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.