Monday, January 29, 2007

Tanya Ch. 13 (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. 13


All that helps explain something cited in the very first chapter of this work -- why the soul that's about to enter this world had to be told to consider itself "basically wrongful even if everyone says otherwise" (Niddah 30B). And that's so the soul -- which is to say, each one of us before we're born -- would at least strive to be a benoni, who's "basically" but not utterly “wrongful” (since his yetzer harah is somewhat hushed though not eradicated).

Another reason we’re to do that, perheps, is because taking on such an attitude would undoubtedly leave a humbling mark behind in the inner-linings of our as-yet-unborn heart for the rest of our lives.

For indeed we're to always assume that our wrongful side will be in force in our heart, that we'll thus indeed be basically wrongful, and that our animalistic spirit will always and inevitably grow stronger and stronger as long as we live and participate in material life [6]. Since we're not tzaddikim.

For the truth is that even if you were to study Torah day and night -- and altruistically at that, with no thought of personal gain or renown -- that's still and all no guarantee that you'd have eradicated the evil within you [7]. It's just that you might manage to not *express* it by not thinking, saying, or doing anything wrong, thanks to your preoccupation with holy things, and to the G-d-given ability each one of us has to take control of our own actions by dint of will [8].

Understand, too, that this is one of the most astounding claims of this work. For what its says -- and outright at that -- is that one could indeed be a full-fledged, well-intentioned, senior, perhaps even exceptional Torah-scholar and still not be a tzaddik as RSZ depicts it! We'll soon see how that has been true in the past as well, and even among our greatest Talmudic sages (like Rabbah, as we indicated at the beginning).



[6] That clears up the other issues raised by our considering ourselves to be wrongful from inception, as pointed out in 1:3. For as worded there, "First off, how could we be compelled to be righteous by taking such an oath when our devotion is open to free choice? Secondly, we're advised elsewhere to never consider ourselves wrongful (Pirke Avot 2:18) .... And third, if we did consider ourselves wrongful then we'd hardly likely serve G-d as joyously and good-naturedly as we're bidden to (see Deuteronomy 28:47)". The point is that we're still subject to free will as benonim, since there'll always be a plethora of choices to made, moment by moment; we wouldn't be considering ourselves to be out-and-out wrongdoers in the end; and we're capable of being very happy indeed (which is the focus of many of the chapters to follow) and decidedly devout, albeit not utterly righteous (also see Maskil L'Eitan).

[7] But wouldn't his Torah-study itself have subjugated his animalistic spirit? No, for Torah-study only influences and impels our *G-dly* spirit, which is a portion of G-d (like the Torah itself); it has no connection to our animalistic spirit and can't undo it (Maskil L'Eitan).

[8] That's not to deny that that person wouldn't experience an intense inner struggle the whole time he'd be studying Torah deeply or praying selflessly (Biur Tanya), which could last for weeks, months, or even years at a time in some cases.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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