Chapter 17

פרק יז

With this explanation—that even a fear and love of G‑d which remain concealed in one’s mind and heart suffice to infuse one’s fulfillment of the commandments with vitality, thereby perfecting and elevating them—we will understand the verse:

וּבָזֶה יוּבַן מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב:

“For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”1

"כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד, בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ".

The verse states that it is easy for one to fulfill Torah and mitzvot with all three “garments” of the soul—thought, speech, and action. The words “with your mouth” refer to speech, “with your heart”—to thought, and “that you may do it” refers to action. In a deeper sense, however, “your heart” refers not only to the power of thought but also to the heart as the seat of the emotions—love, fear, and so on. The verse is telling us, then, that it is within easy reach of every Jew to fulfill the mitzvot with a feeling of awe and love of G‑d. Concerning this, the Alter Rebbe poses the question:

At first glance, [the statement that “this thing is very near to you]…in your heart” seems contrary to our experience—in our experience, we find that it is no simple feat to acquire a spirit of love and fear of G‑d.

דְּלִכְאוֹרָה, הוּא – "בִּלְבָבְךָ" – נֶגֶד הַחוּשׁ שֶׁלָּנוּ

(2Yet the Torah is eternal),3 hence, it could not refer only to Moses’ generation—“a generation of understanding”—but must hold true for our own age as well.

[וְהַתּוֹרָה הִיא נִצְחִית],

In our experience, we see that it is not a “very near thing” to change one’s heart from worldly desires to a sincere love of G‑d, for by nature one is inclined toward the former.

שֶׁאֵין קָרוֹב מְאֹד הַדָּבָר לְהַפֵּךְ לִבּוֹ מִתַּאֲווֹת עוֹלָם הַזֶּה לְאַהֲבַת ה' בֶּאֱמֶת,

And as is written in The Duties of the Heart,4 “Desires for worldly pleasures are unable to dwell in the heart together with a love of G‑d.” In order to attain a love of G‑d, therefore, it is necessary for one to change his nature from one extreme to the other—by no means an easy matter!

Indeed, commenting on Moses’ statement: “What does G‑d ask of you but to fear Him?” the Talmud queries: “Is fear of heaven a small matter?”5

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּגְּמָרָא: "אָטוּ יִרְאָה מִילְּתָא זוּטַרְתִּי הִיא"?

This indicates, as the Rebbe points out, that even in Moses’ generation (and surely in subsequent generations), it was no simple matter to acquire a fear of G‑d.

And if this is true of fear of G‑d, then how much more so a love of G‑d, for fear of G‑d is generally more easily attainable than love of G‑d.

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן אַהֲבָה.

Moreover, our Sages also said6 that only tzaddikim have control over their hearts—to arouse a love and fear of G‑d whenever they so desire.

וְגַם אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה דְּ"צַדִּיקִים – דַּוְקָא – לִבָּם בִּרְשׁוּתָם".

This latter quotation intensifies the question, as the Rebbe points out. Not only is it not “very near” to us to achieve a love of G‑d, but on the contrary, it is possible only for tzaddikim, who are a minority. Surely the Torah does not address only tzaddikim; how, then, can it state that a love of G‑d is very near to us, indicating that our heart is in our control, that we can divert it from mundane desires to a love of G‑d?

But the words “that you may do it” refer to a love which merely leads to the fulfillment of the commandments, although, strictly speaking, it is not an actual love.

אֶלָּא, דְּ"לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ" – רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר, הָאַהֲבָה הַמְּבִיאָה לִידֵי עֲשִׂיַּית הַמִּצְוֹת בִּלְבָד,

The author thus interprets the words “that you may do it” as a qualification of the earlier phrase “for this thing is near to you…with your heart.” What is “near to you with your heart” (i.e., what sort of love is easily attainable)? That love which pertains to action (“that you may do it”).

Thereby, we may also understand the order of the words in the verse. The words “in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” refer to the three “soul-garments” of thought, speech, and action, as we have observed earlier. However, the order in which they are listed in the verse is difficult to understand, for it seems to be neither an ascending order (action, speech, thought) nor a descending order (thought, speech, action). Why is the middle faculty, speech, put first, followed by thought (“in your heart”), and then action (“that you may do it”)? However, according to the interpretation of the words “that you may do it” given here, this is readily understood. These words follow immediately after the words “in your heart,” for they serve to explain and to qualify them: the love of which the verse speaks here (“in your heart”) is that which leads to action (“that you may do it”).

