Monday, January 22, 2007

Tanya Ch. 13 (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. 13


It's become clear by now that the true benoni is just like the rest of us inwardly when it comes to his snares and affinities, yet quite unlike us outwardly, since he doesn't acquiesce to them (see 12: 2). That's not at all to say that a benoni is a hypocrite; the point is that unlike us, he's always contending with his inner anomalies and struggling to prevail over his animalistic tendencies while we hardly or only occasionally, do. But let's try to get some insight into the benoni's inner struggle.

Now, we'd expect a benoni to be depicted as being ruled-over either by his animalistic or G-dly spirit in an unending series of inner victories and defeats [1]. And we'd assume him to be beholden to one at one point, and to the other at another. But it's important to understand that, as our sages explained it, while the benoni is indeed pressured or baited by each spirit to acquiesce to its side of the argument, he's in fact ruled-over by neither [2]. (After all, if he were in fact ruled-over by either one he'd be an out-and-out tzaddik or rasha!)

Instead we're told that his animalistic and G-dly spirits merely *advocate* for one side of the argument the benoni is having with himself about whether to do, say, or think something untoward [3]. The point is that neither advocate has the final say; only the litigant, the benoni himself, does.


1] Once again we must underscore that when we speak of our expectations for a benoni we're actually citing our expectations for ourselves -- once we reach that potentiality.

[2] Our sages actually depict the process as being "judged" by the yetzer harah and yetzer hatov (Berachot 61B; see Ch. 1 in the original, as well as our reference to it at the end of 1:2), but we've described the scenario in modern court-trial terms, using for example, the terms "advocates" and "litigant".

[3] The benoni has been depicted as dangling in midair, in a manner of speaking; open and vulnerable to two commanding voices that alternatively disallow him to ascend *or* descend with any ease (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 247). How apt and wise a portrayal of the human moral dilemma that is!

It's been pointed out incidentally that halachically, each judge (or, "advocate") in a case must state his opinion (Maskli L'Eitan). That would seem to indicate that each one of us must know and be able to state what we truly want or don't want before we can be expected to transcend anything.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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