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.

Accordingly, we may understand the comment of our Sages that “beinonim are judged by both [their good and evil inclinations]”1both “judge” him and dictate his conduct. As Scriptural support for this contention, the Talmud cites:

וּבָזֶה יוּבַן לְשׁוֹן מַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "בֵּינוֹנִים זֶה וָזֶה שׁוֹפְטָן" [פֵּירוּשׁ, יֵצֶר טוֹב וְיֵצֶר הָרָע],

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

דִּכְתִיב: "כִּי יַעֲמוֹד לִימִין אֶבְיוֹן לְהוֹשִׁיעַ מִשּׁוֹפְטֵי נַפְשׁוֹ",

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.

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

וְלֹא אָמְרוּ "זֶה וָזֶה מוֹשְׁלִים" חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

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),

כִּי כְּשֶׁיֵּשׁ אֵיזוֹ שְׁלִיטָה וּמֶמְשָׁלָה לַיֵּצֶר הָרָע בָּ"עִיר קְטַנָּה", אֲפִילוּ לְפִי שָׁעָה קַלָּה –

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

נִקְרָא רָשָׁע בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה.

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,

אֶלָּא, הַיֵּצֶר הָרָע אֵינוֹ – רַק עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל כְּמוֹ שׁוֹפֵט וְדַיָּין הָאוֹמֵר דַּעְתּוֹ בַּמִּשְׁפָּט,

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

וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה פְּסַק הֲלָכָה כָּךְ לְמַעֲשֶׂה, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁיֵּשׁ עוֹד שׁוֹפֵט וְדַיָּין הַחוֹלֵק עָלָיו,

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.

וְצָרִיךְ לְהַכְרִיעַ בֵּינֵיהֶם, וַהֲלָכָה כְּדִבְרֵי הַמַּכְרִיעַ.

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.

כָּךְ, הַיֵּצֶר הָרָע אוֹמֵר דַּעְתּוֹ בֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי שֶׁבַּלֵּב,

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.

וּמֵהַלֵּב עוֹלֶה לַמּוֹחַ לְהַרְהֵר בּוֹ,

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

וּמִיָּד חוֹלֵק עָלָיו הַשּׁוֹפֵט הַשֵּׁנִי שֶׁהוּא הַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית שֶׁבַּמּוֹחַ,

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

הַמִּתְפַּשֵּׁט בֶּחָלָל הַיְמָנִי שֶׁבַּלֵּב – מְקוֹם מִשְׁכַּן הַיֵּצֶר טוֹב,

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.

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.

וַהֲלָכָה כְּדִבְרֵי הַמַּכְרִיעַ, הוּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא – הָעוֹזְרוֹ לְהַיֵּצֶר טוֹב,

As our Sages say, “[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).”3

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אִלְמָלֵא הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עוֹזְרוֹ אֵין יָכוֹל לוֹ".

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

וְהָעֵזֶר, הִיא הַהֶאָרָה שֶׁמֵּאִיר אוֹר ה' עַל נֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית,

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.

לִהְיוֹת לָהּ יִתְרוֹן וּשְׁלִיטָה עַל סִכְלוּת הַכְּסִיל וְיֵצֶר הָרָע, כְּיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחוֹשֶׁךְ, כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

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.”5 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:

Yet, inasmuch as the evil in the left part of the beinoni’s heart is in its native strength, craving after all the pleasures of this world,

אַךְ מֵאַחַר שֶׁהָרָע שֶׁבֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי בַּבֵּינוֹנִי הוּא בְּתָקְפּוֹ כְּתוֹלַדְתּוֹ, לְהִתְאַוֹּת תַּאֲוָה לְכָל תַּעֲנוּגֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

and is neither so minute as to be nullified before the good of the divine soul (as is the case with a tzaddik), nor has it been displaced from its position to any degree,

וְלֹא נִתְבַּטֵּל בְּמִיעוּט לְגַבֵּי הַטּוֹב וְלֹא נִדְחָה מִמְּקוֹמוֹ כְּלָל,

but merely lacks authority and power to become diffused throughout the limbs of the body to cause them to do, speak, or think evil, nor is the evil’s lack of ability attributable to the beinoni’s efforts, for his evil, like that of the rasha, retains its native strength to pervade the entire body; rather, the evil is powerless merely

רַק שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שְׁלִיטָה וּמֶמְשָׁלָה לְהִתְפַּשֵּׁט בְּאֵבְרֵי הַגּוּף, –

because of the Holy One, blessed be He, who “stands at the right hand of the poor man,” helping him and irradiating his divine soul so that it may be able to prevail over the evil.

מִפְּנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הָעוֹמֵד לִימִין אֶבְיוֹן וְעוֹזֵר וּמֵאִיר לַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית –

Thus, it is only Divine intervention that prevents the evil from pervading the body; essentially, however, the evil of the beinoni’s animal soul is as strong as it was at birth.

Therefore, [the beinoni] is described as being “k’rasha” (“like a rasha”) but not actually a rasha, as in the statement of our Sages, “Even if the whole world tells you that you are a tzaddik, be in your own eyes like a rasha.”6

לָכֵן נִקְרָא – "כְּרָשָׁע", – כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "אֲפִילוּ כָּל הָעוֹלָם כּוּלּוֹ אוֹמְרִים לְךָ צַדִּיק אַתָּה – הֱיֵה בְעֵינֶיךָ כְּרָשָׁע",

He should not [regard himself as] an actual rasha, for the Mishnah admonishes, “Be not wicked in your own estimation.”

וְלֹא רָשָׁע מַמָּשׁ, –

Moreover, regarding oneself as a rasha hinders one from serving G-d joyfully.

Rather, one should consider oneself a beinoni,

אֶלָּא שֶׁיַּחֲזִיק עַצְמוֹ לְבֵינוֹנִי,

and should not believe i.e., accept the world’s opinion which would have him believe that the evil in him has been nullified by the good, for this is the level of a tzaddik.

וְלֹא לְהַאֲמִין לְהָעוֹלָם שֶׁאוֹמְרִים שֶׁהָרָע שֶׁבּוֹ נִתְבַּטֵּל לְגַבֵּי הַטּוֹב, שֶׁזּוֹ מַדְרֵגַת צַדִּיק, –

Only the tzaddik succeeds in nullifying and transforming the evil within him. But the “world,” which judges the beinoni by his actions and sees that he never transgresses, assumes that he too has effectively banished from within him the evil that is the cause of sin; consequently, people regard him as a tzaddik.

He is therefore cautioned against accepting the opinion of “the world.”

Instead, he should take the view that the essence and core of the evil is in its full native strength and might, in the left part of his heart,

אֶלָּא יִהְיֶה בְעֵינָיו כְּאִלּוּ מַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ שֶׁל הָרָע הוּא בְּתָקְפּוֹ וּבִגְבוּרָתוֹ בֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי כְּתוֹלַדְתּוֹ,

not having vanished or departed from him at all.

וְלֹא חָלַף וְהָלַךְ מִמֶּנּוּ מְאוּמָה,

On the contrary, with the passage of time, [the evil] has gained strength because he utilized it i.e., the animal soul considerably,

וְאַדְּרַבָּה – נִתְחַזֵּק יוֹתֵר בְּהֶמְשֵׁךְ הַזְּמַן, שֶׁנִּשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בּוֹ הַרְבֵּה

in eating and drinking and in other mundane pursuits.

בַּאֲכִילָה וּשְׁתִיָּה וּשְׁאָר עִנְיְינֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶּה.

As with every faculty, constant use of the animal soul causes it to become even stronger than it was at birth.

The Alter Rebbe thus concludes that the words “consider yourself ‘like a rasha’” mean that one must consider himself a beinoni. The above applies even to those who have reached a lofty spiritual level; they too should consider themselves beinonim. For should one consider himself a tzaddik and maintain that the evil within him has already been nullified by the good, he will cease to do battle with the evil. If he is mistaken and is not in fact a tzaddik, such an unfounded attitude can cause him to slip drastically from his level, descending even lower than the level of a beinoni to that of a rasha.