וְהִנֵּה, חַכְמֵי הַמּוּסָר הָאַחֲרוֹנִים נֶחְלְקוּ בְּמִי שֶׁחָטָא חֵטְא אֶחָד פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת;

Though fasting is not at all necessary for attaining atonement, it was explained above that nevertheless, it has a salutary effect as a substitute for the olah offering. In Temple times, this sacrifice was offered (even) for transgressing a positive command in order to make the former offender once again acceptable and beloved of G‑d. Accordingly, the Arizal derived from the Kabbalah the number of fasts to be undertaken for numerous transgressions, even those that are not subject to the punishment of excision or death by Divine decree.

The latter Mussar sages—those who lived after the Arizal—were divided in their opinions about one who repeated a sin many times.

דְּיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת לְאוֹתוֹ חֵטְא פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת כְּפִי הַמִּסְפָּר אֲשֶׁר חָטָא;

Some contend that he must fast the number of fasts appropriate to that sin according to the number of transgressions.

כְּגוֹן הַמּוֹצִיא זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, שֶׁמִּסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת הַמְפוֹרָשׁ בְּתִיקּוּנֵי תְּשׁוּבָה מֵהָאֲרִיזַ"ל הֵן פ"ד תַּעֲנִיּוֹת,

For example, the number of fasts prescribed in the penances of the Arizal for wasteful emission of semen is eighty-four.

וְאִם חָטָא בָּזֶה עֶשֶׂר אוֹ עֶשְׂרִים פְּעָמִים, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל – צָרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנוֹת עֶשֶׂר אוֹ עֶשְׂרִים פְּעָמִים פ"ד, וְכֵן לְעוֹלָם,

If someone commits this sin ten or twenty times, say, he must fast ten or twenty times eighty-four, and so on in all instances.

דּוּמְיָא דְּקָרְבַּן חַטָּאת, שֶׁחַיָּיב לְהָבִיא עַל כָּל פַּעַם וּפַעַם;

This is comparable to the chatat offering (Note by the Rebbe: “i.e., all the chatat offerings”) required for every instance of violation.

וְיֵשׁ מְדַמִּין עִנְיָן זֶה לְקָרְבַּן עוֹלָה הַבָּאָה עַל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה,

Others compare these fasts to the olah offering brought for neglect of a positive command.1

דַּאֲפִילוּ עָבַר עַל כַּמָּה מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה – מִתְכַּפֵּר בְּעוֹלָה אַחַת, כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דִזְבָחִים.

The violation of a number of positive commands is atoned for, and the individual finds favor in G‑d’s eyes by one olah, as the Talmud explains in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1.2

וְהַכְרָעָה הַמְקוּבֶּלֶת בָּזֶה, לְהִתְעַנּוֹת ג' פְּעָמִים כְּפִי מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת דְּחֵטְא זֶה, דְּהַיְינוּ, רנ"ב צוֹמוֹת עַל הוֹצָאוֹת שִׁכְבַת זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, וְכֵן בִּשְׁאָר חֲטָאִים וַעֲוֹנוֹת.

The accepted decision in this dispute is to undertake three times the number of fasts prescribed for that particular sin, i.e., 252 fasts (three times eighty-four) for wasteful emission and similarly for other sins oft repeated.

וְהַטַּעַם הוּא, עַל פִּי מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ סוֹף פָּרָשַׁת נֹחַ: "כֵּיוָן דְּחָב בַּר נַשׁ קַמֵּי קוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא זִמְנָא חֲדָא עָבִיד רְשִׁימוּ כוּ',

This is based on a teaching in the Zohar, at the end of Parashat Noach3: “As soon as mortal man sins once against the Holy One, blessed be He, he makes an impression [Above; should he sin a second time, the impact of his sin is even greater];

זִמְנָא תְּלִיתָאָה אִתְפַּשֵּׁט הַהוּא כִּתְמָא מִסִּטְרָא דָא לְסִטְרָא דָא כוּ'".

the third time he commits the sin, the stain penetrates from one side through the other…”;

לְכָךְ – צָרִיךְ מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת גַּם כֵּן ג' פְּעָמִים וְכוּ'.

therefore, the number of fasts ought also be three.

