In this chapter the Alter Rebbe concludes the discussion begun in ch. 18. There, he began to explain the verse, “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it,” meaning that to serve G‑d out of a feeling of love and awe for Him, is a very easy matter for everyone. This assertion seems contrary to our experience, for it is no easy matter (as the Alter Rebbe pointed out in ch. 17) to turn one’s heart from worldly matters to a love and fear of G‑d. In answer he stated that it is indeed an easy matter, for we need not create these feelings: we already have them. All that is required of us is to arouse our innate love and fear of G‑d from their latent state, and to employ them in the service of G‑d.

He then went on to explain (in chs. 18 and 19) the nature and essence of this love and fear. The soul, with its power of faith in G‑d by which it is attached to Him, intrinsically desires to cleave to its Divine source. This desire also contains an element of fear — the fear of anything that constitutes separation from G‑d. So powerful are these feelings that, by his very nature, a Jew will sacrifice his life rather than practice idolatry, which is a repudiation of G‑d’s unity.

In the following chapters, the Alter Rebbe explained that all the mitzvot are an affirmation of G‑d’s unity, which means that everything exists within G‑d and is one with Him. For in the mitzvot G‑d’s Will is revealed, and he who performs them becomes perfectly united with Him. Conversely all sins constitute idolatry, for idolatry implies that there is something — anything — that exists outside of G‑d, and separate from Him. Through any transgression, one separates himself from G‑d’s Will as expressed in the commandments, and thus from G‑d Himself, placing himself in the domain of the kelipot who deny G‑d’s unity.

By his very nature, then, a Jew would always observe the mitzvot and would never sin — were it not for a “spirit of folly” that obscures his innate hidden love for G‑d, and does not permit him to feel the diverse effects of mitzvot and sins on his connection with G‑d.

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe concludes the discussion, stating that every Jew, at any time, is able to dispel the “spirit of folly” and to arouse his hidden love for G‑d. Thus when he is tempted to sin, he will actually feel how the sin would tear him away from G‑d, and he will therefore resist the impulse. Similarly, when he is required to perform a mitzvah, he will feel his love for G‑d dictating that he do so, so as to be united with Him.

וזהו שכתוב: כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד וגו‘

This, then, is the meaning of the verse, 1 “For this thing is very near to you...” — to observe the Torah and its commandments out of love and fear of G‑d.

שבכל עת ובכל שעה בידו של אדם וברשותו הוא להעביר רוח שטות והשכחה מקרבו

For at any time and moment a person is capable and free to rid himself of the spirit of folly which renders him insensitive to the separation between himself and G‑d caused by sin, and the forgetfulness that he has a love of G‑d by virtue of which he desires to unite with Him, through the fulfillment of the mitzvot.

ולזכור ולעורר אהבתו לה’ אחד המסותרת בודאי בלבבו בלי שום ספק

He is always able to remember and arouse his love of the One G‑d, that is certainly, undoubtedly, latent in his heart — since everyone, even the most hardened sinner, is endowed with this inborn love.

וזהו שכתוב: ובלבבך

This is the meaning of “in your heart” i.e., that everyone can serve G‑d out of love, which is an emotion of the heart.

Yet love of G‑d, by itself, is insufficient. One needs also a fear of G‑d, to guard against violating the prohibitive commandments. Therefore the Alter Rebbe continues:

ונכלל בה גם דחילו, דהיינו שלא ליפרד בשום אופן מיחודו ואחדותו יתברך, אפילו במסירת נפש ממש

This love carries with it also fear; that is, the dread of being separated on any account from G‑d’s unity and oneness. Even if it means sacrificing his life so as not to be separated from Him, he will do so,

בלי שום טעם ושכל מושג, אלא בטבע אלקי

without any reason or logic, but purely out of one’s divine nature.

As illustrated in ch. 19 by the analogy of the flame of a candle, which intrinsically seeks to unite with its source, the soul instinctively seeks to unite with its Divine source. Because of this nature, it recoils in fear from anything that may sever its connection with G‑d, even at the cost of life itself.

וכל שכן בשבירת התאוות, הקלה מיסורי מיתה, שקרוב אליו הדבר יותר לכבוש היצר

Surely, then, it is far easier to subdue one’s appetites, since this entails much lighter suffering than death which he would willingly endure so as not to be torn away from G‑d. Mastering his evil inclination is easier,

הן בבחינת סור מרע

both in the category of2 “turning away from evil” and the category of3 “doing good” — i.e., refraining from sin, and observing the positive commandments, respectively.

