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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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ch. 4

“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. 4


We’d delved up to now into the backdrops of our two spirits and touched upon what they’re made of, rooted in, and derived from. We begin now to examine just what they do and don’t do, and most significantly-- how they effect our service to G-d.

As we indicated in the last chapter, our two spirits contend with each other each and every moment. In fact they seem to be like two distinct moods vying for attention at every turn that are poles apart, with two utterly different biases, as we’ve put it: one towards G-dliness and the other towards everything but.

The two spirits do have one thing in common, though. They both express themselves forthrightly and constantly (though many of us are only slightly aware of the less-dominant one). And they do that through our minds and hearts, our words and actions. The difference is that the *content* and *objects* of our thoughts, emotions, etc. under either spirit’s influence are antithetical to each other.

So let’s now examine the content and objects of our G-dly spirit’s thoughts, emotions, words, and actions [1].


RSZ refers to the G-dly spirit’s thoughts, emotions, words, and actions as its “garments” [2]. That’s largely because they’re the means by which it exhibits itself in the world, for all intents and purposes, much the way we exhibit or convey ourselves through our clothes.

But just as our clothes don’t really do us justice, since they often only act as a facade or perhaps they only express how we want to be taken in public; and they oftentimes misrepresent us other ways, too, as when our clothes have us appear wealthier than we are, or poorer and the like-- in much the same way, our G-dly spirit’s “garments” likewise don’t express it *as it truly is*. After all, as we said before, it’s a veritable portion of G-d (see Biur Tanya).

Be that as it may, we activate our G-dly spirit when we engage in mitzvot with our minds, power of speech, and through our actions (our hearts are involved too, as we’ll soon see). As when we delve into Torah, enunciate Torah texts or prayers, and when we fulfill more concrete mitzvot.

Now, our G-dly spirit is comprised of 613 intangible component parts, we’re taught [3]. And they express themselves in all their glory through the 613 mitzvot that they “don” [4]. As such, mitzvot can be said to sometimes serve as the Divine spirit’s “body” when it’s clothed in them.


Our *hearts* come into play, too. As when we fulfill any of the intellectual, verbal, and practical mitzvot in a spirit of love for G-d or of fear of Him [5]. In short, loving G-d comes to either never wanting to separate yourself from Him and wanting instead to unite your whole being to His (see Ch. 14 below), or to experiencing a great, fervent, and all-consuming glowing yearning from the depths of your heart to cleave onto Him (see Ch. 9 below).

In fact, it’s the love of G-d that moves and enables us to fulfill the imperative mitzvot in all their fullness (see Zohar 3:122B) [6]. Since we can only attach ourselves to G-d through the mitzvah system as we’re implored to do when we love Him and want to attach ourselves to His being. In fact, without a love of G-d behind it, we really couldn’t be said to be fulfilling mitzvot-- with any ardor, at least (Likutei Biurim).

There are other ways to fulfill the 248 imperatives, to be sure. By rote, for example; out of a sense of duty; or simply by dint of the Divine spirit’s natural pull toward them. But that doesn’t allow you to draw G-d’s light upon yourself (Igeret HaKodesh 10), or to take hold of the corresponding 248 “limbs and organs of the King” (which we’ll explain) [7]. So, the best way to fulfill them is in a spirit of love.

Now, as to the fear of G-d which touches upon the 365 prohibitions: we’re told that there are two sorts. One comes down to being just too intimidated and frightened to rebel against G-d Almighty, while the second -- which is more internal and touches more profoundly upon oneself -- is based on a thoroughgoing sense of being too out-and-out ashamed to rebel against Him but doing anything that would vitalize the husks and the other side that are so anathema to Him (Shiurim BeSefer HaTanya) [8].

Thus our emotions can be said to goad our thoughts, speech, and actions away from pedestrian to lofty service of G-d, and to act as its very wings.


We’re told, though (parenthetically, quite ironically, and very esoterically), that its three garments of thought, speech, and action are actually more august and eminent than the G-dly spirit itself. But how could that be?

