Tanya and Heresy II


Moshe Ben-Chaim


The following quote from Tanya was discussed it last week, and for purposes of this continued debate, it is important that we review it, and our explanation, including Job 31:


“The second, uniquely Jewish soul is truly part of G-d above.”

“A part of G-d above” is a quotation from Scripture (Job, 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly” to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known, some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse describing “great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens” is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase “ a part of G-d above” in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly”, thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above.”


As we stated last week, Maimonides and all the Rabbis affirm that we can know nothing about G-d. Furthermore, G-d has no parts, and is not similar to anything, as the prophets stated:


“And (G-d is) not like one man that may be divided into many individual parts…’ and also, ‘…the Chachamim (wise men) denied G-d as being composite or subject to division’, and, ‘the prophet said (Isaiah, 40:25), ‘To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?’ (Principle III)” 


This quote from Tanya is heresy, and also corrupts Scripture in the words of Job, 31:1,2:


“A treaty have I made with my eye; for what shall I gaze at a virgin? And what portion shall I have with G-d above, and an inheritance of G-d on high?”


Job declared he never gazed lustfully, for in doing so, one forfeits his “portion with G-d”. But Tanya distorts the word “portion”, not as the end of the verse clarifies as “inheritance”, but wrongly, ascribing “parts” to G-d. This verse in Job simply means that Job admits he will forfeit his “portion” (inheritance) with G-d. Through sin, Job says he will lose this world and the next. Job is not describing G-d, that He has parts, G-d forbid. Job is describing his inheritance.


It is absolutely clear from Isaiah, that we can have no concept whatsoever about G-d: “To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?”  Isaiah teaches that nothing equates to G-d. Therefore the concept of “division” is inapplicable to G-d.  G-d also told Moses, “…for man cannot know Me while alive.” (Exod. 33:21) If Moses, the greatest prophet, could possess no concept of G-d, it is quite arrogant that anyone would defend any positive description of G-d.


It is therefore alarming that we received the following response:


“Anyone can take eight words out of any Jewish masterpiece and make a case that the book is heresy and the author is a heretic. This is exactly what missionaries do - the same missionaries you've been "disproving” the last several weeks. I do believe the Ba'al HaTanya also said Shima at least twice daily. In fact the whole second book of Tanya is about unity of Hashem. Why don't you get an education? Buy a Tanya. It's okay - I know you won't do it. A missionary will never admit they are deceitful and have a hidden agenda. And you're on a mission to spread misinformation and hatred about Chasidim and Chassidus.”


I responded as follows:


You do absolutely nothing to explain how the quote from Tanya is not heresy. If you wish to do so, then please do. Otherwise, your words have no value, as you simply convict, without any explanation.”


Additionally, we must make note of the tone of this reader, as if he was attacked personally - he responds with no reasoning. He also uses the word “masterpiece”, referring to Tanya. But unless something forms part of Scripture – that which is divinely inspired – it is not infallible. This is not the path of the Torah. For we see that Aaron had no hesitation to contradict his greater brother Moses, and in fact, Aaron was correct. Torah does not ask us to blindly accept a “reputation”, but rather, to seek the truth. Personalities are of no consequence.


Then, this reader and one other replied as follows:


“How can you condemn a group that has done so much for Judaism, where there are tens of thousands of followers. Are they all wrong? We cannot know what the Baal haTanya meant, it takes years of study.”


“I dont like the fact that you are bad mouthing Tanya. It has done so much good for Judaism and bringing Jews back to Hashem that it’s ridiculous. I am not a Jewish scholar and I was about to print this off before shabbos, but this upset me. I am not going to get into this, but to tell me that Hashem is not made up of parts is true, but to say that inside us is not an actual piece of Hashem - that is false. If that were the case, we would not have a soul at all. There is nothing but Hashem, it’s only where He is manifested more, our soul has more of a direct manifestation (or link, or revealed piece) of Hashem.

Thus, our soul is truly a revealed piece of Hashem, and if you don’t believe that, I encourage you to do some serious introspection about who you are and what the purpose of life is. Your column does not need to be a place to speak L'shon Hara. NO HERESY.


What else makes us different from Gentiles, if not the soul?”


This first reader accuses, “I don’t know what the Tanya meant”, and that I “condemned a group”, when I was in fact, condemning a statement. But simultaneously, he is bereft of any rationale for his view. Even after being asked twice to offer reasoning, he produced none. He thereby contradicts himself: his lack of understanding opens the possibility that he is in fact the one who possesses the wrong understanding of Maimonides. We must ask what compels his conviction in Tanya over Maimonides, if he is in fact, not basing himself on any understanding. I would suggest that he desires to maintain a flawless reputation for Tanya. But such a position is against Torah, as we stated so many times, “For man is not righteous o the land, who does good and does not sin.” (Eccl. 7:20) This means that all men err. Moses and many other leaders sinned, as openly recoded in the Torah. Therefore, it violates Torah to maintain that anyone did not err, when in fact, that position contradicts King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes, i.e., the Torah.