This means the hidden desire of the heart; even if it does not burn openly like a flaming fire, it can still lead one to fulfill the commandments.

שֶׁהִיא "רְעוּתָא דְלִבָּא" שֶׁבְּתַעֲלוּמוֹת לֵב, גַּם כִּי אֵינָהּ בְּהִתְגַּלּוּת לִבּוֹ כְּרִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ,

This matter of arousing a love which remains hidden in the heart is very easy and very near to every man who has a brain in his head,

וְדָבָר זֶה "קָרוֹב מְאֹד" וְנָקֵל לְכָל אָדָם אֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ לוֹ מוֹחַ בְּקָדְקֳדוֹ,

for his mind is under his control even if his heart is not, and with it, he can meditate as he pleases on any subject.

כִּי מוֹחוֹ בִּרְשׁוּתוֹ וְיָכוֹל לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בּוֹ כְּכָל אֲשֶׁר יַחְפּוֹץ,

If, then, he will contemplate with it on the greatness of the Almighty, he will inevitably generate—in his mind, at least—a love of G‑d to cleave to Him through the performance of His commandments and the study of His Torah.

וּכְשֶׁיִּתְבּוֹנֵן בּוֹ בִּגְדוּלַּת אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, מִמֵּילָא יוֹלִיד, בְּמוֹחוֹ עַל כָּל פָּנִים – הָאַהֲבָה לַה' לְדָבְקָה בוֹ בְּקִיּוּם מִצְוֹתָיו וְתוֹרָתוֹ.

This Torah study and fulfilling the mitzvot constitutes “the whole purpose of man,”7 for it is written: “I command you these mitzvot, that you do them this day”8—“this day” referring specifically to this world of physical action.

וְ"זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם", כִּי – "הַיּוֹם לַעֲשׂוֹתָם" כְּתִיב, שֶׁ"הַיּוֹם" הוּא עוֹלַם הַמַּעֲשֶׂה דַּוְקָא

The Alter Rebbe’s point is that the main objective in the commandment to love G‑d lies not in the love itself but in the practical and wholehearted fulfillment of the commandments that is motivated by this love, for the main thing in this world is action.

Only “tomorrow” i.e., in the afterlife is the time of reward,9 as is explained elsewhere.

"וּלְמָחָר כוּ'", כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר.

Hence, the true love of G‑d, which is in itself a partial reward for one’s serving Him, is not as important in this life as the actual performance of the mitzvot, which can be generated even by a love which remains hidden in the mind and heart. This, then, is the love referred to in the verse, “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it”—a love which, though it may not find overt expression in the heart, is yet sufficient to motivate the performance of the mitzvot and within reach of every Jew.

How does this love motivate one to perform the commandments? This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain:

The mind, by virtue of its inherent nature, is master over the left part of the heart, the seat of the animal soul, whence come one’s mundane desires and evil thoughts, and over the mouth and the other bodily organs, which are the instruments of action.

וְהַמּוֹחַ – שַׁלִּיט בְּטִבְעוֹ וְתוֹלַדְתּוֹ עַל חָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי שֶׁבַּלֵּב, וְעַל פִּיו, וְעַל כָּל הָאֵבָרִים שֶׁהֵם כְּלֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה.

Hence, by having—in his mind, at least—a love of G‑d and a desire to fulfill the mitzvot, one can utilize the natural mastery of the mind to overcome the desires of his heart and to motivate his mouth and other bodily organs to study Torah and fulfill its commandments. We thus see that this can be done even by one whose heart is not under his control, as is a tzaddik’s.

This is true of everyone except he who is truly wicked—that is, not the beinoni who is considered “like a rashabut one who is truly a rasha; in his case, it cannot be said that his mind is master over his heart.

אִם לֹא מִי שֶׁהוּא רָשָׁע בֶּאֱמֶת,

On the contrary, our Sages state6 that the wicked are under the control of their heart, but their heart is not under their control at all—they are unable to master the desires of their heart, for their mind has no active control over it.

