אָמְנָם, זֶהוּ בִּזְמַן שֶׁהָיוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמַדְרֵגָה עֶלְיוֹנָה, כְּשֶׁהָיְתָה הַשְּׁכִינָה שׁוֹרָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּבֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ,

The Alter Rebbe opened the fourth chapter by beginning to explain the concept of repentance according to the mystical approach to the Torah. He prefaced his commentary by noting that according to Scripture and our Sages, a person who committed a sin punishable by excision would actually die before his fiftieth year while one who committed a sin punishable by death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.

The Alter Rebbe thereupon posed the following question: How is it, he asked, that “in every generation, there are so many individuals liable to excision and death [by Divine agency] who nevertheless enjoy extended and pleasant days and years!”

In answer, the Alter Rebbe explained that the soul is part of the Divine Name Havayah, the Tetragrammaton. Furthermore, both the internal and external aspects of the soul are “blown” or “breathed” forth, i.e., their source is the innermost reaches of G‑dliness. The innermost core of the soul derives from the internal aspect of the Tetragrammaton, the internal level of holiness. And even the external level of the soul, which is drawn down into man’s body through the utterance, “Let us make man,” derives from the internal aspect of this utterance. Thus, all aspects of the soul, even as enclothed within the body, ultimately derive from an act of “blowing”. And it is noted in ch. 5 that unlike speech, which can be heard even when something separates the listener from the speaker, exhaled breath does not reach its destination when there is an intervening obstruction (in this case, the individual’s sins).

The Alter Rebbe next uses this image and another to explain the concept of excision. The Jewish people’s relationship to G‑d is compared in Scripture to a rope, whose upper end is bound above and whose lower end is bound below—“Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] inheritance.” This rope is the lifeline through which G‑dliness is drawn down even into the external aspect of the soul that lodges within the body. Sins, especially those incurring excision, sever this lifeline, thus preventing the life-force which is “blown” forth to penetrate to the soul that is invested in the body. In the past, this meant that a person liable to excision would actually die before his fiftieth year while a person liable to death by Divine agency would actually die before his sixtieth year.

In this, the sixth chapter, the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that this applied only during the time when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel, for then, each Jew’s spiritual sustenance reached him only from the “side” of holiness—from the Four-Letter Name of the Infinite One.

In times of exile, however, when the Divine Presence too is (so to speak) in exile, even the life-force of holiness can be drawn down through a garb of kelipah. It is therefore then possible that even individuals guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency continue to receive their vitality, even though their spiritual lifeline to the Tetragrammaton has been severed. This explains why during the era of exile, even those guilty of the abovementioned sins can live long lives. Parenthetically, this also provides them with the opportunity to repent and rectify their past misdeeds.

However, all this pertained when Israel was on an elevated plane, when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel1 in the Beit Hamikdash.2

וְאָז, לֹא הָיוּ מְקַבְּלִים חַיּוּת לְגוּפָם, רַק – עַל־יְדֵי נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית לְבַדָּהּ, מִבְּחִינַת פְּנִימִיּוּת הַשֶּׁפַע שֶׁמַּשְׁפִּיעַ אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עַל־יְדֵי שֵׁם הַוָיָ' בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

Then the body3 received its vitality only through the divine soul, from the innermost source of the life-giving power issuing from the infinite One, through the Tetragrammaton, as discussed above.

אַךְ לְאַחַר שֶׁיָּרְדוּ מִמַּדְרֵגָתָם, וְגָרְמוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם סוֹד גָּלוּת הַשְּׁכִינָה,

Thus, if the spiritual lifeline emanating from the Tetragrammaton was severed, it was impossible for them to continue living. However, as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say, once they had fallen from that spiritual height and thereby diverted the flow of the Divine life-force from its accustomed course, even deliberate transgressors can now receive their vitality as freely as do mere creatures.

But they then fell from their estate, and through their actions brought about the mystic exile of the Divine Presence,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּבְפִשְׁעֵיכֶם שׁוּלְּחָה אִמְּכֶם",

That the Divine Presence should be in a state of exile among the forces of unholiness is indeed an inconceivable mystery.4

as the verse5 states, “Through your sins was your mother banished.”6

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁיָּרְדָה הַשְׁפָּעַת בְּחִינַת הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת לְעֵיל, וְנִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלָה מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה לְמַטָּה מַטָּה,

“Your mother” refers to the Divine Presence, the “mother of the children” (as explained in Part I, ch. 52), also known as Knesset Yisrael, the source of Jewish souls—the level of malchut of Atzilut. In the context of the letters that constitute the Tetragrammaton, this corresponds to the final hey, from which proceeds the “rope” or “lifeline” to the soul.

