The original heading reads as follows:

likkutei amarim(“A Compilation of Teachings”)

לִקּוּטֵי אֲמָרִים

part three

חֵלֶק שְׁלִישִׁי

entitled

הַנִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם

iggeret hateshuvah(“The Epistle on Repentance”)

"אִגֶּרֶת הַתְּשׁוּבָה"

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.

It has been taught in a Baraita at the end of Tractate Yoma:17 There are three types of atonement, varying according to the different categories of transgression,

תַּנְיָא בְּסוֹף יוֹמָא: שְׁלֹשָׁה חִלּוּקֵי כַפָּרָה הֵם,

and repentance [necessarily] accompanies each of them.

וּתְשׁוּבָה עִם כָּל אֶחָד;

If one failed to fulfill a positive commandment and repented, he is forgiven forthwith.

עָבַר עַל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה וְשָׁב – אֵינוֹ זָז מִשָּׁם עַד שֶׁמּוֹחֲלִין לוֹ;

If one violated a prohibitive commandment and repented, his repentance is tentative, and Yom Kippur atones.

עָבַר עַל מִצְוַת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה וְשָׁב – תְּשׁוּבָה תּוֹלָה, וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר,

In this instance, repentance alone does not suffice to secure complete forgiveness; it only guarantees that he will not be punished until the arrival of Yom Kippur, at which time he is completely forgiven.

(18This means that though, in terms of fulfillment, a positive commandment is superior, for which reason it supersedes19 a prohibitive commandment;

(פֵּירוּשׁ, דְּאַף־עַל־גַּב דִּלְעִנְיַן קִיּוּם, מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה גְּדוֹלָה, שֶׁדּוֹחָה אֶת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה,

When positive and negative commands conflict, the positive command takes precedence and overrides the prohibition. (For example: the wearing of tzitzit made of an admixture of wool and linen, despite the prohibition of kilayim, or shaatnez.) Since observing a positive command thus appears to be of more value than observing a prohibition, why do we say that if one transgresses a positive command, repentance alone suffices, whereas if one transgresses a prohibition, forgiveness cannot be secured by repentance alone, and one must await the advent of Yom Kippur?

The Alter Rebbe will now address himself to this question. His answer will also enable us to understand the spiritual effects of the performance of a positive command and the spiritual blemish that results from transgressing a negative command. Insight into the mitzvot from this perspective will in turn enable us to understand why a positive command supersedes a negative command and why it is nevertheless more difficult to attain atonement for transgressing a negative command.

Briefly, the answer is as follows: When one performs a positive command, he not only fulfills G‑d’s will but also draws down a flow of Divine light into the higher spiritual realms and upon his own soul. The reason: each positive command is likened to a bodily organ. (Note by the Rebbe: “As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: ‘The 248 organs correspond to the 248 positive commands.’”20) This means to say that just as a bodily organ is a receptacle for the life-force which it elicits from the soul, so, too, is each positive commandment a vessel that draws down Divine effluence and vitality from the infinite Ein Sof-light.

Moreover, just as the life-force of the soul is enclothed within the various limbs, so, too, does the life-force drawn down through the performance of a positive command become enclothed (i.e., internalized) within the worlds.

Fulfilling a negative command—by not committing the transgression—is also a fulfillment of the Divine will. As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: “If one passively refrains all his days from sin, he is rewarded (Note by the Rebbe: ‘but only’) as though he had actively performed a command.”21

However, since such performance does not result from any action on his part as in the case of a positive command—he merely fulfills G‑d’s will by not transgressing—its result is of lesser spiritual value. For the purpose of the Torah and mitzvot is to draw down Divine illumination through the performance of the 248 positive commands and to dispel the spirit of impurity through the observance of the 365 prohibitions (as explained earlier in Part I, ch. 37, p. 506-507).

Thus, in a situation where positive and negative precepts clash and the question is which one is to be set aside, the positive command supersedes the negative. For it is impossible that doing the prohibited deed will impart a spirit of impurity, inasmuch as its prohibition is being overruled because the Torah so dictates. Conversely, (even) if the Torah were to direct that one should neglect the positive command, the action that would draw down Divine illumination would still be lacking.

For this reason, a positive command supersedes a prohibition: the deficiency normally wrought by transgressing a prohibition does not result when the Torah commands that it be set aside while the dividend gained by fulfilling a positive command—the drawing down of the Divine light—is realized.

However, in light of the above, it would seem that the same reasoning should apply with regard to transgressions: a higher degree of repentance should be necessary for violating a positive command than for transgressing a negative command—yet according to the above quotation from the Gemara in Yoma, the opposite is true.