אפילו מעבירה קלה של דברי סופרים שלא לעבור על רצונו יתברך, מאחר שנפרד בה מיחודו ואחדותו כמו בעבודה זרה ממש בשעת מעשה

To be specific: Even when it concerns a minor Rabbinic prohibition one can easily master his evil inclination so as not to transgress G‑d’s Will, since at the time that he does the forbidden act, he thereby becomes separated from G‑d’s unity just as much as through actual idolatry, as explained in the previous chapter.

It follows therefore, that he ought to display the same strength in resisting the temptation for such a sin as he would display (even to the point of sacrificing his life) in rejecting idolatry, since this sin too separates him from G‑d.

There would appear to be a difference, however, between idolatry and the minor sin with which we are dealing. With idolatry, the sinner remains separated from G‑d even after the idolatrous act (as explained in the previous chapter), whereas with a minor sin the separation lasts only as long as the sinful act itself.

The Alter Rebbe refutes this argument in the next paragraph by stating that in the case of idolatry, too, there is a means of ensuring that the separation from G‑d brought on thereby end immediately after the act. That method is teshuvah — repentance. Yet, despite the fact that this resource is available to him, a Jew would rather be killed than practice idolatry, for he cannot accept even a momentary separation from G‑d. He may now apply the same consideration to refraining from even a minor sin, since it too imposes upon him a separation from G‑d, albeit a momentary one.

והרי גם בעבודה זרה יכול לעשות תשובה אחר כך

Now, even with regard to idolatry, he can repent afterwards and thus assure himself of unity with G‑d after the idol-worship. Nevertheless, a Jew would give up his life rather than exercise this option.

Yet one may argue that in reality this is no option at all. The Talmud states that when one sins because he relies on subsequent teshuvah, G‑d does not allow him to practice teshuvah. Since he cannot rely on this, he must sacrifice his life so as not to remain permanently separated from G‑d through idolatry. With a minor sin, however, the separation from G‑d that it causes is in any case temporary, even without recourse to teshuvah.

We are thus once again left with our original question: How can it be said that the same fear of separation from G‑d that motivates a Jew to sacrifice his life with regard to idolatry, can also motivate him to refrain from even a minor sin? The two cases are altogether different: the former causes a lasting separation, and the latter, a momentary one.

The Alter Rebbe answers this objection by clarifying the Talmudic statement on which it is based. The Talmud does not imply, he explains, that the sinner who relies on teshuvah utterly loses his ability to repent, but rather that the Divine assistance usually granted to a penitent sinner is withheld from him.

Thus one could, after all, submit to coercion and practice idolatry, and rely on teshuvah to save him from a lasting separation from G‑d. Yet no Jew would take advantage of this resource; the love of G‑d innate in every Jew dictates that he sacrifice his life rather than bear the temporary separation caused by idolatry.

This discussion is contained in the following paragraphs.

ואף שהאומר אחטא ואשוב, אין מספיקין כו‘

(4Although the Talmud states that5 “He who says, ’I will sin and repent, sin and repent,‘ is not given an opportunity to do so,”

היינו שאין מחזיקים ידו להיות לו שעת הכושר לעשות תשובה

yet this means merely that G‑d does not aid such a sinner, granting him the auspicious occasion to repent.

Generally, G‑d grants one who wishes to repent the necessary power and the opportune moment to realize his good intentions. However, where one’s reliance on teshuvah formed the basis for his sin, he is lent neither the strength nor the opportunity.

אבל אם דחק השעה ועשה תשובה, אין לך דבר שעומד בפני התשובה

If, however, he seizes the opportunity himself and he repents, 6 “Nothing can stand in the way of repentance.”

Thus, even in the case of idolatry one could conceivably rely on teshuvah to prevent a lasting separation from G‑d.

ואף על פי כן, כל איש ישראל מוכן ומזומן למסור נפשו על קדושת ה’

Nevertheless, every Jew is prepared and ready to suffer martyrdom for the sanctification of G‑d’s Name,

שלא להשתחוות לעבודה זרה אפילו לפי שעה ולעשות תשובה אחר כך

and will not perform an idolatrous act lit., “to bow down before an idol” even temporarily, with the intention of repenting afterwards — indicating that the fear of even a temporary separation from G‑d is sufficient motivation for self-sacrifice.

