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, November 08, 2006

Ch. 6

“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. 6


It’s hard to overlook the phenomenon, it’s so prevalent and over-arching, still and all it’s curious isn’t it that each and every thing in this world has a parallel, mirror opposite. Good and bad, light and dark, early and late, etc. As if the world itself needed two countervailing poles to balance it and prepare it to avoid toppling off into space. Despite the curiousness of it, though, it’s a fact. And Solomon alluded to it when he said that “G-d made the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

Yet we mustn’t ever forget for a moment that it was indeed G-d who “made the one as well as the other” and who set the whole idea of antitheses in motion. As such, we dare not think that since there are opposites all about us, that there must be opposing ultimate sources as well [1]!

The same dynamic holds forth in the spiritual realm, too. As such, for each and every element of G-dliness there’s an opposite, countervailing element of un-G-dliness. Hence everything we said about the G-dly spirit in past chapters holds true for the animalistic spirit as well -- with obvious differences.

The next few chapters will begin to lay out the practical implications of all this in terms of our inner lives and our subsequent service to G-d, and the rest of the work will carry on from there.


Our G-dly spirit, as we learned, is comprised of three “mind” and seven “heart” elements, each of which corresponds on a very deep and recondite level to the ten essential elements of the Heavens Above (see Ch. 3). It manifests itself in our thoughts, speech, and actions, which are the G-dly spirit’s “garments“ (see Ch. 4), and it’s a veritable part of G-d (see Ch. 2).

Now, that’s very -- radically -- different from the make-up of our animalistic spirit. For rather than being derived from G-d Himself and being centered in our brain and the right side of our heart, our animalistic spirit is derived from “the other side” and “the luminous husk” (see Ch. 1), and it’s centered in the blood lying in the left side of our heart. Nonetheless, like our G-dly spirit, our animalistic spirit also manifests itself through three “garments”, and it too is configured into seven “heart” and three “mind” elements [2]. But there are obviously departures from the G-dly model as far as they’re concerned.

For while the G-dly spirit initiates emotions like the love and fear of G-d and the like, the animalistic spirit initiates wrongful and destructive emotions like laziness, melancholy, flippancy, cynicism, slander, dishonesty, hypocrisy, anger, arrogance, impatience, animosity, aggression, the need for acclaim, hedonism, envy, and jealousy (see Ch. 1). And while the G-dly spirit's mind initiates G-dly emotions, the animalistic spirit’s heart introduces untoward thoughts (Biur Tanya), which is to say that while the mind leads in the G-dly model, it’s the that heart leads in the Un-G-dly one and the mind that follows (a technique we term “rationalization”).

That’s to say that when we access our G-dly spirit we’re biased toward G-dly emotions, while when we access -- or are enticed by -- our animalistic spirit, we’re biased toward more brutish emotions. But isn’t that to be expected? After all, our biases towards animalism and rank materialism are very often motivated by childish, frivolous, and self-absorbed thoughts and impressions. So is it any wonder then that those are the emotions it would express?

Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that the animalistic spirit’s garments are only impure when we’re engaged in untoward and out-and-out wrongful thoughts, utterances, and deeds. They’re also soiled when they’re occupied in otherwise ethically neutral but trivial and non-G-dly things. Simply because at bottom those sorts of things are irrelevant to G-dliness and to our Divine service. And they, too, are thus products of the “other side” rather than of the side of holiness [3].

But, how so? What’s wrong with things that aren’t G-dly per se, as long as they aren’t actually wrongful and un-G-dy?


It comes to this. We’re taught that G-d’s Presence only infuses things that “surrender” to Him (which we’ll explain) -- either to the degree that angels do, which is to say, utterly so; or to the great degree that each one of us has the potential to as members of the Jewish Nation [4,5]. In fact, that’s why our sages underscored the fact that "the Divine Presence rests upon even a single Jew sitting and engaging in Torah" (Pirke Avot 3:6) and not only upon "ten Jews who come together” to study (see Sanhedrin 39A). For the sort of surrender inherent to the act of studying in reverence and deference, and in a desire to know what G-d’s Torah requires of us is what allows for G-d’s Presence to rest upon us then.

Now, “surrendering oneself to G-d” starts with a deep and heart felt sense of awe and love of Him (see Ch. 3). But what it comes to at bottom is consciously and purposefully abdicating, relinquishing, and yielding one’s own personal wishes and desires for G-d’s own.

