In ch. 29 the Alter Rebbe discussed various means of overcoming timtum halev — the state of insensitivity in which one’s heart is dull, and unresponsive to his contemplation of G‑d’s greatness. All these methods are aimed at crushing one’s spirit, whereby one crushes the cause of the timtum halev — the arrogance of the sitra achra of the animal soul.

In ch. 30, the Alter Rebbe continues this discussion by outlining another method of dealing with this problem.

עוד זאת ישים אל לבו לקיים מאמר רז״ל: והוי שפל רוח בפני כל האדם

One who suffers from timtum halev must also set his heart to fulfill the instruction of our Sages:1 “Be lowly of spirit before every man.”

Now a number of commentators have noted a difficulty in this Mishnaic dictum. For the Hebrew language distinguishes between two types of humility: the first is a feeling of inferiority in comparison with others; the second is the absence of self-glorification even while recognizing one’s superiority — the thought that his superior qualities are a G‑d-given gift, and that another man similarly endowed might in fact have invested them to better advantage.

The former type of humility is called שפלות — literally, “lowliness”, and the latter — .עניוות

Since the Mishnah employs the adjective שפל רוח , it is explicitly advocating the former type of humility, and here the difficulty arises: Why should one regard himself as being lowlier than every man, lowlier even than the lowliest sinner?

Because of this difficulty, some commentators interpret the Mishnah as saying: “Conduct yourself self-effacingly toward every man,” i.e., “Treat every man with deference, as though he were superior to you.”

The Alter Rebbe, however, objects to this interpretation, as follows:

והוי באמת לאמיתו

The wording implies: “Be thus,” and do not merely act thus, in all sincerity,

בפני כל האדם ממש, אפילו בפני קל שבקלים

in the presence of every man, even in the presence of the most worthless of worthless men (kal shebekalim).

Having rejected this interpretation, however, we remain with the original difficulty: How is one expected to regard himself as being lowlier than the lowliest sinner?

In answer, the Alter Rebbe states that the introspective Beinoni will find that he often fails to wage war against his evil inclination to the same extent as the sinner is required to wage war against his desires. Although the lapses of the Beinoni may be in seemingly inconsequential matters, they are more reprehensible than the lowly sinner’s transgressions. Thus, even the Beinoni, whose observance of the Torah and mitzvot is impeccable, can indeed regard himself as being lowlier than literally every man, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to say:

והיינו על פי מאמר רז״ל: אל תדין את חבירך עד שתגיע למקומו

This can be accomplished by following the instruction of our Sages:2 “Judge not your fellow man until you have stood i.e., placed yourself in his place.”

כי מקומו גורם לו לחטוא

For it is literally his “place” i.e., his physical environment that causes him to sin,

להיות פרנסתו לילך בשוק כל היום ולהיות מיושבי קרנות, ועיניו רואות כל התאוות, והעין רואה והלב חומד

since his livelihood requires him to go about the market-place all day, and whenever he is not thus engaged he is of those who sit at the street-corners. Thus his eyes see all sorts of temptation; and “‘what the eyes see, the heart desires.”

ויצרו בוער כתנור בוערה מאופה, כמו שכתוב בהושע: הוא בוער כאש להבה וגו׳

Additionally it may be his spiritual “place”, the nature of his evil impulse, that leads him to sin: his evil nature burns like a baker’s fiery oven, which is heated with greater frequency and intensity than a domestic oven, as it is written in Hoshea:3 “It burns like a flaming fire.”

מה שאין כן מי שהולך בשוק מעט, ורוב היום יושב בביתו

It is different, however, with him who goes about but little in the market-place, and most of the day he is at home rather than at the street-corners, and he therefore encounters less temptation.

וגם אם הולך כל היום בשוק, יכול להיות שאינו מחומם כל כך בטבעו

Even if he does go about the market-place all day, so that his physical “place” is the same as that of the kal shebekalim, yet it may be that his spiritual “place” is different, in that he is not so passionate by nature, and is therefore not as greatly tempted by the sights of the market-place.