The argument that “Tanya has done so much for Judaism” cannot defend its error. For a judge who judges properly in all cases but one, has in fact erred in that one case - his past is of no consequence. But I maintain that these notions that, “G-d has parts”, and “there’s a piece of G-d in us all”, do not, as he says, “do so much good for Judaism”. Such views do the converse: they destroy Jews and Judaism. These heretical ideas cause more Jews to fall prey to heresy.


The second reader said:


but to say that inside us is not an actual piece of Hashem - that is false. If that were the case, we would not have a soul at all”, and, “Our soul is truly a revealed piece of Hashem, and if you don’t believe that, I encourage you to do some serious introspection about who you are and what the purpose of life is.”


He maintains that without G-d placing a “piece of Himself” in us, we cannot have a soul. But Genesis states that “G-d created man”, and not that “G-d apportioned a part of Himself” in man. G-d openly states that man is a creation, and this includes man’s soul. He also maintains that without G-d being “a part of us”, we have no purpose in life. I wonder what his idea is about man’s purpose. He feels that if G-d is not a part of us, we lack a purpose in life. But the Torah is quite clear as to what is man’s purpose: perfection of our values, and the love of knowledge, which culminates in a love of G-d. This true perfection supports the idea that man commences life in an imperfect state. But according to the reader, this “part of G-d in us” is not perfect. We see, that from one heretical view, many corruptions fester.



Our View of Gentiles

His last error is this statement, “What else makes us different from Gentiles, if not the soul?” He claims that a Jew possesses a different soul than a Gentile. According to him, Abraham and all the patriarchs and matriarchs had some “lesser” soul, for there were no “Jews” until Sinai. Additionally, what will he maintain occurs when a Gentile converts? Does his soul now get transplanted? If this is true, then the one who converted, is not the same person he was just prior to his conversion. The entire Torah institution of “convert” is thereby rendered erroneous. This reader belittles all others who are not Jewish, as if G-d cares less for the rest of mankind. If this were so, G-d would not have assisted so many Gentiles and Gentile nations in their perfection. G-d sent Moses to educate Pharaoh. G-d gave Elisha prophecy to instruct Naaman – a Gentile – to become healed of his leprosy, and recognize G-d. Jonah was sent by G-d to direct the Gentile nation of Ninveh to repent and return to G-d. G-d desires the good for all mankind, and no one’s soul is “better” than another, Jew or Gentile. Our Alaynu prayer says, “and all sons of flesh will call Your name”. It does not state “all Jews”, but all “sons of flesh.” G-d desires the good for all mankind. Any other view contradicts Torah, and is implicit of egotistical drives.


I would remind those who think little of other peoples, of the blessings of Jacob, our great patriarch and prophet. Not his blessings for his own children, but his prophetic endowment of tribal status to Joseph’s Egyptian sons, Ephraim and Mennasheh. (Gen. 48:4) Earlier, G-d informed Jacob that he would make him into a “people, and an assembly of peoples.” A “people” was granted upon Benjamin, while “an assembly of peoples” – plural – Jacob gave to both of Joseph’s Egyptian sons. (ibid, Rashi) Even by latter-day Torah standards, Joseph’s sons were Egyptian, not Israelites. This teaches that our prophets did not harbor the ungrounded disdain for Gentiles. Jacob gave his Egyptian grandchildren the status of his own sons – tribes of Israel.


And who knows other than G-d, perhaps our reader, who has disdain for Gentiles, is in fact a descendant of Ephraim or Mennasheh.



Rosh Hashannah and Gentiles

The very commencing words of our Rosh Hashannah prayers read as follows:


 “And so also give trembling, G-d our G-d, on all Your works, and fear on all You created, and there will fear You, all of you works, and there will bow to You, all of your creatures.”


No exclusion is made regarding Gentiles, but they too are in our prayers, to come to a fear and worship of G-d. We do not distinguish between our fear and worship, and that of the Gentiles. Thus, all of mankind’s souls relate to G-d equally.


In the Unisanneh Tokef prayer we read:


“…and You will open the book or remembrance, and from it, it is read, and the seal of every man’s hand is in it…”


“…and all those who entered the world pass before You lie members of the flock…”


We see no distinction between Jew and Gentile, on this day of accounting.


The second, Musaf  prayer of G-d’s remembrance refers to G-d’s remembrance of Noah. A Rabbi once taught that this teaches of G-d’s compassion and knowledge of all humanity – not just the Jews.