However, all this4 applies to the strong and robust, whose physical health would not be harmed at all by repeated fasts, as in the generations of yore.

אֲבָל מִי שֶׁרִיבּוּי הַצּוֹמוֹת מַזִּיק לוֹ, שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיּוּכַל לָבֹא לִידֵי חוֹלִי אוֹ מֵיחוֹשׁ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, כְּמוֹ בְּדוֹרוֹתֵינוּ אֵלֶּה,

But whoever would be affected by many fasts and might thereby suffer illness or pain, G‑d forbid, as in contemporary generations,

אָסוּר לוֹ לְהַרְבּוֹת בְּתַעֲנִיּוֹת אֲפִילוּ עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין, וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן עַל מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה וּמִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן כָּרֵת,

is forbidden to undertake numerous fasts, even for sins punishable by excision or execution, and certainly not for [violation of] the positive and prohibitive commands that do not involve excision.

אֶלָּא כְּפִי אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁעֵר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ שֶׁבְּוַדַּאי לֹא יַזִּיק לוֹ כְּלָל.

Instead, [the measure of fasting is] the personal estimate of what will not harm him at all.

כִּי אֲפִילוּ בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים, בִּימֵי תַּנָּאִים וְאַמוֹרָאִים – לֹא הָיוּ מִתְעַנִּין בִּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא, אֶלָּא הַבְּרִיאִים, דְּמָצוּ לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשַׁיְיהוּ;

For even in those early generations, in the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim, only the robust who could mortify themselves fasted so frequently.

וּדְלָא מָצִי לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשֵׁיהּ וּמִתְעַנֶּה – נִקְרָא "חוֹטֵא" בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דְתַעֲנִית,

But whoever cannot fast yet does so is called a “sinner” in Tractate Taanit, ch. 1.5

וַאֲפִילוּ מִתְעַנֶּה עַל עֲבֵירוֹת שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ כִּדְפֵירֵשׁ רַשִׁ"י שָׁם,

This applies even to one who fasts for specifically known sins, as Rashi explains there,

וְכִדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דִזְבָחִים, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ אָדָם מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְחוּיָּיב עֲשֵׂה וְכוּ'.

The very same author of the opinion that he who fasts frequently is considered “holy” because (as Rashi explains) his sins are thereby expunged goes on to state that he is considered a sinner if he cannot fast yet does so.

and it is written in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1,6 that “there is no one of Israel who is not guilty of [transgressing] a positive commandment…,”

וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן מִי שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל תּוֹרָה, שֶׁחוֹטֵא וְנֶעֱנָשׁ בְּכִפְלַיִים,

Thus, though there are always sins for which one should fast, one should do so only if this will in no way impair his health; otherwise, he is considered a sinner,

especially if he is a student of the Torah, in which case he is doubly punished,

כִּי מֵחֲמַת חֲלִישׁוּת הַתַּעֲנִית לֹא יוּכַל לַעֲסוֹק בָּהּ כָּרָאוּי.

for the weakness resulting from his fast prevents him from studying Torah properly.

אֶלָּא מַאי תַּקַּנְתֵּיהּ?

What, then, is his remedy?

כְּדִכְתִיב: "וַחֲטָאָךְ בְּצִדְקָה פְרוּק";

I.e., what is such a person to do in order to be beloved by his Creator as he was before his sin?

He should comply with the verse that says, “Redeem your sin with charity.”7

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתְבוּ הַפּוֹסְקִים, לִיתֵּן בְּעַד כָּל יוֹם תַּעֲנִית שֶׁל תְּשׁוּבָה – עֵרֶךְ ח"י גְּדוֹלִים פּוֹלִישׁ וְכוּ',

And, indeed, the codifiers of Torah law specified that one should donate the equivalent of eighteen [large Polish] coins called “gedolim Polish” for each day of repentance.

