In the previous chapters the Alter Rebbe explained how a Jew can perform Torah and mitzvot “with his heart” — with a love and fear of G‑d. When a Jew is motivated by love and by a desire to cleave to the Almighty, his Torah and mitzvot will then surely be lishmah, i.e., with the most purely focused intentions. This, in turn, will add vitality to his endeavors. It is also possible, as explained in the previous chapter, that his love for G‑d is such that he is motivated in his Torah and mitzvot by the desire to cause G‑d gratification, just as a son strives to do all he possibly can for his father, so that his father may derive pleasure from his actions.
Love and fear of G‑d stem from the two attributes of kindness (Chesed) and severity (Gevurah). The attribute of kindness and love is that exemplified by our forefather Abraham, who is described (Yeshayahu 41:8) as “Abraham who loves me.” The attribute of severity and fear is that of our forefather Isaac; the Patriarch Jacob refers to the G‑d of his father (Bereishit 31:42) as the “Fear of Isaac.”
In the chapter that follows the Alter Rebbe describes yet another manner of attaining the level of lishmah, of performing Torah and mitzvot with the innermost feelings of one’s soul. This approach consists of utilizing the third of the primary spiritual emotions, namely, compassion — the attribute of Tiferet (lit., “beauty”), which is the distinctive characteristic of our forefather Jacob — as follows. Before engaging in Torah and mitzvot a Jew should arouse in his mind the attribute of compassion for the divine spark of his soul. For the soul had to descend from its source, from the most lofty of spiritual heights, to the nethermost level, in order to garb itself in a body whose life-force derives from kelipot, and is as distant as possible from G‑d. This is all the more so if the individual caused the “Exile of the Shechinah” through improper thoughts, speech or deeds. With this sense of spiritual compassion he should study Torah and perform mitzvot, for they enable the soul, with the Divine spark that animates it, to return to its source in the blessed Ein Sof.
עוד יש דרך ישר לפני איש לעסוק בתורה ומצות לשמן
There is yet another direct path open to man, namely, to occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot that are lishman (lit., “for their own sake”), with the innermost feelings of heart and soul,
על ידי מדתו של יעקב אבינו, עליו השלום, שהיא מדת הרחמים
through the attribute of our forefather Jacob, peace unto him, this being the attribute of mercy.
לעורר במחשבתו תחלה רחמים רבים לפני ה׳
This is accomplished by first arousing in his mind i.e., before his performance of Torah and mitzvot, great compassion before G‑d,
על ניצוץ אלקות המחיה נפשו, אשר ירד ממקורו, חיי החיים, אין סוף ברוך הוא
for the Divine spark which animates his divine soul that has descended from its source, the Life of life, the blessed Ein Sof,
הממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין
Who pervades all worlds and animates them with a vitality which is enclothed in and compatible with the created beings and encompasses all worlds and animates them with a vitality that transcends created beings and affects them from without, as it were,
וכולא קמיה כלא חשיב
and in comparison with Whom everything is accounted as nothing,
This then, is the exalted level from which the soul has descended,
ונתלבש במשכא דחויא
and has been clothed in the body which is called “a serpent’s skin,”
The body is referred to as a skin, since it serves as a garment to the soul, as the verse states (Iyov 10:11), “You have garbed me with skin and flesh.” This is moreover the skin of a “snake”, since the body in its unrefined state is loathesome, as explained in ch. 31. The Divine spark must enter into such a body,
הרחוק מאור פני המלך בתכלית ההרחק
which is far removed from the light of the King’s countenance, at the greatest possible distance,
כי העולם הזה הוא תכלית הקליפות הגסות
since this world is the nadir of the coarse kelipot, i.e., this world is coarser than the coarsest of kelipot found in the spiritual worlds,
etc. The Rebbe notes that this word alludes to ch. 36, where the Alter Rebbe concludes that this world is “lowest in degree; there is none lower than it in terms of concealment of His light; [a world of] doubled and redoubled darkness, so much so that it is filled with kelipot and sitra achra, which actually oppose G‑d.”
Since the Divine spark of the soul is clothed in a body which is animated by the kelipat nogah of this world, it is removed at the farthest possible distance from G‑d. This descent in itself would suffice to arouse compassion for the Divine spark of the soul, even when the person has transgressed neither in action nor in speech nor even in thought.
ובפרט כשיזכור על כל מעשיו ודבוריו ומחשבותיו מיום היותו, אשר לא טובים המה
And especially will he feel great compassion for his soul when he recalls all his actions and utterances and thoughts since the day he came into being, unworthy as they were,
ומלך אסור ברהטים, ברהיטי מוחא
and the King of the world is thereby “fettered by the tresses,” i.e., “by the impetuous thoughts of the brain”; G‑d is, so to speak, “fettered” by his impetuous thoughts,
כי יעקב חבל נחלתו
for “Jacob — an appellation for the Jewish people — is the rope of His inheritance,”
The word chevel, usually translated as “lot” (i.e., a tract of land), is here interpreted by its alternative meaning of “rope”. When a rope has one end tied above, tugging at the lower end will draw down the upper end as well. The upper extremity of a Jew’s soul is likewise bound to its source in the blessed Ein Sof, while at its lower extremity it is enclothed in the body. When the lower extremity of the soul is dragged into spiritual exile through wrongful action, speech or thought, this has a corresponding effect upon the upper reaches of the soul which are bound Above.
וכמשל המושך בחבל
as in the above illustration of one pulling a rope,
and so forth. The Rebbe notes that this phrase may allude to Iggeret HaTeshuvah, ch. 5, where this matter is explained at length.
והוא סוד גלות השכינה
This is the esoteric doctrine of the “Exile of the Shechinah.”
A Jew’s sin causes his soul to be exiled within the domain of the kelipot. This in turn (so to speak) exiles the Shechinah, the source of his soul, too. Pondering this matter will awaken within a Jew a profound feeling of compassion for his soul and for its source. This compassion, as the Alter Rebbe will now point out, should be utilized in one’s study of Torah and performance of mitzvot. This will elevate his soul, enabling it to reunite with its source, the blessed Ein Sof.
ועל זה נאמר: וישוב אל ה׳ וירחמהו
Concerning this matter, that the pity is all the greater since even the soul’s source is in exile, it is written: “And let him return to G‑d, and have mercy upon Him,”
לעורר רחמים רבים על שם ה׳ השוכן אתנו, כדכתיב: השוכן אתם בתוך טומאתם
arousing great compassion towards the Divine Name Who dwells among us, as it is written: “Who dwells among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”
Even when Jews are (heaven forfend) in an unclean spiritual state, the Divine Name dwells among them. This arousal of compassion towards the Divine Name is what is alluded to in the previous phrase: “And let him return to G‑d,” the stimulus for his repentance being one’s “mercy upon Him,” i.e., the Divine Name, the source of Jewish souls, inasmuch as Jews are part of the Divine Name.