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:
- A righteous man who prospers
- A righteous man who suffers
- A wicked man who prospers
- A wicked man who suffers
- 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