In ch. 29, the Alter Rebbe began to deal with the problem of timtum halev, insensitivity of the heart. He quoted the statement of the Zohar that a body impervious to the light of the soul needs to be crushed. By crushing one’s spirit, one crushes the sitra achara of his animal soul, whose arrogance is the cause of timtum halev.

In chs. 29-30, the Alter Rebbe described various means of arriving at a feeling of contrition (lit., “brokenheartedness”), e.g., reflecting on one’s spiritual failings in not waging an adequately strenuous battle against his evil impulse and realizing that one’s failure in this area places him on a level lower than that of the lowliest of his fellow Jews (as explained at length in ch. 30).

But while these methods may effectively dispel timtum halev, they would seem to have an undesirable side effect—depression. Ch. 31 deals with this problem.

Even if dwelling long and deeply on the abovementioned matters for an hour or two, to be lowly of spirit and contrite of heart, leads one to profound depression, let him not be perturbed.

וְהִנֵּה, אַף אִם כְּשֶׁיַּאֲרִיךְ הַרְבֵּה לְהַעֲמִיק בָּעִנְיָינִים הַנִּזְכָּרִים לְעֵיל כְּשָׁעָה וּשְׁתַּיִם, לִהְיוֹת בִּנְמִיכַת רוּחַ וְלֵב נִשְׁבָּר, יָבֹא לִידֵי עַצְבוּת גְּדוֹלָה – לֹא יָחוּשׁ.

True, atzvut (depression) derives from the realm of kelipat nogah, not of holiness,

וְאַף שֶׁעַצְבוּת הִיא מִצַּד קְלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ, וְלֹא מִצַּד הַקְּדוּשָּׁה,

for concerning the realm of holiness, it is written: “Strength and gladness are in His place,”1 and likewise, “The Divine Presence abides…only in [man’s] joy…and the same joy is required for the study of the Halachah.”2

כִּי בְּצַד הַקְּדוּשָּׁה כְּתִיב: "עוֹז וְחֶדְוָה בִּמְקוֹמוֹ", וְ"אֵין הַשְּׁכִינָה שׁוֹרָה אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ שִׂמְחָה" "וְכֵן לִדְבַר הֲלָכָה וְכוּ'",

Any depression, then, comes from the realm of kelipat nogah, except that if the depression is due to spiritual matters arising from one’s realization of his spiritual failings, it stems from the good contained in kelipat nogah, for, as mentioned in ch. 1, kelipat nogah contains both good and evil—the evil in nogah is the source of ordinary depression, and the positive element in nogah gives rise to spiritually motivated depression. Yet, even the element of good contained in nogah is, after all, kelipah.

אֶלָּא, שֶׁאִם הָעַצְבוּת הִיא מִמִּילֵּי דִשְׁמַיָּא, הִיא מִבְּחִינַת טוֹב שֶׁבְּנוֹגַהּ.

(3For this reason, the Arizal writes that even worry over one’s sins is appropriate only during confession,

[וְלָכֵן כָּתַב הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁאֲפִילוּ דַּאֲגַת הָעֲוֹנוֹת אֵינָהּ רְאוּיָה כִּי אִם בִּשְׁעַת הַוִּידּוּי,

but not during prayer and Torah study. These must be conducted with a joy deriving exclusively from the realm of holiness, as opposed to frivolity and the like.)

וְלֹא בִּשְׁעַת הַתְּפִלָּה וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה שֶׁמִּצַּד הַקְּדוּשָּׁה דַּוְוקָא]

Why then should one strive to crush the spirit of sitra achara with methods that lead to depression, which itself stems from the sitra achara of nogah?

Yet, this is precisely the method of humbling the sitra achara—through something of its own species and kind, i.e., the sitra achara is most effectively attacked by utilizing the good contained within it as a weapon against itself.

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, הֲרֵי כָּךְ הִיא הַמִּדָּה, לְאַכְפָּיָא לְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא בְּמִינָהּ וְדוּגְמָתָהּ.

As our Sages expressed it: “From the forest itself comes [the handle for] the ax [which fells the forest],”4 and in a similar vein, “He encountered one of his own kind.”5

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "מִינֵּיהּ וּבֵיהּ אִבָּא לִשֽׁדְּיָא בֵּיהּ נַרְגָּא", וּ"פָגַע בּוֹ כַּיּוֹצֵא בוֹ".

Of this sadness resulting from contemplation of one’s spiritual state it is written, “In every sadness, there will be profit.”6 The profit lies in the joy which follows the sadness, as will be explained later—i.e., in what way the sadness itself leads to joy.

וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר: "בְּכָל עֶצֶב יִהְיֶה מוֹתָר", וְהַיִּתְרוֹן, הִיא הַשִּׂמְחָה הַבָּאָה אַחַר הָעֶצֶב, כְּדִלְקַמָּן.

In truth, however, the state of being contrite of heart and bitter of soul—i.e., remorseful over one’s remoteness from G-d and over the fact that one’s soul is clothed in the sitra achara—can by no means be described in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew) by the term “atzvut.

אַךְ בֶּאֱמֶת, אֵין לֵב נִשְׁבָּר וּמְרִירוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ – עַל רִיחוּקָהּ מֵאוֹר פְּנֵי ה' וְהִתְלַבְּשׁוּתָהּ בְּסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא – נִקְרָאִים בְּשֵׁם "עַצְבוּת" כְּלָל בִּלְשׁוֹן הַקּוֹדֶשׁ,

The word atzvut, meaning “melancholy,” stems from a root which means “constricted.” In this context, it refers to a numbing depression that constricts one’s heart, blocking out all feeling, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

For atzvut” means that one’s heart is as dull as a stone and that there is no vitality—arousal of feeling—in his heart.

