In the language of the Zohar, the lower level of repentance entails returning the latter hei of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d to its rightful place — returning the Shechinah, which is the source of Jewish souls, from the exile to which it was banished by transgression. For when a man sins, the Divine vitality that flows forth from the Shechinah descends into the chambers of kelipah and sitra achra, and from there that individual in turn derives nurture at the time of his sins. Repentance redeems the Shechinah from its exile and returns the flow to its proper place.

This was the theme of the previous chapter.

ואולם דרך האמת והישר לבחינת תשובה תתאה ה״א תתאה הנ״ל, הם ב׳ דברים דרך כלל

However, the true and direct path to the lower level of teshuvah, returning the latter hei as noted above, involves two general elements.

These two elements are: (a) awakening G‑d’s supreme compassion for his soul, and (b) the subjugation and nullification of evil. Both are necessary in order to ensure that the lower level of repentance will be true and direct.

The Rebbe notes that although we have previously learned (ch. 1) that the kernel of repentance is a firm and wholehearted resolution not to commit a particular sin again, nevertheless without the two basic elements about to be discussed such repentance will be neither true nor direct.

Truth implies permanence,1 as in the verse,2 “The lip of truth shall be established forever.” Should one fail to take the preparatory steps about to be mentioned here, it is entirely possible that his forsaking sin — described above as repentance — will not be everlasting, hence not truthful.

Furthermore, these steps also make one’s repentance “direct”. For a state of repentance can also be arrived at very indirectly, as in the case of R. Elazar ben Durdaya, who was led to repentance by circumstances which were in themselves evil.3 The direct path to repentance, by contrast, is found by means of the steps that the Alter Rebbe now describes.

האחד הוא לעורר רחמים העליונים, ממקור הרחמים, על נשמתו ונפשו האלקית

The first is to awaken supreme compassion from the Source of mercy for one’s Divine spirit and soul,

There are two distinct states of Divine compassion, indicated by the terms “Merciful Father” and “Father of Mercy”.4 The former term ( אב הרחמן) merely signifies that G‑d possesses the attribute, or middah, of mercy — and since middah means not only “attribute” but also “measure”, it refers to a finite quality of mercy. The latter term ( אב הרחמים) stresses the fact that G‑d is the father, or fountainhead, of all mercy. Arousing His essential quality of mercy “from the Source of mercy” thus means arousing His infinite measure of compassion — supreme compassion.

שנפלה מאיגרא רמה, חיי החיים ברוך הוא

that has fallen from a lofty height (lit., “rooftop”), the Infinite Source of Life,

לבירא עמיקתא

into a deep pit,5

Not merely from a rooftop but from a “lofty rooftop”; not merely into a pit, but into a “deep pit.”

הן היכלות הטומאה והסטרא אחרא

namely, the chambers of defilement and sitra achra.

As explained in the previous chapter, a person’s sins degrade his soul to the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra. Finding itself in such a sorry state, such a soul is indeed in need of Divine compassion.

ועל מקורה במקור החיים, הוא שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא

[One should arouse Divine compassion] as well for the source [of the soul] in the Source of Life, the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

Since the soul is rooted in the Tetragrammaton, its degradation — brought about by sin — correspondingly causes the flow of holiness that emanates from the Tetragrammaton to descend into the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra. Hence not only the soul, but its Source too, is to be pitied.

וכמו שכתוב: וישוב אל הוי׳ וירחמהו

As the verse states:6 “He shall return to G‑d and He will have compassion for him”; i.e., the sinner shall return to G‑d and have compassion for Him.

But how are we to understand the concept of arousing mercy for the Tetragrammaton?

פירוש: לעורר רחמים על השפעת שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא, שנשתלשלה וירדה תוך היכלות הסטרא אחרא הטמאים להחיותם

This means, arousing compassion for the life-giving power issuing from the Four-Letter Name, that has descended by stages into the chambers of the impure sitra achra, to give them vitality.