כי אין היצר שוה בכל נפש: יש שיצרו כו׳, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

For the evil impulse is not the same in everyone. One person’s nature may be more passionate, and the other’s less so, as explained elsewhere.4

But if the misdeeds of the kal shebekalim are indeed attributable to his environment and to his passionate nature, why does he deserve his derogatory appelation? To this the Alter Rebbe replies:

והנה באמת, גם מי שהוא מחומם מאד בטבעו, ופרנסתו היא להיות מיושבי קרנות כל היום

In truth, even he who is extremely passionate by nature, and whose livelihood obliges him to sit all day at the street-corners,

אין לו שום התנצלות על חטאיו, ומיקרי רשע גמור על אשר אין פחד אלקים לנגד עיניו

has no excuse whatsoever for his sins, and he is termed a rasha gamur (“an utter evildoer”) for not having the dread of G‑d before his eyes.

כי היה לו להתאפק ולמשול על רוח תאוותו שבלבו, מפני פחד ה׳ הרואה כל מעשיו

For he should have controlled himself and restrained the feeling of desire in his heart because of the fear of G‑d Who sees all his actions,

כמו שכתוב לעיל: כי המוח שליט על הלב בתולדתו

This fear of G‑d would have enabled him to overcome his desires, despite the difficulties imposed by his surroundings and his nature for, as explained above,5 the mind has supremacy over the heart by nature of one’s birth, i.e., it is man’s inborn characteristic that his mind is able to master and restrain his heart’s desires.

והנה באמת היא מלחמה גדולה ועצומה לשבור היצר הבוער כאש להבה, מפני פחד ה׳, וכמו נסיון ממש

Truly, it is a great, fierce struggle to break one’s [evil] nature which burns like a fiery flame, for the fear of G‑d; indeed, it is like a veritable test.

והלכך צריך כל אדם לפי מה שהוא מקומו ומדרגתו בעבודת ה׳ לשקול ולבחון בעצמו

Therefore, every man ought to weigh and examine his own position, according to the standards of his place and rank in divine service,

אם הוא עובד ה׳ בערך ובחינת מלחמה עצומה כזו ונסיון כזה

as to whether he serves G‑d in a situation requiring a comparable struggle in a manner commensurate with the dimensions of such a fierce battle and test as the kal shebekalim faces.

For even the most dispassionate and cloistered of men must often engage in battle with his evil inclination, both in the area of6 “doing good” and in that of “turning away from evil,” as the Alter Rebbe goes on to illustrate.

בבחינת ועשה טוב, כגון בעבודת התפלה בכוונה, לשפוך נפשו לפני ה׳ בכל כחו ממש

In the realm of “do good” — in the service of prayer with kavanah (devotion), for example, he must battle his evil inclination daily, in order to pour out his soul before G‑d with his entire strength,

עד מיצוי הנפש

to the extent of “wringing out” his soul,7 i.e., exhausting all of his intellectual and emotional power in his devotion.

ולהלחם עם גופו ונפש הבהמית שבו המונעים הכוונה במלחמה עצומה, ולבטשם ולכתתם כעפר קודם התפלה שחרית וערבית מדי יום ביום

This battle must be waged both before (i.e., preparatory to) and also during prayer, as follows: He must wage a great and intense war against his body and the animal soul within it which impede his devotion, crushing and grinding them like dust every single day, before the morning and evening prayers.

וגם בשעת התפלה, לייגע עצמו ביגיעת נפש ויגיעת בשר, כמו שכתוב לקמן באריכות

Also during prayer he must exert himself with an exertion of the spirit, so that his spirit should not grow weary of lengthy contemplation on the greatness of G‑d, and an exertion of the body to remove the hindrances to devotion imposed by the body, as will be explained further at length.8

וכל שלא הגיע לידי מדה זו להלחם עם גופו מלחמה עצומה כזו

Anyone who has not attained this standard of waging such a strenuous war against his body,

עדיין לא הגיע לבחינת וערך מלחמת היצר הבוער כאש להבה

has not yet measured up to the quality and dimension of the war waged daily within the kal shebekalim against the evil nature which burns like a fiery flame,

להיות נכנע ונשבר מפני פחד ה׳

so that it (this powerful evil impulse) be humbled and broken through the fear of G‑d.

This, then, is the standard by which everyone must judge himself: Does he battle against his evil impulse (during prayer, and similarly in the other areas of divine service that the Alter Rebbe will soon discuss), as intensely as the kal shebekalim must battle against his?

