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, December 10, 2006

Ch. 9

“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. 9


Let's delve more into the makeup of our two spirits now, and see how they interact. For by doing that we'll come to understand who *we* truly are and what drives us, since we'll be able to know when we're being urged on by one rather than the other spirit and to react accordingly. Only then will we be able to draw close to G-d. After all, if we don't know who we are and what’s spurring us on at any one time, how can we possibly head in the right direction?

As RSZ said, we're comprised of a G-dly spirit and an animalistic one. As a consequence we have conflicting "tastes", if you will. Sometimes we prefer this, and sometimes that. But this hasn't anything to do with our tastes in food, literature, clothing or the like. But rather with our stance when it comes to the central human option: whether to head toward G-d or away from Him.

Hence, there’s a conflict in the very core of our being. Should we acknowledge G-d outright and acquiesce to His presence all around us, or acknowledge the world outright and acquiesce to *its* presence? Indeed, everything we want, do, say, or think is a consequence of our response to that conflict, moment by moment -- everything.

The battle hardly seems fair, at that. After all, the world is visible and bold, while G-d is invisible and discreet. Yet despite the disproportionate number of things drawing us toward the world and away from G-d, there *is* still-and-all a draw toward G-d in the Jewish heart, as we learned.

RSZ's point is that for most of us the push and pull is very real, and we're torn as a consequence. He also believes that one cannot have two masters, since by serving one he besmirches the other and vice versa; and that the wise would accordingly do all they could to serve G-d alone [1].

Let's now explore our two biases with that in mind.


Our animalistic spirit dwells for the most part, but certainly not exclusively so (Likutei Biurim), in the left ventricle of our heart. It’s important to point out, of course, that the animalistic spirit isn't a physical entity but rather a spiritual one -- otherwise we could have it surgically removed if we wanted to rid ourselves of it (Biur Tanya)!

It shouldn't really surprise us that it dwells in the heart, since our animalistic spirit is essentially emotional and thus heart-centered (Tanya M’vuar). In any event, that’s where it resides and where it fosters unG-dly drives and emotions like untoward cravings, arrogance, anger, and the like.

The animalistic spirit then infuses itself throughout the body, including the brain (where the G-dly spirit dwells, as we'll see). And from the brain it seeps into our thoughts and affects them too, by playing a role in our choices and enabling us to rationalize our unG-dly desires.

The G-dly spirit on the other hand, which is essentially intellectual by nature (Tanya M’vuar), dwells primarily in our brain from where it diffuses outward to the other organs, including our heart [2], and where it fosters its *own* emotions. But rather than being unG-dly ones like the unG-dly spirit’s are, the G-dly spirit’s emotions are exclusively G-dly [3].

They include the sort of “fiery love of G-d" that burns in the hearts of those who delve into things that foster that (see 3:4); the sort of "gladness of heart" that comes from apprehending "G-d's beauty and the majesty of His Glory", and from "gazing at the King's ... unfathomable, infinite, and boundless greatness" in one's mind; as well as other holy emotions which we’ll touch upon later.

So it becomes clear that the two spirits have completely different nerve centers and impetuses.


But the two spirits aren't autonomous; they share space in our being [4]. In fact, the sensitive soul can't help but be acutely aware of the two of them vying in and *for* his being, and of how opposite and outright contradictory their predilections are. In fact we'd dare say that the ultimate measure of one's honesty with himself is the degree to which he acknowledges his own inner irony.

The most important lesson to be learned from this struggle is that it defines our inner reality our whole lives long. And that other than the rare complete tzaddik, we're *all* conflicted this way -- all of two minds (and hearts), if you will. What RSZ does in this work so well, indeed, is lay out that fact plain and outright (see Biur Tanya), and thus defines the starting point from which we can ascend.

But let's explore more of the dynamic. We're each depicted classically as whole "countries" [5], thanks to our complexity and multifariousness. As such, our two spirits can be seen as two distinct and diverse kings (and their armies) vying for control over the “country” that we each are, and for the right to have the last word about what we’re to do or not do (see Nedarim 32B). And each offers his own incentives.


The G-dly spirit would like us to follow its dictates and submit to its wishes all the time. Which is to say, to be absorbed in [6] G-dliness whenever we do, think, or say something, and to never stray from that. It would have us reflect upon G-d's infinite greatness and to foster the sort of fear and fiery love of Him that would have us attach ourselves onto Him [7].

In fact, the G-dly spirit would like those feelings to be so powerful that they virtually "spill" over from the right side of the heart to the left, where the animalistic spirit is found, and force the animalistic spirit and its unholy urges to reverse themselves [8]. It even wants the animalistic spirit to reach the level of love that actually surpasses the aforementioned "fiery love" that’s termed "abounding" or "ecstatic” love -- the sort of love for G-d one would have in The World to Come [9]. And the G-dly spirit would have everything we'd do, say, and think be suffused with holiness, rooted in mitzvot, and directed toward G-d alone.

So it seems that the “king” that the G-dly spirit who wants to control your interests is, is very demanding and stern, as he’d allow you no indulgences and none your heart’s desires. But that’s really not true. Because we’re taught that if we’d turn our animalistic spirit around as the G-dly spirit would have us, that all wrong would revert to utter goodness, and humankind would unite with G-dliness in all ways! For evil would have unshorn its "soiled clothes" (i.e., its longing for worldly delights and other unG-dly things). And all would be made aright!

So the G-dly spirit actually has the best of wishes in mind for ourselves and for all humankind.

Nonetheless, make no mistake about it: *few* merit so lofty a perch (Maskil L’Eitan). As only a small handful of us delight in thinking about, grasping, and knowing G-d in our daily lives as would be required.


