Nazarene Space

Understanding Tanya

Likutei Amarim Chapter 1

(Part 1)

By

James Scott Trimm

 

 

The Tanya begins by using the Sixth rule of Hillel (Kayotze bo mimekom akhar (Analogy made from another passage)).  Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity.

 

In this case Rebbe Zalman contrasts two passages from the Talmud:

 

"Be righteous and be not wicked; and even if all the world tells you that you are righteous, be you in your own eyes as wicked."

(b.Niddah 30b)

 

"And be not wicked in your own esteem."

(m.Avot 2:13)

 

Zalman uses this conflict as a launching point for the overall teaching of the Tanya (he will begin resolving the conflict in Tanya chapter 13).

 

The Tanya goes on to quote a passage of Talmud which establishes five basic categories of men:

 

Moses said before Him: Lord of the Universe, why is it that some righteous men prosper and others are in adversity, some wicked men prosper and others are in adversity? He replied to him: Moses, the righteous man who prospers is the righteous man the son of a righteous man; the righteous man who is in adversity is a righteous man the son of a wicked man. The wicked man who prospers is a wicked man son of a righteous man; the wicked man who is in adversity is a wicked man son of a wicked man.

(b.Berachot 7a)

 

And from the Zohar:

 

"righteous man who suffers" is one whose evil nature is subservient to his good nature,”

(Zohar 2:117b)

 

And again from the Talmud:

 

It has been taught: R. Jose the Galilean says, The righteous are swayed by their good inclination, as it says, My heart is slain within me (Ps. 109:22). The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination, as it says, Transgression speaketh to the wicked, methinks, there is no fear of God before his eyes.(Ps. 36:2) Average people are swayed by both inclinations, as it says, Because He standeth at the right hand of the needy, to save him from them that judge his soul. (Ps. 109:31) Raba said: People such as we are of the average.  Said Abaye to him: The Master gives no one a chance to live!  Raba further said: The world was created only for either the totally wicked or the totally righteous.  Raba said: Let a man know concerning himself whether he is completely righteous or not!

(b.Berachot 61b)

 

This establishes five categories:

 

1.  The righteous man who prospers

2.  The righteous man who is in adversity

3.  The wicked man who prospers

4.  The wicked man who is in adversity

5.  The average man (literally “Benoni” the “in between”).

 

The Tanya concerns itself with “the average man” and his conflict between the two inclinations. 

 

In Rabbinic Judaism these are known as the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) and Yetzer Ra (evil inclination):

             R. Nahman b. R. Hisda expounded:
            What is meant by the text, Then the Lord God
            formed [wa-yizer] man? [The word wa-yizer] (Gen. 2:7)
            is written with  two yods, to show that God created
            two inclinations, one good (tov) and the other evil (ra).
            (b.Ber. 61a)

 
            It has been taught: R. Jose the Galilean says,
            The righteous are swayed by their good inclination,
            as it says, My heart is slain within me. (Ps. 109:22)
            The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination,
            as it says, Transgression speaks to the wicked,
            methinks, there is no fear of God before his eyes.
            (Ps. 36:1) Average people are swayed by both
            inclinations, as it says, Because He stands at
            the right hand of the needy, to save him from them
            that judge his soul. (Ps. 109:31) Raba said: People
            such as we are of the average.
            (b.Ber. 61b)

 

Likewise we read in the Wisdom of Ben Sira:         

            It was He who created man in the beginning.
            And He left him in the power of his own inclination (yetzer).
            If you will, you can keep the commandments,
            and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
            He has placed before you fire and water:
            Stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
            (Sira 15:14-16)

 

And in 2Esdras:

 

And yet tookest thou not away from them a wicked heart, that thy law might bring forth fruit in them.
For the first Adam bearing a wicked heart transgressed, and was overcome; and so be all they that are born of him.
Thus infirmity was made permanent; and the law (also) in the heart of the people with the malignity of the root; so that the good departed away, and the evil abode still.
So the times passed away, and the years were brought to an end: then didst thou raise thee up a servant, called David:
Whom thou commandedst to build a city unto thy name, and to offer incense and oblations unto thee therein.
When this was done many years, then they that inhabited the city forsook thee,
And in all things did even as Adam and all his generations had done: for they also had a wicked heart:

(2Esdras 3:20-26)

 

The Tanya goes on to reference another passage from the Talmud:

 

Raba said: Job sought to exculpate the whole world.  He said: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou hast created the ox with cloven hoofs and thou hast created the ass with whole hoofs; thou hast created Paradise and thou hast created Gehinnom: thou hast created righteous men and thou hast created wicked men, and who can prevent thee? His companions answered him: Yea, thou doest away with fear’ and restrainest devotion before God. If God created the evil inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote.

 

(Continued in Part 2)

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Perhaps what I should do is create an online Tanya class at Beit Netzarim Yeshiva.

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