תניא בסוף יומא: שלשה חלוקי כפרה הם
It has been taught in a Beraita at the end of Tractate Yoma: There are three types of atonement, varying according to the different categories of transgression,
ותשובה עם כל אחד
and repentance [necessarily] accompanies each of them.
עבר על מצות עשה ושב, אינו זז משם עד שמוחלין לו
If one failed to fulfill a positive commandment and repented, he is forgiven forthwith.
עבר על מצות לא תעשה ושב, תשובה תולה ויום הכפורים מכפר
If one violated a prohibitive commandment and repented, his repentance is tentative, and Yom Kippur atones.
In this instance repentance alone does not suffice to secure complete forgiveness; it only guarantees that he will not be punished until the arrival of Yom Kippur, at which time he is completely forgiven.
(פירוש: דאף על גב דלענין קיום, מצות עשה גדולה, שדוחה את לא תעשה
(This means that though, in terms of fulfillment, a positive commandment is superior, for which reason it supersedes a prohibitive commandment,
When positive and negative commands conflict, the positive command takes precedence and overrides the prohibition. (For example: the wearing of tzitzit made of an admixture of wool and linen, despite the prohibition of kilayim, or shaatnez.) Since observing a positive command thus appears to be of more value than observing a prohibition, why do we say that if one transgresses a positive command repentance alone suffices, whereas if one transgresses a prohibition forgiveness cannot be secured by repentance alone, and one must await the advent of Yom Kippur?
The Alter Rebbe will now address himself to this question. His answer will also enable us to understand the spiritual effects of the performance of a positive command and the spiritual blemish that results from transgressing a negative command. Insight into the mitzvot from this perspective will in turn enable us to understand why a positive command supersedes a negative command, and why it is nevertheless more difficult to attain atonement for transgressing a negative command.
Briefly, the answer is as follows: When one performs a positive command he not only fulfills G‑d’s Will, but also draws down a flow of Divine light into the higher spiritual realms and upon his own soul. The reason: each positive command is likened to a bodily organ. (Note of the Rebbe: “As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: ‘The 248 organs correspond to the 248 positive commands.’”)
This means to say that just as a bodily organ is a receptacle for the life-force which it elicits from the soul, so, too, is each positive commandment a vessel that draws down Divine effluence and vitality from the infinite Ein Sof-light. Moreover, just as the life-force of the soul is enclothed within the various limbs, so, too, does the life-force drawn down through the performance of a positive command become enclothed (i.e., internalized) within the worlds.
Fulfilling a negative command — by not committing the transgression — is also a fulfillment of the Divine Will. As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: “If one passively refrains all his days from sin, he is rewarded (Note of the Rebbe: ‘but only’) as though he had actively performed a command.” However, since such performance does not result from any action on his part as in the case of a positive command — he merely fulfills G‑d’s Will by not transgressing — its result is of lesser spiritual value. For the purpose of Torah and mitzvot is to draw down Divine illumination through the performance of the 248 positive commands, and to dispel the spirit of impurity through the observance of the 365 prohibitions (as explained earlier in Part I, ch. 37, p. 492-3).
Thus, in a situation where positive and negative precepts clash and the question is which one is to be set aside, the positive command supersedes the negative. For it is impossible that doing the prohibited deed will impart a spirit of impurity, inasmuch as its prohibition is being overruled because the Torah so dictates. Conversely, (even) if the Torah were to direct that one should neglect the positive command, the action that would draw down Divine illumination would still be lacking.
For this reason a positive command supersedes a prohibition: the deficiency normally wrought by transgressing a prohibition does not result when the Torah commands that it be set aside, while the dividend gained by fulfilling a positive command — the drawing down of the Divine light — is realized.
However, in light of the above, it would seem that the same reasoning should apply with regard to transgressions: a higher degree of repentance should be necessary for violating a positive command than for transgressing a negative command — yet according to the above quotation from the Gemara in Yoma the opposite is true.
The explanation is as follows. The advantage of the positive command — the G‑dly light that it draws into the soul — cannot be won through repentance in any event; all that repentance can now secure is forgiveness for the transgression. Not so with regard to transgressing a prohibition, where repentance can rectify the misdeed entirely. Furthermore, since the misdeed actively blemished the individual’s soul and the celestial realms as well, mere repentance does not suffice: only Yom Kippur can completely obliterate the blemish that it brought about.
