11 January 2008
So You Want to Be a Beinoni
Chapter 2 in Tanya begins with the words: ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש
The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly a part of G-d above. It’s further explained (ch.12) that the divine soul and the other soul, the animal soul are always at loggerheads in the intermediary type – the Beinoni.
The Tanya’s definition of a beinoni isn’t the same as the classical definition of a beinoni where it is someone who is approximately 50/50 where half of what has been accomplished is good vs. the other half.
Alter Rebbe sees the beinoni as a different behavioral pattern altogether, not in the sense that the beinoni sins half the time and then does mitzvos the other half. The Alter Rebbe sees the beinoni as someone who is constantly being pulled in two directions and yet does not sin in thought, speech, and action.
One of those directions is controlled by the animal soul who is selfish, shortsighted, and preoccupied. The Divine Soul, on the contrary, is selfless, visionary, and trusting. The Animal Soul is related to blood, the heart, and passion whereas the Divine Soul is connected to the mind, the brain, and reason. So right from the start, the seeds for conflict are sown: one soul sees reality one way and the other in a completely opposite way, their goals and “mindsets” represent two totally opposing forces.
Not only that, each wants to subdue, subjugate, and rule the vehicle – the Beinoni. And they try to accomplish that in totally uncompromising ways, neither one wants to yield and each seeks complete domination.
The beinoni, again, is not a tzaddik. A tzaddik is someone who has vanquished his Evil Inclication and behaviorally, at least, isn’t engaged in the conflict between the two souls, like the beinoni is. In other words, a tzaddik is an entirely different species or, in computer terms, has a different operating system (at least that) than a beinoni. The tzaddik has either suppressed his Yetzer Hora entirely or, on a much higher level, has converted it into a source of good. The beinoni, on the other hand, being a different creation, is open to attack by the Yetzer Hora (animal soul) yet his job is to resist the incoming messages, to filter out, in computer terminology, the constant onslaught of spam constantly assailing his operating system and processes. To accomplish that, the beinoni needs to put up a firewall of sorts and be on the constant lookout for the spam and viruses that are trying to divert him and cause him to sin. With this in mind, it’s easier to tackle the Rasha category – the wicked personality. It’s not someone who necessarily is rotten to the core, it’s someone who is tested and fails the test, whether knowingly or not. The beinoni, on the other hand, is tested and passes the test, with or without flying colors.
How is a beinoni able to get the strength to fight off all the incoming bad stuff? Again, behaviorally, constitutionally, a beinoni is not at fault, he’s vulnerable because he was created vulnerable, by design and for whatever reason. He’s not an impervious tzaddik, he is made differently, he may become a tzaddik by divine grace after a long struggle and self-refinement but such cases are rare.
The only ammunition the beinoni does have is prayer, when the beinoni is praying, his Yetzer Hora is in a state of submission and is dormant but it never really slacks off. Once the davening is over, the beinoni is again vulnerable to attack from all sides. So the intensity of prayer is key to creating a kind of a defense shield to minimize that ever present vulnerability. A parable is given as to how a rich man and a poor man heat their houses in wintertime. The rich man has an ample supply of good, dry wood and any time he needs to, he just adds more logs to the fire and his house is always comfortably warm. The poor man doesn’t have that luxury; he only has a few soggy logs and no time to be constantly feeding the fire. His strategy is therefore to initially warm his hut up so intensely and perhaps just once a day so that although it gets uncomfortably warm initially, the heats lasts the entire day and he doesn’t freeze overnight. This rich man is the tzaddik and the poor man is the beinoni.
Next on the subject: a tale of two ships.