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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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ch. 10

“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. 10


Let's see now how different people respond to this inner struggle to squelch and master their untoward side. We'll find that some do quite well at it, even extraordinarily so; others do more or less poorly; and that the great preponderance of us sometimes do well and other times not.

We'll concentrate first upon the eminently successful ones, the righteous or tzaddikim. First off, let it never be forgotten that tzaddikim -- no matter how pious -- are human, hence that they have an animalistic spirit like the rest of us. It’s just that they have fought against its wish to dominate them, won, and thus need no longer fight; and that they're steady in their righteousness from that point onward without ever tottering (Biur Tanya) [1]. But we'll see that there are all sorts of tzaddikim.

So let's peek now into the inner life of the righteous.


We're told that there are two sorts of tzaddikim over all, in fact: less-than-completely righteous ones, with a tinge or more of wrongfulness, and complete and utter tzaddikim.

An incomplete tzaddik is someone who *has* indeed managed to have his G-dly spirit prevail over his animalistic biases after the aforementioned inner struggle and to have rendered them inert, and null and void for all intents and purposes [2], which is quite a victory. But he hasn't managed to do the sort of things that utter tzaddikim do with those biases (which we'll soon explore).

So there's still a semblance of wrongfulness in his heart, which he nevertheless *never acts out on*. Understand of course that the sorts of wrongfulness he’d be guilty of would fall under the category of wanting to use permitted things in improper ways -- not out-and-out wrongfulness (Maskil L’Eitan). So it’s not that incomplete tzaddikim plunge into wrongdoing once in a great while -- they just do ordinary things in ordinary ways, as we do, which renders them less than wholly righteous. And they also don’t experience the more exalted degrees of love of G-d that the fully righteous do (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya).

He (and we) might think, though, that he’d completely eradicated his urges, but he wouldn’t have. For if he had, he’d be a complete tzaddik, which he isn’t. So let's contrast his standing now with that of an actual complete tzaddik [3].


Utter tzaddikim manage to do something quite remarkable. Rather than only prevail over the wrongfulness in their hearts, they actually *transform it to goodness*, and to use those once-untoward biases in the service of G-d (Maskil L’Eitan).

They do that we’re told by divesting themselves of their so-called "filthy clothing" (i.e., their -- and our -- more lowly human longings that are soiled with wrongfulness), by coming to despise physical pleasures [4], and by donning “clean” garments instead. Thus, they've learned how to channel their wrongfullness into goodness (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya) [5].

What utter tzaddikim find repellent about wrongfulness, by the way, is the fact that it's derived from the husk and the other side which they despise. For what gives all tzaddikim their impetus -- and most especially utter tzaddikim -- and what sets them apart from the rest of us is their love of G-d [6]. They love G-d so very much, and quite ecstatically. And that naturally leads them to despise anything associated with the other side (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya) which contradicts His wishes. In fact, one can tell how much he or she loves G-d by determining just how despicable and hateful he or she finds wrongfulness to be.

In any event, even though they’re indeed righteous, incomplete tzaddikim nonetheless don't utterly hate the other side and things associated with it, and don't find them to be completely despicable. That explains the fact that while incomplete tzaddikim don't sin, they nonetheless retain the ability to sin on some subtle level (Biur Tanya).

It still remains true, though, that the righteousness of the incomplete tzaddikim far outweighs their wrongfulness and is null and void for all intents and purposes. It's just that in contradistinction to complete tzaddikim, their love of G-d is incomplete and they thus function on a highly potential but not a fully realized level (Biur Tanya).

Understand as well that there are very many degrees of incomplete righteousness, depending on how much wrongfulness is left behind. Some incomplete tzaddikim will have sixty times more righteousness than wrongfulness, for example, others a thousand times, or tens-of-thousands times more, and the like.

That phenomenon helps to explain two apparently contradictory remarks offered by our sages, by the way. First, that there are eighteen thousand tzaddikim all-in-all (see Sukkah 45B and Sanhedrin 97B), and second that there are actually very few "lofty individuals" (ibid.) in the world. The quandry can be solved by noting that the former refers to the sum total of both incomplete and complete tzaddikim, and the latter to the number of complete tzaddikim.


