Tanya: Chapter 24

This chapter drives home an interesting truth: Rebelling against HaShem is rebellion, whether it's a minor transgression or a major one. Even worse, the most minor transgression puts you in a place lower than the lowliest of the unholy creations.

These are frustratingly depressing things but they bear a phenomenal pay off. It isn't mentioned very much in this chapter, but a large part of Hassidut deals with the holiness that can be brought about only by repenting for one's sins. Our place in existence means that on the one hand, we can choose wrongly and sink lower than anyone else ever could, on the other hand, when we wake up to our errors and strive to fix them we can raise them up higher than anything else in the world.

In chapter 4, the clothing of our souls is discussed to a limited degree, but an important point made is that the clothing, created by the performance of mitzwoth, has a higher source than our soul itself. Think about it, when we do Teshuvah -- a very serious mitzwah, we not only bring down light from a higher level than we could otherwise attain, we also raise up our failings and reveal the light within them, also inherently from a higher source than our own souls.

In short, all losses only set us up for greater successes. The catch is that the potential success is so much greater in large part due to the fact that it's a long shot. Every time we dig ourselves in deeper, it means we will have to work that much harder to extricate ourselves.

Here is the truly comforting thing though, mentioned at the end of chapter 24: When we fall it's like taking the King's head and sticking it in a filthy toilet. True, it doesn't sound like much of a consolation, but think: We are given such closeness to the King. He joins in and goes along with our every action. He loves us so so so so so much that he won't even leave our side when we've gone as low as we possibly can. He's with us no matter what. He's utterly totally and completely committed to you.

If that doesn't bring you comfort, I don't know what could.

Tanya: Chapter 23

A longer chapter, this one is very dense and subtly confusing, I reviewed it quite a number of times. Still, as with my first impression, I want to talk about a single bracketed comment. Summed up it says, "The reason we can be so close to God is the very fact that we are oblivious to Him." But what does it really mean in context and what does it mean for us?

The Baal HaTanya explains in this chapter two levels of extreme closeness with HaShem, one infinitely closer than the next. Actively performing a mitzwah allows our bodies and the lower levels of our souls to become vessels for God's holiness, His Will, in this world. Incidentally it is through these active mitzwoth that the whole world receives it's life-force from HaShem. This is still a limited interaction, (by comparison to the second and infinitely higher level, it is) a limited experience for our souls because it means we become nullified to HaShem's Will. A passenger, at best, in our own existence, while HaShem is "driving" the car.

The act of performing mitzwoth is nothing like Torah study where, rather than become nullified to HaShem's infinite Will, we are able to grasp, in a sense, HaShem's Will, and become utterly united with it. The difference is, I think, a subtle point. Perhaps, to the best of my limited understanding, one can explain it like so: In mitzwah performance we lose ourselves to the greater importance of the mitzwah. Whereas, in learning Torah, our understanding and application of the Torah requires us to have some existence, and yet, HaShem joins us in that existence, uniting with us. This is the purpose of the Torah, to connect our souls intimately with HaShem, not simply kneel before Him.

Yes, as we mentioned, the act of nullification before HaShem through the performance of the mitzwoth brings life to all of existence, but all of existence is only here so that there is a space we may share with HaShem. When we learn Torah we are inhabiting and sharing that space with HaShem.

While mitzwah performance is integral to the world's continued creation, it is Torah study that fulfills the purpose of that creation.

This is all background to the one comment on which I'd like to focus. How is it that we can maintain some unique identity and still be completely and totally united with HaShem? It's only when we lack the awareness of being united with HaShem. HaShem says to Mosheh Rabbeinu: "Lo Yirani HaAdam Va CHai." Perhaps one of the hidden meanings is that Man lives, precisely because he cannot see HaShem.

In a way this is what is special about the Torah, we say "Lo HaBayshan Lomed," the shy person doesn't learn. In order to pick up a sefer and learn, we need to have the nerve to sit down and try to understand HaShem's infinite Wisdom. Yet we already learn in Pirkei Avot, "Kol SheYirato Kodemeth l'Chochmato Chochmato mitkayemet," All whose fear of heaven precede their learning, their learning will persist. When we learn from a place of heavenly fear, we are safeguarded against the dangers of ego, but if we haven't any ego, we won't pick up the sefer.

It's this paradox that lies at the depth of creation. The Angels do God's Will, His Mitzwoth, but because of their constant awareness of HaShem, they cannot learn His Torah. Elsewhere in the Tanya we learn that simply the presence of ten Jews in one place reveals HaShem's divine presence, and an Angel in that presence would cease to be.

