Monday, June 25, 2007

Tanya Ch. 17 (Part 1)

“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. 17


Realizing by now where we fit within the rasha-benoni-tzaddik continuum and knowing as well how we can become benoni’im and bolster our benoni-ism [1], we’re in a position to start elucidating the verse that serves as Tanya’s motto, “For the matter” -- drawing close to G-d -- “is very near-at-hand to you -- in your mouth and in your heart -- so that you can do (i.e., achieve) it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

But the truth be known, it just doesn’t seem valid to say that getting close to G-d is easy and “very near-at-hand”, despite the fact that the verse says it is, and notwithstanding the fact that everything enunciated in the Torah is said to be true for all of us and throughout time [2]. For we often don’t find it easy to upend our emotions and love G-d instead of all the things we tend to love in this world.

And though it’s in fact written, “And now, O Israel, what does G-d your L-rd ask of you but to fear G-d your L-rd …” (Deuteronomy 10:12), didn’t our sages themselves pointedly ask, “Is fear (of G-d) such a simple thing?” (Berachot 33B), let alone love of G-d [3]? And didn’t they indicate as well that only the very few tzaddikim that there are in the world at any one time can control their hearts (Breishit Rabbah 34:10, Zohar 3:290B) -- not benoni’im, and certainly not rashaim [4]?



[1] Especially after knowing that even our inborn fear and love of G‑d helps to bolster our observance (Shiurim beSefer HaTanya).

[2] As Tanya Mevuar points out, the idea that Torah is relevant to all of us across the borad and throughout the generations is stated in several places, including: Rambam’s Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 9:1 Hilchot Teshuva 3:8; Hilchot Malachim 11:3 (at end); and Perek Chellek, Yesod 9. Also see Taz to Y.D. 74:4, Rav’s Shulchan Orach 2:2 (at end), and Ch. 25 below.

[3] For while both fear and love are inborn, fear comes upon you suddenly and severely, and usually only asks you to stay in place or run away for a while, while love demands effort and great change (see Biur Tanya). It’s also true that while you can be afraid of things you haven’t any real knowledge of and are in fact more likely to be afraid of such things, you really can’t love things you’re not aware of (see Likutei Biurim).

[4] So, how can the Torah indicate that the love of G‑d is very easy to come by, which would signify that our hearts are under our control and that we could easily love Him rather than all sorts of material things (Shiurim beSefer HaTanya)?

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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