In ch. 26, the Alter Rebbe stated that both depression and dullness of heart produce a state of sluggishness which prevents a person from overcoming the evil inclination of the animal soul. He therefore outlined in chs. 26-28 methods of overcoming depression arising from various causes. In this chapter, the Alter Rebbe will discuss means of dealing with “dullness of heart” (timtum halev) after describing this state more clearly.

Those whose souls are of the level of beinonim must seek means of contending with yet another difficulty.

אַךְ עוֹד אַחַת צָרִיךְ לָשִׁית עֵצוֹת בְּנַפְשׁוֹת הַבֵּינוֹנִים,

Occasionally, and even frequently, they experience a dullness of the heart, as though it had turned to stone, and, try as they might, they cannot open their heart in prayer, which is by definition the “service of the heart.”1

אֲשֶׁר לִפְעָמִים וְעִתִּים רַבִּים יֵשׁ לָהֶם טִמְטוּם הַלֵּב שֶׁנַּעֲשֶׂה כָּאֶבֶן, וְלֹא יָכוֹל לִפְתּוֹחַ לִבּוֹ בְּשׁוּם אוֹפֶן לַעֲבוֹדָה שֶׁבַּלֵּב זוֹ תְּפִלָּה.

Chasidut explains that prayer is the “service of the heart” in a twofold sense: (a) It takes place in the heart, for in prayer, one strives to extend his intellectual apprehension of G-dliness into the realm of emotions experienced in the heart—the love and fear of G-d, and (b) the object of prayer is the heart, for in prayer, one tries to transform the nature of his heart—to steer it away from the mundane desires to which it naturally inclines and to direct it instead toward a yearning for the spiritual and the G-dly. To accomplish both these objectives of prayer, the heart must of course be open and receptive, and thus, timtum halev is a major hindrance.

Also, the heaviness in his heart prevents him at times from waging war against the evil impulse in sanctifying himself in permitted matters.

וְגַם, לִפְעָמִים לֹא יוּכַל לְהִלָּחֵם עִם הַיֵּצֶר, לְקַדֵּשׁ עַצְמוֹ בְּמוּתָּר לוֹ, מִפְּנֵי כְּבֵדוּת שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ.

As the Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 27, it is the task of the beinoni to suppress the desires of his heart, e.g., by not eating as soon as he has the urge to do so. This requires a battle with one’s evil impulse, which demands that he gratify all of his desires. When his heart is dull, heavy, and insensitive, he cannot fight the evil impulse.

In this case, the advice given in the holy Zohar 2 is, as the president of the academy of Gan Eden said: “A wooden beam which does not catch fire should be splintered, and similarly, a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed,” and thereby, the body becomes receptive to the soul’s light, as the Zohar concludes.

וְזֹאת הִיא עֵצָה הַיְּעוּצָה בַּזֹּהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ, דְּאָמַר רַב מְתִיבְתָּא בְּגַן עֵדֶן: "אָעָא דְּלָא סָלִיק בֵּיהּ נְהוֹרָא – מְבַטְּשִׁין לֵיהּ כוּ'. גּוּפָא דְּלָא סָלִיק בֵּיהּ נְהוֹרָא דְנִשְׁמְתָא – מְבַטְּשִׁין לֵיהּ כוּ'".

In the analogy quoted from the Zohar, we see that the wood is made receptive to the flame, rather than the flame being increased or improved to the point where it overwhelms the wood, and similarly with the insensitive heart. Timtum halev must be eradicated (by removing its underlying cause, as the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude), rather than overwhelmed (by increasing the intellectual light of contemplation on the greatness of G-d).

The reference to the “light of the soul” which, in this case, does not penetrate the body means that the light of the soul and of the intellect does not illuminate to such an extent as to prevail over the coarseness of the body.

פֵּירוּשׁ "נְהוֹרָא דְנִשְׁמְתָא", שֶׁאוֹר הַנְּשָׁמָה וְהַשֵּׂכֶל אֵינוֹ מֵאִיר כָּל כָּךְ לִמְשׁוֹל עַל חוּמְרִיוּת שֶׁבַּגּוּף.

Thus, although he understands and meditates in his mind on the greatness of G-d, yet that which he understands is not apprehended and implanted in his mind to the point where it enables him to prevail over the coarseness of the heart because of the degree of their (the mind and heart’s) coarseness and crassness.3

וְאַף שֶׁמֵּבִין וּמִתְבּוֹנֵן בְּשִׂכְלוֹ בִּגְדוּלַּת ה', אֵינוֹ נִתְפָּס וְנִדְבָּק בְּמוֹחוֹ כָּל כָּךְ שֶׁיּוּכַל לִמְשׁוֹל עַל חוּמְרִיּוּת הַלֵּב, מֵחֲמַת חוּמְרִיּוּתָן וְגַסּוּתָן.

The cause of this deficiency is the arrogance of the kelipah of the animal soul, which exalts itself above the holiness of the light of the divine soul so that it obscures and darkens its light.