Precisely because we are so limited, because we might dare to be able to understand HaShem's Will, that is what allows us to draw close to our Father. Just as a child tries tirelessly to make sense out of their parents' actions, without being troubled by their simpler (and more lacking) worldview.

Tanya: Chapter 22

There's a subtle comment in this chapter on which I would like to focus. One of the reasons the "other side" exists is so that Tzadikim can be rewarded for their actions.

You would think that the reward for good behavior comes from the "good" side, but surprisingly it doesn't. It comes from the "other" side. There's a number of reasons to explain this, and frankly some of them are well beyond my own ability to understand, but this actually explains some otherwise difficult statements by Chazal.

In Pirkei Avot we're taught to not serve HaShem in exchange for a reward. If we look at the Komarna Rebbe's peirush, Notzer Hesed, he highlights the original phrasing of the Tanna as, "Serve in order not to receive a reward." In light of the Baal HaTanya's comment in this chapter, we can make some sense out of the value of serving HaShem in order to receive no reward.

As we know from elsewhere in the Tanya the Tzaddik utterly hates evil. Since reward shares a common source with evil, the Tzaddik is repulsed by reward. From here we can see how the Tzaddik would do whatever necessary to serve HaShem and receive no reward in exchange.

Perhaps this even provides the opening and motive for Mosheh Rabbeinu to have sinned on purpose at mei merivah. Some interesting things to consider from a seemingly offhand comment in the Tanya. Clearly I haven't begun to reach the inner depths of the wisdom of the Tanya.

Tanya: Chapter 21

Last night my three-year old son told me that we are in HaShem's belly, "because that's where your voice comes from, from your belly." (We've spoken in the past about how HaShem created through world through speaking.) I told him he was right, and that it was a very wise insight. This morning I read this chapter for a second time, and my son's comment illuminated the central meaning of the chapter.

HaShem's speech is not like our speech. It doesn't leave His lips and begin some independent existence as sound waves. Through His speech, HaShem reveals something that was previously hidden to us, to us but not to Him. HaShem carries us as if in a womb, all of creation is an integral and intimate part of Him. And in a way, just as the mother is aware of the greater world beyond the wall of the womb as well as what goes on within the womb, HaShem is aware of all of creation in all of its glory. We, in the womb, carry on almost impervious to all that happens without, aside from an occasional jolt or the swaying motion of the waters around us as mom moves.

This is a visceral image that brings home some of the ideas, but the Baal HaTanya didn't use this imagery for a number of reasons, most of all I think because the baby inside a mother is still in many ways a foreign entity. Secondly the mother is very much ignorant of many things happening within the womb. Third because a fetus effects many changes in the mother, we bear no ability to effect a change of any kind in HaShem.

Why didn't the Baal HaTanya use any better choice of imagery to illustrate the point of this chapter? It is because there is really no analog in the physical world that demonstrates HaShem's innate Oneness. His ways are not like our ways.

Tanya: Chapter 20

I spent a lot of time with this chapter, reviewing it for a few weeks now. It's an amazing chapter in that it so succinctly describes the flow and various stages of desire transforming into action.

The most striking point to me is that everything starts off in the intellect at a level of potential. Any desire is initially a dormant potential desire in the mind. Later it is awakened to actual desire in the heart, and finally it is clothed in letters of thought and speech (and action, i think) when planning and execution is needed to fulfill that desire.

My question is: how does the potential desire in the intellect get there in the first place. To which I have two potential answers. (1) The simplest, and at some deeper level the truest, is that all those desires are built-in to our essence. (2) The only major alternative is to suggest that these desires, even in the potential state, are acquired. I can see three means of acquiring new potential desires: (a) intellectual consideration and extrapolation, (b) a subset and perhaps a go between for the last method: seeing something through one's eyes. (The eyes see and the heart desires--as Chazal point out. Not to mention science says that the eyes are/were essentially specialized parts of the brain, not some entirely separate organ) Lastly (c) we may obtain new potential desires through experience. For example tasting a new food to see whether or not it is worth eating. (At an ice cream parlor they give you a little tasting spoon.)

I think it is clear that all three are means of gaining new potential desires whereas (b) might be the most powerful, (c) more rare, and (a) most challenging. Still, it seems to me that somewhere deep down (1) is fundamentally true.

If (1) is in fact true, and all of those potential desires are bound up within our very being, then that says a lot about the nature of creation. It does a good job of explaining why changes in the world in no way affect changes in HaShem. All of those eventual outcomes already exist within Him, in potential. The Baal HaTanya does touch on similar ideas elsewhere, including regarding how the "abilities" of the soul are clothed in the body, so I imagine we aren't far off the mark conjecturing here.

