Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tanya Ch. 7 (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. 7


The point of the matter is that we’re expected to align *everything* we think, say, and do with G-dliness; not just the clearly G-dly things like Torah study and mitzvot. After all, we’re enjoined by G-d to “be holy” (Leviticus 11:45) [4], which means to say, to concentrate on and engage in holiness so much so that it becomes a veritable part of our being.

So how *do* we engage in everyday but “kosher” things in a spirit of holiness? What, for example, are we to have in mind when we eat dinner? Well, we’re to eat it with the thought that we’re doing that in order to have the energy to study G-d’s Torah and fulfill His mitzvot; we’re to work so as to sustain our family and to enable them and us to study Torah, fulfill mitzvot, to give charity; etc. (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya) [5].

Thus it would obviously do us well to consider the implications of what we’re doing each time we engage in these sorts of everyday things. Ironically, in fact, we’d have to be more sure to keep what we’re doing in mind when it comes to doing them than we’d have to when it comes to doing out-and-out mitzvot. Because while we can always rely on the fact that the mitzvah itself is inherently holy and thus carries its own weight so to speak, everyday things are only potentially holy, depending on us (Biur Tanya).

At bottom we’re taught that if we engage in such everyday things for the sort of self-serving or downright un-G-dly purposes we cited above, that they’ll end up being no better than our animalistic spirit itself, and will come to draw their sustenance from the three impure husks rather than from the partly-pure luminous one. But once again we must reiterate the point that the truth of the matter is that *nearly everything* here draws its sustenance from the forces of impurity for the most part, the world being what it is.



[4] See ch’s 27 and 30 for an explanation of the importance of this requirement as well as techniques for attaining it.

[5] Optimally, we’re to eat it “for the sake of Heaven”, which is to say that we’re not to purposefully set out to delight in the taste, aroma, appearance of the food we eat, per se. Instead, we’re to arouse the love of G-d from the first, and to get to the point where we come to love Him more so than the food (or anything else material, for that matter). Our doing that will undo the food’s unholy components and elevate all its good elements. It’s important to understand, though, that while tzaddikim can elevate the evil in each and every instance (whereas we can only undo it), we can though manage to elevate it on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when it’s a mitzvah to enjoy food -- as long as our intention is to enjoy the Sabbath or Holy Day itself that way (Likutei Biurim), as we’ll indicate shortly in the text.

See Maimonide’s statements in “Eight Chapters”, Ch. 5:

"It’s important to ... place a single goal before your eyes, which is to comprehend G-d Almighty as much as a human being can. Which is to say, that you know Him and direct all your actions, movements, and utterances to that end, so that nothing you do is arbitrary or tends to thwart that goal.

"So, for example, when you eat, drink, sleep, have intercourse, awake, move about, or rest, let your only aim be your health. But let your goal in being healthy be to remain robust and well enough to acquire the knowledge and the personal and intellectual virtues you’d need to reach that goal. Don’t let your goal be to simply enjoy yourself, and thus choose only appetizing foods, drinks, and the like. Strive for what’s edifying. If it happens to be gratifying, too, so be it; and if it happens not to be, so be it.

"Or favor more appetizing things for medical reasons the way someone whose appetite was weak would whet it with well-seasoned and sweet foods. Or the way someone suffering from melancholia would ward it off by listening to poems and music, by strolling in gardens and among alluring structures, or by sitting before attractive works of art and the like -- in order to settle his spirit and ward off his melancholia.

"Your goal in all that, though, should be your physical well-being; and your ultimate reason to be well should be to be able to acquire knowledge.

"Likewise, your goal in accruing money should be to use it to acquire edifying things, to maintain your well-being, and to extend your life long enough to comprehend G-d and know as much about Him as you can."

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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