The Alter Rebbe opened the fourth chapter by beginning to explain the concept of repentance according to the mystical approach to the Torah. He prefaced his commentary by noting that according to Scripture and our Sages a person who committed a sin punishable by excision would actually die before his fiftieth year, while one who committed a sin punishable by death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.
The Alter Rebbe thereupon posed the following question: How is it, he asked, that “in every generation there are so many individuals liable to excision and death [by Divine agency] who nevertheless enjoy extended and pleasant days and years!”
In answer, the Alter Rebbe explained that the soul is part of the Divine Name Havayah, the Tetragrammaton. Furthermore, both the internal and external aspects of the soul are “blown” or “breathed” forth, i.e., their source is the innermost reaches of G‑dliness. The innermost core of the soul derives from the internal aspect of the Tetragrammaton, the internal level of holiness. And even the external level of the soul, which is drawn down into man’s body through the Utterance “Let us make man,” derives from the internal aspect of this Utterance. Thus all aspects of the soul, even as enclothed within the body, ultimately derive from an act of “blowing”. And it is noted in ch. 5 that unlike speech, which can be heard even when something separates the listener from the speaker, exhaled breath does not reach its destination when there is an intervening obstruction (in this case, the individual’s sins).
The Alter Rebbe next uses this image and another to explain the concept of excision. The Jewish people’s relationship to G‑d is compared in Scripture to a rope, whose upper end is bound above and whose lower end is bound below — “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] inheritance.” This rope is the lifeline through which G‑dliness is drawn down even into the external aspect of the soul that lodges within the body. Sins, especially those incurring excision, sever this lifeline, thus preventing the life-force which is “blown” forth to penetrate to the soul that is invested in the body. In the past, this meant that a person liable to excision would actually die before his fiftieth year, while a person liable to death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.
In this, the sixth chapter, the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that this applied only during the time when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel, for then each Jew’s spiritual sustenance reached him only from the “side” of holiness — from the Four-Letter Name of the Infinite One.
In times of exile, however, when the Divine presence too is (so to speak) in exile, even the life-force of holiness can be drawn down through a garb of kelipah. It is therefore then possible that even individuals guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency continue to receive their vitality, even though their spiritual lifeline to the Tetragrammaton has been severed. This explains why during the era of exile even those guilty of the above-mentioned sins can live long lives. Parenthetically, this also provides them with the opportunity to repent and rectify their past misdeeds.
אמנם זהו בזמן שהיו ישראל במדרגה עליונה, כשהיתה השכינה שורה בישראל בבית המקדש
However, all this obtained when Israel was on an elevated plane, when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel in the Beit HaMikdash.
ואז לא היו מקבלים חיות לגופם רק על ידי נפש האלקית לבדה, מבחינת פנימיות השפע שמשפיע אין סוף ברוך הוא, על ידי שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא, כנ״ל
Then the body received its vitality only through the divine soul, from the innermost source of the life-giving power issuing from the Infinite One, through the Tetragrammaton, as discussed above.
Thus, if the spiritual lifeline emanating from the Tetragrammaton was severed, it was impossible for them to continue living. However, as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say, once they had fallen from that spiritual height, and thereby diverted the flow of the Divine life-force from its accustomed course, even deliberate transgressors can now receive their vitality as freely as do mere creatures.
אך לאחר שירדו ממדרגתם, וגרמו במעשיהם סוד גלות השכינה
But they then fell from their estate, and through their actions brought about the mystic exile of the Divine Presence,
That the Divine Presence should be in a state of exile among the forces of unholiness is indeed an inconceivable mystery.
כמו שכתוב: ובפשעיכם שולחה אמכם
as the verse states, “Through your sins was your mother banished.”
“Your mother” refers to the Divine Presence, the “mother of the children” (as explained in Part I, ch. 52), also known as Knesset Yisrael, the source of Jewish souls — the level of Malchut of Atzilut. In the context of the letters that constitute the Tetragrammaton, this corresponds to the final hei, from which proceeds the “rope” or “lifeline” to the soul.
