Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tanya -- Ch. 4, Part 1

“Nearly Everybody”: The Inner Life and Struggles of the Jewish Soul

(Based on “Tanya: Collected Discourses of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi”)

by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Ch. 4


We’d delved up to now into the backdrops of our two spirits and touched upon what they’re made of, rooted in, and derived from. We begin now to examine just what they do and don’t do, and most significantly -- how they effect our service to G-d.

As we indicated in the last chapter, our two spirits contend with each other each and every moment. In fact they seem to be like two distinct moods vying for attention at every turn that are poles apart, with two utterly different biases, as we’ve put it: one towards G-dliness and the other towards everything but.

The two spirits do have one thing in common, though. They both express themselves forthrightly and constantly (though many of us are only slightly aware of the less-dominant one). And they do that through our minds and hearts, our words and actions. The difference is that the *content* and *objects* of our thoughts, emotions, etc. under either spirit’s influence are antithetical to each other.

So let’s now examine the content and objects of our G-dly spirit’s thoughts, emotions, words, and actions [1].



[1] An important point to be made though, is that it’s *we* who implement and actualize our own G-dly or animalistic spirits. Each one of us, of his or her own volition, accesses either spirit at any one time. And we become the person we eventually come to be based on our own choices.

Some have gone so far as to say that RSZ and Chabad-thought in general doesn’t value the “self” -- a personal mediator between the two warring biases -- and that in fact, the undoing of the self (bittul ha’metzias) is the ultimate goal (see Ch. 43 in the text). “For,” (they’re said to reason), at bottom, “there’s (absolutely) nothing but Him (G-d)” (Deuteronomy 4:35) (See end of Ch. 21 in the text; Sha'ar HaYichud v’He’emunah 3, 6, etc.).

While that’s certainly a fundamental (albeit highly controversial) Chabad teaching, it doesn’t seem reasonable to assume that RSZ was arguing from that perspective in this work (or at least at this point). Since Tanya focuses on offering practical advise about how to grow in one’s being. As such we’d argue that if, as we’re taught in Ch. 1, “each Jew ... has (the aforementioned) two spirits”, then “each Jew” is one thing, while his or her two spirits are two other things; and that even RSZ would agree that there’s a self for all *practical* purposes.

In fact there seem to be a number of references to an independent self. This chapter starts off by saying, “When *a person* actively fulfills all the mitzvot... ” (as opposed to when “*a person* dwells upon (unholy thoughts, utterances, or actions)...” [Ch. 6]).

Also see Ch. 14, where the self enters into an inner-dialogue; Ch. 25’s, which speaks of “*a person* (being) capable at that time of ridding himself of the spirit of foolishness and forgetfulness (i.e., from falling sway to his animalistic bias), and instead recalling and awakening his love of the one G-d (i.e., accessing his G-dly spirit)”; Ch. 28, where we’re depicted as individuals with two biases at war somewhere within the ‘self'”; Ch. 29, where the self and its struggles are discussed; and Ch. 31, where the self addresses itself again; etc.

We’d also remind the reader that RSZ cites Rabbi Chaim Vital’s Shaarei Kedusha as the source of the information about the various spirits (see note 3 to Ch. 1 above), and it’s said there that “the self” (said there to be our “rational spirit”) and the two spirits are clearly differentiated. (In fact, see Iggeret Hakodesh 15 where the rational and G-dly spirits are actually differentiated; and Likutei Torah 69B which lays out the battle between good and evil, and discusses the freedom we have to use our minds to differentiate and choose between our G-dly and animalistic biases.)

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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