Ch. 25, Class # 1

 

Beginning of Chapter 25

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe concludes the discussion begun in ch. 18. There, he began to explain the verse, “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it,” meaning that to serve G‑d out of a feeling of love and awe for Him, is a very easy matter for everyone. This assertion seems contrary to our experience, for it is no easy matter (as the Alter Rebbe pointed out in ch. 17) to turn one’s heart from worldly matters to a love and fear of G‑d. In answer he stated that it is indeed an easy matter, for we need not create these feelings: we already have them. All that is required of us is to arouse our innate love and fear of G‑d from their latent state, and to employ them in the service of G‑d.

He then went on to explain (in chs. 18 and 19) the nature and essence of this love and fear. The soul, with its power of faith in G‑d by which it is attached to Him, intrinsically desires to cleave to its Divine source. This desire also contains an element of fear — the fear of anything that constitutes separation from G‑d. So powerful are these feelings that, by his very nature, a Jew will sacrifice his life rather than practice idolatry, which is a repudiation of G‑d’s unity.

In the following chapters, the Alter Rebbe explained that all the mitzvot are an affirmation of G‑d’s unity, which means that everything exists within G‑d and is one with Him. For in the mitzvot G‑d’s Will is revealed, and he who performs them becomes perfectly united with Him. Conversely all sins constitute idolatry, for idolatry implies that there is something — anything — that exists outside of G‑d, and separate from Him. Through any transgression, one separates himself from G‑d’s Will as expressed in the commandments, and thus from G‑d Himself, placing himself in the domain of the kelipot who deny G‑d’s unity.

By his very nature, then, a Jew would always observe the mitzvot and would never sin — were it not for a “spirit of folly” that obscures his innate hidden love for G‑d, and does not permit him to feel the diverse effects of mitzvot and sins on his connection with G‑d.

In this chapter the Alter Rebbe concludes the discussion, stating that every Jew, at any time, is able to dispel the “spirit of folly” and to arouse his hidden love for G‑d. Thus when he is tempted to sin, he will actually feel how the sin would tear him away from G‑d, and he will therefore resist the impulse. Similarly, when he is required to perform a mitzvah, he will feel his love for G‑d dictating that he do so, so as to be united with Him.

וזהו שכתוב: כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד וגו‘

This, then, is the meaning of the verse, 1 “For this thing is very near to you…” —to observe the Torah and its commandments out of love and fear of G‑d.

שבכל עת ובכל שעה בידו של אדם וברשותו הוא להעביר רוח שטות והשכחה מקרבו

For at any time and moment a person is capable and free to rid himself of the spirit of folly which renders him insensitive to the separation between himself and G‑d caused by sin, and the forgetfulness that he has a love of G‑d by virtue of which he desires to unite with Him, through the fulfillment of the mitzvot.

ולזכור ולעורר אהבתו לה’ אחד המסותרת בודאי בלבבו בלי שום ספק

He is always able to remember and arouse his love of the One G‑d, that is certainly, undoubtedly, latent in his heart — since everyone, even the most hardened sinner, is endowed with this inborn love.

וזהו שכתוב: ובלבבך

This is the meaning of “in your heart” i.e., that everyone can serve G‑d out of love, which is an emotion of the heart.

Yet love of G‑d, by itself, is insufficient. One needs also a fear of G‑d, to guard against violating the prohibitive commandments. Therefore the Alter Rebbe continues:

ונכלל בה גם דחילו, דהיינו שלא ליפרד בשום אופן מיחודו ואחדותו יתברך, אפילו במסירת נפש ממש

This love carries with it also fear; that is, the dread of being separated on any account from G‑d’s unity and oneness. Even if it means sacrificing his life so as not to be separated from Him, he will do so,

בלי שום טעם ושכל מושג, אלא בטבע אלקי

without any reason or logic, but purely out of one’s divine nature.

As illustrated in ch. 19 by the analogy of the flame of a candle, which intrinsically seeks to unite with its source, the soul instinctively seeks to unite with its Divine source. Because of this nature, it recoils in fear from anything that may sever its connection with G‑d, even at the cost of life itself.

וכל שכן בשבירת התאוות, הקלה מיסורי מיתה, שקרוב אליו הדבר יותר לכבוש היצר

Surely, then, it is far easier to subdue one’s appetites, since this entails much lighter suffering than death which he would willingly endure so as not to be torn away from G‑d. Mastering his evil inclination is easier,

הן בבחינת סור מרע

both in the category of2 “turning away from evil” and the category of3 “doing good” — i.e., refraining from sin, and observing the positive commandments, respectively.

אפילו מעבירה קלה של דברי סופרים שלא לעבור על רצונו יתברך, מאחר שנפרד בה מיחודו ואחדותו כמו בעבודה זרה ממש בשעת מעשה

To be specific: Even when it concerns a minor Rabbinic prohibition one can easily master his evil inclination so as not to transgress G‑d’s Will, since at the time that he does the forbidden act, he thereby becomes separated from G‑d’s unity just as much as through actual idolatry, as explained in the previous chapter.