This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:
היינו משום שעל ידי קיום מצות עשה, ממשיך אור ושפע בעולמות עליונים מהארת אור אין סוף ברוך הוא
this superiority of the positive command that makes it supersede a negative command is so because by performing a positive command one precipitates an illumination and flow into the higher worlds from the reflected [infinite] Ein Sof-light
(כמו שכתוב בזהר: דרמ״ח פיקודין, אינון רמ״ח אברין דמלכא)
(as we find in the Zohar: “The 248 positive commandments are the 248 ‘organs of the King’ ”),
The 248 positive commands are equated with the emotive attributes of Atzilut which are collectively termed “the King”. Just as an organ serves as a vessel to the soul-faculty enclothed within it, so, too, is each positive command an organ and vessel for a particular effluence of the emotive attributes of Atzilut that are drawn down through the performance of that particular commandment. Thus, through performing positive commands one draws down G‑dliness into the higher worlds.
וגם על נפשו האלקית
and also through the performance of a positive command one draws G‑dliness on to his Divine soul,
כמו שאומרים: אשר קדשנו במצותיו
as we say in the blessings that precede the performance of many mitzvot, “…Who has hallowed us with His commandments.”
I.e., fulfilling a positive command has the effect of drawing down Divine light and holiness upon the soul, for which reason it surpasses and supersedes conformity to a negative command.
אבל לענין תשובה
But concerning repentance, which would seek to rectify the transgression of a positive command,
אף שמוחלין לו העונש על שמרד במלכותו יתברך, ולא עשה מאמר המלך
though through repentance the punishment for rebelling against G‑d’s rule and not fulfilling the King’s word is commuted,
מכל מקום האור נעדר וכו׳
nonetheless, the illumination which would have been drawn down through the performance of the positive command is lacking — even after repentance, so that the sin remains only partially rectified.
וכמאמר רז״ל על פסוק: מעות לא יוכל לתקן, זה שביטל קריאת שמע של ערבית או וכו׳
On the verse, “A crookedness that cannot be corrected,” i.e., even through repentance, our Sages accordingly comment: “This relates to one who neglected the evening [or morning] reading of Shema, or [the evening or morning prayer].”
דאף שנזהר מעתה לקרות קריאת שמע של ערבית ושחרית לעולם
For though he be scrupulous henceforth about reading the morning and evening Shema forevermore, thereby demonstrating his regret,
אין תשובתו מועלת לתקן מה שביטל פעם אחת
his repentance is ineffectual in correcting what he once neglected.
For after all is said and done, the world will forever be lacking the unique gift of Divine light that he could have drawn down through reading the Shema on that particular occasion. Thus, all that repentance can accomplish he is now able to accomplish through repentance alone. No other steps can secure him any further atonement.
So much for him who transgressed a positive precept.
והעובר על מצות לא תעשה, על ידי שנדבק הרע בנפשו, עושה פגם למעלה בשרשה ומקור חוצבה
If one violates a prohibition in thought, speech or action, since thereby evil cleaves to his soul, he [also] impairs its Supernal root and source
(בלבושים די׳ ספירות דעשיה, כמו שכתוב בתקוני זהר: לבושין תקינת לון, דמינייהו פרחין נשמתין לבני נשא וכו׳)
(in the garbs of the Ten Sefirot of Asiyah; as Tikkunei Zohar writes, “You have fashioned garbs for [the Sefirot], from which fly forth souls for man...”).
We thus see from Tikkunei Zohar that it is from the “garments”of the Sefirot that souls emanate; when a soul is blemished through sin, these garments are blemished as well.
לכך אין כפרה לנפשו, ולא למעלה, עד יום הכפורים
Therefore there is no atonement for his own soul nor Above until Yom Kippur,
As will be explained a little later, “atonement” means cleansing that which was blemished. This requires not only repentance, but in addition Yom Kippur:
כמו שכתוב: וכפר על הקדש מטומאות בני ישראל ומפשעיהם וגו׳, לפני ה׳ תטהרו
concerning which it is written, “He shall atone for the holy place because of the impurities of the Children of Israel and because of their sins...; before Havayah shall you be purified.”
לפני ה׳ דייקא
“Before G‑d” is stressed.
I.e., the purification granted by Yom Kippur emanates from a level that transcends the Divine Name Havayah, and can even atone for a blemish that resulted from transgressing a prohibitive command.
At any rate, we have seen that in certain respects transgressing a positive command has more serious consequences than transgressing a negative command.
ולכן אין ללמוד מכאן שום קולא, חס ושלום, במצוות עשה
Hence, one should not (G‑d forbid) infer any leniency in the positive commandments from this Beraita which states that one is immediately forgiven after repenting for having transgressed a positive command, while transgressing a negative command requires in addition the atonement of Yom Kippur;
ובפרט בתלמוד תורה
particularly ought one not infer any leniency in Torah study.
ואדרבה אמרו רז״ל: ויתר הקב״ה על עבודה זרה וכו׳, אף שהן כריתות ומיתות בית דין, ולא ויתר על ביטול תלמוד תורה)
On the contrary, our Sages assert, “G‑d has in certain instances glossed over [even] idolatry, [incest and murder], though excision and capital punishment are involved, but did not excuse the neglect of Torah study.”)
The Beraita with which this chapter opened is now resumed:
עבר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין, תשובה ויום הכפורים תולין, ויסורים ממרקין
If one commits a sin [punishable by] excision or execution, repentance and Yom Kippur are tentative, so that the individual is not punished, and sufferings scour
(פירוש: גומרין הכפרה, והוא מלשון מריקה ושטיפה, לצחצח הנפש
(i.e., they complete the atonement. [The verb] memarkin denotes the final stage, namely, scouring and rinsing, in order to “polish” the soul,
כי כפרה היא לשון קינוח, שמקנח לכלוך החטא)
for kaparah (“atonement”) is the term for the preceding stage of cleaning, removing the uncleanness of the sin),
Sins punishable by excision or execution are not cleaned away through repentance and Yom Kippur alone: the soul must also be scoured and rinsed through suffering, heaven forfend.
שנאמר: ופקדתי בשבט פשעם, ובנגעים עונם
as it is written, “With a rod shall I remember their sin, and with afflictions their iniquity.”
עד כאן לשון הברייתא
Thus far the Beraita with which this chapter opened.
והנה מצות התשובה מן התורה היא עזיבת החטא בלבד
Now the mitzvah of repentance as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin
(כדאיתא בגמרא ,פרק ג׳ דסנהדרין, ובחושן משפט, סוף סימן ל״ד, לענין עדות)
(cf. Sanhedrin, ch. 3; Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 34, regarding testimony), where it is stated that if a potential witness simply abandons and does not repeat the transgression that had previously disqualified him, he is once again able to testify.
דהיינו שיגמור בלבו בלב שלם לבל ישוב עוד לכסלה, למרוד במלכותו יתברך
This means that he must resolve in perfect sincerity never again to revert to folly, to rebel against G‑d’s rule;
ולא יעבור עוד מצות המלך, חס ושלום, הן במצות עשה הן במצות לא תעשה
he will never again violate the King’s command, G‑d forbid, neither a positive command nor a prohibition.
וזהו עיקר פירוש לשון תשובה: לשוב אל ה׳ בכל לבו ובכל נפשו, לעבדו ולשמור כל מצותיו
This is the basic meaning of the term teshuvah (“repentance”) — to return to G‑d with all one’s heart and soul, to serve Him, and to observe all His commandments.
כמו שכתוב: יעזוב רשע דרכו ואיש און מחשבותיו, וישוב אל ה׳ וגו׳
For so does Scripture state: “Let the wicked abandon his path, and the sinful his thoughts, and return to G‑d….”
ובפרשת נצבים כתיב: ושבת עד ה׳ אלקיך ושמעת בקולו וגו׳ בכל לבבך וגו׳
In the Torah portion of Nitzavim it is likewise written: “You shall return unto the Lord your G‑d and hearken to His voice…with all your heart….”
שובה ישראל עד ה׳ אלקיך וגו׳, השיבנו ה׳ אליך וגו׳
[So, too:] “Return, O Israel, unto the L‑rd your G‑d...”; [and elsewhere:] “Bring us back, O L‑rd, unto You….”
Repentance, then, entails returning to G‑d, performing His commandments and refraining from sin.
ולא כדעת ההמון שהתשובה היא התענית
This differs from the popular conception that repentance is synonymous with fasting on account of one’s sins.
ואפילו מי שעבר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין, שגמר כפרתו היא על ידי יסורים
Even in the case of sins punishable by excision or execution, where atonement is made complete by suffering, as previously quoted from the Beraita in Yoma,
היינו שהקב״ה מביא עליו יסורים
this means that it is G‑d Who brings suffering upon the sinner, in order to complete his atonement.
(וכמו שכתוב: ופקדתי בשבט וגו׳, ופקדתי דייקא)
(as the verse clearly specifies, “With a rod shall I remember [their sin]”).
והיינו: כשתשובתו רצויה לפניו יתברך, בשובו אל ה׳ בכל לבו ונפשו מאהבה
That is to say: When G‑d finds his repentance acceptable, as he returns to Him with all his heart and soul, out of love,
אזי באתערותא דלתתא וכמים הפנים וכו׳, אתערותא דלעילא, לעורר האהבה וחסד ה׳ למרק עונו ביסורים בעולם הזה
then following the initiative undertaken from below, and “as water reflects the countenance...,” there is an awakening Above, arousing G‑d’s love and kindness, to scour his sin and entirely cleanse him of it through affliction in This World,
וכמו שכתוב: כי את אשר יאהב ה׳ יוכיח וגו'
in the spirit of the verse, “For he whom the L‑rd loves He chastises….”
