Monday, November 06, 2006

Tanya Ch. 6 (Part 3)

“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


It comes to this. We’re taught that G-d’s Presence only infuses things that “surrender” to Him (which we’ll explain) -- either to the degree that angels do, which is to say, utterly so; or to the great degree that each one of us has the potential to as members of the Jewish Nation [4,5]. In fact, that’s why our sages underscored the fact that "the Divine Presence rests upon even a single Jew sitting and engaging in Torah" (Pirke Avot 3:6) and not only upon "ten Jews who come together” to study (see Sanhedrin 39A). For the sort of surrender inherent to the act of studying in reverence and deference, and in a desire to know what G-d’s Torah requires of us is what allows for G-d’s Presence to rest upon us then.

Now, “surrendering oneself to G-d” starts with a deep and heart felt sense of awe and love of Him (see Ch. 3). But what it comes to at bottom is consciously and purposefully abdicating, relinquishing, and yielding one’s own personal wishes and desires for G-d’s own.

But such an admittedly lofty and “mystical” attitude can only be borne on the conviction that nothing and no one is an autonomous entity; that everything was created by G-d and His sake alone; that I personally was only created to serve my Master, and that everything around me is only there to help me do that (Maskil L’Eitan). For indeed despite my own delusions of personal grandeur, it is G-d who’s the “protagonist” of this universe; I and everything else is merely supportive [6].

Hence, whenever we assert self and follow our own wishes rather than G-d’s by taking an innocent stroll perhaps, or sipping a glass of soda, reading a classic novel and the like rather than engaging in a mitzvah, we draw our vitality from the “other side” even though we’re not sinning. Simply because one can only fully draw his vitality from one side (i.e., the side of G-dliness) or the “other” [7].

The truth be known, we’re *always* nourished by the side of G-dliness, if only indirectly, backhandedly if you will (see Ch. 22, Iggeret Hakodesh 25), even when we sin. But we’re then nourished from a degree of G-dliness that has descended through the spiritual worlds and been diluted more and more so by degrees to the point where it’s a pale reflection of its full self and could be said to be in “exile” and displaced (see Ch. 32).

The point in short is that anyone or anything that doesn’t surrender itself to G-d still exists, of course. But barely so, despite appearances. Because it draws its breath if you will from such sparse “air” that it only has enough to go on, and not much more (see Ch’s 22, 38) [8].

[4] In fact G-d’s Presence lies within us even when we’re not studying Torah (Tanya M’vuar), and that it actually infuses everything. It only means to imply that it’s more obvious and dynamic in things that surrender to it (Biur Tanya).

See 1:5 above and Sotah 5A.

[5] The point is that every single Jew, regardless of his or her spiritual standing, has a nascent potential to surrender him- or herself to G-d (Maskil L’Eitan).

See Ch’s 18 and 25 below for more about this potential.

[6] The idea of surrendering oneself to G-d, usually referred to as “nullifying oneself”, is a major theme in RSZ’s writings which we’ll touch upon again in this work.

We’ll find that there are in fact three levels involved: undoing oneself, being undone, and being infused by the Divine Presence (Likutei Biurim).

Also see Ch’s 19 and 35 below.

An often cited analogy is the ideal relationship of a student to his teacher. The student has to learn to nullify himself and to become an empty receptacle (i. e., to set aside all forgone conclusions and listen fully) to his teacher rather than assert his own thoughts if he’s ever to understand and take-in what his teacher has to say (Maskil L’Eitan). And we too must nullify ourselves to G-d if we’re ever to “take Him in”.

[7] RSZ points out in the body of Ch. 4 above that the “other side” itself draws vitality from us (from our sins, that is). Hence we see that we and the “other side” are interdependent, and that while it would never deprive us of “nutrition” (since it would lack for vitality itself if it did), we’d nonetheless do well to “starve” it for our own good.

The irony of course is that we’re being advised to be cruel and heartless and to deny the “other side” nutrition, while it itself seems to be benevolent and good-hearted by readily offering us nutrition. The truth of course is otherwise, but that’s indeed one of the tricks and mainstays of the “other side”-- it has good appear as bad, and bad as good, until one’s moral compass is undone and he makes the wrong choice.

[8] Thus the underlying message is that there are three “life-styles”, if you will: Divine service (rooted in the mitzvah-system), service to the “other side” (rooted in sin), and self-service (rooted in unholy and self-serving use of the “permitted”). And we draw sustenance from whichever “master” we choose, though G-d will always ensure our ultimate well-being.

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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