In ch. 29 the Alter Rebbe began to deal with the problem of timtum halev, insensitivity of the heart. He quoted the statement of the Zohar that a body impervious to the light of the soul needs to be crushed. By crushing one’s spirit, one crushes the sitra achra of his animal soul, whose arrogance is the cause of timtum halev.

In chs. 29-30, the Alter Rebbe described various means of arriving at a feeling of contrition (lit., “brokenheartedness”); e.g., reflecting on one’s spiritual failings in not waging an adequately strenuous battle against his evil impulse, and realizing that one’s failure in this area places him on a level lower than that of the lowliest of his fellow Jews (as explained at length in ch. 30).

But while these methods may effectively dispel timtum halev, they would seem to have an undesirable side-effect — depression. Ch. 31 deals with this problem.

והנה אף אם כשיאריך הרבה להעמיק בעניינים הנ״ל כשעה ושתים להיות בנמיכת רוח ולב נשבר, יבא לידי עצבות גדולה, לא יחוש

Even if dwelling long and deeply into the above-mentioned matters for an hour or two, to be lowly of spirit and contrite of heart, leads one to profound depression, let him not be perturbed.

ואף שעצבות היא מצד קליפת נוגה ולא מצד הקדושה

True, atzvut (depression) derives from the realm of kelipat nogah, not of holiness.

כי בצד הקדושה כתיב: עוז וחדוה במקומו, ואין השכינה שורה אלא מתוך שמחה, וכן לדבר הלכה וכו׳

For concerning the realm of holiness it is written:1 “Strength and gladness are in His place”; and likewise, 2 “The Divine Presence abides... only in [man’s] joy,... and the same joy is required for the study of the Halachah.”

אלא שאם העצבות היא ממילי דשמיא היא מבחינת טוב שבנוגה

Any depression, then, comes from the realm of kelipat nogah, except that if the depression is due to spiritual matters arising from one’s realization of his spiritual failings, it stems from the good contained in kelipat nogah; for, as mentioned in ch. 1, kelipat nogah contains both good and evil — the evil in nogah is the source of ordinary depression, and the positive element in nogah gives rise to spiritually motivated depression. Yet, even the element of good contained in nogah is, after all, kelipah.

ולכן כתב האר״י ז״ל שאפילו דאגת העונות אינה ראויה כי אם בשעת הוידוי

( 3For this reason the AriZal writes that even worry over one’s sins is appropriate only during confession,

ולא בשעת התפלה ותלמוד תורה, שצריכים להיות בשמחה שמצד הקדושה דווקא

but not during prayer and Torah study. These must be conducted with a joy deriving exclusively from the realm of holiness, as opposed to frivolity and the like.)

Why then should one strive to crush the spirit of sitra achra with methods that lead to depression, which itself stems from the sitra achra of nogah

אף על פי כן, הרי כך היא המדה, לאכפיא לסטרא אחרא במינה ודוגמתה

Yet, this is precisely the method of humbling the sitra achra — through something of its own species and kind; i.e., the sitra achra is most effectively attacked by utilizing the good contained within it as a weapon against itself.

כמאמר רז״ל: מיניה וביה אבא לשדיה ביה נרגא, ופגע בו כיוצא בו

As our Sages expressed it: 4 “From the forest itself comes [the handle for] the ax [which fells the forest]”; and in a similar vein, 5 “He encountered one of his own kind.”

ועל זה נאמר: בכל עצב יהיה מותר, והיתרון היא השמחה הבאה אחרי העצב, כדלקמן

Of this sadness resulting from contemplation of one’s spiritual state it is written, 6 “In every sadness there will be profit.” The profit lies in the joy which follows the sadness, as will be explained later — i.e., in what way the sadness itself leads to joy.

אך באמת אין לב נשבר ומרירות הנפש על ריחוקה מאור פני ה׳ והתלבשותה בסטרא אחרא נקראים בשם עצבות כלל בלשון הקודש

In truth, however, the state of being contrite of heart and bitter of soul i.e., remorseful over one’s remoteness from G‑d, and over the fact that one’s soul is clothed in the sitra achra, — this state can by no means be described in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew) by the term “atzvut”.