It comes to is this. We’re taught that G-d and His Torah are one and the same (Zohar 1:24A, 2:60A). Needless to say that doesn’t mean that the Torah-scroll we might find before us is G-d! All it implies is that the instruction (hora’ah in Hebrew, a cognate of Torah) that we receive from G-d via His Torah -- that we do this or that, and avoid something else -- is at one with G-d since its derived from His very own will and wisdom [9].

So, while the G-dly spirit is indeed a part of G-d (see ch. 2), it’s *only a part* -- and a detached and discrete one at that ... while G-d’s will and wisdom, and hence the Torah that’s derived from it and which we think and speak about and act out on, are an expression of His full Being (see Likutei Biurim) [10].

The implication is that at bottom it’s the fact that the Torah and its mitzvot are so utterly unearthly that enables us to transcend our beings so.


We learned above that we attach ourselves to G-d through the mitzvah system (sect. 3). But, how could anyone be said to cling onto G-d Himself altogether, and by fulfilling His Torah in particular? After all, His Being is termed Limitless, we're told that “His greatness can't be fathomed” (Psalms 145:3), that no thought could ever comprehend Him (see Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar), that “there’s no searching out His understanding” (Isaiah 40:28), that “if you search (for) G-d could you find Him?” (Job 11:7), and that “My thoughts are not like your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). So let’s try to explain the connection between the Torah that we observe, study, and interact with and G-d’s Being.

We’ll clarify that all by drawing upon a well known dictum that reads, “Wherever you find G-d’s greatness you also find His humility” (Megillah 31A).

What that means to say is that G-d Himself is connected to the Torah by virtue of the fact that He “humbled Himself” at creation, so to speak, despite His omnipotence, by compressing and agglomerating -- squiggling and pushing -- His will and wisdom into the 613 Biblical mitzvot and their halachic ramifications and into the array of letters that comprise the text of the Bible and their various Rabbinic explanations.

But, why would he have done that?, we might reasonably ask. And the answer is just so that we might unite with Him by grasping and fulfilling as many of His mitzvot as we can (Likutei Biurim).

In fact, the Torah’s situation in the world and our own is analogous (Maskil L’ Eitan; see Tanya M’vuar). For while both we and the Torah are entrenched in materiality -- we, by dint of our earthly circumstances, and the Torah by virtue of the fact that it deals with day-to-day matters like food, clothing, and the like for the most part -- nonetheless both our own and Torah’s “roots” are far loftier than anyone can imagine and not at all of this world in fact.

In truth, the very fact of Torah’s being rooted is in the Heavens and yet set in earth, explains why it’s likened to water (Babba Kama 17A). For like water, Torah also cascades further and further downward from a high point to a lower one, step by step -- world by world -- until it comes to be clothed in the physical components of the mitzvot that we fulfill, and in the very ink and letters that comprise the text of the 24 books of Torah, Writings, and Prophets. And it descends to that level all so that we might grasp it, discuss it, and act upon it [11].

So, once the Torah and its mitzvot "clothe" our G-dly spirit’s heart and mind (and its 613 “limbs”) from top to bottom, we come to be bound in “the Bond of Life” (1 Samuel 25:29) -- in fact, to the point where G-d’s light both surrounds and suffuses us then, and we come to be attached to Him from all sides, inside and out.


That also explains the apparent incongruity of the statement that “A single hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is altogether greater than life in The World to Come“ (Pirke Avot 4:17), by the way. After all, how could that be? We know that the World to Come experience is one of delighting in the glow of the Divine Presence (Berachot 17A), which is explained as being an exalted experience of “grasping”, knowing about G-d. So how could fulfilling mitzvot here, in this world, be better yet than that?

The answer lies in the fact that no one, no matter how lofty his being, could ever hope to grasp anything other than a ray of G-d’s light -- rather than Himself or His light itself -- in the World to Come (Likutei Biurim). That’s why the experience of The World to Come is referred to as “delighting in the *glow*” rather than in the full experience “of the Divine Presence”.

So, despite the fact that no one’s mind could ever grasp G-d Himself -- once again, we *can* grasp Him on a sublime level when our G-dly spirit “takes hold of” and is engarbed in His Torah and mitzvot. For we then quite literally grasp and are engarbed in G-d’s Being (though we might not sense it), since He and the Torah are one and the same, as we said.

