After the preface of the above, we have to understand the meaning of the phrase in the verse cited above: “the path of life.”

It is written: 1“And you shall place (VeSamtem) these words of Mine....” Our Sages (Kiddushin 30b) divide the word VeSamtem as sam tam meaning “a perfect drug,” stating that the Torah is an elixir of life. [The passage continues:] “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as a condiment for it.” Similarly, Eruvin 54a explains that G‑d “gave the Torah to Israel as an elixir of life for the entire body, as it is written: 2‘It is healing to all his flesh.’”

The expression “an elixir of life” can be explained on the basis of the Zohar, Vol. III, the beginning of Parshas Chukas, p. 179b, commenting on the verse: “And this is what shall be done to them [so that] they live”:

When a person encounters the potion of death, unless the elixir of life is mixed together with it, he shall surely die. [This is alluded to] by the phrase: “And this (Vezos) is what shall be done to them [so that] they live.”
[They will not die,] because the elixir of life is mixed together.... For this reason, “And this is the Torah (Vezos HaTorah)....”3

To explain: Malchus which is referred as zos comes into being from the attributes of Gevurah. Therefore it is referred to as “a potion of death,” as the Zohar, Parshas Behar, [Vol. III,] p. 110b comments with regard to the verse: “Dwell in the land, and nourish faith.” 4Therefore it is necessary to mix “the elixir of life” together with it, i.e., to draw down the level of Za’er Anpin, which is called “the tree of life.” This is the concept of “the elixir of life,” that it transforms the attributes of Gevurah to good.

We are forced to say that the transformation and sweetening of the attributes of Gevurah from being “a potion of death” to “an elixir of life,” has an advantage over “an elixir of life” alone. To cite a parallel: A radish salad which is fried with honey is sweeter than honey itself.

This is the fundamental quality which a potion possesses - to transform and sweeten the attributes of Gevurah. The same Hebrew word sam, ox, is also used to describe medication, for the intent [of medication] is to heal a sick person. And similarly, the Torah uses the term sam to describe fragrance, as in the verse: 5 Kach Lecha Samim, “Take fragrant spices....” For spices revive the soul, drawing down new energy, which enable all of the [soul’s] powers to be renewed and strengthened with new life energy as explained in other sources.

This [process] reflects the refinement of the Tree of Knowledge, which is the “potion of death”; when it becomes purified, it becomes elevated to a higher plane. To cite a parallel: the refinement of [the sparks that fell from] the world of Tohu, concerning which it says: 6“And he reigned... and he died.” [The refinement of these sparks leads to] an ascent above the level of the realm of Atzilus which is identified with the realm of Tikkun.

This is the intent of the creation of the yetzer hara, that it be sweetened by the condiment of the Torah which is called the “Tree of Life” and an “elixir of life.” Therefore [the yetzer hara] is described as being “very good.” 7

With regard to the Tree of Life, it is explained in the Zohar, Vol. I, p. 37b, that the source of the influence comes to Za’er Anpin from Arach Anpin, from where long life is drawn down. See the Mikdash Melech who states in the name of the Tikkunei Zohar as follows: “This is the intent of the verse: 8‘Long life is at its right hand.’ For the 613 mitzvos of the Torah and the seven mitzvos ordained by the Rabbis are 620 pillars of light from Kesser.9 Similarly, the Adra Rabbah, p. 129a, states that the path diffuses into 613 pathways that separate in Za’er Anpin. Thus the source of the influence [invested] in the Torah comes from Arach Anpin. And in Parshas Behaalos’cha, p. 152a, [the Zohar] states: “Knesses Yisrael10 - this is the body for the soul.... The soul - this is Tiferes Yisrael11 which is the Torah itself. The soul of the soul is Atika Kadisha.12
This parallels the interpretation offered by Likkutei Torah 13on the verse: 14 “When you will listen to the voice....” [bakol, translated as “to the voice,” can also be rendered as “within the voice.”] “The voice” is identified with Za’er Anpin, “the voice of Yaakov.” 15“Within the voice” refers to the Or Ein Sof which is enclothed in the voice, i.e., the Or Ein Sof which is enclothed in the Torah. For the Torah is identified with Za’er Anpin, and within it, is enclothed the level of Kesser.

