This explains the commentary of our Sages on the verse, “If a man’s wife turns aside [and commits adultery]…”3—“No man commits any transgression [unless a spirit of folly has entered into him].”4

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה עַל פָּסוּק: "כִּי תִשְׂטֶה אִשְׁתּוֹ" – "אֵין אָדָם עוֹבֵר עֲבֵירָה וְכוּ'",

The Sages thus relate the root of תִשְׂטֶה—“turns aside” to שְׁטוּת—“folly.”

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,

דַּאֲפִילוּ אִשָּׁה הַמְנָאֶפֶת שֶׁדַּעְתָּהּ קַלָּה, הָיְתָה מוֹשֶׁלֶת בְּרוּחַ תַּאֲוָתָהּ, לוּלֵי רוּחַ שְׁטוּת שֶׁבָּהּ –

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 adulteress would willingly sacrifice her life rather than submit to coercion to practice idolatry,

הַמְכַסֶּה וּמַסְתִּיר וּמַעֲלִים אֶת הָאַהֲבָה מְסוּתֶּרֶת שֶׁבְּנַפְשָׁהּ הָאֱלֹהִית, לְדָבְקָה בֶּאֱמוּנַת ה' וְיִחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ, וְלֹא לִיפָּרֵד חַס וְשָׁלוֹם מֵאַחְדּוּתוֹ, אֲפִילוּ נוֹטְלִים אֶת נַפְשָׁהּ מִמֶּנָּה לַעֲבוֹד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

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.

וַאֲפִילוּ בְּהִשְׁתַּחֲוָאָה לְבַדָּהּ בְּלִי שׁוּם אֱמוּנָה בַּלֵּב כְּלָל,

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!)

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לִכְבּוֹשׁ הַיֵּצֶר וְתַאֲוַת הַנִּיאוּף, שֶׁהֵם יִסּוּרִים קַלִּים מִמִּיתָה, ה' יִשְׁמְרֵנוּ.

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:

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

וְהַהֶפְרֵשׁ שֶׁאֶצְלָהּ בֵּין אִיסּוּר נִיאוּף לְאִיסּוּר הִשְׁתַּחֲוָאָה לַעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, הוּא גַם כֵּן רוּחַ שְׁטוּת דִּקְלִיפָּה

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.

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.5

הַמַּלְבֶּשֶׁת לַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית עַד בְּחִינַת חָכְמָה שֶׁבָּהּ, וְלֹא עַד בִּכְלָל, מִפְּנֵי אוֹר ה' הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בַּחָכְמָה, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

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.

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

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת לַאֲמִיתּוֹ, אֲפִילוּ עֲבֵירָה קַלָּה, הֲרֵי הָעוֹבְרָהּ עוֹבֵר עַל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

and he is completely sundered from G-d’s unity and oneness

וְהוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

even more than the sitra achara 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,

יוֹתֵר מִסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה הַנִּקְרֵאת "אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים" וַ"עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" מַמָּשׁ, וְיוֹתֵר מִכָּל הַדְּבָרִים הַנִּשְׁפָּעִים מִמֶּנָּה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

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

שֶׁהֵם בְּהֵמוֹת טְמֵאוֹת וְחַיּוֹת וְעוֹפוֹת טְמֵאִים וּשְׁקָצִים וּרְמָשִׂים,

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

As our Sages have said, “When a man sins, he is told: ‘The gnat preceded you.’”6

וְכַמַּאֲמָר: "יַתּוּשׁ קְדָמָךְ",

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:

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,

פֵּירוּשׁ, דְּאַף יַתּוּשׁ – שֶׁמַּכְנִיס וְאֵינוֹ מוֹצִיא,

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.

שֶׁהִיא קְלִיפָּה הַיּוֹתֵר תַּחְתּוֹנָה, וּרְחוֹקָה מִבְּחִינַת הַקְּדוּשָּׁה הַמַּשְׁפַּעַת בְּתַכְלִית הָרִיחוּק – קוֹדֶמֶת לָאִישׁ הַחוֹטֵא, בְּהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת וִירִידַת הַחַיּוּת מֵרָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

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.

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.7

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן שְׁאָר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַטְּמֵאִים, וַאֲפִילוּ חַיּוֹת רָעוֹת, שֶׁכּוּלָּם – אֵינָם מְשַׁנִּים תַּפְקִידָם, וּפְקוּדָּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שָׁמְרָה רוּחָם, וְ"אַף־עַל־גַּב דְּאִיהוּ לָא חָזֵי כוּ'",

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

As it is written: “The fear and dread of you shall lie upon every beast of the earth,”8 and as our Sages explain: “A wild beast will never defy a human being unless he appears to it like an animal.”9

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם יִהְיֶה עַל כָּל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ", וּכְפֵירוּשׁ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁ"אֵין חַיָּה רָעָה מוֹשֶׁלֶת בְּאָדָם אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִדְמֶה לָהּ כִּבְהֵמָה";

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.

וְהַצַּדִּיקִים, שֶׁאֵין צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים מִסְתַּלֵּק מֵעַל פְּנֵיהֶם – כָּל חַיּוֹת רָעוֹת אִתְכַּפְיָין קַמַּיְיהוּ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר גַּבֵּי דָּנִיֵּאל בְּגוֹב אֲרָיוֹת.

Not only did the lions not harm him, but on the contrary, they humbled themselves before him.10 At any rate, what emerges from the above is that even the animals do not violate G-d’s will.

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,

וְאִם כֵּן, הַחוֹטֵא וְעוֹבֵר רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ אֲפִילוּ בַּעֲבֵירָה קַלָּה, בִּשְׁעַת מַעֲשֶׂה – הוּא בְּתַכְלִית הָרִיחוּק מִקְּדוּשָּׁה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה, שֶׁהִיא יִחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

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

יוֹתֵר מִכָּל בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַטְּמֵאִים וּשְׁקָצִים וּרְמָשִׂים הַמּוּשְׁפָּעִים מִסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפַּת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה.

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.