THE GATE OF RETURN
Behold, every day at the beginning of one’s morning prayers, each person says the words, “My G-d, the soul which you placed within me is pure”. Certainly, it is impossible to say this about the soul in the body, for “There is not a righteous person on earth”. How then, can we say about it, that it is completely pure? Rather, this statement speaks about the upper portion of the soul which does not become invested within the body. This then, is the meaning of “it is pure”, that even now it is pure. The continuation of the prayer is, “You have created it”. This refers to the portion of the soul which is vested in the body, within the intellectual faculties of Chochmah and Binah of the brain, and in the emotions of the heart. Here, it is possible for blemish to exist because of sin within the thought and intellectual brains of Chochmah and Binah, which correspond to the letters Yud and Heh of G-d’s four letter name. It is for this reason that during the Shema recital before going to sleep we confess, “That I caused a blemish in the letter Yud etc”. Nonetheless, this is not at all applicable in regard to the portion of the light of the soul which is above investment within the body. [This portion of the soul] is called Mazla or Tzelem, as in the verse, “For in Tzelem does man walk”. About this the Zohar states, “And if a soul should sin – this astonishing!” In other words, how is it possible that the soul, which is pure, could sin?
Now, it is known that these two souls; the upper [soul] which is pure, and the lower [one] which is vested in the body, are comparable to a rope whose top is attached above, but whose end is attached to the depths, below. Such is the soul of every Jew, as stated, “Yaakov is the rope of G-d’s inheritance”. Its top end, that is, the source of the soul above, is bound to the [very] source from where it was hewn, in the living G-d. Its bottom end [however] vests within the physical body, in the brain and in the heart. Nonetheless, because the [souls] are attached [to G-d], at times, without any prior preparation for this, a person may have a sudden arousal towards G-d and towards truly returning [to Him] in his thought and in his heart. This is because the portion of his soul called Mazla, i.e how it exists above, awakens the lower portion of the soul. This is analogous to one who shakes the top of a rope. Its bottom end will automatically shake in result. Likewise, when, “A Heavenly voice calls out daily and announces, ‘Woe, for the disgrace of the Torah’”, the children of Israel become automatically aroused from above, to return [to G-d].
The reverse is likewise true. When we arouse ourselves to truly returning [to G-d] through preparing [our] hearts below, this causes an arousal above, i.e. it arouses the Creator’s love for [His People] Israel. This is similar to the analogy of one who shakes a rope at its lower end which causes the upper end to be moved as well. This then, is the meaning of the statement, “If you waken and awaken the love etc”. “If you waken” refers to the arousal from above down, as explained above concerning the Heavenly voice. [One the other hand], “If you awaken” refers to the arousal from below up, as explained.
The verse then continues, “Until it is desirable, for there is a time for every desire”. In truth, this love of G-d towards the Jewish people, and [the love] of the Jewish people towards G-d, whether it is from above down or [whether it is] from below up, is one [and the same] love. This is because in essence, i.e. how it is in G-d’s essence, [since He is absolutely singular], no differentiations [exist there], and therefore there are no differentiations between the two. For example, the love of a father towards his son is because the son is [an extension] of his father. [He] is a part of him. Likewise, the son’s love for his father is because he was “taken” from his father and he is a part of him. [It makes] no difference whether the arousal [begins] from the father to the son, or from the son to the father, since “There is a time for every desire”. (Sometimes it comes from above down, while at other times it may be the reverse, however, they are [essentially] the same.)
This is similar to what will come about in the future with the coming of the Prophet Eliyahu, as stated, “He will return the hearts of the fathers to the sons, and the hearts of the sons to the fathers.” Even nowadays this love may at times be aroused, such as during the midnight prayer of Tikkun Chatzot. Likewise, during every exile there are propitious times [for this] such as during times of trouble for the Jewish People. [At such times] G-d too, is pained, as in the verse, “He is pained”, literally.
Therefore, according to the above, one may ask, “For what purpose did the soul descend into the body?” As is known, every descent of the soul into the body is specifically so that it may be elevated, to a higher level than it [originally] was in its source. This is in accordance to the verse, “You have been shown to know that Havayah is Elokim, there is nothing else besides Him”. [In the source of the soul, the revelation of G-d is only in a way of “Everything before Him is as naught”. It is specifically the soul as it is vested in the body that can reach the level of revelation of “Only G-d exists”.] It is therefore understood, that through awakening to return [to G-d] below, one is elevated to a greater degree than if the arousal is initiated from above by “the Heavenly voice which calls out”, and causes an arousal to return [to G-d] below, of the soul [as it is] within the body.
[Now], this is astonishing! Certainly, most arousal to return [to G-d] below, is caused by the arousal of a person’s spirit above, from the power and source of the soul, which, at times, radiates and shines within the vessel of the body in order to awaken the mind and sometimes even the heart, to thoughts of repentance, until, eventually, this brings him to return [to G-d] in actuality. Furthermore, the fact that his return is strong and long lasting, in that he does not revert to straying from the true path, is always drawn from there, as in the initial phase of return, as [our sages] stated, “One who comes to purify himself is aided from above”. It is similarly stated, “A person’s evil inclination [tries to] overpower him, to cause him to revert to his ruined state, but G-d aids and assists him etc”.
How then, is it possible that the arousal of returning [to G-d] through one’s own efforts is greater than the arousal from above, to the point that we say that this descent of the soul is [solely] for the elevation brought about through [its] return? How is it that the lower aspect of the soul, that which is invested in the body, can [actually] elevate the higher aspect of the soul, which is its root and source? How [is it possible] for the recipient elevate the influencer [so that even the influencer rises] to a higher level?
(However, it is not repentance alone which elevates the soul. Rather, it is the fulfillment of the Torah and all [of G-d’s] commandments, specifically in this world, which elevates the source of the soul to greater heights. Accordingly, even the soul of Moshe [only] merited elevation, specifically because it descended into a physical body. This is as stated, “You have been shown to know” [that only G-d exists] specifically, here below, [because] the descent is for the purpose of an ascent, as explained before.)
[However] according to what was stated earlier, there is no difference between the upper Teshuvah (repentance), which is initiated from above down, and the lower Teshuvah, which is initiated from below up. The explanation is that as they are in their essential state no differentiation between them, such as the example of the love of a father to his son, or of a son to his father. This may [also] be compared to rebellious children. Though they may return [to their father’s ways] of their own accord, [nonetheless] it is only because they are drawn towards their source [i.e. their father]. This is as stated, “Behold the rock from where you were hewn”. We therefore see that every arousal to return [to G-d], even if it is initiated through one’s own volition, is actually only because of our essential bond to G-d.
Now, certainly, in truth, the commandment-Mitzvah to return [to G-d] specifically relates to [that part of] the soul which is vested in the body. This is because the main aspect of the concept of Teshuvah-Return is as stated, “The spirit shall return”. This return to one’s source is caused because of the great distance which he feels [in being separated] from G-d. This is similar to the return of a lost object to its owner. It is also analogous to the verse which states, “And you shall return to the land”, that just as they were banished to a distant land, from there they shall return. In other words, it is specifically the fact that they were banished to a distant land which causes the yearning to return. This is also similar to the verse, “Even if you are banished to the ends of the heavens etc”. Therefore, this Mitzvah-commandment of returning, specifically relates to the sinner, whose soul is lost, and who has been banished from his spiritual root. Because of this, through self awakening he becomes greatly embittered in his soul, because he no longer wants to be banished. He therefore returns to G-d with all his heart and with all his soul, as in the case of Menasheh, who returned to G-d.
Therefore, we see two matters or aspects here. The first is that in returning [to G-d], he cuts himself off, distancing and separating himself from the place of impurity. This refers to the halls and shells of death and evil which are called the “gates of impurity”. The more embittered he is in his heart due to his sins, the more will he separate and distance himself from them. Now, in this first aspect of distancing himself from evil, there is another aspect; that of coming close to G-d. This is the meaning of the verse, “Return unto HaShem”, which is similar to the verse mentioned before of the spirit returning to HaShem. In actuality, there is no difference between these two aspects, for according to his distance from death and evil will be his closeness to life and goodness, which is the return to G-d. This is true even though they are two different forms of repentance and return. Although they are two aspects, the first being a return from evil, which is called distancing and separating himself from evil, and the second being a coming close to G-d and binding himself to Him, [nonetheless] they are literally one thing. The two are [completely] interdependent, and are literally in equal balance with each other. An example of this is one who is returning from a distant land; the more he distances himself from there, the closer he comes to his homeland.
Nonetheless, in regard to the actual form of the repentance, as far as what each one is, the two are literal opposites. In other words, the first is that he is propelled to return because of the tremendous sadness and bitterness in his soul at his great distance. The second is that he is propelled to return, [specifically] because he is coming closer to G-d, with incredible joy and happiness in his soul. This is because, when he thinks about how greatly distant [he is] from the Living G-d, he will immediately become embittered in the [very] essence of his heart, and this will immediately bring him to tears about the sins of his youth. If this is not the case, then it cannot be called true repentance or return altogether, as known. This is as stated by King David, “All night I make my bed swim, with my tears I dampen my couch”, which refers to the recital of the Shema prayer before retiring to sleep. One who washes his face with his own tears rectifies the image of G-d which he blemished.