Now, utter tzaddikim are termed "lofty" for a couple of reasons, by the way (which also serves to explain the difference between them and incomplete tzaddikim). First because they've managed to overturn their wrongfulness and to have sent it "aloft" to the side of holiness as we've indicated; but also because they're said to have discovered how to "turn darkness into light, and bitterness into sweetness" (Zohar 1:4A).

What that indicates is that there came to be a point where there was no longer any darkness in their life, and when their relationship to the world came to be utterly different from our own, in that they would no longer experience the foolishness and bitterness of the world that we do; and that unlike we, they’d be experiencing little or no difference between pure G-dliness and this world (Biur Tanya). And they’d thus be awash in the presence of G-d even in the thick of the mundane.

They're also deemed "lofty" because they’d serve G-d and observe His Torah and mitzvot for altruistic reasons alone, not for self-serving ones. For, *G-d Himself* would be the impetus behind their Divine service (Biur Tanya), rather than any selfish needs, or even a desire to satisfy a personal thirst for Him [7].

Their service of Him would in fact be in line with the concept of "only someone who acts piously toward G-d Himself can be said to be truly pious" (Tikkunei Zohar, Intro., 1b), as they would give fully of themselves to Him, and utterly acquiesce to His wishes.

RSZ then indicates, rather arcanely, that they’d also have done what they could to link G-d’s presence in the Upper Realms with His presence right here, in the world [8]. And that they'd do that so well that it could be compared to helping unite two partners who’d otherwise be apart, or to acting like a child who does everything for his parents' sake "because he loves them more than he loves his own soul, and is self-sacrificing (that way)" (Raaya M'hemmna, Ki Tetze) [9]. That's to say that the fully righteous would be able to lovingly marry heaven to earth and bring everything closer to fruition.


But let’s take some time to reflect. Because unbeknownst to us, we’ve now managed to pass through a series of overarching and pristine gates along the way.

We’ve learned how to excel in our beings and become tzaddikim; and though it hasn’t been stated outright, we’ve also been challenged to locate ourselves along the ethical and spiritual continuum and to rise on our own in the face of what we find.

So let’s review how one becomes a tzaddik and keep it in mind when we delve into the following chapters.

We find that one becomes a tzaddik by excelling on three planes: the emotional, intellectual, and practical. For, at bottom, anyone hoping to be a tzaddik would need to foster a deep, abiding, and all-encompassing relationship with G-d Almighty by basing everything he or she feels, thinks, and does on that relationship. After all, we’d be expected to “align everything we think, say, and do with G-dliness -- not just the clearly G-dly things like Torah study and mitzvot” (Ch. 7).

Hence, we learned that one grows close to G-d *emotionally* and thus becomes a tzaddik by surrendering himself to Him (Ch. 6); by fostering a deep, heartfelt sense of awe and love for Him (ibid.); by never wanting to separate from Him (Ch. 4); by being just too abashed to ever rebel against Him (ibid.); and by coming to despise physical pleasures (see sect. 3 above).

We saw that tzaddikim would be expected to grow close to G-d *intellectually* by concentrating firmly, consistently, and exclusively upon G-d’s greatness, and by internalizing that knowledge (Ch. 3). But we were taught that they could especially do that through Torah study. For when one studies G-d’s Torah he comes to “grasp” G-d’s thoughts in both senses of the term -- that is, he comes to “understand” His thoughts and to “hold onto them” -- and to thus attach onto His very Being, “since He and His thoughts are one” (Ch. 5).

And we'd seen how one would certainly grow close to G-d on a *practical* level by fulfilling all of His thought-, speech-, and action-based mitzvot (the way anyone grows closest to another by complying with his wishes with everything he has). For indeed when we engage in G-d’s mitzvot on all levels that way, we “immerse” or “clothe” ourselves in His will and wishes, and come to “hug” Him, so to speak (Ch. 4).

But let’s be clear about this last aspect -- it’s a statement of the fact that tzaddikim simply *never, ever* sin, on any level [10]. We’ll return to that point later on.

So in the end we’d say that tzaddikim are individuals who manage to prevail over their animalistic biases through-and-through, and on all levels [11]; and to have made an intimate, all-encompassing relationship to G-d their foremost goal. Their motivations for doing that would range from being ever-so-slightly self-serving (if one could call a dream to cling onto G-d in the ethereal realms of the World to Come “self-serving“), to being utterly self-abnegating (see sect. 4 above) [12].

Let’s also try to determine just how the obverse of all this figures into the choice some of us make to settle for less -- or even for out-and-out evil.


[1] At the very beginning of his comments to this section Maskil L’Eitan depicts two wars that both a complete and an incomplete tzaddik would have to have fought and won to gain their status. He'd first had to have protected his G-dly spirit from the animalistic spirit's onslaughts, and then he'd have to had fought aggressively to push the animalistic spirit back into its original "camp", the left side of the heart.

What Maskil L’Eitan doesn't depict at that point, though, is a third battle that the *complete* tzaddik would have to have entered into in order to indeed be one which the incomplete one wouldn't have entered. The complete tzaddik would have to have used the "spoils of battle" -- the animalistic spirits urges to do, say, and think wrongful things -- for G-dly purposes. But that will become clearer later on.

[2] ... compared to all the good in him ...

[3] A complete or utter tzaddik in RSZ’s system is the classical chassid, pious individual (Biur Tanya, Maskil L’Eitan), who's actually loftier than a so-called tzaddik in those contexts. That begs the question then as to how the Chassidic movement managed to switch things around and set the “tzaddik” or rebbe above the “chassid" or adherent.

There are many answers, but RSZ offers an insider's insight that's very interesting. In a letter written in response to Russian government inquiries about the Chassidic movement, RSZ mentions in passing that its adherents came to be called chassidim (by their detractors) because they spent a lot of time on prayers like the early pious ones ("chassidim") cited in Berachot 30B who used to prepare for an hour before prayers, pray for an hour, then reflect on their prayers for another hour afterwards, three times a day (see Hamadrich l'Avodat Hashem pp. 165-167).

Let it also be pointed out that utter tzaddikim are also rare individuals with high souls who are very wise and literally sense the presence of G-dliness, and that there have always been very few of them in a generation -- including the earlier generations (Maskil L’Eitan).

And let’s also add that there are other definitions of incomplete tzaddikim that are easier for most of us to live up to. One who’s careful not to lapse into licentiousness is termed a tzaddik (see Zohar 1, p. 93A) as well as one who’s of sure faith, who’s careful to pray in a minyan and to respond to particular blessings as a consequence, who recites the requisite 100 blessings everyday, and someone who’s charitable (Likut Perushim to Ch. 1, pp. 40-41). We’d also be tzaddikim as soon as we’d repented wholeheartedly for our sins, though that would be undone as soon as we’d sinned again (or used everyday things for mundane ends, according to RSZ).

[4] It's out-and-out, purely *physical*, mundane delights they've come to despise -- those that draw us all away from G-d. But they're still attracted to Shabbat-related delights for example, and the like (Maskil L’Eitan), because the latter are spiritual pleasures "wrapped" in material entities, if you will.

[5] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains this in The Path of the Just (Ch. 26) where he says that "Even the mundane actions of the person sanctified in the holiness of His Creator are turned around to actual holiness. This can best be illustrated by the eating of sacrificial-offerings" where ordinary food is thus elevated to an element of a mitzvah, and thus is both profane and Divine at the same time.

[6] Thus, love is a vital element of one's righteousness, and the more of it one has for G-d, the greater the tzaddik he is. For as we noted in Ch. 9 above there are varying extents to which one’s love of G-d can go. There’s "the fiery love of G-d" and "gladness of heart" that comes from apprehending G-d’s presence in the world, and what's termed "abounding" or "ecstatic love" (see there).

RSZ spells out the significance of the varying qualities of one’s love for G-d elsewhere, where he underscores how much it sets utter-tzaddikim apart from lesser tzaddikim and differentiates them from the rest us. (RSZ alludes to it in Tanya also, as we’ll point out; but less outright.)

He underscores the fact (in Torah Ohr, B’chodesh Hashlishi, p. 66) that the Patriarch Abraham, who was undoubtedly a tzaddik of the highest order since he could “overturn the other side and turn darkness into light” (see section 4 below), acheived a state referred to as “exalted love” (ahavah ha’elyonah, which is identical to the above cited "abounding" or "ecstatic love") thanks to which he yearned only to realize true personal nullification before G-d’s Presence.

How did he ever come upon that? By “ruminating upon Ohr Ayn Sof Atsmo HaSovev Cal Olamim”, which is to say by reflecting upon G-d’s very Being in its most transcendant aspect, utterly removed from creation and from everything other than Himself.

The point of the matter is that it’s the quality of one’s love for G-d that defines his tzaddik state; success at that hinges upon the degree to which one ruminates upon G-d’s very Being, and it’s characterized by a high and superhuman degree of personal surrender and subservience to His will. (This sublime degree of love -- depicted as an experience of the World to Come in the here-and-now -- is also said to be a gift from on High as a consequence of the tzaddik’s having had his G-dly spirit prevail over his animalistic one, refined his physicality, studied a great deal of Torah and fulfilled many mitzvot, and his having earned a lofty soul [Chinuch Kattan].

As an interesting aside, we'll note in Ch. 14 that one could also become a tzaddik by being "possessed" by the soul of a deceased tzaddik from the past!

[7] That is, they don't set out to enlighten their *own* souls through Torah and mitzvah-observance, but rather to make the entire world a fitting receptacle for G-dliness, in keeping with G-d's own wishes (Maskil L’Eitan). Setting out to enlighten one's soul is certainly lofty enough (and would that many more of us would strive for so high a degree or “self-interest"!), but it's self-serving nonetheless to one degree or another, when self-interests and service to G-d are inherently contradictory.

[8] That's to say that utter tzaddikim conjoin the aspect of G-dliness that's above and beyond the world with the one that's manifest in it (Biur Tanya, Maskil L’Eitan).

[9] We find it curious that a rather numinous Kabbalistic reference made at this point in the text isn't set aside as a note to the text as others are (but see Likut Perushim 1:29 which notes that some early editions of Tanya didn’t set apart notes from the text itself). We'll present it here, in our notes, as if it had been set aside.

RSZ's point is that the two ideas -- that utter tzaddikim overturn their wrongfulness and send it "aloft" and that they unite G-d's Holiness up above with His presence down below (i.e., the Shechinah) -- are actually complimentary. For by overturning their wrongfulness and refining the luminous husk (which is our task in life, in the end, by the way -- Biur Tanya), they send the "feminine waters" of the Shechina upward, which then has the Divine "masculine waters" up above descend downward, uniting the two, which is an example of an "arousal from below initiating an arousal from above" (Zohar 1, p. 88a) (Tanya M’vuar).

[10] That is, not only do tzaddikkim never overlook imperatives or commit prohibitions -- they also never sin on an ethical and personal level.

For as Rambam says, “Don’t think that one should repent for concrete transgressions, like promiscuity, robbery, or theft, alone. For just as a person has to repent for those sorts of sins, he also has to determine his bad traits and repent for anger, hostility, envy, sarcasm, the pursuit of wealth or glory, the pursuit of food, etc. Because these, too, require repentance [i.e., they too are sins] and they’re even more serious than the concrete transgressions [listed just before]” (Hilchot Teshuvah 7:3).

They’d also have to have the proper perspectives, and always act with proper decorum, since “the following do not have a place in The World to Come [aside from being sinners] ... Renegades, heretics, deniers of Torah, deniers of the resurrection of the dead and of the coming of the Messiah, apostates, those who cause the multitude to sin, those who isolate themselves from the ways of the community, those who sin openly and with a high hand ..., traitors, those who bring dread upon the community for less than G-dly reasons....” (Ibid. 3:6). And aside from that, there are also “less serious transgressions people commit that can deny them a place in the World to Come if they commit then habitually ... which we should stay away from and avoid. They include: giving someone a nickname and calling his by it, publicly embarrassing someone, profiting from another's dishonor, embarrassing scholars....” (Ibid. 3:14).

So we can now see the depth and breadth of a tzaddik’s expected commitments and purity.

[11] How *do* they “manage to to prevail over their animalistic biases” to so great an extent? Apparently thanks to their ability to attune their “over-soul” (i.e., that aspect of their soul that vowed in Heaven to be a tzaddik in the first place, as we learned in Ch. 1) to their this-worldly G-dly spirit (see Likut Perushim 1:4).

[12] For a related but diverse view of what tzaddikim acomplish see Ramchal’s The Path of the Just (Ch. 26) where he speaks of their achievements in terms of "acquired holiness".

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(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.
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