In the previous chapters, the Alter Rebbe discussed the difference between the tzaddik and the Beinoni. The tzaddik has no evil inclination. Since there is no longer any evil in his own soul, evil holds no attraction for him. In the Beinoni, however, the evil remains strong. The Beinoni therefore finds evil desirable, and it is only through the constant vigilance and struggle of his divine soul that he is able to prevent his animal soul from implementing its desires in thought, speech and action.
ובזה יובן מה שכתוב
With this distinction in mind, we may understand the verse:
ושבתם וראיתם בין צדיק לרשע, בין עובד אלקים לאשר לא עבדו
“And you will return and see the difference between the righteous man and the wicked one, between he who serves G‑d and he who serves Him not.”
The Talmud raises the question: The term “righteous man” is identical with “he who serves G‑d,” and “the wicked man” is obviously “he who serves Him not.” Why, then, does the text repeat the contrast? In answer, the Talmud states: “Both ‘he who serves G‑d’ and ‘he who serves Him not’ are fully righteous; yet one who reviews his studies one hundred times cannot compare to he who reviews his studies 101 times.”
However, this answer seems to clarify only the second set of seemingly repetitive terms — “the wicked man” and “he who serves Him not.” Far from being wicked, “he who serves Him not” is so described only because he reviews his Torah studies no more than 100 times. Yet we remain with the difficulty posed by the first set of identical descriptions — “the righteous man” and “he who serves G‑d.” In fact, the above-quoted Talmudic interpretation of the verse adds yet a third category: “he who serves Him not,” yet is also righteous! It is this difficulty that the Alter Rebbe now resolves, based on his previous distinction between the tzaddik and the Beinoni.
שההפרש בין עובד אלקים לצדיק הוא שעובד הוא לשון הוה, שהוא באמצע העבודה
The difference between “he who serves G‑d” (oved) and a righteous man (tzaddik) is that “he who serves G‑d,” written in the present tense, describes one who is still presently laboring in his divine service.
שהיא המלחמה עם היצר הרע, להתגבר עליו, ולגרשו מהעיר קטנה
This service consists of the struggle against one’s evil nature with the aim of overpowering it, and banishing it from the “small city” i.e., the body, which is like a city whose conquest is the objective of both the good and the evil nature,
שלא יתלבש באברי הגוף
so that it should not vest itself in the organs of the body through evil thought, speech or action. Doing battle against his evil nature is the avodah (“service”) of “he who serves G‑d.”
שהוא באמת עבודה ועמל גדול להלחם בו תמיד
This constant battle with one’s evil nature truly entails much effort (“service”) and toil.
This is the Beinoni.
It is he who must wage this battle; it is the Beinoni who is called “he who serves G‑d,” for he is actively engaged at present in his service.
אבל הצדיק נקרא עבד ה׳ בשם התואר
The tzaddik, on the other hand, is designated “a servant (eved) of G‑d,” as a title conferred on the person himself; it is not merely a description of one’s active role as is the designation “one who serves.”
כמו שם חכם או מלך, שכבר נעשה חכם או מלך
The term “servant” is similar to the title “sage” or “king”, bestowed on one who has already become a sage or king.
כך זה כבר עבד וגמר לגמרי עבודת המלחמה עם הרע, עד כי ויגרשהו וילך לו, ולבו חלל בקרבו
So, too, he (the tzaddik) has already effected and completely accomplished his “service” of waging war with the evil in him. He has banished it and it is gone from him, leaving the seat of evil nature in his heart “void within him.” Having completed this task, the tzaddik has earned the title “servant of G‑d.”
We now see that the expressions “a righteous man” and “he who serves G‑d” are not repetitious; “he who serves G‑d” is not a description of a tzaddik but of a Beinoni.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to discuss the difference between “he who serves G‑d” and “he who serves Him not,” who, as the Talmud declares, is not wicked.
ובבינוני יש ג״כ שתי מדרגות, עובד אלקים ואשר לא עבדו
In the category of Beinoni there are also two levels: “He who serves G‑d” and “he who serves Him not.”
ואף על פי כן אינו רשע
Yet he who “serves Him not” is not wicked, although he does not wage war with his evil nature,
כי לא עבר מימיו שום עבירה קלה
for never in his life has he committed even a minor transgression in the realm of negative commandments.
