As for the well-known saying23 that one [whose deeds and misdeeds are] equally balanced is called a beinoni, while [he who has] a majority of virtues outweighing his sins is called a tzaddik,

וְהָא דְּאָמְרִינָן בְּעָלְמָא, דְּמֶחֱצָה עַל מֶחֱצָה מִקְרֵי בֵּינוֹנִי, וְרוֹב זְכֻיּוֹת מִקְרֵי צַדִּיק,

this is only a borrowed name, i.e., a figurative use of the term borrowed from its true usage in order to emphasize a particular point. Thus the names beinoni and tzaddik, denoting a balance between merits and sins, are in fact but borrowed names

הוּא שֵׁם הַמּוּשְׁאָל

used in regard to reward and punishment,

לְעִנְיַן שָׂכָר וְעוֹנֶשׁ,

because one is judged according to the majority [of his deeds],

לְפִי שֶׁנִּדּוֹן אַחַר רוּבּוֹ,

and he is termed “righteous’’ in reference to his verdict, since he is acquitted at his trial.

וּמִקְרֵי צַדִּיק בְּדִינוֹ מֵאַחַר שֶׁזּוֹכֶה בַּדִּין,

It is only in this legal sense that the term tzaddik is applied to one who performs more good deeds than evil.

If, however, we seek to truly define the distinct qualities and ranks of tzaddikim and beinonim,

אֲבָל לְעִנְיַן אֲמִיתַּת שֵׁם הַתּוֹאַר וְהַמַּעֲלָה שֶׁל מַעֲלַת וּמַדְרֵגוֹת חֲלוּקוֹת צַדִּיקִים וּבֵינוֹנִים,

our Sages have remarked that the righteous are “judged” i.e., motivated and ruled, solely by their good nature, as it is written, “And my heart is a void within me,”24

אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: "צַדִּיקִים יֵצֶר טוֹב שׁוֹפְטָן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי"

meaning that he i.e., David, the author of this verse was devoid of an evil nature, having slain it through fasting.

– שֶׁאֵין לוֹ יֵצֶר הָרָע, כִּי הֲרָגוֹ בְּתַעֲנִית;

David extirpated his evil nature through fasting; other ways, too, are possible.

We thus see from the Gemara that the definition of tzaddik in its true sense applies to the person who has rid himself of his evil nature.

But whoever has not attained this degree of ridding himself of his evil nature, even though his virtues outnumber his sins, is not at all at the level and rank of tzaddik.

אֲבָל כָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא הִגִּיעַ לְמַדְרֵגָה זוֹ, אַף שֶׁזְּכֻיוֹתָיו מְרוּבִּים עַל עֲוֹנוֹתָיו – אֵינוֹ בְּמַעֲלַת וּמַדְרֵגַת צַדִּיק כְּלָל.

In fact, not only has he not reached the rank of tzaddik, he has not yet attained even the level of beinoni, as has been demonstrated above.

This is why our Sages have expounded:25 “The Almighty saw that the righteous were few, so He arose and planted i.e., and spread them in every generation,”

וְלָכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה בַּמִּדְרָשׁ: "רָאָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בַּצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁהֵם מוּעָטִים – עָמַד וּשְׁתָלָן בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר וְכוּ',

[for,] as it is written, “The tzaddik is the foundation of the world.”26

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: וְצַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם":

Thus, in each generation, there must be a tzaddik who serves as the “foundation of the world.”

This paucity of tzaddikim (“the righteous were few”) can be explained only if a tzaddik is he who has totally rid himself of his evil nature. Were the term tzaddik to mean one whose good deeds outweigh the evil, why then do our Sages say that “the righteous were few” when the overwhelming majority of Jews have more good deeds than evil!

However, the explanation of the matter, so that we better understand the levels of tzaddik and beinoni, as well as the various gradations within their ranks,

אַךְ בֵּיאוּר הָעִנְיָן,

[is to be found] in light of what Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote in Shaar Hakedushah (and in Etz Chaim, Portal 50, ch. 2)—

עַל פִּי מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב הָרַב חַיִּים וִיטַאל זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה בְּשַׁעַר הַקְּדוּשָּׁה [וּבְעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר נ' פֶּרֶק ב'],

that every Jew, whether righteous or wicked, possesses two souls,

דִּלְכָל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶחָד צַדִּיק וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, יֵשׁ שְׁתֵּי נְשָׁמוֹת,

as it is written, “And neshamot (souls) which I have made.”27

וּכְדִכְתִיב: "וּנְשָׁמוֹת אֲנִי עָשִׂיתִי",

Though the verse speaks of an individual Jew (as is indicated by the singular form of the word ruach (spirit) in the preceding phrase, “When the spirit of a man which emanates from Me will be humbled…”), the plural term souls is nevertheless used, indicating that every Jew possesses two souls.

These are two nefashot28two souls and life-forces.

שֶׁהֵן שְׁתֵּי נְפָשׁוֹת

One soul originates in the kelipah and sitra achara.

–נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִצַּד הַקְּלִיפָּה וְסִטְרָא אָחֳרָא,

Kelipah” means a shell or peel. G-d created forces which conceal the G-dly life-force found in all creation, as a peel covers and conceals a fruit. “Sitra achara” means “the other side”—the side of creation that is the antithesis of holiness and purity. (The two terms are generally synonymous.)

