I’m wondering about the punishment called karet—spiritual excision from G‑d. If G‑d is everywhere, how can someone be completely cut off from Him? Can you repent after getting karet? Where can I learn more about this?


A soul functions on several planes: one that is affected by karet, and another that is not. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of Tanya, describes the makeup of the soul (and karet) in his work, Igeret HaTeshuvah, chapters 5 and 6. You can read his explanation in the original text here.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman draws on a biblical verse for an analogy for the soul: “Jacob is the portion of His inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9). The Hebrew word used here for “portion,” chevel, literally means “rope.” Our souls are like ropes made of 613 strands. As a rope connects the two objects at each end, the higher end of our souls are bound to G‑d and the lower end to our physical bodies, thus connecting them.

Each strand on the rope that is your soul corresponds to one of the 613 mitzvahs. When you fulfill that commandment, that aspect of your soul and its G‑dly connection are strengthened. When you transgress, that strand is severed. But you’re still connected to G‑d by 612 other strands, and when you repent of that sin, that particular thread is retied to form a new, stronger connection.

Have you ever taken a trip in a hot-air balloon? Imagine you’re high in the air in a basket kept peacefully afloat by an inflated balloon. Your balloon is fastened to your basket with 613 cords. Even if a cord comes undone, you’ve still got the other ropes holding things together while you repair the knot. But your calm coasting is rudely cut short by a chopper moving straight at your balloon. He misses the basket by an inch, and snaps every cord in one stroke. Your basket is cut off and hurtles towards the ground.

That’s karet. Certain transgressions cut not only one strand, but all 613 at once. The rope is severed; the soul is cut off from G‑d. The story should end there, because once that basket is detached from the balloon, there’s no recovery.

But here the metaphor breaks down. The basket and balloon can be permanently detached, because they’re two distinct objects connected by an external force, the ropes that bind them. When the ropes snap, nothing else holds the balloon and basket together. Souls, though, are not separate entities from G‑d; they are sparks of His own Being. G‑d and the soul are intrinsically one, with a unity deeper and more profound than actions can ever touch. Our innate bond with G‑d exists where the mitzvahs you do or don’t do don’t matter, so karet—the result of a sin—can’t affect it either.

That's why a person who incurs karet can still repent, even though his link to G‑d is broken. Because at a more intrinsic level, he still is connected. He’s always been connected.

When the Redemption arrives, our G‑dly connection will become apparent. We are promised that no Jew will be permanently estranged from G‑d. One way or another, we will all return, and the ropes will be retied.