וְהֶעָשִׁיר יוֹסִיף לְפִי עָשְׁרוֹ וְכוּ',

The wealthy should add to this amount for the redemption of each fast day according to his means,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הַמָּגֵן־אַבְרָהָם הִלְכוֹת תַּעֲנִית:

as stated in Magen Avraham in the Laws of Fasts.8

Nevertheless, though it has just been stated that in contemporary generations, when excessive fasting causes illness and pain, the fasts of penance should be substituted by charity, every man of spirit who desires to be close to G‑d, to amend his nefesh9 (his soul), to restore it to G‑d with the finest and most preferred repentance, should be stringent with himself.

לְהַשְׁלִים עַל כָּל פָּנִים פַּעַם אַחַת כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת לְכָל עָוֹן וְעָוֹן מֵעֲוֹנוֹת הַחֲמוּרִים שֶׁחַיָּיבִין עֲלֵיהֶם מִיתָה עַל כָּל פָּנִים, וַאֲפִילוּ בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם בִּלְבַד,

He should complete, at least once during his lifetime, the number of fasts for every grave sin incurring death at least, if only death by Divine agency.

כְּגוֹן לְהוֹצָאוֹת זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה פ"ד צוֹמוֹת פַּעַם אַחַת בִּימֵי חַיָּיו.

For example, for wasteful emission, [he should undergo the series of] eighty-four fasts once in his life.

וְיָכוֹל לִדְחוֹתָן לַיָּמִים הַקְּצָרִים בַּחוֹרֶף, וְיִתְעַנֶּה כְּעֶשֶׂר תַּעֲנִיּוֹת עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל בְּחוֹרֶף אֶחָד, אוֹ פָּחוֹת,

He may postpone the fasts until the short winter days and fast some ten days or less, for example, in one winter,

וְיִגְמוֹר מִסְפַּר הַפ"ד צוֹמוֹת בְּט' שָׁנִים, אוֹ יוֹתֵר – כְּפִי כֹחוֹ

and complete the series of eighty-four in nine or more years, according to his stamina.

(וְגַם, יָכוֹל לֶאֱכוֹל מְעַט כְּג' שָׁעוֹת לִפְנֵי נֵץ הַחַמָּה, וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן נֶחְשָׁב לְתַעֲנִית אִם הִתְנָה כֵּן).

(10Besides, he may also eat a little [until] about three hours before sunrise, and this would still be considered a fast, if he so stipulated.)

וּלְתַשְׁלוּם רנ"ב צוֹמוֹת כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל – יִתְעַנֶּה עוֹד ד' פְּעָמִים פ"ד עַד אַחַר חֲצוֹת הַיּוֹם בִּלְבַד,

For the completion of the abovementioned 252 fasts—three times eighty-four, this being the accepted arbitration in the above difference of opinion so that one undertakes three times the number of fasts prescribed for this specific sin, even if it was committed many times—he may fast another four times eighty-four only until past noon;

דְּמִיחְשַׁב גַּם כֵּן תַּעֲנִית בִּירוּשַׁלְמִי, וּב' חֲצָאֵי יוֹם נֶחְשָׁבִים לוֹ לְיוֹם אֶחָד לְעִנְיָן זֶה.

this, too, the Jerusalem Talmud11 considers a fast. In this context, moreover, two half-days are reckoned as one full day.

וְכֵן לִשְׁאָר עֲוֹנוֹת כַּיּוֹצֵא בָהֶן,

This approach applies to other, similar sins as well,

אֲשֶׁר כָּל "לֵב יוֹדֵעַ מָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ", וְחָפֵץ בְּהִצָּדְקָהּ.

Until now, the Alter Rebbe addressed himself to those sins which at least incur death by Divine agency. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that this approach also applies to sins which do not incur such a harsh penalty but are similarly grave—“similar sins”—such as those which are actually comparable to idolatry, murder, and so on, as mentioned in ch. 7 below. Concerning these sins as well, the Alter Rebbe is saying here, one should be stringent and undertake the required number of fasts at least once in his lifetime.

for each heart knows its own anguish and desires its vindication.

This vindication is enhanced by fasting.

However, there still remain the fasts in excess of (for example) the 252, i.e., whatever number exceeds three times the prescribed number of fasts for any particular sin,

שֶׁהָיָה צָרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת, לָחוּשׁ לְדַעַת הַמַּחְמִירִים לְהִתְעַנּוֹת מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת שֶׁעַל כָּל חֵטְא וְחֵטְא כְּפִי מִסְפַּר הַפְּעָמִים שֶׁחָטָא כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

that one ought to fast in deference to the more stringent opinion insisting on the appropriate number of fasts for every violation committed, as noted above.

