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Tanya/Iggeres Ha’Teshuvah - The Epistle on Repentance,Chapter 7, Class 5

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The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that even sins which do not carry so harsh a penalty may still have the same effect.

Even one who has never violated a sin punishable by excision or a sin incurring death by Divine agency,

וְאַף מִי שֶׁלֹּא עָבַר עַל עֲוֹן כָּרֵת, וְגַם לֹא עַל עֲוֹן מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם

such as vain emission and the like,

שֶׁהוּא הוֹצָאַת זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא,

but other, less severe sins,

אֶלָּא שְׁאָר עֲבֵירוֹת קַלּוֹת,

nonetheless, since they cause a defect in the spirit and Divine soul,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵן פּוֹגְמִים בַּנְּשָׁמָה וְנֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית,

as in the analogy of the fine strands of rope that are defective or severed, as noted above—in ch. 5, which describes the 613 strands that together comprise the lifeline of the soul, and when one transgresses one of the 613 commandments, one of these strands is severed,

וְכִמְשַׁל פְּגִימַת וּפְסִיקַת חֲבָלִים דַּקִּים כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

therefore, through an accumulation of sins, there can eventually be a defect as grave as from one prohibition involving excision or death.

הֲרֵי בְּרִיבּוּי הַחֲטָאִים יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת פְּגַם כְּמוֹ בְּלָאו אֶחָד שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ כָּרֵת אוֹ מִיתָה,

This would be true even when a single sin is repeated numerous times.23

וַאֲפִילוּ בִּכְפִילַת חֵטְא אֶחָד פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת מְאֹד,

Far from merely damaging the selfsame strand repeatedly, the repetition of even the same sin weakens and jeopardizes the rope as a whole.

In this manner, the prophet compares sins to a cloud that dims the light of the sun.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁהִמְשִׁיל הַנָּבִיא הַחֲטָאִים לְעָנָן הַמַּאֲפִיל אוֹר הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ,

As the verse states, “I have erased your transgressions like a thick cloud”24 (that can dissipate).

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "מָחִיתִי כָעָב פְּשָׁעֶיךָ" –

This refers to the grave sins (25that are barriers) between the internal aspect of the power flowing forth from the Tetragrammaton and the Divine soul.

הֵם עֲבֵירוֹת חֲמוּרוֹת, [הַמַּבְדִּילִים] בֵּין פְּנִימִית הַשְׁפָּעַת שֵׁם הַוָיָ' בָּרוּךְ־הוּא לַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית,

This is like the separation of a thick, dark cloud that stands between the sun and the earth with its inhabitants.26

כְּהַבְדָּלַת עָנָן עָב וְחָשׁוּךְ, הַמַּבְדִּיל בֵּין הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לָאָרֶץ וְלַדָּרִים עָלֶיהָ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל:

“…and your sins like a cloud.” These are the lesser sins that man tramples under his heel,

"וְכֶעָנָן חַטֹּאתֶיךָ" הֵן "עֲבֵירוֹת קַלּוֹת שֶׁאָדָם דָּשׁ בַּעֲקֵבָיו",

[sins] that obscure as does a thin and wispy cloud.

הַמַּבְדִּילִים כְּהַבְדָּלַת עָנָן קַל וְקָלוּשׁ עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל.

In the illustration, if one obscures the sunlight streaming through a window with many fine and flimsy curtains, they will darken as much as one thick curtain will, and even more.

וְהִנֵּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁבַּמָּשָׁל הַזֶּה, אִם מֵשִׂים אָדָם נֶגֶד אוֹר הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בַּחַלּוֹן מְחִיצוֹת קַלּוֹת וּקְלוּשׁוֹת לָרוֹב מְאֹד, הֵן מַאֲפִילוֹת כְּמוֹ מְחִיצָה אַחַת עָבָה וְיוֹתֵר –

This is exactly so in the analogue,

וְכָכָה מַמָּשׁ הוּא בַּנִּמְשָׁל

with all those cloudlike sins upon which man tramples indifferently, because they seem to be of little import: they obscure the Divine light by their multitudinous repetition as do many fine curtains, “darkening as much as one thick curtain will, and even more,”

בְּכָל עֲוֹנוֹת שֶׁאָדָם דָּשׁ בַּעֲקֵבָיו.

and certainly with those sins that our Sages often warned against that are actually like idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed.

וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן הַמְפוּרְסָמוֹת מִדִּבְרֵי רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁהֵן מַמָּשׁ כַּעֲבוֹדָה־זָרָה וְגִילּוּי־עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת־דָּמִים,

For example:27 ignoring the needy,

כְּמוֹ הַעֲלָמַת עַיִן מִן הַצְּדָקָה,

concerning which Scripture writes, “Beware lest there be in your heart something unworthy….”28

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל וְגוֹ'",

Beliyaal (here translated “unworthy”) is used in reference to idolatry29…, from which we learn that ignoring the needy is likened to idolatry.

וּ"בְלִיַּעַל", הִיא עוֹבֵד עֲבוֹדַת אֱלִילִים וְכוּ',

Or talebearing, the evil tongue, that is equated to idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed.30

וְהַמְסַפֵּר בִּגְנוּת חֲבֵירוֹ, הִיא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, הַשְּׁקוּלָה כַּעֲבוֹדָה־זָרָה וְגִילּוּי־עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת־דָּמִים,

Likewise, the vile-tempered is like the idolatrous,31

וְכָל הַכּוֹעֵס כְּאִלּוּ עוֹבֵד עֲבוֹדָה־זָרָה,

and so is the arrogant.32

וְכֵן מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ גַּסּוּת הָרוּחַ,

There are many such cases described in the Talmud—of sins whose punishment is not as severe as that of idolatry and the like but which nonetheless effect a similar spiritual blemish,

וְכָהֵנָּה רַבּוֹת בַּגְּמָרָא.

and [the sin of neglecting] the study of the Torah equals them all.

וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן,

As our Sages assert, “G‑d has overlooked idolatry, [immorality, and bloodshed, but has not overlooked the sin of neglecting Torah study].”33

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "וִיתֵּר הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עַל עֲבוֹדָה־זָרָה וְכוּ'".

Thus, sins such as ignoring the needy, talebearing, and so on, though not carrying the punishment of excision or death by the hand of heaven, nonetheless sever the soul from its Divine source.

FOOTNOTES

23. Note by the Rebbe: “The proof of the Ran is well known (and it appears as an actual point of law in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch,Orach Chaim 328:16)—that the repeated transgression of a prohibition of the Torah involving a quantity that is less than the minimal punishable amount is more serious than transgressing a prohibition that incurs death by lapidation! (Incidentally, this serves to prove (cf. below) that a multitude of seemingly lesser sins can ‘darken as much…and even more.’)”

24.Isaiah 44:22.

25. Parentheses are in the original text.

26. Note by the Rebbe: “This phrase would appear to be superfluous. Possibly, it relates to two details in the analogue: the lower hey (malchut, earth); the divine soul (‘with its inhabitants’).”

27. Note by the Rebbe: “Ketuvot 68a.”

28.Deuteronomy 15:9.

29. Note by the Rebbe: “Until here, as in the Gemara, loc. cit., and Sanhedrin 111b.”

30. Note by the Rebbe: “Arachin 15b.”

31.Zohar II, 182b; Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 2:3.

32. Cf. Sotah 4b.

33. Introduction to Eichah Rabbah, beg. of Sec. 2; Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 1:7.