The Alter Rebbe stated in the previous chapter that since prayer is an expression of teshuvah ila'ah, the higher level of return, it must be preceded by the humility and contrition of teshuvah tata'ah, the lower level of return. This is attained by spiritual stocktaking and by arousing Divine compassion upon one's soul, in keeping with the Mishnaic dictum that “one should embark on worship only in an earnest frame of mind,” which is explained by Rashi to mean “humility”.

At the same time, the Alter Rebbe continued, we are also taught that “one should embark on worship only with joy.” Since nowadays most people are incapable of instantly turning their hearts from one extreme to the other, the Alter Rebbe advised that the time for the humbled heart of teshuvah tata'ah be advanced to the Tikkun Chatzot of the preceding midnight, so that when the time for prayer arrives the worshiper will be in a state of joy.

In the present chapter the Alter Rebbe goes on to say that difficulties notwithstanding, it is possible for the heart to simultaneously harbor two opposite emotions — the anguished soul of teshuvah tata'ah and the joy that immediately precedes and accompanies prayer.

ואמנם להיות בלבו ההכנעה, היא בחינת תשובה תתאה הנ"ל וגם השמחה בה' שתיהן ביחד

This subject, simultaneously harboring contrite humility in the heart — the state of teshuvah tata'ah, as explained — and the above — mentioned [contrary emotion of] joy in G‑d, that is also necessary for the service of prayer,

כבר מילתא אמורה בלקוטי אמרים, סוף פרק ל"ד

has already been discussed in Likutei Amarim, at the end of chapter 34.

The Alter Rebbe explained there that these two emotions are not mutually exclusive, since one's contriteness is occasioned by his body and animal soul, while his joy stems from his Divine soul and the G‑dly spark that it houses. Having two distinct causes, the two emotions can lodge together.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to quote the Zohar to this effect:

כמו שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש: חדוה תקיעא בלבאי מסטרא דא וכו'

This is as stated in the Zohar:1 “Weeping is lodged in one side of my heart [and joy is lodged in the other side of my heart].”

This statement was made by R. Elazar ben R. Shimon. Hearing from his father Kabbalistic insights into the Destruction of the Holy Temple, he was at one and the same time heartbroken from his renewed recognition of the enormity of the Destruction — and joyful to be inducted into the mysteries of the Torah. We thus see from the Zohar that two opposite emotions can coexist when they result from two different causes.

ובצירוף עוד האמונה והבטחון, להיות נכון לבו בטוח בה' כי חפץ חסד הוא

Joined to this is faith and confidence, the heart being firm and certain in G‑d — that2 “He delights in kindness,”

וחנון ורחום ורב לסלוח, תיכף ומיד שמבקש מחילה וסליחה מאתו יתברך

and is3 “gracious and merciful” and abundantly forgiving the instant one entreats Him for forgiveness and atonement.

(כרוב רחמיך מחה פשעי

(4As it is written,5 “In accordance with Your abounding compassion, erase my transgressions”;

כבסני, טהרני

or:6 “Cleanse me, purify me”;

וכל עוונותי מחה וכו')

or:7 “Erase all my sins……”)

בלי שום ספק וספק ספיקא בעולם

[The worshiper offers supplications such as the above] without the faintest vestige of doubt.

וכמו שאנו מברכין בכל תפלת שמונה עשרה: תיכף שמבקשים סלח לנו כו', ברוך אתה ה' חנון המרבה לסלוח

For this reason, in every Shemoneh Esreh, the moment we plead, “Pardon us ……,” [we conclude,] “Blessed are You, O G‑d, gracious One Who pardons abundantly.”

והרי ספק ברכות להקל, משום חשש ברכה לבטלה

Now we are forbidden to recite a blessing of doubtful obligation, for fear that it be pronounced in vain.8

Thus, were there even the slightest doubt as to whether G‑d forgives the sinner, we would never have been commanded to recite the above blessing.

אלא אין כאן שום ספק כלל

But there is no doubt here whatsoever,

מאחר שבקשנו: סלח לנו, מחל לנו

for we have asked, “Pardon us, forgive us.”

ואילו לא היינו חוזרים וחוטאים, היינו נגאלין מיד

Furthermore, were we not to repeat our transgressions we would be immediately redeemed,

כמו שאנו מברכין: ברוך אתה ה' גואל ישראל

in accordance with the blessing we recite immediately afterwards, “Blessed are You, O G‑d, Who redeems Israel.”

As the order of the blessings indicates, forgiveness leads to redemption — if not for our relapses.

והרי אפילו במדת בשר ודם כן, שצריך האדם למחול תיכף ומיד שמבקשים ממנו מחילה

Even by human standards [this certainty of pardon is legitimate, for] one must forgive as soon as he is asked for pardon.

ולא יהא אכזרי מלמחול

He must not cruelly withhold his forgiveness

ואפילו בקוטע יד חבירו

even if one were to cut off his hand,

כדאיתא בגמרא, בסוף פרק ח' דבבא קמא

as we find in the Gemara, at the end of chapter 8 of Bava Kama.9

ואם ביקש ממנו ג פעמים ולא מחל לו, שוב אינו צריך לבקש ממנו

So, too, if one has asked his fellow for forgiveness three times and has been rebuffed, he need not apologize further.