It follows therefore, that he ought to display the same strength in resisting the temptation for such a sin as he would display (even to the point of sacrificing his life) in rejecting idolatry, since this sin too separates him from G‑d.

There would appear to be a difference, however, between idolatry and the minor sin with which we are dealing. With idolatry, the sinner remains separated from G‑d even after the idolatrous act (as explained in the previous chapter), whereas with a minor sin the separation lasts only as long as the sinful act itself.

The Alter Rebbe refutes this argument in the next paragraph by stating that in the case of idolatry, too, there is a means of ensuring that the separation from G‑d brought on thereby end immediately after the act. That method isteshuvah — repentance. Yet, despite the fact that this resource is available to him, a Jew would rather be killed than practice idolatry, for he cannot accept even a momentary separation from G‑d. He may now apply the same consideration to refraining from even a minor sin, since it too imposes upon him a separation from G‑d, albeit a momentary one.

והרי גם בעבודה זרה יכול לעשות תשובה אחר כך

Now, even with regard to idolatry, he can repent afterwards and thus assure himself of unity with G‑d after the idol-worship. Nevertheless, a Jew would give up his life rather than exercise this option.

Yet one may argue that in reality this is no option at all. The Talmud states that when one sins because he relies on subsequent teshuvah, G‑d does not allow him to practice teshuvah. Since he cannot rely on this, he must sacrifice his life so as not to remain permanently separated from G‑d through idolatry. With a minor sin, however, the separation from G‑d that it causes is in any case temporary, even without recourse to teshuvah.

We are thus once again left with our original question: How can it be said that the same fear of separation from G‑d that motivates a Jew to sacrifice his life with regard to idolatry, can also motivate him to refrain from even a minor sin? The two cases are altogether different: the former causes a lasting separation, and the latter, a momentary one.

The Alter Rebbe answers this objection by clarifying the Talmudic statement on which it is based. The Talmud does not imply, he explains, that the sinner who relies on teshuvah utterly loses his ability to repent, but rather that the Divine assistance usually granted to a penitent sinner is withheld from him.

Thus one could, after all, submit to coercion and practice idolatry, and rely on teshuvah to save him from a lasting separation from G‑d. Yet no Jew would take advantage of this resource; the love of G‑d innate in every Jew dictates that he sacrifice his life rather than bear the temporary separation caused by idolatry.

This discussion is contained in the following paragraphs.

ואף שהאומר אחטא ואשוב, אין מספיקין כו‘

(4Although the Talmud states that5 “He who says, ’I will sin and repent, sin and repent,‘ is not given an opportunity to do so,”

היינו שאין מחזיקים ידו להיות לו שעת הכושר לעשות תשובה

yet this means merely that G‑d does not aid such a sinner, granting him the auspicious occasion to repent.

Generally, G‑d grants one who wishes to repent the necessary power and the opportune moment to realize his good intentions. However, where one’s reliance on teshuvah formed the basis for his sin, he is lent neither the strength nor the opportunity.

אבל אם דחק השעה ועשה תשובה, אין לך דבר שעומד בפני התשובה

If, however, he seizes the opportunity himself and he repents, 6 “Nothing can stand in the way of repentance.”

Thus, even in the case of idolatry one could conceivably rely on teshuvah to prevent a lasting separation from G‑d.

ואף על פי כן, כל איש ישראל מוכן ומזומן למסור נפשו על קדושת ה’

Nevertheless, every Jew is prepared and ready to suffer martyrdom for the sanctification of G‑d’s Name,

שלא להשתחוות לעבודה זרה אפילו לפי שעה ולעשות תשובה אחר כך

and will not perform an idolatrous act lit., “to bow down before an idol” even temporarily, with the intention of repenting afterwards — indicating that the fear of even a temporary separation from G‑d is sufficient motivation for self-sacrifice.

והיינו מפני אור ה‘ המלובש בנפשם כנ״ל, שאינו בבחינת זמן ושעה כלל אלא למעלה מהזמן, ושליט ומושל עליו כנודע

This is because of the Divine light which is clothed in his soul, as explained above, which does not come within the realm of time at all, but transcends time,and therefore in relation to this light every action is eternal; furthermore, as is known this Divine light rules and dominates time — not only is it not governed by the laws of time, but on the contrary it governs them.

Thus, an action which took but a moment (and, judged by temporal standards, has no value) can become more momentous than one which takes much longer. 7

Since the Divine light clothed in the soul transcends and dominates time, it does not permit any separation from G‑d, no matter how short its duration.

The discussion until now centered on the category of “turning away from evil.” The Alter Rebbe showed how one could utilize his hidden love of G‑d in refraining from sin. He now goes on to the category of “doing good,” discussing the use of the hidden love in leading one to perform all the positive commandments.

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FOOTNOTES
1 Devarim 30:14.2
2 Cf. Tehillim 34:15.
3 Cf. Tehillim 34:15.
4 Parentheses are in the original text.
5 Yoma 85b.
6 Cf. Talmud Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 1:1.
7 Based on a comment by the Rebbe.

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