In the previous chapters, the Alter Rebbe explained how it is “very near to you,” i.e., how it is very easy and accessible to every Jew to serve G‑d with love and awe. He stated that this can be accomplished either by creating a love and fear of G‑d through meditation on G‑d’s greatness, or by arousing the “hidden love” (which also comprises a fear of G‑d) inherent in every Jew.
In the coming chapters, the Alter Rebbe will discuss means of overcoming possible obstacles in the path of one’s service to G‑d. In the first instance, he shows how one may overcome the sadness, and dullness of heart, whereby the heart becomes insensitive to feelings of love and fear of G‑d.
ברם כגון דא צריך לאודועי כלל גדול
But this must be made known as a cardinal principle:
כי כמו שנצחון לנצח דבר גשמי, כגון שני אנשים המתאבקים זה עם זה להפיל זה את זה
It is with the service of G‑d just as it is with a victory over a physical opponent; for instance, two people who wrestle with each other, each striving to fell the other.
הנה אם האחד הוא בעצלות וכבדות ינוצח בקל ויפול, גם אם הוא גבור יותר מחבירו
If one of them is lazy and sluggish he will easily be defeated and will fall, even if he be stronger than the other, since his laziness and sluggishness prevent him from revealing his strength.
ככה ממש בנצחון היצר
Similarly with the conquest of one’s evil nature.
Despite the fact that the good nature is stronger than the evil, for as explained in previous chapters, “Even a little of the light of holiness dispels much darkness of the kelipah,” yet here too the previous rule applies; and thus:
אי אפשר לנצחו בעצלות וכבדות, הנמשכות מעצבות וטמטום הלב כאבן
It is impossible to conquer the evil nature with laziness and sluggishness, which stem from sadness and a stone-like dullness of the heart,
כי אם בזריזות, הנמשכת משמחה ופתיחת הלב, וטהרתו מכל נדנוד דאגה ועצב בעולם
but rather with alacrity, which derives from joy and an open i.e., responsive heart that is unblemished by any trace of worry and sadness in the world.
ומה שכתוב: בכל עצב יהיה מותר, פירושו: שיהיה איזה יתרון ומעלה מזה
As for the verse, “In every sadness there will be profit,” which means that some profit and advantage would be derived from it,
הנה אדרבה, מלשון זה משמע שהעצב מצד עצמו אין בו מעלה, רק שיגיע ויבא ממנו איזה יתרון
the wording (“there will be profit”) implies that, on the contrary, the sadness itself has no virtue, except that some profit will ultimately be derived from it.
והיינו השמחה האמיתית בה‘ אלקיו הבאה אחר העצב האמיתי, לעתים מזומנים, על עונותיו במר נפשו ולב נשבר
This profit is the true joy in G‑d which follows the true i.e., justified sadness over one’s sins, with bitterness of soul and a broken heart, which must come at specific, suitable times.
Hence the “profit” of sadness is the joy that follows it.
שעל ידי זה נשברה רוח הטומאה וסטרא אחרא ומחיצה של ברזל המפסקת בינו לאביו שבשמים
Why should this sadness lead the worshiper to joy? For thereby (through one’s sadness) the spirit of impurity and of the sitra achra is broken, and so too the “iron wall” that separates him from his Father in heaven,
כמו שכתוב בזהר על פסוק: רוח נשברה לב נשבר וגו’
as the Zohar comments on the verse, “A broken spirit, a broken heart, [You will not despise].”
The Zohar interprets the verse as follows: “A broken spirit of the sitra achra is accomplished by means of a broken heart” Since sadness over one’s sins causes the sitra achra to be broken, and the “iron wall” to vanish, it leads one to rejoice — as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:
ואזי יקוים בו רישיה דקרא: תשמיעיני ששון ושמחה וגו‘, השיבה לי ששון ישעך ורוח נדיבה וגו’
Then the preceding verses will be fulfilled for him: “Make me hear joy and gladness”;… “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and support me with Your generous spirit.”
This joy is the “profit” of sadness, whereas sadness itself is neither “profitable” nor advantageous.
וזהו טעם הפשוט לתיקון האר״י ז״ל לומר מזמור זה אחר תיקון חצות קודם הלימוד
This is the simple reason i.e., apart from the deeper, mystical ones for the practice instituted by the AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) of reciting this Psalm containing the verses quoted above after Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer) before resuming one’s Torah study —
כדי ללמוד בשמחה אמיתית בה‘ הבאה אחר העצב
in order that one should study with the true joy in G‑d, that succeeds the remorse of Tikkun Chatzot.
שיש לשמחה זו יתרון כיתרון האור הבא מן החשך דוקא
Such joy is of a greater quality than joy which is not preceded by sadness, similar to the distinctive quality of light which follows darkness.
כמו שכתוב בזהר על פסוק: ראיתי שיש יתרון לחכמה מן הסכלות כיתרון האור כו’, עיין שם, ודי למבין
As the Zohar comments on the verse, “And I (King Solomon) saw that wisdom surpasses foolishness as light surpasses darkness.” Note there, and this will suffice for him who understands.
The Zohar asks: Does it take a Solomon to see this? And it answers that the intention of the verse is that just as darkness contributes to light, for we cannot truly appreciate light unless we have experienced darkness, so too does foolishness contribute to the appreciation of wisdom. Similarly in our case, one’s earlier sadness adds strength to the joy which follows it, and this is the “profit” of sadness. Sadness itself, however, is a hindrance in one’s service of G‑d.
ומקרא מלא דבר הכתוב: תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה‘ אלקיך בשמחה וגו’, ונודע לכל פירוש האר״י ז״ל על פסוק זה
Furthermore, the verse states explicitly: “Because you did not serve G‑d your L-rd with joy...[therefore you will serve your enemies]” — and everyone is familiar with the explanation of the AriZal on this verse.
The verse reads: “Because you did not serve G‑d your L-rd with joy and gladness of heart, from an abundance of everything [good]” The simple meaning is: “When you had an abundance of everything you did not serve G‑d with joy” (This meaning is borne out by the context of the following verse: “You will serve your enemies in hunger, thirst, and nakedness, and in want of everything.”) But the AriZal interprets it thus: “You did not serve G‑d with a joy greater than that caused by an abundance of everything.”
We see from all the above the importance of serving G‑d joyfully. Yet, many things in one’s life, both physical and spiritual, may cause him sadness. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to propose means of combating this sadness, so that one may always be joyful.
והנה עצה היעוצה לטהר לבו מכל עצב ונדנוד דאגה ממילי דעלמא, ואפילו בני חיי ומזוני
Sound advice has been offered by our Sages on cleansing one’s heart of all sadness and any trace of worry about mundane matters, even a sadness or worry caused by the lack of such essentials as children, health, or livelihood.
מודעת זאת לכל מאמר רז״ל: כשם שמברך על הטובה כו‘
The advice is contained in the well-known saying of our Sages: “Just as one recites a blessing for his good fortune (’Blessed are You, G‑d,Who is good and does good‘), so must he also recite a blessing for misfortune.”
ופירשו בגמרא: לקבולי בשמחה כמו שמחת הטובה הנגלית והנראית
The Gemara explains that this does not mean that he recite the same blessing (for the blessing in a case of misfortune, G‑d forbid, is “Blessed are You, G‑d, the true Judge”); rather, the implication is that one should accept misfortune with joy, like the joy in a visible and obvious good.
כי גם זו לטובה, רק שאינה נגלית ונראית לעיני בשר, כי הוא מעלמא דאתכסיא, שלמעלה מעלמא דאתגליא
For it, too, is for the good, except that it is not apparent and visible to mortal eyes, for it stems from the “hidden (spiritual) world,” which is higher than the “revealed (spiritual) world,” whence derives an apparent and revealed good.
שהוא ו״ה משם הוי״ה ברוך הוא, ועלמא דאתכסיא הוא י״ה
The latter emanates from the letters vav and hei of the Tetragrammaton (the Four-Letter Divine Name, composed of the letters yud hei vav hei), while the former derives from the letters yud hei.
וזה שכתוב: אשרי הגבר אשר תיסרנו י״ה וגו’
This is also the meaning of the verse, “Happy is the man whom You, G‑d (spelled yud hei), chasten.” Since the verse speaks of man’s suffering, only the letters yud and hei are mentioned.
