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.

ואם העצבות אינה מדאגת עונות, אלא מהרהורים רעים ותאוות רעות שנופלות במחשבתו

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:

הנה אם נופלות לו שלא בשעת העבודה, אלא בעת עסקו בעסקיו ודרך ארץ וכהאי גוונא

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,

אדרבה יש לו לשמוח בחלקו, שאף שנופלות לו במחשבתו הוא מסיח דעתו מהם

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

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.

לקיים מה שנאמר: ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם אשר אתם זונים אחריהם

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

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:

ואין הכתוב מדבר בצדיקים לקראם זונים, חס ושלום

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

אלא בבינונים כיוצא בו שנופלים לו הרהורי ניאוף במחשבתו, בין בהיתר כו׳

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

וכשמסיח דעתו, מקיים לאו זה

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

ואמרו רז״ל: ישב ולא עבר עבירה, נותנים לו שכר כאילו עשה מצוה

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

ועל כן צריך לשמוח בקיום הלאו כמו בקיום מצות עשה ממש

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

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

ואדרבה, העצבות היא מגסות הרוח

On the contrary, such sadness is due to conceit.

שאינו מכיר מקומו, ועל כן ירע לבבו על שאינו במדרגת צדיק

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

שלצדיקים בודאי אין נופלים להם הרהורי שטות כאלו

to whom such foolish thoughts surely do not occur.

כי אילו הי׳ מכיר מקומו, שהוא רחוק מאד ממדרגת צדיק

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

והלואי היה בינוני ולא רשע כל ימיו אפילו שעה אחת

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),

הרי זאת היא מדת הבינונים ועבודתם

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

לכבוש היצר וההרהור העולה מהלב למוח, ולהסיח דעתו לגמרי ממנו ולדחותו בשתי ידים, כנ״ל

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.

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 occurence of evil thoughts in his mind, but only over his acceptance or rejection of these thoughts.

ובכל דחיה ודחיה שמדחהו ממחשבתו, אתכפיא סטרא אחרא לתתא

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

ובאתערותא דלתתא אתערותא דלעילא

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

ואתכפיא סטרא אחרא דלעילא המגביה עצמה כנשר

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

לקיים מה שכתוב: אם תגביה כנשר וגו׳ משם אורידך נאם ה׳

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

וכמו שהפליג בזהר פרשת תרומה דף קכח בגודל נחת רוח לפניו יתברך כד אתכפיא סטרא אחרא לתתא

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

דאסתלק יקרא דקודשא בריך הוא לעילא על כולא יתיר משבחא אחרא, ואסתלקותא דא יתיר מכולא וכו׳

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

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 achra.