On the other hand, as soon as he recalls that he has already resolved in his heart to return to G-d, and that he has already done Teshuvah, no longer straying and returning to his [former] state of ruin, but rather, bonding his soul to HaShem and to His Torah, which is called “Returning to HaShem”, he will be aroused with great joy in his heart. This is because, by the fact that he has left and separated himself from evil and spiritual death and has departed from darkness, this itself will bring him great joy and gladness, as if he has escaped physical death, and, as known, spiritual death is far worse than physical death. In truth, if this aspect of joy and happiness over having left evil and impurity, to which he was [formerly] bound, and over having entered the domain of holiness, is lacking in his heart, then it is certain that he has not done true Teshuvah-repentence at all. Rather, he should [feel a joy similar to] a convert who has merited to enter into the Jewish faith, [and has found shelter] under the wings of the Divine Presence-Shechinah.
The above explanation [of Teshuvah-Return to G-d] is unlike those who think that Teshuvah means to afflict themselves over the sins of their youth, as stated, “The foolish afflict themselves on account of their sinful ways and their iniquities”. For, although the anguish and affliction of fasting may rectify that which he blemished, (This is accomplished through the reduction of his fat and blood, thus rectifying that which he blemished through his sin. The sin added increased power to the impure lusts of the fat and blood of his soul, which he blemished) nonetheless the main essence of Teshuvah-Return is the fact that in his heart he repents of his sins, resolves never to return to his old ways, and that he returns to HaShem. This will cause his soul to rejoice. It is this joy which strengthens the Teshuvah in his heart, and thus makes it everlasting. Because of his joy in coming closer to G-d, he never again will stray to his previous actions or thoughts. Nevertheless, the [fact that he is] anguished in his soul [over his past misdeeds] is certainly a rectification for his sins. However, this is only effective if he returns to HaShem with all his heart, with joy and love, for that is the main essence of Teshuvah, that he returns to G-d. [In other words, he is not merely desisting from evil, but is also coming closer to G-d, which is the primary aspect of “return”.] However, if he does not return to G-d, although he may afflict himself, be truly pained about his past in his soul, confess his wrongdoings and leave evil, nonetheless, it [will] only be temporary. He had a temporarily arousal, but, nonetheless, it is possible for him to revert and stray, when, over time, he falls from his [initial] arousal, or when he is tested [with temptation] in an impure place.
However, such is not so in the case of one who has [truly] returned with complete Teshuvah, i.e. one who has returned to G-d. The fact that he has left off death and darkness, and is [now going towards the] life and the great light, will cause him tremendous joy, and this is the sign that he has truly returned. This then, is the explanation of the matter mentioned before, that the bitterness and the joy are in perfect equilibrium. The amount of joy [he has] is, literally, commensurate to the amount of pain [he feels]. For, certainly, the fact that he was attached to a place of impurity has touched the very essence of his heart. But, because he has distanced himself from there, thereby coming closer to G-d, his soul rejoices. If he lacks this joy, it is a certain indication that his pain is not because of his essential distance [from G-d], and, therefore, it will not be everlasting.
[However, in light of] the above truth, it is not understood how these two opposites, absolute bitterness, and absolute joy, could possibly unite as one? Furthermore, the analogy [given above] of a person who was saved from death, does not [seem to] fit with the matter of Teshuvah. This is because a person who has been saved from death only experiences joy. In contrast, [as explained above, to fulfill] the Mitzvah-commandment of Teshuvah, it is imperative to awaken great bitterness in one’s heart over the sins of his youth. However, if he is embittered to such a [great] degree, how is it possible for him to simultaneously rejoice over having left evil? On the other hand, if he rejoices, how can he be considered to have [truly] returned to HaShem, since he never agonized to the core of his heart over the blemishes which he wrought through his transgressions?
Therefore, we must say that these two are literally one thing. They are [completely] interdependent, as in the analogy of a person leaving the despised land of his exile to return to his beloved homeland. To the degree of his bitterness and disgust over his exile, will be the [tremendous] joy he experiences the closer he approaches his homeland. They work [literally] as one. The bitterness and disgust repels him from the exile, while the joy and love drive him toward his homeland. [However] how [is it] that these two can unite as one?