In ch. 18, the Alter Rebbe began to explain how it is very near and accessible to each of us to serve G‑d out of a feeling of love and awe by means of awakening the hidden love latent in us all. To clarify how this hidden love can lead to the observance of all the mitzvot, the Alter Rebbe proceeded to discuss the relationship of all the mitzvot to the precept of belief in G‑d’s unity and to the prohibition against idolatry. The unity of G‑d, he explained, means not only that there is but one G‑d, rather that G‑d is the only existing being, and all else is contained within Him. Conversely, idolatry does not necessarily mean a denial of G‑d’s existence or of His being unique. Any assertion that something exists beyond and separate from G‑d also constitutes idolatry.

In ch. 23, the Alter Rebbe went on to state that through Torah and mitzvot, in which the Divine will stands revealed, one reaches a perfect union with G‑d. In this chapter, he explains that a transgression has exactly the opposite effect of a mitzvah. Whereas a mitzvah joins one to G‑d, a transgression severs one from Him; whereas a mitzvah attests to G‑d’s unity, a transgression implies idolatry.

Since everything in the realm of holiness has its counterpart in the unholy realms of the sitra achara, there is also an unholy counterpart to the observance of the mitzvot and to Torah study, which produce union with G‑d. Their counterpart is:

וְ"זֶה לְעוּמַּת זֶה",

the 365 prohibitions stated in the Torah and all the Rabbinical prohibitions.

הֵן שַׁסַ"ה מִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וְכָל אִיסּוּרֵי דְרַבָּנָן,

Since they are contrary to and the very opposite of G‑d’s will and wisdom,

מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵן נֶגֶד רְצוֹנוֹ וְחָכְמָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְהֶפְכָּם מַמָּשׁ –

they represent total and complete separation from His unity and oneness.

הֵם נִפְרָדִים מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מַמָּשׁ,

Lessons In Tanya (Kehot Publication Society)

Lessons in Tanya is a well-lit and accessible gateway to the Tanya - the fundamental, classic work upon which all concepts of Chabad Chasidism are based.

They are the same as the sitra achara and the kelipah, which are called “idolatry” and “other gods,” since the internal aspect of the Divine will is concealed from them, as explained above1that they receive their life-force from the “hinder-part” of the Divine will, the level of אֲחוֹרַיִים, and for this reason, they are called אֶלֹקִים אֲחֵרִים—“other gods.”

כְּמוֹ הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וְהַקְּלִיפָּה הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" וֵ"אלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים", מֵחֲמַת הֶסְתֵּר פָּנִים שֶׁל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

Just as the forbidden actions themselves represent separation from G‑dliness, so, too, the three garments of a Jew’s animal soul, which stems from the kelipah of nogah—namely, the thought, speech, and action that are clothed in, i.e., that think, speak, or act in violation of, the 365 Torah prohibitions or any of the Rabbinic injunctions,

וְכֵן ג' לְבוּשֵׁי הַנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁמִּקְּלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁהֵם מַחֲשָׁבָה דִּבּוּר וּמַעֲשֶׂה, הַמְלוּבָּשִׁים בְּשַׁסַ"ה לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּדְרַבָּנָן,

and similarly the essence of the soul itself which is clothed in its garments, since it is the soul itself, after all, which thinks, speaks, and acts through its “garments”—the faculties of thought, speech, and action,

וְכֵן מַהוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ עַצְמָהּ הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בִּלְבוּשֶׁיהָ,

all of them become completely united with this sitra achara and kelipah called “avodah zarah,” i.e., idolatry.

כּוּלָּם מְיוּחָדִים מַמָּשׁ בְּסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה זוֹ, הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה".

Not only are they united with the kelipah and thus equal to it, but furthermore, they become secondary and subordinate to it and much lower and more debased than it.

וְלֹא עוֹד, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּטֵלִים וּטְפֵלִים אֵלֶיהָ, וּגְרוּעִים וּפְחוּתִים מִמֶּנָּה מְאֹד,

For the kelipah is not clothed in a corporeal body and hence is more exposed to the divine light; it knows its Master and does not rebel against Him (G‑d forbid) by any independent act of sending its evil messengers, other than in the service of G‑d.

