Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tanya Ch. 7 (Part 4)

“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


Now, there are many other arenas in which the whole idea of permissible, forbidden, and in-between thoughts, utterances, and deeds come into play, of course. One of them that’s just as ordinary as eating and drinking that’s still and all more charged with passion is the expression of our sexuality. For there’s perfectly permissible and commendable sexuality, a variety of prohibited sexual acts, and a slew of in-between ones as well.

The most commendable expression of sexuality comes into play when husband and wife try to conceive children and express their love to each other; a more intermediate kind touches upon intercourse with one’s spouse simply to satisfy one’s own needs [9]; and there are two especially egregious expressions of sexuality: self-stimulation and adultery. They’re prohibited in the strongest of terms and are said to be inexorably linked to the other side.

Nonetheless the link isn’t everlasting. Because there’ll indeed come a time when *all* sins will be undone, in the End of Days, when "the unclean spirit will pass from the land" (Zacharia 13:2) and all wrong and sin will be undone.

In more immediate terms, though, one can undo even those kinds of sexual sins by repenting earnestly. But not only as earnestly as you might for slighting someone’s feelings, for example. You’d have to repent so profoundly that you’d effectuate enough of a permanent change in your being that your purposeful sins would actually be transmuted into merits! But let’s explain that.

We’re taught that while there are an infinite number of nuanced degrees of repentance, there are two higher sorts: fear-based and love-based repentance. And while both eradicate sins, they do it to different degrees (see Yoma 86B).

Fear-based repentance -- or repentance motivated by a fear of the consequences your sins would have upon your immortal soul or upon your relationship to G-d -- has the ability to turn your purposeful sins around, indeed. In fact, they’d transform them into mere accidental sin, fear-based repentance is that lofty. It would be as if you’d started off meaning to sin and wound up only inadvertently lapsing into it.

Love-based repentance, though, has the ability to turn your purposeful sins into out-and-out merits, it’s that lofty! As if you’d actually obeyed G-d’s will rather than rebelled against it when you sinned [10].

But true loved-based repentance only comes about when you adore G-d so much from then on that you’re drawn closer to Him for having sinned than you’d have been had you not sinned (see Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya)! And when you love Him from the depths of your heart, and out of a passionate and thirsty desire to cleave unto Him because you seem to yourself to be nothing but a clod of parched and barren soil without Him.

(For, indeed, until you’d repented and disowned your sins, your soul had been in a virtual wilderness and in the shadow of death, i.e., in the throes of the “other side”. For you’d been as far removed from G-d as you possibly could, whereas you now thirst to return to Him with an intensity that even the righteous can’t muster [11].)

But if your repentance isn’t as heartfelt and thoroughgoing as that (regardless of the sin), but is rather unexceptional though adequate enough, it will still and all be accepted by G-d and will atone for your sins on some level. It’s just that those sins won’t be transmuted into merits or be extricated from the impure husks until the aforementioned time when "death will be swallowed up forever" [12].


[9] ... in which case there’s nothing wrong with the act, per se, but rather with one’s intentions at the time (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya) -- one’s need to satisfy himself as an end unto itself. And while that, too, isn’t forbidden in fact, it’s not meritorious.

[10} Also see Maimonide’s Hilchot Teshuvah (2:1-2) where he writes:

One accomplishes full repentance only when, while he’s yet able to sin, he’s faced again with a situation in which he had previously sinned, and he nonetheless doesn’t -- but only as a consequence of repentance, rather than out of fear, or because of a physical inability to carry the sin out.

So if, for example, one had once sinned with a woman, and after a time found himself alone with her, still in love (with her) and in full possession of his prowess, and in the same place he had transgressed -- if, rather than transgressing again, he recants, he’d be a "full penitent".

What’s “conventional” teshuvah, though? No longer committing a sin one once committed, not thinking of committing it anymore, and affixing to his heart the commitment to never do it again. He should also regret having sinned .... and he must then verbally confess and enunciate the things affixed to his heart.

[11] As it’s said, "Where penitents stand .... not even the perfectly righteous can stand” (Berachot 34B). After all, the righteous are always close to G-d and are thus always “close to water”, so their thirst for G-d isn’t quite intense (though their longing to *stay* close to Him is intense). While the penitent actually experiences himself as being in a desert and as very thirsty (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya; see end of ch. 40 below).

Also see Maimonides’s depiction of the rapprochement between the wayward lover and his Beloved, G-d, when the sinner repents:

Repentance is great because it brings a person closer to G-d. As it’s written, "Return, 0 Israel, to G-d your L–rd" (Hosea 14:2); "You have not yet returned to Me, says G-d" (Amos 4:6); and, "If you will repent, Israel, you will return to Me" (Jeremiah 4:1), which is to say, repent and you will cling to Me.

And repentance brings those distant from G-d closer to Him -- whereas heretofore they were repulsive to G-d, disreputable, far removed, and loathsome, henceforward they are beloved and desired, close and intimate ....

How outstanding repentance is! The very person who, just yesterday, was completely separated from the G-d of Israel ...; who would do mitzvot, and have them rent from his hands ... is today attached to G-d ... and even yearned for (Hilchot Teshuvah 7:6-7).

[12] That’s to say that while your sins won’t be transmuted into merits or be extricated from the impure husks *at that point* if your repentance is less than heartfelt, they will eventually be -- when "death will be swallowed up forever". Which is to say, when G-d removes all husks from the world and the holy sparks nestled deep within them will be able to ascend (Tanya M’vuar; See ch. 37 below).

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued and can be ordered from here
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled
"Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal"