This chapter introduces the theme of teshuvah, as a further spiritual dimension, which in some sense transcends the mitzvot.

Ethics of the Fathers states: "One hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than the whole life of the World to Come." Why is teshuvah mentioned before Good Deeds?

The answer is that exalted as the mitzvot are, teshuvah reaches an even higher level. Through teshuvah, the mitzvot themselves achieve a greater spiritual effect, eliciting the "Great Kindness" of the Divine.

Hence "Moshiach will influence the completely righteous in teshuvah." The righteous are perfect in their observance of the mitzvot, but through the additional dimension of teshuvah they achieve far more. Through teshuvah, the negative realm itself is induced to recognize G‑d, which brings about the exaltation of the Divine.

Thus the question concerning the passage from Ethics of the Fathers is answered. The new focus on the transformation of the negative carries through into the following chapters.


Now, the Sages said: "One hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than the whole life of the World to Come."1 Why is teshuvah mentioned before good deeds? Surely, since action is the main thing — as explained above, that "the beginning is lodged in the end" — why should teshuvah have to come first?

Supernal Great Kindness

Although one definitely elicits [energy] from the truth of the radiance of the Essence of Ein Sof by performing Torah and mitzvot, there has to be a powerful flow from the supernal great kindness of the Essence to reveal what is particularly hidden in the Essence, where "thought cannot grasp Him at all."

Hence the verse, "His kindness is so powerful for us"2:  the kindness of His Essence overpowers far greater than the set amount that flows through the seder hishtalshelut of the kav and chut.3 This is so that it should be manifest below, vested [in Torah and mitzvot] so that "the truth of G‑d is eternal"4 — that the truth of the Essence of Havaya should be revealed in the terrestrial world as in the celestial world.

This tremendous force of great kindness is only manifest in the observance of Torah and mitzvot when it is preceded by teshuvah, which transforms the evil itself to good. This transcends Torah and mitzvot, for their purpose is merely to separate between good and evil.5 Hence our Sages say6 that baalei teshuvah are greater than the completely righteous, for those whose righteousness is defined by their observance of Torah and mitzvot cannot stand in the place where the baalei teshuvah stand.7 Thus, "Moshiach will influence the completely righteous in teshuvah"8 — to raise them higher.9

Elevating G‑d's Glory — through Quelling the Negative

The reason [for the greater status of the baalei teshuvah] is as it says in the Zohar, that "when the sitra achra10 is quelled, the glory of G‑d rises."11 [The Glory of G‑d rises] despite the fact that the root of [the sitra achra] is only from the "rear" of the Name Elokim — its 48 latter combinations.12 Thus the verse says "Praise G‑d all nations," which expresses the nullification of total yesh from the yesh of kelipat nogah,13 manifest in the Seventy Princes,14 as in the future, when G‑d "will turn towards the nations" [indicating their positive transformation].15

This, in essence, corresponds to teshuvah, for the evil itself will be transformed to good. Specifically then G‑d will pour over us — the Jewish people — His essential "kindness," so that "the truth of G‑d," meaning the truth of the inwardness of His essence manifested in Torah and mitzvot, becomes revealed below as it is above.

Thus "the truth of G‑d" literally enters the world16: "the world" refers to the World to Come, i.e., when the truth of G‑d will "come" into the terrestrial world,17 as the verse, "and it will be said on that day, behold this is our G‑d — actually."18

Thus "teshuvah" is stated before "good deeds," in this world, for [although] it is on account of the mitzvot — the good deeds — that one merits the reward of the life of the World to Come, but without teshuvah the good deeds do not have any effect, for they are simply vessels for the indwelling of His Divine Essence.19


Having established that mitzvot are rooted in the most sublime source, and it is specifically they that enable one to attain spiritual oil and elicit G‑d's Essence, the maamar now poses a question from a Mishna in Avot that states that there exists a further spiritual dimension, which in some sense transcends the mitzvot: "One hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than the whole life of the World to Come." Why is teshuvah mentioned before good deeds?

The maamar explains that for the radiance of G‑d's Essence to flow into mitzvot, one must first perform teshuvah, which draws a tremendous force of great supernal kindness into the observance of Torah and mitzvot.

Hence Moshiach will influence the completely righteous in teshuvah. When the sitra achra is quelled through teshuvah, a greater radiance it is elicited than that which is elicited through Torah observance. For while Torah observance differentiates between good and evil, teshuvah actually transforms evil into good.

Thus, Praise G‑d all nations: The fact that the nations praise G‑d is a teshuvah of sorts. Their praise causes His Essential kindness to be mighty over us (Knesset Yisrael), i.e., so that the truth of His Essence will be revealed in this terrestrial world through our deeds. Hence teshuvah precedes good deeds.