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In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe stated that sadness hinders one’s service of G‑d in general, and his battle with the Yetzer Hara in particular. He therefore discussed means of overcoming sadness caused by material concerns, and by anxiety over one’s sins.

In this chapter and the next, he will discuss another type of melancholy, that caused by concern over one’s sinful thoughts and desires. This category itself may be further subdivided into two: (1) Where these thoughts occur while one is occupied with his material affairs, and (2) Where these thoughts disturb his service of G‑d in Torah study, prayer and the like.

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe discusses the first situation. He states that not only are these thoughts no cause for sadness, but on the contrary, they ought to give rise to joy.

ואם העצבות אינה מדאגת עונות, אלא מהרהורים רעים ותאוות רעות שנופלות במחשבתו

If, however, his sadness does not stem from anxiety over sins that he has committed, but from the fact that sinful thoughts and desires enter his mind, then:

הנה אם נופלות לו שלא בשעת העבודה, אלא בעת עסקו בעסקיו ודרך ארץ וכהאי גוונא

If these thoughts occur to him not during his service of G‑d, but while he is occupied with his own affairs and with mundane matters and the like,

אדרבה יש לו לשמוח בחלקו, שאף שנופלות לו במחשבתו הוא מסיח דעתו מהם

he should, on the contrary, be happy in his lot; for although these sinful thoughts enter his mind, he averts his attention from them.

It is clear that here we are speaking of one who does not wilfully dwell on sinful thoughts, for if he does so he is a sinner, and the previous chapter has already dealt with sadness arising from sins.

לקיים מה שנאמר: ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם אשר אתם זונים אחריהם

By averting his mind from sinful thoughts he fulfills the injunction, 1 “You shall not follow after your heart and after your eyes, by which you go astray.”

Only when sinful thoughts enter one’s mind can he fulfill this command. For the intention of the verse is not that one be at a level where such thoughts would not occur to him: this is the level of tzaddikim, who have eradicated all evil from their hearts. Surely, then this verse is not addressed to tzaddikim. The verse refers rather to one who does have such thoughts, and he is commanded to banish them — as the Alter Rebbe continues:

ואין הכתוב מדבר בצדיקים לקראם זונים, חס ושלום

The above verse surely does not speak of tzaddikim, referring to them (G‑d forbid) as “going astray,”

אלא בבינונים כיוצא בו שנופלים לו הרהורי ניאוף במחשבתו, בין בהיתר כו׳

but of Beinonim like himself, in whose mind there do enter erotic thoughts, whether of an innocent nature [or otherwise],

וכשמסיח דעתו, מקיים לאו זה

and when he averts his mind from them, he fulfills this injunction.

ואמרו רז״ל: ישב ולא עבר עבירה, נותנים לו שכר כאילו עשה מצוה

Our Sages have said: 2 “When one passively abstains from sin, he is rewarded as though he had actively performed a mitzvah.”

ועל כן צריך לשמוח בקיום הלאו כמו בקיום מצות עשה ממש

Consequently, he should rejoice in his compliance with the injunction just as he does when performing an actual positive precept.

Thus not only should the occurence of these thoughts not grieve him, but it ought to bring him joy, for only thereby is he able to fulfill this commandment.

ואדרבה, העצבות היא מגסות הרוח

On the contrary, such sadness is due to conceit.

שאינו מכיר מקומו, ועל כן ירע לבבו על שאינו במדרגת צדיק

For he does not know his place, and that is why he is distressed because he has not attained the level of a tzaddik,

שלצדיקים בודאי אין נופלים להם הרהורי שטות כאלו

to whom such foolish thoughts surely do not occur.

כי אילו הי׳ מכיר מקומו, שהוא רחוק מאד ממדרגת צדיק

For were he to recognize his station, that he is very far from the rank of tzaddik,

והלואי היה בינוני ולא רשע כל ימיו אפילו שעה אחת

and would that he be a Beinoni and not a rasha for even a single moment throughout his life (i.e., this is what he should be striving for at present, rather than vainly desiring to be a tzaddik),

הרי זאת היא מדת הבינונים ועבודתם

then surely, this is the due measure of the Beinonim and their task:

לכבוש היצר וההרהור העולה מהלב למוח, ולהסיח דעתו לגמרי ממנו ולדחותו בשתי ידים, כנ״ל

To subdue the evil impulse and the thought that rises from the heart to the mind, and to completely avert his mind from it, repulsing it as it were with both hands, as explained above in ch. 12.

The Alter Rebbe explained there that the evil in the soul of the Beinoni remains vigorous; his task is to prevent it from expressing itself in thought, speech, and action. Thus, he has no control over the occurence of evil thoughts in his mind, but only over his acceptance or rejection of these thoughts.