דהיינו, שירדה השפעת בחינת ה״א תתאה הנ״ל, ונשתלשלה ממדרגה למדרגה למטה מטה
This means that the benevolence flowing forth from the above-mentioned latter hei of the Tetragrammaton was lowered far down, from plane to plane,
עד שנתלבשה השפעתה בי׳ ספירות דנוגה
until it became enclothed in the Ten Sefirot of nogah,
Inasmuch as the kelipah called nogah includes an admixture of goodness, it is composed of Ten Sefirot, corresponding to the Ten Sefirot of holiness.
המשפיעות שפע וחיות על ידי המזלות וכל צבא השמים והשרים שעליהם
which transmit the benevolence and vitality through the hosts of heaven and those charged over them,
לכל החי הגשמי שבעולם הזה, וגם לכל הצומח
to every living physical being in this world, even to vegetation,
כמאמר רז״ל: אין לך כל עשב מלמטה שאין לו מזל וכו׳
as our Sages state: “There is no blade of grass below that has no spirit [Above that smites it and commands it: Grow!]”
Thus, the life-force of all living beings — even of vegetation, which expresses its vitality through growth — derives from the kelipah of nogah.
ואזי יכול גם החוטא ופושעי ישראל לקבל חיות לגופם ונפשם הבהמיות
Hence, even the sinful and deliberate transgressors of Israel may receive vitality [from it] for their bodies and animal souls,
כמו שאר בעלי חיים ממש
exactly as other living creatures do,
כמו שנאמר: נמשל כבהמות נדמו
as Scripture states, that there exists a state wherein human beings are “likened and similar to beasts.”
In fact, not only is it possible for the sinner to receive his nurture from kelipah as do animals and other living beings, but indeed,
ביתר שאת וביתר עז
with even greater emphasis and force.
על פי המבואר מזהר הקדוש פרשת פקודי, שכל שפע וחיות הנשפעות לאדם התחתון
For, as explained in the holy Zohar, Parshat Pekudei, all the benevolence and vitality granted mortal man
בשעה ורגע שעושה הרע בעיני ה׳, במעשה או בדיבור או בהרהורי עבירה וכו׳
while he commits evil in the eyes of G‑d, in deed or speech, or by musing on sin, and so on, i.e., through any of the three soul-garments of thought, speech and action, —
הכל נשפע לו מהיכלות הסטרא אחרא המבוארים שם בזהר הקדוש
all [this life-force] issues to him from the [various] chambers of the sitra achra described there in the holy Zohar.
והאדם הוא בעל בחירה, אם לקבל השפעתו מהיכלות הסטרא אחרא, או מהיכלות הקדושה שמהם נשפעות כל מחשבות טובות וקדושות וכו׳
The choice is man’s — whether to derive his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achra, or from the chambers of holiness from which flow all good and holy thoughts, and so on.
When one’s thoughts, words and deeds are wholesome and holy, he receives his nurture from holiness; when his thoughts, words and deeds are evil, he derives his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achra.
כי זה לעומת זה עשה האלקים וכו׳
For “one opposite the other did G‑d make….”
Every manifestation of holiness has a counterpart in the kelipah and sitra achra.
והיכלות הסטרא אחרא מקבלים ויונקים חיותם מהתלבשות והשתלשלות השפע די׳ ספירות דנוגה
The chambers of the sitra achra derive their vitality from the issue of the Ten Sefirot of nogah that is embodied within them and that descends into them by stages,
הכלולה מבחינת טוב ורע, היא בחינת עץ הדעת וכו׳, כנודע ליודעי ח״ן
and [this kelipah of nogah] is comprised of good and evil, as in “the Tree of Knowledge [of good and evil],” as is known to those who are knowledgeable in the Kabbalah.
Since the kelipah of nogah is composed of both good and evil it serves as a source, after a multitude of descents, for the evil of the chambers of the sitra achra — the reservoir from which a man is refuelled when he sins in thought, speech or action.
The Alter Rebbe now resumes his explanation of why a sinful person not only receives his vitality from the “other side” like other living creatures, but in fact does so to an even greater degree. Since through his freely-chosen thoughts, words and deeds it was the sinner himself who replenished the reservoirs of the kelipot with life-force of Divine origin, it is he who will now have to swallow the lion’s share of those reservoirs.
