The following letter was printed in Kovetz Lubavitch (Vol. III, p. 38) and reprinted in Teshuvos U’Biurim, p. 6. The letter itself is not dated, but Letter No. 164 (dated 4 Av) speaks of this letter as having already been written.

The letter is a response to a letter written by R. Efraim Eliezar HaKohen Yallis, asking for an explanation regarding a statement in the text Emes L’Yaakov by R. Yaakov of Lisa on a passage from Yoma 86b as quoted in Ein Yaakov.1 R. Yaakov states that it is impossible for teshuvah to wipe away sin entirely to the extent that a person can become a medium upon which the Divine presence rests. R. Yallis notes that ch. 46 of Tanya states that any person who studies the Torah and performs mitzvos becomes a medium for the Divine presence, without differentiating between a tzaddik and a baal teshuvah. He asks whether it is possible to resolve the two opinions. The Rebbe replies as follows:

To understand the Alter Rebbe’s perspective on this matter, it is necessary to preface the explanation of the difference between the Patriarchs to whom our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah, ch. 47) refer to as “[G‑d’s] chariot,”2 and other people who involve themselves in the Torah and its mitzvos. [Although they also become a medium for G‑d’s presence,] there is obviously a difference between them and the Patriarchs.

The difference can be clarified by focusing on the wording of Tanya, ch. 23: “The Patriarchs are [G‑d’s] chariot. All of their limbs were holy and divorced from material concerns, becoming a chariot for G‑d’s will alone throughout their lives.” Ch. 34 states: “The Patriarchs are [G‑d’s] chariot, for throughout their lives, they never ceased connecting their minds [to G‑d] for even one moment.” And ch. 39 states: “Divine service to the extent of becoming a chariot, i.e., to be nullified and included in His light,together with everything they possess through the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, in a manner paralleling the statement: ‘The Patriarchs are G‑d’s chariot,’ for this characterized their Divine service throughout theirlives.

Thus our Patriarchs possessed a twofold advantage:

a) Their Divine service was characterized by this quality throughout their lifetime, without interruption;

b) Their Divine service encompassed all of their limbs and all of their possessions.

It is due to these two factors that our Sages describe the Patriarchs as “[G‑d’s] chariot.”

Nevertheless, in chs. 23 and 46, the Alter Rebbe writes that every Jewish soul can serve as “[G‑d’s] chariot,” because of the power of his particular soul which is enclothed in the performance of this particular mitzvah (see ch. 37) at the time he observes the mitzvah.

Therefore in an ultimate sense, such a person cannot be said to be serving as [G‑d’s] chariot since this a) involves only a particular power, and b) it is only temporary. As ch. 34 states: “Therefore... one should reflect within his heart: Since my mind and the source of my soul are of too limited a capacity to serve as a ‘chariot’ in an ultimate sense... I will make a dwelling for Him... through Torah study as my time permits... and by giving to charity.” Thus it is explicitly stated that even though one studies the Torah and gives charity, he does not become a “chariot [for G‑d]” in an ultimate sense.

Nevertheless, it is possible for every person to “turn away from evil and perform good” by observing the Torah and its mitzvos in thought, speech, and deed in all of his concerns at all times (Tanya, ch. 14). Thus even at the times when one is not involved in the Torah and its mitzvos (obviously, in a manner where there is no prohibition involved), since he has the potential to return, arouse his soul, and cling to G‑d through the Torah and its mitzvos, it is possible to say that for his level, this can also be considered as serving as [G‑d’s] chariot, as ch. 13 states with regard to the love of G‑d.3 From this, the statements of ch. 23, that every Jew can serve as a chariot [for G‑d] can easily be easily understood and [similarly, it can be appreciated that] there is no contradiction between them and the statements of ch. 34.

Moreover, from the statements of ch. 23, that “every soul” [can serve as G‑d’s chariot], we can appreciate that the intent is not to exclude a person who committed a transgression once during his entire lifetime, even if he repented afterwards. For were that to be the case, everyone would be excluded. Instead, we are forced to say that even a baal teshuvah is also included in the grouping “every soul.”

As mentioned above, the Alter Rebbe emphasizes in several places that to be [G‑d’s] chariot, one must [persevere on this level of Divine service] for one’s entire life without an interruption for even one moment. As stated above, the fact that in practice one serves as a chariot is not contradicted by the fact that afterwards [he may do otherwise], as long as he could rouse himself at any moment and serve as a chariot (i.e., he has this potential). Nevertheless, [this does not apply] to a person who committed a transgression. For at the time he commits the transgression, he cannot rouse himself [to Divine service], for a spirit of folly is controlling him.4 On the contrary, at that time, he is “a chariot” to the utter evil within the three impure kelipos. Even when he repents afterwards, he nevertheless interrupted [his devotion to G‑d] for a moment, the moment when he committed the transgression.5

It is possible [to suggest the following resolution] so that the statements of Tanya will not contradict each other: Based on the principle (Rosh HaShanah 16b) that a person is judged according to his deeds at that particular moment, the intent is that at this time, the person’s situation and his spiritual tendency is not to cease being a chariot [for G‑d] for even one moment6 (either in actual conduct7 or in potential8). Similarly, there is no trace within him of the transgressions that he committed previously, for he has already repented for them in an appropriate manner. Such a person can rightfully be described as “[G‑d’s] chariot.”

The statement in Tanya that the Patriarchs “never ceased throughout their lives...” describes the holiness of the Patriarchs and their spiritual rung, [underscoring that] they served as a “chariot” throughout their lives. This does not necessitate that a person who interrupts [this level of spiritual commitment at times] has lost his hope forever.

Similar explanations must be offered with regard to the statement in Tanya (ch. 12) that a benoni is one who has “never transgressed and who has never been called wicked for one hour or one moment.” So that there will not be a contradiction from one chapter to another, we must say that the intent is, as above, that according to his present situation, it is as if he never transgressed. (There remains no trace of) a transgression, nor will he transgress [in the future]. (This differs with the conclusions of Rav Kahn in HaTamim, Issue 8.)

The above explanation also preserves the integrity of the principle stated by our Sages (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14; see the Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1): “There is nothing that can stand in the way of teshuvah.”

* * *

The above does not represent a contradiction to the statement in Emes L’Yaakov that when a person has transgressed even once, although he repents in an appropriate manner, it is impossible for the Shechinah to rest upon him and for him to be called “a throne for [His] glory.”

That text is based on an interpretation of Rabbi Yochanan’s statement that teshuvah reaches “until the Throne of Glory,” but not to the throne itself. Rabbi Yochanan follows his thesis (Berachos 34b) that perfect tzaddikim surpass baalei teshuvah. We, however, follow the ruling that baalei teshuvah are superior, as stated by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4) and in Tanya, ch. 7. See also Iggeres HaTeshuvah, the conclusion of ch. 8.

See also Yoma, loc. cit., which quotes R. Chama bar Chanina who states that after teshuvah motivated by love, one is no longer called by the same name and one’s sin is uprooted entirely. He thus differs with Rabbi Yochanan. It cannot be said that R. Chama bar Chanina is speaking about a community [and not an individual] — and therefore Rabbi Yochanan would agree. For with regard to the Divine presence resting and one being called “the Throne of Glory,” a community possesses an advantage, as it is written:9 “Which dwells among them in the midst of their impurity” (see Yoma 56a). But uprooting the sin depends on the strength and eminence of the teshuvah. And if so, what difference is there between an individual and a community!?

* * *

Divine service on the level of [G‑d’s] chariot is described in several places in Chassidus. For example — in addition to those mentioned above — Torah Or, the maamar entitled HaAvos Hem Hem HaMerkavah, the maamar entitled VaYatzeig Es HaMaklos, 5659, the maamar entitled Kol Machlokes, 5671, and the maamar entitled Atah Hu, 5700, et al.