August 13, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #892, Moshiach & Geula

A selection from the Rebbe Rashab’s Hemshech Ayin-Beis (pg. 146-148), dealing with t’shuva at the levels of Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama. * Presented in the Month of Elul, when we make a soul-assessment of our service of G-d throughout the year.

Translated by Boruch Merkur

The failure to serve G-d with love and fear, although it is a subtler deficiency than deficiencies of behavior, such as outright transgressions or hedonistic behavior – the resulting blemish is more pronounced, insofar as the person is of a greater spiritual stature.  Just as there is a unique service of G-d associated with each level of the soul, the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama – the three aspects of the soul that are invested within the body – so too with regard to t’shuva, returning to G-d through repentance: there is a unique manner of t’shuva corresponding to each of these dimensions of the soul.

T’shuva at the level of Nefesh entails that “the Nefesh that has sinned” should return to G-d in repentance [thereby correcting the person’s sins]. T’shuva at the level of Ruach is as it is written, “And the Ruach shall return to the L-rd, etc.” And t’shuva at the level of Neshama is described in the verse, “My Ruach and my Neshama shall be gathered unto Him, etc.”

To elaborate on the different qualities of repentance associated with each of these three levels:


Nefesh is associated with the realm of action, as discussed earlier. Repentance at this level is on account of improper behavior, etc., being extremely embittered in one’s soul for having committed a sin or transgression. The person is stricken with regret for it, and resolves firmly in his heart to leave his wicked ways and depart from the paths of evil, as it is written, “Let one who is wicked leave his path, etc.” This manner of repentance is called “abandoning sin.” That is, correcting one’s behavior, changing one’s former ways from one extreme to another. For when the embitterment of one’s soul is sincere, when regretting his past is in earnest, then his commitment and resolve for the future is likewise sincere and he changes his ways completely.

T’shuva at the level of Nefesh in general also includes repentance for embracing hedonism (hisgavrus ha’chumrius), even with regard to permissible activities. That is, repentance not for actual sins and transgressions per se, may G-d have mercy upon us, but for one’s mere attraction towards materialism – i.e., the fact that he is powerfully drawn after the nature of his Animal Soul – as well as his inability to separate himself from it. Since he is powerfully bound to materialistic things he is actually compelled towards hedonism and unable to detach himself from it. But being embittered by his condition brings salvation to his soul, freeing him from materialism and enabling him to resist his natural compulsions, changing his manner in this respect.

Repentance at the level of Nefesh also entails repentance for the [general] lack of the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, especially in the case where one has actually cast aside the yoke, no longer maintaining within himself fear of the 
Alm-ghty. One must do t’shuva for this and draw upon himself this quality of submission before G-d.


T’shuva at the level of Ruach is repenting for one’s shortcomings in arousing in himself love and fear of G-d. Indeed, there is an obligation upon each and every person to love and fear G-d; it is a Mitzva among the Mitzvos of the Torah that is incumbent upon every single Jew. In addition to it being an obligation, by arousing in oneself love and fear of G-d, the Jew refines and corrects his Animal Soul. Purifying the Animal Soul constitutes the ultimate purpose for the descent of the soul into the physical world; it is the reason for which it was created. Moreover, it is impossible for the Animal Soul to assume the quality of Adam [a term that refers to the virtue attainable by Man] unless one experiences actually love and fear of G-d in his heart, which comes about specifically through hisbonenus, meditation.

One may, however, compel and subdue the Animal Soul simply by means of summoning the strength of the Nefesh in overpowering the Animal Soul, a process that does not require love and fear of G-d per se (and certainly not the love and fear of G-d that is brought about through hisbonenus). In fact, by harnessing the strength of his Nefesh he weakens the Animal Soul, both in terms of 1) deterring its hedonistic behavior, and thereby weakening its materialistic nature, and especially by means of 2) compelling it [to act in accordance with G-d’s will].

However, overpowering the Animal Soul in this manner does not serve to “carve out,” as it were, the “inner form” of the Animal Soul, establishing its character. This transformation is only possible by means of experiencing a love of G-d that is brought about through hisbonenus. Hisbonenus affects the character of the Animal Soul, insofar as it engenders even the “natural intellect – ha’seichel ha’tiv’i” with the understanding of G-dly concepts. In fact, the goal is that the arousal of love in the G-dly Soul also inspires the Animal Soul to love G-dliness.

The deficiency in arousing love and fear, however, causes pain to the soul, insofar as it has not fulfilled its intent for having descended into the physical world. The soul suffers especially on account of the fact that the Animal Soul is prevailing, causing timtum ha’lev, apathy towards G-dliness. Timtum ha’lev causes the middos (emotional attributes) of one’s G-dly Soul to lie dormant, unaffected by [the contemplation of] a G-dly concept. The soul is extremely pained by this, for so long as the person fails to serve G-d, his Animal Soul strengthens significantly and the G-dly soul weakens, etc. And who can fathom what may result from this, G-d forbid?!

T’shuva at the level of Ruach is in response to this deficiency – “And the Ruach shall return to the L-rd,” stimulating the emotional attributes [to love and fear G-d].


As we have said, the first level of t’shuva, t’shuva at the level of Nefesh, is repentance for wrongful deeds. (The latter includes succumbing to hedonism, inappropriate behavior [even though the person’s actions may not be outright forbidden]. Indeed, the actions of the hedonist are those of an animal, especially when it amounts to casting off the yoke of Heaven, which is the source of all the various kinds of evil, may G-d have mercy upon us, as discussed in other places.) Certainly when a ruach tahara, a pure spirit, descends upon this person and arouses him to repent for his wrongful behavior, his inadequacies affect him literally in the innermost aspect of his soul, even more so than for having neglected serving G-d by arousing love and fear [i.e., t’shuva at the level of Ruach]. In general, t’shuva at the level of Nefesh is repentance solely for improper behavior, sincerely regretting one’s misdeeds in the inner aspect of his soul, to the point of motivating him to change his behavior, refraining from his previous ways and changing them completely with a firm resolve, etc.

T’shuva at the level of Ruach, on the other hand, is repentance for shortcomings that are more subtle, not having actually transgressed the Torah, G-d forbid. (Such a person is, of course, not considered like an animal; he is merely not considered Adam, etc.) Nevertheless, the second level of t’shuva, t’shuva at the level of Ruach, is more desperate, more driven by emotions than at the level of Nefesh. (This more impassioned t’shuva is when the t’shuva itself [not just the person] is at the level of Ruach.)

The reason why repentance for these more subtle inadequacies is with a greater emotional response than t’shuva at the level of Nefesh is simply because one who is only at the level of Nefesh does not have so much emotional excitement [in serving G-d]. (That is not to say that he has no emotional response at all, for every person contains within him all levels, including the level of Ruach, and so on. However, the enthusiasm of someone at the level of Nefesh is tempered.) Thus, the corresponding t’shuva at the level of Nefesh does not have such an emotional quality, although [as we have said] it is accompanied by the arousal of a more internal awakening in the essence of his soul. Whereas, the soul of one who is at the level of Ruach is more inclined to an impassioned service of G-d. Thus, his t’shuva is with great fervor, repenting with great emotion for his failure to reveal within him the kochos of the G-dly soul [i.e., love and fear of G-d].


Indeed, enthusiastic t’shuva is superior in the same sense that serving G-d with devotion of heart is greater than serving Him out of duty, even though the latter manner of service – serving G-d with bittul, transcendence of ego, and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven – pertains to the very core of one’s being, as discussed above.

(The truth is that the failure to serve G-d with love and fear, although it is a subtler deficiency [than deficiencies of behavior, such as outright transgressions or hedonistic behavior] – the resulting blemish is more pronounced, insofar as the person is of a greater spiritual stature. It is thus written, “for man is a tree in the field, etc.”: Just as with regard to a tree that bears fruit, the fruit at the top of the tree, when they fall to the ground, land further away from the tree, so too with regard to the Tree of Life, which bears souls. Whoever is at a greater spiritual height is subject to fall to greater depths, may G-d have mercy. Therefore, one whose soul is great enough to approach serving G-d through love and fear, his failure to do so makes him further away from G-d and more predisposed towards evil, G-d forbid. That is, in virtue of the fact that a stain on fine garments is worse [than a stain on inexpensive clothing], etc., the person of high stature [should he fail to achieve his potential] is liable to become more steeped in evil, G-d forbid. Thus, there must truly be a correspondingly greater repentance for this person’s shortcomings.)

T’shuva at the level of Ruach, insofar as it shares the virtue and quality of the aspect of the soul called Ruach, is with more elicitation of emotion (especially if the person at the level of Ruach [also] must repent for some transgression, G-d forbid; then the repentance is indeed with greater fervor.)