על ידי מעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו ומחשבותיו הרעים

[This descent was brought about] by the deeds of man, and his evil schemes and thoughts.

Evil thoughts alone suffice to make the vitality descend into the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra.

וכמו שכתוב: מלך אסור ברהטים, ברהיטי מוחא וכו׳

As the verse says,7 “The king is bound with gutters,” [which is interpreted to mean that “the King is bound] with the gutters of the mind….”8

As explained by the Rebbe, the image is of the various channels and gutters of the mind through which thoughts, like gushing currents, rush fleetingly. Thus, even transient evil thoughts that one harbors ephemerally can bind and shackle the King; they can exile the flow of vitality emanating from the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

היא בחינת גלות השכינה כנ״ל

And this state, as noted above,9 is the exile of the Shechinah — the Divine Presence, the level of Malchut (“Kingship”) of the World of Atzilut.

וזמן המסוגל לזה הוא בתיקון חצות

The auspicious time for this [arousal of compassion] is Tikkun Chatzot, the midnight lament for the exile of the Divine Presence,

כמו שכתוב בסדור בהערה, עיין שם באריכות

as pointed out in the note to Tikkun Chatzot in the Siddur; see there at length.

וזה שכתוב שם: נפלה עטרת ראשינו, אוי נא לנו כי חטאנו

We thus find [in that prayer], “The crown of our head is fallen; woe to us, for we have sinned”; i.e., sin causes the soul’s Source (“the crown of our head”) to topple into the depths of the kelipot and sitra achra.

ולכן נקרא הקב״ה מלך עלוב בפרקי היכלות, כמו שכתב הרמ״ק ז״ל

Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, is called the “humiliated King” in Pirkei Heichalot,10 as R. Moshe Cordovero wrote,

כי אין לך עלבון גדול מזה

for there is no humiliation deeper than this, than the ignominy of exile within the realm of the kelipot.

ובפרט כאשר יתבונן המשכיל בגדולת אין סוף ברוך הוא, ממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין

Especially when a thoughtful person meditates on the greatness of the Infinite One, Who permeates all worlds and encompasses all worlds, for G‑d provides vitality to created beings both in a manner which “permeates” each recipient according to its individual capacity, as well as in a manner that transcends and “encompasses” them,

כל אחד ואחד לפי שיעור שכלו והבנתו

each person [meditating upon G‑d’s greatness] according to the range of his intellect and understanding,

יתמרמר על זה מאד מאד

he will be extremely grieved over this.

The richer one’s perception of G‑d’s majesty, the more intense will be his feeling of compassion for his own soul and for its Source, the bound and humiliated King.

והב׳: לבטש ולהכניע הקליפה והסטרא אחרא

The second element [in one’s preparation for a true and direct path to repentance] is to crush and subdue the kelipah and sitra achra,

אשר כל חיותה היא רק בחינת גסות והגבהה

whose entire being is simply grossness and arrogance;

כמו שכתוב: אם תגביה כנשר וגו׳

as the verse states,11 “If you exalt yourself like the eagle….”

והביטוש וההכנעה עד עפר ממש, זוהי מיתתה וביטולה

This crushing and subjugation, absolutely to dust, is its death and nullification.

והיינו: על ידי לב נשבר ונדכה, ולהיות נבזה בעיניו נמאס וכו׳

[Evil is crushed] through a broken and contrite heart, a sense of personal unworthiness, repugnance, and so forth.

As explained in Part I, ch. 29, the animal soul — even of a Beinoni, how much more so of a sinner — is the very person himself. When his heart is humbled, his animal soul which derives from kelipah is, of course, humbled as well. Thus, crushing and subduing one’s arrogance crushes the kelipot and sitra achra.