ובכל דחיה ודחיה שמדחהו ממחשבתו, אתכפיא סטרא אחרא לתתא

With every repulsion of this thought from his mind, the sitra achra is suppressed here below in This World,

ובאתערותא דלתתא אתערותא דלעילא

and, since “the arousal from below (in our case, the initiative of the Beinoni in suppressing the sitra achra) produces a corresponding arousal above,”

ואתכפיא סטרא אחרא דלעילא המגביה עצמה כנשר

the sitra achra above in the supernal worlds (the root of the sitra achra of this world) which soars like an eagle, is also suppressed,

לקיים מה שכתוב: אם תגביה כנשר וגו׳ משם אורידך נאם ה׳

thus realizing the verse, 3 “Though you soar aloft like the eagle…I will yet bring you down from there, says G‑d.”

וכמו שהפליג בזהר פרשת תרומה דף קכח בגודל נחת רוח לפניו יתברך כד אתכפיא סטרא אחרא לתתא

Indeed the Zohar, in Parshat Terumah (p. 128), extolls the Divine satisfaction that occurs when the sitra achra is subdued here below,

דאסתלק יקרא דקודשא בריך הוא לעילא על כולא יתיר משבחא אחרא, ואסתלקותא דא יתיר מכולא וכו׳

for “thereby G‑d’s glory rises above all, more than by any other praise, and this ascent its greater than all else, etc.”

Thus, it is the evil thoughts which enter the mind of the Beinoni that enable him to fulfill G‑d’s command in averting his attention from them, thereby subduing the sitra achra.

ולכן אל יפול לב אדם עליו ולא ירע לבבו מאד

Therefore one should not feel depressed or very troubled at heart (— he ought to be somewhat troubled by the occurence of these thoughts, otherwise he may become indifferent to them and will cease to wage war against them; but he ought not to be sorely troubled by them),

גם אם יהיה כן כל ימיו במלחמה זו

even if he be engaged all his days in this conflict with the thoughts which will always enter his mind.

Though he may never rise to the level which precludes their occurence, yet he should not be depressed.

כי אולי לכך נברא, וזאת עבודתו: לאכפיא לסטרא אחרא תמיד

For perhaps this is what he was created for, and this is the service demanded of him — to subdue the sitra achra constantly.

ועל זה אמר איוב: בראת רשעים

Concerning this Job said to G‑d: 4 “You have created wicked men,” as though it were preordained that one man be wicked, and another righteous.

In the first chapter, the Alter Rebbe pointed out that this is contradicted by the statement in the Gemara that before a child is born, G‑d decrees whether he shall be wise or foolish, strong or weak, and so on, but does not determine whether he will be righteous or wicked — this is left to one’s own choice. The meaning of Job’s statement becomes clear, however, in light of the above discussion. True, G‑d does not ordain whether man will act wickedly, but He does “create wicked men,” in the sense that their minds work like the mind of the rasha, with evil thoughts constantly occuring to them. G‑d created them in this way so that they will engage in battle with these thoughts, and thereby subjugate the sitra achra — as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say.

ולא שיהיו רשעים באמת, חס ושלום

The implication of Job’s statement is not that they were created to actually be wicked, G‑d forbid, i.e., sinful in thought, speech and action,

אלא שיגיע אליהם כמעשה הרשעים במחשבתם והרהורם בלבד

but that there should occur to them, in their thoughts and musings alone, that which occurs to the wicked, 5 i.e., that evil thoughts should enter their mind, as they do in the mind of the wicked,

והם יהיו נלחמים תמיד להסיח דעתם מהם כדי לאכפיא לסטרא אחרא

and they shall eternally wage war to avert their minds from them in order to subjugate the sitra achra,

ולא יוכלו לבטלה מכל וכל, כי זה נעשה על ידי הצדיקים

yet they will never be able to annihilate the sitra achra in their souls completely, for this is accomplished by tzaddikim.

A tzaddik subjugates his animal soul to such a degree that it is unable to arouse temptation in his heart. His mind is therefore untroubled by evil thoughts. Those, however, of whom Job said that they were “created wicked,” cannot rise to this level. It is always possible for evil thoughts to enter their minds; their task is not to give them free rein.

ושני מיני נחת רוח לפניו יתברך למעלה

For there are two kinds of Divine pleasure:

אחת, מביטול הסטרא אחרא לגמרי, ואתהפכא ממרירו למתקא ומחשוכא לנהורא, על ידי הצדיקים

one, from the complete annihilation of the sitra achra, and the conversion of bitter to sweet and of darkness to light (— the former referring to the emotional faculties of the animal soul, and the latter to its mental faculties), which is accomplished by tzaddikim;

והשנית, כד אתכפיא הסטרא אחרא בעודה בתקפה וגבורתה, ומגביה עצמה כנשר

and the second: when the sitra achra is subdued while it is still at its strongest and most powerful, soaring like an eagle,

ומשם מורידה ה׳ באתערותא דלתתא על ידי הבינונים

and from this height G‑d topples it in response to human initiative i.e., as a result of one’s efforts at subduing the sitra achra in his soul. This is accomplished by Beinonim.