והגבעונים, שביקש דוד המלך עליו השלום מהם מחילה בעד שאול, שהמית את הגבעונים, ולא רצו למחול

When King David asked the Gibeonites10 to forgive King Saul who had killed their people and they refused to do so,

גזר דוד עליהם שלא יבאו בקהל ה', שהם רחמנים וכו'

David decreed that they should not enter the congregation of G‑d, i.e., they would never be allowed to convert and thereby join the Jewish people, who are merciful ……,

כדאיתא בפרק ח' דיבמות

as we have learned in Yevamot, end of chapter 8. 11

ובמדת הקב"ה על אחת כמה וכמה לאין קץ

As a Divine trait, how much more certain is it — nay, infinitely more certain — [that forgiveness is swift].

Now if mere mortals are also expected to forgive instantly, what kind of praise is it that we offer the Infinite One in Shemoneh Esreh (the Amidah) by ascribing a like attribute to Him? This is the question that the Alter Rebbe now anticipates:

ומה שמשבחים ומברכים את ה': חנון המרבה לסלוח, המרבה דייקא

As to the fact that we praise and bless G‑d as being “the gracious One Who abounds in forgiveness,” — the verb chosen is marbeh “abounds”, implying a quality unique to G‑d.

וכמו שכתוב בעזרא: ורב לסלוח

In Ezra12 [too] we find that G‑d “pardons abundantly.”

היינו

This means:

שבמדת בשר ודם, אם יחטא איש לאיש וביקש ממנו מחילה ומחל לו

In the mortal world, if one person harms another and asks his pardon which is granted,

ואחר כך חזר לסורו

and then repeats the misdeed,

קשה מאד שימחול לו שנית

it becomes more difficult to grant pardon again,

ומכל שכן בשלישית ורביעית

and certainly a third and fourth time.

אבל במדת הקב"ה אין הפרש בין פעם אחת לאלף פעמים

By the standard of G‑d, however, there is no difference between once and a thousand times.

כי המחילה היא ממדת הרחמים

For pardon is a manifestation of the attribute of mercy,

ומדותיו הקדושות אינן בבחינת גבול ותכלית, אלא בבחינת אין סוף

and Divine attributes are not bounded and finite; they are infinite,

כמו שכתוב: כי לא כלו רחמיו

as in the verse,13 “For His mercies have not ended.”

ולגבי בחינת אין סוף, אין הפרש כלל בין מספר קטן לגדול

Relative to infinity there is no difference whatsoever between a small number and a large one.

דכולא קמיה כלא ממש חשיב, ומשוה קטן וגדול וכו'

For14 “before Him all are considered as naught,” and 15 “He makes equal the small and the great…..”

ולכן: מעביר אשמותינו בכל שנה ושנה

Therefore16 “He removes our sins every year.”

וכל החטאים שמתוודים בעל חטא מדי שנה, אף שחזר ועבר עליהם

As to all the sins for which we confess in the Al Chet annually, though repeatedly violated,

חוזר ומתודה עליהם ביום הכפורים בשנה הבאה, וכן לעולם

we again confess for them on Yom Kippur in the coming year, and so on always.

ובכל שנה ושנה לאו דוקא, אלא כמו כן בכל יום ויום, ג' פעמים מברכים ברוך אתה ה' חנון המרבה לסלוח

“Every year” does not necessarily imply a yearly pardon; rather, three times every day we likewise say, “Blessed are You, O G‑d, Who is gracious and abounds in forgiveness.”

וכמאמר רז"ל: תפלה, כנגד תמידין תקנוה

As our Sages teach,17 the prayers were instituted in place of the daily sacrificial offerings.

ותמיד של שחר היה מכפר על עבירות הלילה, ותמיד של בין הערביים על של יום

The daily morning sacrifice would atone for the sins of the previous night, and the daily evening sacrifice atoned for the sins of the past day,

וכן מדי יום ביום לעולם

and so on, day by day, constantly.

Just as in former times atonement was secured by the regular altar offerings, so too nowadays, our prayers and repentance bring about forgiveness.

What, however, is the difference between the forgiveness granted on Yom Kippur and that granted daily?

אלא שיום הכפורים מכפר על עבירות חמורות, והתמיד שהוא קרבן עולה מכפר על מצוות עשה בלבד

[“Every year” means only that] Yom Kippur atones for the grave sins, while the regular offering of the olah sacrifice atoned only for the violation of positive commands.

וכן התפלה בזמן הזה, עם התשובה כנ"ל

In our time, worship with repentance substitutes for offerings, atoning only for violations of positive commands, as noted above.

ואין זה אחטא ואשוב

However, this thrice-daily recitation of G‑d's assurance of forgiveness is not [the attitude of one who says,] “I will sin and [later] repent,” concerning whom our Sages say,18 “He is not granted an opportunity to repent.”

כי היינו דוקא שבשעת החטא היה יכול לכבוש יצרו, אלא שסומך בלבו על התשובה

For that is relevant only if while committing the sin he could have overcome his evil impulse, but depended in his heart on repenting [later].

