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.

וזה לעומת זה

Since everything in the realm of holiness has its counterpart in the unholy realms of the sitra achra, 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:

הן שס״ה מצות לא תעשה דאורייתא, וכל איסורי דרבנן

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

מאחר שהן נגד רצונו וחכמתו יתברך והפכם ממש, הם נפרדים מיחודו יתברך ואחדותו יתברך בתכלית הפירוד ממש

Since they are contrary to and the very opposite of G‑d’s Will and wisdom, they represent total and complete separation from His unity and oneness.

כמו הסטרא אחרא והקליפה הנקראת עבודה זרה ואלקים אחרים, מחמת הסתר פנים של רצון העליון כנ״ל

They are the same as the sitra achra and the kelipah which are called “idolatry” and “other gods,” since the internal aspect of the Divine Will is concealed from them, as explained above1 that they receive their life-force from the “hinder-part” of the Divine Will, the level of ,אחוריים and for this reason they are called אלקים אחרים — “other gods.”

וכן ג‘ לבושי הנפש שמקליפת נוגה שבישראל, שהם מחשבה דבור ומעשה המלובשים בשס״ה לא תעשה דאורייתא ודרבנן

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,

וכן מהות הנפש עצמה המלובשת בלבושיה

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,

כולם מיוחדים ממש בסטרא אחרא וקליפה זו הנקראת עבודה זרה

— all of them become completely united with this sitra achra and kelipah calledavodah zarah,” i.e., idolatry.

ולא עוד אלא שבטלים וטפלים אליה, וגרועים ופחותים ממנה מאד

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.

כי היא אינה מלובשת בגוף חומרי, ויודעת את רבונה ואינה מורדת בו לפעול פעולתה במשלחת מלאכי רעים שלה, שלא בשליחותו של מקום, ברוך הוא, חס ושלום

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.

Any evil act of the sitra achra 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.

וכמאמר בלעם: לא אוכל לעבור את פי ה’ וגו‘

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

Although Bilaam was a kelipah clothed in a body, yet when he spoke for the spiritual kelipah within him, viz., the unholy prophetic power with which he wished to curse the Jewish people, he said, “I cannot violate the Word of G‑d.”

ואף שנקרא עבודה זרה, הא קרו ליה אלקא דאלקיא

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.

ואינם יכולים לעבור כלל על רצונו יתברך, כי יודעים ומשיגים שהוא חיותם וקיומם, שיונקים מבחינת אחוריים דאחוריים של רצון העליון, ברוך הוא, המקיף עליהם

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.

אלא שיניקתם וחיותם היא בבחינת גלות בתוכם, להחשיב עצמן אלקות, והרי זו כפירה באחדותו

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.

אבל מכל מקום אינן כופרים וכחשו בה’ לגמרי ולומר לא הוא, אלא דקרו ליה אלקא דאלקיא, דהיינו חיותם וקיומם הנמשך ויורד עליהם מרצונו יתברך

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.

ולכן אינן עוברין רצונו יתברך לעולם

Therefore they never rebel against G‑d’s Will.

ואם כן האדם העובר על רצונו יתברך הוא גרוע ופחות הרבה מאד מהסטרא אחרא וקליפה הנקראת עבודה זרה ואלקים אחרים

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

והוא בתכלית הפירוד מיחודו ואחדותו של הקב״ה יותר ממנה, וכאלו כופר באחדותו יותר ממנה, חס ושלום

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.

וכמו שכתוב בעץ חיים שער מ״ב סוף פרק ד’, שהרע שבעולם הזה החומרי הוא שמרי הקליפות הגסות כו‘, והוא תכלית הבירור וכו’

This is similar to what is written in Etz Chayim, 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.

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.

ולכן כל מעשה עולם הזה קשים ורעים, והרשעים גוברים בו וכו‘

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

ולכן אמרו רז״ל על פסוק כי תשטה אשתו: אין אדם עובר עבירה כו’

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

The Sages thus relate the root ofתשטה — ”turns aside,“ toשטות — ”folly“.

דאפילו אשה המנאפת, שדעתה קלה, היתה מושלת ברוח תאותה לולי רוח שטות שבה

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,

המכסה ומסתיר ומעלים את האהבה מסותרת שבנפשה האלקית, לדבקה באמונת ה‘ ויחודו ואחדותו, ולא ליפרד חס ושלום מאחדותו, אפילו נוטלים את נפשה ממנה, לעבוד עבודה זרה, חס ושלום

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 adultress would willingly sacrifice her life, rather than submit to coercion to practice idolatry,

ואפילו בהשתחואה לבדה, בלי שום אמונה בלב כלל

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.

וכל שכן לכבוש היצר ותאות הניאוף שהם יסורים קלים ממיתה, ה’ ישמרנו

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!).

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:

וההפרש שאצלה בין איסור ניאוף לאיסור השתחואה לעבודה זרה, הוא גם כן רוח שטות דקליפה

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

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.

המלבשת לנפש האלקית עד בחינת חכמה שבה, ולא עד בכלל, מפני אור ה‘ המלובש בחכמה כנ״ל

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

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.

אבל באמת לאמיתו, אפילו עבירה קלה, הרי העוברה עובר על רצון העליון, ברוך הוא

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

והוא בתכלית הפירוד מיחודו ואחדותו יתברך, יותר מסטרא אחרא וקליפה הנקראת אלקים אחרים ועבודה זרה ממש, ויותר מכל הדברים הנשפעים ממנה בעולם הזה

and he is completely sundered from G‑d’s unity and oneness even more than the sitra achra 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,

שהם בהמות טמאות וחיות ועופות טמאים ושקצים ורמשים

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

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

וכמאמר: יתוש קדמך

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

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:

פירוש: דאף יתוש שמכניס ואינו מוציא

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,

שהיא קליפה היותר תחתונה ורחוקה מבחינת הקדושה, המשפעת בתכלית ריחוק, קודמת לאיש החוטא בהשתלשלות וירידת החיות מרצון העליון, ברוך הוא

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.

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.

וכל שכן שאר בעלי חיים הטמאים ואפילו חיות רעות, שכולם אינם משנים תפקידם, ופקודתו יתברך שמרה רוחם, ואף על גב דאיהו לא חזי כו’

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

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

וכמו שכתוב: ומוראכם וחתכם יהיה על כל חית הארץ, וכפירוש רז״ל, שאין חיה רעה מושלת באדם אלא אם כן נדמה לה כבהמה

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

והצדיקים, שאין צלם אלקים מסתלק מעל פניהם, כל חיות רעות אתכפיין קמייהו, כמו שכתוב בזהר גבי דניאל בגוב אריות

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.

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.

ואם כן החוטא ועובר רצונו יתברך אפילו בעבירה קלה, בשעת מעשה הוא בתכלית הריחוק מקדושה העליונה, שהיא יחודו ואחדותו יתברך

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,

יותר מכל בעלי חיים הטמאים ושקצים ורמשים המושפעים מסטרא אחרא וקליפת עבודה זרה

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

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.

ומה שפיקוח נפש דוחה שאר עבירות וגם יעבור ואל יהרג

True, we find a principle that saving a life overrides other prohibitions though not the prohibition of idolatry; so too 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.

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.

היינו כפירוש חז״ל: אמרה תורה, חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה

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

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,

ולא משום קלות העבירות וחומרן

and 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.

תדע, שהרי שבת חמורה ושקולה כעבודה זרה לענין שחיטת מומר לדבר אחד, ביורה דעה סימן ב‘

(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.

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

מה שאין כן במומר לגילוי עריות

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.

ואפילו הכי פיקוח נפש דוחה שבת ולא גילוי עריות

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

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,

אלא דגזירת הכתוב הוא

but they are simply a matter of Scriptural decree. 13

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.

אלא שלאחר מעשה החטא, אם היא מעבירות שאין בהן כרת ומיתה בידי שמים

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,

שאין נפשו האלקית מתה לגמרי ונכרתת משרשה באלקים חיים

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

רק שנפגם קצת דביקותה ואחיזתה בשרשה בחטא זה

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.

The difference between — on the 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.


ולפי ערך וחלוקי בחינת הפגם בנפש ובשרשה בעליונים


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,

כך הם חלוקי בחינות המירוק והעונש בגיהנם או בעולם הזה

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),

לכל עון וחטא עונש מיוחד, למרק ולהעביר הלכלוך והפגם

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.

וכן בחייבי מיתה וכרת אין פוגמין כולם בשוה

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.


הרי גם נפשו החיונית הבהמית המלובשת בגופו, וכן גופו

(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,

חוזרים ועולים מהסטרא אחרא וקליפה זו ומתקרבים לקדושת נפש האלקית המלובשת בהם

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

המאמינה בה’ אחד, וגם בשעת החטא היתה באמנה אתו יתברך

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

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

רק שהיתה בבחינת גלות ממש תוך נפש הבהמית מסטרא אחרא, המחטיאה את הגוף ומורידתו עמה בעמקי שאול

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

למטה מטה תחת טומאת הסטרא אחרא וקליפת עבודה זרה, ה‘ ישמרנו

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

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.

ואין לך גלות גדול מזה, מאיגרא רמה כו’

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].“

וכמו שכתוב לעיל, דשרש ומקור נפשות כל בית ישראל הוא מחכמה עילאה, והוא יתברך וחכמתו אחד וכו‘

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 achra.

והוא כמשל האוחז בראשו של מלך ומורידו למטה וטומן פניו בתוך בית הכסא מלא צואה, שאין לך עלבון גדול מזה, אפילו עושה כן לפי שעה

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.

שהקליפות וסטרא אחרא נקראות קיא צואה, כנודע

For the kelipot and sitra achra are called ”vomit and filth,“ as is known.

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 afterwards 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.