וכן בענין ברכת המזון וכל ברכות הנהנין והמצות בכונה

So, too, with one’s kavanah in the Grace after Meals and in the benedictions, whether those said prior to eating, or those recited before performing a mitzvah, all of which requires a battle with one’s evil impulse;

ואין צורך לומר כונת המצות לשמן

not to mention one’s intention in performing a mitzvah — that it be done (solely) for the sake of a mitzvah, i.e., for G‑d’s sake; this requires a still greater effort, and in this one will surely find himself wanting.

וכן בענין עסק לימוד התורה, ללמוד הרבה יותר מחפצו ורצונו לפי טבעו ורגילותו על ידי מלחמה עצומה עם גופו

Similarly with regard to the battle required in the matter of one’s occupation in Torah study, one must struggle to study far more than what is demanded by his innate or accustomed desire, by means of a mighty battle with his body.

When one studies Torah only as much as his natural inclination or habituated diligence dictates, he requires no effort or struggle at all. But in order to match the struggle of the kal shebekalim one must study far, far more than he would by nature or habit, as the Alter Rebbe continues:

כי הלומד מעט יותר מטבעו הרי זו מלחמה קטנה, ואין לה ערך ודמיון עם מלחמת היצר הבוער כאש

For to study a fraction more than is one’s wont entails but a minor tussle. It neither parallels nor bears comparison with the war of the kal shebekalim against his evil impulse which burns like fire,

דמקרי רשע גמור אם אינו מנצח יצרו, להיות נכנע ונשבר מפני ה׳

for which he is nonetheless called utterly wicked (rasha gamur), if he does not conquer his impulse so that it be subdued and crushed before G‑d.

Similarly, unless one struggles with his evil impulse to study much more than his nature or habit demands, he is no less wicked than the kal shebekalim.

But one may object to this reasoning. How, one may say, can I in all honesty compare my shortcomings to those of the kal shebekalim? I am lacking merely in the quality of the good that I do, whilst he actually and actively violates prohibitions enumerated in the Torah. To this the Alter Rebbe counters:

ומה לי בחינת סור מרע ומה לי בחינת ועשה טוב

What difference is there between the category of “turn away from evil” — in which the kal shebekalim fails, by active violation, and the category of “do good” — in which he fails, by neglecting to exert himself in prayer, Torah study and the like?

To be sure, there are differences between the two categories. Each has its own unique spiritual effects, its own specific intentions. But these differences pertain only to the person performing the mitzvah. The essential point in a mitzvah, however, is that it is an expression of the Will of the Only and Unique G‑d, and in this there is no difference whatsoever between the two categories, as the Alter Rebbe continues.

הכל היא מצות המלך הקדוש, יחיד ומיוחד, ברוך הוא

Both are the commandments of the Holy King, the Only and Unique One, blessed be He.

The failings of the observant individual in the quality of his prayer, Torah study, and so on, are therefore comparable to the transgressions of the kal shebekalim.

וכן בשאר מצות, ובפרט בדבר שבממון

So, too, with other commandments requiring a struggle, one may find that he does not wage war adequately against his evil impulse, especially in matters involving money,

כמו עבודת הצדקה, וכהאי גוונא

such as the service (“labor”) of charity, i.e., giving charity in a manner involving “labor” — far more than in his wont, and the like.

ואפילו בבחינת סור מרע, יכול כל איש משכיל למצוא בנפשו שאינו סר לגמרי מהרע בכל מכל כל

Even in the category of “turn away from evil,” every thinking man can discover within himself that he does not turn completely and totally away from evil,

במקום שצריך למלחמה עצומה כערך הנ״ל, ואפילו פחות מערך הנ״ל

in a situation requiring a battle of the level i.e., magnitude described above, i.e., the battle required of the kal shebekalim, or even in a situation requiring a battle of a lesser magnitude.

כגון להפסיק באמצע שיחה נאה, או סיפור בגנות חברו

For example, he may find that he does not summon up the strength to stop in the middle of a pleasant gossip, or in the middle of relating a tale discrediting his fellow,

ואפילו גנאי קטן וקל מאד, אף שהוא אמת, ואפילו כדי לנקות עצמו

as he ought to do even if it is a very slight slur, and even if it be true, and even though his purpose in relating it is to exonerate himself —

כנודע מהא דאמר רבי שמעון לאביו רבינו הקדוש: לאו אנא כתביה אלא יהודא חייטא כתביה, ואמר לו: כלך מלשון הרע עיין שם בגמרא, ריש פרק י׳ דבבא בתרא

as is known from what Rabbi Shimon said to his father Rabbeinu HaKadosh concerning a problematic bill of divorce that was improperly written: “I did not write it, Yehudah the tailor wrote it,” where the slur was a minor one, and the purpose was self-vindication — and yet his father replied: “Keep away from slander.” (Note there in the Gemara, Tractate Bava Batra, 9 beginning of ch. 10.)