This is something quite different from any fasts or afflictions that an individual undertakes himself.
ולכן לא הזכירו הרמב״ם והסמ״ג שום תענית כלל במצות התשובה, אף בכריתות ומיתות בית דין
It is for this reason that the Rambam and Sefer Mitzvot Gadol make no mention whatever of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance, even in the case of sins punishable by excision or capital sins.
I.e., fasting is not required even with regard to those sins whose atonement is completed through suffering.
רק הוידוי ובקשת מחילה, כמו שכתוב בתורה: והתודו את חטאתם וגו׳
They cite only confessing [verbally] and requesting forgiveness; as the Torah prescribes, “They shall confess their sin….”
Why are confession and requesting forgiveness indeed part of repentance?
Every sin consists of a body and a soul. The actual misdeed itself is the “body” of the sin, and the bodily pleasure and ensuing desire with which it was committed are its “soul”. Repentance involves eliminating both these elements.
The “soul” of the sin is eradicated by the earnest regret of the individual, who is mortified and pained by his past. Inasmuch as pain is the opposite of pleasure, it negates the pleasure which had earlier aroused his desire to sin, and thereby obliterates the “soul” of the sin.
But the “body” of the sin also needs to be nullified. Simply refraining from further transgression lacks the action that would negate the sinful act itself, its “body”. This is accomplished through verbal confession, for “verbalization is also considered to be an action.”
At any rate, verbal confession is thus a component of repentance — while fasting is not.
ומה שכתוב ביואל: שובו עדי בכל לבבכם, ובצום ובבכי גו׳
As to what we find in the Book of Yoel, “Return to Me with all your hearts, and with fasting and weeping...,” which would seem to indicate that fasting is in fact part of return and repentance,
היינו לבטל הגזרה שנגזרה, למרק עון הדור על ידי יסורים בארבה
this was to nullify (Note inserted by the Rebbe: ‘…something which relates to the future, while repentance involves forsaking the past’) the heavenly decree that had been issued, to expunge the sin of the generation through the affliction of locusts; it was not part of the act of repentance.
וזהו הטעם בכל תעניות שמתענין על כל צרה שלא תבא על הצבור
This is the rationale for all fasts undertaken for any trouble threatening the community, their purpose being to avert the impending harsh edict,
וכמו שכתוב במגלת אסתר
as in the Book of Esther, where we find that the Queen asked that a fast be proclaimed in order to nullify Haman’s evil decree.
ומה שכתוב בספרי המוסר, ובראשם ספר הרוקח וספר חסידים, הרבה תעניות וסיגופים לעובר על כריתות ומיתות בית דין
Now the classic Mussar works, particularly the Rokeach and Sefer Chassidim, specify numerous fasts and mortifications for sins punishable by excision and execution;
וכן למוציא זרע לבטלה, שחייב מיתה בידי שמים, כמו שכתוב בתורה גבי ער ועונן
likewise numerous fasts are prescribed for the wasteful emission of semen — a sin punishable by death by divine agency, as the Torah recounts of Er and Onan,
ודינן כחייבי כריתות לענין זה
and a sin whose retribution is identical in this respect to that of sins punishable by excision, and hence the numerous fasts prescribed.
All this might lead us to assume that the purpose of fasts is suffering — this being the manner through which atonement is brought to completion by those who are guilty of sins punishable by excision. But it has been previously stated that the suffering which completes atonement is specifically that which comes from Above, and not manmade suffering incurred through fasting and the like. The Alter Rebbe answers this seeming contradiction by stating:
היינו: כדי לינצל מעונש יסורים של מעלה, חס ושלום
These above-prescribed fasts and mortifications are intended to avert the punishment of suffering at the hand of heaven, G‑d forbid. (Note of the Rebbe: “This too relates to the future, unlike repentance, which relates to the past.”)
This means that if, G‑d forbid, the punishment of suffering had been decreed upon an individual, he is able to exempt himself from it through these self-imposed fasts.
וגם כדי לזרז ולמהר גמר כפרת נפשו
Another reason [for these fasts] is to urge on and expedite the conclusion of his soul’s atonement.
וגם אולי אינו שב אל ה׳ בכל לבו ונפשו מאהבה, כי אם מיראה
Also, perhaps he is not returning to G‑d with all his heart and soul out of love, but only out of fear.
Such a penitent would not enjoy the Divine reaction that comes “as water reflects the countenance,” and would not be granted the completion of his atonement through suffering. Accordingly, he might undertake these fasts in order to secure this alone. Essentially, however, the suffering that brings about complete atonement (for those guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency) is not meant to be self-inflicted, but rather — heaven forfend — imposed from Above.