The explanation is as follows: The gain of the positive command—the G‑dly light that it draws into the soul—cannot be won through repentance in any event; all that repentance can now secure is forgiveness for the transgression. Not so with regard to transgressing a prohibition, where repentance can rectify the misdeed entirely. Furthermore, since the misdeed actively blemished the individual’s soul and the celestial realms as well, mere repentance does not suffice: only Yom Kippur can completely obliterate the blemish that it brought about.22

This is what the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say:

this superiority of the positive command that makes it supersede a negative command is so because by performing a positive command, one precipitates an illumination and flow into the higher worlds from the reflected [infinite] Ein Sof-light

הַיְינוּ מִשּׁוּם שֶׁעַל־יְדֵי קִיּוּם מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מַמְשִׁיךְ אוֹר וְשֶׁפַע בְּעוֹלָמוֹת עֶלְיוֹנִים מֵהֶאָרַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא

(23as we find in the Zohar: “The 248 positive commandments are the 248 ‘organs of the King’”24),

(כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר, דְּ"רַמַ"ח פִּקּוּדִין אִינּוּן רַמַ"ח אֵבָרִין דְּמַלְכָּא"),

The 248 positive commands are equated with the emotive attributes of Atzilut, which are collectively termed “the King.” Just as an organ serves as a vessel to the soul-faculty enclothed within it, so, too, is each positive command an organ and vessel for a particular effluence of the emotive attributes of Atzilut that are drawn down through the performance of that particular commandment. Thus, through performing positive commands, one draws down G‑dliness into the higher worlds.

and also through the performance of a positive command, one draws G‑dliness onto his Divine soul,

וְגַם עַל נַפְשׁוֹ הָאֱלֹקִית,

as we say in the blessings that precede the performance of many mitzvot, “…Who has hallowed us with His commandments.”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁאוֹמְרִים: "אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו";

I.e., fulfilling a positive command has the effect of drawing down Divine light and holiness upon the soul, for which reason it surpasses and supersedes conformity to a negative command.

But concerning repentance, which would seek to rectify the transgression of a positive command,

אֲבָל לְעִנְיַן תְּשׁוּבָה,

though through repentance, the punishment for rebelling against G‑d’s rule and not fulfilling the King’s word is commuted,

אַף שֶׁמּוֹחֲלִין לוֹ הָעוֹנֶשׁ עַל שֶׁמָּרַד בְּמַלְכוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְלֹא עָשָׂה מַאֲמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ,

nonetheless, the illumination which would have been drawn down through the performance of the positive command is lacking—even after repentance so that the sin remains only partially rectified.

מִכָּל מָקוֹם הָאוֹר נֶעְדָּר וְכוּ'.

On the verse, “A crookedness that cannot be corrected,”25 i.e., even through repentance, our Sages accordingly comment: “This relates to one who neglected the evening [or morning] reading of Shema, or [the evening or morning prayer].”26

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה עַל פָּסוּק: "מְעֻוָּות לֹא יוּכַל לִתְקֹן" – "זֶה שֶׁבִּיטֵּל קְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע שֶׁל עַרְבִית אוֹ וְכוּ'",

For though he be scrupulous henceforth about reading the evening and morning Shema forevermore, thereby demonstrating his regret,

דְּאַף שֶׁנִּזְהָר מֵעַתָּה לִקְרוֹת קְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע שֶׁל עַרְבִית וְשַׁחֲרִית לְעוֹלָם,

his repentance is ineffectual in correcting what he once neglected.

אֵין תְּשׁוּבָתוֹ מוֹעֶלֶת לְתַקֵּן מַה שֶּׁבִּיטֵּל פַּעַם אַחַת;

For after all is said and done, the world will forever be lacking the unique gift of Divine light that he could have drawn down through reading the Shema on that particular occasion. Thus, all that repentance can accomplish, he is now able to accomplish through repentance alone. No other steps can secure him any further atonement.

So much for he who transgressed a positive precept.

If one violates a prohibition in thought, speech, or action, since thereby evil cleaves to his soul, he [also] impairs its supernal root and source

וְהָעוֹבֵר עַל מִצְוַת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה, עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁנִּדְבַּק הָרָע בְּנַפְשׁוֹ – עוֹשֶׂה פְּגַם לְמַעְלָה בְּשָׁרְשָׁהּ וּמְקוֹר חוּצְבָּהּ

(27in the garbs of the ten sefirot of Asiyah, as Tikkunei Zohar28 writes, “You have fashioned garbs for [the sefirot], from which fly forth souls for man…”).