וכהאי גוונא כמה מילי דשכיחי טובא

The same applies to very many similar things which occur frequently.

There, too, one will find that he does not resist his evil impulse as he ought to, even in the category of “turn away from evil.”

ובפרט בענין לקדש עצמו במותר לו, שהוא מדאורייתא, כמו שכתוב: קדושים תהיו וגו׳, והתקדשתם וגו׳

This is especially true with regard to sanctifying oneself by refraining from indulgence in permitted matters — and this is a Biblical commandment, 10 derived from the verses: 11 “You shall be holy,” and “Sanctify yourselves,” etc.

וגם דברי סופרים חמורים מדברי תורה וכו׳

Moreover, even according to the opinion that this commandment is not of Biblical origin, yet12 “Rabbinic enactments are even stricter than Biblical laws,” etc. — and yet one will often find himself succumbing to self-indulgence when the temptation is strong and requires a battle to overcome it.

אלא שכל אלו וכיוצא בהן הן מעוונות שהאדם דש בעקביו

But all these and similar matters are among13 “the sins which people trample underfoot,” insensitive to their importance,

וגם נעשו כהיתר מחמת שעבר ושנה וכו׳

and which have come to be regarded as permissible because they are committed repeatedly. 14

All the above-mentioned calculations, then, can lead one to conclude that he is no better than the kal shebekalim. Like the kal shebekalim, he too fails to wage war against his evil impulse when it is required of him. Yet this still does not explain the requirement that one consider oneself lower than every man. In what way is he worse than the kal shebekalim? In answer, the Alter Rebbe continues:

אבל באמת אם הוא יודע ספר, ומחזיק בתורת ה׳, וקרבת אלקים יחפץ

In truth, however, if he is a scholar and upholds G‑d’s Torah, and wishes to be close to G‑d,

גדול עונו מנשוא, ואשמתו גדלה בכפלי כפליים במה שאינו נלחם ומתגבר על יצרו בערך ובחינת מלחמה עצומה הנ״ל

his sin is unbearably great and his guilt is increased manifold for his not waging war and not overcoming his impulse in a manner commensurate with the quality and nature of the war mentioned above that the kal shebekalim must face.

מאשמת קל שבקלים מיושבי קרנות הרחוקים מה׳ ותורתו

His guilt is far greater than the guilt of the kal shebekalim, the most worthless of the street-corner squatters, who are remote from G‑d and His Torah.

ואין אשמתם גדולה כל כך במה שאינם כובשים יצרם הבוער כאש להבה מפני פחד ה׳ המבין ומביט אל כל מעשיהם

Their guilt for not summoning up the fear of G‑d Who knows and sees all their actions, in order to restrain their impulse which burns like a fiery flame, is not as heinous

כאשמת כל הקרב הקרב אל ה׳ ואל תורתו ועבודתו

as the guilt of one who draws ever nearer to G‑d, His Torah and His service.

וכמו שאמרו רז״ל גבי אחר: שידע בכבודי וכו׳

As our Sages of blessed memory said of the apostate “Acher”, Elisha ben Avuyah: 15 “Because he knew My glory...,” said G‑d; if despite this he still sinned, his guilt is far greater.

ולכן אמרו רז״ל על עמי הארץ שזדונות נעשו להם כשגגות

Therefore our Sages declared in regard to the illiterate that16 “Deliberate sins are regarded in their case as inadvertent acts,” since they are unaware of the gravity of their sins.

With a scholar, the reverse is true: an oversight due to lack of study is adjudged as being as grave as a deliberate sin.17 Thus, his failure to restrain his evil impulse is indeed worse than the failure of the kal shebekalim.

By contemplating this, the observant scholar will now be able to fulfill the instruction of the Mishnah (quoted at the beginning of this chapter): “Be lowly of spirit before every man.” Thereby he will crush his own spirit and the spirit of the sitra achra in his animal soul, enabling the light of his soul to permeate and irradiate his body, as explained in ch. 29.