This concept is alluded to in the Talmudic passage 16which speaks of reciting a blessing before Torah study. [As mentioned above, blessing is associated with drawing down influence. The intent of reciting a blessing before Torah study is to] draw down influence from the Or Ein Sof of Kesser to the Torah as it exists within Za’er Anpin, thus [making the Torah] a “Tree of Life” and “an elixir of life.”

[Then the Torah becomes] a sam, a medication, and Arach Anpin is referred to as the doctor, for the source for healing comes from this level. This is [alluded to by the fact that when rearranged the first letters of] the phrase: 17Ki Ani Hashem Rofecha, “For I am G‑d your Healer” forms an acronym for the word Arich, and from the level of Arich, “Your health'' 18will speedily sprout forth.” 19This is [also alluded to in the blessing from the Shemoneh Esreh associated with healing which states:] “Grant consummate healing (arucha) and remedy....” 20

[The explanation of the above is that] sickness comes from kelipas nogah. The transformation of darkness to light and the bitterness of kelipas nogah to sweetness is accomplished through the light that transcends the spiritual cosmos (Seder Hishtalshelus).

To explain the above, it is written:81 “All of the disease which I placed upon Egypt, I will not place upon you, for I am G‑d your Healer.” The Talmud (Bava Metzia 107b) states: “Disease, this is marah.21Disease is the source of sickness, and the source of all sickness is marah.

This can be elucidated as follows: It is written: 22“For the lips of a strange [woman] drip honey... but her end is bitter (marah) as wormwood.” The Zohar (Vol. II, Parshas Vayakhel, p. 203b) explains that this refers to kelipas nogah. Similar concepts are also stated in the Raya Mehemna, Parshas Naso, p. 124a which states:

Since Israel was together with the mixed multitude, 23everything was from the Tree of Good and Evil 24(see Zohar, Vol. I, p. 26a). Of this, half was sweet from the right vector, and half was bitter from the left vector.
When the mixed multitude caused Israel to sin, it was as if it was all from the vector of evil. And the water was all bitter like the renowned bitter tree. This is indicated by the verse: 25 “They came to Marah.”

Thus bitterness is associated with the evil in [kelipas] nogah.

(From the statement: “When the mixed multitude caused Israel to sin, it was as if it was all from the vector of evil,” it would appear that bitterness is the total wickedness associated with the three impure kelipos. Nevertheless, it can be explained that the intent [of the quote] is the evil in kelipas nogah. For [the mixed multitude] did not cause the Jewish people to sin with regard to matters that are forbidden entirely, but rather with regard to permitted matters that were unnecessary, merely [motivating them to] indulge the desires of their souls, as it is written: 26“The rabble which was among them craved with desire and the Children of Israel once again....” 27Thus it involves the evil of kelipas nogah. 28This is the concept of mar, bitterness.

Mar is numerically equivalent [to 240], twice 120. 120 refers to the 120 permutations of G‑d’s name Elohim, that [become the source for] “other gods” in the realm of kelipas nogah. 29When these are joined with the 120 permutations in the realm of holiness, mar, bitterness, severe attributes of Gevurah, are brought into being.

Nevertheless, this quality of evil reflects how kelipas nogah is included in the three impure kelipos. For kelipas nogah as it exists on its own accord involves a mixture of good and evil. An example of the means of expression [levushim] of kelipas nogah as they exist on their own accord is eating permitted food for the sake of maintaining [the health of] the body, but without an intent for the sake of heaven, but also not with the intent of fulfilling one’s desires, as explained in Tanya, the beginning of ch. 7.

Thus the levushim of kelipas nogah itself involve a mixture of good and evil, and when a person eats food for the sake of heaven - i.e., to serve G‑d with the energy from the food - the good becomes refined from the bad and is included in the realm of holiness.