יִפְדֶּה כוּלָּן בִּצְדָקָה עֵרֶךְ ח"י גְּדוֹלִים פּוֹלִישׁ בְּעַד כָּל יוֹם.

He may redeem them all by charity to the value of eighteen “gedolim Polish” for each fast day.

וְכֵן שְׁאָר כָּל תַּעֲנִיּוֹת שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת עַל עֲבֵירוֹת שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן מִיתָה,

So, too, [charity may redeem] all other fasts that he should have undergone for sins not entailing death,

וַאֲפִילוּ עַל בִּיטּוּל מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּדְרַבָּנָן,

and even for neglecting a positive command, whether explicit in the Torah or Rabbinically ordained,

וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּם,

and for [neglect of the positive command of] “Torah study, which is equivalent to them all,”12

כְּפִי הַמִּסְפָּר הַמְפוֹרָשׁ בְּתִיקּוּנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה מֵהָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה (וְרוּבָּם נִזְכָּרִים בְּ"מִשְׁנַת חֲסִידִים" בְּמַסֶּכֶת הַתְּשׁוּבָה) –

according to the number of fasts prescribed by the penances of the Arizal. (13Most of these are noted in Mishnat Chassidim, Tractate Teshuvah.)

הַכֹּל כַּאֲשֶׁר לַכֹּל, יִפְדֶּה בִּצְדָקָה כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל, אִי לָא מָצִי לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשֵׁיהּ כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

All of these fasts, then, he may redeem as explained above, if he cannot mortify himself as explained above.

וְאַף שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה לְסַךְ מְסוּיָּים, אֵין לָחוּשׁ מִשּׁוּם "אַל יְבַזְבֵּז יוֹתֵר מֵחוֹמֶשׁ",

Though this might amount to a very considerable sum, he need not fear violating the injunction that “one should not extravagantly distribute more than one-fifth [of one’s property to charity],”14

דְּלָא מִקְרֵי בִּזְבּוּז בִּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא, מֵאַחַר שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה לִפְדּוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ מִתַּעֲנִיּוֹת וְסִיגּוּפִים.

for this kind of giving cannot be termed “extravagant distribution” since he does it to redeem himself from fasting and affliction.

וְלָא גָרְעָא מֵרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף וּשְׁאָר צְרָכָיו.

This is no less necessary than healing his body or his other needs, in which one does not restrict one’s spending to a fifth of his means.

וּלְפִי שֶׁמִּסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת הַמּוּזְכָּרִים בְּתִקּוּנֵי תְּשׁוּבָה הַנִּזְכָּרִים לְעֵיל רַבּוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד,

Since the number of fasts enumerated in the abovementioned penances of the Arizal is exceedingly great,

לָכֵן נָהֲגוּ עַכְשָׁיו כָּל הַחֲרֵדִים לִדְבַר ה', לְהַרְבּוֹת מְאֹד מְאֹד בִּצְדָקָה,

all who revere the word of G‑d are now accustomed to being unstintingly generous with charity, which is given in place of fasting,

מֵחֲמַת חֲלִישׁוּת הַדּוֹר, דְּלָא מָצוּ לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשָׁם כּוּלֵּי הַאי

for the prevalent lack of stamina prevents them from mortifying themselves to this extent.

(וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר עַל פָּסוּק: "חַסְדֵי ה' כִּי לֹא תָמְנוּ"):

(15A comment is made elsewhere on this subject on the words, “The kindnesses of G‑d, for they are not concluded.”16)

The last three Hebrew words, here translated “for they are not concluded,” may also be interpreted to mean “for we are not perfect.” Accordingly, in Epistle 10 of Iggeret Hakodesh, the Alter Rebbe explains the verse thus: Since “we are not perfect,” burdened as we are by sins that plead for rectification, we are in need of G‑d’s infinite kindness and charity. And in order to elicit kindness and pardon of an infinite order, man, for his part, must exceed the conventional, finite bounds of charity.