Now, t’shuva at the level Neshama, the third level of the soul, is on account of the failure to attain comprehension of the Divine or for the neglect of contemplating G-dliness. Acquiring Divine knowledge and meditating on G-dly concepts are obligatory pursuits for each and every Jew, just as Torah study in general is obligatory, and especially the study of the inner dimension of the Torah, as mentioned in Igeres HaKodeshKuntres Acharon in the maamer beginning with the words, “To understand what is written in Pri Eitz Chayim.” There, the Alter Rebbe writes: “Attaining knowledge of hishtalshlus, the incremental descent of G-dliness through the worlds, is a great and lofty Mitzva. In fact, it is superior to all of the other Mitzvos, as it is written, ‘You shall know today, etc.’ ‘Know the G-d of your father, etc.’ Indeed, it brings one to attain wholeheartedness, etc.” 

Insufficient devotion to this Divine service requires repentance, primarily with regard to one’s failure to assimilate G-dly concepts in his mind. That is, even when the person meditates upon a G-dly concept, he is not engaged by it intellectually (the concept is not absorbed and integrated into his mind, and the message has not been communicated), nor is his mind aroused.

These shortcomings are on account of timtum ha’mo’ach, one’s mind becoming uninspired by Divine knowledge. (Of course, there are varying degrees of severity of this condition with regard to one’s inability to assimilate and integrate knowledge, as well as the lack of its emotional elicitation, and so forth.) T’shuva for this condition entails being embittered over the fact that a G-dly concept escapes the person’s grasp, his soul is not illuminated by it. His emotional response is, therefore, strictly superficial.

This form of repentance is even more internal than t’shuva at the level of Ruach. (T’shuva at the level of Neshama is indeed more inward and deep, for just as the Divine service at the level of Neshama is deeper – being at the level of the essence of the mind, as discussed above – so is the repentance at this level internal and deeper in the soul.) Being at the level of Neshama, certainly the person has knowledge and comprehension of G-dliness. And when he is aroused to do t’shuva for his disinterest, etc., this person knows what he has been distanced from [i.e., he knows the greatness, the profundity of the G-dly knowledge he has forsaken].

This distance genuinely and powerfully affects the person in the inner aspects of his soul. Indeed, in his own esteem, he is literally a sinner, a transgressor, and he is very embittered in his soul, as if he had committed sins, may G-d have mercy. On account of his having attained knowledge of the Divine, he is keenly aware of how negative and bitter is his departure from G-d. (Indeed, in a state of repentance at this level, the awareness is acute, like having an inner perception of G-dliness.) Thus, he returns to G-d with all his heart and all his soul, from the depths and the most innermost aspect of his soul. And in so doing, he removes the concealments and coverings, truly becoming a vessel to G-dly light, a light that shines in his soul, mind, and heart.


All these levels of repentance draw energy and assistance from Above, both with regard to the repentance itself, as well as for continuing to maintain what the penitent has achieved. For example, regarding the level of Nefesh, the capacity is drawn from Above to be sincerely embittered by one’s former regrettable ways and unworthy interests, granting him a firm resolve to change his path, etc. And G-d “examines one’s heart and reins”: Knowing very well the strength of the individual’s positive resolution, G-d helps the person from Above, both in order that he should be aroused to repent as well as that he should follow up with perseverance.

This then is the meaning of the words, “(Master of our strength) Rock of our stronghold, Shield of our salvation, etc.”:  “Master of our strength” is the general power in the soul for repentance that comes from [the recognition of one’s] distance [from G-dliness]. That is, from the perspective of one’s essential Jewish spark (which is the essential point of his heart, called “K’nesses Yisroel,” the essential point of Malchus within each and every Jew), his distance from G-dliness affects him to the core of his soul, and he is aroused to a complete t’shuva in order to gain closeness to G-dliness.

“Rock of our stronghold, etc.,” on the other hand, refers to the particular levels of Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama, as they are manifest within the worlds Bria, Yetzira, Asiya, each at its respective level. All of the above refers to the transcendent manifestation of Malchus, which is drawn upon the aspects of his soul, be it from Bria or Yetzira or Asiya. These are, in fact, the particular K’sarim within the four worlds, Atzilus, Bria, Yetzira, and Asiya, both in general and in particular.

Lilui nishmas Rivka bas Shmuel Ber 


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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