This means that the benevolence flowing forth from the abovementioned7 latter hey of the Tetragrammaton was lowered far down, from plane to plane,

עַד שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשָׁה הַשְׁפָּעָתָהּ בְּי' סְפִירוֹת דְּנוֹגַהּ,

until it became enclothed in the ten sefirot of nogah,

הַמַּשְׁפִּיעוֹת שֶׁפַע וְחַיּוּת עַל־יְדֵי הַמַּזָּלוֹת וְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהַשָּׂרִים שֶׁעֲלֵיהֶם,

Inasmuch as the kelipah called nogah includes an admixture of goodness, it is composed of ten sefirot, corresponding to the ten sefirot of holiness.8

which transmit9 the benevolence and vitality through the hosts of heaven and those charged over them

לְכָל הַחַי הַגַּשְׁמִי שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְגַם לְכָל הַצּוֹמֵחַ,

to every living physical being in this world, even to all vegetation,

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אֵין לְךָ כָּל עֵשֶׂב מִלְּמַטָּה שֶׁאֵין לוֹ מַזָּל וְכוּ'".

as our Sages state: “There is no blade of grass below that has no spirit [Above that smites it and commands it: Grow!]”10

וַאֲזַי, יָכוֹל גַּם הַחוֹטֵא וּפוֹשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְקַבֵּל חַיּוּת לְגוּפָם וְנַפְשָׁם הַבַּהֲמִיוֹת

Thus, the life-force of all living beings—even of vegetation, which expresses its vitality through growth—derives from the kelipah of nogah.

Hence, even the sinful and deliberate transgressors11 of Israel may receive vitality [from it] for their bodies and animal souls,

כְּמוֹ שְׁאָר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים מַמָּשׁ,

exactly as other living creatures do,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ".

as Scripture states that there exists a state wherein human beings are “likened and similar to beasts.”12

וְאַדְּרַבָּה,

In fact, not only is it possible for the sinner to receive his nurture from kelipah as do animals and other living beings, but indeed,

בְּיֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְיֶתֶר עֹז,

with even greater emphasis and force,

עַל פִּי הַמְבוֹאָר מִזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ פָּרָשַׁת פְּקוּדֵי, שֶׁכָּל שֶׁפַע וְחַיּוּת הַנִּשְׁפָּעוֹת לָאָדָם הַתַּחְתּוֹן

as explained in the holy Zohar, Parashat Pekudei, that all the benevolence and vitality granted mortal man,

בְּשָׁעָה וְרֶגַע שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ה' בְּמַעֲשֶׂה אוֹ בְּדִיבּוּר אוֹ בְּהִרְהוּרֵי עֲבֵירָה וְכוּ',

while he commits evil in the eyes of G‑d, in deed or speech, or by musing on sin, and so on,13 i.e., through any of the three soul-garments of thought, speech, and action—

הַכֹּל נִשְׁפָּע לוֹ מֵהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא הַמְבוֹאָרִים שָׁם בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ.

all [this life-force] issues to him from the [various] chambers of the sitra achara described there in the holy Zohar.

וְהָאָדָם הוּא בַּעַל בְּחִירָה, אִם לְקַבֵּל הַשְׁפָּעָתוֹ מֵהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא, אוֹ מֵהֵיכְלוֹת הַקְּדוּשָּׁה שֶׁמֵּהֶם נִשְׁפָּעוֹת כָּל מַחֲשָׁבוֹת טוֹבוֹת וּקְדוֹשׁוֹת וְכוּ'.

The choice is man’s—whether to derive his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achara or from the chambers of holiness14 from which flow all good and holy thoughts, and so on.

כִּי "זֶה לְעוּמַּת זֶה עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים" וְכוּ'.

When one’s thoughts, words, and deeds are wholesome and holy, he receives his nurture from holiness; when his thoughts, words, and deeds are evil, he derives his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achara.

For “one opposite the other did G‑d make….”15

וְהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא מְקַבְּלִים וְיוֹנְקִים חַיּוּתָם מֵהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת וְהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הַשֶּׁפַע דְּי' סְפִירוֹת דְּנוֹגַהּ,

Every manifestation of holiness has a counterpart in the kelipah and sitra achara.

The chambers of the sitra achara derive their vitality from the issue of the ten sefirot of nogah that is embodied within them and that descends into them by stages,

הַכְּלוּלָה מִבְּחִינַת טוֹב וָרָע, הִיא בְּחִינַת "עֵץ הַדַּעַת" וְכוּ', כַּנּוֹדָע לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן.

and [this kelipah of nogah] is comprised of good and evil, as in “the Tree of Knowledge [of good and evil],” as is known to the students of the Kabbalah.

Since the kelipah of nogah is composed of both good and evil, it serves as a source, after a multitude of descents, for the evil of the chambers of the sitra achara—the reservoir from which a man is refuelled when he sins in thought, speech, or action.

וְהִנֵּה, "יַעֲקֹב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ" כְּתִיב:

The Alter Rebbe now resumes his explanation of why a sinful person not only receives his vitality from the “other side” like other living creatures but in fact does so to an even greater degree. Since through his freely chosen thoughts, words, and deeds, it was the sinner himself who replenished the reservoirs of the kelipot with life-force of Divine origin, it is he who will now have to swallow the lion’s share of those reservoirs.

Scripture states:16 “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] heritage.”17

עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ הַחֶבֶל שֶׁרֹאשׁוֹ אֶחָד לְמַעְלָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ הַשֵּׁנִי לְמַטָּה,

The analogy [compares the soul of a Jew] to a rope, with one end above and the other end below.

