Two basic elements, as the Alter Rebbe made clear in the previous chapter, enable the lower level of repentance to be true and direct: (a) considering how one’s soul and its Source, the Shechinah, are to be pitied and arousing supreme compassion upon them; and (b) making a thoughtful, soulful, and accurate accounting of the extent to which one’s own sins have brought about the “exile of the Shechinah.” This will make one’s heart humble and contrite, which in turn will crush the spirit of the kelipot and sitra achara.

After deeply considering all this,

וְהִנֵּה, אַחֲרֵי הַעֲמָקַת הַדַּעַת בְּכָל הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

one can truly plead, from his inmost heart, “In accordance with Your abounding compassion, erase my transgressions….”1

יוּכַל לְבַקֵּשׁ בֶּאֱמֶת, מֵעוּמְקָא דְלִבָּא "כְּרוֹב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי וְגוֹ'".

This verse is recited during Tikkun Chatzot as well as during the bedside reading of Keriat Shema—propitious times for spiritual stocktaking, which will enable him to recite it wholeheartedly.

For by then his heart will be thoroughly impressed with the pathetic state of the spark of Divinity within his soul and [in his soul’s Source] Above, as noted earlier.

כִּי אֲזַי תִּקָּבַע בְּלִבּוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת גּוֹדֶל הָרַחֲמָנוּת עַל בְּחִינַת אֱלֹקוּת שֶׁבְּנַפְשׁוֹ וְשֶׁלְּמַעְלָה, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

He will thereby arouse supreme mercy, from the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which derive from the supreme will,

וּבָזֶה – יְעוֹרֵר רַחֲמִים הָעֶלְיוֹנִים מִי"ג מִדּוֹת הָרַחֲמִים, הַנִּמְשָׁכוֹת מֵרָצוֹן הָעֶלְיוֹן בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

alluded to by the “thorn” atop the yud,

הַנִּרְמָז בְּקוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוּ"ד,

which by far transcends the flow issuing from the letters of the Tetragrammaton.

שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִבְּחִינַת הַהַשְׁפָּעָה הַנִּשְׁפַּעַת מֵאוֹתִיּוֹת שֵׁם הַוָיָ'.

Sins cause a blemish in the individual letters of the Tetragrammaton, as explained above. This causes the flow emanating from there, and from which a Jew derives his life-force, to descend into the kelipot and sitra achara and provide them with additional nurture.

When one arouses the supreme mercies of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which emanate from the level of the supreme will that transcends the letters of the Tetragrammaton, he is then able to rectify the letters and redirect their flow into his soul.

Therefore, on account of their lofty origin, these Thirteen Attributes of Mercy correct all defects,

וְלָכֵן הַי"ג מִדּוֹת הָרַחֲמִים מְנַקִּים כָּל הַפְּגָמִים,

as it is written, “He forgives inequity and transgression…and cleanses.”2

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "נוֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְנַקֵּה",

With this awakening of mercies following the contrition,

There is no further nurture for the evil forces and for the sitra achara from the life-force emanating from the lower hey, as noted.

וְשׁוּב אֵין יְנִיקָה לְהַחִיצוֹנִים וְהַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא מֵהַשְׁפָּעַת הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל

(3The latter hey thereupon returns to its proper place, reunited with [the preceding three letters of the Tetragrammaton,] yud-hey-vav. This will suffice for the understanding.)

(וּבָזֶה תָּשׁוּב הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה לִמְקוֹמָהּ, לְהִתְיַיחֵד בְּיה"ו, וְדַי לַמֵבִין).

This, then, is the meaning of the statement quoted in ch. 4, that the lower level of teshuvah consists of the “return of the lower hey.”

Just as there is a restoration of the hey Above, exactly so below in the Divine soul within man;

וְכֵן מַמָּשׁ לְמַטָּה בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית שֶׁבָּאָדָם,

no more do “your sins separate [you from G‑d].”4

שׁוּב אֵין "עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם מַבְדִּילִים",

Thus, it is written, naming one of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, “He cleanses,”2 on which our Sages comment, “He cleanses those who return to Him in penitence,”5

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב "וְנַקֵּה" – "מְנַקֶּה הוּא לַשָּׁבִים",

to lave and cleanse their souls of the soiled garments, which are the evil (lit., “extraneous”) forces, i.e., the kelipot and sitra achara,

לִרְחוֹץ וּלְנַקּוֹת נַפְשָׁם מִלְּבוּשִׁים הַצּוֹאִים, הֵם הַחִיצוֹנִים וְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא,

that the Talmud describes as [a garment born of a man’s sin that] “envelops him….”6

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּגְּמָרָא "מְלַפַּפְתּוֹ וְכוּ'".

