Monday, February 02, 2009

Question & Answer With Avakesh - The Field Between

A Simple Jew asks:

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once wrote, "The battle to overcome the sitra achra takes place in the field where matters are neither forbidden nor obligatory." To what degree have you seen this to be the case within your own life?

Avakesh answers:

To understand how this statement applies to any of us, we must first understand the statement. In it, Rabbi Steinsaltz expresses the central teaching of Kabbola and Chassidus, which is that the central task of every person, as well as humanity as a whole, is to engage in the processes of birur and tikkun. Birur means separation and tikkun means fixing or rectifying. Evil is a mirage; it has no independent source of life. Evil can only exist because it “steals” vitality from imprisoning and enclosing the good. To put it simply, in the world that came to be after the”breaking of the vessels”, good and evil are intermixed and inextricably enmeshed together. “Light and darkness function intermixed (Rashi to Bareishis 1:4).” That is not, of course, the only thing which exists; both good and evil can also be found apart, each in its own place - the former in the domain of the Holy and the latter in the domain of kelippos (shells). Still, most of the good that is accessible to us in this earthly abode is imbedded in the confusing, intertwined matrix of neither light nor darkness, neither wholly good nor completely evil. This intermediate substance, of which most of our life is fashioned, is neither totally forbidden because it contains good, nor is it fully permitted since evil persists in it. Through birur we separate light and darkness by withdrawing goodness out of the captivity in which it is held. Then, deprived of the proximity of the good, evil dies of itself. In the second step, tikkun, the liberated “sparks” of the good are gathered together, reintegrated, raised and joined to the Holy that is already in existence. In this sense, "the battle to overcome the sitra achra takes place in the field where matters are neither forbidden nor obligatory." So far this is nothing more than a restatement of the seventh and eight chapters in Tanya.

Here comes the lesson for our lives. It is a mistake to think that everything that is forbidden is purely evil. It is really a matter of proportion and of level. Many of the things that the Torah prohibited contain within them a modicum of good and through teshuva, this good can be retroactively withdrawn and salvaged. There are even times and situations that justify a direct engagement by the very elevated true tsaddikim with certain, well-defined kinds of evil, in order to bring out the good which in it ( a topic that requires careful delineation, a topic for another time and place). Suffices to say, everyone agrees that in the realm of the permitted, intention is what extricates the good and redeems it.

The realization the intention is determinative in the process of birur does not lead to the conclusion that everything is permitted, chas v’sholom, any more than it leads to the opinion that everything is forbidden. What it does do is impose an obligation to achieve clarity and deep understanding of what it is that leads us to do good or, G-d forbid, the not-so-good. The psychological factors, the mental processes, the emotional influences – all of them must be cognized, admitted, brought to the surface, acted upon and, above all, purified. The battlefield is often murky, overcast and cloudy. We often do not and cannot weigh all factors, or gain advance intelligence and timely warning. Much of the time our only available weapons of combat are the side arms of recognition, intentionality, perception, and elevated hergesh (feeling). Purity of intention is often the only weapon which we can wield in the thick of the battle with sitra achra. In this sense, Rabbi Steinsatz’ teaching is the inspiration in my life and for every life.


At February 2, 2009 at 11:51:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post. It's interesting how this teaching of R Steinsaltz fits into the Ramchal's view of postive and negative mitzvos as "patterns" and "restraints" (Derech HaShem).

At February 3, 2009 at 9:00:00 AM EST, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

I think the point can go the opposite direction. Not everything that is permitted is good. In fact, Hashem expects us to struggle with ourselves even in the permitted arena and not indulge in the pleasures of the world for their own sake.

In Tanya, A"R gives an example of delaying one’s meal for some time and studying Torah instead, or forcing oneself not to say “empty words”, even though they may be permitted. (See Ch. 27 from wordsולא עוד, אלא אפילו בדברים המותרים לגמרי).

What is meant is that the main struggle happens when a person decides whether he is going to use the permissible for the sake of itself (indulging in its — albeit permissible — pleasures) or for the sake of Hashem.

There is an example of someone dying from suffocation. It can happen if he ingests poison (e.g., CO). But it can also happen if he doesn’t breath. So, when a person eats an ice cream for the sake of its taste, he doesn’t do anything forbidden (if the ice cream is cholov yisroel), but he is not elevating ice cream either.

So, the ice cream descends from the aspect of klipah into the aspect of sitra achra, and the person’s Y"H won a battle, telling the person: “Well, you didn’t do anything forbidden, did you?” (See Ch. 8 for more detail.)

At February 3, 2009 at 9:01:00 AM EST, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

(The last link — from the words מה שאין כן היצר הרע וכח המתאוה לדברים המותרים)


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