כִּי הִיא, אֵינָהּ מְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּף חוּמְרִי, וְיוֹדַעַת אֶת רִבּוֹנָהּ, וְאֵינָהּ מוֹרֶדֶת בּוֹ לִפְעוֹל פְּעוּלָּתָהּ בְּמִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים שֶׁלָּהּ – שֶׁלֹּא בִּשְׁלִיחוּתוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם בָּרוּךְ־הוּא חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

Any evil act of the sitra achara is performed only in the service of G‑d. Thus, the kelipot that are not clothed in a body cannot rebel against G‑d’s will; only the animal soul clothed in the human body can do so. Hence, it is even lower than the kelipah.

So did Bilaam say: “I cannot violate the Word of G‑d….”2

וּכְמַאֲמַר בִּלְעָם: "לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבוֹר אֶת פִּי ה' וְגוֹ".

Although the kelipot are called avodah zarah, idolatry, which is a denial of G‑d, yet they refer to Him as “the G‑d of gods,” indicating that they do not deny Him completely.

וְאַף שֶׁנִּקְרָא "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה", הָא קָרוּ לֵיהּ "אֱלָהָא דֶאֱלָהַיָּא",

They cannot violate G‑d’s will, for they know and perceive that He is their life and sustenance, since they derive their nurture from the “hindermost aspect” of the Divine will which encompasses them.

וְאֵינָם יְכוֹלִים לַעֲבוֹר כְּלָל עַל רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, כִּי יוֹדְעִים וּמַשִּׂיגִים שֶׁהוּא חַיּוּתָם וְקִיּוּמָם, שֶׁיּוֹנְקִים מִבְּחִינַת "אֲחוֹרַיִים דַּאֲחוֹרַיִים" שֶׁל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמַּקִּיף עֲלֵיהֶם,

It is only the sustenance and life-force that is within them, i.e., the internal life-force which constitutes the identity of every created being, as explained in ch. 22, that is in a state of exile, so that they regard themselves as gods—which is a denial of G‑d’s unity.

אֶלָּא שֶׁיְּנִיקָתָם וְחַיּוּתָם שֶׁבְּתוֹכָם, הִיא בִּבְחִינַת גָּלוּת בְּתוֹכָם – לְהַחֲשִׁיב עַצְמָן אֱלֹהוּת, וַהֲרֵי זוֹ כְּפִירָה בְּאַחְדּוּתוֹ.

But they are not so completely heretical as to deny G‑d and to assert that He does not exist. On the contrary, they regard Him as “the G‑d of gods,” recognizing that their life and existence ultimately derive from His will.

אֲבָל מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אֵינָן כּוֹפְרִים וְכִחֲשׁוּ בַּה' לְגַמְרֵי וְלוֹמַר לֹא הוּא, אֶלָּא דְּקָרוּ לֵיהּ "אֱלָהָא דֶאֱלָהַיָּא", דְּהַיְינוּ – חַיּוּתָם וְקִיּוּמָם הַנִּמְשָׁךְ וְיוֹרֵד עֲלֵיהֶם מֵרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

Therefore, they never rebel against G‑d’s will.

וְלָכֵן אֵינָן עוֹבְרִין רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ לְעוֹלָם.

It follows, then, that the person who does violate G‑d’s will is greatly inferior to and more debased than the sitra achara and kelipah, which are called avodah zarah and “other gods.”

וְאִם כֵּן, הָאָדָם הָעוֹבֵר עַל רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, הוּא גָּרוּעַ וּפָחוּת הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד מֵהַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה, הַנִּקְרֵאת "עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" וֵ"אלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים",

He is separated completely from G‑d’s unity and oneness even more than they are as though denying His unity even more radically than they, G‑d forbid.

וְהוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנָּה, וּכְאִלּוּ כּוֹפֵר בְּאַחְדּוּתוֹ יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנָּה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

This is similar to what is written in Etz Chaim, Portal 42, end of ch. 4, that the evil in this corporeal world is the dregs of the coarse kelipot, it is the sediment of the purifying process, and so on.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר מ"ב סוֹף פֶּרֶק ד', שֶׁהָרָע שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַחוּמְרִי, הוּא שִׁמְרֵי הַקְּלִיפּוֹת הַגַּסּוֹת כוּ', וְהוּא תַּכְלִית הַבֵּירוּר וְכוּ',

I.e., after whatever sparks of good that are found in the kelipot have been isolated and elevated, what remains is kelipah in its lowest, coarsest form. This kelipah is the evil found in this material world.

For this reason, all matters of this world are harsh and evil, and the wicked prevail in it, and so forth.

וְלָכֵן כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה עוֹלָם הַזֶּה קָשִׁים וְרָעִים, וְהָרְשָׁעִים גּוֹבְרִים בּוֹ וְכוּ':

This explains the commentary of our Sages on the verse, “If a man’s wife turns aside [and commits adultery]…”3—“No man commits any transgression [unless a spirit of folly has entered into him].”4

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה עַל פָּסוּק: "כִּי תִשְׂטֶה אִשְׁתּוֹ" – "אֵין אָדָם עוֹבֵר עֲבֵירָה וְכוּ'",

The Sages thus relate the root of תִשְׂטֶה—“turns aside” to שְׁטוּת—“folly.”

For even an adulterous woman, with her frivolous nature, could have controlled her passionate drive were it not for the spirit of folly within her,

דַּאֲפִילוּ אִשָּׁה הַמְנָאֶפֶת שֶׁדַּעְתָּהּ קַלָּה, הָיְתָה מוֹשֶׁלֶת בְּרוּחַ תַּאֲוָתָהּ, לוּלֵי רוּחַ שְׁטוּת שֶׁבָּהּ –

which covers and conceals the hidden love within her divine soul that yearns to cleave to her faith in G‑d and to His unity and oneness and that resists even on pain of death, any separation from His unity through idol worship, i.e., even this adulteress would willingly sacrifice her life rather than submit to coercion to practice idolatry,

הַמְכַסֶּה וּמַסְתִּיר וּמַעֲלִים אֶת הָאַהֲבָה מְסוּתֶּרֶת שֶׁבְּנַפְשָׁהּ הָאֱלֹהִית, לְדָבְקָה בֶּאֱמוּנַת ה' וְיִחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ, וְלֹא לִיפָּרֵד חַס וְשָׁלוֹם מֵאַחְדּוּתוֹ, אֲפִילוּ נוֹטְלִים אֶת נַפְשָׁהּ מִמֶּנָּה לַעֲבוֹד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

even if this idol worship would consist merely of an empty act of prostrating herself before the idolized object without any belief in her heart in the validity of idol worship.

וַאֲפִילוּ בְּהִשְׁתַּחֲוָאָה לְבַדָּהּ בְּלִי שׁוּם אֱמוּנָה בַּלֵּב כְּלָל,

Now, if her hidden love of G‑d has the power to enable her to face death rather than be separated from Him, surely then it is within its power to overcome the temptation and lust for adultery, which is lighter suffering than death (May G‑d protect us!)

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לִכְבּוֹשׁ הַיֵּצֶר וְתַאֲוַת הַנִּיאוּף, שֶׁהֵם יִסּוּרִים קַלִּים מִמִּיתָה, ה' יִשְׁמְרֵנוּ.

It is only the “spirit of folly,” i.e., the notion that her sin will not tear her away from G‑dliness, that leads her to commit adultery.

It might be argued, however, that she differentiates between idolatry and adultery; she regards the former as much more heinous (and thus more certain to tear her away from G‑d) than the latter. Perhaps this differentiation (not the “spirit of folly”) is why she would sacrifice her life rather than practice idolatry, yet at the same time, she would not sacrifice her temptation for adultery. In answer, the Alter Rebbe states:

The distinction she makes between the prohibition against adultery and that against idolatry is also but a “spirit of folly” stemming from the kelipah.

וְהַהֶפְרֵשׁ שֶׁאֶצְלָהּ בֵּין אִיסּוּר נִיאוּף לְאִיסּוּר הִשְׁתַּחֲוָאָה לַעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, הוּא גַם כֵּן רוּחַ שְׁטוּת דִּקְלִיפָּה

It renders her insensitive to the enormous breach between herself and G‑d that is created by every sin. If she were aware of this breach, she would certainly overcome desire and refrain from sin.

Yet the “spirit of folly” envelops the divine soul only up to, but not including, its faculty of chochmah which, as explained in ch. 18, represents the power of faith in G-d; this faith is unaffected by the “spirit of folly,” because of the Divine light that is clothed in the faculty of chochmah, as explained above.5

הַמַּלְבֶּשֶׁת לַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית עַד בְּחִינַת חָכְמָה שֶׁבָּהּ, וְלֹא עַד בִּכְלָל, מִפְּנֵי אוֹר ה' הַמְלוּבָּשׁ בַּחָכְמָה, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

Therefore, when confronted with a matter that directly bears on her faith in G‑d, such as idolatry, where the “spirit of folly” is powerless, she would willingly sacrifice her life. But when faced with the temptation for adultery, where the “spirit of folly” can—and does—conceal her faith in G‑d and her hidden love for Him, she succumbs. As stated, the subjective distinction between the two stems from foolishness and insensitivity.