The word atzvut, meaning “melancholy”, stems from a root which means “constricted”. In this context, it refers to a numbing depression that constricts one’s heart, blocking out all feeling, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

כי עצבות היא שלבו מטומטם כאבן ואין חיות בלבו

For “atzvut” means that one’s heart is as dull as a stone, and that there is no vitality — arousal of feeling — in his heart.

אבל מרירות ולב נשבר, אדרבה, הרי יש חיות בלבו להתפעל ולהתמרמר

But “bitterness” (merirut) and contrition are just the opposite, since the very fact that one is moved to be embittered is itself a sign of life,

רק שהיא חיות מבחינת גבורות קדושות, והשמחה מבחינת חסדים,כי הלב כלול משתיהן,

except that this vitality derives from the holy attributes of severity (gevurot) and it therefore expresses itself as bitterness, whereas joy derives from the holy attributes of kindness (chasadim), for the heart contains both these attributes — kindness and severity.

At any rate, we see that the dejection accompanying one’s disappointment with his spiritual situation stems from the realm of holiness, unlike atzvut, which derives from kelipat nogah. 7

והנה לעתים צריך לעורר בחינת גבורות הקדושות כדי להמתיק הדינים,שהם בחינת נפש הבהמית ויצר הרע כששולט חס ושלום על האדם,

At times one must arouse the holy attributes of severity (gevurot) in order to temper (lit., “sweeten”) stern judgements, which in this context denote the animal soul and the evil inclination, whenever it (the latter) dominates a man, G‑d forbid,

כי אין הדינים נמתקין אלא בשרשן

for stern judgements i.e., restraints on one’s spiritual wellbeing can only be “sweetened” by means of their source.

All evil is simply a degenerate form of the attribute of severity (gevurot) that derives from the realm of holiness. Myriad “contractions” (tzimtzumim) and descents of this attribute transform it to evil, the evil of kelipah. Naturally, this includes also the sitra achra of one’s animal soul and his evil impulse. In order to elevate or “sweeten” evil, to return evil to the realm of holiness, it is necessary to bring its source to bear on it. In terms of one’s divine service, this means crushing one’s evil impulse by merirut, bitter remorse, which derives its vitality from the holy attribute of severity — the source of the evil impulse.

ולכן אמרו רז״ל: לעולם ירגיז אדם יצר הטוב

For this reason our Sages said: 8 “One should always incite the good inclination to anger [against the evil inclination].”

Since anger stems from the attribute of severity, it is capable of “sweetening” the evil inclination.

והיינו בכל עת שרואה בנפשו שצריך לכך

The word “always” (“one should always incite...”) is, however, to be understood in a qualified sense. Joy, not severity, is usually the proper setting for divine service. Thus, when our Sages state that one should always incite the good inclination, this means — whenever he finds it necessary for himself; as, for example, when one sees that the arrogance of his animal soul does not permit the light of his divine soul to penetrate his heart, causing timtum halev.

אך שעת הכושר שהיא שעה המיוחדת וראויה לכך לרוב בני אדם

However, the appropriate time for this “anger” of the divine soul at the animal soul, meaning, the time which is opportune and fitting for most people,

היא בשעה שהוא עצב בלאו הכי ממילי דעלמא, או כך בלי שום סבה

is when one is in any case depressed over mundane matters, or just so, without any discernible cause. 9

אזי היא שעת הכושר להפך העצב, להיות ממרי דחושבנא הנ״ל

This is an opportune time for redirecting the depression toward spiritual matters, to be among the “masters of accounts” mentioned above, i.e., to engage in soul-searching and spiritual stocktaking,

ולקיים מאמר רז״ל: לעולם ירגיז וכו׳ כנ״ל

and to fulfill the previously mentioned teaching of our Sages, that one should always incite his good inclination against his evil inclination, since both of these paths harness the attribute of severity.

ובזה יפטר מהעצבות שממילי דעלמא

He will thus also be rid of the depression brought on by mundane matters.

I.e., redirecting his depression into soul-searching, and into anger at his evil inclination, will dispel the mundane depression.