In ch. 26 the Alter Rebbe stated that both depression and dullness of heart produce a state of sluggishness which prevents a person from overcoming the evil inclination of the animal soul. He therefore outlined in chs. 26-28 methods of overcoming depression arising from various causes. In this chapter the Alter Rebbe will discuss means of dealing with “dullness of heart” (timtum halev), after describing this state more clearly.

אך עוד אחת, צריך לשית עצות בנפשות הבינונים

Those whose souls are of the level of Beinonim must seek means of contending with yet another difficulty.

אשר לפעמים ועתים רבים יש להם טמטום הלב שנעשה כאבן, ולא יכול לפתוח לבו בשום אופן לעבודה שבלב, זו תפלה

Occasionally, and even frequently, they experience a dullness of the heart, as though it had turned to stone, and, try as they might, they cannot open their heart in prayer, which is by definition the1 “service of the heart.”

Chassidut explains that prayer is the “service of the heart” in a two-fold sense: (a) It takes place in the heart, for in prayer one strives to extend his intellectual apprehension of G‑dliness into the realm of emotions experienced in the heart — the love and fear of G‑d; (b) The object of prayer is the heart, for in prayer one tries to transform the nature of his heart — to steer it away from the mundane desires to which it naturally inclines, and to direct it instead towards a yearning for the spiritual and the G‑dly. To accomplish both these objectives of prayer, the heart must of course be open and receptive, and thus timtum halev is a major hindrance.

וגם לפעמים לא יוכל להלחם עם היצר לקדש עצמו במותר לו, מפני כבדות שבלבו

Also, the heaviness in his heart prevents him at times from waging war against the evil impulse, in sanctifying himself in permitted matters.

As the Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 27, it is the task of the Beinoni to suppress the desires of his heart, e.g., by not eating as soon as he has the urge to do so. This requires a battle with one’s evil impulse, which demands that he gratify all of his desires. When his heart is dull, heavy and insensitive he cannot fight the evil impulse.

וזאת היא עצה היעוצה בזהר הקדוש, דאמר רב מתיבתא בגן עדן: אעא דלא סליק ביה נהורא, מבטשין ליה כו׳, גופא דלא סליק ביה נהורא דנשמתא, מבטשין ליה כו׳

In this case, the advice given in the holy Zohar2 is, as the president of the academy of Gan Eden said: “A wooden beam which does not catch fire should be splintered, and similarly a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed,” and thereby the body becomes receptive to the soul’s light, as the Zohar concludes.

In the analogy quoted from the Zohar we see that the wood is made receptive to the flame, rather than the flame being increased or improved to the point where it overwhelms the wood. Similarly with the insensitive heart. Timtum halev must be eradicated (by removing its underlying cause, as the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude), rather than overwhelmed (by increasing the intellectual light of contemplation on the greatness of G‑d).

פירוש נהורא דנשמתא: שאור הנשמה והשכל אינו מאיר כל כך למשול על חומריות שבגוף

The reference to the “light of the soul” which, in this case, does not penetrate the body means that the light of the soul and of the intellect does not illuminate to such an extent as to prevail over the coarseness of the body.

ואף שמבין ומתבונן בשכלו בגדולת ה׳, אינו נתפס ונדבק במוחו כל כך שיוכל למשול על חומריות הלב, מחמת חומריותן וגסותן

Thus, although he understands and meditates in his mind on the greatness of G‑d, yet that which he understands is not apprehended and implanted in his mind to the point where it enables him to prevail over the coarseness of the heart — because of the degree of their (the mind and heart’s) coarseness and crassness. 3

והסיבה היא גסות הקליפה, שמגביה עצמה על אור קדושת נפש האלקית, ומסתרת ומחשיכה אורה

The cause of this deficiency is the arrogance of the kelipah of the animal soul, which exalts itself above the holiness of the light of the divine soul, so that it obscures and darkens its light.

ולזאת צריך לבטשה ולהשפילה לעפר

Therefore, one must crush it and cast it down to the ground, just as in the previously quoted analogy the beam is splintered so that it will catch fire.

The Alter Rebbe now proceeds to explain how this is accomplished. He points out that the personality of the Beinoni is his animal soul. (When a Beinoni says “I,” he is referring to his animal soul.) Thus, by crushing his own spirit, he crushes the sitra achra, and thereby enables the light of the soul and intellect to penetrate himself.

דהיינו לקבוע עתים להשפיל עצמו, להיות נבזה בעיניו נמאס, ככתוב

This means that one must crush the sitra achra and cast it to the ground by setting aside appointed times for humbling oneself and considering himself4 “despicable and contemptible,” as it is written.

ולב נשבר רוח נשברה היא הסטרא אחרא, שהיא היא האדם עצמו בבינונים

Now5 “A broken heart [leads to] a broken spirit,” the “spirit” being the sitra achra which, in the case of Beinonim, is the very man himself.

שנפש החיונית המחיה הגוף היא בתקפה כתולדתה בלבו, נמצא היא היא האדם עצמו

For in his heart the vital soul which animates the body is in its full strength as it was at birth; hence it is indeed the very man himself.

ועל נפש האלקית שבו, נאמר: נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא, שנתת בי דייקא, מכלל שהאדם עצמו איננו הנשמה הטהורה, כי אם בצדיקים

With regard to the divine soul within him it is said: 6 “The soul which You gave within me is pure.” The word “(within) me” cannot be understood as referring to the body alone: the body cannot speak for itself as a complete man. Thus, it must refer also to the (animating) soul. Therefore, the words “(which You gave) within me” imply that the man himself who is saying these words is not identified with the “pure soul”; i.e., the divine soul is a thing apart, which has been “placed within” this “me” — the body and animal soul — except in the case of tzaddikim.

שבהם הוא להפך: שנשמה הטהורה שהיא נפש האלקית הוא האדם, וגופם נקרא בשר אדם

With them the contrary is true: the man himself is the “pure soul,” i.e, the divine soul, while their body is called “the flesh of man” i.e., secondary to the man himself — the divine soul.

וכמאמר הלל הזקן לתלמידיו, כשהיה הולך לאכול היה אומר שהוא הולך לגמול חסד עם העלובה ועניה, הוא גופו, כי כמו זר נחשב אצלו, ולכן אמר שהוא גומל חסד עמו במה שמאכילו, כי הוא עצמו אינו רק נפש האלקית לבד, כי היא לבדה מחיה גופו ובשרו, שהרע שהיה בנפש החיונית המלובשת בדמו ובשרו נתהפך לטוב, ונכלל בקדושת נפש האלקית ממש בצדיקים

It was in this sense that Hillel the Elder would say to his disciples when he went to eat that he was going to do a favor to the7 “lowly and poor creature,” meaning his body. He regarded his body as a foreign thing, and therefore used this expression — that he was doing it a favor by giving it food. For he himself was nothing other than the divine soul. It alone animated his body and flesh, inasmuch as in tzaddikim the evil that was in the vital soul pervading their blood and flesh has been transformed into good and completely absorbed into the holiness of the divine soul, and thus, the divine soul is the man himself.