Thursday, December 06, 2007

seichel and ratzon: R' Tzadok on Yosef in the pit

Your brain tells you the food is fattening, but your stomach demands that you eat it anyway. The vast number of overweight people attests to the fact that ratzon is stronger than seichel. We know certain things are wrong but we do them anyway because desire overcomes reason. There is a certain understanding of religion which says that the telos of religion is to reverse this pattern and subjugate desire to reason. Man is the savage beast tamed by culture, in this case the culture of G-d’s law. This model places man at the center of a never-ending struggle to overcome his natural tendencies, a battle that probably few can emerge victorious from, but not to worry, because you also get schar for the struggle. If I wanted to sum up the entire mussar movement in a paragraph, this is it.

But this dichotomy between seichel and ratzon is not exactly accurate. The halacha is that a person can be coerced to give a get or to bring a korban and we assume that the choice ultimately made under duress is still willful. Why? The Rambam (hil geirushin ch 2) explains:

לפיכך מי שאינו רוצה לגרש--מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל, רוצה הוא לעשות כל המצוות ולהתרחק מן העבירות; ויצרו הוא שתקפו. וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר, רוצה אני--כבר גירש לרצונו

In other words, man is not a savage beast of passion who must overcome his instinct to obey G-d’s will. Man, or more precisely, a Jew, innately desires to fulfill G-d’s will. The ratzon Hashem is not “out there” imposed upon us, but is implanted within our consciousness. The challenge is to harness this ratzon and develop it despite the many competing desires that we pick up along the road in life, and to accomplish this take we need a seichel.

The brothers threw Yosef into a pit described as “ain bo mayim”. Water is traditionally the symbol of Torah, “ain mayim elah Torah. R’ Tzadok haKohen (Resisey Layla #58) interprets this episode in light of the symbolism of water=Torah (“ain mayim elah Torah”) and the nachash found in the pit as the symbol of anti-Torah forced. Yosef was stripped of his connection to Torah and tossed out into life’s struggles. What better way to test which of the two models above is superior - would Yosef sink to the level of society around him once robbed of the “civilizing” force of Torah-law, or would he find the ratzon Hashem within himself? We all know the conclusion. It is worth quoting R’ Tzadok directly (and worth seeing the entire piece inside if you have the sefer):

וזהו שורש היסוד דכנס״י שאין צריכים לעצות דדברי תורה כי הם מתקשרים בהש״י לגמרי ביסוד קבוע וקים שלא ינתק בין ע״י מסיתים ומפתים כנחש ושאור שבעיסה בין ע״י כפי׳ וגזירות ויסורין כעקרבים ושעבוד מלכיות לא יוכלו לערבבו עמהם גם בלי שום סיוע דתורה תבלין...

To get back to Al haNisim, “l’ha’aviram m’chukei retzonecha” is not just about forgetting chukim as a category of mitzvah, but about forgetting that our Jewish identity is a “chok”. It is not externally imposed, it is not something we choose to accept, not something that is a function of seichel, but it is an innate connection between our ratzon and G-d’s ratzon. Law and reason are not there, as the Greek's understood, to ennoble the savage beast; rather, law and reason exist to allow the inner goodness of ratzon to fully express itself.

Two mareh mekomos: 1) with this background you can appreciate R’ Tzadok’s take on galus haShechina in Resisei Layla #19 if you have the sefer (maybe I will post later). 2) R’ Tzadok opens the door to other questions: what is the relationship between formal halacha and its imposed rules and this personal innate connection to ratzon Hashem? What if the two contradict? Take a look at the Mei HaShiloach’s analysis of Yosef/Yehudah. Enough for now.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:11 AM

    "The vast number of overweight people attests to the fact that ratzon is stronger than seichel."

    The vast number of fundamentalist people too!