The animalistic spirit, on the other hand, wants just the opposite. It wants us to subsume all our thoughts, utterances, and deeds to *its* dictates [10].

And so it seems that the “king” that the animalistic spirit who wants to control our interests is, is generous and liberal, as he’d allow you all indulgences and all your heart’s desires. But know that that also isn’t true. Because despite that stratagem, the animalistic spirit still-and-all has your best interests in mind and wants you to grow closer to G-d. Because it wants you to conquer and undo it.

Now, we certainly wouldn’t expect RSZ to suggest that. But there's a parable in the Zohar (2:163A) that explains the irony.

It speaks of a king who had an only son whom the king wanted to be sure was fit to assume the throne. So the king hired a harlot to seduce the prince to see if he'd fail a test of character and acquiesce. The harlot understood the king's intentions, and though she did her part to thwart the prince as she was ordered to do, she also had the real purpose of her mission in mind, which was to prove the prince worthy and to make the king happy.

In fact, the prince didn't succumb we’re told, so the harlot failed at *that* task; but she nonetheless succeeded at the larger one (see Likut Perushim 9:15; also see end of Ch. 29 below).

And so the point is that while the animalistic spirit *seems* to do everything it can to thwart our best interests in the end, it too is only following G-d’s wishes and secretly wants us to thwart *it* [11].


[1] But in truth the conflict is largely delusional, in that in a way we *can* "have our -- kosher -- cake and eat it, too". For, as we'd seen earlier, there's a wealth of things that fall in-between G-dliness and unG-dliness (see Ch. 7). The challenge, of course, is to engage in those things in a G-dly fashion and to thus elevate the mundane to the Divine.

The starkest breakdown of the choice between the two, though, is offered in Iggeret Hakodesh 11, where RSZ declares that "The main reason man was created in this world was to be tested ... (so as) to know what's in his heart -- whether his heart will turn toward ‘other gods’, namely physical desires that derive from the other side ... or if he'll ... want to live the true life, that derives from the Living G-d".

[2] ... where it settles in the heart's right ventricle, which is traditionally termed a "vacuum", as RSZ points out. In light of the fact that it's not actually a vacuum as we know today, some explain RSZ to mean that the right ventricle could thus be taken to be a vacuum in a sense given that it doesn't have blood of its own, even though blood from the rest of the body accumulates there (Tanya M’vuar). But it seems it would be better to say that the right ventricle *might as well be a vacuum* since it’s unfulfilled until the G-dly spirit enters into it.

[3] It’s been suggested that RSZ is providing us with insight here as to how to know the source of our urges at any one time. If they come from our mind (which is to say, if they're logical and thought-out) then they're from the G-dly spirit, whereas if they come from the heart (i.e., if they're emotional and irrational to one degree or another) they're from the animalistic spirit (Likutei Biurim, Maskil L’Eitan). And in fact, this seems to be a very handy barometer of things that should be kept in mind.

[4] RSZ cites Genesis 25:23 here, which reads, "And G-d said to her, ‘Two nations are in your (Rebecca’s) womb and two peoples will be separated from your bowels. One people (Jacob’s) will be stronger than the other (Esau’s) and the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)’". See note 1 to Ch. 6 for our comments.

In a way the two spirits could be said to complement each other by challenging and competing with one another while nourishing each other as well, as we'll see. After all, doesn't our brain need our heart to thrive, and vice versa; and can't they be said to compliment each other all the time in that sense alone? Doesn't our body need both to function? We thus draw your attention to the citation from the Zohar in the last section of the chapter.

Nonetheless, the tension between the two is not to be denied on an experiential level, and the battle is ongoing.

[5] The actual term used is "cities". But the political entity we'd term a country was in fact termed a “city” in antiquity, hence our use of that term.

[6] The term is that we be "draped (or, clothed) in and a vehicle of" the G-dly spirit’s ten elements and three garments.

[7] Literally, "With all your heart, soul, and your means".

[8] RSZ quotes the verse just cited above that reads "You are to love G-d your L–rd with all your heart..." (Deuteronomy 6:5) and supplies us with the sages' explanation of that to mean " ... with both your impulses" (Berachot 54A) to underscore his point.

[9] This sort of love would be a culmination and fulfillment of the yearning to draw close to G-d, and would be a full realization of it rather than the mere yearning for it; that is, the dream of it come-true (see Ch. 43).

In fact, based on the imagery used in Likutei Torah p.78B (Ushavtem) we’d liken this stage to the eventual “quenching of the thirst” for closeness to G-d with the “water” of its achievement (which would explain why RSZ offers the seemingly unnecessary statement here in the text that this love “is on the level of water”).

[10] RSZ doesn't go into details here as he'd done in the case of the G-dly spirit's wishes for us, apparently because he'd be provoking untoward thoughts.

[11] The point to be made is that the animalistic spirit is indeed a hindrance to our spiritual growth, and we'd seem to be better off without it so that we might go on with the task of deepening our relationship to G-d -- but there are two other things to factor in when it comes to that spirit. One is that we've been granted it for the highest of purposes (i.e., to prove -- to ourselves and to G-d -- that we can "assume the throne"); and the other is that it serves to help us understand just who we are and who we're not.

For indeed our animalistic biases don't define who are. They're factors added on to our beings later on (the way the harlot came upon the scene after the prince was already a prince). They add nuance onto our being, even though they oftentimes act as a distraction.

As such, the animalistic spirit is a "blessing and a curse" (Deuteronomy 30:1); a tool and a broken shard at one and the same time. It's also the thrust and parry of the world that's so "visible and bold" which we cited at the beginning of this chapter, and thus the antithesis of G-d who's so "invisible and discreet". But in the end as we now see, it too serves a purpose; it too was created by G-d for His own ends and is likewise utterly subservient to His wishes in the end.

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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
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