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, January 31, 2007

Ch. 13

“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. 13


It's become clear by now that the true benoni is just like the rest of us inwardly when it comes to his snares and affinities, yet quite unlike us outwardly, since he doesn't acquiesce to them (see 12: 2). That's not at all to say that a benoni is a hypocrite; the point is that unlike us, he's always contending with his inner anomalies and struggling to prevail over his animalistic tendencies while we hardly or only occasionally, do. But let's try to get some insight into the benoni's inner struggle.

Now, we'd expect a benoni to be depicted as being ruled-over either by his animalistic now or G-dly spirit at another point in an unending series of inner victories and defeats [1]. And we'd assume him to be beholden to one at one point and to the other at another. But it's important to understand that, as our sages explained it, while the benoni is indeed pressured or baited by each spirit to acquiesce to its side of the argument, he's in fact ruled-over by neither [2]. (After all, if he were in fact ruled-over by either one he'd be an out-and-out tzaddik or rasha!)

Instead we're told that his animalistic and G-dly spirits merely *advocate* for one side of the argument the benoni is having with himself about whether to do, say, or think something untoward untoward [3]. The point is that neither advocate has the final say; only the litigant, the benoni himself, does.


But there's a third participant as well, we're told -- G-d Himself, who "stands at (the benoni's) right hand ... to save him" from the input of the animalistic spirit, in RSZ's own words. In fact it would take no less than G-d's own input to fend off the animalistic spirit's arguments since, for as our sages put it, "man's yetzer harah reinvigorates itself daily .... and were it not for the fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, was there to help him, man would never prevail over it" (Kiddushin 30B).

So, what actually goes on within is a quick and intense registering of arguments pro and con by equally adroit opposing advocates playing off of each other's points; a single, very vulnerable litigant in the midst of it all; and a generous sympathizer and advisor, G-d.

Yet we could legitimately then ask, "If G-d will indeed come to the benoni's rescue, then why does anyone have a yetzer harah in the first place?" The answer lies in the fact that the benoni is to make the "first move". He has to set out to reflect upon what's going on within him before G-d will abet him (Maskil L'Eitan) and to thus take the struggle seriously enough to warrant G-d's help; and he's to then consciously elect to do the right thing (Likutei Biurim), right there and then.

So, what G-d actually does in that situation is illumine (or, bolster) the G-dly spirit's side of the argument, which then gives the benoni the wherewithal to win his case [4].


Understand, though, that the benoni's animalistic spirit is still as potent and vexing as ever, and it still has him long for all sorts of mundane pleasures; it doesn't become undone or supplanted by its encounter with his G-dly spirit, sad to say; and his G-dly spirit still and all doesn't rule over his body, despite G-d's help -- since at bottom, the benoni is not a tzaddik.

It's vitally important to realize that about the benoni -- that is, about *us*. Because it’s important to reiterate the point again and again that we’re actually referring to ourselves (potentially, that is) when we discuss all this; for as RSZ says at the very beginning of the next chapter, “*everyone* can become a benoni, at any time”.

For if we don’t realize that our animalistic spirit isn’t undone by our encounters with his G-dly spirit then we're likely be unaware of who we are and where we stand on the merit continuum. We might then fool ourselves into thinking we're more righteous than we are and slacken off in our quest for closeness to G-d accordingly (see Biur Tanya, Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya) [5]. Or, conversely, we might not effect certain tikkunim (specific mystical acts of rectification) that are expected of tzaddikim if we *are* tzaddikim but don't know it (Maskil L'Eitan). The truth be known, though, most people who aren't tzaddikim don't (and shouldn’t) assume that they are (Likutei Biurim, p. 327).


All that helps explain something cited in the very first chapter of this work -- why the soul that's about to enter this world had to be told to consider itself "basically wrongful even if everyone says otherwise" (Niddah 30B). And that's so the soul -- which is to say, each one of us before we're born -- would at least strive to be a benoni, who's "basically" but not utterly “wrongful” (since his yetzer harah is somewhat hushed though not eradicated).

Another reason we’re to do that, perheps, is because taking on such an attitude would undoubtedly leave a humbling mark behind in the inner-linings of our as-yet-unborn heart for the rest of our lives.

For indeed we're to always assume that our wrongful side will be in force in our heart, that we'll thus indeed be basically wrongful, and that our animalistic spirit will always and inevitably grow stronger and stronger as long as we live and participate in material life [6]. Since we're not tzaddikim.

For the truth is that even if you were to study Torah day and night -- and altruistically at that, with no thought of personal gain or renown -- that's still and all no guarantee that you'd have eradicated the evil within you [7]. It's just that you might manage to not *express* it by not thinking, saying, or doing anything wrong, thanks to your preoccupation with holy things, and to the G-d-given ability each one of us has to take control of our own actions by dint of will [8].

Understand, too, that this is one of the most astounding claims of this work. For what its says -- and outright at that -- is that one could indeed be a full-fledged, well-intentioned, senior, perhaps even exceptional Torah-scholar and still not be a tzaddik as RSZ depicts it! We'll soon see how that has been true in the past as well, and even among our greatest Talmudic sages (like Rabbah, as we indicated at the beginning).


