Monday, December 04, 2006

Tanya Ch. 9 (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. 9


Let's delve more into the makeup of our two spirits now, and see how they interact. For by doing that we'll come to understand who *we* truly are and what drives us, since we'll be able to know when we're being urged on by one rather than the other spirit and to react accordingly. Only then will we be able to draw close to G-d. After all, if we don't know who we are and what’s spurring us on at any one time, how can we possibly head in the right direction?

As RSZ said, we're comprised of a G-dly spirit and an animalistic one. As a consequence we have conflicting "tastes", if you will. Sometimes we prefer this, and sometimes that. But this hasn't anything to do with our tastes in food, literature, clothing or the like. But rather with our stance when it comes to the central human option: whether to head toward G-d or away from Him.

Hence, there’s a conflict in the very core of our being. Should we acknowledge G-d outright and acquiesce to His presence all around us, or acknowledge the world outright and acquiesce to *its* presence? Indeed, everything we want, do, say, or think is a consequence of our response to that conflict, moment by moment -- everything.

The battle hardly seems fair, at that. After all, the world is visible and bold, while G-d is invisible and discreet. Yet despite the disproportionate number of things drawing us toward the world and away from G-d, there *is* still-and-all a draw toward G-d in the Jewish heart, as we learned.

RSZ's point is that for most of us the push and pull is real, and we're torn as a consequence. He also believes that one cannot have two masters, since by serving one he besmirches the other and vice versa; and that the wise would accordingly do all they could to serve G-d alone [1].

But in truth the conflict is largely delusional, in that in a way we *can* "have our -- kosher -- cake and eat it, too". For, as we'd seen earlier, there's a wealth of things that fall in-between G-dliness and unG-dliness (see Ch. 7). The challenge, of course, is to engage in those things in a G-dly fashion and to thus elevate the mundane to the Divine. If we do that -- and engage in Torah study and mitzvah observance as well -- we fulfill our mission, feed our G-dly spirit's aspirations, and align ourselves with the Divine, where we'd have adhesed onto the other side if we'd lapsed into sin.

Let's now explore our two biases with that in mind.


[1] The starkest breakdown of the choice between the two is offered in Iggeret Hakodesh 11, where RSZ declares that "The main reason man was created in this world was to be tested ... (so as) to know what's in his heart -- whether his heart will turn toward 'other gods', namely physical desires that derive from the other side ... or if he'll ... want to live the true life, that derives from the Living G-d".

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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.
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