Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tanya Ch. 7 (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. 7


So in contrast to the three completely impure husks that only bolster the other side, the one luminous husk straddles holiness and unholiness since it can allow for either. And it thus bolters, figures into, and can even be thought to hold sway over most of our world and most of what we do, since nearly everything in our experience -- as neither especially righteous or wrongful people -- is an admixture of good and bad, right and wrong. Thus, when we deliberate upon the world of the luminous husk, we deliberate upon ourselves and our world.

For remember that besides bolstering our animalistic spirit (see 1:5-6), the luminous husk also bolsters all kosher foods (animate and inanimate), as well as all the “kosher”, which is to say, acceptable everyday and profane things we might say, do, or think. Like the stroll we might take which we spoke of in the last chapter, the soda we might drink, the classic novel we might read, and the like [1].

So, again, the stark caveat associated with things in this “everyday and profane” category is that since they’re bolstered by this intermediate husk, they can either wind up drawing their vitality from holiness or from unholiness -- depending on how we use them [2].

For if we think, utter, or perform morally-neutral thoughts, utterances, or deeds for self-serving purposes (even if they’re essential for living, you need to understand!), they then align themselves with the other side. Whereas if we think, utter, or perform such thoughts, utterances, or deeds for altruistic and G-d-centered reasons, they align themselves with holiness.

Accordingly, most of the things we do, utter, and think about are connected to the luminous husk [3]. And the awful but undeniable conclusion we’re to draw from this is that we could conceivably spend our whole life engaged in perfectly acceptable things and still be bogged down in the husks -- unless we know what we’re doing (see Biur Tanya).

And so, it indeed becomes clear that this ubiquitous category of things is very much like ourselves; since we, too, are neither explicitly righteous nor wrongful, but somewhere in between, as we said said (also see 1:2). And we, too, can attach ourselves onto either the side or holiness or the other side, depending on what we do and how we do it.



[1] I.e., things that are neither mitzvot or sins per se.

It should be underscored that RSZ declares in the text that “most, in fact, almost all of the luminous husk is (related to) wrong, with only a little goodness mixed in”. For the great preponderance of what we less-than-righteous people do is inspired by the overarching human need to be self serving rather than devout -- to say nothing of the out-and-out wrong things we do. (See two paragraphs down from here in our text.)

[2] RSZ makes a fascinating point in ch. 35 that our G-dly spirit is actually synonymous with our immortal soul (our neshama) while our animalistic spirit which is rooted in the luminous husk under discussion, is an “intermediary” between the immortal soul and our body. The point seems to be that the luminous husk has the capacity to turn profane things round to Divinity just because it serves as an intermediate or "passageway" between the Divine soul and the body.

[3] In fact it could be said that these sorts of things are rather banal by nature and less than “luminous” themselves, ironically. Since the evil within this category, while indeed wrongful and un-G-dly, is still and all not as evil as the evil in the three utterly impure husks, while the goodness within it isn’t as good as the goodness in holiness either (see Maskil L’Eitan).

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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