When, by contrast, a person eats to satisfy the desires of his [animal] soul, [the spiritual potential of the food] becomes included in the three impure kelipos, and at that time, it is utterly evil. Nevertheless, it does not resemble the utter evil of the three impure kelipos which cannot be transformed and elevated to holiness. [The spiritual potential of this food], by contrast, can be transformed and elevated together [with the person] when he returns to the service of G‑d, because the food is permitted.

According to this, it is understood that the means of expression of kelipas nogah themselves can also be called bitter and [identified with] the evil of kelipas nogah. {This is the disease which is the source of sickness.} Thus when a person eats for the sake of the desires of his soul like “the rabble [who]... craved with desire,” this is like the evil of kelipas nogah being included in the three impure kelipos, which are identified with sin and transgression as will be explained.)

This relates 30[to the continuation of the discussion] in the chapter of Tanya cited previously - that kelipas nogah includes both good and evil, and in the world of Asiyah, it is predominantly evil, and there is only a small amount of good intermingled with it. From this [constitution] is drawn down the desire for physical pleasure from permitted entities. This also is forbidden by the Torah; [i.e., not the activity itself, but] the desire for it. For [performing such activities] for the sake of indulging one’s desires [violates] one of the Torah’s prohibitions.

In this vein, the Sefer HaChinuch (the conclusion of Par­shas Shelach, mitzvah 387) lists the commandment 31not “to follow after your heart and eyes” [as one of the 613 mitzvos], [interpreting it as] “not pursuing the desires of this physical world.” In the conclusion [of its discussion of the issue, that text] states:

Similarly, one who follows [after] his eyes, i.e., he pursues the desires of this world... without having a productive intent in mind... but merely to satiate his soul with pleasure... transgresses this prohibition.

In a similar fashion, the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, nega­tive commandment 47) writes: “We have been adjured nei­ther ‘to follow our hearts... nor our eyes,’ this is promiscuity... i.e., not to be drawn after physical desires and occupy our thoughts with them.” This thrust is also reflected in Tanya, ch. 12, which states that a person “who willfully thinks [about sinful matters] is called wicked.” And [Rabbeinu] Bachaye (in the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim) elaborates about this matter at length.

On this basis, [we can explain] the verse (Mishlei 18:1): “One who sets himself apart seeks desire.” For a person who seeks [material] desire is set apart [from G‑d]. See also the comments of [Bereishis] Rabbah, Parshas Lech Lecha, ch. 41, on the verse: 32“Please separate from me....” The Midrash states: “The verse does not say ‘distinguish,’ it says ‘separate,’” im­plying that one who is separate is far worse than one who is distinct.

[The word nifrad (“one who sets himself apart”)] shares the etymological root [as the word pared (“mule”)] as in the phrase 33“like a horse and like a mule.” (It appears [that the explanation is] that havdalah, distinction, also exists in the realm of holiness, as it is written: 34“And the paroches shall create a distinction for you...,” and it is written: 35“And he set aside Aharon to consecrate him as holy of holies.” These [two instances] represent the distinction between holiness and that which is most holy. There is also a distinction between holiness and the mundane. See the discussion of these concepts in Torah Or in the maamar entitled Vilo Yik­ora Od Shimcha Avram and the maamar entitled Vehivdilah HaParoches Lechem, in Parshas Lech Lecha.

It is possible to explain that havdalah, “distinction,” refers to the difference between holiness and the realm of kelipas nogah. While nifrad, “separate,” refers to the evil in kelipas nogah, as indicated by the verse: 36“All the workers of iniquity shall be dispersed.”

[Based on this explanation, the use of this root in the verse:] 37“And from there, they separated (yipared)” is somewhat difficult to understand. For this refers to distinctions within the realm of holiness, those that exist between the four camps of the Shechinah, the four beasts in the Divine Chariot, and the three worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, as is well known.

It is possible to resolve [this difficulty] by explaining that the term havdalah is primarily used when distinguishing a higher level which is distinct and elevated from a lower level, for example, the distinction between the Holy of Holies and the Sanctuary, or the distinction between holiness and the mundane, while nifrad is used to explain how the lower levels are set aside from the higher ones.