Tanya: Chapter 19

The most striking idea emphasized in this chapter is the contrast between the nature of Hochmah and the Klipah. The nature (figuratively) of the Soul is to lose itself in HaShem's infinitude. The nature of the Klipah is to want its own individuality, always begging for anything it can get.

The startling thing to me is how far the Klipah strays from its goals. For example, the Neshamah, who wants nothing more than to cease to be within HaShem's all-encompassing light, lacks for nothing. Whereas the Klipah, who desires nothing more than independence is forever without, forever thirsting after something, anything.

Tanya: Chapter 18

According to the Baal HaTanya, one of the defining characteristics of a Jew is the fundamental willingness to die for the sake of Heaven.

This chapter is his introduction to this particular point, if I'm not mistaken it is his Hidush, his original idea. (A side note: The difference between a Hidush and an original idea is that a Hidush is actually based on texts that came before it, yet it clarifies those texts in a way no one has managed to do before.)

The first thing this teaches us is that while we know that everything in existence is derivative of God in one way or another, there is an inner intimacy found within the Jewish soul that is more revealed than anywhere else. Revealed, but only from within. Within the soul there is a light of Godliness that is not so revealed anywhere else, but from the outside, it is utterly hidden. It is only with this understanding that the intimacy expressed in Tehillim by David HaMelech begins to come to light.

From the first chapter we saw that if this Jewish soul is absent from non-Jews, it must be something very removed from this worldly existence because there is no scientifically observable difference between Jews and gentiles. It seems to me that here we can start to understand how subtle and intimate the Jewish soul is, such that there is no way to communicate a measurable difference in this world. Only when a Jew opts to leave this world rather than deny the existence and oneness of God, only then can you determine that there was in fact a Jewish soul in there somewhere.

[as a small aside I wonder at the special number given to this chapter, 18, חי - life. If it was placed davka here to hint at the root of a Jewish life.]

Tanya: Chapter 17

The emphasis of the Torah being within one's grasp is on the performance of the Mitzwoth of the Torah. This is because the intellect is given complete control over the heart, as far as whether or not the heart can use the body to express its wishes. [As has been explained at length in the preceding chapters]

The only exception brought in this chapter is the case of a truly sinful person whose heart is freed from his intellectual control as a punishment for his actions. This explains why first he must do teshuvah to regain control of his heart, then once again, the performance of the Torah's mitzwoth are entirely up to him.

Tanya: Chapter 16

When we awaken our souls to love and awe of HaShem, then it fills our hearts with firey love and awe as well. This excitement of the heart is already a physical phenomenon which in turn can raise up our entirely physical actions and make them spiritual.

Even more amazing is that when we only think and understand enough about HaShem to know that we should be excited, but not enough to awaken any real excitement in our hearts, then these thoughts are still too ephemeral and spirtual to affect any elevation of our physical actions.

Where HaShem's kindness truly shines is when he binds even those thoughts and ideas to our physical actions and allows them to alight as if we had actually awakened our hearts to awe and love.

The Baal Shem Tov already taught that we barely have anything to do with our mitzwoth, such that we really can't take any credit for doing them. This revellation of the Baal HaTanya takes it one step further: Even when the meager action of the mitzwah that we do is imperfect, HaShem still steps in and completes even more of the mitzwah just so that He can still give us the credit He wants us to receive.

Tanya: Chapter 15

This chapter mainly offers definitions and explanations of a couple of key passukim. The most important take-away is that serving HaShem is about the effort invested. As long as you are investing effort in your relationship, this is real relationship-building. If you are merely keeping pace, even if you've set an aggressive pace, that isn't real spiritual 'work.'

The Tzaddikim differ from the beinonim in that they are so invested in increasing the effort they put into their relationship with HaShem that the Talmud says about them that they don't rest at all in their lives, nor after they have left this world.

Tanya: Chapter 14

This chapter is such a good example of why I love the Tanya so much. There are so many powerful and crucial lessons in just a few sentences.