כִּי עַצְבוּת – הִיא שֶׁלִּבּוֹ מְטוּמְטָם כָּאֶבֶן וְאֵין חַיּוּת בְּלִבּוֹ,

But “bitterness” (merirut) and contrition are just the opposite, since the very fact that one is moved to be embittered is itself a sign of life,

אֲבָל מְרִירוּת וְלֵב נִשְׁבָּר, אַדְּרַבָּה, הֲרֵי יֵשׁ חַיּוּת בְּלִבּוֹ לְהִתְפָּעֵל וּלְהִתְמַרְמֵר,

except that this vitality derives from the holy attributes of severity (Gevurot) and it therefore expresses itself as bitterness, whereas joy derives from the [holy] attributes of kindness (Chasadim), for the heart contains both these attributes—kindness and severity.

רַק שֶׁהִיא חַיּוּת מִבְּחִינַת גְּבוּרוֹת קְדוֹשׁוֹת, וְהַשִּׂמְחָה מִבְּחִינַת חֲסָדִים, כִּי הַלֵּב – כָּלוּל מִשְׁתֵּיהֶן.

At any rate, we see that the dejection accompanying one’s disappointment with his spiritual situation stems from the realm of holiness, unlike atzvut, which derives from kelipat nogah.7

At times, one must arouse the holy attributes of severity (Gevurot) in order to temper (lit., “sweeten”) stern judgments, which in this context denote the animal soul and the evil inclination, whenever it (the latter) dominates a man, G-d forbid,

וְהִנֵּה, לְעִתִּים צָרִיךְ לְעוֹרֵר בְּחִינַת גְּבוּרוֹת הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת כְּדֵי לְהַמְתִּיק הַדִּינִים, שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינַת נֶפֶשׁ הַבַּהֲמִית וְיֵצֶר הָרָע כְּשֶׁשּׁוֹלֵט חַס וְשָׁלוֹם עַל הָאָדָם,

for stern judgments i.e., restraints on one’s spiritual well-being can only be “sweetened” by means of their source.

כִּי אֵין הַדִּינִים נִמְתָּקִין אֶלָּא בְּשָׁרְשָׁן.

All evil is simply a degenerate form of the attribute of severity (Gevurot) that derives from the realm of holiness. Myriad “contractions” (tzimtzumim) and descents of this attribute transform it to evil, the evil of kelipah. Naturally, this includes also the sitra achara of one’s animal soul and his evil impulse. In order to elevate or “sweeten” evil, to return evil to the realm of holiness, it is necessary to bring its source to bear on it. In terms of one’s divine service, this means crushing one’s evil impulse by merirut, bitter remorse, which derives its vitality from the holy attribute of severity—the source of the evil impulse.

For this reason, our Sages said: “One should always incite the good inclination to anger [against the evil inclination].”8

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "לְעוֹלָם יַרְגִּיז אָדָם יֵצֶר הַטּוֹב",

Since anger stems from the attribute of severity, it is capable of “sweetening” the evil inclination.

The word “always” (“one should always incite…”) is, however, to be understood in a qualified sense. Joy, not severity, is usually the proper setting for divine service. Thus, when our Sages state that one should always incite the good inclination, this means whenever he finds it necessary for himself, as, for example, when one sees that the arrogance of his animal soul does not permit the light of his divine soul to penetrate his heart, causing timtum halev.

וְהַיְינוּ, בְּכָל עֵת שֶׁרוֹאֶה בְּנַפְשׁוֹ שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְכָךְ.

However, the appropriate time for this anger” of the divine soul at the animal soul, meaning the time which is opportune and fitting for most people,

אַךְ שְׁעַת הַכּוֹשֶׁר, שֶׁהִיא שָׁעָה הַמְיוּחֶדֶת וּרְאוּיָה לְכָךְ לְרוֹב בְּנֵי אָדָם,

is when one is in any case depressed over mundane matters, or just so, without any discernible cause.9

הִיא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהוּא עָצֵב בְּלָאו הָכֵי מִמִּילֵּי דְעָלְמָא, אוֹ כָּךְ בְּלִי שׁוּם סִבָּה,

This is an opportune time for redirecting the depression toward spiritual matters to be among the “masters of accounts” mentioned above, i.e., to engage in soul-searching and spiritual stocktaking,

אֲזַי הִיא שְׁעַת הַכּוֹשֶׁר לְהַפֵּךְ הָעֶצֶב לִהְיוֹת מִ"מָּרֵי דְחוּשְׁבָּנָא" הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

and to fulfill the previously mentioned teaching of our Sages that one should always incite his good inclination against his evil inclination, since both of these paths harness the attribute of severity.

וּלְקַיֵּים מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה "לְעוֹלָם יַרְגִּיז וְכוּ'", כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

He will thus also be rid of the depression brought on by mundane matters.

וּבָזֶה יִפָּטֵר מֵהָעַצְבוּת שֶׁמִּמִּילֵּי דְעָלְמָא,

I.e., redirecting his depression into soul-searching, and into anger at his evil inclination, will dispel the mundane depression.