וְהַסִּיבָּה – הִיא גַסּוּת הַקְּלִיפָּה, שֶׁמַּגְבִּיהַּ עַצְמָהּ עַל אוֹר קְדוּשַּׁת נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית, וּמַסְתֶּרֶת וּמַחֲשִׁיכָה אוֹרָהּ.

Therefore, one must crush it and cast it down to the ground, just as in the previously quoted analogy, the beam is splintered so that it will catch fire.

וְלָזֹאת, צָרִיךְ לְבַטְּשָׁהּ וּלְהַשְׁפִּילָהּ לֶעָפָר,

The Alter Rebbe now proceeds to explain how this is accomplished. He points out that the personality of the beinoni is his animal soul. (When a beinoni says “I,” he is referring to his animal soul.) Thus, by crushing his own spirit, he crushes the sitra achara and thereby enables the light of the soul and intellect to penetrate himself.

This means that one must crush the sitra achara and cast it to the ground by setting aside appointed times for humbling oneself and considering himself “despicable and contemptible,”4 as it is written.

דְּהַיְינוּ, לִקְבּוֹעַ עִתִּים לְהַשְׁפִּיל עַצְמוֹ, לִהְיוֹת "נִבְזֶה בְעֵינָיו נִמְאָס", כַּכָּתוּב,

Now “a broken heart [leads to] a broken spirit,”5 the “spirit” being the sitra achara, which, in the case of beinonim, is the very man himself.

וְ"לֵב נִשְׁבָּר" – "רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה", הִיא הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא, שֶׁהִיא הִיא הָאָדָם עַצְמוֹ בַּבֵּינוֹנִים,

For in his heart, the vital soul which animates the body is in its full strength as it was at birth; hence, it is indeed the very man himself.

שֶׁנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית הַמְחַיָּה הַגּוּף, הִיא בְּתָקְפָּהּ כְּתוֹלַדְתָּהּ בְּלִבּוֹ, נִמְצָא – הִיא הִיא הָאָדָם עַצְמוֹ.

With regard to the divine soul within him, it is said: “The soul which You gave within me is pure.”6 The word “(within) me” cannot be understood as referring to the body alone: the body cannot speak for itself as a complete man. Thus, it must refer also to the (animating) soul. Therefore, the words “(which You gave) within me” imply that the man himself who is saying these words is not identified with the “pure soul,” i.e., the divine soul is a thing apart, which has been “placed within” this “me”—the body and animal soul—except in the case of tzaddikim.

וְעַל נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית שֶׁבּוֹ נֶאֱמַר: "נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא", "שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי" דַּיְיקָא, מִכְּלָל, שֶׁהָאָדָם עַצְמוֹ אֵינֶנּוּ הַנְּשָׁמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה, כִּי אִם בַּצַּדִּיקִים,

With them, the contrary is true: the man himself is the “pure soul,” i.e, the divine soul, while their body is called “the flesh of man,” i.e., secondary to the man himself—the divine soul.

שֶׁבָּהֶם הוּא לְהֵפֶךְ, שֶׁנְּשָׁמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה שֶׁהִיא נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית – הוּא הָאָדָם, וְגוּפָם נִקְרָא – "בְּשַׂר אָדָם".

It was in this sense that Hillel the Elder would say to his disciples when he went to eat that he was going to do a favor to the “lowly and poor creature,”6 meaning his body. He regarded his body as a foreign thing and therefore used this expression—that he was doing it a favor by giving it food. For he himself was nothing other than the divine soul. It alone animated his body and flesh, inasmuch as in tzaddikim the evil that was in the vital soul pervading their blood and flesh has been transformed into good and completely absorbed into the holiness of the divine soul, and thus, the divine soul is the man himself.

וּכְמַאֲמַר הִלֵּל הַזָּקֵן לְתַלְמִידָיו כְּשֶׁהָיָה הוֹלֵךְ לֶאֱכוֹל, הָיָה אוֹמֵר, שֶׁהוּא הוֹלֵךְ לִגְמוֹל חֶסֶד עִם הָעֲלוּבָה וַעֲנִיָּה – הוּא גוּפוֹ, כִּי כְּמוֹ זָר נֶחְשַׁב אֶצְלוֹ, וְלָכֵן אָמַר, שֶׁהוּא גּוֹמֵל חֶסֶד עִמּוֹ בְּמַה שֶּׁמַּאֲכִילוֹ, כִּי הוּא עַצְמוֹ אֵינוֹ רַק נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית לְבַד, כִּי הִיא לְבַדָּהּ מְחַיָּה גּוּפוֹ וּבְשָׂרוֹ, שֶׁהָרָע שֶׁהָיָה בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּדָמוֹ וּבְשָׂרוֹ – נִתְהַפֵּךְ לְטוֹב, וְנִכְלַל בִּקְדוּשַּׁת נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית מַמָּשׁ, בַּצַּדִּיקִים.