Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
Misnaged: Chassidim claim that everybody has to learn Chassidus in order to acquire bittul. I have learned Mussar my whole life, and in my opinion it brought me to a greater realization of what a nothing and nobody I am than I would have gotten through learning Chassidus.
Chassid: You remind me of a saying I once heard from a wise older Chassid.
Misnaged: Really? What did he say?
Chassid: The only thing worse than a “somebody” with opinions is a “nobody” with opinions!
One of the points discussed in the previous installment (it pays to reread before continuing) regarding the operations and functions of the intellect is that although intellect itself is inherently objective, since it is only a tool and has no independent say regarding the data inputted or the conclusions reached, it can never be truly objective since it is fully controlled by the will of the “self.” The degree to which it is free to explore the objective truth of reality depends on which starting perspective the “self” chooses to adopt. This is one of the reasons that the Alter Rebbe begins the Tanya with introducing us to the reality that we have two selves, and they have extreme opposing perspectives and agendas. In fact, the two are at war to achieve total conquest over the entire “city.”
The animal soul is totally and absolutely self-centered, which is why its most primal instinct is that of self-preservation. The G-dly soul is totally and absolutely G-d-centered, which is why its most primal instinct is to return to its source, thereby obliterating its own sense of self (super-bittul). As a result, the overarching will of the animal soul is to be a yesh gamur (the best and biggest self it can be), and the overarching will of the G-dly soul is to be battul b’metzius (nullified out of existence). However, both of those souls are forced to modify their wills in the face of the fact that they only exist in the context of a larger reality over which they have no control.
This is where it becomes necessary for the will to turn to the intellect to determine “what am I?” and “who am I?” within that larger context. In order to address those questions rationally, the intellect needs to have the natural ability of “the mind rules over the heart,” otherwise, the emotions will operate entirely on instinct and crash headfirst into some very painful walls put up by the outside reality.
Reality dictates that you can’t just do whatever you want. Even the smallest child with the coarsest animal soul, growing up in the most self-absorbed culture, learns this very quickly (starting from about age two). In order to get what you really want for yourself from the people and the world around you, it is necessary to bend your will in many areas and restrain your natural emotions. It is the job of the mind to decide what is worth pursuing and how much to invest in it, and what is worth forgoing and how hard to fight your own baser drives and self-destructive tendencies.
The same holds true for the G-dly soul. Hashem’s Will forces it to exist against its own will and operate within the created reality, and more so to inhabit the “city” of a body and animal soul, and even “conquer” its seven emotional faculties, so the first thing that it needs to do is take control of the human intellect and its ability to rule over the heart.
Before it descended into this world, when it was up in Gan Eden, it used its intellect to grasp ever higher levels of the greatness of G-d and its own nothingness, and direct its emotions to ever higher levels of love and fear of Hashem, even as it “ruled the heart” restraining those emotions from expressing its true will for self-obliteration. Now, it has to nullify its own will to lose itself within the “Oneness of G-d” in order to carry out its mission of revealing the “Oneness of G-d” within the body and animal soul, and ultimately the entire world. It needs to address the questions of “what am I?” and “who am I?” in the context of its mission and the true reality as expressed in Torah and especially Pnimiyus HaTorah as explained in Chassidus.
The answers to those questions will impact the emotions, mainly the emotion of love. As Chassidus explains, although love is one of seven emotional faculties (or three, or five, depending on the context), it is the one that drives all the rest. That is because emotions are where “will” meets “reality.” Your perception and sense of yourself in relation to others and reality in general can only find expression through building internal bridges to the outside world by way of the feelings of attraction and connection to the other. You also have to be able to feel avoidance in order to protect self, or anger towards those things that get in the way of what and who you care about, but that is only an outgrowth of the need to connect.
However, in order to build a true love connection with another that is a two-way street, not a means to exploit the other for selfish purposes, the mind has to rule over the heart and infuse the emotions with some of its natural bittul so that it’s not just about me and what I want. In fact, secular researchers have discovered that the longest lasting marriages and the ones that report the highest level of relationship satisfaction are the ones where the people rate sacrifice as an important ingredient in a relationship. I can’t truly say yes to loving you unless I can say no to my self.
If that is the case with human relationships, which the animal soul is naturally drawn to, all the more so if it is to channel the super-love of the G-dly soul. Since that super-love is an outgrowth of the totally selfless super-bittul of the neshama, it is not just about saying no to a specific selfish behavior or habit that interferes with the relationship, it’s about saying no to the very idea of wanting anything for myself. Or in the language of the Zohar, iskafia sitra achara, subduing the “other side.”
“Iskafia” as presented in Tanya is not really about self-denial, but rather about self-transformation, or “iskafia” that leads to “is’hapcha.” This is when it comes from a higher understanding of “what am I?” and “who am I?” in relation to the G-dly reality, based on an understanding and appreciation of the greatness of G-d and nothingness of self, and how all of existence is only for the purpose of expressing His super-love for each individual Jew.
The Alter Rebbe made it possible for every Jew to come to this understanding to some extent through the study of Chassidus, and to remove the blockage that his self-centered emotions place over his own super-love for Hashem. This is not something that is exclusive to Tzaddikim, who have rid themselves of all selfish desires. Every Jew has the power to say yes to love of Hashem by employing the natural power of the “mind rules over the heart” (see HaYom Yom 19 AdarII).
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