ולכן אמרו רז״ל על פסוק כי תשטה אשתו: אין אדם עובר עבירה כו’

This explains the commentary of our Sages on the verse, 1 “If a man’s wife turns aside [and commits adultery].” 2 — “No man commits any transgression unless a spirit of folly has entered into him.

The Sages thus relate the root ofתשטה — ”turns aside,“ toשטות — ”folly“.

דאפילו אשה המנאפת, שדעתה קלה, היתה מושלת ברוח תאותה לולי רוח שטות שבה

For even an adulterous woman, with her frivolous nature, could have controlled her passionate drive were it not for the spirit of folly within her,

המכסה ומסתיר ומעלים את האהבה מסותרת שבנפשה האלקית, לדבקה באמונת ה‘ ויחודו ואחדותו, ולא ליפרד חס ושלום מאחדותו, אפילו נוטלים את נפשה ממנה, לעבוד עבודה זרה, חס ושלום

which covers and conceals the hidden love within her divine soul, that yearns to cleave to her faith in G‑d, and to His unity and oneness, and that resists even on pain of death, any separation from His unity through idol-worship, i.e., even this adultress would willingly sacrifice her life, rather than submit to coercion to practice idolatry,

ואפילו בהשתחואה לבדה, בלי שום אמונה בלב כלל

even if this idol-worship would consist merely of an empty act of prostrating herself before the idolized object, without any belief in her heart in the validity of idol-worship.

וכל שכן לכבוש היצר ותאות הניאוף שהם יסורים קלים ממיתה, ה’ ישמרנו

Now, if her hidden love of G‑d has the power to enable her to face death rather than be separated from Him, surely then it is within its power to overcome the temptation and lust for adultery, which is lighter suffering than death (May G‑d protect us!).

It is only the ”spirit of folly,“ i.e., the notion that her sin will not tear her away from G‑dliness, that leads her to commit adultery.

It might be argued, however, that she differentiates between idolatry and adultery; she regards the former as much more heinous (and thus more certain to tear her away from G‑d) than the latter. Perhaps this differentiation (not the ”spirit of folly“) is why she would sacrifice her life rather than practice idolatry, yet at the same time she would not sacrifice her temptation for adultery. In answer, the Alter Rebbe states:

וההפרש שאצלה בין איסור ניאוף לאיסור השתחואה לעבודה זרה, הוא גם כן רוח שטות דקליפה

The distinction she makes between the prohibition against idolatry and that against adultery is also but a ”spirit of folly“ stemming from the kelipah.

It renders her insensitive to the enormous breach between herself and G‑d that is created by every sin. If she were aware of this breach, she would certainly overcome desire and refrain from sin.

המלבשת לנפש האלקית עד בחינת חכמה שבה, ולא עד בכלל, מפני אור ה‘ המלובש בחכמה כנ״ל

Yet the ”spirit of folly“ envelops the divine soul only up to, but not including, its faculty of Chochmah which, as explained in ch. 18, represents the power of faith in G‑d; this faith is unaffected by the ”spirit of folly,“ because of the Divine light that is clothed in the faculty of Chochmah, as explained above. 3

Therefore, when confronted with a matter that directly bears on her faith in G‑d, such as idolatry, where the ”spirit of folly“ is powerless, she would willingly sacrifice her life. But when faced with the temptation for adultery, where the ”spirit of folly“ can — and does — conceal her faith in G‑d and her hidden love for Him, she succumbs. As stated, the subjective distinction between the two stems from foolishness and insensitivity.

אבל באמת לאמיתו, אפילו עבירה קלה, הרי העוברה עובר על רצון העליון, ברוך הוא

In truth, however, even he who commits a minor sin transgresses the Divine Will,

והוא בתכלית הפירוד מיחודו ואחדותו יתברך, יותר מסטרא אחרא וקליפה הנקראת אלקים אחרים ועבודה זרה ממש, ויותר מכל הדברים הנשפעים ממנה בעולם הזה

and he is completely sundered from G‑d’s unity and oneness even more than the sitra achra and kelipah, which are called ”strange gods“ and ”idolatry“, since kelipah does not violate G‑d’s Will, whereas he does, and more than all things of this world that are derived from them,

שהם בהמות טמאות וחיות ועופות טמאים ושקצים ורמשים

namely, the unclean cattle, beasts, and birds, and the vermin and reptiles which all receive their life-force from the three completely unclean kelipot.