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה שֶׁ"הָרְשָׁעִים הֵם בִּרְשׁוּת לִבָּם", וְאֵין לִבָּם בִּרְשׁוּתָם כְּלָל,

This also resolves an apparent contradiction. The statement “tzaddikim have control over their heart” indicates that anyone of a lesser rank, including a beinoni, is not in control of his heart, while the statement that only the wicked are “under the control of their heart” implies that anyone outside the category of rasha—even a beinoni—is in control of his heart. Where, then, does the beinoni actually stand? The previous discussion of the mastery of mind over heart explains this point. There are actually not two alternatives—of either being in control of one’s heart or controlled by it—but three. The tzaddik controls his heart. He can arouse a love of G‑d in his heart, directly, without resorting to his mind as a medium of influence. The rasha, on the other hand, not only does not control his heart but is controlled by it. The beinoni, although not in control of his heart, as is a tzaddik, rules his heart by way of his mind, which is under his control. To a certain extent, then, i.e., as regards the practical effect of his heart on his thought, speech, and action, the beinoni does in fact control his heart. Therefore, the Alter Rebbe says of the rasha, “his heart is not under his control at all,” emphasizing that he is unable to influence his heart even by means of his mind.

The author previously stated that the ability of the mind to master the heart is natural and inherent in the mind. Why, then, do the wicked (resha’im) lack this capacity? He answers:

This is a punishment for the enormity and potency of their sinfulness.

וְזֶה עוֹנֶשׁ עַל גּוֹדֶל וְעוֹצֶם עֲוֹנָם.

However, this raises another question: If they have in fact lost the ability to master their heart, how can it be “very near” to them to observe the mitzvot “with their heart”? In answer, the author states:

The Torah does not speak of the dead, that is, those wicked ones who are considered dead10 even during their lifetime.11

וְלֹא דִבְּרָה תוֹרָה בְּמֵתִים אֵלּוּ, שֶׁבְּחַיֵּיהֶם קְרוּיִם מֵתִים.

Indeed, it is impossible for the wicked to begin to serve G‑d, that is, to observe the mitzvot out of a feeling of love and fear of G‑d, without first repenting for their past

כִּי בֶּאֱמֶת, אִי אֶפְשָׁר לָרְשָׁעִים לְהַתְחִיל לַעֲבוֹד ה' בְּלִי שֶׁיַּעֲשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה עַל הֶעָבָר תְּחִלָּה –

in order to shatter the kelipot that were created by their sins, which form a sundering curtain and an “iron wall” that interposes between them and their Father in Heaven.12

לְשַׁבֵּר הַקְּלִיפּוֹת שֶׁהֵם מָסָךְ מַבְדִּיל וּמְחִיצָה שֶׁל בַּרְזֶל הַמַּפְסֶקֶת בֵּינָם לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם,

How are these kelipot shattered?—By means of contriteness of heart and bitterness of soul over one’s sins.

עַל יְדֵי שְׁבִירַת לִבּוֹ וּמְרִירַת נַפְשׁוֹ עַל חֲטָאָיו,

As the Zohar interprets the verse “The sacrifices to the Almighty (Elokim) are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart…”13 to mean that through one’s breaking his heart, the unclean spirit of the sitra achara (the kelipot) is broken, and this is the sacrifice that we offer to the Divine Name, Elokim.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּזֹּהַר עַל פָּסוּק: "זִבְחֵי אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה, לֵב נִשְׁבָּר וְגוֹ'", שֶׁעַל יְדֵי לֵב נִשְׁבָּר – נִשְׁבָּרָה רוּחַ הַטּוּמְאָה דְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא

When speaking of the sacrifices and the laws pertaining to them, the Torah mentions only the Divine Name Havayah (as in the oft-repeated phrase describing the sacrifices: “an appealing fragrance to G‑d (Havayah)”). No mention is made of a sacrifice to the Divine Name, Elokim. What, asks the Zohar, does constitute a sacrifice to that Name? The Zohar interprets the previously quoted verse as answering this question. “The sacrifice to Elokim is a broken spirit” (i.e., breaking the spirit of the sitra achara, and this is accomplished by means of) “a broken and contrite heart.”

(14See Zohar on Parashat Pinchas, p. 240, and on Parashat Vayikra, p. 8 and p. 5a, and the commentary of Rabbi Moshe Zacuto thereon.)

[עַיֵּין שָׁם פָּרָשַׁת פִּינְחָס דַּף ר"מ וּפָרָשַׁת וַיִּקְרָא דַּף ח' וְדַף ה' עַמּוּד א' וּבְפֵירוּשׁ הָרַב מֹשֶׁה זַכּוּת שָׁם].

