Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tanya Ch. 17 (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. 17


But RSZ takes the term “so that you can do it” in the statement “the matter is very near-at-hand to you … so that you can do it” as alluding to the native love for G-d that lies deep and nameless in our hearts, and which can lead us to actually do mitzvot [5]. His point is that while this sort of love isn’t open and aboveboard or passionate, it would still-and-all be genuine and could be used to prompt us to do good things (Biur Tanya).

He also means to underscore that the ability to cultivate that sort of love is indeed “very near-at-hand” and easy for anybody to do. For while we aren’t all in command of our emotions, so we can’t elicit just any feeling we’d like to, we do though have it within us to focus our minds on whatever we care to, and to not think about what we don’t want to or shouldn’t (see Biur Tanya) [6]. Since our wills control our minds (Likutei Biurim).

His suggestion thus comes to this: reflect deeply and at length upon G-d’s actual greatness, and a sense of love of Him will automatically arise in your heart and you’ll want to cling to Him by fulfilling His mitzvot and studying His Torah as a matter of course. For our minds control our hearts by nature, which then controls our actions (see 12:4 and Ch. 51 below).

For if we’d fully concentrate upon G-d’s greatness, it would occur to us that observing G-d’s mitzvot is our raison d’etre at bottom. After all, aren’t we bidden to “observe all the mitzvot, statutes, and judgments, that I (G-d) command you this day” (Deuteronomy 7:11) meaning in this world (see Eruvin 22A) [7]?


[5] It’s as if he’d translate the phrase “so that you can do it”, “since you can activate it”, i.e., you can easily enough activate the love in your heart so as to help you fulfill mitzvot.

[6] See 12:4 above, and note 8 there. Refer to what was said in the previous chapter about our inborn love.

[7] The object of loving G‑d doesn’t just come to fostering such a love itself, but rather using it as a means of fulfilling G-d’s mitzvot, for what matters most in this world is actually doing concrete things (Shiurim b’Sefer Tanya). That's to say that while the love of G-d is a lofty, magical thing it’s nonetheless a selfish urge often enough; and at bottom we’re asked to subsume our desires to His will.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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