ולכן, הואיל והתשובה גורמת לו לחטוא, אין מספיקין וכו'

Since it was [the opportunity for] repentance that caused him to sin, “He is not granted an opportunity [to repent].”

ואף גם זאת אין מספיקין דייקא

And even then, he is not granted an opportunity.

אבל אם דחק ונתחזק ונתגבר על יצרו ועשה תשובה

But if he pressed forcefully and overpowered his evil impulse and did repent,

מקבלין תשובתו

then his repentance is accepted.

This all applies to a situation where a person indeed says, “I shall sin and [later] repent.”

אבל אנו, שמבקשים בכל יום: סלח לנו

But we, who plead daily, “Forgive us,”

אנו מקדימין לבקש: והחזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפניך

preface that prayer by saying, “Bring us back with a perfect repentance before you,”

דהיינו: שלא נשוב עוד לכסלה

so that we revert no more to folly, and sin no more.

וכן ביום הכפורים מבקשים: יהי רצון מלפניך שלא אחטא עוד

On Yom Kippur too we ask, “May it be Your will that I sin no more.”

Hence, since one does not rely on one's ability to repent later:

מספיקין ומספיקין

Opportunity is abundantly granted for repentance.

כמאמר רז"ל: הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו

As our Sages teach:19 “Whoever comes to purify himself [of his sin] is given assistance.”

הבא דייקא, מיד שבא

The expression “whoever comes” [indicates that he is granted assistance] as soon as he comes,

ואי לזאת, גם הסליחה והמחילה היא מיד

and the pardon and forgiveness are thus also granted forthwith.

ומה שכתוב: וחטאתי נגדי תמיד

As to the verse that says,20 “My sin is always before me,”

אין המכוון להיות תמיד עצב נבזה, חס ושלום

this does not imply that one ought to be constantly melancholy and humiliated, G‑d forbid,

דהא כתיב בתריה: תשמיעני ששון ושמחה וגו'

for later verses declare, 21 “Let me hear gladness and joy….,”

ורוח נדיבה תסמכני וגו'

and22 “uphold me with a spirit of magnanimity….”;

ומשום שצריך להיות כל ימיו בתשובה עילאה, שהיא בשמחה רבה כנ"ל

moreover,23 “Throughout one's days one should experience teshuvah [ila'ah],” [a manner of repentance] that is marked by great joy, as noted above.

How, then, are we to understand that “my sin is always before me”?

אלא נגדי דייקא

Rather, [the term used for “before me” is] specifically negdi, which implies being opposite, but at a certain distance,

כמו: ואתה תתיצב מנגד, מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו

as in the verse that says,24 “You shall stand at a distance (mineged)”; or:25 “at a distance (mineged) around the Tent of Assembly shall they camp.”

ופירש רש"י מרחוק

Rashi defines the above term lit., “opposite” as “at a distance.”

Thus, one should always retain an awareness of his having sinned — but “at a distance,” i.e., at the back of his mind.

והמכוון רק לבלתי רום לבבו

Hence, the intention [of our verse] is merely that one's heart should not grow haughty,

ולהיות שפל רוח בפני כל האדם

and that he be humble of spirit before all men,

כשיהיה לזכרון בין עיניו שחטא נגד ה'

because there will be a remembrance between his eyes that he has sinned before G‑d.

Memories of past sin are thus not intended to engender despondency, G‑d forbid.

ואדרבה, לענין השמחה, יועיל זכרון החטא ביתר שאת

In fact, as far as joy is concerned, the remembrance of one's past sins will be especially effective

בכדי לקבל בשמחה כל המאורעות המתרגשות ובאות

in encouraging happiness in the face of whatever misfortunes threaten to overtake him,

בין מן השמים בין על ידי הבריות

whether from heaven or through the agency of man,

בדיבור או במעשה

whether in speech or in deed.

Any such physical or verbal offense will be accepted with equanimity when one recalls that he has sinned in the past, and that his present afflictions in fact assist in his atonement.

(וזו עצה טובה להנצל מכעס וכל מיני קפידא וכו')

(26This [humility on account of one's imperfect record] is good counsel that enables a man to be immune to becoming angry or taking offense in any way…..)

וכמאמר רז"ל: הנעלבים ואינן עולבין

As our Sages declare,27 “Those who are humiliated yet do not humiliate in turn,

שומעים חרפתם ואין משיבים

who hear their insult and do not retort,

עושים מאהבה ושמחים ביסורים וכו'

who perform out of love and are happy in affliction, [concerning them does Scripture say,28 `Those who love Him [shall be] like the sun rising in all its might'].”

Three distinct categories are mentioned here, in ascending order: “Those who are humiliated yet do not humiliate in turn” do respond to the insults of others, but do not retaliate in kind. Those of the second category “hear their insult and do not retort” at all. Those of the third category actually “are happy in affliction” — because they remember their past sins, and are glad to accept their present suffering as a means of penance.

וכל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירים לו על כל פשעיו

Moreover,29 “whoever passes over his feelings, all his sins are passed over.”