In truth, the proper approach can be explained based on the verse: 38“Your Torah is in my intestines,” i.e., David praised himself, [saying] that everything in my intestines was ingested according to the ways of the Torah and its pious paths of conduct, as Rabbeinu Bachaye mentions in the source cited above. 39 And with regard to this approach, it is said: 40“A righteous man eats for the satisfaction of his soul.” Certainly, these concepts apply with regard to other desires.

(In Torah Or, Parshas Chayei [Sarah], in the maamar enti­tled Yigalei Lan Taamei, it is explained that “A righteous man eats [for the satisfaction of his soul]” refers to eating on Shabbos, when it is not necessary to refine [and elevate one’s food], while the Divine service of “refining” [the food we eat is alluded to in the continuation of the verse:] “And the bellies of the wicked shall be lacking.” Nevertheless, within the con­text of the present discussion, even the Divine service of refining [the food we eat] can be associated with “A righteous man eat[ing]....” This understanding is also reflected in the Zohar, Vol. I, p. 240a.) This is [the spiritual counterpart of] eating ordinary food according to the strictures required for consecrated foods, 41as explained in the maamarim entitled Vilo Yikora... and Vehivdilah... cited above.

And when a person refrains from excess [indulgence], [employing] only what is necessary to maintain his body and his health - and moreover, he does this for the sake of heaven, so that he will have the strength to study and pray - he is in truth distant from evil. Eating in this manner will not lead him to any evil. On the contrary, it will increase his vitality in holy matters. [This can be explained through] the well-known interpretation 42of the verse: 43“[Man does not live on bread alone;] instead, he derives his life from every expres­sion of the mouth of G‑d,” for then the food becomes re­fined, and becomes included in the realm of holiness.

When, however, a person does not refrain from excess indulgence - even when he does not seek to satisfy the lusts of his soul, but merely does not refrain from indulgence in them (and thus he also derives pleasure from them, although he does not seek his pleasure and his desires) - [his conduct is undesirable]. [This applies even when he] is involved in matters that are not in excess, but he eats them without thinking, without any intention for the sake of heaven. [In such an instance,] the very material and physical nature of the food, which involves both good and evil, leads him to desire to fulfill his own desires while eating, whether while eating his very necessities, or while eating in excess, in which instance, [his conduct] is utter evil as explained above, and it violates a Scriptural prohibition.

On this basis, we can understand the verse: 44“For the lips of a strange [woman] drip honey....” The desires of this world are compared to honey, for at first they are sweet. Ultimately, however, they will lead to bitterness. We see this [in the narrative of the people who lusted after meat] in Parshas Behaalos’cha. First they “craved with desire” 45and ultimately, [the meat which they had desired] became “repulsive.” 46The ultimate fate of “the honey [which] drip[s from] the lips of a strange [woman] (zarah) is that it becomes repulsive (zara), i.e., “her end is bitter,” biting like a two-edged sword. This reflects the interpretation of [zara, translated above as “repulsive,” which] Rashi cites. [As he comments,] Rabbi Moshe [HaDarshan] interprets the term as meaning “sword.”

This is the concept of disease (Machlah), for the root cholah also has the implication of sweetness as in the phrase: 47“Because of the sharpness..., it is sweet to him.” Similarly, the Targum uses the root cheli to connote sweetness in its translation of the verse: 48“Should I withhold my sweetness?”, the verse: 49“What is sweeter than honey?”, and the verse: 50“It was sweet in my mouth like honey.” Similarly, Shabbos 109b uses this root to connote sweetness when speaking of “a sweet esrog,” as does Megillah 7b in the expression: “I sent him some sweets.” Thus the term reflects an intermingling of good and evil. Because of the good within it, it contains sweetness. And because of the evil, it is bitter and refinement is necessary to extract the good from the evil and for the evil to be rejected. When, however, this process of refinement is not undertaken, it leads to utter evil.

