Iggeres Ha’Teshuvah Chapter 6, Class 3

Tanya/ Iggeres Ha’Teshuvah – The Epistle on Repentance, Chapter 6, Class 3


The choice is man’s—whether to derive his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achara or from the chambers of holiness14 from which flow all good and holy thoughts, and so on.

וְהָאָדָם הוּא בַּעַל בְּחִירָה, אִם לְקַבֵּל הַשְׁפָּעָתוֹ מֵהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא, אוֹ מֵהֵיכְלוֹת הַקְּדוּשָּׁה שֶׁמֵּהֶם נִשְׁפָּעוֹת כָּל מַחֲשָׁבוֹת טוֹבוֹת וּקְדוֹשׁוֹת וְכוּ’.

When one’s thoughts, words, and deeds are wholesome and holy, he receives his nurture from holiness; when his thoughts, words, and deeds are evil, he derives his nurture from the chambers of the sitra achara.

For “one opposite the other did G‑d make….”15

כִּי “זֶה לְעוּמַּת זֶה עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים” וְכוּ’.

Every manifestation of holiness has a counterpart in the kelipah and sitra achara.

The chambers of the sitra achara derive their vitality from the issue of the ten sefirot of nogah that is embodied within them and that descends into them by stages,

וְהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא מְקַבְּלִים וְיוֹנְקִים חַיּוּתָם מֵהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת וְהִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הַשֶּׁפַע דְּי’ סְפִירוֹת דְּנוֹגַהּ,

and [this kelipah of nogah] is comprised of good and evil, as in “the Tree of Knowledge [of good and evil],” as is known to the students of the Kabbalah.

הַכְּלוּלָה מִבְּחִינַת טוֹב וָרָע, הִיא בְּחִינַת “עֵץ הַדַּעַת” וְכוּ’, כַּנּוֹדָע לְיוֹדְעֵי חֵן.

Since the kelipah of nogah is composed of both good and evil, it serves as a source, after a multitude of descents, for the evil of the chambers of the sitra achara—the reservoir from which a man is refuelled when he sins in thought, speech, or action.

The Alter Rebbe now resumes his explanation of why a sinful person not only receives his vitality from the “other side” like other living creatures but in fact does so to an even greater degree. Since through his freely chosen thoughts, words, and deeds, it was the sinner himself who replenished the reservoirs of the kelipot with life-force of Divine origin, it is he who will now have to swallow the lion’s share of those reservoirs.

Scripture states:16 “Jacob is the rope of [G‑d’s] heritage.”17

וְהִנֵּה, “יַעֲקֹב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ” כְּתִיב:

The analogy [compares the soul of a Jew] to a rope, with one end above and the other end below.

עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל, כְּמוֹ הַחֶבֶל שֶׁרֹאשׁוֹ אֶחָד לְמַעְלָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ הַשֵּׁנִי לְמַטָּה,

When one pulls the lower end, he will move and pull after it the higher end as well, as far as it can be pulled.

אִם יִמְשׁוֹךְ אָדָם בְּרֹאשׁוֹ הַשֵּׁנִי – יְנַעֲנֵעַ וְיִמָּשֵׁךְ אַחֲרָיו גַּם רֹאשׁוֹ הָרִאשׁוֹן כַּמָּה שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לְהִמָּשֵׁךְ.

It is exactly so with regard to the root of the soul of man and its source in the latter hey mentioned above.

וְכָכָה מַמָּשׁ בְּשֹׁרֶשׁ נִשְׁמַת הָאָדָם וּמְקוֹרָהּ מִבְּחִינַת הֵ”א תַּתָּאָה הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת לְעֵיל,

Through one’s evil deeds and thoughts, one draws down the life-force [issuing from the latter hey]

הוּא מַמְשִׁיךְ וּמוֹרִיד הַשְׁפָּעָתָהּ עַל־יְדֵי מַעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִים וּמַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו

into the chambers of the sitra achara, as it were, from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.

עַד תּוֹךְ הֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא כִּבְיָכוֹל, שֶׁמִּשָּׁם מְקַבֵּל מַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו וּמַעֲשָׂיו.

Although a person punishable by excision has severed his rope, so to speak, he is still able to draw down the life-force issuing from the latter hey into the chambers of the sitra achara. The reason, as is explained elsewhere in the literature of Chasidut, is that even after the rope is severed, some external vestige of it survives. And it is through this remnant that the life-force of holiness is drawn down into the chambers of the kelipot.

Because it is he, the sinful individual, who draws the flow of vitality into [the chambers of the sitra achara], it is he who receives the greatest portion from them.

וּמִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא הוּא הַמַּמְשִׁיךְ לָהֶם הַהַשְׁפָּעָה, לָכֵן הוּא נוֹטֵל חֵלֶק בָּרֹאשׁ,

I.e., in even greater measure than do other living creatures. Nevertheless, it is explained in the literature of Chasidut18 that ultimately, the sinner will cease to draw vitality from this flow, for the sitra achara can serve a Jew as a source only temporarily.

This will suffice for the understanding.

וְדַי לַמֵבִין.

Hence, the statement of our Sages, of blessed memory: “It is not within our hands (i.e., it is not given us) to understand the reason for either the tranquillity of the wicked [or the suffering of the righteous].”19

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: “אֵין בְּיָדֵינוּ לֹא מִשַּׁלְוַת הָרְשָׁעִים וְכוּ’” –

The quotation specifies “in our hands,” i.e., in this time of exile after the Destruction, when the wicked receive added vitality through the kelipot and sitra achara.