Ego and Repentance

What distortion do all of these views unveil? I would suggest that such views stem from man’s inability to take responsibility for his sins. By maintaining there is a “piece of G-d in us”, such individuals create a false, self-image of unearned piety: “G-d is in me, I have some greatness”. This is a fatal mistake, as this view prevents one from repenting – he feels he possesses some inherent greatness. It is this same fallacy that forces them to defend Tanya, deifying its author.



Tanya and Pantheism

Another reader wrote in with a very different tone, adding that not only does Tanya include heresy, but also pantheism - the view that G-d permeates all parts of the universe - that He and the universe are but one and the same. Again, this is a view that contradicts G-d’s very words - that He ‘created’ the universe, and from nothing. Thus, He did not make the universe by taking a part of Himself and mold it. According to this dangerous view, G-d is not only in man, but also in all parts of the physical world. He quoted other sections in Tanya in support:


Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, Chapter 7

“Now, although G‑d transcends space and time, He is nevertheless also found below, within space and time.”


and there is no closeness in the four elements of which this corporeal world is comprised except through the Holy One, blessed be He, when He is within them.”


Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, Chapter 8

“and likewise with respect to His will, [as it is written,3] “G‑d desires those who fear Him,” and4 “He wishes to do kindness,” and5 “He desires the repentance of the wicked and does not desire their death and wickedness,” — thus we have verses indicating both what He finds desirable and undesirable; [so, too,6] “Your eyes are too pure to behold evil” — yet another thing that He does not desire. From the above verses, then, we see that emotions, wisdom and will are all ascribed to G‑d.”


This pantheistic view is but a further corruption of their first heretical mistake, that G-d partakes of physicality. This was also the view of certain, early Chassidic sects that maintained, “Even inside of sin, G-d exists, as He permeates everything - even sin.” Again, these views contradict the Torah, which states that “man cannot know G-d while alive”, and that “nothing equates to G-d”. 


As Tanya makes positive statements about G-d not found in G-d’s own owrds, it violates these two Torah verses. This last quote, “emotions, wisdom and will are all ascribed to G‑d” again violates the Torah, and reason: G-d is not governed by His creations, i.e., emotions.



The Loss of Our Souls

Perhaps, because these views have become so commonplace, and have been printed in books, no one gives a second thought that they might be lethal.


However, the Torah went to great lengths to warn man not to invent false ideas about G-d: “And guard your souls exceedingly, for you did not see any form on the day that G-d spoke to you at Horeb (Sinai) from amidst the flames.” (Deut. 4:15) Why does Moses warn us to “guard your ‘souls’ exceedingly”? The reason is, that this area – corruption of G-d’s existence – is a matter of our souls. Our very existence on Earth, is but for a few decades. Our ultimate existence is after death, where all that exists is our souls. That which gives life to man’s soul, according to Moses’ words, is the correct notion of G-d. A false notion of G-d is the destruction of our souls. If man is to exist after death, which is defined as the soul perceiving G-d, it is essential that our idea of G-d be uncorrupted by heresy. Talmud Brachos states, “(in) the next world, there is no eating or drinking, and no intercourse, no business or jealousy, no hatred and no competition, rather, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads benefiting from the splendor of the shechina (G-d’s existence).” (Brachos, 17a) We must ask, if in the next world, there is nothing physical, and not human emotions, to what do “crowns” refer, and what is meant by “on their heads”? What this metaphor teaches is this: only those who have “crowns” on their “heads” are the one’s who benefit in the next world. “Crowns” indicates that which is mankind’s ‘crowning achievement’, that is, his intelligence. “On their heads” (the seat of intelligence) alludes to this. Thus, the Talmud teaches that it is only those who achieve accurate knowledge of G-d, who will be entitled to the next world.


We understand why Moses said we must “guard our souls exceedingly” in connection to forming false notions of G-d: our souls’ existence depends on our ideas of G-d. To assist mankind in obtaining correct ideas about G-d, and dispelling heresy, Maimonides formulated his 13 Principles, all of which address our ideas of G-d. Through acknowledging these truths, Maimonides granted eternal life to those who would think otherwise. We must appreciate not just Maimonides’ intelligence, but also his care for us.


At this time of the year, when we must realize and accept G-d’s exclusive Kingship, it is appropriate and of the utmost importance that we examine our notions of G-d, adhering meticulously and exclusively to the Torah, removing all of our corrupt views. We must not be led astray by heretical notions, regardless of the numbers who follow them, the reputations of those who verbalize them, or the fact that we find them in books.


“And guard your souls exceedingly, for you did not see any form on the day that G-d spoke to you at Horeb (Sinai) from amidst the flames.”  (Deut. 4:15)


“For man cannot know Me while alive.” (Exod. 33:21)


 “To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?” (Isaiah, 40:25)


The Torah is clear: man cannot possess any positive notion of G-d.