והיינו מפני אור ה‘ המלובש בנפשם כנ״ל, שאינו בבחינת זמן ושעה כלל אלא למעלה מהזמן, ושליט ומושל עליו כנודע

This is because of the Divine light which is clothed in his soul, as explained above, which does not come within the realm of time at all, but transcends time, and therefore in relation to this light every action is eternal; furthermore, as is known this Divine light rules and dominates time — not only is it not governed by the laws of time, but on the contrary it governs them.

Thus, an action which took but a moment (and, judged by temporal standards, has no value) can become more momentous than one which takes much longer. 7

Since the Divine light clothed in the soul transcends and dominates time, it does not permit any separation from G‑d, no matter how short its duration.

The discussion until now centered on the category of “turning away from evil.” The Alter Rebbe showed how one could utilize his hidden love of G‑d in refraining from sin. He now goes on to the category of “doing good,” discussing the use of the hidden love in leading one to perform all the positive commandments.

והן בבחינת ועשה טוב, להתגבר כארי בגבורה ואומץ הלב

Likewise in the category of “doing good” one can employ the power of his “hidden love,” to strengthen himself like a lion with might and determination of heart,

נגד היצר המכביד את גופו ומפיל עליו עצלה, מבחינת יסוד העפר שבנפש הבהמית

against the evil nature which weighs down his body and casts over him a sloth, which stems from the element of Earth that is in his animal soul. 8

מלהטריח גופו בזריזות בכל מיני טורח ועבודת משא בעבודת ה‘ שיש בה טורח ועמל

This laziness prevents him from exerting his body energetically with every type of effort and strain, in the service of G‑d that entails effort and toil.

כגון לעמול בתורה בעיון, ובפה: לא פסיק פומיה מגירסא

For example, to labor in the Torah with deep concentration, and also orally, so that “his mouth will never cease from Torah study”;

וכמאמר רז״ל: לעולם ישים אדם עצמו על דברי תורה כשור לעול וכחמור למשאוי

as our Sages have said: 9 “A man should always submit to the words of Torah like the ox to the yoke, and the donkey to the load.”

וכן לתפלה בכונה, בכל כחו ממש

Similarly with regard to devout prayer, he should exert himself with all the strength he can muster.

וכן בעבודת ה’ שהיא בדבר שבממון, כמו עבודת הצדקה

So too with regard to serving G‑d in monetary matters, such as the duty of charity, 10

וכיוצא באלו ממלחמות היצר ותחבולותיו, לקרר נפש האדם, שלא להפקיר ממונו ובריאות גופו

and in similar matters that entail great effort where one must struggle with the evil inclination and its wiles which seek to cool the ardor of a man’s soul, claiming that he ought not dissipate his money in the case of charity or his health in matters requiring physical exertion.

שלעמוד נגדו ולכבשו קרוב מאד אל האדם, כשישים אל לבו שלנצח היצר בכל זה ויותר מזה, ולעשות הפכו ממש, קל מאד מיסורי מיתה, ה‘ ישמרנו

It is very easy for a person to resist and subjugate his nature when he considers deeply that to conquer his nature in all the above and more, and in fact to do the very opposite, i.e., to exert himself strenuously, both bodily and financially, is much lighter suffering than death (May G‑d preserve us!).

ויסורי מיתה, ה’ ישמרנו, היה מקבל באהבה וברצון, שלא ליפרד מיחודו ואחדותו יתברך אפילו לפי שעה, להשתחוות לעבודה זרה, חס ושלום

Yet he would lovingly and willingly have accepted the pain of death (G‑d preserve us!) so as not to be separated from G‑d’s unity and oneness even for a moment by an act of idolatry, G‑d forbid.

For, as mentioned earlier, every Jew would sacrifice his life rather than practice idolatry, since he knows that it represents separation from G‑d.

וכל שכן שיש לו לקבל באהבה וברצון כדי לדבקה בו לעולם ועד

Certainly, then, he ought to accept lovingly and willingly the comparatively minor pain of exerting himself in the performance of the mitzvot in order to bind himself to G‑d with an eternal bond.

There is a twofold a fortiori argument here. Firstly, performing a mitzvah actively binds man to G‑d, as opposed to refraining from idolatry, which merely prevents separation from Him. Secondly, the bond effected by the mitzvah is an eternal one, as opposed to the temporary separation from G‑d caused by idolatry. Now if one would sacrifice his life to refrain from idolatry, how much more so ought he accept whatever hardships are entailed by fulfilling the mitzvot, since their performance has both these gains that are not found in the rejection of idolatry.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain how mitzvot effect an eternal bond with G‑d.