After the “wind [of forgiveness] passes over [the souls of sinners] and purifies them,”7

וּמֵאַחַר שֶׁ"רוּחַ עָבְרָה וַתְּטַהֲרֵם",

then their souls are enabled to return literally unto G‑d Himself,

אֲזַי תּוּכַל נַפְשָׁם לָשׁוּב עַד הַוָיָ' בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מַמָּשׁ,

to ascend the greatest heights, to their very Source, and cleave to Him with a remarkable unity,

וְלַעֲלוֹת מַעְלָה מַּעְלָה לִמְקוֹרָהּ, וּלְדָבְקָה בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּיִחוּד נִפְלָא,

in ultimate union with Him, just as before the soul was blown forth by the breath of His mouth

כְּמוֹ שֶׁהָיְתָה מְיוּחֶדֶת בּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד, בְּטֶרֶם שֶׁנְּפָחָהּ בְּרוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ

to descend and be incorporated within the body of man.

לֵירֵד לְמַטָּה וּלְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּגוּף הָאָדָם

(8To illustrate this unity: Before one exhales, the breath is one with the person, inseparably.)

(וּכְמוֹ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, בְּאָדָם הַנּוֹפֵחַ בְּרוּחַ פִּיו, בְּטֶרֶם שֶׁיּוֹצֵא הָרוּחַ מִפִּיו – הוּא מְיוּחָד בְּנַפְשׁוֹ).

Likewise, just as the soul was utterly united with G‑d before it was “blown” or “breathed” into the body, so, too, does it now unite with Him after repentance.

This is perfect return—teshuvah.

וְזוֹ הִיא תְּשׁוּבָה שְׁלֵימָה.

This state of unity and this return are called teshuvah ilaah, the higher level of repentance, that follows teshuvah tataah, the lower level of repentance.

וְהִנֵּה, בְּחִינַת יִחוּד זֶה וּתְשׁוּבָה זוֹ, הִיא בְּחִינַת תְּשׁוּבָה עִילָּאָה שֶׁלְּאַחַר תְּשׁוּבָה תַּתָּאָה,

The Zohar, in Raaya Mehemna (Parashat Nasso),9 explains that teshuvah ilaah means engaging in the study of the Torah in awe and love of the Holy One, blessed be He…,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בְּרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא פָּרָשַׁת נָשֹׂא, דִּתְשׁוּבָה עִילָּאָה הִיא, דְּיִתְעַסֵּק בְּאוֹרַיְיתָא בִּדְחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ דְּקוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא וְכוּ',

The Zohar goes on to say that doing so makes one worthy of the revelation of the letter vav of the Tetragrammaton,

for this [letter vav] is the child of yud-hey, or binah….

דְּאִיהוּ בֶּן י"ה – בִּינָה וְכוּ'

Binah is the level of teshuvah ilaah, the return of the higher letter hey of the Tetragrammaton. The word itself is a composite of the words ben yud-hey.” This alludes to the spiritual emotions of love and fear (represented by the letter vav) that are born of the intellective levels of the Tetragrammaton, the yud of chochmah and the hey of binah.

(10Herein lies the superiority of penitents over the perfectly saintly.

(וּמַעֲלַת בַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עַל צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים בָּזֶה הִיא,

Seemingly, the study of the Torah permeated with love and fear of G‑d is not the unique prerogative of penitents; the perfectly saintly do this as well. Wherein lies the superiority of baalei teshuvah?

As the Zohar states in Parashat Chayei Sarah, “They draw upon themselves with a more intense longing of the heart, and with greater forcefulness, to approach the King….”11)

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ פָּרָשַׁת חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, דְּאִינוּן מָשְׁכֵי עֲלַיְיהוּ בִּרְעוּתָא דְלִבָּא יַתִּיר וּבְחֵילָא סַגִּי לְאִתְקָרְבָא לְמַלְכָּא וְכוּ'):