Sefer Tanya

All Tanya all the time, without Chabad: the sefer itself from an outsider's perspective. I'll be calling this work “Nearly Everybody”: The Inner Life and Struggles of the Jewish Soul

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I only update the Ramchal blog and have abandoned the others, I'm afraid. I do some things now on and . Contact me at feldman AT torah DOT org if you care to.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

PROLOGUE TO PART TWO: Chapters 9 - 15

“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


PROLOGUE TO PART TWO: Chapters 9 - 15

The first thing we'd need to know in our analysis of the workings of our two spirits is that each has a site in the body from which it emanates and that it affects. The G-dly spirit emanates from our brain for the most part and affects our heart as well as the rest of our body; while the animalistic spirit emanates from our heart for the most part, from which it effects our brain and thoughts as well as our body. We'll use that information later on to learn how to channel our drives.

The next dynamic to know about is that the two spirits compete with each other like two kings vying for the loyalty of a great city-state, in that both spirits want to hold sway over the city-state that comprises our beings, and each has our own best interests in mind (yes -- even the animalistic spirit, since it too is ultimately and inwardly "on our side", for it also serves G-d's ultimate end, which is that we each thrive spiritually).

That's then explained in greater detail. We're taught that the whole of the G-dly spirit's being -- its ten mind and heart elements as well as any Torah-based thoughts, utterances, or actions we might engage in thanks to it -- is a means of attaining holiness. For one thing, its mind elements are an expression of G-d's own wisdom and understanding. Hence, we're able to make use of them to dwell upon G-d's greatness and upon other matters that bring us to love Him (which is a vitally important theme in Tanya).

The animalistic spirit, on the other hand, which is the source of our physical vitality as well as all our wrongful traits, encourages us to do harm.

In any event, it's the side we take in the competition above that designates our spiritual, ethical standing.

Now as we'd alluded already, some of us are completely righteous (tzaddik), some are less-than-completely righteous but righteous nonetheless, some are wrongful (rashaim) by degrees as well, but most of us fall -- better yet, can fall -- into the category of the benoni, which we'll soon elucidate. Each category has its subdivisions with real and nuanced differences which we'll lay out as well.

A complete tzaddik isn't someone who merely avoids acting out on his animalistic spirit (for even the rest of us are bidden to do that) and he isn’t someone who’s merely more righteous than we (since we and tzaddikim are qualitatively different, not just quantitatively so, as we’ll learn). A complete tzaddik has utterly transposed his animalistic spirit to goodness, thanks to his utter and thoroughly transcendent love of and reverence for G-d. A less-than-complete tzaddik, on the other hand, is an individual who has indeed subdued his animalistic spirit and proved victorious in the face of it, but who nonetheless hasn't transposed it.

A rasha, on the other hand, isn't simply an inveterate sinner as we might think. (In fact, thinking that he is makes it easier for us to imagine that the great majority of us -- who aren't wicked, cruel, or decadent -- couldn't ever be considered a rasha, which is simply not so, since we can be.) For there are various types of rasha.

An utter rasha is submerged in wrongdoing and never regrets having sinned or repents. And a less-than-utter rasha can go from the rather low end of wrongfulness to the more extreme one. A relatively "decent" rasha -- who'd be on the lower end of wrongfulness -- is someone who hadn't subdued his untoward urges, but only sins by either saying, thinking, or doing something less-than-heinous or seriously forbidden; and he repents of those sins after the fact. An "indecent" rasha -- someone who'd border on utter wrongfulness -- is a person who's wrongfulness had gotten the upper hand more often than not, so he'd often say, think, or do heinous and seriously forbidden things. And though he might be moved to repent at the time, he still-and-all can't not sin.

Now on to the last category, the benoni. RSZ defines a benoni as someone "who never has and never will sin", to our great surprise. Apparently a benoni isn't somewhere in-between a rasha and a tzaddik as he's classically understood to be. Instead, he's somewhere in-between a "decent" rasha and a less-then-utter tzaddik. He doesn't lapse into sin as a rasha does, but he also hasn't transposed his untoward urges.

The benoni is pulled by both his G-dly and his animalistic spirits, and he senses himself to be in the thick of an exceptionally mighty battle between the two. Yet he doesn't acquiesce to sin. Still-and-all, though, he can never be sure he'll always be victorious (other than when he's reciting the Shema and Sh'mone Esrei prayers, which will prove to be rich and auspicious opportunities for closeness to G-d).

Yet no matter how mighty and elevated a level of spiritual achievement that seems to be, we're assured that each one of us is capable of being a benoni -- though not a tzaddik, which is vitally important for us to know. And that we can do it despite our current station and notwithstanding everything that distracts us from it.

There'll prove to be a plethora of subtle variances between one person's benoni status and another's, to be sure; a world of roles each one of them can play in the here-and-now; and a vast array of options for growth for each one, which will be laid out.

At bottom, though, we're to know that the struggle itself for self-mastery is precious in G-d's eyes; hence the greater the challenge and subsequent victory, the more abundant the reward.

(Feel free to contact me at )

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.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled
"Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal"


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