Man sees misfortune only because he cannot perceive that which derives from a higher, hidden level of G‑dliness. In truth, however, the “misfortunes” are actually blessings in disguise. On the contrary, they represent an even higher level of good than the revealed good, since they originate in a higher world.
ולכן אמרו רז״ל כי השמחים ביסורים, עליהם הכתוב אומר: ואוהביו כצאת השמש בגבורתו
For this reason, our Sages of blessed memory stated that the verse, “Those who love Him shall be as the sun when it comes out in its might,” refers to the reward of those who rejoice in their afflictions.
G‑d always rewards man “measure for measure.” What is the connection, then, between rejoicing in affliction and “the sun”? Also, why are those who rejoice in affliction described as “those who love G‑d”? The Alter Rebbe now explains that since misfortune is really nothing but a disguise for the higher form of good that derives from the “hidden world,” the option as to whether it will bring man either joy or misery depends on his priorities. If he deems his physical life all-important, he will indeed be miserable, while if nearness to G‑d is his primary concern he will rejoice, since nearness to G‑d is found in greater measure in the “hidden world,” whence derives the good that is hidden in misfortune.
Those who rejoice in suffering are therefore called “lovers of G‑d,” and are rewarded by being granted the vision of “the sun emerging in its might.” Since in this world they disregarded externals and ignored the veil of misfortune hiding the good within, choosing instead to concern themselves with the deeper aspect of good and G‑dliness lying behind the veil, G‑d rewards them in the World to Come “measure for measure,” by casting off the veils that surround Him, and revealing Himself in His full glory to those who love Him.
For the Four-Letter Divine Name, signifying G‑d in His Essence, is compared to a sun, and the Name Elokim, signifying G‑d as He is clothed and concealed in the created universe, is compared to a veil shielding the created beings from the intensity of its rays; as it is written, “A sun and a shield (respectively) are Hashem (i.e., the Four-Letter Name) Elokim.” In the World to Come, the “sun” will emerge from its “shield”, i.e., the Four-Letter Name will no longer be veiled by Elokim, and it will shine forth “in its might” as a reward for those who love Him.
This, in summary, is the explanation contained in the following paragraphs.
כי השמחה היא מאהבתו קרבת ה‘ יותר מכל חיי העולם הזה
For one’s joy in affliction stems from the fact that being near to G‑d is dearer to him than anything of the life of this world,
כדכתיב: כי טוב חסדך מחיים וגו’
as it is written: “For Your lovingkindness is better than life”
וקרבת ה‘ היא ביתר שאת ומעלה לאין קץ בעלמא דאתכסיא, כי שם חביון עוזו, ויושב בסתר עליון
Now, the nearness to G‑d is infinitely greater and more sublime in the “hidden world,” for “there the concealment of His power is lodged”; and it is also written, “The Most High abides in secrecy.”
Both these verses indicate that the “hidden world” contains a higher aspect of G‑dliness than the “revealed world.” Since the “hidden world” is the source of seeming affliction, he who loves G‑d rejoices in it, for it represents a greater nearness to G‑d than revealed good, which derives from the “revealed world.”
ועל כן זוכה לצאת השמש בגבורתו לעתיד לבא, שהיא יציאת חמה מנרתקה שהיא מכוסה בו בעולם הזה, ולעתיד תתגלה מכסויה
Therefore he is found worthy of seeing “the sun emerging in its might” in the World to Come, when the “sun” will emerge from the “sheath” in which it is hidden in this world, and will then be revealed.
דהיינו שאז יתגלה עלמא דאתכסיא, ויזרח ויאיר בגילוי רב ועצום לכל החוסים בו בעולם הזה, ומסתופפים בצלו, צל החכמה, שהוא בחינת צל ולא אורה וטובה נראית, ודי למבין
This means that what is presently the “hidden world” will then be revealed, and it will shine forth and glow in a great and intense revelation upon all who seek refuge in Him in This World, taking shelter in his “shadow”, the “shadow of wisdom,” which is presently in a state of “shade” as opposed to revealed light and goodness. I.e., they find shelter and refuge even in that which presents an external appearance of “shade” and darkness, whereas the light and goodness contained in it is concealed. This is sufficient explanation for the understanding.
