In the previous chapter, the Alter Rebbe stated that sadness hinders one’s service of G-d in general and his battle with the yetzer hara in particular. He therefore discussed means of overcoming sadness caused by material concerns and by anxiety over one’s sins.

In this chapter and the next, he will discuss another type of melancholy, that caused by concern over one’s sinful thoughts and desires. This category itself may be further subdivided into two: (1) where these thoughts occur while one is occupied with his material affairs and (2) where these thoughts disturb his service of G-d in Torah study, prayer, and the like.

In this chapter, the Alter Rebbe discusses the first situation. He states that not only are these thoughts no cause for sadness, but on the contrary, they ought to give rise to joy.

If, however, his sadness does not stem from anxiety over sins that he has committed but from the fact that sinful thoughts and desires enter his mind, then:

וְאִם הָעַצְבוּת אֵינָהּ מִדַּאֲגַת עֲוֹנוֹת, אֶלָּא מֵהִרְהוּרִים רָעִים וְתַאֲווֹת רָעוֹת שֶׁנּוֹפְלוֹת בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ.

If these thoughts occur to him not during his service of G-d but while he is occupied with his own affairs and with mundane matters and the like,

הִנֵּה אִם נוֹפְלוֹת לוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בִּשְׁעַת הָעֲבוֹדָה, אֶלָּא בְּעֵת עָסְקוֹ בַּעֲסָקָיו וְדֶרֶךְ אֶרֶץ וּכְהַאי גַּוְונָא,

he should, on the contrary, be happy in his lot, for although these sinful thoughts enter his mind, he averts his attention from them.

אַדְּרַבָּה! יֵשׁ לוֹ לִשְׂמוֹחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁאַף שֶׁנּוֹפְלוֹת לוֹ בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ – הוּא מַסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ מֵהֶן,

It is clear that here we are speaking of one who does not wilfully dwell on sinful thoughts, for if he does so, he is a sinner, and the previous chapter has already dealt with sadness arising from sins.

By averting his mind from sinful thoughts, he fulfills the injunction, “You shall not follow after your heart and after your eyes, by which you go astray.”1

לְקַיֵּים מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: "וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זוֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם".

Only when sinful thoughts enter one’s mind can he fulfill this command. For the intention of the verse is not that one be at a level where such thoughts would not occur to him: this is the level of tzaddikim, who have eradicated all evil from their hearts. Surely, then, this verse is not addressed to tzaddikim. The verse refers rather to one who does have such thoughts, and he is commanded to banish them—as the Alter Rebbe continues:

The above verse surely does not speak of tzaddikim, referring to them (G-d forbid) as “going astray,”

וְאֵין הַכָּתוּב מְדַבֵּר בְּצַדִּיקִים לְקָרְאָם "זוֹנִים" חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

but of beinonim like himself, in whose mind there do enter erotic thoughts, whether of an innocent nature [or otherwise],

אֶלָּא בְּבֵינוֹנִים כַּיּוֹצֵא בוֹ, שֶׁנּוֹפְלִים לוֹ הִרְהוּרֵי נִיאוּף בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ, בֵּין בְּהֶיתֵּר כוּ',

and when he averts his mind from them, he fulfills this injunction.

וּכְשֶׁמַּסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ – מְקַיֵּים לָאו זֶה,

Our Sages have said: “When one passively refrains from sin, he is rewarded as though he had actively performed a mitzvah.”2

וְאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "יָשַׁב וְלֹא עָבַר עֲבֵירָה – נוֹתְנִים לוֹ שָׂכָר כְּאִלּוּ עָשָׂה מִצְוָה",

Consequently, he should rejoice in his compliance with the injunction just as he does when performing an actual positive precept.

וְעַל כֵּן צָרִיךְ לִשְׂמוֹחַ בְּקִיּוּם הַלָּאו, כְּמוֹ בְּקִיּוּם מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מַמָּשׁ.

Thus, not only should the occurrence of these thoughts not grieve him, but it ought to bring him joy, for only thereby is he able to fulfill this commandment.