וכמו שכתוב בזוהר הקדוש, על פסוק: זבחי אלקים רוח נשברה, לב נשבר ונדכה וגו׳

This is described in the Zohar12 on the verse,13 “Offerings to G‑d (Elokim) are a broken spirit; (i.e., the offering consists of breaking the spirit of the kelipot and sitra achra, and this is achieved through) a heart broken and contrite….”

כי כל קרבן מן הבהמה הוא לשם הוי׳, היא מדת הרחמים

For all animal offerings are dedicated to G‑d (the Tetragrammaton), the attribute of mercy.

This is why all verses which speak of offerings to G‑d, refer to Him with the Tetragrammaton.

אבל לשם אלקים, היא מדת הדין, אין מקריבין קרבן בהמה

To Elokim, however, the Name indicating the attribute of justice, no animal offering is brought.

כי אם


I.e., what is considered an offering to Elokim, for the verse does, after all, state “the offerings to Elokim”?

לשבר ולהעביר רוח הטומאה והסטרא אחרא, וזהו רוח נשברה

[the offering is] the shattering and removing of the spirit of defilement and sitra achra. This is the meaning of a “broken spirit.”

והאיך נשברה רוח הסטרא אחרא, כשהלב נשבר ונדכה וכו׳

How is the spirit of the sitra achra broken? When the heart is broken and contrite….14

והאיך נשבר הלב ונדכה

And how is the heart to be broken and humbled?

הנה מעט מזעיר הוא על ידי סיגופים ותעניות

Only a very minor part of this can be accomplished through mortification and fasts

בדורותינו אלה, שאין לנו כח להתענות הרבה כדוד המלך

in these generations of ours, when we have not the strength to fast as much as did King David;

כמאמר רז״ל על פסוק: ולבי חלל בקרבי, שהרגו בתענית

as our Sages comment15 on the verse uttered by him,16 “And my heart is slain within me” — “ for he had destroyed [his Evil Inclination] by fasting.”

אך עיקר הכנעת הלב, להיות נשבר ונדכה

But the true humbling of the heart, so that it be broken and crushed,

והעברת רוח הטומאה והסטרא אחרא

and so that the spirit of impurity and sitra achra will be removed,

הוא להיות ממארי דחושבנא בעומק הדעת

is achieved through being a “master of accounting” with all the profundity of one’s mind.

One’s personal stocktaking should be as scrupulous as the accounting made by the master or owner of a business, to whom every detail is critical.

להעמיק דעתו ובינתו שעה אחת בכל יום או לילה לפני תיקון חצות

One should concentrate his intellect and understanding deeply for a period17 every day, or at night before Tikkun Chatzot,

להתבונן במה שפעל ועשה בחטאיו, בחינת גלות השכינה כנ״ל

to contemplate how through his sins he has brought about the exile of the Divine Presence, as noted above,

וגרם לעקור נשמתו ונפשו האלקית מחיי החיים ברוך הוא

and caused his spirit and Divine soul to be uprooted from the Divine Source of all Life,

והורידה למקום הטומאה והמות, הן היכלות הסטרא אחרא

and demeaned it to a place of defilement and death, namely, the chambers of the sitra achra,

ונעשית בבחינת מרכבה אליהם

[his soul] becoming a vehicle for them,

Just as a vehicle has no will of its own and is completely subservient to the desires of its driver, so, too, is his soul subservient to the impure chambers of the sitra achra from whence it derives nurture.

לקבל מהם שפע וחיות להשפיע לגופו, כנ״ל

receiving from them vitality to endow his body, as noted above — that the nurture and life-force of the sinner emanate from the kelipot and sitra achra.

Meditation along these lines will bring a man to a state of contrition — itself a fit offering to the Divine Name Elokim.

וזהו שאמרו רז״ל: רשעים בחייהם קרויים מתים

Thus our Sages declared18 that “the wicked while alive (lit., ”in their life“) are called ‘dead’.”