The person who transgresses even a minor sin, then, is worse and lower than the kelipot and all that derives from them.

וכמאמר: יתוש קדמך

As our Sages have said, 4 ”When a man sins, he is told: ’The gnat preceded you.'

The simple meaning of this statement is: ”You have no cause for pride! Even the lowly gnat was created before you!“ But the deeper spiritual meaning is that the gnat takes precedence over the sinner in rank — as the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain:

פירוש: דאף יתוש שמכניס ואינו מוציא

This means that even the gnat which as the Talmud states consumes [food] but does not excrete, indicating a kelipah which is the height of selfishness — it does not give anything of itself,

שהיא קליפה היותר תחתונה ורחוקה מבחינת הקדושה, המשפעת בתכלית ריחוק, קודמת לאיש החוטא בהשתלשלות וירידת החיות מרצון העליון, ברוך הוא

which is the very lowest form of kelipah, and is far removed from holiness, which characteristically gives of itself even to those far from it — for holiness implies humility, which leads to kindness and to benevolence, while kelipah represents egocentricity and selfishness; now even the very lowest kelipah, symbolized by the gnat, takes precedence over the sinner in the order of descent of the Divine life-force from the Divine Will.

This means that the kelipah symbolized by the gnat derives its life-force from a higher level of G‑dliness than that from which the sinner is sustained.

וכל שכן שאר בעלי חיים הטמאים ואפילו חיות רעות, שכולם אינם משנים תפקידם, ופקודתו יתברך שמרה רוחם, ואף על גב דאיהו לא חזי כו’

And surely the other unclean creatures and even the ferocious beasts [are higher than the sinner]. All of these do not deviate from their Divinely intended purpose, but obey G‑d’s command. Although they cannot perceive it, for the animal cannot perceive G‑d’s command, yet their ”spirit“ perceives it. 5

I.e., the life-force animating them, which is aware of the Divine Will, does not permit them to act in violation of it.

וכמו שכתוב: ומוראכם וחתכם יהיה על כל חית הארץ, וכפירוש רז״ל, שאין חיה רעה מושלת באדם אלא אם כן נדמה לה כבהמה

As it is written: 6 ”The fear and dread of you shall lie upon every beast of the earth,“ and as our Sages explain: 7 ”A wild beast will never defy a human being unless he appears to it like an animal.“

והצדיקים, שאין צלם אלקים מסתלק מעל פניהם, כל חיות רעות אתכפיין קמייהו, כמו שכתוב בזהר גבי דניאל בגוב אריות

In fact, when confronting tzaddikim, from whose face the Divine image never departs, the evil beasts are humbled before them, as is stated in the Zohar concerning Daniel in the lions’ den.

Not only did the lions not harm him, but on the contrary they humbled themselves before him. 8 At any rate, what emerges from the above is that even the animals do not violate G‑d’s Will.

ואם כן החוטא ועובר רצונו יתברך אפילו בעבירה קלה, בשעת מעשה הוא בתכלית הריחוק מקדושה העליונה, שהיא יחודו ואחדותו יתברך

It is thus clear that he who sins and transgresses against G‑d’s Will even in a minor offense, is, at the time he commits it, completely removed from the Divine Holiness, meaning G‑d’s unity and oneness,

יותר מכל בעלי חיים הטמאים ושקצים ורמשים המושפעים מסטרא אחרא וקליפת עבודה זרה

even more so than all the unclean creatures, the vermin and the reptiles which derive their sustenance from the sitra achra and the kelipah of avodah zarah.

All the aforesaid demonstrates how one’s hidden love for G‑d can enable him to overcome his desire to transgress any sin. When he considers that thereby he becomes separated from G‑d even more than the unclean creatures, he will recoil from every sin just as he recoils from the thought of idolatry — because of his awareness that it represents an attack on his love of G‑d and his faith in Him.