והנה: יעקב חבל נחלתו כתיב
Scripture states: “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] heritage.”
על דרך משל: כמו החבל שראשו אחד למעלה וראשו השני למטה
The analogy [compares the soul of a Jew] to a rope, with one end above and the other end below.
אם ימשוך אדם בראשו השני, ינענע וימשך אחריו גם ראשו הראשון, כמה שאפשר לו להמשך
When one pulls the lower end he will move and pull after it the higher end as well, as far as it can be pulled.
וככה ממש בשרש נשמת האדם ומקורה מבחינת ה״א תתאה הנ״ל
It is exactly so with regard to the root of the soul of man and its source in the latter hei.
הוא ממשיך ומוריד השפעתה על ידי מעשיו הרעים ומחשבותיו
Through one’s evil deeds and thoughts one draws down the life-force [issuing from the latter hei]
עד תוך היכלות הסטרא אחרא, כביכול, שמשם מקבל מחשבותיו ומעשיו
into the chambers of the sitra achra, as it were, from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.
Although a person punishable by excision has severed his ropes, so to speak, he is still able to draw down the life-force issuing from the latter hei into the chambers of the sitra achra. The reason, as is explained elsewhere in the literature of Chassidut, is that even after the rope is severed, some external vestige of it survives. And it is through this remnant that the life-force of holiness is drawn down into the chambers of the kelipot.
ומפני שהוא הוא הממשיך להם ההשפעה, לכן הוא נוטל חלק בראש, וד״ל
Because it is he, the sinful individual, who draws the flow of vitality into [the chambers of the sitra achra], it is he who receives the greatest portion from them.
I.e., in even greater measure than do other living creatures. Nevertheless, it is explained in the literature of Chassidut that ultimately the sinner will cease to draw vitality from this flow, for the sitra achra can serve a Jew as a source only temporarily.
This will suffice for the understanding.
וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: אין בידינו לא משלות הרשעים וכו׳
Hence the statement of our Sages, of blessed memory: “It is not within our hands (i.e., it is not given us) to understand the reason for either the tranquillity of the wicked [or the suffering of the righteous].”
בידינו דוקא, כלומר: בזמן הגלות אחר החורבן
The quotation specifies “in our hands,” i.e., in this time of exile after the Destruction, when the wicked receive added vitality through the kelipot and sitra achra.
וזוהי בחינת גלות השכינה, כביכול
This is an expression of the “Exile of the Divine Presence,” as it were, during which time the life-force emanating from the latter hei flows into the kelipot,
להשפיע להיכלות הסטרא אחרא אשר שנאה נפשו ית׳
viz., [G‑d’s] granting [supplementary measures of] life-force to the chambers of the sitra achra that He despises.
וכשהאדם עושה תשובה נכונה, אזי מסלק מהם ההשפעה שהמשיך במעשיו ומחשבותיו
But when the sinner repents appropriately, he then removes from them the life-force that he had drawn into them through his deeds and thoughts,
כי בתשובתו, מחזיר השפעת השכינה למקומה
for by his repentance he returns the flow issuing from the Shechinah to its proper place.
וזהו תשוב ה״א תתאה מבחינת גלות
This, then, is the meaning of [the teaching of the Zohar, quoted in ch. 4, that “teshuvah is] tashuv hei, the return of the lower hei from exile” — that the lower level of repentance consists of returning the Shechinah, which is represented by the latter hei of the Tetragrammaton, from its state of exile.
וכמו שכתוב: ושב ה׳ אלקיך את שבותך
As the verse states, “The L‑rd, your G‑d (the source of your soul), will return (i.e., bring back) those of you who return”;
כלומר: עם שבותך
regarding the verb as being intransitive, this means [that G‑d Himself will return] with your return.
וכמאמר רז״ל: והשיב לא נאמר וכו׳
As our Sages have commented on this verse, “Scripture does not say, ‘He shall bring back,’ [but that He Himself will return].”
The verse is thus telling every Jew: When through repentance you extricate yourself from your own spiritual exile, you will thereby liberate “your G‑d” — the Shechinah, the source of your soul — from His exile too.