כלומר, שחייהם נמשכים ממקום המות והטומאה

This means to say, that their life is derived from the site of death and impurity — from the chambers of the kelipot and sitra achra, as opposed to holiness, which is true life.

וכן מה שכתוב: לא המתים יהללו וגו׳, אינו כלועג לרש, חס ושלום

(19Accordingly, the verse20 that says that “the dead will not praise...” is no “mockery of the impoverished,” G‑d forbid,21 for it does not refer to those who are physically dead.

אלא הכוונה על הרשעים, שבחייהם קרויים מתים

Rather, the reference is to the wicked who, while alive, are called dead, and being spiritually dead are unable to praise G‑d,

שמבלבלים אותם במחשבות זרות בעודם ברשעם, ואינם חפיצים בתשובה, כנודע

for they are confused with alien thoughts while yet in their wickedness, and do not desire repentance, as is known.)

While in such a state, the evil person will find it well nigh impossible to praise G‑d fittingly, because of the confusing alien thoughts which are thrust upon him.

Thus, an individual will become contrite of heart when he contemplates how his soul has been uprooted from its Source because of a sin incurring excision or death by divine agency.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that even sins which do not carry so harsh a penalty may still have the same effect.

ואף מי שלא עבר על עון כרת וגם לא על עון מיתה בדי שמים

Even one who has never violated a sin punishable by excision or a sin incurring death by divine agency,

שהוא הוצאת זרע לבטלה וכהאי גוונא

such as vain emission and the like,

אלא שאר עבירות קלות

but other less severe sins,

אף על פי כן, מאחר שהן פוגמים בנשמה ונפש האלקית

nonetheless, since they cause a defect in the spirit and Divine soul,

וכמשל פגימת ופסיקת חבלים דקים כנ״ל

as in the analogy of the fine strands of rope that are defective or severed, as noted above — in ch. 5, which describes the 613 strands that together comprise the lifeline of the soul, and when one transgresses one of the 613 commandments, one of these strands is severed,

הרי בריבוי החטאים יכול להיות פגם כמו בלאו אחד שיש בו כרת ומיתה

therefore, through an accumulation of sins there can eventually be a defect as grave as from one prohibition involving excision or death.

ואפילו בכפילת חטא אחד פעמים רבות

This would be true even when a single sin is repeated numerous times.22

Far from merely damaging the selfsame strand repeatedly, the repetition of even the same sin weakens and jeopardizes the rope as a whole.

כמו שהמשיל הנביא החטאים לענן המאפיל אור השמש

In this manner the prophet compares sins to a cloud that dims the light of the sun.

כמו שנאמר: מחיתי כעב פשעיך

As the verse states,23 “I have erased your transgressions like a thick cloud” (that can dissipate).

הם עבירות חמורות, המבדילים בין פנימית השפעת שם הוי׳ ברוך הוא לנפש האלקית

This refers to the grave sins (24that are barriers) between the internal aspect of the power flowing forth from the Tetragrammaton, and the Divine soul.

כהבדלת ענן עב וחשוך המבדיל בין השמים לארץ ולדרים עליה, על דרך משל

This is like the separation of a thick, dark cloud that stands between the sun and the earth with its inhabitants.25

וכענן חטאתיך, הן עבירות קלות שאדם דש בעקביו

[The above verse continues:] “…and your sins like a cloud.” These are the lesser sins that man tramples under his heel,

המבדילים כהבדלת ענן קל וקלוש, על דרך משל

[sins] that obscure as does a thin and wispy cloud.

והנה, כמו שבמשל הזה, אם משים אדם נגד אור השמש בחלון מחיצות קלות וקלושות לרוב מאד, הן מאפילות כמו מחיצה אחת עבה, ויותר

In the illustration, if one obscures the sunlight streaming through a window with many fine and flimsy curtains, they will darken as much as one thick curtain will, and even more.