Returning now to his original point, that the wicked cannot begin serving G‑d with love and fear before repenting their sins, the Alter Rebbe says:

This is the lower category of repentance, whereby the lower letter hey is raised up from its fall into the forces of evil, the kelipot.

וְהִיא בְּחִינַת תְּשׁוּבָה תַּתָּאָה, לְהַעֲלוֹת הֵ"א תַּתָּאָה, לַהֲקִימָהּ מִנְּפִילָתָהּ שֶׁנָפְלָה אֶל הַחִיצוֹנִים,

Teshuvah (repentance), spelled תְּשׁוּבָה, forms the words “returning the hey”; this implies that repentance “returns” the hey of the Divine Name, Havayah (yud-hey-vav-hey), to its proper place. The higher category of teshuvah returns the “higher” (the first) hey to the yud preceding it, while the lower form of teshuvah returns the “lower” hey to the vav preceding it. The teshuvah mentioned earlier as a prerequisite for a love and fear of G‑d is of the lower category.

This fall of the lower hey of the Divine Name into the kelipot is the mystery of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) in exile, as our Sages have said: “When the Jews were exiled to Edom, the Shechinah went into exile with them.”15

שֶׁהוּא סוֹד גָּלוּת הַשְּׁכִינָה, כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "גָּלוּ לֶאֱדוֹם – שְׁכִינָה עִמָּהֶם",

In a spiritual sense, in terms of one’s service to G‑d, this statement means that when one acts like “Edom,” the embodiment of evil, when he sins, he degrades and draws down to Edom, to the kelipot, the Divine spark which vitalizes his nefesh, ruach, and neshamah with G‑dly, holy life. In this way, the Shechinah within him is drawn into exile.

דְּהַיְינוּ, כְּשֶׁאָדָם עוֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה אֱדוֹם מוֹרִיד וּמַמְשִׁיךְ לְשָׁם בְּחִינַת וְנִיצוֹץ אֱלֹהוּת הַמְחַיֶּה אֶת נֶפֶשׁ־רוּחַ־נְשָׁמָה שֶׁלּוֹ,

What constitutes “exile” in this case is the fact that the Divine spark gives life to his G‑dly soul, which is clothed in the animal soul of kelipah situated in the left part of his heart, and as long as he remains wicked, the animal soul reigns over him, dominating his “small city,” his body. Thus, the Divine spark within his G‑dly soul is in exile in the kelipah of his animal soul.

הַמְלוּבָּשִׁים בּוֹ בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הַבַּהֲמִית מֵהַקְּלִיפָּה, שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ שֶׁבֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי, הַמּוֹלֶכֶת בּוֹ בְּעוֹדוֹ רָשָׁע וּמוֹשֶׁלֶת בָּעִיר קְטַנָּה שֶׁלּוֹ,

The nefesh, ruach, and neshamah are thus held captive in exile under it.

וְנֶפֶשׁ־רוּחַ־נְשָׁמָה כְּבוּשִׁים בַּגּוֹלָה אֶצְלָהּ.

A captive not only lacks the freedom to act as he wishes but is also forced to carry out the wishes of his captor. The Divine spark within the soul, however, although in exile, is still not in captivity. It has merely lost its ability to affect the person with its G‑dly vitality.

When the heart of the rasha is broken within him and thereby, the spirit of uncleanliness and of the sitra achara are broken and the forces of evil are dispersed,

וּכְשֶׁנִּשְׁבָּר לִבּוֹ בְּקִרְבּוֹ, וְנִשְׁבְּרָה רוּחַ הַטּוּמְאָה וְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא, וְיִתְפָּרְדוּ כוּ' –

then the lower hey of the Divine Name—the Shechinah—rises from its fall and stands firm, as discussed elsewhere.

הִיא קָמָה מִנְּפִילָתָהּ וְגַם נִצָּבָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר:

Only when he repents and thereby frees the Shechinah from exile, allowing the Divine spark within him to affect his soul and body, may he begin to serve G‑d with love and fear.

In summary: It is indeed “very near” to us to love and fear G‑d, for we are able to create at least an “intellectual emotion” by means of our mind, which is under our control, even if our heart is not. However, this does not apply to the rasha, who is a slave to the desires of his animal soul and must repent before beginning to serve G‑d with love and fear.