Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Now what?

We have thus far outlined the internal makeup of the Jew: the fundamental dichotomy between the two souls, the animal soul and the G-dly soul, each with its own objectives and modus operandi. We made the distinction between the “powers” of the soul and “garments.” The innate nature of each soul can only express itself when one allows it the “garments” of thought, speech and action. Our second lesson drew further distinctions between three types of people, the righteous, the wicked and those classified as intermediary.

At this stage of the game, it is key to remember that Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi stresses that the rank of righteous is beyond the reach of most of us. Tanya’s “program” is for human beings, not saints, and another name for the book is “The Book of the Intermediary,” as it is this category that we must strive to reach. Additionally, the Tanya affirms that this is the category that we are all capable of reaching. Yet the behavior of the intermediary still reaches the level of perfection, as the only the G-dly soul is given the garments of expression.

The basic tool for becoming a beinoni is simple impulse control: training ourselves to make the right decisions and avoid indulging in vice. Yet this tactic alone is far from enough, or we would have all kicked our bad habits long ago. After a while, we often simply get tired of the effort required to maintain control. How can we make self-discipline a more satisfying pursuit so that we will be motivated to stay with the program? This is the question we will be addressing in our next lesson.

I look forward to seeing you in class next week.



  1. Hi Rabbi,
    I will quote a piece of Tanya chapter 12 before asking my question:
    " ...For man was so created from birth, that every person may, WITH THE POWER OF THE WILL IN HIS BRAIN, restrain himself and control the drive of his heart's lust."
    My question is: what about the people that for reasons of different kind (birth defects, after different kind of brain damage) for example, are prevented from exercising this will power? Will they never be in a position to become beinoni? And on the other hand, when because of those conditions they allow their animal soul to be expressed in the different garments, can they be consider rasha? I hope I can expess myself correctly.
    I enjoyed the class today greately. Thank you so much. This classes warm the heart and feed the soul (both of them, I guess :)

  2. Hi Rabbi,

    I'm going to post the question I asked in class to see if anyone wants to still comment on it. The question was one based on the idea that a person even a righteous person must at times think about self-preservation over the altruistic philosophy he/she may otherwise adhere to. In the situation of being bullied/persecuted a person will find that the people involved are intent on causing harm. In the situation where a non-violent confrontation may occur the goal of the individual being bullied will be to defend himself not to turn the other cheek. If there is no authority figure willing to stand up and make a statement against the bullying behaviours then the individual under duress must attempt to express himself to his/her persecutors. Often the only way to make an impact is to be in touch with one's feelings of anger, hurt, and distain. I do not believe that the G-dly soul can triumph otherwise.

  3. Hi Dave, I was thinking about you question yesterday. I think that the beinoni can draw energy from the self preservation animal soul and redirect it in a way that his behaviour will serve the G-dly soul. May be serving the G-dly soul to act in sel preservation. Otherwise the G-dly soul won't have a chance to exist in a human being. I do think that the beinoni is in touch with feelings of anger, hurt and disdain and I do agree with you that otherwise the G-dly soul cannot express itself otherwise.
    Thanks for making me think.

  4. Hi Aida,

    Thanks for your reply! I liked your answer and it really suggests the complexity involved in knowing how to behave G-dly. In a healthy person maybe the animal soul is transcended to doing good and thereby it earns a longer leash. Whereas someone who does not allow their animal soul expression would be a victim of various circumstances and incapable of acting under duress. It is definitely not black and white thinking. My pet peeve is for the people who tolerate abuse and bullying by trying to ignore it. The fact is that ignoring abuse enables the abuser to keep trying harder, not a G-dly act in my opinion. It not only shows lack of courage to defend oneself but allows future victims to be preyed upon.

    In regards to your question above, I agree that special circumstance should be granted for the disabled individual in terms of judging their behaviour. However, it would likely depend on what part of the brain is affected. If the person has no damage to the areas that control impulsiveness than they could learn to control themselves just like anyone else, with the exception that they have more challenges and frustrations. Under the definition given in class, a disabled individual either way should not be deemed wicked just unable to control their instinctive behaviours a.k.a. rasha like for the rest of us. That's my opinion anyway!

  5. I had another thought on the dual soul principal. The animal soul seems to have a bad reputation because of the potentially selfish and self-destructive behaviour it seeks. What though of the G-dly soul? Who ever said that attempting to do good always results in good? I think that the G-dly soul is capable of evil in the instances where the person is ignorant about circumstances. It would obviously not be evil perpetrated with intention but whoever said that the animal soul plans evil either? I'd like to know what others think about this?

  6. Hi Aida,

    I assume that you are speaking of someone who suffers from a mental illness like phobia, schizophrenic or obsessive compulsive disorder and consequently does not have the capacity to exercise impulse control.

    If so, although certain behaviors may not be aliened with the Torah's instructions of how we should live our lives, that person cannot be held responsible for his or her actions, speech or thoughts.

    The Torah's expectation of us to reach a Beinuni state was based on the premise that humans have the natural capacity to implement self control and make the right decisions at any given time.

    G-d only demands of us that which is within our reach. If someone lost an arm, heaven forbid, he is exempt from putting on Teffilin. And the same is true in every situation where there is a handicap, physically or mentally.

    It's a concept known in the Torah as "oness" i.e. a situation that's unavoidable, where one did whatever he possibly could but was nonetheless prevented from performing a Mitzvah.

    In conclusion: responsibility can only be taken where there's ability. And everyone can take the initiative for personal growth at some level.

    Let’s do our part. G-d will surely do the rest.

    I hope this helps,

    Rabbi Shmuly Altein

  7. I think it would be a misconception to believe that the G-dly soul is merely a goody goody and isn't capable of feeling angry or distressed etc.

    Take a look at text 3 page 31.

    The difference is in motive.

    Here's an example of 'self preservation' traits with a G-dly twist (please feel free to post additional G-dly motives if you think of any):

    One might act in self defense and feel anger for the sake of Heaven (Jewish pride), or for his family and children. He might feel that it would be disrespectful to G-d if he would allow himself to be mocked.

    In fact the Rambam (Maimonides) writes that one must always exhibit a small degree of self pride. There is absolutely no virtue in making yourself into a 'shmata' (- a tattered wash cloth)!

    There is a Chassidic saying that goes like this: "Love your fellow; for one should love what his beloved (G-d) loves". Tanya explains that all G-dly feelings are driven by a love or fear of G-d.

    So the energy is there since both souls possess a complete set of faculties. Yet each and every character trait can be channeled in different directions.

    Still, the objective isn't to banish the animal soul; rather, to harness its enormous powers and redirect its passions. Then you will experience true harmony.