Here are, to me, the most important things to note in this chapter:

  1. Everyone can be a beinoni - One can ALWAYS (ie. without fail) act according to what one knows to be right, even if it isn't what you want to do.
  2. A sin separates you from HaShem - Only the mistaken belief that you are still connected to HaShem even when you sin allows you to rationalize sinning.
  3. If you routinely practice being a tzaddik, then it becomes "second" nature, and what was initially an act can touch on the truth.This doesn't mean fake it, or "put on airs" but it does mean, sometimes (for fixed periods of time every day, in private) try and behave the way a tzaddik should behave.
This is hugely comforting in a number of ways. The Tanya seems pretty depressing at the start: Not only is the definition of Tzaddik even further than you first thought, you're going to have to practically kill yourself to even reach the level of Beinoni.

At least now we're told it is entirely possible and within everyone's grasp to be a beinoni. On top of that we're told the key thing to keep in mind in order to stick to the right track: Don't be fooled into thinking for a minute that a step away from torah/mitzwoth isn't a step away from HaShem. It is. HaShem is the source of all life, sinning is literally like choosing to commit suicide. Sure, sometimes we want out, but a healthy person doesn't consider suicide as a viable option.

Lastly, what's the point? If we are going to put in all this effort anyways, why stop at beinoni when we know the real goal is 'tzaddik'? The Baal HaTanya is telling us that if we are going to put in the effort and strive even to tzidkut, even if it's ultimately beyond us, there's still hope that we might get close.

Tanya: Chapter 13

The Beinoni has evil in his heart, he just never lets it out.

Going back to the second part of the Chapter 9 post:
When our Animal Soul wants something, we feel a drive towards that thing, be it food, money, people, anything. On the other hand, our Godly Soul or our Yetzer Tov is rooted in the intellect. When our Godly Soul wants something, we know it is the right thing to do, but we don't feel driven to do it.
This point is important to remember moving forwards. Only the Tzaddik is able to make any permanent progress in bringing his Godly Soul down to the level of the heart. The Beinoni gets to test-drive being a Tzaddik during Tefillah and Torah learning, but that's basically it.

The main strategy of the Beinoni and his/her major advantage is the presence of the Godly soul in one's intellect. The source of the Animal soul's influence is in the intellect of Binah/Understanding. By using this capability of ours, Binah, to contemplate the greatness of God in all its intricacies and subtlety, we subvert the source of the Animal soul's power and direct it towards holiness and relating to Godliness. In short, we can appropriate this power for use by our Godly soul.

By means of this strategy we can avoid the conflict with the Animal soul for the most part, and on this idea hinges the saying (quoted in this chapter) of Chazal: "It would be fitting for one to pray the entire day." The labor of contemplating God's greatness in order to awaken our love for God is the foundation of prayer.

That's what the entire conflict boils down to: Whoever snoozes loses. When we don't actively sieze control from the Yetzer Hara, we are sleeping. When we wake up, he is resigned to hibernate.

It's daunting somewhat to always have to be in action, which is why it's so vital to put yourself in good surroundings and accustom yourself to good habits, so that whenever the Yetzer Hara does wake up, you can nip it in the bud.

Were you expecting to take it easy here? This is only the anteroom, the throne room is on the other side of Olam HaZeh.

Tanya: Chapter 12

The Beinoni is in a transitional state. Consistency is not the defining characteristic of a Beinoni, persistence is.

He goes through highs and lows. On the highs, during moments of prayer and study, he touches Godliness, the smallest taste of the state at which Tzaddikim exist all the time. On the lows, he stubbornly refuses to give in to the persistent nagging of his yetzer hara, refuses to taste what it is that makes resha'im who they are.

How does he survive this roller coaster? Intellectual rigor on the one hand, he wants no part of what the evil will give him, and on the other hand, the reservoirs of spiritual energy he manages to hold onto after the spiritual highs.

This is represented in two ways:

When it comes to the spiritual benefits of the highs, it is called an imprint that is left in his heart. In the high itself, the Baal HaTanya explains, his heart burns with Godly desire, but afterwards only an imprint of those feelings stay with him.

At the lows, the goal of the Beinoni is only to avoid clothing himself in evil. In his heart and mind he is tempted, but he doesn't pursue those temptations, he staves them off, rejects them utterly and strives to do their exact opposite.

So through cherishing that imprint of good and rejecting the clothing of evil the Beinoni manages to hash out an existence every moment of every day.

Still, the Baal HaTanya says, the beinoni never roots evil out of his heart.

