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Judaism: Tanya Lecture: Chapter 1, Part 1

Weekly lesson in the basic work on Hassidism by the first Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch.
Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 1:30 PM


Note: Each Hebrew line from the original is translated in the line below it, along with added explanations.

תניא בסוף פרק ג׳ דנדה: משביעים אותו

We have learned (Niddah, end of ch. 3):1 “An oath is administered to him:

Before a Jew is born an oath is administered to him in heaven, charging him:

תהי צדיק ואל תהי רשע, ואפילו כל העולם כולו אומרים לך צדיק אתה היה בעיניך כרשע

‘Be righteous and be not wicked; and even if the whole world judging you by your actions tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked.’”

The soul of a Jew descends into a body for a purpose — in order to fulfill a specific spiritual mission in this world. To enable him to fulfill it a heavenly oath is administered to him that he “be righteous and not wicked,” and concurrently, that he regard himself as wicked and not righteous. The root (שׁבע) of the verbמשׁביעים (“an oath is administered”) is virtually identical with the root (‏שׂבע) of the verb משׂביעים (“one causes [him] to be sated”). Accordingly, the oath charging him to be righteous may also be understood to mean that the soul is thereby invested (“sated”) with the power that enables it to fulfill its destiny in life on earth.

וצריך להבין, דהא תנן אבות פרק ב׳ : ואל תהי רשע בפני עצמך

This requires to be understood, for we have learned in the Mishnah [Avot, ch. 2],2 “Be not wicked in your own estimation.”

How, then, can we say that an oath is administered to the soul that it regard itself as wicked, when this directly contradicts the Mishnaic injunction not to regard oneself as wicked?3

וגם אם יהיה בעיניו כרשע ירע לבבו ויהיה עצב

Furthermore, if a person considers himself wicked, he will be grieved at heart and depressed,

ולא יוכל לעבוד ה׳ בשמחה ובטוב לבב

and consequently will not be able to serve G‑d joyfully and with a contented heart;

Apart from the previously mentioned contradiction from the Mishnah, an additional question is now raised. A cardinal principle in the service of G‑d is that it be performed with joy — joy at the privilege of serving Him either through performing a positive command or by refraining from that which is prohibited. How then can one be required to take an oath to consider himself wicked, when this will cause him to be depressed, making it impossible for him to serve G‑d with joy?

Furthermore, just as the first part of the oath, “Be righteous and be not wicked,” is vital to his success in realizing his life’s mission, so too the fulfillment of the second part of the oath, that he consider himself wicked, is imperative. How can this possibly be so, when such an attitude hinders his joyful service of G‑d?

ואם לא ירע לבבו כלל מזה

while if his heart will not be at all grieved by this self-appraisal,

I.e., if we should propose that in order to fulfill the oath the person will indeed regard himself as wicked, but at the same time will resolve that his wickedness shall not perturb him, so as not to encumber his joyful service of G‑d,

יכול לבוא לידי קלות חס ושלום

he may be led to irreverence, G‑d forbid, by such an attitude, with sin perturbing him not at all.

For although his original resolve that being wicked will not perturb him stems only from his sincere desire to serve G‑d with joy, yet such a resolution may very well lead to a situation where wickedness will truly not disturb him.

אך הענין

However, the [above] matter will be more clearly understood after a preliminary discussion of the true meaning of “righteous” and “wicked”.

כי הנה מצינו בגמרא ה׳ חלוקות: צדיק וטוב לו, צדיק ורע לו

We find in the Gemara4 five distinct types: a righteous man who prospers,materially as well as spiritually — he knows only good; a righteous man who suffers, in both a material as well as spiritual sense: spiritually, he has not yet vanquished all his evil, and in the material sense too he is wanting;

רשע וטוב לו, רשע ורע לו, ובינוני

a wicked man in whom there is some good and who prospers; a wicked man who suffers spiritually and materially; and an intermediate man — the Beinoni.

ופירשו בגמרא: צדיק וטוב לו — צדיק גמור

The Gemara explains: “the righteous man who prospers” is the consummate lit., “complete” tzaddik;

Once he has achieved this level, physical suffering — to cleanse the soul from the impurities of sin — is unnecessary; he therefore prospers materially as well.

צדיק ורע לו — צדיק שאינו גמור

the “righteous man who suffers” is the imperfect lit., “incomplete” tzaddik.

He therefore experiences some measure of material suffering, thereby cleansing the soul while it is yet clothed in the body, so that he will not have to endure any spiritual suffering in the World to Come.

Accordingly, the Gemara is not referring to two tzaddikim on the same spiritual level, one of whom prospers while the other suffers; rather, it speaks of two distinct levels of tzaddikim. The Gemara thus cites only two characterizations regarding the tzaddik — “consummate” and “imperfect” (lit., “complete” and “incomplete”). The terms “who prospers” or “who suffers” do not indicate his spiritual level: they merely describe his resultant material status.

וברעיא מהימנא פרשת משפטים פירש: צדיק ורע לו — שהרע שבו כפוף לטוב וכו’

In Ra‘aya Mehemna (Parshat Mishpatim)5 it is explained that “the righteous man who suffers” is one whose evil nature is subservient to his good nature.6

He is a tzaddik who still retains some vestige of evil, albeit subservient to his good nature. Accordingly, a “righteous man who prospers” is a tzaddik in whom there is only good, since he has totally transformed his evil nature.