It is this nefesh (which originates in the kelipah and sitra achara) that is clothed in the blood of a human being, giving life to the body,

וְהִיא הַמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּדַם הָאָדָם לְהַחֲיוֹת הַגּוּף,

as it is written, “For the nefesh of the flesh (i.e., the nefesh that sustains physical and corporeal life) is in the blood.”29

וּכְדִכְתִיב: "כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִיא",

From [this nefesh] stems all the evil characteristics, deriving from the four evil elements within it.

וּמִמֶּנָּה בָּאוֹת כָּל הַמִּדּוֹת רָעוֹת, מֵאַרְבַּע יְסוֹדוֹת רָעִים שֶׁבָּהּ,

Just as the four physical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth are the foundation of all physical entities, so, too, is this nefesh comprised of four corresponding spiritual elements. Since they derive from kelipah and evil, they themselves are evil, and from them, in turn, one’s evil characteristics come into being.

Namely: anger and pride [emanate] from the element of Fire, which rises upward;

דְּהַיְינוּ: כַּעַס וְגַאֲוָה – מִיסוֹד הָאֵשׁ שֶׁנִּגְבָּהּ לְמַעְלָה,

Once ignited by anger and pride, a man (like fire) soars aloft. Pride is the state of considering oneself superior to others. Anger, too, is an offshoot of pride. Would a person not be proud, he would not be angered when someone defied his will.

the appetite for pleasures [emanates] from the element of Water, for water promotes the growth of all kinds of pleasurable things;

וְתַאֲוַת הַתַּעֲנוּגִים – מִיסוֹד הַמַּיִם, כִּי הַמַּיִם מַצְמִיחִים כָּל מִינֵי תַּעֲנוּג,

The ability of water to make pleasurable things grow indicates that concealed within it is the element of pleasure. Thus, the appetite for pleasure derives from the element of Water.

frivolity and scoffing, boasting and idle talk [emanate] from the element of Air: like air, they lack substance;

וְהוֹלֵלוּת וְלֵיצָנוּת וְהִתְפָּאֲרוּת וּדְבָרִים בְּטֵלִים – מִיסוֹד הָרוּחַ,

and sloth and melancholy [emanate] from the element of Earth.

וְעַצְלוּת וְעַצְבוּת – מִיסוֹד הֶעָפָר.

Earth is characterized by heaviness. A man encumbered by sloth and melancholy likewise senses a heaviness of the limbs.

From this soul stems also the good traits inherent in every Jew’s character, such as compassion and benevolence.

וְגַם מִדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת שֶׁבְּטֶבַע כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹלְדוֹתָם, כְּמוֹ רַחֲמָנוּת וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים – בָּאוֹת מִמֶּנָּה.

But since this is a nefesh of kelipah and evil, how do good characteristics come from it? This matter is now addressed.

For in the [case of the] Jew, this soul of kelipah is derived from the kelipah called “nogah,” which also contains good; and the good within this nefesh gives rise to these positive natural traits.

כִּי בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל נֶפֶשׁ זוֹ דִּקְלִיפָּה, הִיא מִקְּלִיפַּת נוֹגַהּ, שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ גַּם כֵּן טוֹב,

[This kelipah] is from the esoteric “Tree of Knowledge [which is comprised] of good and evil.”30

וְהִיא מִסּוֹד "עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע":

The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot, which contain no good whatsoever,

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן נַפְשׁוֹת אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, הֵן מִשְּׁאָר קְלִיפּוֹת טְמֵאוֹת, שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן טוֹב כְּלָל,

as is written in Etz Chaim, Portal 49, ch. 3, that all the good that the nations do is done out of selfish motives.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּעֵץ חַיִּים שַׁעַר מ"ט פֶּרֶק ג'. וְכָל טִיבוּ דְּעָבְדִין הָאוּמּוֹת לְגַרְמַיְיהוּ עָבְדִין,

Since their nefesh emanates from kelipot which contain no good, it follows that any good done by them is for selfish motives.

So the Gemara31 comments on the verse, “The kindness of the nations is sin”32—that all the charity and kindness done by the nations of the world is only for their self-glorification….

וְכִדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא עַל פָּסוּק: "וְחֶסֶד לְאוּמִּים חַטָּאת" –שֶׁכָּל צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד שֶׁאוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם עוֹשִׂין, אֵינָן אֶלָּא לְהִתְיַיהֵר כוּ':

When a Jew acts in a benevolent manner, he is motivated mainly out of concern for the welfare of his fellow. The proof of this is that were his fellow not to need his help, this would give him greater pleasure than the gratification derived from his act of kindness.

Concerning the nations of the world, however, this is not so. Their motivation is not the welfare of their fellow; rather, it stems from a self-serving motive—the desire for self-glorification, a feeling of gratification, and the like.

It should be noted that among the nations of the world, there are also to be found those whose souls are derived from kelipat nogah.33 Called “the pious ones of the nations of the world,” these righteous individuals are benevolent not out of selfish motives but out of a genuine concern for their fellow.