דהיינו כשיעשה רצונו יתברך בעבודה זו, יתגלה בה פנימית רצון העליון בבחינת פנים וגילוי רב, ולא בהסתר כלל

For by fulfilling G‑d’s Will through this service despite the exertion involved, the innermost Divine Will will be revealed in it — internally as opposed to “surrounding” it or “hovering” over it from above, and very manifestly, without any obscurity whatever.

As explained in ch. 23, the mitzvot represent G‑d’s innermost Will, and when one performs them, this Will stands completely revealed.

וכשאין שום הסתר פנים ברצון העליון, אזי אין דבר נפרד כלל וכלל, להיות יש ודבר בפני עצמו

Now, when there is no “concealment of the Countenance” of the Divine Will, nothing is at all separate from G‑dliness, having an independent and separate identity of its own.

For, as explained in chs. 22 and 24, no created being can possibly consider itself separate from G‑d unless the Divine Will is concealed from it. Since the inner aspect of this Will stands revealed in one’s performance of a mitzvah, it does not permit any sense of separation.

ולזאת תהיינה נפשו האלקית והחיונית ולבושיהן כולן מיוחדות בתכלית היחוד ברצון העליון ואור אין סוף ברוך הוא כנ״ל

Thus his soul i.e., the soul of the person performing the mitzvah, both the divine and the animating souls, and their “garments” of thought, speech, and action, will be united in perfect unity with the Divine Will and with the infinite light of G‑d, blessed be He, as explained above.

This details how the mitzvot effect a bond between man and G‑d. The Alter Rebbe will now go on to explain why this bond is eternal.

ויחוד זה למעלה הוא נצחי לעולם ועד, כי הוא יתברך ורצונו למעלה מהזמן

In the upper spheres, this union between the soul and G‑d is eternal. For G‑d, blessed be He, and His Will transcend time, and thus the union with G‑d and His Will also transcends time and is eternal.

וכן גילוי רצונו שבדבורו שהיא התורה הוא נצחי

So too even in this world His revealed Will, as expressed in His Word — the Torah, is also eternal,

וכמו שכתוב: ודבר אלקינו יקום לעולם, ודבריו חיים וקיימים כו‘, ולא יחליף ולא ימיר דתו לעולמים כו’

as it is written: 11 “But the Word of our G‑d shall stand forever”; and12 “His words live and endure (eternally)”; and13 “He will never alter or exchange His law.”

Since the revelation of G‑d’s Will as expressed in the Torah is beyond time, the union of the soul with G‑d that Torah and mitzvot effect is likewise eternal.

אלא שלמטה הוא תחת הזמן, ובאותה שעה לבדה שעוסק בה בתורה או במצוה

Here below, however, this union is within the limits of time, for in this world the soul is under the dominion of time, and the soul is united with G‑d only while it is engaged in Torah study or in the performance of a mitzvah.

כי אחר כך אם עוסק בדבר אחר, נפרד מהיחוד העליון למטה והיינו כשעוסק בדברים בטלים לגמרי שאין בהם צורך כלל לעבודת ה‘

For if he engages afterwards in anything else he becomes separated, here below, from this Supernal union (— that is, if he occupies himself with absolutely unnecessary matters that are in no way useful in the service of G‑d).

ואף על פי כן, כשחוזר ושב לעבודת ה’ אחר כך, לתורה ולתפלה, ומבקש מחילה מה‘ על שהיה אפשר לו לעסוק אז בתורה ולא עסק, ה’ יסלח לו

Nevertheless, when he repents and resumes his service of G‑d through Torah study or prayer, and he asks forgiveness of G‑d for not having studied Torah at the time of his occupation in vain matters when he could have done so, G‑d forgives him.

כמאמר רז״ל: עבר על מצות עשה ושב, לא זז משם עד שמוחלין לו

As our Sages have said, 14 “If one neglected to perform a positive precept and repented, he is pardoned forthwith,” and is thus reunited even here below, with G‑d and His Will.

ולזה תקנו ברכת סלח לנו שלש פעמים בכל יום על עון ביטול תורה, שאין אדם ניצול ממנו בכל יום

For this reason i.e., because such a request for forgiveness is immediately effective in reuniting the soul to G‑d, so that it will not be parted from Him even momentarily, the Sages ordained that the blessing beginning “Forgive us...,” in which we beg forgiveness for the sin of neglecting the study of the Torah, be recited as often as three times daily, since no one escapes this sin even a single day.

