In ch. 18, the Alter Rebbe began to explain how it is very near and accessible to each of us to serve G-d out of a feeling of love and awe by means of awakening the hidden love latent in us all. To clarify how this hidden love can lead to the observance of all the mitzvot, the Alter Rebbe proceeded to discuss the relationship of all the mitzvot to the precept of belief in G-d’s unity and to the prohibition against idolatry. The unity of G-d, he explained, means not only that there is but one G-d, rather that G-d is the only existing being, and all else is contained within Him. Conversely, idolatry does not necessarily mean a denial of G-d’s existence or of His being unique. Any assertion that something exists beyond and separate from G-d also constitutes idolatry.

In ch. 23, the Alter Rebbe went on to state that through Torah and mitzvot, in which the Divine will stands revealed, one reaches a perfect union with G-d. In this chapter, he explains that a transgression has exactly the opposite effect of a mitzvah. Whereas a mitzvah joins one to G-d, a transgression severs one from Him; whereas a mitzvah attests to G-d’s unity, a transgression implies idolatry.

Since everything in the realm of holiness has its counterpart in the unholy realms of the sitra achara, there is also an unholy counterpart to the observance of the mitzvot and to Torah study, which produce union with G-d. Their counterpart is:

וְ"זֶה לְעוּמַּת זֶה",

the 365 prohibitions stated in the Torah and all the Rabbinical prohibitions.

הֵן שַׁסַ"ה מִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וְכָל אִיסּוּרֵי דְרַבָּנָן,

Since they are contrary to and the very opposite of G-d’s will and wisdom,

מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵן נֶגֶד רְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְהֶפְכָּם מַמָּשׁ –

they represent total and complete separation from His unity and oneness.

הֵם נִפְרָדִים מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מַמָּשׁ,

They are the same as the sitra achara and the kelipah, which are called “idolatry” and “other gods,” since the internal aspect of the Divine will is concealed from them, as explained above1that they receive their life-force from the “hinder-part” of the Divine will, the level of אֲחוֹרַיִים, and for this reason, they are called אֶלֹקִים אֲחֵרִים—“other gods.”

כְּמוֹ הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וְהַקְּלִיפָּה הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" וֵ"אלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים", מֵחֲמַת הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים שֶׁל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

Just as the forbidden actions themselves represent separation from G-dliness, so, too, the three garments of a Jew’s animal soul, which stems from the kelipah of nogah—namely, the thought, speech, and action that are clothed in, i.e., that think, speak, or act in violation of, the 365 Torah prohibitions or any of the Rabbinic injunctions,

וְכֵן ג' לְבוּשֵׁי הַנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁמִּקְּלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁהֵם מַחֲשָׁבָה דִּבּוּר וּמַעֲשֶׂה, הַמְלוּבָּשִׁים בְּשַׁסַ"ה לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּדְרַבָּנָן,

and similarly the essence of the soul itself which is clothed in its garments, since it is the soul itself, after all, which thinks, speaks, and acts through its “garments”—the faculties of thought, speech, and action,

וְכֵן מַהוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ עַצְמָהּ הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בִּלְבוּשֶׁיהָ,

all of them become completely united with this sitra achara and kelipah called “avodah zarah,” i.e., idolatry.

כּוּלָּם מְיוּחָדִים מַמָּשׁ בְּסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה זוֹ, הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה".

Not only are they united with the kelipah and thus equal to it, but furthermore, they become secondary and subordinate to it and much lower and more debased than it.

וְלֹא עוֹד, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּטֵלִים וּטְפֵלִים אֵלֶיהָ, וּגְרוּעִים וּפְחוּתִים מִמֶּנָּה מְאֹד,

For the kelipah is not clothed in a corporeal body and hence is more exposed to the divine light; it knows its Master and does not rebel against Him (G-d forbid) by any independent act of sending its evil messengers, other than in the service of G-d.

כִּי הִיא, אֵינָהּ מְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּף חוּמְרִי, וְיוֹדַעַת אֶת רִבּוֹנָהּ, וְאֵינָהּ מוֹרֶדֶת בּוֹ לִפְעוֹל פְּעוּלָּתָהּ בְּמִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים שֶׁלָּהּ – שֶׁלֹּא בִּשְׁלִיחוּתוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם בָּרוּךְ־הוּא חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

Any evil act of the sitra achara is performed only in the service of G-d. Thus, the kelipot that are not clothed in a body cannot rebel against G-d’s will; only the animal soul clothed in the human body can do so. Hence, it is even lower than the kelipah.

