Chapter 1 – Two Souls (Part 2)

THE INTERMEDIATE MAN – the “BEINONI”

Rabbah declared, “I am a Beinoni”. Abaye said to him, “Master, you make it impossible for any creature to live”

Rabbah was a genius scholar who lived between the year 270 and 330 BCE. Abaye, a Talmudic genius himself, pointed out that if such as great scholar as Rabbah was a Beinoni, no one could even come close!

Its rather obvious that a Beinoni, an intermediate person as it were, cannot have half good deeds and half bad deeds, since it was known that Rabbah never ceased studying Torah and was a righteous person. How, then, could Rabbah mistakenly call himself a Beinoni? Clearly, a better definition of Beinoni is needed.

The Alter Rebbe teaches us that indeed when a person sins he is deemed as if his is completely wicked and when a person then repents, he is deemed completely righteous. Even a person who commits a minor sin is deemed thus. And even a person who has the chance to warn someone else not to sin is deemed such.

Therefore, a Beinoni must not be guilty of even neglecting his Torah studies. Now we can see how Rabbah considered himself a Beinoni. Only in common language is an intermediate man a “half and half”, i.e. half sins and half good deeds.

THE TRUE DEFINITIONS OF RIGHTEOUS AND BEINONI

We learn in the Tanya that the righteous are motivated and ruled solely by their good nature. A righteous person has totally rid himself of his evil inclination.

The person who has not yet rid himself of his evil inclination cannot even be called “righteous”, even if his good deeds outweigh his bad deeds. Not only this, but such a person cannot even call himself a Beinoni!

Tough sledding, no? So what did G-d do about this?

G-d knew that the truly righteous were in actuality few and far between, so he sprinkled these people across the generations. The truly righteous person is called “the foundation of the world”. Therefore, in every generation, even our own, there exists at least one true tzaddik who serves as the foundation of the world.

Again, this use of the word righteous does not mean someone whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, since most Jews fall into this category.

Next we will learn about the two types of souls, as a means to better understand the above concepts.

 

Chapter 1 – Two Souls (part 1)

Be Righteous and be not Wicked; and even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked.

– Talmud, Niddah, end of Chapter 3

Be not Wicked in your own estimation.

– Mishnah, Avot, Chapter 2

Sounds simple right? A question: If the Mishnah teaches us not to view ourselves as wicked, and the Talmud tells us to regard ourselves as wicked, what are we to do?

I think its fair to say most people in the world try and be “good”, to do the right thing most of the time. And honestly, if we each thought of ourselves as being wicked or generally bad, that’s a pretty depressing thing.

The Torah is replete with sayings and dicta telling us to serve Hashem (G-d) with joy and gladness. Check out the book of Psalms and see how many times the Psalmist (usually King David but not always) references singing, musical instruments, dancing, etc.

So if I have to be good, but consider myself bad, how am I not to let that paradox bum me out? The Tanya gives us guidance.

The Talmud tells us about five different types of people:

  1. A righteous man who prospers
  2. A righteous man who suffers
  3. A wicked man who prospers
  4. A wicked man who suffers
  5. An intermediate man, called the “Beinoni”

THE RIGHTEOUS MAN WHO PROSPERS

This type of person is very rare. This person is a completely righteous person. And I don’t mean righteous in the normal way we understand and use that word. This individual does not require any physical suffering at all to cleanse his soul. This is an extremely high spiritual level.

THE RIGHTEOUS MAN WHO SUFFERS

This person is also referred to as the “incomplete tzaddik”. This person still deals with a measure of physical suffering in order that his soul may be cleansed while it is still in his body, i.e. before death. This too is an enormously high spiritual level to obtain. We learn in the Ra’aya Mehemna (Parshat Mishpatim) that any evil that may exist inside this person is subservient to the good that is inside him. Good conquers evil as it will. The complete tzaddik above does not have this battle raging inside him.

It is interesting to note that “evil” as used here refers to nothing more than the general tendencies towards bad behavior that all people have inside them. “Evil” here does not imply that this person is somehow a bad person. This person’s actions, thought and speech are not “evil” in any way.

THE WICKED WHO PROSPER & SUFFER

Similarly, these people are governed more by their evil inclination rather than their good inclination.

In the next lesson we will learn about the Beinoni, the person who is the main focus of the Tanya