וכמו התמיד שהיה מכפר על מצות עשה

This [blessing] is like the daily burnt-offering sacrificed in the Holy Temple, that atoned for neglect of the positive precepts.

Yet it may be argued: Since this sin is repeated constantly, begging forgiveness for it is similar to saying, “I will sin and repent, sin and repent.” Our Sages have said15 that in such a case, G‑d does not grant the sinner the opportunity to repent; why then should the request beginning “Forgive us…” be effective in the case of neglecting Torah study? The Alter Rebbe now differentiates between the two cases.

ואין זה אחטא ואשוב, אלא אם כן שבשעת החטא ממש הוא סומך על התשובה ולכך חוטא, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר

This is not the same as saying, “I will sin and repent, sin and repent,” unless at the very time when one commits the sin he relies on subsequent repentance, and sins because of it, as explained elsewhere.

Since he perverted the idea of repentance by using it as an excuse for sinning, he is not given the opportunity to practice it. However, in our case of the oft-repeated sin of neglecting to study Torah, the offender does not rely on teshuvah at the time of his sin, and he is therefore granted the opportunity to ask for forgiveness thrice daily in the blessing of “Forgive us."

* * *

At any rate, we see that the union of the soul with G‑d that is effected through the mitzvot is eternal. When one considers that he would gladly give up his life so as not to be (even momentarily) parted from G‑d by practicing idolatry, he will realize that he surely ought to exert himself in performing the mitzvot which bind him to G‑d forever.

The Alter Rebbe has thus demonstrated how being aware of one’s willingness to sacrifice his life for G‑d, affects both the areas of “turning away from evil” and “doing good,” i.e., the observance of the negative and positive commandments respectively. It follows that this awareness should constantly be on one’s mind, so that he will always be ready to apply it to his performance of the mitzvot.

ובזה יובן למה צוה משה רבינו עליו השלום במשנה תורה לדור שנכנסו לארץ, לקרות קריאת שמע פעמים בכל יום, לקבל עליו מלכות שמים במסירת נפש

In light of the above, it will be understood why Moshe Rabbeinu, peace be upon him, commanded in the Book of Devarim (— not in the earlier Books of the Bible addressed to the generation of Jews who wandered in the desert, 16 but) to the generation that entered the Holy Land that they (too, and not only the subsequent generations17) recite the Shema twice daily, the intention in the Shema being to acknowledge the Kingdom of Heaven with self-sacrifice; i.e., the Shema teaches us to accept martyrdom for the sanctification of G‑d’s Name.

והלא הבטיח להם: פחדכם ומוראכם יתן ה’ וגו‘

Now one may ask: Why was it necessary for our forefathers to prepare themselves for martyrdom? Had they not been promised that18 “G‑d will lay the fear and dread of you [upon all the inhabitants of the land]”?

They had no reason to fear that anyone would attempt to force them to deny the Kingdom of Heaven, necessitating self-sacrifice to resist such efforts. In this sense, they were as well protected as the Jews who traveled the desert with Moses (who were not commanded to recite the Shema.)19 We must therefore conclude that preparation for martyrdom is necessary not only to ensure that it will be put into practice if and when necessary,

אלא משום שקיום התורה ומצותיה תלוי בזה שיזכור תמיד ענין מסירת נפשו לה’ על יחודו, שיהיה קבוע בלבו תמיד ממש יומם ולילה לא ימיש מזכרונו

but because the fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments is contingent on one’s being constantly aware of his readiness to surrender his life to G‑d for the sake of His unity, i.e., that a person remember that he would be willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of G‑d’s unity, if the situation would warrant it — which is the message contained in the Shema; he must therefore recite it twice daily, morning and evening, so that this awareness will be fixed permanently in his heart, and will not depart from his memory night and day.

כי בזה יוכל לעמוד נגד יצרו לנצחו תמיד בכל עת ובכל שעה

In this way, one is able to withstand his Evil Inclination and to vanquish it at every time and every moment, even after Moses‘ passing, whenever Jews are engaged in an intense struggle with the Evil Inclination, as it is written: 20 “G‑d said to Moses, ’Behold, you are about to sleep with your fathers, and this people will rise up and stray,‘21

כנ״ל

as explained above — that when one remembers that he would be prepared to suffer martyrdom for his love of G‑d and his belief in G‑d’s unity, he will surely be able to overcome his Evil Inclination and perform all the mitzvot.