On the contrary, such sadness is due to conceit,

וְאַדְּרַבָּה, הָעַצְבוּת הִיא מִגַּסּוּת הָרוּחַ,

for he does not know his place, and that is why he is distressed, because he has not attained the level of a tzaddik,

שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַכִּיר מְקוֹמוֹ, וְעַל כֵּן יֵרַע לְבָבוֹ עַל שֶׁאֵינוֹ בְּמַדְרֵגַת צַדִּיק,

to whom such foolish thoughts surely do not occur,

שֶׁלְּצַדִּיקִים בְּוַדַּאי אֵין נוֹפְלִים לָהֶם הִרְהוּרֵי שְׁטוּת כָּאֵלּוּ,

for were he to recognize his station, that he is very far from the rank of tzaddik,

כִּי אִילּוּ הָיָה מַכִּיר מְקוֹמוֹ, שֶׁהוּא רָחוֹק מְאֹד מִמַּדְרֵגַת צַדִּיק,

and would that he be a beinoni and not a rasha for even a single moment throughout his life (i.e., this is what he should be striving for at present rather than vainly desiring to be a tzaddik),

וְהַלְוַאי הָיָה בֵּינוֹנִי וְלֹא רָשָׁע כָּל יָמָיו, אֲפִילוּ שָׁעָה אַחַת,

then surely, this is the due measure of the beinonim and their task:

הֲרֵי זֹאת הִיא מִדַּת הַבֵּינוֹנִים וַעֲבוֹדָתָם –

to subdue the evil impulse and the thought that rises from the heart to the mind and to completely avert his mind from it, repulsing it as it were with both hands, as explained above in ch. 12.

לִכְבּוֹשׁ הַיֵּצֶר וְהַהִרְהוּר הָעוֹלֶה מֵהַלֵּב לַמּוֹחַ, וּלְהַסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ לְגַמְרֵי מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלִדְחוֹתוֹ בִּשְׁתֵּי יָדַיִם, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

The Alter Rebbe explained there that the evil in the soul of the beinoni remains vigorous; his task is to prevent it from expressing itself in thought, speech, and action. Thus, he has no control over the occurrence of evil thoughts in his mind, but only over his acceptance or rejection of these thoughts.

With every repulsion of this thought from his mind, the sitra achara is suppressed here below in This World,

וּבְכָל דְּחִיָּה וּדְחִיָּה שֶׁמַּדְחֵהוּ מִמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ, אִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא לְתַתָּא,

and, since “the arousal from below (in our case the initiative of the beinoni in suppressing the sitra achara) produces a corresponding arousal above,”

וּבְאִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְתַתָּא – אִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְעֵילָּא,

the sitra achara above in the supernal worlds (the root of the sitra achara of this world), which soars like an eagle, is also suppressed,

וְאִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא דִלְעֵילָּא הַמַּגְבִּיהַּ עַצְמָהּ כַּנֶּשֶׁר,

thus realizing the verse, “Though you soar aloft like the eagle…I will yet bring you down from there, says G-d.”3

לְקַיֵּים מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: "אִם תַּגְבִּיהַּ כַּנֶּשֶׁר וְגוֹ' מִשָּׁם אוֹרִידְךָ, נְאֻם ה'".

Indeed, the Zohar, in Parashat Terumah (p. 128), extolls the Divine satisfaction that occurs when the sitra achara is subdued here below,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁהִפְלִיג בַּזֹּהַר פָּרָשַׁת תְּרוּמָה [דַּף קכח], בְּגוֹדֶל נַחַת רוּחַ לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ כַּד אִתְכַּפְיָא סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא לְתַתָּא,

for “thereby G-d’s glory rises above all, more than by any other praise, and this ascent is greater than all else, etc.”

דְּאִסְתַּלֵּק יְקָרָא דְקוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא לְעֵילָּא עַל כּוּלָּא, יָתִיר מִשְּׁבָחָא אָחֳרָא, וְאִסְתַּלְּקוּתָא דָא יַתִּיר מִכּוּלָּא וְכוּ'.

Thus, it is the evil thoughts which enter the mind of the beinoni that enable him to fulfill G-d’s command in averting his attention from them, thereby subduing the sitra achara.