וככה ממש הוא בנמשל

This is exactly so in the analogue,

בכל עונות שאדם דש בעקביו

with all those cloud-like sins upon which man tramples indifferently, because they seem to be of little import: they obscure the Divine light by their multitudinous repetition as do many fine curtains, “darkening as much as one thick curtain will, and even more”;

ומכל שכן המפורסמות מדברי רז״ל, שהן ממש כעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

and certainly with those sins that our Sages often warned against, that are actually like idolatry, immorality and bloodshed.

כמו העלמת עין מן הצדקה

For example:26 ignoring the needy,

כמו שכתוב: השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וגו׳

concerning which Scripture writes,27 “Beware lest there be in your heart something unworthy….”

ובליעל היא עבודת אלילים וכו׳

Beliyaal (here translated “unworthy”) is used in reference to idolatry28..., from which we learn that ignoring the needy is likened to idolatry.

והמספר בגנות חבירו, היא לשון הרע, השקולה כעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

Or talebearing, the evil tongue, that is equated to idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed.29

וכל הכועס כאילו עובד עבודה זרה

Likewise, the vile-tempered is like the idolatrous,30

וכן מי שיש בו גסות הרוח

and so is the arrogant.31

וכהנה רבות בגמרא

There are many such cases described in the Talmud of sins whose punishment is not as severe as that of idolatry and the like, but which nonetheless effect a similar spiritual blemish,

ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולן

and [the sin of neglecting] the study of the Torah equals them all.

כמאמר רז״ל: ויתר הקב״ה על עבודה זרה וכו׳

As our Sages assert,32 “G‑d has overlooked idolatry, [immorality and bloodshed, but has not overlooked the sin of neglecting Torah study].”

Thus, sins such as ignoring the needy, talebearing, and so on, though not carrying the punishment of excision or death by the hand of heaven, nonetheless sever the soul from its Divine source.

ולכן סידרו בקריאת שמע שעל המטה, לקבל עליו ד׳ מיתות בית דין וכו׳

For this reason it was ordained that in the course of Keriat Shema at the bedside33 one should accept the four executions of the court, and so on.

This acceptance is recited even by those who have never committed capital sins, because many other sins blemish the soul to the same degree as do those which are punishable by any of the four executions administered by the court.

מלבד שעל פי הסוד כל הפוגם באות יו״ד של שם הוי׳ כאילו נתחייב סקילה

Besides, according to Sod, the mystical dimension of the Torah, causing a defect in the yud of the Tetragrammaton is like incurring lapidation;

והפוגם באות ה״א כאילו נתחייב שריפה

causing a defect in the hei is like incurring burning;

ובאות וי״ו כאילו נתחייב הרג

[causing a defect] in the vav is like incurring the sword;

ובאות ה״א אחרונה כאילו נתחייב חנק

and [causing a defect in] the latter hei is like incurring strangulation.

והמבטל קריאת שמע פוגם באות יו״ד, ותפילין באות ה״א

Neglecting the Shema impairs the yud, and tefillin the hei,

וציצית באות וי״ו ותפלה באות ה״א וכו׳

tzitzit the vav, and prayer the latter hei, and so on.

We thus see that according to the Kabbalah the soul can be blemished through other sins just as by a capital sin. Undertaking the “four executions” clears the soul of these blemishes.

ומזה יוכל המשכיל ללמוד לשאר עונות וחטאים

From this a thinking man can infer for other sins and transgressions (The Rebbe adds: “…which one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton they are related to, and thus, to which manner of execution”),

וביטול תורה כנגד כולן

and for [the sin of] neglecting the study of the Torah, which is equivalent to them all.

All the above lends the thinking person a contrite heart, as he grows aware of the blemish caused even by his supposedly lesser sins.

This contrition is the second preparatory step along the “true and direct” path to the lower level of repentance. For contrition crushes the kelipot and sitra achra and enables a man to repent truthfully, earnestly regretting his past misdeeds and firmly resolving to better his future ways.