Chapter 30

פרק ל

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 achara of the animal soul.

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

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

עוֹד זֹאת יָשִׂים אֶל לִבּוֹ, לְקַיֵּים מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "וֶהֱוֵי שְׁפַל רוּחַ בִּפְנֵי כּל הָאָדָם".

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 שִׁפְלוּת—literally, “lowliness,” and the latter—עַנִיווּת.

Since the Mishnah employs the adjective שְׁפַל רוּחַ, 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:

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

"וֶהֱוֵי" – בֶּאֱמֶת לַאֲמִיתּוֹ,

in the presence of every man, even in the presence of the most religiously irreverent people (kal shebekalim).

"בִּפְנֵי כָל הָאָדָם" – מַמָּשׁ, אֲפִילוּ בִּפְנֵי קַל שֶׁבְּקַלִּים.

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:

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

וְהַיְינוּ, עַל פִּי מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵירָךְ – עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ".

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

כִּי מְקוֹמוֹ גּוֹרֵם לוֹ לַחֲטוֹא,

since his livelihood requires him to go about the marketplace 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.”3

לִהְיוֹת פַּרְנָסָתוֹ לֵילֵךְ בַּשּׁוּק כָּל הַיּוֹם, וְלִהְיוֹת מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנוֹת, וְעֵינָיו רוֹאוֹת כָּל הַתַּאֲווֹת, וְ"הָעַיִן רוֹאָה וְהַלֵּב חוֹמֵד",

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 Hosea, “It burns like a flaming fire.”4

וְיִצְרוֹ בּוֹעֵר "כְּתַנּוּר בּוֹעֵרָה מֵאוֹפֶה", כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּהוֹשֵׁעַ, "הוּא בוֹעֵר כְּאֵשׁ לֶהָבָה וְגוֹ'".

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

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן מִי שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ בַּשּׁוּק מְעַט, וְרוֹב הַיּוֹם יוֹשֵׁב בְּבֵיתוֹ,

Even if he does go about the marketplace all day so that his physical “place” is the same as that of the kal shebekalim, 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.

וְגַם אִם הוֹלֵךְ כָּל הַיּוֹם בַּשּׁוּק, יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְחוּמָּם כָּל כָּךְ בְּטִבְעוֹ,

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.5

כִּי אֵין הַיֵּצֶר שָׁוֶה בְּכָל נֶפֶשׁ, יֵשׁ שֶׁיִּצְרוֹ כוּ', כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר.

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:

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

וְהִנֵּה, בֶּאֱמֶת, גַּם מִי שֶׁהוּא מְחוּמָּם מְאֹד בְּטִבְעוֹ, וּפַרְנָסָתוֹ הִיא לִהְיוֹת מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנוֹת כָּל הַיּוֹם,

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.

אֵין לוֹ שׁוּם הִתְנַצְּלוּת עַל חֲטָאָיו, וּמִקְרֵי "רָשָׁע גָּמוּר" עַל אֲשֶׁר אֵין פַּחַד אֱלֹהִים לְנֶגֶד עֵינָיו.

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.

כִּי הָיָה לוֹ לְהִתְאַפֵּק וְלִמְשׁוֹל עַל רוּחַ תַּאֲוָותוֹ שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי פַּחַד ה' הָרוֹאֶה כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו,

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,6 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.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל, כִּי הַמּוֹחַ שַׁלִּיט עַל הַלֵּב בְּתוֹלַדְתּוֹ.

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.

וְהִנֵּה, בֶּאֱמֶת, שֶׁהִיא מִלְחָמָה גְדוֹלָה וַעֲצוּמָה, לִשְׁבּוֹר הַיֵּצֶר הַבּוֹעֵר כְּאֵשׁ לֶהָבָה מִפְּנֵי פַּחַד ה', וּכְמוֹ נִסָּיוֹן מַמָּשׁ.

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

וְהִלְכָךְ, צָרִיךְ כָּל אָדָם, לְפִי מַה שֶּׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ וּמַדְרֵגָתוֹ בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה', לִשְׁקוֹל וְלִבְחוֹן בְּעַצְמוֹ

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.

אִם הוּא עוֹבֵד ה' בְּעֵרֶךְ וּבְחִינַת מִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה כָּזוֹ וְנִסָּיוֹן כָּזֶה,

Even the most dispassionate and cloistered of men must often engage in battle with his evil inclination, both in the area of “doing good”7 and in that of “turning away from evil,”7 as the Alter Rebbe goes on to illustrate.

