Monday, June 11, 2007

Tanya Ch. 16 (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. 16


If we can’t manage to galvanize our beings by deliberately fostering the sort of urgent love of and reverence for G-d that would have us attach on to Him with our minds as above, then we can always draw upon the innate love for Him already sequestered in our hearts instead [4].

For we’re taught that each one of us realizes somewhere deep in his or her heart, on one visceral plane or another, just how infinitely vast G-d’s presence is; how everything is considered as naught by comparison to Him; and that the idea that “surely G-d is in this place, but I didn’t know it” (Genesis 28:16) is true wherever we stand. And that we each can sense instinctually just how right it would be to simply surrender to His Presence, to stand subsumed in His light, and to submit to our soul’s deeply felt desire to leave the narrow confines of the body it has become confined to, and cling onto Him instead [5].

Doing that would convince us once again how much better it is to study His Torah deeply and fulfill His mitzvot fervently. For we’d understand that we could attach onto Him and take hold of Him when we do that (see 4:5), and we’d have been spurred on.

Understand of course the point is that while we’d have certainly dwelt upon all that before in order to achieve benoni-ism [6], the only way we’d be able to reinvigorate and bolster our benoni state and keep it ever-fresh would be to dwell on it again and again. Because there will be times when, despite the fact that we know how true all that is, the impulse would be weak for the moment nonetheless, our beings wouldn't be quite touched to the core, and we’d need reinforcement (see Maskil L’Eitan).



[4] RSZ provides a note here in the original that lays out the Kabbalistic explanation for someone’s inability to produce a fresh and original love for G-d in his mind on his own.

It seems it’s due to the fact that that individual’s mind (Mochin, in Hebrew, referring to the sephirotic configuration that corresponds to the human mind) and his “soul” (Naran, in Hebrew, an abbreviation for N’ephesh, R’uach, N’shama, which is the sephirotic expression of the three lower aspects of our G-dly spirit) are in a “pregnant” or “hidden” (i.e., a potential) stage inside its Tevunah configuration (another aspect of the mind), rather than being “newborn” and outright (i.e., rather than actualized).

The insinuation here (which is much clearer than the one suggested in the non-Kabbalistic body of the text itself.) is that such a person is unable to actualize his or her potential, and that that’s a spiritual failing (see Biur Tanya). The non-Kabbalistic implication, on the other hand, is along the lines of, “Don’t worry if you can’t foster a love of G-d on your own: you can always fall back on your native love”, which doesn’t suggest a failing so much as a happy opportunity to rely on an alternative, albeit lesser, option.

[5] In the original, RSZ likens the soul’s heart-felt dissatisfactions with its earthly situation quite evocatively to that of a woman whose husband is overseas whom she can’t be with as a result, who is termed a “widow [for all intents and purposes] of a live man” (see Breishit Rabbah 14:4 and Rashi’s comments to Exodus 22:23, based on 2 Samuel 20:3), which frustrates her so. In fact the analogy is apt, since the Jewish Nation is termed G-d’s “bride” and is kept at a distance from Him as a result of our corporeality (Likutei Biurim).

What’s significant here is the fact that the terms that RSZ uses for the sort of mind-based realizations we’re to come to are far less bracing and intense than the ones he uses for his “default” heart-based ones.

He indeed speaks of the urgent feelings of love of and reverence for G-d that would have us attach on to Him that we could foster through our mind’s efforts; yet he then goes on to cite how the heart, the source of the second-best process, knows on its own how infinitely vast G-d’s presence is, how everything is considered as naught in comparison to Him, and how right it would be to surrender to Him and to leave the narrow confines of the body and cling onto Him instead, comparing being without Him to be being what’s classically termed a “grass widow” (a woman whose husband is frequently away from home or who deserted her)!

We’d expect RSZ to prefer the more cerebral method, since that’s what sets his Chassidut apart from the others, which are more emotional. Yet he uses rapturous terms for the emotional method as opposed to the rather cool and detached ones he uses for the analytical mode. On one level that seems to reflect an inner-conflict of his, as RSZ was rather emotional and outright ecstatic in his love of G-d at times, yet extraordinarily analytical a great deal of the time as well.

On the other hand, though, he appears to be making the following subtle point. The first process is preferable specifically because it’s lower-keyed; for while the second method is decidedly more idealistic in tone, it’s nonetheless too self-conscious and self-absorbed, which is always out of favor in Chabad Chassidut.

[6] See 3:3, 4:3, 6:3, 9:2, 4, 10:3, 11:5, 12:5, 13:6, 14:2-3, and 15:3-4.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at )


AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued at *at a discount*!
You can order it right now 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.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled
"Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal"