In ch. 26 the Alter Rebbe stated that both depression and dullness of heart produce a state of sluggishness which prevents a person from overcoming the evil inclination of the animal soul. He therefore outlined in chs. 26-28 methods of overcoming depression arising from various causes. In this chapter the Alter Rebbe will discuss means of dealing with “dullness of heart” (timtum halev), after describing this state more clearly.
אך עוד זאת, צריך לשית עצות בנפשות הבינונים
Those whose souls are of the level of Beinonim must seek means of contending with yet another difficulty.
אשר לפעמים ועתים רבים יש להם טמטום הלב שנעשה כאבן, ולא יכול לפתוח לבו בשום אופן לעבודה שבלב, זו תפלה
Occasionally, and even frequently, they experience a dullness of the heart, as though it had turned to stone, and, try as they might, they cannot open their heart in prayer, which is by definition the1 “service of the heart.”
Chassidut explains that prayer is the “service of the heart” in a two-fold sense: (a) It takes place in the heart, for in prayer one strives to extend his intellectual apprehension of G‑dliness into the realm of emotions experienced in the heart — the love and fear of G‑d; (b) The object of prayer is the heart, for in prayer one tries to transform the nature of his heart — to steer it away from the mundane desires to which it naturally inclines, and to direct it instead towards a yearning for the spiritual and the G‑dly. To accomplish both these objectives of prayer, the heart must of course be open and receptive, and thus timtum halev is a major hindrance.
וגם לפעמים לא יוכל להלחם עם היצר לקדש עצמו במותר לו, מפני כבדות שבלבו
Also, the heaviness in his heart prevents him at times from waging war against the evil impulse, in sanctifying himself in permitted matters.
As the Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 27, it is the task of the Beinoni to suppress the desires of his heart, e.g., by not eating as soon as he has the urge to do so. This requires a battle with one’s evil impulse, which demands that he gratify all of his desires. When his heart is dull, heavy and insensitive he cannot fight the evil impulse.
וזאת היא עצה היעוצה בזהר הקדוש, דאמר רב מתיבתא בגן עדן: אעא דלא סליק ביה נהורא, מבטשין ליה כו׳, גופא דלא סליק ביה נהורא דנשמתא, מבטשין ליה כו׳
In this case, the advice given in the holy Zohar2 is, as the president of the academy of Gan Eden said: “A wooden beam which does not catch fire should be splintered, and similarly a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed,” and thereby the body becomes receptive to the soul’s light, as the Zohar concludes.
In the analogy quoted from the Zohar we see that the wood is made receptive to the flame, rather than the flame being increased or improved to the point where it overwhelms the wood. Similarly with the insensitive heart. Timtum halev must be eradicated (by removing its underlying cause, as the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude), rather than overwhelmed (by increasing the intellectual light of contemplation on the greatness of G‑d).
פירוש נהורא דנשמתא: שאור הנשמה והשכל אינו מאיר כל כך למשול על חומריות שבגוף
The reference to the “light of the soul” which, in this case, does not penetrate the body means that the light of the soul and of the intellect does not illuminate to such an extent as to prevail over the coarseness of the body.
ואף שמבין ומתבונן בשכלו בגדולת ה׳, אינו נתפס ונדבק במוחו כל כך שיוכל למשול על חומריות הלב, מחמת חומריותן וגסותן
Thus, although he understands and meditates in his mind on the greatness of G‑d, yet that which he understands is not apprehended and implanted in his mind to the point where it enables him to prevail over the coarseness of the heart — because of the degree of their (the mind and heart’s) coarseness and crassness. 3