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

בִּבְחִינַת "וַעֲשֵׂה טוֹב". כְּגוֹן, בַּעֲבוֹדַת הַתְּפִלָּה בְּכַוָּונָה, לִשְׁפּוֹךְ נַפְשׁוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' בְּכָל כֹּחוֹ מַמָּשׁ

to the extent of “wringing out” his soul,8 i.e., exhausting all of his intellectual and emotional power in his devotion.

עַד מִיצּוּי הַנֶּפֶשׁ,

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.

וּלְהִלָּחֵם עִם גּוּפוֹ וְנֶפֶשׁ הַבַּהֲמִית שֶׁבּוֹ הַמּוֹנְעִים הַכַּוָּונָה – בְּמִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה, וּלְבַטְּשָׁם וּלְכַתְּתָם כֶּעָפָר קוֹדֶם הַתְּפִלָּה שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית מִדֵּי יוֹם בְּיוֹם,

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.9

וְגַם בִּשְׁעַת הַתְּפִלָּה, לְיַיגֵּעַ עַצְמוֹ בִּיגִיעַת נֶפֶשׁ וִיגִיעַת בָּשָׂר, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר לְקַמָּן בַּאֲרִיכוּת.

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

וְכָל שֶׁלֹּא הִגִּיעַ לִידֵי מִדָּה זוֹ, לְהִלָּחֵם עִם גּוּפוֹ מִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה כָּזוֹ –

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,

עֲדַיִין לֹא הִגִּיעַ לִבְחִינַת וְעֵרֶךְ מִלְחֶמֶת הַיֵּצֶר הַבּוֹעֵר כְּאֵשׁ לֶהָבָה,

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

לִהְיוֹת נִכְנָע וְנִשְׁבָּר מִפְּנֵי פַּחַד ה'.

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?

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,

וְכֵן בְּעִנְיַן בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן וְכָל בִּרְכוֹת הַנֶּהֱנִין וְהַמִּצְוֹת בְּכַוָּנָה,

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.

וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר כַּוָּנַת הַמִּצְוֹת לִשְׁמָן.

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.

וְכֵן בְּעִנְיַן עֵסֶק לִימּוּד הַתּוֹרָה, לִלְמוֹד הַרְבֵּה יוֹתֵר מֵחֶפְצוֹ וּרְצוֹנוֹ לְפִי טִבְעוֹ וּרְגִילוּתוֹ עַל יְדֵי מִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה עִם גּוּפוֹ.

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:

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,

כִּי הַלּוֹמֵד מְעַט יוֹתֵר מִטִּבְעוֹ הֲרֵי זוֹ מִלְחָמָה קְטַנָּה, וְאֵין לָהּ עֵרֶךְ וְדִמְיוֹן עִם מִלְחֶמֶת הַיֵּצֶר הַבּוֹעֵר כְּאֵשׁ,

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.

דְּמִקְרֵי "רָשָׁע גָּמוּר" אִם אֵינוֹ מְנַצֵּחַ יִצְרוֹ, לִהְיוֹת נִכְנָע וְנִשְׁבָּר מִפְּנֵי ה'.

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:

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?

וּמַה לִּי בְּחִינַת "סוּר מֵרָע", וּמַה לִּי בְּחִינַת "וַעֲשֵׂה טוֹב" –

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.

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

הַכֹּל הִיא מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ הַקָּדוֹשׁ, יָחִיד וּמְיוּחָד בָּרוּךְ־הוּא.

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.

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,

וְכֵן בִּשְׁאָר מִצְוֹת, וּבִפְרָט בְּדָבָר שֶׁבְּמָמוֹן,

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

כְּמוֹ עֲבוֹדַת הַצְּדָקָה וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא.

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,

וַאֲפִילוּ בִּבְחִינַת "סוּר מֵרָע", יָכוֹל כָּל אִישׁ מַשְׂכִּיל לִמְצוֹא בְּנַפְשׁוֹ שֶׁאֵינוֹ סָר לְגַמְרֵי מֵהָרָע בַּכֹּל מִכֹּל כֹּל,

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.