This imagery paints a picture for me, a Beinoni has a pure core, but is surrounded by darkness trying to encroach on that light at the center, still the gray halo surrounding the core doesn't have the ability to expell the darkness with any finality, at most it can hold it at bay.
The Tzaddik is different, the core is surely pure but the halo surrounding that core has been so refined that the darkness can't even come close. In fact, when the halo, or skin, becomes especially pure, the darkness is transformed into light merely by being in contact with it.
The difference between a Tzaddik and a Beinoni, to me, is the difference of skin. Both flee from evil, but the Tzaddik isn't content with victory, instead the Tzaddik must transcend the evil altogether, even his skin is made holy.
The most important thing to note is when and where the front lines of the battle are located. Thinking inappropriate thoughts is something a Beinoni refrains from, but only once he becomes consciously aware that the thoughts he is thinking are inappropriate. [It goes without saying that if a Beinoni doesn't think inappropriate thoughts, he doesn't speak inappropriate things, or act in an inappropriate way. -- as the Baal HaTanya makes clear.]

ps. I sat on this chapter a long long time, and didn't publish this for months. I'm publishing it now after rereading what I wrote a month ago, if not more, and being impressed by what was written here. The imagery in the middle seems less relevant, but I left it in (indented) because it seems like something true which I no longer fully understand.

Tanya: Chapter 11

This chapter is the scariest perhaps in all the Tanya. Here the Rebbe states explicitly (what Chaza"l have stated elsewhere in the Talmud) that anyone who sins, in the midst of that sin is considered a total Rasha, evildoer.

We don't like to think of ourselves as downright evil, so it definitely comes as a surprise to know that sometimes that's how he might classify us. It makes sense though, when he explains the dynamics in terms of the control of the small town (the body) whenever we sin we are essentially handing over control of the town to our yetzer hara, or making our body a dwelling place for unholiness.

Just like eating something that is contaminated with botulism or the like will make a person sick, if only temporarily, so too going against the will of God literally contaminates our body, if only temporarily.

The good news is that when we do Teshuvah from a place of honesty HaShem immediately accepts it and forgives us. Every time, no matter how often, as long as we really and truly mean it.

The important point that shouldn't be overlooked, once we see how low the bar has fallen casting seemingly everyone in the role of rasha, is that just as involvement in an aveirah makes us temporarily a total villain, involvement in a mitzwah renders us a pure tzaddik [of the moment.]

Tanya: Chapter 10

The last chapter ended with the comparison of the Yetzer Hara to the Prostitute hired by the King to tempt the Prince in order to reward the Prince for his resistance to her overtures. [Referenced in the Zohar] 

This chapter ends with the comparison of a son selflessly serving his father and mother. It's interesting that the Baal HaTanya chose to end these chapters with illustrative stories, even brief ones. In both situations the person is represented by the son. In both situations the everyone else's actions are beyond reproach. The only question is how the son behaves. 

This is our goal here in this world: to correct our behavior. It's easy to fall into the belief that our actions are acceptable and the actions of others are problematic. This the Baal HaTanya hints at in this perek, is a clear message that you aren't yet a Tzaddik Gamur. (a complete Tzaddik who has totally rooted out the evil in his heart) As long as you haven't become entirely pure (and this includes especially finding fault in others) you still bear evil somewhere deep in your heart.

Even though the plain meaning at the end of the perek is that the two variations on the bnei Aliyah are intrinsically related, my initial understanding was different and I believe there is room to understand it in this way:

ושניהם עולים בקנה אחד. כי על ידי הבירורים שמבררים מנוגה מעלים מיין נוקבין ונעשים יחודים עליונים להוריד מיין דכורין שהם הם מימי החסדים שבכל מצוה ומצוה מרמ״ח מצות עשה, שכולן הן בחינת חסדים ומיין דכורין דהיינו המשכת קדושת אלקותו יתברך מלמעלה למטה להתלבש בתחתונים, כמו שכתוב במקום אחר
The two of them are intimately connected: The Tzaddik who is not complete raises up Mayin Nukvin through his yearning to better himself and rise up to HaShem, and the Tzaddik who is complete, the Bnei Aliyah bring down the Mayin Duchrin to provide for the world's needs.

Only once a person has completed their path to true tzidkut can they really help the world at large. First master yourself and then you will truly be able to help others. Until such time, all help you provide to others is of a limited nature. It is still a mitzwah to help others nonetheless. Just be aware that you are doing more for yourself by helping them than you are for them.

To this end we see from the Baal HaTanya here that when our hearts are truly full of love of HaShem we will naturally hate evil. The more we hate evil, the more we love HaShem. To me it seems the safer path is to focus on the side of love and let the side of hatred grow as a result of that love. The other way, to work on hating evil in order that we might grow to love HaShem is frought with too many pitfalls. I believe this is why the Rebbe here focuses on the relationship from the side of love, and mentions the hate mainly as a result or a symptom of that love.