According to the Zohar (of which Ra‘aya Mehemna is a part), the terms “who prospers” and “who suffers” also indicate and describe the level of the tzaddik.The “tzaddik who prospers” is a tzaddik in whom there is only good — the evil within him having already been transformed to good; the “tzaddik who suffers” is a tzaddik of lower stature — one who still harbors some evil.

However, we must now understand why redundant titles are given to each level of tzaddik: “complete tzaddik” and “tzaddik who prospers”; “incompletetzaddik” and “tzaddik who suffers.” If the “complete tzaddik” is the “tzaddik who prospers” (i.e., in whom there is only good) and the “incomplete tzaddik” is the“tzaddik who suffers” (i.e., retains a vestige of evil), why then is it necessary to give each tzaddik two appellations?

The explanation provided further (in ch. 10) is that each descriptive term denotes a specific aspect of the divine service of the tzaddik. The terms “complete tzaddik” and “incomplete tzaddik” denote the level of service of thetzaddik’s G‑dly soul, i.e., the tzaddik’s love of G‑d, for it is by virtue of this love that he is called “tzaddik.” The “complete tzaddik” is he who has attained perfection in his love of G‑d in a manner of ahavah betaanugim (“love of delights”) — the serene love of fulfillment. The tzaddik whose ahavah betaanugim is as yet imperfect is called the “incomplete (or unperfected)tzaddik.”

The terms “tzaddik who prospers” and “tzaddik who suffers” denote thetzaddik’s status vis-à-vis his efforts in transforming his animal soul to holiness. For the tzaddik, through his lofty service of ahavah betaanugim, transforms the evil within him into holiness and good. The designation “tzaddik who prospers” indicates that he has already totally transformed the evil within him and now good alone remains, while the “tzaddik who suffers” is one who has not yet managed to totally transform the evil within him to good; a vestige of it still remains.

The explanations that follow make it abundantly clear that the evil referred to here is no more than an amorphous evil still harbored in the heart of the “incomplete tzaddik.” For the tzaddik has no association with actual evil that manifests itself in thought or speech, and most certainly not with the evil that finds expression in actions.

ובגמרא סוף פרק ט׳ דברכות: צדיקים יצר טוב שופטן כו׳, רשעים יצר הרע שופטן

In the Gemara (end of ch. 9 of Berachot7) [it is stated] that the righteous are “judged” i.e., motivated and ruled by their good nature, their good nature having the final say; the wicked are judged i.e., motivated and ruled by their evil nature, their evil nature having the final say;

בינונים זה וזה שופטן וכו׳

intermediate men are “judged” by both the good and evil nature.8

אמר רבה: כגון אנא בינוני. אמר ליה אביי: לא שביק מר חיי לכל בריה וכו׳

Rabbah declared: “I, for example, am a ‘Beinoni’.” Said Abbaye to him, “Master, you make it impossible for any creature to live.”

Abbaye argued thus: “If you are a Beinoni, then all those on a lower level than you fall into the category of the wicked, concerning whom our Sages say:9‘The wicked, even while alive, are considered dead.’ By calling yourself aBeinoni you thus make it impossible for anyone to live.”

ולהבין כל זה באר היטב

To understand all the aforesaid clearly [an explanation is called for].

In addition to the question which will soon follow — that according to the common conception of a Beinoni as a person having half mitzvot and half transgressions, how could a great sage like Rabbah mistake himself for aBeinoni — a further question is implied:

If a Beinoni is simply one having half mitzvot and half transgressions, then his status is readily identifiable, and there is no possible room for debate.

וגם להבין מה שאמר איוב בבא בתרא פרק א׳ : רבונו של עולם, בראת צדיקים בראת רשעים כו׳

And also to understand the statement of Job [Bava Batra ch. 1]10: “L‑rd of the Universe! You have created righteous men, You have created wicked men,….”

והא צדיק ורשע לא קאמר

for He does not decree [which persons are to be] righteous and wicked.

The Gemara11 relates that G‑d decrees that a child about to be born will be wise or foolish, strong or weak, and so on. However, whether the child will be righteous or wicked G‑d does not say: this is not predetermined; rather, it is left to the individual’s free choice.

How, then, are we to understand Job’s plaint, “You have created righteous men, You have created wicked men”?12

For the Tanya site, click here.

FOOTNOTES

1.Niddah 30b.

2.Avot 2:13.

3.The apparent contradiction between the two statements is resolved in ch. 13. See also chs. 14, 29 and 34.

4.Berachot 7a.

5.Zohar II, 117b.

6.This is an alternative interpretation of the words ורע לו which may be rendered literally as “evil [belongs] to him”; i.e, he is master of the evil nature in him.

7.61b.

8.See beginning of ch. 9, and ch. 13.

9.Berachot 18b.

10.Bava Batra 16a.

11.Niddah 16b.

12.The question is answered in ch. 14 and ch. 27.

Review:

The Tanya:

A Roadmap for Emotional and Healthy Living

An in depth study of the ancient works of of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi

Among the topics:

Is G-d knowable?

What is our purpose in life?

Why is life such a struggle?

Why is my inner self full of contradictions?

Does the universe really "exist" or is it all an illusion?

How to deal with my anger, jealousy, anxiety and despair?

The Tanya compacts four millennia of Jewish wisdom to answer the great personal and existential questions of life. It has revolutionized the way we think about G -d the human soul, the world and our place in it.