(בַּלְּבוּשִׁים דְּי' סְפִירוֹת דַּעֲשִׂיָּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּתִיקּוּנֵי זֹהַר: "לְבוּשִׁין תְּקִּינַת לוֹן, דְּמִנַּיְיהוּ פָּרְחִין נִשְׁמָתִין לִבְנֵי נָשָׁא וְכוּ'"),

We thus see from Tikkunei Zohar that it is from the “garments” of the sefirot that souls emanate; when a soul is blemished through sin, these garments are blemished as well.

Therefore, there is no atonement for his own soul nor Above until Yom Kippur,

לְכָךְ, אֵין כַּפָּרָה לְנַפְשׁוֹ וְלֹא לְמַעְלָה עַד יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים,

As will be explained a little later, “atonement” means cleansing that which was blemished. This requires not only repentance, but in addition, Yom Kippur:

concerning which it is written, “He shall atone for the holy place because of the impurities of the Children of Israel and because of their sins…; before Havayah shall you be purified.”29

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְכִפֶּר עַל הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִטּוּמְאוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִפִּשְׁעֵיהֶם וְגוֹ'", "לִפְנֵי ה' תִּטְהָרוּ" –

Before G‑d” is stressed.

"לִפְנֵי ה'" דַּיְיקָא.

I.e., the purification granted by Yom Kippur emanates from a level that transcends the Divine Name Havayah and can even atone for a blemish that resulted from transgressing a prohibitive command.

At any rate, we have seen that in certain respects, transgressing a positive command has more serious consequences than transgressing a negative command.

Hence, one should not (G‑d forbid) infer any leniency in the positive commandments from this Baraita which states that one is immediately forgiven after repenting for having transgressed a positive command while transgressing a negative command requires in addition the atonement of Yom Kippur;

וְלָכֵן אֵין לִלְמוֹד מִכָּאן שׁוּם קוּלָּא חַס־וְשָׁלוֹם בְּמִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה,

particularly ought one not infer any leniency in Torah study.

וּבִפְרָט בְּתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה,

On the contrary, our Sages assert,30 “G‑d has in certain instances glossed over [even] idolatry, [incest, and murder,]” though excision and capital punishment are involved “but did not excuse the neglect of Torah Study.”)31

וְאַדְּרַבָּה, אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: וִיתֵּר הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עַל עֲבוֹדָה־זָרָה וְכוּ', אַף שֶׁהֵן כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין, וְלֹא וִיתֵּר עַל בִּיטּוּל תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה).

The Baraita with which this chapter opened is now resumed:

If one committed a sin [punishable by] excision or execution, repentance and Yom Kippur are tentative so that the individual is not punished, and sufferings scour

עָבַר עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין – תְּשׁוּבָה וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים תּוֹלִין, וְיִסּוּרִין מְמָרְקִין

(32i.e., they complete the atonement. [The verb] memarkin denotes the final stage, namely, scouring and rinsing, in order to “polish” the soul,

(פֵּירוּשׁ, גּוֹמְרִין הַכַּפָּרָה, וְהוּא מִלְּשׁוֹן מְרִיקָה וּשְׁטִיפָה לְצַחְצֵחַ הַנֶּפֶשׁ,

for kaparah (“atonement”) is the term for the preceding stage of cleaning, removing the uncleanness of the sin),

כִּי, כַּפָּרָה הִיא לְשׁוֹן קִינּוּחַ, שֶׁמְּקַנֵּחַ לִכְלוּךְ הַחֵטְא),

Sins punishable by excision or execution are not cleaned away through repentance and Yom Kippur alone: the soul must also be scoured and rinsed through suffering, heaven forfend.

as it is written, “With a rod shall I remember their sin and with afflictions their iniquity.”33

שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: "וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט פִּשְׁעָם וּבִנְגָעִים עֲוֹנָם".

Thus far, the Baraita with which this chapter opened.

עַד כָּאן לְשׁוֹן הַבָּרַיְיתָא:

Now, the mitzvah of repentance34 as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin

וְהִנֵּה, מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, הִיא עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא בִּלְבַד

(35cf. Sanhedrin, ch. 336; Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 34,37 regarding testimony38), where it is stated that if a potential witness simply abandons and does not repeat the transgression that had previously disqualified him, he is once again able to testify.39

(כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק ג' דְּסַנְהֶדְרִין וּבְחֹשֶׁן־מִשְׁפָּט סוֹף סִימָן ל"ד לְעִנְיַן עֵדוּת),

This means that he must resolve in perfect sincerity never again to revert to folly, to rebel against G‑d’s rule;

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁיִּגְמוֹר בְּלִבּוֹ בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם, לְבַל יָשׁוּב עוֹד לְכִסְלָה, לִמְרוֹד בְּמַלְכוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

he will never again violate the King’s command, G‑d forbid, neither a positive command40 nor a prohibition.41

וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר עוֹד מִצְוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, הֵן בְּמִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה הֵן בְּמִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה.

