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Kislev 24, 5774 · November 27, 2013
Today’s Tanya Lesson
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 1

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 verb משׁביעים (“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 — theBeinoni.

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 thetzaddik — “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

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 oftzaddik: “complete tzaddik” and “tzaddik who prospers”; “incomplete tzaddik” 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 the tzaddik’s G‑dly soul, i.e., thetzaddik’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 ofahavah betaanugim (“love of delights”) — the serene love of fulfillment. The tzaddikwhose ahavah betaanugim is as yet imperfect is called the “incomplete (or unperfected)tzaddik.”

The terms “tzaddik who prospers” and “tzaddik who suffers” denote the tzaddik’sstatus 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 a Beinoni 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 a Beinoni — 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

וגם להבין מהות מדריגת הבינוני

We must also understand the essential nature (mahut) of the rank of theBeinoni.

The mahut 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 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

Even he who violates a minor prohibition of the Rabbis is termed wicked, as is stated in Yevamot, ch. 2,15 and in Niddah, ch. 1.16

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׳

to whom our Sages18 have applied the verse,19 “Because he has despised the word of the L‑rd (i.e., the Torah),.[that soul] shall be utterly cut off….”

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.


ומה שכתוב בזהר חלק ג׳ דף רל״א: כל שממועטין עונותיו וכו׳ —


As for what is written in the Zohar III, p. 231: “He whose sins are few [is classed as a ‘righteous man who suffers’],”

implying that even according to the Zohar the meaning of a “righteous man who suffers” is one who does have sins, albeit few; and if so, a Beinoni must be one who is in part virtuous and in part sinful,

היא שאלת רב המנונא לאליהו

this is the query of Rav Hamnuna to Elijah.

אבל לפי תשובת אליהו שם הפי’ צדיק ורע לו הוא כמ”ש בר”מ פרשה משפטים דלעיל

But according to Elijah’s answer [ibid.], the meaning of a “righteous man who suffers” is as stated in Ra‘aya Mehemna on Parshat Mishpatim,quoted above,21 i.e., that the “righteous man who suffers” is one whose evil nature is subservient to his good nature.

ושבעים פנים לתורה

And the Torah has seventy facets (modes of interpretation).22

The Rebbe notes that the words, “And the Torah has seventy facets,” help us understand Rav Hamnuna’s query. It is difficult to understand how Rav Hamnuna would even entertain the notion that a “righteous man who suffers” is one who actually sins, inasmuch as all the abovementioned questions clearly lead us to assume the opposite. Rav Hamnuna’s query, however, was prompted only by the fact that “the Torah has seventy facets,” and he thought that this was possibly one of these facets.


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.
13. See Bava Metzia 86a.
14. The Rebbe notes that although the Gemara in Kiddushin 49b indicates only that the penitent sinner is considered a tzaddik, it is explicitly stated in Or Zarua, sec. 112, that he is considered a tzaddik gamur.
15. 20a.
16. 12a.
17. 39b.
18. Sanhedrin 99a.
19. Bamidbar 15:31.
20. See below, end of ch. 25.
21. Zohar II, 117b.
22. Otiot deRabbi Akiva; comp. Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12.
The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Published and copyright by Kehot Publication Society, all rights reserved.

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