So did Bilaam say: “I cannot violate the Word of G-d….”2

וּכְמַאֲמַר בִּלְעָם: "לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבוֹר אֶת פִּי ה' וְגוֹ".

Although the kelipot are called avodah zarah, idolatry, which is a denial of G-d, yet they refer to Him as “the G-d of gods,” indicating that they do not deny Him completely.

וְאַף שֶׁנִּקְרָא "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה", הָא קָרוּ לֵיהּ "אֱלָהָא דֶאֱלָהַיָּא",

They cannot violate G-d’s will, for they know and perceive that He is their life and sustenance, since they derive their nurture from the “hindermost aspect” of the Divine will which encompasses them.

וְאֵינָם יְכוֹלִים לַעֲבוֹר כְּלָל עַל רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, כִּי יוֹדְעִים וּמַשִּׂיגִים שֶׁהוּא חַיּוּתָם וְקִיּוּמָם, שֶׁיּוֹנְקִים מִבְּחִינַת "אֲחוֹרַיִים דַּאֲחוֹרַיִים" שֶׁל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמַּקִּיף עֲלֵיהֶם,

It is only the sustenance and life-force that is within them, i.e., the internal life-force which constitutes the identity of every created being, as explained in ch. 22, that is in a state of exile, so that they regard themselves as gods—which is a denial of G-d’s unity.

אֶלָּא שֶׁיְּנִיקָתָם וְחַיּוּתָם שֶׁבְּתוֹכָם, הִיא בִּבְחִינַת גָּלוּת בְּתוֹכָם – לְהַחֲשִׁיב עַצְמָן אֱלֹהוּת, וַהֲרֵי זוֹ כְּפִירָה בְּאַחְדּוּתוֹ.

But they are not so completely heretical as to deny G-d and to assert that He does not exist. On the contrary, they regard Him as “the G-d of gods,” recognizing that their life and existence ultimately derive from His will.

אֲבָל מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אֵינָן כּוֹפְרִים וְכִחֲשׁוּ בַּה' לְגַמְרֵי וְלוֹמַר לֹא הוּא, אֶלָּא דְּקָרוּ לֵיהּ "אֱלָהָא דֶאֱלָהַיָּא", דְּהַיְינוּ – חַיּוּתָם וְקִיּוּמָם הַנִּמְשָׁךְ וְיוֹרֵד עֲלֵיהֶם מֵרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

Therefore, they never rebel against G-d’s will.

וְלָכֵן אֵינָן עוֹבְרִין רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ לְעוֹלָם.

It follows, then, that the person who does violate G-d’s will is greatly inferior to and more debased than the sitra achara and kelipah, which are called avodah zarah and “other gods.”

וְאִם כֵּן, הָאָדָם הָעוֹבֵר עַל רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הוּא גָּרוּעַ וּפָחוּת הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד מֵהַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה, הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" וֵ"אלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים",

He is separated completely from G-d’s unity and oneness even more than they are as though denying His unity even more radically than they, G-d forbid.

וְהוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנָּה, וּכְאִלּוּ כּוֹפֵר בְּאַחְדּוּתוֹ יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנָּה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

This is similar to what is written in Etz Chaim, Portal 42, end of ch. 4, that the evil in this corporeal world is the dregs of the coarse kelipot, it is the sediment of the purifying process, and so on.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר מ"ב סוֹף פֶּרֶק ד', שֶׁהָרָע שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַחוּמְרִי, הוּא שִׁמְרֵי הַקְּלִיפּוֹת הַגַּסּוֹת כוּ', וְהוּא תַּכְלִית הַבֵּירוּר וְכוּ',

I.e., after whatever sparks of good that are found in the kelipot have been isolated and elevated, what remains is kelipah in its lowest, coarsest form. This kelipah is the evil found in this material world.

For this reason, all matters of this world are harsh and evil, and the wicked prevail in it, and so forth.

וְלָכֵן כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה עוֹלָם הַזֶּה קָשִׁים וְרָעִים, וְהָרְשָׁעִים גּוֹבְרִים בּוֹ וְכוּ':