אִם יִמְשׁוֹךְ אָדָם בְּרֹאשׁוֹ הַשֵּׁנִי – יְנַעֲנֵעַ וְיִמָּשֵׁךְ אַחֲרָיו גַּם רֹאשׁוֹ הָרִאשׁוֹן כַּמָּה שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לְהִמָּשֵׁךְ.

When one pulls the lower end, he will move and pull after it the higher end as well, as far as it can be pulled.

וְכָכָה מַמָּשׁ בְּשֹׁרֶשׁ נִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם וּמְקוֹרָהּ מִבְּחִינַת הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת לְעֵיל,

It is exactly so with regard to the root of the soul of man and its source in the latter hey mentioned above.

הוּא מַמְשִׁיךְ וּמוֹרִיד הַשְׁפָּעָתָהּ עַל־יְדֵי מַעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִים וּמַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו

Through one’s evil deeds and thoughts, one draws down the life-force [issuing from the latter hey]

עַד תּוֹךְ הֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא כִּבְיָכוֹל, שֶׁמִּשָּׁם מְקַבֵּל מַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו וּמַעֲשָׂיו.

into the chambers of the sitra achara, as it were, from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.

וּמִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא הוּא הַמַּמְשִׁיךְ לָהֶם הַהַשְׁפָּעָה, לָכֵן הוּא נוֹטֵל חֵלֶק בָּרֹאשׁ,

Although a person punishable by excision has severed his rope, so to speak, he is still able to draw down the life-force issuing from the latter hey into the chambers of the sitra achara. The reason, as is explained elsewhere in the literature of Chasidut, is that even after the rope is severed, some external vestige of it survives. And it is through this remnant that the life-force of holiness is drawn down into the chambers of the kelipot.

Because it is he, the sinful individual, who draws the flow of vitality into [the chambers of the sitra achara], it is he who receives the greatest portion from them.

וְדַי לַמֵבִין.

I.e., in even greater measure than do other living creatures. Nevertheless, it is explained in the literature of Chasidut18 that ultimately, the sinner will cease to draw vitality from this flow, for the sitra achara can serve a Jew as a source only temporarily.

This will suffice for the understanding.

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אֵין בְּיָדֵינוּ לֹא מִשַּׁלְוַת הָרְשָׁעִים וְכוּ'" –

Hence, the statement of our Sages, of blessed memory: “It is not within our hands (i.e., it is not given us) to understand the reason for either the tranquillity of the wicked [or the suffering of the righteous].”19

"בְּיָדֵינוּ" דַּוְקָא, כְּלוֹמַר, בִּזְמַן הַגָּלוּת אַחַר הַחוּרְבָּן.

The quotation specifies “in our hands,” i.e., in this time of exile after the Destruction, when the wicked receive added vitality through the kelipot and sitra achara.

וְזוֹהִי בְּחִינַת גָּלוּת הַשְּׁכִינָה כִּבְיָכוֹל,

This is an expression of the “Exile of the Divine Presence,” as it were, during which time, the life-force emanating from the latter hey flows into the kelipot,

לְהַשְׁפִּיעַ לְהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא אֲשֶׁר שָׂנְאָה נַפְשׁוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ.

viz., [G‑d’s] granting [supplementary measures of] life-force to the chambers of the sitra achara that He despises.

וּכְשֶׁהָאָדָם עוֹשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה נְכוֹנָה – אֲזַי מְסַלֵּק מֵהֶם הַהַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁהִמְשִׁיךְ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וּמַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו,

However, when the sinner repents appropriately, he then removes from them the life-force that he had drawn into them through his deeds and thoughts,

כִּי בִּתְשׁוּבָתוֹ מַחֲזִיר הַשְׁפָּעַת הַשְּׁכִינָה לִמְקוֹמָהּ.

for by his repentance, he returns the flow issuing from the Shechinah to its proper place.

וְזֶהוּ תָּשׁוּב הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה – מִבְּחִינַת גָּלוּת,

This, then, is the meaning of [the teaching of the Zohar, quoted in ch. 4, thatteshuvah is] tashuv hey, the return of the lower hey from exile”—that the lower level of repentance consists of returning the Shechinah, which is represented by the latter hey of the Tetragrammaton, from its state of exile.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְשָׁב ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ",

As the verse states, “The L-rd, your G‑d (the source of your soul), will return (i.e., bring back) those of you who return”20;

כְּלוֹמַר עִם שְׁבוּתְךָ,

regarding the verb as being intransitive, this means [that G‑d Himself will return] with your return.

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "וְהֵשִׁיב לֹא נֶאֱמַר וְכוּ'":

As our Sages have commented on this verse, “Scripture does not say, ‘He shall bring back,’ [but that He Himself will return].”21

The verse is thus telling every Jew: When through repentance you extricate yourself from your own spiritual exile, you will thereby liberate “your G‑d”—the Shechinah, the source of your soul—from His exile too.