וזה כל האדם, כי היום לעשותם כתיב, שהיום הוא עולם המעשה דוקא

This Torah study and fulfilling the mitzvot constitutes1 “the whole purpose of man,” for it is written:2 “I command you these mitzvot, that you do them this day” — “this day” referring specifically to this world of physical action.

The Alter Rebbe’s point is that the main objective in the commandment to love G‑d lies, not in the love itself, but in the practical and wholehearted fulfillment of the commandments that is motivated by this love, for the main thing in this world is action.

ולמחר כו׳ כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

Only “tomorrow” i.e., in the afterlife is the time of reward,3 as is explained elsewhere.

Hence the true love of G‑d, which is in itself a partial reward for one’s serving Him, is not as important in this life as the actual performance of the mitzvot, which can be generated even by a love which remains hidden in the mind and heart. This, then, is the love referred to in the verse, “for it is very near to you in your heart that you may do it” — a love which, though it may not find overt expression in the heart, is yet sufficient to motivate the performance of the mitzvot, and within reach of every Jew.

How does this love motivate one to perform the commandments? This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain:

והמוח שליט בטבעו ותולדתו על חלל השמאלי שבלב, ועל פיו ועל כל האברים שהם כלי המעשה

The mind, by virtue of its inherent nature, is master over the left part of the heart, the seat of the animal soul, whence come one’s mundane desires and evil thoughts, and over the mouth and the other bodily organs, which are the instruments of action.

Hence by having — in his mind, at least — a love of G‑d and a desire to fulfill the mitzvot, one can utilize the natural mastery of the mind to overcome the desires of his heart, and to motivate his mouth and other bodily organs to study Torah and fulfill its commandments. We thus see that this can be done even by one whose heart is not under his control, as is a tzaddik’s.

אם לא מי שהוא רשע באמת

This is true of everyone except he who is truly wicked — that is, not the Beinoni who is considered “like a rasha,” but one who is truly a rasha; in his case it cannot be said that his mind is master over his heart.

כמאמר רז״ל, שהרשעים הם ברשות לבם ואין לבם ברשותם כלל

On the contrary, our Sages state4 that the wicked are under the control of their heart but their heart is not under their control at all — they are unable to master the desires of their heart, for their mind has no active control over it.

This also resolves an apparent contradiction. The statement, “Tzaddikim have control over their heart,” indicates that anyone of a lesser rank, including a Beinoni, is not in control of his heart, while the statement that only the wicked are “under the control of their heart,” implies that anyone outside the category of rasha — even a Beinoni — is in control of his heart. Where, then, does the Beinoni actually stand? The previous discussion of the mastery of mind over heart explains this point. There are actually not two alternatives — of either being in control of one’s heart or controlled by it — but three. The tzaddik controls his heart. He can arouse a love of G‑d in his heart, directly, without resorting to his mind as a medium of influence. The rasha, on the other hand, not only does not control his heart, but is controlled by it. The Beinoni, although not in control of his heart, as is a tzaddik, rules his heart by way of his mind, which is under his control. To a certain extent, then, i.e., as regards the practical effect of his heart on his thought, speech, and action, the Beinoni does in fact control his heart. Therefore the Alter Rebbe says of the rasha “his heart is not under his control at all,” emphasizing that he is unable to influence his heart even by means of his mind.

The author previously stated that the ability of the mind to master the heart is natural and inherent in the mind. Why, then, do the wicked (resha‘im) lack this capacity? He answers:

וזה עונש על גודל ועוצם עונם

This is a punishment for the enormity and potency of their sinfulness.

However, this raises another question: If they have in fact lost the ability to master their heart, how can it be “very near” to them to observe the mitzvot “with their heart”? In answer, the author states:

ולא דברה תורה במתים אלו שבחייהם קרוים מתים

The Torah does not speak of the dead, that is, those wicked ones who are considered dead5 even during their lifetime.6

כי באמת אי אפשר לרשעים להתחיל לעבוד ה׳ בלי שיעשו תשובה על העבר תחלה

Indeed, it is impossible for the wicked to begin to serve G‑d, that is, to observe the mitzvot out of a feeling of love and fear of G‑d, without first repenting for their past,

לשבר הקליפות, שהם מסך מבדיל ומחיצה של ברזל המפסקת בינם לאביהם שבשמים

in order to shatter the kelipot that were created by their sins, which form a sundering curtain and an “iron wall” that interposes between them and their Father in Heaven.7

על ידי שבירת לבו ומרירת נפשו על חטאיו

How are these kelipot shattered? — By means of contriteness of heart and bitterness of soul over one’s sins.

כמו שכתוב בזהר על פסוק: זבחי אלקים רוח נשברה לב נשבר וגו׳ שעל ידי לב נשבר, נשברה רוח הטומאה דסטרא אחרא

As the Zohar interprets the verse,8 “The sacrifices to the Almighty (Elokim) are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart…,” to mean that through one’s breaking his heart the unclean spirit of the sitra achra (the kelipot) is broken, and this is the sacrifice that we offer to the Divine Name, Elokim.

When speaking of the sacrifices and the laws pertaining to them, the Torah mentions only the Divine Name Havayeh (as in the oft-repeated phrase describing the sacrifices: “an appealing fragrance to G‑d (Havayeh)”). No mention is made of a sacrifice to the Divine Name, Elokim. What, asks the Zohar, does constitute a sacrifice to that Name? The Zohar interprets the previously quoted verse as answering this question. “The sacrifice to Elokim is a broken spirit” (i.e., breaking the spirit of the sitra achra; and this is accomplished by means of) “a broken and contrite heart.”

(עיין שם פרשת פינחס דף ר"מ, ופרשת ויקרא דף ח׳ ודף ה׳ עמוד א׳, ובפירוש הרמ״ז שם)

9(See Zohar on Parshat Pinchas, p. 240, and on Parshat Vayikra, p. 8 and p. 5a, and the commentary of Rabbi Moshe Zacuto thereon.)