וגם קיים כל המצות שאפשר לו לקיימן, ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם
He has also fulfilled all the positive commandments which he was able to fulfill, including the precept of Torah study — which is equal to all the other commandments combined—
ולא פסיק פומיה מגירסא
to the extent that his mouth never ceased from study, despite the difficulty involved in this.
Yet he is still described as one who “does not serve G‑d,” for
שאינו עושה שום מלחמה עם היצר
he does not wage any battle against his evil inclination
לנצחו על ידי אור ה׳ המאיר על נפש האלקית שבמוח, השליט על הלב כנ״ל
to vanquish it through the aid of the Divine light that illuminates the G‑dly soul abiding in the brain, which rules over the heart — as explained above that the G‑dly soul and the Divine light illuminating it are the Beinoni’s answer to his evil inclination. He (“who serves Him not”) does not struggle with it —
מפני שאין יצרו עומד לנגדו כלל לבטלו מתורתו ועבודתו, ואינו צריך ללחום עמו כלל
for his evil inclination does not oppose him at all in an attempt to deter him from his Torah study and divine service, and thus he need not wage any war against it.
כגון שהוא מתמיד בלמודו בטבעו מתולדתו, על ידי תגבורת המרה שחורה
So it is, for example, with one who is by nature an assiduous student due to his stolid temperament,
וכן אין לו מלחמה מתאות נשים מפני שהוא מצונן בטבעו
and who is also free of conflict with sexual desire due to his frigid nature;
וכן בשאר תענוגי עולם הזה הוא מחוסר הרגש הנאה בטבעו
and similarly with other mundane pleasures he need not exert himself to master a desire for them, for he naturally lacks any feeling for enjoyment.
ולכן אין צריך להתבונן כל כך בגדולת ה׳, להוליד מבינתו רוח דעת ויראת ה׳ במוחו
For this reason he does not need to contemplate so much on the greatness of G‑d to consciously create a spirit of knowledge and fear of G‑d in his mind
להשמר שלא לעבור על מצות לא תעשה
in order to guard himself from transgressing any prohibitive commandments.
ואהבת ה׳ בלבו, לדבקה בו בקיום המצות, ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולן
He also need not create a love of G‑d in his heart, which would motivate him to bind himself to Him through fulfilling the positive commandments and through Torah study which equals all the other commandments together.
אלא די לו באהבה מסותרת אשר בלב כללות ישראל, שנקראו אוהבי שמו
The hidden love of G‑d found in the heart of all Jews, who are called “the lovers of His name,” is sufficient for him to motivate his fulfilling the commandments, since he is naturally so inclined.
For a Jew who must engage in battle with his evil inclination, the love hidden in his heart is not enough. He must arouse it to an active, conscious state. For the person who is free of conflict with evil, however, this hidden love (together with his naturally favorable character traits) is sufficient.
ולכן אינו נקרא עובד כלל
For this reason, he is not considered “one who is serving G‑d” at all.
כי אהבה זו המסותרת אינה פעולתו ועבודתו כלל, אלא היא ירושתנו מאבותינו לכלל ישראל, וכמ״ש לקמן
For this latent love is not of his making or achievement by any means. It is our inheritance, bequeathed by our Patriarchs to the entire Jewish nation, as will be explained further.
With this the Alter Rebbe concluded the thought that within the level of Beinoni there are two sub-categories — “he who serves G‑d,” and “he who serves Him not.”
He now goes on to say that even one who is not naturally endowed with traits favorable to G‑d’s service, may yet come under the category of “he who serves Him not.”
וכן אף מי שאינו מתמיד בלמודו בטבעו, רק שהרגיל עצמו ללמוד בהתמדה גדולה, ונעשה ההרגל לו טבע שני
So, too, he who is not inherently studious, but has accustomed himself to study diligently, so that this habit has become his second nature; thus, diligence is now natural for him,—
די לו באהבה מסותרת זו, אלא אם כן רוצה ללמוד יותר מרגילותו
for him, too, the hidden love of G‑d is now sufficient, unless he wishes to study more than he usually does.
To do so, he must arouse a conscious love of G‑d in his heart. Only such a love can supply the strength necessary to free himself from the restraints of his acquired nature.