Habad: The Hasidism of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady

By Roman A. Foxbrunner | Go to book overview

3
Ethical Ways and Means

The tension between opposites that characterizes RSZ's metaphysics is fully reflected in his ethical thought. Obstacles to religious and ethical achievement exist in order to stimulate that achievement. The more and greater the opposition, the greater the potential achievement. Where opposition does not apparently exist or is not sufficiently felt, either God or man must reveal or create it. 1 For most men the way to religioethical perfection is the way of constant struggle and overcoming. 2 One discourse attributes this to the evil effects of exile, 3 but most imply that it is inherent in the nature and purpose of the aspiring Benoni. It is his destiny to strive but fail to "divest himself of corporeality," to transcend his limitations and the confines of his body and the physical world. 4 Moreover, the closer man comes to God, the farther he perceives himself to be, and this itself provides the stimulus to approach still closer in the quest for real nearness. 5

Still, if the average man cannot actually achieve transcendence, he can achieve it mentally. He can nullify everything that appears to stand between him and God -- ego, body, and world. This process is one aspect of biḣ+̣ul (self-nullification), the most basic and preeminent value in RSZ's axiology (and in the teachings of the Maggid, R. Abraham, and R. Menaḣ+̣em Mendel of Vitebsk). 6 All other values, as well as all phenomena, are directly or indirectly related to it. The six workdays of the week, for example, exist only to enable man to renew his biḣ+̣ul every Shabbat. Indeed, all of creation came into being for the purpose of acknowledging its essential nonbeing. 7 Although RSZ generally stops short of explicitly negating physical reality, he does go so far in some discourses. According to these, the world is merely a mi

-110-

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Habad: The Hasidism of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Transliteration and Spelling xi
  • 1 - Teachers and Teachings 1
  • 2 - Man in God's World 58
  • 3 - Ethical Ways and Means 110
  • 4 - Torah and Commandments 137
  • 5 - Love and Fear 178
  • 6 - Conclusions 195
  • Excursuses 203
  • Notes 221
  • Glossary 289
  • Selected Bibliography 295
  • Index 301
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