בְּמָקוֹם שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְמִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה כְּעֵרֶךְ הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל, וַאֲפִילוּ פָּחוֹת מֵעֵרֶךְ הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

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,

כְּגוֹן לְהַפְסִיק בְּאֶמְצַע שִׂיחָה נָאָה, אוֹ סִיפּוּר בִּגְנוּת חֲבֵירוֹ,

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—

וַאֲפִילוּ גְּנַאי קָטָן וְקַל מְאֹד, אַף שֶׁהוּא אֱמֶת, וַאֲפִילוּ כְּדֵי לְנַקּוֹת עַצְמוֹ,

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, beginning of ch. 10.10)

כַּנּוֹדָע מֵהָא דְּאָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן לְאָבִיו רַבֵּינוּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ: "לָאו אֲנָא כַּתְבֵיהּ, אֶלָּא יְהוּדָא חַיָּיטָא כַּתְבֵיהּ", וְאָמַר לוֹ: "כַּלֵּךְ מִלָּשׁוֹן הָרָע" [עַיֵּין שָׁם בַּגְּמָרָא רֵישׁ פֶּרֶק י' דְּבָבָא בַּתְרָא].

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

וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא כַּמָּה מִילֵּי דִּשְׁכִיחֵי טוּבָא.

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.

This is especially true with regard to sanctifying oneself by refraining from indulgence in permitted matters—and this is a Biblical commandment,11 derived from the verses: “You shall be holy…” and “Sanctify yourselves….”12

וּבִפְרָט בְּעִנְיַן לְקַדֵּשׁ עַצְמוֹ בְּמוּתָּר לוֹ, שֶׁהוּא מִדְּאוֹרַיְיתָא, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "קְדוֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ וְגוֹ'", "וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וְגוֹ'".

Moreover, even according to the opinion that this commandment is not of Biblical origin, yet “Rabbinic enactments are even stricter than Biblical laws…,”13 and one will often find himself succumbing to self-indulgence when the temptation is strong and requires a battle to overcome it.

וְגַם, דִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים חֲמוּרִים מִדִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה וְכוּ'.

But all these and similar matters are among “the sins which people trample underfoot,”14 insensitive to their importance,

אֶלָּא שֶׁכָּל אֵלּוּ וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָהֶן, הֵן מֵ"עֲווֹנוֹת שֶׁהָאָדָם דָּשׁ בַּעֲקֵבָיו",

and which have come to be regarded as permissible because they are committed repeatedly.15

וְגַם נַעֲשׂוּ כְּהֶיתֵּר, מֵחֲמַת שֶׁעָבַר וְשָׁנָה וְכוּ'.

All the abovementioned 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:

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

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת, אִם הוּא יוֹדֵעַ סֵפֶר, וּמַחֲזִיק בְּתוֹרַת ה', וְקִרְבַת אֱלֹקִים יֶחְפָּץ –

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.

גָּדוֹל עֲוֹנוֹ מִנְּשׂוֹא, וְאַשְׁמָתוֹ גָדְלָה בְּכִפְלֵי כִפְלַיִים בְּמַה שֶּׁאֵינוֹ נִלְחָם וּמִתְגַּבֵּר עַל יִצְרוֹ בְּעֵרֶךְ וּבְחִינַת מִלְחָמָה עֲצוּמָה הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת לְעֵיל,

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.

מֵאַשְׁמַת קַל שֶׁבְּקַלִּים מִיּוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנוֹת הָרְחוֹקִים מֵה' וְתוֹרָתוֹ,

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

וְאֵין אַשְׁמָתָם גְּדוֹלָה כָּל כָּךְ בְּמַה שֶּׁאֵינָם כּוֹבְשִׁים יִצְרָם הַבּוֹעֵר כְּאֵשׁ לֶהָבָה, מִפְּנֵי פַּחַד ה' הַמֵּבִין וּמַבִּיט אֶל כָּל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם,

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

כְּאַשְׁמַת כָּל הַקָּרֵב הַקָּרֵב אֶל ה' וְאֶל תּוֹרָתוֹ וַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ,

As our Sages, of blessed memory, said of the apostate “Acher,” Elisha ben Avuyah: “Because he knew My glory…,”16 said G‑d; if despite this, he still sinned, his guilt is far greater.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה גַּבֵּי אַחֵר: "שֶׁיָּדַע בִּכְבוֹדִי וְכוּ'".

Therefore, our Sages declared in regard to the illiterate that “Deliberate sins are regarded in their case as inadvertent acts,”17 since they are unaware of the gravity of their sins.

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה עַל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ: שֶׁ"זְּדוֹנוֹת נַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם כִּשְׁגָגוֹת":

With a scholar, the reverse is true: an oversight due to lack of study is adjudged as being as grave as a deliberate sin.18 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 achara in his animal soul, enabling the light of his soul to permeate and irradiate his body, as explained in ch. 29.