Monday, November 27, 2006

Tanya Ch. 8 (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. 8


But there’s a whole other order of things that are morally and spiritually neutral and which are far more subtle than food, drink, and the like that aren’t associated with our bodies and touch instead upon our mind. They include conversations we might have and books we might read, for example.

Now, not everyone is capable of holding lofty conversations, and even the most learned among us might not spend every available moment studying Torah. So can more mundane conversations and more profane sorts of books be transmitted into holiness? Or do those iffy kinds of things seep just too deeply within to be safe to engage in?

Let’s start by discussing idle conversation. It seems logical to assume that at bottom the only reason why unlearned people would engage in it is because they're "forced" to, if you will, simply because they can't fall back on loftier subjects of conversation [13]. So, can they really be blamed for it?

But it's not really a question of blame. The point is that there'd be a price to pay for their having engaged in idle conversation, howbeit innocently. Simply because their beings would have been exposed to impurity and the husks so often in the process, much the way people exposed to radiation against their will would have to be detoxified regardless of their intentions. They'd thus have to endure being tossed about in the post-mortem experience known as "The Hollow of the Sling" (see 1 Samuel 25:29; Zohar, Beshalach p. 59) [14].

The reason for that, we’re told, is just as the body would need to be purified by the aforementioned "Purgatory of the Grave", the soul would likewise need to undergo a process of purification of its own -- "The Hollow of the Sling" -- in order to enter the Heavenly Garden of Eden to finally enjoy G-d's presence (Biur Tanya). But the thought of that is also quite daunting and discouraging.

There are other sorts of conversations an unlearned (as well as a learned) person might engage in. He or she might, for example, mock or slander others in conversation. Is there a price to pay for that?

Yes, and it's far steeper, as we'd expect, simply because those conversations are out-and-out wrongful and are thus tied to the three impure husks. So, being tossed about in "The Hollow of the Sling" alone wouldn't be potent enough to expunge someone's soul of them. He'd also have to endure a fiery Gehenom (i.e., a form of Hell). While equally daunting, there seems to be a sense of fairness about that, though, since it’s the price such a person would be paying for quite spiteful and harmful actions.

What about someone who's capable of studying Torah but doesn't and engages instead in frivolous conversation (either because he was indifferent, or too lazy to study Torah)? How would such a soul be cleansed? He too would need to be tossed about in "The Hollow of the Sling", we’re taught. But he'd also have to endure a snow-and-ice Gehenom (see Likutei Torah of the Ari, beginning of Shemot) aside from experiencing the sort of discipline due anyone who transgresses [15]. But that’s discomfiting once again, since even the most serious of scholars lapse into that.


[13] ... either because they can't grasp lofty ideas, or because they hadn't ever been exposed to them.

Understand, of course, that there are various degrees of "frivolity" as far as conversation is concerned. Talking about household needs and the like can be vital, and relevant to holiness, too -- or otherwise. While "street small talk", if you will, and the day's news can be informative and useful, but often isn't holy. (We'll soon discuss clearly immoral and unholy speech.)

Understand as well that there are many intelligent and otherwise well-read people who'd fit into the category of "unlearned" in our context, simply because they don't study Torah (perhaps because they'd never been exposed to it or because they don't resonate with the subjects at hand). The truth be known, they too would have to suffer the consequences of that (especially in light of the plethora of translated Torah texts with accessible explanations, and the wide diversity of topics encompassed in Torah study which anyone can be exposed to if he's so inclined).

It should be noted, though, that otherwise learned individuals who are “unlearned” in our use of the term fall under the halachic category of Ohness Rachmana Patrei, which is to say that they're halachically excused under the circumstances, since their status is basically beyond their control. And besides, reciting Sh'ma Yisrael twice a day suffices for one's minimal requirement to study Torah and they can easily accomplish that (Maskil L’Eitan).

[14] It's pointed out (see Shabbat 152B) that while the souls of the righteous are "bound in the bundle of life with G-d" (1 Samuel 25:29) -- i.e., they're to be attached to The Source of all life and to dwell in comfort in His presence when they die -- the soul's of the wrongful are to be "cast about as from the hollow of a sling" (1 Samuel 25:29) when they die -- tossed here and there as if shot from a sling and made to endure a chaotic, fierce, and harrowing whirlwind of a ride before they could rest (also see Zohar, Beshalach, p. 59).

Some contend that being "cast about as from the hollow of a sling" means that the soul is first shown the bliss of holiness then slung back roughly to its memories of the life it lead so as to experience the difference between the two for itself (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya). Others say it means that the soul is thrust very, very far away from G-d; or that it’s cast back into the worthless thoughts it had while yet alive, and made to think that its still alive and is thinking and acting as it had in this world (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 189).

[15] All metaphysical reparations are based on the principle of "measure for measure". Hence, the price to pay for *heatedly* mocking and slandering others would be the experience of a fiery Gehenom; while the one to pay for being *cooly* blase about Torah study would be to experience a snow-and-ice Gehenom. (On one level and quite ironically, this would be quite merciful, in that a "hot" person would be more comfortable in a hot environment, while a "cold" one would be most comfortable in a cold one.)

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