He opened again, saying, "A perverse man sows strife: and a grumbler alienates the L-rd (lit. 'a chief')." (Prov. 16:28) As we said [that this perverse man is not strong in the service of G‑d, rather he reverses good to evil in all his good actions, which reverses the order of the world. For one must always be vigilant to pursue holiness to strengthen it over the Other Side. But this perverse person does the opposite, and he causes the light of beneficial flow that comes to his good deeds to descend to the Other Side by his grumbling attitude and lack of appreciation of G‑d. This strengthens the forces of negativity against the forces of Holiness. Through this he also sows strife and judgment], "a perverse man sows strife" means that evil men cause a blemish above. "And a complainer separates a chief" means that he separates the chief of the world, G‑d [i.e. Zeir Anpin which is now separated from malchut, and this separation causes the removal of the guidance of G‑d from the world].

Another explanation for: "A perverse man sows strife." What is "sows"? It means he sows the plants
[the 6 extremities of Zeir Anpin, normally nourished from the side of mercy] away from each other, making them nourish from the side of judgment [and causing the arousal of judgment in the world]. "And a complainer separates close friends". As we said, an evil man causes a blemish above. "Separates" alludes to a lack of union for he separates the Queen [malchut] from the King [Zeir Anpin] and the King from the Queen. Hence, it is not considered [that G‑d] one, because one is only when they are together in a union. Woe to the wicked who causes a separation above.

(After we learned about the blemish caused by the sin above, now we learn how man can fix what he blemished, and the results of the completely righteous' actions.)

Happy are the righteous who preserve the upper establishment [of the partzufim] and happy are the repentants [who fix the blemishes in the partzufim which were separated from each other and] who return everything to its place, [for regret and confession bring forth the sparks of Holiness from the externalities and return them to their proper places].

We learned that where the repentants stand, the wholly righteous may not. (Berachot 34b) What is the reason? They are placed in the high place where the garden is watered. This is repentance [and bina]. They are therefore called repentants [(lit. 'masters of return') and they merit neshama from bina of Atzilut]. They are placed in a different place from the righteous [for the righteous merit only ruach from Zeir Anpin and nefesh from malchut. However the pious and men of good deeds who serve G‑d merit the aspect of chaya from supernal chochmah and they are greater even than the masters of return].

[masters of return] therefore dwell in an elevated place [in bina], and the others [completely righteous] in a lower place [in yesod (as the verse says "Tzadik yesod olam/the righteous are the foundation of the world")]. What is the reason for this [that the repentant stands in a higher place of "soul" and "bina"]? They return the waters of abundance to their place [to ZuN (Zeir Anpin and Nukvah combined)] from that deep river [of yesod of bina] to the place called righteous [yesod of Zeir Anpin]. The wholly righteous [who merit yesod in Atzilut] draw that abundance from [yesod of Zeir Anpin] where they dwell, into this world [to malchut]. They [masters of return] are therefore high and the wholly righteous are lower. Happy is the portion of the repentant sinner. Happy is the portion of the righteous to whom the world owes its existence.

It is written, "Then it shall be, because he has sinned, and is guilty." (Lev. 5:23) It is written before "Or have found that which was lost, and have lied concerning it..." (Ibid. 5:22) G‑d
[Zeir Anpin ] is therefore gone from everything, as if He [Zeir Anpin], were nonexistent, because the Congregation of Israel [the Shechinah] was separated from her place [with Zeir Anpin]. Hence, it says, "Faithfulness is perished." (Jeremiah 7:28) What is faithfulness? It is the Congregation of Israel, as written, "And Your faithfulness every night." (Ps. 92:3) [Night and faithfulness stand for Shechinah]"Faithfulness is perished" resembles the words: "Why does the land perish." (Jeremiah 9:11) It is all the same [for the Shechinah has many names like faithfulness, night, and land].

We explained that it is written as a verb, "perish
(lit. 'lose')." It is not written as a past tense. It is likewise written, "The righteous [yesod] perishes." (Isaiah 57:1) It is not written that he is lost, but that he loses. Therefore, it is written, "Faithfulness has lost" and it is also written, "He shall restore that which he took violently away...or the thing (lost object, i.e. the connection with malchut) which he has deceitfully acquired" (Lev. 5:23)[so that the flow of higher consciousness into this world can be properly restored].

BeRahamim LeHayyim: Why did the Ari and Chida include this section? What do they want us to learn?

The above Zohar explains why those who return completely stand higher than those who have never defaulted: The Ba'alei Teshuva > completely righteous. Those who sin and then completely repent end up in a supernally "higher" place, to bina/understanding, the source of Teshuvah. Those who are completely righteous are bonded to yesod/foundation, and are the foundation of the world.

Why do we need to know this? Does it give us any incentive to be "better" than the Tzaddik? Do we really need to rank people, especially those who have a "wicked" path with those "saintly" folks on whom the world stands?

Those who serve G‑d with complete piety can actually access even a more sublime space, even superior to those of complete return. Perhaps that is the goal, to push oneself beyond all that is required, to be simple with one's faith and actions. To combine deed, word, and thought in the service of the Eternal. The Zohar hints that this is the most ideal, even more than those Masters of Return or Completely Righteous.

May we be in their number! May we "fix" our past so that our present is clearer, more connected, and more harmonious. Perhaps that is where our train of thought need be during this month of extreme transition, this month of searching out. ['Elul' in Aramaic means to search]. May we be successful too in our finding.

What does the above mean for your teshuva, and why is it being revealed to you right now?

[Bracketed annotations from Metok Midevash and Sulam commentaries]