Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tanya -- Ch. 4, Part 5

“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 learned above that we attach ourselves to G-d through the mitzvah system (sect. 3). But, how could anyone be said to cling onto G-d Himself altogether, and by fulfilling His Torah in particular? After all, His Being is termed Limitless, we're told that “His greatness can't be fathomed” (Psalms 145:3), that no thought could ever comprehend Him (see Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar), that “there’s no searching out His understanding” (Isaiah 40:28), that “if you search (for) G-d could you find Him?” (Job 11:7), and that “My thoughts are not like your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). So let’s try to explain the connection between the Torah that we observe, study, and interact with and G-d’s Being.

We’ll clarify that all by drawing upon a well known dictum that reads, “Wherever you find G-d’s greatness you also find His humility” (Megillah 31A).

What that means to say is that G-d Himself is connected to the Torah by virtue of the fact that He “humbled Himself” at creation, so to speak, despite His omnipotence, by compressing and agglomerating -- squiggling and pushing -- His will and wisdom into the 613 Biblical mitzvot and their halachic ramifications and into the array of letters that comprise the text of the Bible and their various Rabbinic explanations.

But, why would he have done that?, we might reasonably ask. And the answer is just so that we might unite with Him by grasping and fulfilling as many of His mitzvot as we can (Likutei Biurim).

In fact, the Torah’s situation in the world and our own is analogous (Maskil L’ Eitan; see Tanya M’vuar). For while both we and the Torah are entrenched in materiality -- we, by dint of our earthly circumstances, and the Torah by virtue of the fact that it deals with day-to-day matters like food, clothing, and the like for the most part -- nonetheless both our own and Torah’s “roots” are far loftier than anyone can imagine and not at all of this world in fact.

In truth, the very fact of Torah’s being rooted is in the Heavens and yet set in earth, explains why it’s likened to water (Babba Kama 17A). For like water, Torah also cascades further and further downward from a high point to a lower one, step by step -- world by world -- until it comes to be clothed in the physical components of the mitzvot that we fulfill, and in the very ink and letters that comprise the text of the 24 books of Torah, Writings, and Prophets. And it descends to that level all so that we might grasp it, discuss it, and act upon it [11].

So, once the Torah and its mitzvot "clothe" our G-dly spirit’s heart and mind (and its 613 “limbs”) from top to bottom, we come to be bound in “the Bond of Life” (1 Samuel 25:29) -- in fact, to the point where G-d’s light both surrounds and suffuses us then, and we come to be attached to Him from all sides, inside and out.


[11] The other point to be made about water as an analogy to Torah, by the way, is that just like it’s the self-same water down below as it was above before it cascaded down and that other than a change of place, nothing is different about it, the same is true of G-d’s Torah (Maskil LEitan).

Other symbols also offered for Torah, like light or like bits of information offered from one person to another, aren’t sufficient to explain the analogy. For a ray of light from the sun wouldn’t be the sun itself anymore than any information that a teacher would pass on to a pupil would be the teacher himself (Shiurim b’sefer haTanya; see Sha’ar Hayichud v’He’emuna 3). Yet water is water wherever it is; and Torah as it is in a metaphysical context is the same Torah that it is in a physical context.

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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