This is the basic meaning of the term teshuvah (“repentance”)—to return to G‑d with all one’s heart and soul, to serve Him, and to observe all His commandments,

וְזֶהוּ עִיקַּר פֵּירוּשׁ לְשׁוֹן "תְּשׁוּבָה" לָשׁוּב אֶל ה' בְּכָל לִבּוֹ וּבְכָל נַפְשׁוֹ, לְעָבְדוֹ וְלִשְׁמוֹר כָּל מִצְוֹתָיו,

for so does Scripture state: “Let the wicked abandon his path, and the sinful his thoughts, and return to G‑d….”42

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "יַעֲזוֹב רָשָׁע דַּרְכּוֹ וְאִישׁ אָוֶן מַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו, וְיָשׁוֹב אֶל ה' וְגוֹ'";

In the Torah portion of Nitzavim43 it is likewise written:44 “You shall return unto the Lord your G‑d and hearken to His voice…with all your heart….”45

וּבְפָרָשַׁת נִצָּבִים כְּתִיב: "וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקוֹלוֹ וְגוֹ', בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וְגוֹ'",

[So, too:] “Return, O Israel, unto the L-rd your G‑d…”46; [and elsewhere:] “Bring us back, O L-rd, unto You….”47

"שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ וְגוֹ'", "הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה' אֵלֶיךָ וְגוֹ'".

Repentance, then, entails returning to G‑d, performing His commandments, and refraining from sin.

This differs from the popular conception that repentance is synonymous with fasting on account of one’s sins.

וְלֹא כְּדַעַת הֶהָמוֹן, שֶׁהַתְּשׁוּבָה הִיא הַתַּעֲנִית.

Even in the case of sins punishable by excision or execution, where atonement is made complete by suffering, as previously quoted from the Baraita in Yoma,

וַאֲפִילוּ מִי שֶׁעָבַר עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין, שֶׁגְּמַר כַּפָּרָתוֹ הִיא עַל־יְדֵי יִסּוּרִים,

this means that it is G‑d Who brings suffering upon the sinner in order to complete his atonement

הַיְינוּ, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מֵבִיא עָלָיו יִסּוּרִים

(48as the verse clearly specifies, “With a rod shall I remember [their sin]”).

(וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט וְגוֹ'" – "וּפָקַדְתִּי" דַיְיקָא),

That is to say: When G‑d finds his repentance acceptable, as he returns to Him with all his heart and soul, out of love,

וְהַיְינוּ, כְּשֶׁתְּשׁוּבָתוֹ רְצוּיָה לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ, בְּשׁוּבוֹ אֶל ה' בְּכָל לִבּוֹ וְנַפְשׁוֹ מֵאַהֲבָה,

then following the initiative undertaken from below, and “as water reflects the countenance…,”49 there is an awakening Above, arousing G‑d’s love and kindness, to scour his sin and entirely cleanse him of it through affliction in This World,

אֲזַי, בְּאִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְתַתָּא וְ"כַּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים וְכוּ'" – אִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְעֵילָּא, לְעוֹרֵר הָאַהֲבָה וְחֶסֶד ה' לְמָרֵק עֲוֹנוֹ בְּיִסּוּרִים בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

in the spirit of the verse, “For he whom the L-rd loves, He chastises….”50

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב ה' יוֹכִיחַ וְגוֹ'".

This is something quite different from any fasts or afflictions that an individual undertakes himself.

It is for this reason that the Rambam and Sefer Mitzvot Gadol51 make no mention whatsoever of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance, even in the case of sins punishable by excision or capital sins.

וְלָכֵן לֹא הִזְכִּירוּ הָרַמְבַּ"ם וְהַסְּמַ"ג שׁוּם תַּעֲנִית כְּלָל בְּמִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה, אַף בִּכְרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין,

I.e., fasting is not required even with regard to those sins whose atonement is completed through suffering.

They cite only confessing [verbally] and requesting forgiveness, as the Torah prescribes, “They shall confess their sin….”52

רַק הַוִּידּוּי וּבַקָּשַׁת מְחִילָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה: "וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם וְגוֹ'".

Why are confession and requesting forgiveness indeed part of repentance?

