Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tanya Ch. 13 (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. 13


But there's a third participant as well, we're told -- G-d Himself, who "stands at (the benoni's) right hand ... to save him" from the input of the animalistic spirit, in RSZ's own words. In fact it would take no less than G-d's own input to fend off the animalistic spirit's arguments since, for as our sages put it, "man's yetzer harah reinvigorates itself daily .... and were it not for the fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, was there to help him, man would never prevail over it" (Kiddushin 30B).

So, what actually goes on within is a quick and intense registering of arguments pro and con by equally adroit opposing advocates playing off of each other's points; a single, very vulnerable litigant in the midst of it all; and a generous sympathizer and advisor, G-d.

Yet we could legitimately then ask, "If G-d will indeed come to the benoni's rescue, then why does anyone have a yetzer harah in the first place?" The answer lies in the fact that the benoni is to make the "first move". He has to set out to reflect upon what's going on within him before G-d will abet him (Maskil L'Eitan) and to thus take the struggle seriously enough to warrant G-d's help; and he's to then consciously elect to do the right thing (Likutei Biurim), right there and then.

So, what G-d actually does in that situation is illumine (or, bolster) the G-dly spirit's side of the argument, which then gives the benoni the wherewithal to win his case [4].


{4] Maimondes said the following, "What David meant when he said, 'G-d is good and just, so He guides sinners onto the path; He directs the humble in the ways of Justice' (Psalms 25:8-9) is this: that G-d dispatches prophets to them to let them know His ways and to bring them to teshuvah. He also means that G-d provides people with the capacity to learn and comprehend" (H. T. 6:5). This is cited as a source for RSZ's insight (Likut Perushim 13:6). What's interesting about *that*, among other things, is that it underscores the fact that G-d doesn't only illumine us in the sort of vague, inchoate ways deep within the soul we might think He does from the context of RSZ's statement.

As Maimondes' remarks indicate, G-d also illumines us by exposing us to prophets (and teachers), and through our own insights. It should also be recorded that others think the illumination is provided us by the daily prayers and recitation of the Sh'ma already cited as special moments of elevation (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 247).

Incidentally, a wonderful depiction of the entire inner struggle is the following one by Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:11) "Understand that when you sin unwittingly, it's because you craved something, your impulses intensified and overwhelmed you, and your thoughts and feelings couldn't combat such an onslaught by quickly admonishing the ocean of cravings and drying it up. Your impulses fooled you, you fell into their trap for the moment, and you were ravaged by the winds of the yetzer harah. It's not as if you wanted to transgress, or had it in mind to ever do that again."

(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.
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