Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tanya Ch. 14 (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. 14


We can also achieve it because we needn't actually despise wrongdoing viscerally to be a benoni, or love G-d instinctively and intensely, which few of us actually do -- though there are times when we can, too, as when we pray or recite "Sh'ma Yisrael" with fervor, for example, when we celebrate Shabbat and Yom Tov in full, and at other auspicious moments of personal elevation, as has been pointed out.

"All" we'd have to do to become a benoni -- which is of course no small feat -- would be to never again do, say, or think anything wrong.

For while we haven't all that much control over what we despise and what we love, we *have* all been granted the freedom to make the right moral choices and to go against our own impulses if we want to [1]. Indeed, whenever we long for one material thing or another that's either out-and-out wrongful or just superfluous (see Ch. 7), all we'd need to do would be to distract ourselves from it altogether and we'd overcome the temptation [2].

Now, one way to do that, we're taught here, is to engage in the following inner-dialogue (loosely translated).

“You know, I don't want to be a rasha even for a minute! After all, who’d ever want to be disconnected from G-d Almighty by sinning (see Iggeret Hateshuva Ch. 5). I want to cling onto G-d with the whole of my being by fulfilling, verbalizing, and dwelling upon His Torah and mitzvot, and by drawing upon the love for Him that's just naturally sequestered in every Jew's heart [3]. After all, if even the simplest of Jews can give his life to Sanctity G-d's Name [4], I'm certainly no less capable of that than he!”

In fact, there are only a couple of reasons why anyone in his right mind would set out to do something that would make him a rasha. Either because he'd gone out of his mind and come to be possessed by the sort of temporary insanity the sages termed the “spirit of folly” (Sotah 3A; see Ch's 19, 24 below) [5], and imagined that he'd still be a good Jew despite his sin; or because he'd come to be completely out of touch with the native love for G-d in his Jewish heart (see Ch's 24-25) [6].

In any event, “I don't want to be a fool like that” the inner-dialogue would continue, “... I don't want to reject the truth that way!". For we can in fact manage to avoid doing that.


[1] As Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva (5:1), “Permission has been granted everyone to either incline himself in the direction of goodness and to be righteous or, if he so chooses, in the direction of evil and be wicked .... Of his own volition man can consciously and on his own distinguish between good and evil, and do whatever he wants to do, either good or evil, without anyone stopping him". (Recall of course that being "righteous" or "wicked" here hasn't very much to do with being either a tzaddik or rasha per se, as was discussed in 1:2.)

The subject at hand is human “free will” versus ”Divine compulsion” -- that is, whether we're free to do as we see fit, or if G-d (so to speak) transports us from place to place of His own volition, has us do what He wants us to, then carries us along to our next mission, despite ourselves. It contends with the question of how free we are to act out on our own wills; or put another way: where G-d's will end and our's begins; where our will ends and G-d's begin.

Rambam seems to say quite firmly here that man is utterly free to act on his own. For as he says later on in Hilchot Teshuva, “everyone has been granted the capacity to do anything in the human sphere ... he'd like to do” (5:3), “(G-d) want(s) man to be free and to have the ability to act any way he wants, without any deterrents or instigators, of his own G-d-given volition” (5:4), and "man's actions are in his own hands, ... G-d neither instigates or preordains what he's to do” (5:5).

Apparently, then, man is "as free as a bird”-- able to do what he wants, when he wants, as he wants. But, doesn't Rambam himself raise the question later on as to how anyone could do “anything he wants and be allowed to act any way he cares to?” and how, “anything in the world (can) be done without the permission or against the will of the Creator? For isn't it written, ‘All that G-d wants done in heaven or on earth is done’ (Psalms 135:6)?”

But it seems to come to this: Man *isn’t* as free as a bird. In fact, no matter how hard he tries, or how much he’s determined to, he could never fly on his own. Nor could he live to two-hundred, or survive without the ability to breathe (at least without artificial means), etc., etc. And G-d Almighty *does* manifest and express His will all the time, which by definition, is utterly and uniquely invincible and unstoppable.

Still and all, though, man is completely free in one area and domain -- in his moral decisions. As we're taught, “Everything's in the hands of Heaven -- except the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33B), and only that. That's to say that while G-d Almighty instigates all things and all actions, my moral reactions to them is in my hands and left to me alone.

As such, we have absolute control over our moral decisions -- over how we react to all that G-d presents us with. But that's all we have control over. Everything, but everything else is under the direct and constant rule of G-d Almighty alone.

[2] Of course we could partake of our permitted but superflous desires for more altruistic reasons, but we'd need to be aware of whether we're fooling ourselves into thinking we're doing that when we aren't (Maskil L'Eitan; see Hilchot De'ot Ch. 3), the way we'd need to be sure we're not fooling ourselves about our spiritual standing either (see 13:3 above and note 5 there).

Also see Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s statement to the effect that “the yetzer harah ... knows that if you were to concentrate upon your ways for just an instant you would certainly repent of them, and a strong regret would grow within you” automatically, as he implies, “that would lead you to utterly abandon your sins” right there and then (The Path of the Just Ch. 2).

3] This concept will be explained later on in the work, but for now let it be said that this love is just naturally sequestered in each and every Jewish heart, without exception; it's rooted in the interconnection between the Jewish soul and G-d's being; it's beyond reason and isn't predicated on anything we do, though it can be prompted by reflection; it isn't undone by our preoccupation with worldly concerns or our sins; and it's what drives us to attach ourselves unto G-d's being and to even sacrifice our lives for His sake, when that's called for, as we'll see later on (Maskil L’Eitan).

[4] ... if forced to (see Ch's 18 and 19 below).

[5] One way to know if we'd become temporarily insane, we're told, would be to determine for ourselves if we'd begun to grant the world and its delights more substance than they're worth and taken them to be more satisfying than they are; and if we'd begun to spurn G-d's presence in the face of them (see Maskil L’Eitan).

Also see Sichot HaRan (#6), where Rebbe Nachman of Breslov likened the yetzer harah to someone running about through a crowd with a hand held tightly shut, giddily asking everyone what they thought he might be hiding, whom everyone then chased after because they imagined his hand contained the very thing they wanted most, and who were all terribly disappointed to discover that his hand had been empty all along.

[6] And so we're taught that the only point at which we can actually stop ourselves outright from falling sway to the "spirit of folly" is the very moment it first occurs to us to commit a particular sin. All we'd have to do then would be to distract ourselves. But once it had gone past that point and traveled along our thought-and-impulse processes all would be lost for all intents and purposes, because we hadn't distracted ourselves. For the "spirit of folly" would have taken over (Likutei Biurim, in the name of R' Chaim Vitale).

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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