Every sin consists of a body and a soul. The actual misdeed itself is the “body” of the sin, and the bodily pleasure and ensuing desire with which it was committed are its “soul.” Repentance involves eliminating both these elements.

The “soul” of the sin is eradicated by the earnest regret of the individual, who is mortified and pained by his past. Inasmuch as pain is the opposite of pleasure, it negates the pleasure which had earlier aroused his desire to sin and thereby obliterates the “soul” of the sin.

However, the “body” of the sin also needs to be nullified. Simply refraining from further transgression lacks the action that would negate the sinful act itself, its “body.” This is accomplished through verbal confession, for “verbalization is also considered to be an action.”53

At any rate, verbal confession is thus a component of repentance while fasting is not.

As to what we find in the Book of Joel, “Return to Me with all your hearts, and with fasting and weeping…,”54 which would seem to indicate that fasting is in fact part of return and repentance,

וּמַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בְּיוֹאֵל: "שׁוּבוּ עָדַי בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם בְּצוֹם וּבִבְכִי גוֹ'",

this was to nullify (Note inserted by the Rebbe: “…something which relates to the future while repentance involves forsaking the past”) the heavenly decree that had been issued, to expunge the sin of the generation through the affliction of locusts; it was not part of the act of repentance.

הַיְינוּ – לְבַטֵּל הַגְּזֵרָה שֶׁנִּגְזְרָה לְמָרֵק עֲוֹן הַדּוֹר עַל־יְדֵי יִסּוּרִים בַּאַרְבֶּה.

This is the rationale for all fasts proclaimed for any trouble threatening the community, their purpose being to avert the impending harsh edict,

וְזֶהוּ הַטַּעַם בְּכָל תַּעֲנִיּוֹת שֶׁמִּתְעַנִּין עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁלֹּא תָבֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר,

as in the Book of Esther,55 where we find that the Queen asked that a fast be proclaimed in order to nullify Haman’s evil decree.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בִּמְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר.

Now the classic Mussar works, particularly the Rokeach and Sefer Chassidim, specify numerous fasts and mortifications56 for sins punishable by excision and execution;

וּמַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בְּסִפְרֵי הַמּוּסָר, וּבְרֹאשָׁם סֵפֶר הָרוֹקֵחַ וְסֵפֶר חֲסִידִים, הַרְבֵּה תַּעֲנִיּוֹת וְסִיגּוּפִים לָעוֹבֵר עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין,

likewise, numerous fasts are prescribed for the wasteful emission of semen—a sin punishable by death by Divine agency, as the Torah recounts of Er and Onan,57

וְכֵן לְמוֹצִיא זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, שֶׁחַיָּיב מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה גַּבֵּי עֵר וְאוֹנָן,

and a sin whose retribution is identical in this respect to that of sins punishable by excision and hence the numerous fasts prescribed.

וְדִינוֹ כְּחַיָּיבֵי כְרֵיתוֹת לְעִנְיָן זֶה –

All this might lead us to assume that the purpose of fasts is suffering—this being the manner through which atonement is brought to completion by those who are guilty of sins punishable by excision. But it has been previously stated that the suffering which completes atonement is specifically that which comes from Above and not manmade suffering incurred through fasting and the like. The Alter Rebbe answers this seeming contradiction by stating:

These above-prescribed fasts and mortifications are intended to avert the punishment of suffering at the hand of heaven, G‑d forbid. (Note by the Rebbe: “This too relates to the future, unlike repentance, which relates to the past.”)

הַיְינוּ, כְּדֵי לִינָּצֵל מֵעוֹנֶשׁ יִסּוּרִים שֶׁל מַעְלָה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם.

This means that if, G‑d forbid, the punishment of suffering had been decreed upon an individual, he is able to exempt himself from it through these self-imposed fasts.

Another reason [for these fasts] is to urge on and expedite the conclusion of his soul’s atonement.

וְגַם, כְּדֵי לְזָרֵז וּלְמַהֵר גְּמַר כַּפָּרַת נַפְשׁוֹ.

Also, perhaps he is not returning to G‑d with all his heart and soul out of love but only out of fear.

וְגַם אוּלַי אֵינוֹ שָׁב אֶל ה' בְּכָל לִבּוֹ וְנַפְשׁוֹ מֵאַהֲבָה, כִּי אִם מִיִּרְאָה:

Such a penitent would not enjoy the Divine reaction that comes “as water reflects the countenance” and would not be granted the completion of his atonement through suffering. Accordingly, he might undertake these fasts upon himself in order to secure this alone. Essentially, however, the suffering that brings about complete atonement (for those guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency) is not meant to be self-inflicted but rather—heaven forfend—imposed from Above.