Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tanya Ch. 9 (Part 3)

“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


But the two spirits aren't autonomous; they share space in our being [4]. In fact, the sensitive soul can't help but be acutely aware of the two of them vying in and *for* his being, and of how opposite and outright contradictory their predilections are. In fact we'd dare say that the ultimate measure of one's honesty with himself is the degree to which he acknowledges his own inner irony.

The most important lesson to be learned from this struggle is that it defines our inner reality our whole lives long. And that other than the rare complete tzaddik, we're *all* conflicted this way -- all of two minds (and hearts), if you will. What RSZ does in this work so well, indeed, is lay out that fact plain and outright (see Biur Tanya), and thus defines the starting point from which we can ascend.

But let's explore more of the dynamic. We're each depicted classically as whole "countries" [5], thanks to our complexity and multifariousness. As such, our two spirits can be seen as two distinct and diverse kings (and their armies) vying for control over the “country” that we each are, and for the right to have the last word about what we’re to do or not do (see Nedarim 32B). And each offers his own incentives.


The G-dly spirit would like us to follow its dictates and submit to its wishes all the time. Which is to say, to be absorbed in [6] G-dliness whenever we do, think, or say something, and to never stray from that. It would have us reflect upon G-d's infinite greatness and to foster the sort of fear and fiery love of Him that would have us attach ourselves onto Him [7].

In fact, the G-dly spirit would like those feelings to be so powerful that they virtually "spill" over from the right side of the heart to the left, where the animalistic spirit is found, and force the animalistic spirit and its unholy urges to reverse themselves [8]. It even wants the animalistic spirit to reach the level of love that actually surpasses the aforementioned "fiery love" that’s termed "abounding" or "ecstatic” love -- the sort of love for G-d one would have in The World to Come [9].

But make no mistake about it: few merit so lofty a perch (Maskil L’Eitan). Suffice it to say, though, that that sort of love only comes about by delighting in thinking about, in grasping, and in knowing G-d in one's day to day life.

The G-dly spirit would also have the animalistic spirit turn itself around the way we’d depicted because if it did, then all wrong would revert to utter goodness, and humankind would unite with G-dliness in all ways, since wrongfulness would have unshorn its "soiled clothes" (i.e., its longing for worldly delights and other unG-dly things). And the G-dly spirit would have everything we'd do, say, and think be suffused with holiness, rooted in mitzvot, and directed toward G-d alone.


[4] RSZ cites Genesis 25:23 here, which reads, "And G-d said to her, ‘Two nations are in your (Rebecca’s) womb and two peoples will be separated from your bowels. One people (Jacob’s) will be stronger than the other (Esau’s) and the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)’". See note 1 to Ch. 6 for our comments.

In a way the two spirits could be said to complement each other by challenging and competing with one another while nourishing each other as well, as we'll see. After all, doesn't our brain need our heart to thrive, and vice versa; and can't they be said to compliment each other all the time in that sense alone? Doesn't our body need both to function? We once again draw your attention to the citation from the Zohar in the last section of the chapter.

Nonetheless, the tension between the two is not to be denied on an experiential level, and the battle is ongoing.

[5] The actual term used is "cities". But the political entity we'd term a country was in fact termed a “city” in antiquity, hence our use of that term.

[6] The term is that we be "draped (or, clothed) in and a vehicle of" the G-dly spirit’s ten elements and three garments.

[7] Literally, "With all your heart, soul, and your means".

[8] RSZ quotes the verse just cited above that reads "You are to love G-d your L–rd with all your heart..." (Deuteronomy 6:5) and supplies us with the sages' explanation of that to mean " ... with both your impulses" (Berachot 54A) to underscore his point.

[9] This sort of love would be a culmination and fulfillment of the yearning to draw close to G-d, and would be a full realization of it rather than the mere yearning for it; that is, the dream of it come-true (see Ch. 43).

In fact, based on the imagery used in Likutei Torah p.78B (Ushavtem) we’d liken this stage to the eventual “quenching of the thirst” for closeness to G-d with the “water” of its achievement (which would explain why RSZ offers the seemingly unnecessary statement here in the text that this love “is on the level of water”).

For in direct contradistinction to the common misconception of the yearning for closeness to G-d as uppermost, RSZ’s point is that the fulfillment and satisfying of it is the ideal. For only a romantic would idealize the yearning for Divine attachment; a true servant of G-d would actually strive to achieve it. The difference is radical.

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