In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe described the spiritual profile of the Beinoni. In the Beinoni’s heart, said the Alter Rebbe, evil desires may often arise, but his divine soul constantly prevents such desires from finding expression in actual thought, speech or action. On the contrary, these three soul-garments are the exclusive domain of the divine soul and are utilized by the Beinoni only for thought, speech and action of Torah study and the fulfillment of the mitzvot.

ובזה יובן לשון מאמר רז״ל: בינונים זה וזה שופטן פירוש: יצר טוב ויצר הרע

Accordingly, we may understand the comment of our Sages1 that “Beinonim are judged by both [their good and evil inclinations]” — both “judge” him and dictate his conduct. As Scriptural support for this contention, the Talmud cites:

דכתיב: כי יעמוד לימין אביון להושיע משופטי נפשו

For it is written:2 “He —the Almighty — stands at the right hand of the poor man, to save him from them that judge his soul.” The plural “them that judge” indicates the presence of two judges within the person, the evil inclination and the good.

We thus find that the Beinoni’s inclinations are described as his “judges”. Now, were the term Beinoni to be understood in its simple, literal sense of one who has an equal history of good deeds and bad, it should more properly be said that “the Beinoni is ruled by both [inclinations]”. For one to sin, his evil inclination must rule him; for him to do good his good inclination must rule. The Beinoni who supposedly does both, must be ruled (and not merely “judged”) by both.

However, according to the explanation of the term Beinoni given in the previous chapter, it is clear that, indeed, the Beinoni is merely judged by both inclinations, not ruled by both, as shall be explained presently.

ולא אמרו: זה וזה מושלים, חס ושלום

Note that [our Sages] did not say, “He is ruled by both the good inclination and the evil,” G‑d forbid,

כי כשיש איזו שליטה וממשלה ליצר הרע בעיר קטנה, אפילו לפי שעה קלה

because where the evil nature gains any rule and dominion, albeit momentarily, over the “small city,” i.e., whenever the evil rules one’s body (likened to a city which both the good inclination and the evil seek to conquer),

נקרא רשע באותה שעה

one is deemed “wicked” (rasha) at such times.

אלא היצר הרע אינו רק, על דרך משל, כמו שופט ודיין האומר דעתו במשפט

Rather, the evil inclination in the Beinoni is no more than, for example, a magistrate or judge who expresses his opinion on a point of law,

ואף על פי כן יכול להיות שלא יהיה פסק הלכה כך למעשה, מפני שיש עוד שופט ודיין החולק עליו

yet in fact his decision is not necessarily final, for there is another magistrate or judge who disagrees with him.

וצריך להכריע ביניהם, והלכה כדברי המכריע

It then becomes necessary, in order to formulate a binding decision, to arbitrate between the two, and the final verdict will rest with the arbitrator.

כך היצר הרע אומר דעתו בחלל השמאלי שבלב

Similarly, in the battle between the evil inclination and the good: The evil inclination states its opinion in the left part of the [Beinoni’s] heart, i.e., it creates an evil desire in his heart and demands that he act accordingly, thus rendering “judgment” as to his future conduct.

ומהלב עולה למוח להרהר בו

From the heart [the desire] ascends to the mind for contemplation. This ascent is automatic; whenever a desire is awakened in the heart, the brain will contemplate it.

ומיד חולק עליו השופט השני, שהוא הנפש האלקית שבמוח

Immediately upon its ascent to the brain it is challenged by the second “judge”, the divine soul [residing] in the brain,

המתפשט בחלל הימני שבלב, מקום משכן היצר הטוב

which extends into the right part of the heart where the good inclination abides (i.e., reveals itself).

The good inclination is actually the voice of the divine soul’s emotional attributes, and is hence active in the right part of the heart; see ch. 9. The good inclination thus battles the evil, ensuring that the latter’s passion not be realized, for the “opinion” of the good inclination is that all of the body’s faculties and organs be utilized only for matters of holiness.

והלכה כדברי המכריע, הוא הקב״ה, העוזרו להיצר טוב

The final verdict rests with the arbitrator — the Holy One, blessed be He, who comes to the aid of the good inclination, enabling it to prevail over the evil inclination.

כמאמר רז״ל: אלמלא הקב״ה עוזרו אין יכול לו

As our Sages say,3 “[Man’s evil inclination gathers strength daily,…and] if the Almighty did not help him (i.e., help his good inclination) he could not overcome it (his evil inclination).”

והעזר היא ההארה שמאיר אור ה׳ על נפש האלקית

The help that G‑d grants him is the glow of divine light that illuminates his divine soul,

להיות לה יתרון ושליטה על סכלות הכסיל ויצר הרע, כיתרון האור מן החושך, כנ״ל

that it may gain superiority and mastery over the folly of the “fool”, the evil inclination, [a dominion] paralleling the superiority of light over darkness, as stated above, in ch. 12.

Just as a little light banishes much darkness, so is the abounding folly and darkness of one’s evil inclination driven away by dint of the little light of holiness emanating from his divine soul. It is this ray of divine illumination that constitutes G‑d’s assistance to the divine soul.4

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to resolve the contradiction and answer the question noted in the opening words of the Tanya:

The Talmud states that a Jew is charged with an oath to regard himself as wicked, whereas elsewhere, the Mishnah declares: “Be not wicked in your own estimation.” Also: “If a person considers himself wicked, he will be grieved at heart and depressed, and will not be able to serve G‑d joyfully and with a contented heart.”

He now explains that the meaning of the oath — which literally reads, “Be in your own eyes like a rasha” — is that one regard himself not as an actual rasha, but as like one, having traits similar to those of a rasha. This means that he must consider himself a Beinoni, who possesses the same evil in his soul as does a rasha and can desire evil just as a rasha does.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words: