Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tanya Ch. 14 (Parts 4 & 5)

“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


Now we can understand another curiosity from chapter 1 -- the apparent redundancy of the vow our soul is told to take before we’re born to be a tzaddik and to also not be a rasha (Niddah 30B). After all, if it will be a tzaddik, it won't be a rasha by definition, so why would we have to stipulate both?

The point is that since not everyone can be a tzaddik and has the wherewithal to choose to truly delight in G-d's Presence, or to actually despise wrong, then we're told to vow to at least not be a rasha, but be a benoni [9]. And our having vowed to do that will give us the extra impetus and determination to succeed at that (Biur Tanya), at the very least on a subliminal level.

For, again, we have it within us to make the right ethical choices and to take control of our impulses and yetzer harah enough to not be a rasha moment after moment by "simply" not doing anything forbidden and doing everything we should (most especially to study Torah, which is the ultimate and best mitzvah [Pirke Avot 6:3]).


Nonetheless, we're to at least set aside time and find ways to *come to* despise wrong on one level or another. How? By applying the advice of our sages. They recommend at one point, for example, that we picture someone we're attracted to on a lascivious level or anything else earthly we're attracted to as being “a pot of dung”, in order to be thrown off and avoid temptation (Shabbat 152A).

What that means to say is that we're to set aside time to reflect dispassionately on the actual raw, roughhewn, and unpretty make-up of things that we're to avoid, and to take that thought to heart. For after all, the deliciousness of a fine meal is nothing more than the interplay of red, saliva-ridden glands with a compost of mashed food that will inevitably wind up as waste-matter, despite how alluring it is at the moment.

Indeed, if you're wise you can't help but see the inevitable in the present moment (see Pirke Avot 4:1) and realize that all such things will ultimately rot and turn to dust and ash -- while the very opposite is true of the sublime experience of delighting and rejoicing in G-d's Presence, which is truly, copiously luscious; utterly, all-encompassingly gripping; and richly, richly satisfying. And we can only come to the latter perspective by pondering G-d's infinite greatness as best we can. which the benoni is required to do as well (Maskil L'Eitan), not only the tzaddik.

And though we know full well -- if we’re honest with ourselves -- that we’ll never actually arrive at the point where we truly despise wrong so much as *think* we do or *act as if* we do, still and all we’re to do whatever we can to fulfill our vow to be a tzaddik on that level at least [10] and G-d will do what He deems best.

Besides, when you do something regularly, the habit itself starts to take over and to become second nature to you; and in the end, "routine (will) rule" (Sefer Mivchar HaP'nimim) and you'll indeed act as if you felt the way you seemed to be feeling. In point of fact, "second natures" are often actually stronger than "first", inborn natures (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 262) [11].


[9] In fact it could be said that *the* essential difference between a tzaddik and a benoni is that while a benoni doesn't want to do wrong any more than a tzaddik does, he's still and all persuaded to sometimes, while the tzaddik simply despises wrong and wants absolutely no part of it (Likutei Biurim).

We could liken the difference between the two to the difference between someone who could be persuaded to drink alcohol or not (depending on circumstances and social pressures) who thus might end up becoming an alcoholic or not, and someone who simply hates the taste, effects, etc., of alcohol and wouldn't think of drinking it, who'd never be an alcoholic.

[10] We might posit that by doing that we'd at least achieve the level of tzaddik depicted in 1:2 -- one "mostly free of sin", as cited it Hilchot Teshuva 3:1.

[11] This concept will be expanded upon in the next chapter, where more of the methodology is laid out.

(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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