RSZ’s point is that we can thus draw closer to G-d in fact while in this world, through the mitzvah system, than we can in The World to Come. And he means to thus underscore the preciousness of life and the opportunities the mitzvot provide us with to truly adhese onto G-d Almighty.

As such, in the end it doesn’t matter that fulfilling the Torah involves all sorts of physical and mundane phenomena, which would seem to distance us from the Divine. For when we draw close to Him through the mitzvah system, we hug the King Himself, if you will, in His royal robes -- what do we care if He's wearing layers and layers of clothing, for we’d still be embracing the King himself within!

And it certainly wouldn’t matter that the King were wearing a lot of clothing if He Himself took us to Him -- which He does! For we're taught that “He embraces me with His right arm” (Song of Songs 8:3), that is, with His Torah, which G-d Himself caused to cascade down upon us and to embrace us so lovingly [12].


[1] An important point to be made though, is that it’s *we* who implement and actualize our own G-dly or animalistic spirits. Each one of us, of his or her own volition, accesses either spirit at any one time. And we become the person we eventually come to be based on our own choices.

Some have gone so far as to say that RSZ and Chabad-thought in general doesn’t value the “self”-- a personal mediator between the two warring biases -- and that in fact, the undoing of the self (bittul ha’metzias) is the ultimate goal (see Ch. 43 in the text). “For,” (they’re said to reason), at bottom, “there’s (absolutely) nothing but Him (G-d)” (Deuteronomy 4:35) (See end of Ch. 21 in the text; Sha'ar HaYichud v’He’emunah 3, 6, etc.).

While that’s certainly a fundamental (albeit highly controversial) Chabad teaching, it doesn’t seem reasonable to assume that RSZ was arguing from that perspective in this work (or at least at this point). Since Tanya focuses on offering practical advise about how to grow in one’s being. As such we’d argue that if, as we’re taught in Ch. 1, “each Jew... has (the aforementioned) two spirits”, then “each Jew” is one thing, while his or her two spirits are two other things; and that even RSZ would agree that there’s a self for all *practical* purposes.

In fact there seem to be a number of references to an independent self. This chapter starts off by saying, “When *a person* actively fulfills all the mitzvot... ” (as opposed to when “*a person* dwells upon (unholy thoughts, utterances, or actions)...” [Ch. 6]).

Also see Ch. 14, where the self enters into an inner-dialogue; Ch. 25’s, which speaks of “*a person* (being) capable at that time of ridding himself of the spirit of foolishness and forgetfulness (i.e., from falling sway to his animalistic bias), and instead recalling and awakening his love of the one G-d (i.e., accessing his G-dly spirit)”; Ch. 28, where we’re depicted as individuals with two biases at war somewhere within the ‘self'”; Ch. 29, where the self and its struggles are discussed; and Ch. 31, where the self addresses itself again; etc.

We’d also remind the reader that RSZ cites Rabbi Chaim Vital’s Shaarei Kedusha as the source of the information about the various spirits (see note 3 to Ch. 1 above), and it’s said there that “the self” (said there to be our “rational spirit”) and the two spirits are clearly differentiated. (In fact, see Iggeret Hakodesh 15 where the rational and G-dly spirits are actually differentiated; and Likutei Torah 69B which lays out the battle between good and evil, and discusses the freedom we have to use our minds to differentiate and choose between our G-dly and animalistic biases.)

[2] The garments spoken of here are not the ones cited toward the end of Ch. 2 above. See note 9 there.

[3] This will be discussed at some length in Ch. 51.

It’s also pointed out there that the G-dly spirit is of course not limited to space and time-- or to number (and hence, subdivision). So it stands to reason that the mere 613 parts it’s said to have here, in this chapter, is how it represents and manifests itself in this world of space, time and number.

[4] Just as the body is comprised of 613 parts (248 limbs and organs, and 365 blood vessels according to the traditional reckoning) and the Torah is comprised of 613 mitzvot (248 imperatives and 365 prohibitives), the G-dly spirit is likewise comprised of 613 spiritual components. Hence when one puts all of his G-dly spirit and his body into the fulfillment of all of the mitzvot, he’s said to be fully clothed in, i.e., fully absorbed in and suffused by, them. The idea of being both fully absorbed in and suffused by mitzvot will be discussed later on.

It’s also important to make two other points. First, that each spiritual component of the G-dly spirit corresponds to and is engarbed in a particular mitzvah (Biur Tanya); and that each body-part corresponds in turn to a spiritual component of the G-dly spirit and a particular mitzvah as well.

And second, that in their essence the mitzvot are actually infinite in number, and become reduced to 613 in our experience alone (Maskil L’Eitan), corresponding to the this-worldly situation of the 613 components of the spirit laid out in the previous note.

[5] Love and fear are the two quintessential emotions, as was indicated in the last chapter, and they’ll be expanded upon just below and in later chapters in greater detail.

[6] That’s to say that while it’s the love of G-d that moves and enables us to fulfill *all* the mitzvot, it especially and more specifically moves us to fulfill the imperatives.

Loving G-d will prove to be a major and primal theme in Tanya, and it will be presented with many shadings and a lush array of depictions. The fear of Him is also of major importance, but it only seems to attract RSZ’s rapt attention when it touches on some level of loving Him, interstingly enough. For it seems that RSZ often experienced blissful states of G-d-intoxication. He was said to have been found alone from time to time, seemingly out of anyone’s sight (but not), chanting over and over again, “G-d Almighty! I don’t want Your lower heaven, Your upper heaven, or Your World to Come -- all I want is You!”

We’ll learn about the sort of love of G-d that emanates from the depths of one’s being, that seems to flare up and glow with passion and desire, and to overflow, as well as how to differentiate between “abundant” and “ardent” love in Ch. 9; about “delightful” love in Ch. 14; and about the hidden, latent love found in each Jewish heart in Ch’s 15 and 18, for example.

[7] See Ch. 23 below where RSZ explains that the mitzvot are said to be G-d’s “limbs” and "organs" simply because they acquiesce to His will on teh spot much the way our organs acquiesce to our wishes.

[8] This sense of being ashamed to rebel against Him is not, though, the greatest and highest degree of fear of -- or better yet, awe in the presence of -- G-d one could experience. That would be the sort that's discussed in Ch. 43 below which leads to the undoing of the self spoken of there (Likutei Biurim). And apropos to what we wrote above in note 6, RSZ discusses other aspects of the fear of G-d in Ch. 43, and elsewhere.

[9] And thus, when we grasp Torah, apply its mitzvot to ourselves, and cling onto the whole of it, we grasp onto G-d as well -- since He and it are enmeshed (Likutei Biurim; Shiurim BeSefer HaTanya).

[10] On another level, though, the G-dly spirit is indeed loftier yet than the Torah. After all, our people are said to be G-d’s “bride”, hearkening to a deep and unique connection to Him. The solution offered for that paradox is that on its highest planes (i.e., on a Chaya and Yechida level, technically speaking) the G-dly spirit is indeed loftier than the Torah, while its lower planes (i.e., its Nephesh, Ruach, and Neshama levels) are in fact lower than the Torah (Likutei Biurim).

[11] The other point to be made about water as an analogy to Torah, by the way, is that just like it’s the self-same water down below as it was above before it cascaded down and that other than a change of place, nothing is different about it, the same is true of G-d’s Torah (Maskil LEitan). Other symbols also offered for Torah, like light or like bits of information offered from one person to another, aren’t sufficient to explain the analogy. For a ray of light from the sun wouldn’t be the sun itself anymore than any information that a teacher would pass on to a pupil would be the teacher himself (Shiurim b’sefer haTanya; see Sha’ar Hayichud v’He’emuna 3). Yet water is water wherever it is; and Torah as it is in a metaphysical context is the same Torah that it is in a physical context.

[12] The two metaphors here of our hugging the King himself and of being hugged by Him are a lead-in to the next chapter’s idea that we both embrace and are embraced by Torah at one and the same time when we engage in Torah wholeheartedly (Maskil L’Eitan)

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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