Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tanya Ch. 11 (Parts 3 & 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. 11


For once a rasha of this ilk -- once someone like most of us! -- regains himself and regrets what we did, and asks G-d to forgive him for his sins, He indeed will, and he’ll be a full-fledged penitent [6]. That is, as long as he takes our sages' advice as to how to completely undo the various sorts of sins we tend to lapse into [7].

Understand as well, nonetheless, that though he'd indeed be forgiven if he does teshuvah -- he nevertheless remains a rasha essentially (Likutei Biurim), since he's still capable of lapsing into sin (Tanya M’vuar)!

We'll get back to this troubling notion soon enough, but let's now speak about people we're more comfortable denouncing as rashaim.


Though there's a wide variety of them as well, out-and-out rashaim are generally the sort of people who lapse into more serious sins and do, say, or think some rather bad, and even some awful and horrible things -- perhaps again and again, and time after time.

But some of them can also regret their sins and think of repenting (thanks to the native goodness in their G-dly spirits). It's just that they haven't the wherewithal to conquer one sin or another they'd become habituated to, so they *don't* tend to repent.

They're termed "rashaim (who are) full of regrets" (see Reishit Chochma, Sha’ar HaYira, Ch. 3). But at bottom all such rashaim have is regret, and little more.

In point of fact, though, some out-and-out, thoroughgoing rashaim *never* regret what they do and never even consider repenting. And that’s because their animalistic spirit had so overtaken their G-dly spirit that the latter leaves its place in their heart and merely "hovers overhead" instead [8].


[6] First, understand that his regret wouldn't be hypocritical, as we might think, but rather a partial [albeit flawed] victory in an inner conflict between his two disparate spirits (Biur Tanya).

Second, realize that if he so uproots his untoward desire that it was as if he hadn't committed that particular sin -- or any other, then he'd have become a benoni (Likutei Biurim), which will be discussed in the following chapters.

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains the dynamics behind the efficacy of regret in The Path of the Just, where he writes that "the uprooting of the *will* to (commit a particular sin) is equivalent to uprooting the act itself". For by virtue of the fact that "the penitent recognizes his sin ... and regrets having done it as much as he'd regret a vow he'd made inadvertently, sincerely wishes he had never done that thing, is terribly pained in his heart that he'd ever done such a thing ... -- such an uprooting of the (sin) from his will is likened to rescinding the vow, and he is forgiven (i.e., absolved)" (Ch. 4).

Assumedly, though, as Maimonides would put it, he'd have to have come to the point where "He who discerns all concealed things" -- G-d Almighty -- "would affirm that he'd never again commit that sin" (Hilchot Teshuva 2:2), which would be a decidedly solid and thorough point to have come to.

[7] See Yomah 86A (as well as RSZ's Iggeret HaTshuvah 1) where it's said that sins are indeed forgiven as a consequence of teshuvah, but not necessarily right there and then. For, one who doesn't fulfill an imperative but then repents is forgiven immediately; while one who commits a transgression but then repents isn't forgiven until the following Yom Kippur; and one who commits a transgression that incurs excision or capital punishment but then repents is only forgiven after having suffered tribulations.

Also see 7:4 above, and Hilchot Teshuvah Ch. 2. And see the late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l’s insightful, rather exhaustive yet concise layout of the degrees of teshuvah one might achieve or not manage to, depending on his spiritual rank; the various categories of sins different sorts of rashaim might be more or less prone to; and what might inspire some rashaim to repent which might not influence others as cited in Likut Perushim 11:1.

[8] What that indicates for one thing is that one’s G-dly spirit is never totally vanquished and undone, no matter the depths to which we might sink; and that it's ready to descend at anytime, no matter how rarely it may be asked to. It also alludes to how little some people sense its presence.

Understand as well that while here are *degrees* of hovering, including hovering close overhead, somewhat at a distance, etc.; nonetheless at bottom, it's still a gift from G-d that such a state exists (Maskil L’Eitan).

Let it also be said outright that one could be utterly removed from and opposed to Torah, and still call upon his G-dly spirit (ibid.).

RSZ cites the sages' statement that "the Shechina is present whenever ten Jews (of whatever moral stripe) eat together" (Sanhedrin 39A) at this point in the text as proof of this. For what that indicates is that the Shechina can't help but dwell where there are 10 Jews -- even if they're utter rashaim (Biur Tanya).

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(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"