Each of the two aforementioned categories — those who were “created righteous” and who were “created wicked” — brings about one of these two kinds of Divine gratification.

וזהו שאמר הכתוב: ועשה לי מטעמים כאשר אהבתי

This is alluded to in the verse, 6 “And make me delicacies, such as I love,”

מטעמים לשון רבים, שני מיני נחת רוח

where the word matamim (“delicacies”) is written in the plural, indicating two kinds of pleasure.

והוא מאמר השכינה לבניה כללות ישראל, כדפירשו בתיקונים

These words are the charge of the Shechinah to its children, the community of Israel, as explained in Tikkunei Zohar — that with these words G‑d asks of the Jewish people to please Him with their divine service.

וכמו שבמטעמים גשמיים, דרך משל, יש שני מיני מעדנים

Just as with material food, there are two kinds of delicacies—

אחד, ממאכלים ערבים ומתוקים, והשני מדברים חריפים או חמוצים

one of sweet and luscious foods, and the other of sharp or sour articles which are unpleasant to eat in their natural state,

רק שהם מתובלים ומתוקנים היטב עד שנעשו מעדנים להשיב הנפש

but have been well spiced and prepared so that they become delicacies which revive the soul — so too are there two kinds of spiritual delicacies.

One is provided by tzaddikim, who are occupied solely with matters that are “good” and “sweet” — holy matters. Having conquered the evil of their animal soul, they no longer need grapple with the sitra achra. Their divine service consists of increasing the light of holiness. The second kind of delicacy is provided by Beinonim, who are occupied with “bitter” matters, with battling against the sitra achra in their soul, and with the evil thoughts that it spawns.

וזהו שאמר הכתוב: כל פעל ה׳ למענהו, וגם רשע ליום רעה

This is indicated in the verse, 7 “The L-rd has made everything for His sake; even the wicked for the day of evil.”

How can it be said that the rasha was created for G‑d’s sake?

פירוש: שישוב מרשעו ויעשה הרע שלו יום ואור למעלה

This means, however, that he should repent of his evil, and turn his evil into “day” and light above,

כד אתכפיא סטרא אחרא ואסתלק יקרא דקודשא בריך הוא לעילא

when the sitra achra is subdued, and the glory of G‑d is uplifted on high.

Thus, the meaning of the words “even the wicked for the day of evil” is that the purpose of the wicked is to transform the “evil” into “day”.

* * *

The central point of the above discussion was that through the occurence of evil thoughts in one’s mind, and through one’s battle against them, the sitra achra is subdued, causing great pleasure above.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that this subjugation of the sitra achra and the consequent Divine pleasure are brought about not only by one’s struggle against the sitra achra when it attempts to lead one to sin (as in our case, where the lack of a struggle against evil thoughts, and the continued meditation on them would constitute a sin). Rather, one produces the same effect by struggling with one’s nature in abstaining from permitted matters. For as explained in ch. 6, any permitted action done without the specific intention of leading one to the serving of G‑d (as, for example, eating in order to obtain strength for Torah study or performing the mitzvot) derives its vitality from the sitra achra. (This term simply means “the other side,” i.e., the absence of holiness.) Only an action so directed can draw its vitality from the realm of holiness. Therefore, whenever one refrains from doing even a permissible act (in which this intention is lacking) in order to subdue the sitra achra, he gives rise to Divine pleasure.

ולא עוד, אלא אפילו בדברים המותרים לגמרי

Furthermore, not only by fighting his evil thoughts does one subdue the sitra achra, but even in matters that are fully permissible,

כל מה שהאדם זובח יצרו אפילו שעה קלה, ומתכוין לאכפיא לסטרא אחרא שבחלל השמאלי

every act of sacrificing one’s impulse, even if only for a short while i.e., if he delays partaking of even the permissible and essential, with the intention of subduing the sitra achra in the left part of his heart, achieves this end.

כגון שחפץ לאכול, ומאחר סעודתו עד לאחר שעה או פחות

For example: when he wants to eat but delays his meal for an hour or less,

ועוסק בתורה באותה שעה

and during that time he studies Torah.

For if he occupies himself with other physical matters, he does not subdue the sitra achra by postponing his meal, since he is in any case indulging his animal soul; but if he studies Torah during that time then even when the delay of his meal does not gain him any time for Torah study, for he would have studied Torah regardless (as will soon be stated), and despite the fact that he eventually does eat, yet he subdues the sitra achra by the mere effort of postponing his meal, and thereby he brings about the Divine pleasure caused by every subjugation of the sitra achra.

כדאיתא בגמרא: שעה רביעית מאכל כל אדם, שעה ששית מאכל תלמידי חכמים

As the Gemara states: 8 “The fourth hour [of the day] is when all men eat, but the sixth hour is the mealtime for scholars,”

והיו מרעיבים עצמם שתי שעות לכוונה זו

because they would go hungry for two hours with this intention,

אף שגם אחר הסעודה היו לומדים כל היום

although even after the meal they would study all day.

וכן אם בולם פיו מלדבר דברים שלבו מתאוה מאד לדברם מענייני העולם

So too if one restrains his mouth from saying things which he greatly desires to say, concerning mundane matters — even where is nothing wrong with the words per se, yet he refrains from speaking them precisely because he feels a desire to do so;

וכן בהרהורי מחשבתו

and likewise regarding the thoughts of his mind he suppresses an urge to think about some mundane matter.

אפילו במעט מזעיר דאתכפיא סטרא אחרא לתתא

Even by the slightest subjugation of the sitra achra here below,

אסתלק יקרא דקודשא בריך הוא וקדושתו לעילא הרבה

the glory of G‑d and His holiness is greatly elevated on high.

ומקדושה זו נמשכת קדושה עליונה על האדם למטה לסייעו סיוע רב ועצום לעבודתו יתברך

From this holiness, a sublime holiness issues forth upon man below, to assist him with a great and powerful aid in his service of G‑d.

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: אדם מקדש עצמו מעט למטה, מקדשין אותו הרבה מלמעלה

This is what our Sages meant when they said: 9 “If a man consecrates himself in a small measure here below, he is sanctified greatly from above.”

לבד מה שמקיים מצות עשה של תורה: והתקדשתם וכו׳, כשמקדש עצמו במותר לו

This is apart from the fact that when one sanctifies himself in permissible matters, he thereby fulfills the positive commandment of the Torah: 10 “Sanctify yourselves, and be holy.”

Hence, apart from the consolation previously offered the Beinoni — that through “turning away from evil” by combating evil thoughts and desires, he affords G‑d a pleasure that tzaddikim cannot — his battle with the sitra achra also contains a positive quality in the category of “doing good,” that is likewise not present in the divine service of tzaddikim. 11 This positive quality is the fulfillment of the mitzvah: “Sanctify yourselves…,” which applies only to Beinonim, not to tzaddikim. For the intention of the commandment is that even one’s personal, permissible, and mundane matters should not be attended to out of the desire of one’s animal soul, but for the sake of G‑d. This directive cannot apply to tzaddikim, who are unencumbered by desires of the animal soul, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

ופירוש והתקדשתם: שתעשו עצמכם קדושים

The meaning of “Sanctify yourselves” is: “You shall make yourselves holy.”

כלומר: אף שבאמת אינו קדוש ומובדל מסטרא אחרא

That is to say, although in truth one is not holy and separated from the sitra achra,

כי היא בתקפה ובגבורתה כתולדתה בחלל השמאלי

for the sitra achra of his animal soul is still, as at birth, at its full strength and might, in the left part of his heart — the seat of the animal soul and evil inclination,

The word kedushah (“holiness”) means “setting apart,” i.e., separation from the unholy. 12 The verse thus means: One should sanctify himself even if he must yet make himself holy and separate from the sitra achra, for at his present level his heart still desires those things that derive from it,

רק שכובש יצרו ומקדש עצמו

yet if even while at this level he subdues and masters his evil impulse and makes himself “holy”, separate from the sitra achra, then, continues the verse:

והייתם קדושים

“You will be holy.”

The words “be holy” which, in their simple sense, voice a command, can also be understood as conveying a promise,

כלומר: סופו להיות קדוש ומובדל באמת מהסטרא אחרא

meaning that ultimately he will be truly “holy” and removed from the sitra achra,

על ידי שמקדשים אותו הרבה מלמעלה

through his being “greatly sanctified from above,” as quoted earlier from the Gemara,

ומסייעים אותו לגרשה מלבו, מעט מעט

and through his being aided from above to expel [the sitra achra] from his heart, little by little, so that even in his heart he will no longer have any desire for anything originating in the realm of the sitra achra.

FOOTNOTES
1. Bamidbar 15:39.
2. Cf. Kiddushin 39b.
3. Ovadiah 1:4.
4. Bava Batra 16a.
5. Cf. Kohelet 8:14.
6. Bereishit 27:4.
7. Mishlei 16:4.
8. Shabbat 10a.
9. Cf. Yoma 39a.
10. Vayikra 20:7.
11. Based on a comment by the Rebbe.
12. Cf. Rashi on Vayikra 19:2.
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.
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Discussion (1)
November 30, 2010
Propensity to hesitate even in allowed things..
This was also advocated by Socrates, to subsue oneself, without a framework as we have here though...
Schmuel Myer
Tampa, fl
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