Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tanya Ch. 9 (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. 9


Our animalistic spirit dwells for the most part, but certainly not exclusively so (Likutei Biurim), in the left ventricle of our heart. It’s important to point out, of course, that the animalistic spirit isn't a physical entity but rather a spiritual one -- otherwise we could have it surgically removed if we wanted to rid ourselves of it (Biur Tanya)!

It shouldn't really surprise us that it dwells in the heart, since our animalistic spirit is essentially emotional and thus heart-centered (Tanya M’vuar). In any event, that’s where it resides and where it fosters unG-dly drives and emotions like untoward cravings, arrogance, anger, and the like.

The animalistic spirit then infuses itself throughout the body including the brain (where the G-dly spirit dwells, as we'll see). And from the brain it seeps into our thoughts and affects them too, by playing a role in our choices and enabling us to rationalize our unG-dly desires.

The G-dly spirit on the other hand, which is essentially intellectual by nature (Tanya M’vuar), dwells primarily in our brain from where it diffuses outward to the other organs, including our heart [2], and where it fosters its *own* emotions. But rather than being unG-dly ones like the unG-dly spirit’s are, the G-dly spirit’s emotions are exclusively G-dly [3].

They include the sort of “fiery love of G-d" that burns in the hearts of those who delve into things that foster that (see 3:4); the sort of "gladness of heart" that comes from apprehending "G-d's beauty and the majesty of His Glory", and from "gazing at the King's ... unfathomable, infinite, and boundless greatness" in one's mind; as well as other holy emotions which we’ll touch upon later.

So it becomes clear that the two have completely different nerve centers and impetuses.


[2] ... where it settles in the heart's right ventricle, which is traditionally termed a "vacuum", as RSZ points out. In light of the fact that it's not actually a vacuum as we know today, some explain RSZ to mean that the right ventricle could thus be taken to be a vacuum in a sense given that it doesn't have blood of its own, even though blood from the rest of the body accumulates there (Tanya M’vuar). But it seems it would be better to say that the right ventricle *might as well be a vacuum* since it’s unfulfilled until the G-dly spirit enters into it.

[3] It's been suggested that RSZ is providing us with insight here as to how to know the source of our urges at any one time. If they come from our mind (which is to say, if they're logical and thought-out) then they're from the G-dly spirit, whereas if they come from the heart (i.e., if they're emotional and irrational to one degree or another) they're from the animalistic spirit (Likutei Biurim, Maskil L’Eitan). And in fact, this seems to be a very handy barometer of things that should be kept in mind.

(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"