In truth, however, even he who commits a minor sin transgresses the Divine will,

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת לַאֲמִיתּוֹ, אֲפִילוּ עֲבֵירָה קַלָּה, הֲרֵי הָעוֹבְרָהּ עוֹבֵר עַל רָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

and he is completely sundered from G‑d’s unity and oneness

וְהוּא בְּתַכְלִית הַפֵּירוּד מִיִּחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

even more than the sitra achara and kelipah, which are called “strange gods” and “idolatry,” since kelipah does not violate G‑d’s will, whereas he does, and more than all things of this world that are derived from them,

יוֹתֵר מִסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה הַנִּקְרֵאת "אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים" וַ"עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה" מַמָּשׁ, וְיוֹתֵר מִכָּל הַדְּבָרִים הַנִּשְׁפָּעִים מִמֶּנָּה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

namely, the unclean cattle, beasts, and birds and the vermin and reptiles, which all receive their life-force from the three completely unclean kelipot.

שֶׁהֵם בְּהֵמוֹת טְמֵאוֹת וְחַיּוֹת וְעוֹפוֹת טְמֵאִים וּשְׁקָצִים וּרְמָשִׂים,

The person who transgresses even a minor sin, then, is worse and lower than the kelipot and all that derives from them.

As our Sages have said, “When a man sins, he is told: ‘The gnat preceded you.’”6

וְכַמַּאֲמָר: "יַתּוּשׁ קְדָמָךְ",

The simple meaning of this statement is: “You have no cause for pride! Even the lowly gnat was created before you!” But the deeper spiritual meaning is that the gnat takes precedence over the sinner in rank—as the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain:

This means that even the gnat which as the Talmud states consumes [food] but does not excrete, indicating a kelipah which is the height of selfishness—it does not give anything of itself,

פֵּירוּשׁ, דְּאַף יַתּוּשׁ – שֶׁמַּכְנִיס וְאֵינוֹ מוֹצִיא,

which is the very lowest form of kelipah and is far removed from holiness, which characteristically gives of itself even to those far from it—for holiness implies humility, which leads to kindness and to benevolence, while kelipah represents egocentricity and selfishness; now even the very lowest kelipah, symbolized by the gnat, takes precedence over the sinner in the order of descent of the Divine life-force from the Divine will.

שֶׁהִיא קְלִיפָּה הַיּוֹתֵר תַּחְתּוֹנָה, וּרְחוֹקָה מִבְּחִינַת הַקְּדוּשָּׁה הַמַּשְׁפַּעַת בְּתַכְלִית הָרִיחוּק – קוֹדֶמֶת לָאִישׁ הַחוֹטֵא, בְּהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת וִירִידַת הַחַיּוּת מֵרָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

This means that the kelipah symbolized by the gnat derives its life-force from a higher level of G‑dliness than that from which the sinner is sustained.

And surely, the other unclean creatures and even the ferocious beasts [are higher than the sinner]. All of these do not deviate from their Divinely intended purpose but obey G‑d’s command. Although they cannot perceive it, for the animal cannot perceive G-d’s command, yet their “spirit” perceives it.7

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן שְׁאָר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַטְּמֵאִים, וַאֲפִילוּ חַיּוֹת רָעוֹת, שֶׁכּוּלָּם – אֵינָם מְשַׁנִּים תַּפְקִידָם, וּפְקוּדָּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שָׁמְרָה רוּחָם, וְ"אַף־עַל־גַּב דְּאִיהוּ לָא חָזֵי כוּ'",

I.e., the life-force animating them, which is aware of the Divine will, does not permit them to act in violation of it.

As it is written: “The fear and dread of you shall lie upon every beast of the earth,”8 and as our Sages explain: “A wild beast will never defy a human being unless he appears to it like an animal.”9

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם יִהְיֶה עַל כָּל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ", וּכְפֵירוּשׁ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁ"אֵין חַיָּה רָעָה מוֹשֶׁלֶת בְּאָדָם אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִדְמֶה לָהּ כִּבְהֵמָה";

In fact, when confronting tzaddikim, from whose face the Divine image never departs, the evil beasts are humbled before them, as is stated in the Zohar concerning Daniel in the lions’ den.

וְהַצַּדִּיקִים, שֶׁאֵין צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים מִסְתַּלֵּק מֵעַל פְּנֵיהֶם – כָּל חַיּוֹת רָעוֹת אִתְכַּפְיָין קַמַּיְיהוּ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר גַּבֵּי דָּנִיֵּאל בְּגוֹב אֲרָיוֹת.

Not only did the lions not harm him, but on the contrary, they humbled themselves before him.10 At any rate, what emerges from the above is that even the animals do not violate G‑d’s will.

It is thus clear that he who sins and transgresses against G‑d’s will, even in a minor offense, is, at the time he commits it, completely removed from the Divine Holiness, meaning G‑d’s unity and oneness,

וְאִם כֵּן, הַחוֹטֵא וְעוֹבֵר רְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ אֲפִילוּ בַּעֲבֵירָה קַלָּה, בִּשְׁעַת מַעֲשֶׂה – הוּא בְּתַכְלִית הָרִיחוּק מִקְּדוּשָּׁה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה, שֶׁהִיא יִחוּדוֹ וְאַחְדּוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

even more so than all the unclean creatures, the vermin and the reptiles, which derive their sustenance from the sitra achara and the kelipah of avodah zarah.

יוֹתֵר מִכָּל בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַטְּמֵאִים וּשְׁקָצִים וּרְמָשִׂים הַמּוּשְׁפָּעִים מִסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפַּת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה.

All the aforesaid demonstrates how one’s hidden love for G‑d can enable him to overcome his desire to transgress any sin. When he considers that thereby he becomes separated from G‑d even more than the unclean creatures, he will recoil from every sin just as he recoils from the thought of idolatry—because of his awareness that it represents an attack on his love of G‑d and his faith in Him.

True, we find a principle that saving a life overrides other prohibitions, though not the prohibition of idolatry, and similarly, the law sometimes calls for one to commit a transgression rather than be killed, whereas with idolatry, incest, and murder, the law requires that he submit to death rather than commit any one of the three.

וּמַה שֶּׁפִּיקּוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ דּוֹחֶה שְׁאָר עֲבֵירוֹת, וְגַם "יַעֲבוֹר וְאַל יֵהָרֵג"

This would seem to indicate that the Torah itself distinguishes between idolatry and most other commandments, while the Alter Rebbe previously stated that the adultress who makes such a distinction has been blinded by a “spirit of folly,” for in reality, every sin tears one away from G‑d in the same way as idolatry.

In the following paragraph, the Alter Rebbe states that there is no contradiction here. The requirement or non-requirement to sacrifice one’s life for a prohibition does not reflect its intrinsic worth.

This fact that saving a life overrides other prohibitions is because, as the Sages explain, “The Torah declares: ‘Desecrate one Shabbat for his sake so that he may live to observe other Shabbatot.’”11

הַיְינוּ, כְּפֵירוּשׁ חֲכָמֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אָמְרָה תוֹרָה, חַלֵּל עָלָיו שַׁבָּת אַחַת, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּשְׁמוֹר שַׁבָּתוֹת הַרְבֵּה",

When the medical treatment of a patient involves an activity normally forbidden on Shabbat, the Torah requires that we desecrate the Shabbat to cure him so that he may live to observe Shabbat in the future. Thus, the precept of Shabbat has not been waived in the face of an external consideration. It is in the interests of the Shabbat itself (i.e., the patient’s future observance of Shabbat) that we desecrate this one Shabbat,

It is not because of the relative leniency (of the Shabbat) or gravity of the sins (such as idolatry) that one is waived while the other is not.

וְלֹא מִשּׁוּם קַלּוּת הָעֲבֵירוֹת וְחוּמְרָן.

(12This contention is supported by the following fact: Violation of the Shabbat is a grave offense and comparable to idolatry with regard to the law of Shechitah by anyone who habitually violates a particular precept, as codified in Yoreh Deah, Section 2.

[תֵּדַע: – שֶׁהֲרֵי שַׁבָּת חֲמוּרָה וּשְׁקוּלָה כַּעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה לְעִנְיַן שְׁחִיטַת מוּמָר לְדָבָר אֶחָד – בְּיוֹרֶה דֵעָה סִימָן ב',

There, the Shulchan Aruch states that one who regularly desecrates the Shabbat is unfit for Shechitah, as though he habitually practiced idolatry.

A habitual sexual offender, on the other hand, does not have the same law applied to him as a habitual idolator, indicating that the violation of Shabbat is graver than sexual offenses.

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּמוּמָר לְגִילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת.

Yet, the consideration of life overrides Shabbat but not the sexual prohibitions.

וַאֲפִילוּ הָכֵי, פִּיקּוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ דּוֹחֶה שַׁבָּת וְלֹא גִּילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת;

Thus, it cannot be argued that the requirement to sacrifice oneself for the sexual prohibitions is due to their gravity, for we see that the desecration of Shabbat is even graver than them with regard to Shechitah. Hence, we must conclude that the laws governing self-sacrifice are no measure of the relative gravity of the mitzvot.

Rather, it is a Scriptural decree that consideration of life overrides other sins but not the three cardinal sins—idolatry, sexual offense, and murder.13)

אֶלָּא דִּגְזֵירַת הַכָּתוּב הוּא].

The sinner, however, who does distinguish between the gravity of the various transgressions, sacrificing his life for the prohibition of idolatry but not even restraining his desire for others, surely has his thinking clouded by the “spirit of folly” of the kelipah, which obscures his hidden love of G‑d, for in reality, every transgression creates the ultimate separation between the sinner and G‑d.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that if a difference is indeed to be drawn between the various sins, it is only with regard to their effect after they have taken place.

After the sinful act, however, if the sin is of the type that carries neither the penalty of karet (spiritual extinction of the soul) or death at the hands of heaven,

אֶלָּא שֶׁלְּאַחַר מַעֲשֵׂה הַחֵטְא, אִם הִיא מֵעֲבֵירוֹת שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן כָּרֵת וּמִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם,

in which case the divine soul does not completely perish and is not entirely cut off from its source in the living G‑d,

שֶׁאֵין נַפְשׁוֹ הָאֱלֹהִית מֵתָה לְגַמְרֵי וְנִכְרֶתֶת מִשָּׁרְשָׁהּ בֵּאלֹהִים חַיִּים,

except that through this sin, its attachment to its source and its connection with it has been weakened somewhat—in the case of such a sin, the Alter Rebbe concludes (after a parenthetical note), the animal soul and the body can rise out of the kelipah and unite with the holiness of the divine soul.

רַק שֶׁנִּפְגַּם קְצָת דְּבֵיקוּתָהּ וַאֲחִיזָתָהּ בְּשָׁרְשָׁהּ בְּחֵטְא זֶה,

The difference between—on one hand—the sins carrying the penalty of karet or death at the hands of heaven and other sins is explained elsewhere14 as follows: The connection of the divine soul with its G‑dly source is comparable to a rope woven of 613 strands, each strand representing one of the commandments. Every sin severs a corresponding strand. When one strand is broken, the entire rope is weakened but not severed entirely. The penalties of karet or death at the hands of heaven, however, cut the rope entirely, so to speak.

In the following note, the Alter Rebbe states that the varying degrees of severity in the punishments imposed for various sins correspond to the blemish caused by each sin. The purpose of punishment is not the punishment per se but purification of the soul from the blemish which the sin brought about. Thus, the greater the blemish, the more severe the punishment.

Corresponding to the extent and specific nature of the blemish caused by the sin in the soul and in its source in the supernal worlds,

וּלְפִי ﬠֵרֶךְ וְחִלּוּקֵי בְּחִינוֹת הַפְּגַם בַּנֶּפֶשׁ וּבְשָׁרְשָׁהּ בָּﬠֶלְיוֹנִים,

are the various purifying processes and punishments in purgatory or in this world (i.e., the suffering of the soul in purgatory or one’s suffering in this world, whose purpose is to purify the soul),

כָּךְ הֵם חִלּוּקֵי בְּחִינוֹת הַמֵּירוּק וְהָעוֹנֶשׁ בְּגֵיהִנֹּם אוֹ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

for each transgression and sin its appropriate punishment, for the purpose of cleansing and removing the stain and the blemish caused by that specific sin.

לְכָל ﬠָוֹן וָחֵטְא עוֹנֶשׁ מְיוּחָד, לְמָרֵק וּלְהַﬠֲבִיר הַלִּכְלוּךְ וְהַפְּגַם.

Similarly, the blemish caused by the sins carrying the penalty of death at the hands of heaven or karet varies from one sin to another.

וְכֵן בְּחַיָּיבֵי מִיתָה וְכָרֵת, אֵין פּוֹגְמִין כּוּלָּם בְּשָׁוֶה:

(To return to our original point:) After the sinful act, in the case of those sins which do not carry the punishment of karet or death at the hands of heaven, the sinner’s animal soul, which animates the body and is clothed in it, as well as his body itself,

הֲרֵי גַּם נַפְשׁוֹ הַחִיּוּנִית הַבַּהֲמִית הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּפוֹ, וְכֵן גּוּפוֹ,

return and rise from the sitra achara and kelipah whereto they descended when the sin was committed, and they draw closer to the holiness of the divine soul that pervades them.

חוֹזְרִים וְעוֹלִים מֵהַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפָּה זוֹ, וּמִתְקָרְבִים לִקְדוּשַּׁת נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית הַמְלוּבֶּשֶׁת בָּהֶם,

The divine soul always believes in the One G‑d and remains faithful to Him even while the sin is being committed.

הַמַּאֲמִינָה בַּה' אֶחָד. וְגַם בִּשְׁעַת הַחֵטְא הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

For it is only the animal soul, via the body, that performs the sinful act.

But at that time, [the divine soul] was in a state of veritable exile in the animal soul, which derives from the sitra achara which causes the body to sin and drags it down with itself to the lowest depths,

רַק שֶׁהָיְתָה בִּבְחִינַת גָּלוּת מַמָּשׁ תּוֹךְ נֶפֶשׁ הַבַּהֲמִית מִסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא, הַמַּחֲטִיאָה אֶת הַגּוּף וּמוֹרִידָתוֹ עִמָּהּ בְּעִמְקֵי שְׁאוֹל,

so low, in fact, that it is even lower than the impurity of the sitra achara and the kelipah of idolatry (May G‑d preserve us!).

לְמַטָּה מַּטָּה, תַּחַת טוּמְאַת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא וּקְלִיפַּת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, ה' יִשְׁמְרֵנוּ.

An exile’s foreign surroundings restrict him from expressing his abilities and ideas. Similarly, the divine soul (which is in exile within the animal soul when one sins) is unable to express itself in mastery of the body and in harnessing it for the service of G‑d by reason of the foreign environment of the kelipah.

There is no greater exile than this exile of the divine soul within the animal soul that is brought on through sin. It is a plunge “from a lofty roof [to a deep pit].”

וְאֵין לְךָ גָּלוּת גָּדוֹל מִזֶּה – "מֵאִגְרָא רָמָה כוּ'",

For, as explained earlier,15 the source and root of all Jewish souls is in the Divine wisdom, and G‑d and His wisdom are one and the same…and sin plunges the soul from this lofty plane to the depths of exile within the sitra achara.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל, דְּשֹׁרֶשׁ וּמְקוֹר נַפְשׁוֹת כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל – הוּא מֵחָכְמָה עִילָּאָה, וְהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְחָכְמָתוֹ אֶחָד וְכוּ'.

It is comparable to one who seizes the king’s head, drags it down, and dips his face in a privy full of filth—the ultimate in humiliation, even if he does it only for a moment,

וְהוּא, כִּמְשַׁל הָאוֹחֵז בְּרֹאשׁוֹ שֶׁל מֶלֶךְ, וּמוֹרִידוֹ לְמַטָּה וְטוֹמֵן פָּנָיו בְּתוֹךְ בֵּית הַכִּסֵּא מָלֵא צוֹאָה, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ עֶלְבּוֹן גָּדוֹל מִזֶּה, אֲפִילוּ עוֹשֶׂה כֵּן לְפִי שָׁעָה;

for the kelipot and sitra achara are called “vomit and filth,” as is known.

שֶׁהַקְּלִיפּוֹת וְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא נִקְרָאוֹת "קִיא צוֹאָה", כַּנּוֹדָע:

Similarly, when one seizes the divine soul, which stems from Divine wisdom (“the king’s head”), and through his sins forces it into the kelipah (“a privy full of filth”), he brings upon his soul the most unspeakable humiliation—even if he does so only for a moment (for afterward the soul rises out of its exile).

We thus see that the differences between the various sins apply only after the sin has been committed. During the act, however, every sin tears one away from G‑d. Since every Jew is endowed with a hidden love of G‑d, by virtue of which he wishes to be constantly united with Him and never to be separated from Him, not even for a moment, he can employ this hidden love in fulfilling all the mitzvot and in avoiding every sin—as the Alter Rebbe concludes in the following chapter.