Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tanya Ch. 8 (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. 8


No we couldn't [accidentally eat an unkosher meal for the best of intentions, use the energy we'd derived from it to then pray, study Torah, or fulfill mitzvot with fervor and thus elevate the unkosher food], we're told here. Because -- regardless of our good intentions -- unkosher food is still and all inexorably linked to the other side and the three utterly impure husks rather than to the luminous one that allows for holiness.

Thus unkosher food (along with all other "unkosher" things) can never be aligned with holiness [2].

But this raises an interesting, albeit esoteric point. We're taught that we're meant to "raise up sparks of holiness" from the world: to redeem holiness from unholiness, to salvage the good left behind in the bad (see Ari's Mavo Sha'arim 2:3:8). Now, that might have us imagine then that we should be able to elevate unkosher things and to "redeem" them as well. But the fact remains that we can only raise the sparks of things that derive their energy from the luminous husk and not from the impure ones [3] (Maskil L’Eitan).

After all, food and other such things are utterly, definitively, and objectively either kosher or unkosher, despite our intentions when we eat it. Much the way poisons are simply poisonous and not open to debate or interpretation. In a manner of speaking then, food's kosherness or non-kosherness is a statement of its metaphysical "chemical make-up", if you will; it's something that's either true or false about them (Biur Tanya).

We're told, in fact, that the wish to partake of unkosher food or the like is rooted in the proddings of what’s said to be "Gentile Demons" (see Zohar 3, p. 253A) [4]. What that means to say is that it's an inherently non-Jewish attraction that's rooted in the three impure husks.

That's not to suggest that we Jews don't yearn for unkosher things, for we do (except the righteous among us). In fact, some of us sometimes search unkosher things out to embarrassingly great lengths. It's just that when we do, we're out of character, if you will, and as if possessed. For just as there are things that would seem bizarre and unexpected when a particular person engages in them, there are likewise things that we Jews wouldn't be expected to do, though we might (Biur Tanya) [5].

And we're also told that any desire we'd have to use the sort of everyday, ethically neutral things under discussion for less than G-dly reasons would come from the proddings of "*Jewish* Demons". For what they are, are unholy, "devilish" longings for what are in fact permitted pleasures that are nonetheless harmful ... but less so than the un-Jewish attractions [6].


[2] RSZ points out that that goes both for food whose unkosherness is stated outright in the Torah as well as for food deemed Rabbinically unkosher. In fact, he undercores, the latter are often more stringent than the former (See Sanhedrin 88B).

That’s so because the decisions of the sages about the kosherness or unkosherness of things affects and alters their very essences (Maskil L’Eitan) to the extent where those foods that the Torah accepted as kosher which the sages nonetheless considered to be unkosher (for various reasons) now come to derive their vitality from the three impure husk (Tanya M’vuar), when it had earlier derived it's vitality from the luminous husk.

The truth be known though, since we're commanded by the Torah itself to follow the edicts of the sages (see Deuteronomy 17:11; also see Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, Shoresh 1 along with Ramban's remarks), any act of defiance against them would by definition derive its vitality from the other side.

[3] That's to say that we're essentially repairmen in this world, as there's a plethora of "broken shards of light" here that came about when the primordial vessels filled with primordial light were shattered in the cosmic realm before the universe was created, and that we're here to piece them together again by using things of this world for holy ends. For, indeed, every material item in this world that's permissble has some sparks, and we liberate them when we use them to serve G-d. And while we can do that when it comes to the potentially kosher circle of things associated with the intermediate shell, we can’t redeem things that are aligned with out-and-out unholiness.

[4] The Zohar presents an allegory of a king -- *the* King, in this instance, G-d Himself -- sitting at a feast with his servants and apportioning out different quality foods to his servants. And that he gives Class A food to His most loyal servants (the angels), Class B food to the "Jewish Demons", and "Class C" things to the "Gentile Demons".

The implication is, of course, that while Class B is certainly not the best, it's also not the worst and is still and all part of the royal repast, while Class C food which is associated with the impure husks, is barely part of the meal and always somehow offensive.

[5] See Ch. 14 below where the idea that one could somehow or another still be a "good Jew" despite his lapsing into un-Jewish ways is disputed.

[6] They're rooted in the fact that while we Jews naturally long to ascend to G-dliness and abhor the thought of separating ourselves from G-d, so we tend to be averse to out-and-out sin -- we're still-and-all fallible and thus subject to such proddings. There's always the risk, though, that once we come to enjoy such excesses that we'd then be drawn to forbidden things as well (Maskil L’Eitan).

(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"