Monday, July 17, 2006

Tanya -- Ch. 4, Part 2

“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


RSZ refers to the G-dly spirit’s thoughts, emotions, words, and actions as its “garments” [2]. That’s largely because they’re the means by which it exhibits itself in the world, for all intents and purposes, much the way we exhibit or convey ourselves through our clothes.

But just as our clothes don’t really do us justice, since they often only act as a facade or perhaps they only express how we want to be taken in public; and they oftentimes misrepresent us other ways, too, as when our clothes have us appear wealthier than we are, or poorer and the like -- in much the same way, our G-dly spirit’s “garments” likewise don’t express it *as it truly is*. After all, as we said before, it’s a veritable portion of G-d (see Biur Tanya).

Be that as it may, we activate our G-dly spirit when we engage in mitzvot with our minds, power of speech, and through our actions (our hearts are involved too, as we’ll soon see). As when we delve into Torah, enunciate Torah texts or prayers, and when we fulfill more concrete mitzvot.

Now, our G-dly spirit is comprised of 613 intangible component parts, we’re taught [3]. And they express themselves in all their glory through the 613 mitzvot that they “don” [4]. As such, mitzvot can be said to sometimes serve as the Divine spirit’s “body” when it’s clothed in them.



[2] The garments spoken of here are not the ones cited toward the end of Ch. 2 above. See note 9 there.

[3] This will be discussed at some length in Ch. 51.

It’s also pointed out there that the G-dly spirit is of course not limited to space and time -- or to number (and hence, subdivision). So it stands to reason that the mere 613 parts it’s said to have here, in this chapter, is how it represents and manifests itself in this world of space, time and number.

[4] Just as the body is comprised of 613 parts (248 limbs and organs, and 365 blood vessels according to the traditional reckoning) and the Torah is comprised of 613 mitzvot (248 imperatives and 365 prohibitives), the G-dly spirit is likewise comprised of 613 spiritual components. Hence when one puts all of his G-dly spirit and his body into the fulfillment of all of the mitzvot, he’s said to be fully clothed in, i.e., fully absorbed in and suffused by, them. The idea of being both fully absorbed in and suffused by mitzvot will be discussed later on.

It’s also important to make two other points. First, that each spiritual component of the G-dly spirit corresponds to and is engarbed in a particular mitzvah (Biur Tanya); and that each body-part corresponds in turn to a spiritual component of the G-dly spirit and a particular mitzvah as well.

And second, that in their essence the mitzvot are actually infinite in number, and become reduced to 613 in our experience alone (Maskil L’Eitan), corresponding to the this-worldly situation of the 613 components of the spirit laid out in the previous note.

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at )

Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued and can be ordered from here
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled
"Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal"