Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tanya Ch. 6 (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. 6


Our G-dly spirit, as we learned, is comprised of three “mind” and seven “heart” elements, each of which corresponds on a very deep and recondite level to the ten essential elements of the Heavens Above (see Ch. 3). It manifests itself in our thoughts, speech, and actions, which are the G-dly spirit’s “garments“ (see Ch. 4), and it’s a veritable part of G-d (see Ch. 2).

Now, that’s very -- radically -- different from the make-up of our animalistic spirit. For rather than being derived from G-d Himself and being centered in our brain and the right side of our heart, our animalistic spirit is derived from “the other side” and “the luminous husk” (see Ch. 1), and it’s centered in the blood lying in the left side of our heart. Nonetheless, like our G-dly spirit, our animalistic spirit also manifests itself through three “garments”, and it too is configured into seven “heart” and three “mind” elements [2]. But there are obviously departures from the G-dly model as far as they're concerned.

For while the G-dly spirit initiates emotions like the love and fear of G-d and the like, the animalistic spirit initiates wrongful and destructive emotions like laziness, melancholy, flippancy, cynicism, slander, dishonesty, hypocrisy, anger, arrogance, impatience, animosity, aggression, the need for acclaim, hedonism, envy, and jealousy (see Ch. 1). And while the G-dly spirit's mind initiates G-dly emotions, the animalistic spirit’s heart introduces untoward thoughts (Biur Tanya), which is to say that while the mind leads in the G-dly model, it’s the that heart leads in the Un-G-dly one and the mind that follows (a technique we term “rationalization”).

That’s to say that when we access our G-dly spirit we’re biased toward G-dly emotions, while when we access -- or are enticed by -- our animalistic spirit, we’re biased toward more brutish emotions. But isn’t that to be expected? After all, our biases towards animalism and rank materialism are very often motivated by childish, frivolous, and self-absorbed thoughts and impressions. So is it any wonder then that those are the emotions it would express?

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the animalistic spirit’s garments are only impure when we’re engaged in untoward and out-and-out wrongful thoughts, utterances, and deeds. They’re also soiled when they’re occupied in otherwise ethically neutral but trivial and non-G-dly things. Simply because at bottom those sorts of things are irrelevant to G-dliness and to our Divine service. And they, too, are thus products of the “other side” rather than of the side of holiness [3].

But, how so? What’s wrong with things that aren’t G-dly per se, as long as they aren’t actually wrongful and un-G-dy?

[2] The three mind elements are also known as “Chochma”, “Binah”, and “Da’at” like the G-dly spirit’s (though the latter are the obverse of the former), while the seven heart elements touch upon the wrongful traits soon to be enumerated in the text, rather than the good ones. And rather than being derived from the Ten Sephirot, these ten elements are said to be derived from the "ten crowns of impurity" which are a product of the un-G-dly World of Chaos (Tanya M’vuar).

[3] We see from here that RSZ doesn’t accept the ethically and spiritually “neutral” status that halacha often confers upon things (Biur Tanya). For halacha per se would consider taking a stroll for example to be neither intrinsically good nor bad, as long as one takes it when he isn’t otherwise bound to do a specific mitzvah, and when his taking the stroll doesn’t involve anything prohibited. Everything, to RSZ’s mind, either draws its sustenance from the side of G-dliness or from the “other” side. He’s of the opinion that if you’re even a tiny bit non-G-dly (albeit not *un*-G-dly), you’re by definition not G-dly and must necessarily draw your sustenance from the “side” that’s not G-d’s. This will be expanded upon in another way in the following section. We’ll adress these ethically neutral thoughts, utterances, and actions at more length in the following chapter.

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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