“בְּיָדֵינוּ” דַּוְקָא, כְּלוֹמַר, בִּזְמַן הַגָּלוּת אַחַר הַחוּרְבָּן.

This is an expression of the “Exile of the Divine Presence,” as it were, during which time, the life-force emanating from the latter hey flows into the kelipot,

וְזוֹהִי בְּחִינַת גָּלוּת הַשְּׁכִינָה כִּבְיָכוֹל,

viz., [G‑d’s] granting [supplementary measures of] life-force to the chambers of the sitra achara that He despises.

לְהַשְׁפִּיעַ לְהֵיכְלוֹת הַסִּטְרָא אָחֳרָא אֲשֶׁר שָׂנְאָה נַפְשׁוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ.

However, when the sinner repents appropriately, he then removes from them the life-force that he had drawn into them through his deeds and thoughts,

וּכְשֶׁהָאָדָם עוֹשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה נְכוֹנָה – אֲזַי מְסַלֵּק מֵהֶם הַהַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁהִמְשִׁיךְ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וּמַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו,

for by his repentance, he returns the flow issuing from the Shechinah to its proper place.

כִּי בִּתְשׁוּבָתוֹ מַחֲזִיר הַשְׁפָּעַת הַשְּׁכִינָה לִמְקוֹמָהּ.

This, then, is the meaning of [the teaching of the Zohar, quoted in ch. 4, that “teshuvah is] tashuv hey, the return of the lower hey from exile”—that the lower level of repentance consists of returning the Shechinah, which is represented by the latter hey of the Tetragrammaton, from its state of exile.

וְזֶהוּ תָּשׁוּב הֵ”א תַּתָּאָה – מִבְּחִינַת גָּלוּת,

As the verse states, “The L-rd, your G‑d (the source of your soul), will return (i.e., bring back) those of you who return”20;

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: “וְשָׁב ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ”,

regarding the verb as being intransitive, this means [that G‑d Himself will return] with your return.

כְּלוֹמַר עִם שְׁבוּתְךָ,

As our Sages have commented on this verse, “Scripture does not say, ‘He shall bring back,’ [but that He Himself will return].”21

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: “וְהֵשִׁיב לֹא נֶאֱמַר וְכוּ’”:

The verse is thus telling every Jew: When through repentance you extricate yourself from your own spiritual exile, you will thereby liberate “your G‑d”—the Shechinah, the source of your soul—from His exile too.




14. The Rebbe comments that it seems to be entirely superfluous for the Alter Rebbe to state that “the choice is man’s.” He goes on to provide two possible explanations. (a) Paradoxically, this statement is indeed novel: The Alter Rebbe desires to emphasize that even in times of exile, when “through your sins was your mother banished” and the benevolence flowing forth from the latter hey is enclothed in the kelipah of nogah, man can still choose to receive his vitality from the chambers of holiness. This is possible because the garment of nogah becomes nullified to its wearer—to holiness—and is thereby itself transformed to goodness and absorbed within holiness. This recalls the statement in Part I, early in ch. 40, that in the case of the holy letters of the Torah and prayer, the kelipah of nogah is converted to good and is absorbed into holiness. (This explanation, that the Alter Rebbe wished to tell us that even in times of exile, man can choose to derive his nurture from the chambers of holiness, does not accord with the explanation given in Likkutei Biurim Besefer Hatanya, by Rabbi Yehoshua Korf.) (b) Another possible explanation (which would also go a long way in explaining why it is specifically here that the Alter Rebbe states that “the choice is man’s”): The Alter Rebbe means to tell us that it is specifically during the times of exile, when they “fell from their estate,” that Jews can choose to receive their vitality from the chambers of sitra achara. This, however, could not be done during the time of the Beit Hamikdash, as explained at the end of ch. 5 above. [For at that time, if the “rope” connecting a person to his spiritual source was severed—if, for example, he committed a sin punishable by excision—he could not live at all; during that period, Jews truly could not receive their vitality from the kelipah of nogah.]

15. Ecclesiastes 7:14.

16. Deuteronomy 32:9.

17.The Rebbe observes that the analogy of the rope is introduced here in terms that suggest that it is a novel thought, when in fact, it occupied the whole of the previous chapter. By way of explanation, the Rebbe writes that the Alter Rebbe is indeed introducing a thought that is not only novel but even contrary to what was written in the previous chapter; moreover, this approach will explain much of the variance between the two chapters. In brief: The Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 4 how a soul is part of the Tetragrammaton. He went on to explain in ch. 5 how this soul-level descends into the body by way of “Jacob…the rope of His inheritance…whose upper end is bound above and the lower end below.” In ch. 6, however, the Alter Rebbe emphasizes that the movements of the lower end of the rope also affect the upper end. Furthermore, as the Alter Rebbe goes on to say here, this rope not only descends as far as “Jacob” but even provides additional life-force to the chambers of unholiness; i.e., the effect of the rope is able to descend even lower than the level of “Jacob” which it itself embodies. This is the anomaly that the Alter Rebbe resolves when he repeats that a person’s sins make him descend so sharply that he reaches the lowly level of the very kelipot and sitra achara “from which he receives his thoughts and deeds.” Since the sinful individual sinks to such a low level that in this respect he is a recipient from the kelipot, his “rope” descends there as well, and the kelipot and sitra achara are able to receive their life-force from its lower extremity.

18. Kuntres Umaayan, Discourse Seven, chapter 4. [In English: Overcoming Folly, pp. 112-126 (Kehot, N.Y., 2006)].

19. Avot 4:15.

20. Deuteronomy 30:3.

21. Megillah 29a. 

Comments are closed.