So, to reiterate, despite his many spiritual accomplishments, a benoni's G-dly spirit is still-and-all not in control of his animalistic spirit other than occasionally, as when he manifests a love of G-d when he prays, and the like. But even then his G-dly spirit only manages to control and tamper down his animalistic spirit, and he continues on in his great and terrible struggle once again.

And that's because he would merely have subjected his untoward inlinations to his G-dly spirit's Binah mind-aspect and not his Chochma or Da'at ones (see 6:2 and note 2 there; and the end of 3:2). Which is to say that the benoni would have come to understand how important it is to draw close to G-d, but he wouldn't have completely assimilated the utter truth of that.

For Binah is the realm in which we're able to reflect upon G-d's infinite greatness (and upon how far from Him we'd strayed [Maskil L'Eitan]), and the one in which we can foster a fiery love for Him to be able to subdue the other side. But we'd need to call upon the deeper aspects of the G-dly spirit's mind-aspect we'd cited if we're to be a tzaddik.

In a way, then, a benoni's wrongfulness only "falls asleep" for all intents and purposes once in a while, as when he recites the Sh'ma or prays, when he can truly love G-d deeply [9]. For unlike the tzaddik who's love of G-d is part of his very being, the benoni is more attached to the world than to G-d, and he isn't really offput by wrongdoing or repulsed by the world, other than when he's deep in prayer or contemplation (Maskil L'Eitan).

In fact, that helps explain why the great Rabbah considered himself a benoni rather than a tzaddik (see 1:1) even though he never stopped studying Torah and so deeply loved G-d when he recited the Sh'ma or prayed. For though he knew those things about himself, he nonetheless only regarded himself as a benoni who prayed all day long at best, for all intents and purposes [10] ... which would certainly be a profound level of accomplishment.


But let's go back now to the subject of the benoni's love for G-d as he prays, and when his G-dly spirit prevails as a consequence. The truth be known, RSZ pronounces, the sort of love he'd experience would be an out-and-out sham if it were expressed on that selfsame level by a tzaddik (Likutei Biurim)! Simply because the benoni's love would only be ephemeral and would melt away as soon as he finished praying, which isn’t so of the tzaddik’s love for G-d.

RSZ's point is that we're not to be disheartened by that reality, though. For that's not to deny the *relative* validity and purity of the benoni's love for G-d (see Biur Tanya) at the time. It’s just that truth is always relative to the level on which it's found (Shiurim b’Sefer haTanya). Thus, the benoni *does* love G-d truly and honestly then -- but only as much perhaps as a child loves his or her home, without really knowing anything about what goes into maintaining it or how it functions.

The truth of the matter is that when a benoni senses the love of G-d in his heart, his feelings are indeed legitimate and true -- for him, and commensurate with his own rank. For, among other reasons, while it may indeed be temporary, that love can always be re-aroused during prayer, and is thus always there in potentia and at-the-ready (see Maskil L'Eitan), day after day, thanks to his continued efforts and his preparations [11].

Now, that warm allowance for the relative merit and truthfulness of the benoni's love isn't without it's source. It's rooted in an insight into the inheritance we enjoy from our forefather Jacob.

For Jacob epitomizes truth, as we're taught by the verse that says that G-d "grants truth to Jacob" (Micha 7:20). But there are a number of nuances to the point, since Jacob as the epitome of truth is equated with the "middle bar in the center of the boards that will pass through from (one) end to (the other) end" (Exodus 26:28) (see Zohar 1, 1B). That’s to say that, like the center bolt that passes from one end of the Tabernacle to the other and thus holds the edifice together, the truth that Jacob epitomises is all encompassing and of one sort -- with variations. And that what’s true of one end of that self-same bar isn’t what’s true at the other end, but is true nonetheless. Today we term that phenomenon “relative truth”.

Hence, the very high degrees of love of G-d that tzaddikim experience and the relatively low ones that benoni achieve are both true by degree, and they're bound to each other by that long bar. As a consequence the benoni's "truth" is indeed true at the time for him. For the reach of the sort of truth under discussion is boundless and infinite [12].



[1] Once again we must underscore that when we speak of our expectations for a benoni we're actually citing our expectations for ourselves -- once we reach that potentiality.

[2] Our sages actually depict the process as being "judged" by the yetzer harah and yetzer hatov (Berachot 61B; see Ch. 1 in the original, as well as our reference to it at the end of 1:2), but we've described the scenario in modern court-trial terms, using for example, the terms "advocates" and "litigant".

[3] The benoni has been depicted as dangling in midair, in a manner of speaking; open and vulnerable to two commanding voices that alternatively disallow him to ascend *or* descend with any ease (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 247). How apt and wise a portrayal of the human moral dilemma that is!

It's been pointed out incidentally that halachically, each judge (or, "advocate") in a case must state his opinion (Maskli L'Eitan). That would seem to indicate that each one of us must know and be able to state what we truly want or don't want before we can be expected to transcend anything.

