Monday, January 15, 2007

Tanya Ch. 12 (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. 12


Nonetheless since his animalistic spirit doesn't have full reign over him as it largely does in the case of a rasha, the benoni never actually sins in thought, speech, or action, as we said, and he never dwells on how to satisfy his desires. But, how? By virtue of the fact that his mind is able to control his heart. Which is to say that he can consciously decide to ignore his inner promptings and do what's right.

In fact, we *all* have this innate ability to consciously control our desires (Zohar 3, p. 224A) -- albeit with a struggle -- and to thus not succumb to sinful thoughts, utterances, or deeds [8]. And we can even distract our minds from earthly desires to the point where we can foster *holy* desires (which -- truth be known -- seems so out of character for us, as attached as we often are to the world) [9].

In any event the verse that best illustrates this phenomenon reads, "I saw that wisdom is as superior to foolishness as light is to darkness" (Ecclesiastes 2:13). What that indicates is that just as light is clearly superior to and more potent than darkness, given that just a little of it routinely dispels a lot of darkness, our animalistic spirit's all-encompassing foolishness can likewise be easily dispersed by applying just a touch of the wisdom that lies in our G-dly spirit.

After all, as our sages said, "A person only sins when the spirit of foolishness overcomes him (Sotah 3A), which is to say that left to our own devices we'd never sin, thanks to our G-dly spirit's inherent wisdom and light; we only do when we acquiesce to the darkness and foolishness that lies at the heart of our animalistic sprit. For at bottom our G-dly spirit wants to reign over our being and work its way into our thoughts, utterances, and actions, and to fulfill mitzvot by their means.



[8] This ability will prove to be a major theme of this work, by the way. What it comes down to is consciously and willfully changing your focus away from one thing to its extreme opposite. (The truth be known, it’s indeed the will that matters most in the process, since it’s what has ultimate control over the personality [Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 237]). In fact, we all exhibit this ability to set "mind over matter" in various areas of our life, as when we decide to undergo surgery, for example, even when we're afraid to, simp;y because it has to be done (Maskil L’Eitan).

[9] Let's explain the difference between a benoni and a tzaddik at this point by using the analogy of a country being threatened by an outside interloper, as cited in 9:3 above.

A tzaddik would have completely vanquished the enemy, who'd thus no longer be a threat. An incomplete rasha -- even one who engages in Torah and mitzvot most of his life -- does find the enemy coming in and out of his borders all the time. And while a benoni would have prevented the enemy from entering the city, he'd still have to be on the lookout for him all the time. But unlike the rasha, the benoni wouldn't let the enemy in (though it would always be a struggle for him -- other than at auspicious times) (Biur Tanya).

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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