But such an admittedly lofty and “mystical” attitude can only be borne on the conviction that nothing and no one is an autonomous entity; that everything was created by G-d and His sake alone; that I personally was only created to serve my Master, and that everything around me is only there to help me do that (Maskil L’Eitan). For indeed despite my own delusions of personal grandeur, it is G-d who’s the “protagonist” of this universe; I and everything else is merely supportive [6].

Hence, whenever we assert self and follow our own wishes rather than G-d’s by taking an innocent stroll perhaps, or sipping a glass of soda, reading a classic novel and the like rather than engaging in a mitzvah, we draw our vitality from the “other side” even though we’re not sinning. Simply because one can only fully draw his vitality from one side (i.e., the side of G-dliness) or the “other” [7].

The truth be known, we’re *always* nourished by the side of G-dliness, if only indirectly, backhandedly if you will (see Ch. 22, Iggeret Hakodesh 25), even when we sin. But we’re then nourished from a degree of G-dliness that has descended through the spiritual worlds and been diluted more and more so by degrees to the point where it’s a pale reflection of its full self and could be said to be in “exile” and displaced (see Ch. 32).

The point in short is that anyone or anything that doesn’t surrender itself to G-d still exists, of course. But barely so, despite appearances. Because it draws its breath if you will from such sparse “air” that it only has enough to go on, and not much more (see Ch’s 22, 38) [8].


Now, since so many things in this world seems to be separate from G-d, by dint of the fact that there’s so much wrongdoing and infamy all about us, and because so much of what we experience is external rather than internal, secondary rather than primary -- reality as we know it is termed “the world of ...”, i.e., the very epitome of -- “husks” and “the other side” (Etz Chaim 42:4; see Ch. 24 below) [9].

But as we said in the first chapter, there are two sorts of husks, one lower than the other. The first sort is comprised of a set of three husks, all of which are completely impure, they encompass no G-dliness whatsoever, and they act as the source of the souls of less-than-righteous Gentiles [10], of forbidden animals and vegetation (see Ch. 38), as well as the source of any forbidden thought, utterance, or action (Etz Chayim 49:5-6; see Ch. 37) [11].

And the second sort of husk -- the fourth one -- is a higher, “luminous” husk. Aside for allowing for and nourishing wrong and un-G-dliness (after all, it’s still a husk at bottom), it still and all also allows for holiness and goodness, depending on the context in which it’s used [12].

We’ll delve into this latter, somewhat-good husk in the next chapter.


[1] For like (non-fraternal) twins, each opposing pole does indeed gestate in its own “egg”, yet both are products of the same “mother”. We find an allusion to this in the Torah’s account that, “Rebecca... conceived, and the (twin) children struggled together within her.... She went to inquire of G-d... (who) said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb... ’” (Genesis 25: 21-23). In fact the twins were Jacob and Esau who are the paradigms of a G-dly and animalistic spirit, and their struggle in the womb alludes to our own struggles to overcome the Esau in our being.

[2] The three mind elements are also known as “Chochma”, “Binah”, and “Da’at” like the G-dly spirit’s (though the latter are the obverse of the former), while the seven heart elements touch upon the wrongful traits soon to be enumerated in the text, rather than the good ones. And rather than being derived from the Ten Sephirot, these ten elements are said to be derived from the "ten crowns of impurity" which are a product of the un-G-dly World of Chaos (Tanya M’vuar).

[3] We see from here that RSZ doesn’t accept the ethically and spiritually “neutral” status that halacha often confers upon things (Biur Tanya). For halacha per se would consider taking a stroll for example to be neither intrinsically good nor bad, as long as one takes it when he isn’t otherwise bound to do a specific mitzvah, and when his taking the stroll doesn’t involve anything prohibited. Everything, to RSZ’s mind, either draws its sustenance from the side of G-dliness or from the “other” side. He’s of the opinion that if you’re even a tiny bit non-G-dly (albeit not *un*-G-dly), you’re by definition not G-dly and must necessarily draw your sustenance from the “side” that’s not G-d’s. This will be expanded upon in another way in the following section. We’ll adress these ethically neutral thoughts, utterances, and actions at more length in the following chapter.

[4] In fact G-d’s Presence lies within us even when we’re not studying Torah (Tanya M’vuar), and that it actually infuses everything. It only means to imply that it’s more obvious and dynamic in things that surrender to it (Biur Tanya).

See 1:5 above and Sotah 5A.

[5] The point is that every single Jew, regardless of his or her spiritual standing, has a nascent potential to surrender him- or herself to G-d (Maskil L’Eitan).

See Ch’s 18 and 25 below for more about this potential.

[6] The idea of surrendering oneself to G-d, usually referred to as “nullifying oneself”, is a major theme in RSZ’s writings which we’ll touch upon again in this work.

We’ll find that there are in fact three levels involved: undoing oneself, being undone, and being infused by the Divine Presence (Likutei Biurim).

Also see Ch’s 19 and 35 below.

An often cited analogy is the ideal relationship of a student to his teacher. The student has to learn to nullify himself and to become an empty receptacle (i. e., to set aside all forgone conclusions and listen fully) to his teacher rather than assert his own thoughts if he’s ever to understand and take-in what his teacher has to say (Maskil L’Eitan). And we too must nullify ourselves to G-d if we’re ever to “take Him in”.

[7] RSZ points out in the body of Ch. 4 above that the “other side” itself draws vitality from us (from our sins, that is). Hence we see that we and the “other side” are interdependent, and that while it would never deprive us of “nutrition” (since it would lack for vitality itself if it did), we’d nonetheless do well to “starve” it for our own good.

The irony of course is that we’re being advised to be cruel and heartless and to deny the “other side” nutrition, while it itself seems to be benevolent and good-hearted by readily offering us nutrition. The truth of course is otherwise, but that’s indeed one of the tricks and mainstays of the “other side”-- it has good appear as bad, and bad as good, until one’s moral compass is undone and he makes the wrong choice.

[8] Thus the underlying message is that there are three “life-styles”, if you will: Divine service (rooted in the mitzvah-system), service to the “other side” (rooted in sin), and self-service (rooted in unholy and self-serving use of the “permitted”). And we draw sustenance from whichever “master” we choose, though G-d will always ensure our ultimate well-being.

[9] RSZ offers a rather esoteric note here based on statements made in Etz Chaim 47:2 as well as in Sefer Hagilgulim 20 to the effect that the very highest reaches of Divinity *can* still to be found in this world, despite it being termed the world of “husks” and “the other side”. And that’s because “the Light of The Infinite One pervades this entire (lowest) world” -- despite appearances -- “by virtue of the fact that it’s clothed in the Ten Sephirot of the four (higher) ones”.

That means to say that the Light of The Infinite One is enveloped in the Ten Sephirot of the highest world, which then enveloped itself in the Ten Sephirot of the next to highest world, etc. down to -- and including -- this world.

The gist of the matter is that G-d’s Presence is indeed everywhere, even here. It’s just that His Presence can’t easily be *sensed* here, which is why we consider ourselves to be seperate entities, apart from G-d (Likut Perushim Maareh Mekomot, p. 156), and why we sin despite His ever-Presence (see note 4 above as well).

We’d offer the following as one example among many others to illustrate the point that “so much of what we experience is external rather than internal, secondary rather than primary”. Consider a sewing-machine. Even a fairly modest home model costs several hundred dollars while the best of them costs thousands. At bottom, a sewing machine functions on a spool of thread and a needle. Everything else about it is supportive, conjunctive, and aesthetic. And that’s true of so much in this world. The great preponderance of “husk-like” things all around us only go to support, boost, and amplify the most important things which are far fewer in number, but of much greater import (i.e., G-dliness).

[10] As is well known, there are many righteous Gentiles, as one would expect in a world that’s vastly non-Jewish and which nonetheless merits continued existence and vitality (see Maimonides’ Hilchot Tshuvah 3:2: “When the offences of the world’s inhabitants outweigh their merits, the world is to be destroyed immediately”.) As such, many Gentiles draw their spiritual sustenance from the loftier luminous husk.

[11] Nonetheless, the Ari and the Baal Shem Tov taught that everything has a “spirit” or “soul” (see Shaar HaYichud ch. 1) without which it would simply cease to exist and couldn’t be distinguihsed from anythng else. It’s the thing’s “self”.

[12] See 1:3 above along with its notes for more about the makeup of the husks.

As to the reason why there are *three* impure husks and only one luminous husk specifically, see note 13 to ch. 31 in Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya; Likut Perushim 6:18; and Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 157.

(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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