[4] Maimondes said the following, "What David meant when he said, 'G-d is good and just, so He guides sinners onto the path; He directs the humble in the ways of Justice' (Psalms 25:8-9) is this: that G-d dispatches prophets to them to let them know His ways and to bring them to teshuvah. He also means that G-d provides people with the capacity to learn and comprehend" (H. T. 6:5). This is cited as a source for RSZ's insight (Likut Perushim 13:6). What's interesting about *that*, among other things, is that it underscores the fact that G-d doesn't only illumine us in the sort of vague, inchoate ways deep within the soul we might think He does from the context of RSZ's statement.

As Maimondes' remarks indicate, G-d also illumines us by exposing us to prophets (and teachers), and through our own insights. It should also be recorded that others think the illumination is provided us by the daily prayers and recitation of the Sh'ma already cited as special moments of elevation (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 247).

Incidentally, a wonderful depiction of the entire inner struggle is the following one by Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:11) "Understand that when you sin unwittingly, it's because you craved something, your impulses intensified and overwhelmed you, and your thoughts and feelings couldn't combat such an onslaught by quickly admonishing the ocean of cravings and drying it up. Your impulses fooled you, you fell into their trap for the moment, and you were ravaged by the winds of the yetzer harah. It's not as if you wanted to transgress, or had it in mind to ever do that again."

[5] See 3:4 above about another possible fallacy that results from misreading one’s stature: that of imagining yourself loving and fearing G-d when you really don't.

Yet, there seems to be a wish in every G-d-fearing individual's heart to be a tzaddik in fact, though few are; and we wonder why we can't be one. Perhaps we can take comfort, though, from the following insight by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto who offers that "this is (simply) the way G-d chose it to be. Nonetheless, while it is impossible for a whole nation to be of one spiritual type, and there are all sorts of degrees in people ... there will at least be found some special individuals who could completely prepare themselves, and by means of this make meritorious the unprepared for the love of G-d and the indwelling of His Presence" (Messilat Yesharim, Ch. 13).

[6] That clears up the other issues raised by our considering ourselves to be wrongful from inception, as pointed out in 1:3. For as worded there, "First off, how could we be compelled to be righteous by taking such an oath when our devotion is open to free choice? Secondly, we're advised elsewhere to never consider ourselves wrongful (Pirke Avot 2:18) .... And third, if we did consider ourselves wrongful then we'd hardly likely serve G-d as joyously and good-naturedly as we're bidden to (see Deuteronomy 28:47)". The point is that we're still subject to free will as benonim, since there'll always be a plethora of choices to made, moment by moment; we wouldn't be considering ourselves to be out-and-out wrongdoers in the end; and we're capable of being very happy indeed (which is the focus of many of the chapters to follow) and decidedly devout, albeit not utterly righteous (also see Maskil L'Eitan).

[7] But wouldn't his Torah-study itself have subjugated his animalistic spirit? No, for Torah-study only influences and impels our *G-dly* spirit, which is a portion of G-d (like the Torah itself); it has no connection to our animalistic spirit and can't undo it (Maskil L'Eitan).

[8] That's not to deny that that person wouldn't experience an intense inner struggle the whole time he'd be studying Torah deeply or praying selflessly (Biur Tanya), which could last for weeks, months, or even years at a time in some cases.

[9] The yetzer harah could "awaken" right afterwards or fall right back to sleep, we're told. In fact it's been said that the yetzer harah gets bolder yet afterwards, much the way we're energized by a nap (Likut Perushim, Maareh Mekomot, p. 250).

[10] Some would suggest that Rabbah was wrong: that he was a tzaddik, but he was so humble and engrossed in Torah all the time that he didn't realize it (Maskil L'Eitan). But shouldn't he have been aware of his status as we're all expected to, as was pointed out in sect. 3 above? It would seem then that he wasn't a tzaddik and he knew that of himself only too well.

[11] See ch. 42 for more about preparations for prayer.

[12] RSZ includes a couple of Kabbalistic and Talmudic references at this juncture which we'll discuss here, for brevity and clarity's sake.

There's a Kabbalistic principle to the effect that the "heads", which is to say, the highest and loftiest levels, of a phenomenon are nonetheless lower than the "soles" and "feet" -- the lowest and humblest -- levels of a phenomenon that's higher than it. As an analogous Talmudic statement reads, "the distance from the earth to the firmament is a journey (by foot) of five hundred years, and the span of the firmament is a journey (by foot) of five hundred years, and that’s likewise true (of the distance) between one firmament and the other. Above them (all, though,) are the holy Chayot, who are equal (in dimension) to all of them (put together)".

The point is that even the loftiest and most awesome aspects of certain recondite mystical phenomenon are lowly compared to the lowliest aspects of mystical phenomenon loftier yet than they; and that even something that would take many, many thousands of years to traverse is as naught in comparison to the magnitude of other things. Hence, even though the truths of tzaddikim (the "heads") are lofty, the lower truths of the benonim can nevertheless be deemed high relative to them.

(See Ramchal’s Klach Pitchei Chochma 32, p. 120 in the Friedlander edition for another treatment of the idea of relative truth.)

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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