Weekly Tanya video\lecture: The Epistle on Repentance

AuthorRabbi Shimon Aisenbach
Publication Date26 May 2021
Chapter 1, Class 2

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(2)This means that though, in terms of fulfillment, a positive commandment is superior, for which reason it supersedes(3) a prohibitive commandment;

(פֵּירוּשׁ, דְּאַף־עַל־גַּב דִּלְעִנְיַן קִיּוּם, מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה גְּדוֹלָה, שֶׁדּוֹחָה אֶת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה,

When positive and negative commands conflict, the positive command takes precedence and overrides the prohibition. (For example: the wearing of tzitzit made of an admixture of wool and linen, despite the prohibition of kilayim, or shaatnez.)

Since observing a positive command thus appears to be of more value than observing a prohibition, why do we say that if one transgresses a positive command, repentance alone suffices, whereas if one transgresses a prohibition, forgiveness cannot be secured by repentance alone, and one must await the advent of Yom Kippur?

The Alter Rebbe will now address himself to this question. His answer will also enable us to understand the spiritual effects of the performance of a positive command and the spiritual blemish that results from transgressing a negative command. Insight into the mitzvot from this perspective will in turn enable us to understand why a positive command supersedes a negative command and why it is nevertheless more difficult to attain atonement for transgressing a negative command.

Briefly, the answer is as follows: When one performs a positive command, he not only fulfills G‑d's will but also draws down a flow of Divine light into the higher spiritual realms and upon his own soul. The reason: each positive command is likened to a bodily organ. (Note by the Rebbe: "As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: 'The 248 organs correspond to the 248 positive commands.'"(4) This means to say that just as a bodily organ is a receptacle for the life-force which it elicits from the soul, so, too, is each positive commandment a vessel that draws down Divine effluence and vitality from the infinite Ein Sof-light.

Moreover, just as the life-force of the soul is enclothed within the various limbs, so, too, does the life-force drawn down through the performance of a positive command become enclothed (i.e., internalized) within the worlds.

Fulfilling a negative command—by not committing the transgression—is also a fulfillment of the Divine will. As our Sages, of blessed memory, have said: "If one passively refrains all his days from sin, he is rewarded (Note by the Rebbe: 'but only') as though he had actively performed a...

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