law], let his study two chapters…."

Why is sin punishable by death by Divine agency, such as the sin of wasteful emission, rectifiable by an increase in Torah study?

והיינו: כמשל חבל הנפסק וחוזר וקושרו

This resembles a rope that is severed and then reknotted:

שבמקום הקשר הוא כפול ומכופל

the site of the knot is twofold and fourfold thicker than the rest of the rope.

וככה הוא בחבל נחלתו וכו'

So it is with the “rope of [G‑d's] heritage,” with the soul's bond with its Source.

If this relationship was severed by sin, then repentance must reknot the cord doubly and fourfold. And this is accomplished through the study of the Torah.

וזהו שאמר הכתוב: בחסד ואמת יכופר עון וכו'

Thus Scripture states, “Through kindness and truth is sin forgiven …..,”

ואין אמת אלא תורה

and “there is no truth but Torah….”

Thus it is through the study of Torah that sin is forgiven.

ועון בית עלי בזבח ומנחה הוא דאינו מתכפר, אבל מתכפר בתורה וגמילות חסדים

Similarly, on the statement in Scripture that “the sin of the house of Eli will not be atoned by sacrifices and offerings,” the Gemara comments: “By sacrifices and offerings will the sin of the House of Eli not be atoned, but it will be atoned through the study of Torah and through good deeds,”

כדאיתא בסוף פרק קמא דראש השנה

as explained at the end of the first chapter of Rosh HaShanah.

Note from The Rebbe: In his glosses on Tanya, the Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe's reference to “the end of the first chapter” is somewhat problematic, for this statement appears four pages before the end of that chapter, on page 18a.