In a similar vein, Vayikra Rabbah, Parshas Metzora, 16:8, comments on the verse: 51“And G‑d shall remove all sickness from you.” “This refers to the yetzer hara which is initially sweet, but ultimately bitter.” And the Matanas Kehunah explains that choli, “sickness,” is interpreted as above, i.e., that it can also connote sweetness. Thus initially it is sweet, but ultimately, it is bitter.

The latter point can be interpreted in two different fashions: According to its simple meaning, that the yetzer hara advises a person that [following its lures] will bring him sweetness, but his ultimate fate will be bitter like wormwood. Or alternatively, that the punishment is not visited on the person immediately, and so at first, [following] the yetzer hara is sweet, as it says: 52“Stolen waters are sweet,” but ultimately, when the punishment comes, bitterness ensues. 53

To explain the above: As stated previously, mar is numerically equivalent to twice 120, referring to two different sets of the 120 permutations of G‑d’s name Elokim. For there are 120 permutations of the name Elokim in the realm of holiness. The first 72 permutations represent attributes of Gevurah that have been sweetened, 54while the last 48 permutations represent severe attributes of Gevurah. When an additional 120 permutations [of the name Elokim] from the realm of kelipas nogah are joined to [the 120 permutations of the realm of holiness] to receive nurture from them, they become severe attributes of judgment bringing about renunciation, annihilation, and destruction.

On this basis, we can understand our Sages’ interpretation (Devarim Rabbah, Parshas Re’eh, 4:3, Eichah Rabbah 3:40) of the verse: 55“It is not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil emanate”:

From the day on which the Holy One, blessed be He, declared: 56“Behold, I am setting before you today life and goodness...,” goodness has not been granted to those who work evil, nor evil to those who perform good. Instead,... goodness has been granted to those who perform good.

Thus a person who follows his yetzer hara draws evil and death to himself. Thus even if at the outset, [the yetzer hara’s counsel] is sweet, ultimately, it is bitter.

In this vein, on the verse:22 “And G‑d shall remove all sickness from you,” our Sages comment: “It is your option that sickness not affect you.” 57And on this basis, we can understand the verse: 58“And if you certainly heed the voice of G‑d... all of the disease with which I afflicted Egypt, I will not afflict you.” Egypt refers to physical desire; i.e., disease is identified with kelipas nogah. “If you certainly heed the voice of G‑d...,” this will lead to “I will not afflict you” with the disease of kelipas nogah. So too, the Midrash Rabbah states: “’And G‑d shall remove all sickness from you.’ This refers to the yetzer hara.”

In this light, we can interpret the verse: 59“This is the concept of evil which G‑d gave to mankind to cause travail.” “Evil” refers to the yetzer hara, as it is written: 60“The inclina­tion of man’s heart is evil.” With regard to this, it is said: 61“the Creator of evil,” and “Behold, I am setting before you... evil.”27

[The word] la'anos, [translated as “cause travail,”] can also be inter­preted as “to answer.” The yetzer hara, the wicked angel, shall answer Amen against its will,” 62i.e., a person will come to “love G‑d... with all your heart,” 63interpreted by our Sages 64to mean “with both your desires.” [Even the yetzer hara will be transformed into a positive force.]

Synopsis: [This chapter begins by explaining] that the refinement of the Tree of Knowledge [which is associated with] “the potion of death” is through the medium of the Torah, “the elixir of life,” i.e., through the Or Ein Sof which transcends the spiritual cosmos which is enclothed in the Torah.

The “elixir of life” heals the evil of kelipas nogah which is described as “bitter” and “disease.” Disease also [shares a connection] with sweetness, for kelipas nogah possesses good.

[The chapter] explains the means of expression (levushim) of kelipas nogah as they exist on their own ac­cord, as they are included in holiness, and as they are included in the three impure kelipos. ([In that context, it] explains the difference between havdalah, “distinction,” and nifrad, “separate.”)

Two interpretations are given for the statement that initially, the yetzer hara is sweet, but ultimately, it is bitter.