Judaism: Weekly Tanya Lesson: Chap. 1, Lesson 2
וגם להבין מהות מדריגת הבינוני
We must also understand the essential nature (mahut) of the rank of the Beinoni, person between a tzaddik and a wicked man..
The mahut, essence, of a tzaddik is righteousness; the mahut of the wicked man is evil. What is the mahut — the essential nature — of the Beinoni?
שבודאי אינו מחצה זכיות ומחצה עוונות, שאם כן איך טעה רבה בעצמו לומר שהוא בינוני
He is certainly not one whose deeds are half virtuous and half sinful; for if this were so, how could Rabbah (Talmudic sage) err in [classifying] himself as a Beinoni?
ונודע דלא פסיק פומיה מגירסא, עד שאפילו מלאך המות לא היה יכול לשלוט בו
— when it is known that his mouth never ceased studying [the Torah], so much so that even the Angel of Death had no dominion over him.13
Such was Rabbah’s diligence that he did not neglect his studies for even one moment. Qualitatively too, his learning was on so high a plane that the Angel of Death was unable to overpower him.
ואיך היה יכול לטעות במחצה עוונות, חס ושלום
How, then, could he err in considering that half his deeds were sinful, G‑d forbid?
ועוד, שהרי בשעה שעושה עונות נקרא רשע גמור
Furthermore, when can a person be considered a Beinoni? For at the time one sins until he repents he is deemed completely wicked,
ואם אחר כך עשה תשובה נקרא צדיק גמור
(and if he was sinful and then repented, thus ceasing to be wicked, he is deemed completely righteous14).
ואפילו העובר על איסור קל של דברי סופרים מקרי רשע, כדאיתא בפרק ב׳ דיבמות ובפרק קמא דנדה
ואפילו מי שיש בידו למחות ולא מיחה נקרא רשע בפרק ו׳ דשבועות
Moreover, even he who himself does not sin, but has the opportunity to forewarn another against sinning and fails to do so is termed wicked [Shevuot, ch. 617].
וכל שכן וקל וחומר במבטל איזו מצות עשה שאפשר לו לקיימה
All the more so he who neglects any positive law which he is able to fulfill,
כמו כל שאפשר לו לעסוק בתורה ואינו עוסק
for instance, whoever is able to study Torah and does not do so,
שעליו דרשו רבותינו ז״ל: כי דבר ה׳ בזה וגו׳ הכרת תכרת וגו׳
ופשיטא דמקרי רשע טפי מעובר איסור דרבנן
It is thus plain that such a person is called wicked, more so than he who violates a prohibition of the Sages.
ואם כן על כרחך הבינוני אין בו אפילו עון ביטול תורה
This being so, we must conclude that the Beinoni is not guilty even of the sin of neglecting to study Torah;
a sin most difficult to avoid, and counted among those sins that people transgress daily.20
ומשום הכי טעה רבה בעצמו לומר שהוא בינוני
This is why Rabbah mistook himself for a Beinoni.
Since a Beinoni is innocent even of neglecting Torah study, Rabbah could [mistakenly] consider himself a Beinoni, even though he scrupulously observed even the most minor commandments and never ceased from his studies.
והא דאמרינן בעלמא דמחצה על מחצה מקרי בינוני ורוב זכיות מקרי צדיק
As for the well-known saying1 that one [whose deeds and misdeeds are] equally balanced is called a Beinoni, while [he who has] a majority of virtues outweighing his sins is called atzaddik,
הוא שם המושאל
this is only a borrowed name, i.e., a figurative use of the term borrowed from its true usage in order to emphasize a particular point. Thus the namesBeinoni and tzaddik, denoting a balance between merits and sins, are in fact but borrowed names
לענין שכר ועונש
used in regard to reward and punishment,
לפי שנדון אחר רובו
because one is judged according to the majority [of his deeds],
ומקרי צדיק בדינו מאחר שזוכה בדין
and he is termed “righteous” in reference to his verdict, since he is acquitted at his trial.
It is only in this legal sense that the term tzaddik is applied to one who performs more good deeds than evil.
אבל לענין אמיתת שם התואר והמעלה של מעלת ומדריגות חלוקות צדיקים ובינונים
If, however, we seek to truly define the distinct qualities and ranks of tzaddikim and Beinonim,
אמרו רבותינו ז״ל: צדיקים — יצר טוב שופטן, שנאמר: ולבי חלל בקרבי
our Sages have remarked that the righteous are “judged” i.e., motivated and ruled, solely by their good nature, as it is written,2“And my heart is slain within me,”
שאין לו יצר הרע כי הרגו בתענית
meaning that he i.e., David, the author of this verse was devoid of an evil nature, having slain it through fasting.
David extirpated his evil nature through fasting; other ways too are possible.
We thus see from the Gemara that the definition of tzaddik in its true sense applies to the person who has rid himself of his evil nature.
אבל כל מי שלא הגיע למדרגה זו, אף שזכיותיו מרובים על עונותיו, אינו במעלת ומדריגת צדיק כלל
But whoever has not attained this degree of ridding himself of his evil nature, even though his virtues outnumber his sins, is not at all at the level and rank of tzaddik.
In fact, not only has he not reached the rank of tzaddik: he has not yet attained even the level of Beinoni, as has been demonstrated above.
ולכן אמרו רבותינו ז״ל במדרש: ראה הקדוש ברוך הוא בצדיקים שהם מועטים, עמד ושתלן ככל דור ודור וכו׳
This is why our Sages have expounded:3 “The Almighty saw that the righteous were few, so He arose and planted i.e., and spread them in every generation,”
וכמו שכתוב: וצדיק יסוד עולם
[for,] as it is written,4 “The tzaddik is the foundation of the world.”
Thus, in each generation there must be a tzaddik who serves as the “foundation of the world.”
This paucity of tzaddikim (“The righteous were few”) can be explained only if a tzaddik is he who has totally rid himself of his evil nature. Were the term tzaddikto mean one whose good deeds outweigh the evil, why then do our Sages say that “the righteous were few,” when the overwhelming majority of Jews have more good deeds than evil!
An in depth study of the ancient works of of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of LiadiAmong 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.
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