To return to our original point: When one considers that whatever appears as suffering is actually a higher form of good, he will no longer be saddened or worried by it.
* * *
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to discuss a different type of sadness, that caused by one’s failings in matters of the spirit.
אך העצבות ממילי דשמיא, צריך לשית עצות בנפשו ליפטר ממנה
As for sadness connected with heavenly matters, one must seek ways and means of freeing oneself from it.
אין צריך לומר בשעת עבודה, שצריך לעבוד ה‘ בשמחה ובטוב לבב
That this applies to the time of one’s divine service, is self-evident, for one must serve G‑d with joy and gladness of heart.
אלא אפילו מי שהוא בעל עסקים ודרך ארץ, אם נופל לו עצב ודאגה ממילי דשמיא בשעת עסקיו
But even one who is occupied in business and worldly affairs, should there descend upon him any sadness or anxiety about heavenly matters during his business affairs,
בידוע שהוא תחבולת היצר, כדי להפילו אחר כך בתאוות, חס ושלום, כנודע
it is certainly a trick of the Evil Inclination which saddens him, ostensibly for spiritual reasons, in order to lure him afterwards into lusts, G‑d forbid, as is well known.
It is man’s nature to seek pleasure and not to remain depressed. If his feeling of spiritual failure distresses him, he will seek his pleasure in physical gratification. The Evil Inclination therefore wishes that one be depressed, be it even over spiritual matters, so that he will later succumb to temptation.
שאם לא כן, מאין באה לו עצבות אמיתית, מחמת אהבת ה‘ או יראתו, באמצע עסקיו
For if it were not so, that this depression is the doing of the Yetzer Hara, whence would a genuine sadness, one that is derived from love or fear of G‑d, come to him in the midst of his business affairs?
Since a genuine sadness is an expression of love or fear of G‑d, it should express itself at a time when these emotions are active — during prayer, Torah study and the like, but not during one’s business. Clearly, then, the sadness is artificial, created by the Yetzer Hara for its own purposes, and one must therefore rid himself of it. The next paragraph provides the means:
והנה, בין שנפלה לו העצבות בשעת עבודה בתלמוד תורה או בתפלה, ובין שנפלה לו שלא בשעת עבודה, זאת ישים אל לבו
Whether the depression settles upon him during his service of G‑d in Torah study or prayer, or when he is not engaged thus, but with his material affairs, this is what he should consider:
כי אין הזמן גרמא כעת לעצבות אמיתית, אפילו לדאגת עונות חמורים, חס ושלום
“Now is not the proper time for genuine sadness, nor even for worry over grave sins, G‑d forbid.
רק לזאת צריך קביעות עתים ושעת הכושר בישוב הדעת, להתבונן בגדולת ה’ אשר חטא לו
For this one must set aside opportune times, when the mind is calm, to reflect on the greatness of G‑d against Whom he has sinned,
כדי שעל ידי זה יהיה לבו נשבר באמת במרירות אמיתית, וכמבואר עת זו במקום אחר
so that thereby his heart will truly be rent with genuine bitterness i.e., bitterness — remorse — as opposed to depression; the former is alive and active, while the latter is resigned and ”dead“. It is explained elsewhere when this time should be.
ושם נתבאר גם כן כי מיד אחר שנשבר לבו בעתים קבועים ההם, אז יסיר העצב מלבו לגמרי
There it is also explained that immediately after his heart has been broken during those appointed times, he should completely remove the sorrow from his heart,
ויאמין אמונה שלימה כי ה‘ העביר חטאתו, ורב לסלוח
and he should believe with perfect faith that G‑d has erased his sin, and that ”He pardons abundantly.“
Thus, even if one has sinned repeatedly against Him, G‑d will readily forgive him as though he had sinned for the first time; unlike man, who easily forgives a first offense but finds it difficult to do so when the offense is oft repeated.
וזו היא השמחה האמיתית בה’ הבאה אחר העצב, כנ״ל
This knowledge that G‑d has surely cleansed him of his sins is the true joy in G‑d which follows the sadness, as explained above —that the advantage of sadness lies in the joy to which it gives rise.