Who is Strong? Eating Kosher and Self Control
James Scott Trimm
Why did YHWH give us the Koshrut (Kosher laws)? Some say they were given for health reasons, others say they were given for no reason we can ever know. The first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria believed that they were given to teach us self-control. He wrote:
XVII (100) Moreover, Moses has not granted an unlimited possession and use of all other animals to those who partake in his sacred constitution, but he has forbidden with all his might all animals, whether of the land, or of the water, or that fly through the air, which are most fleshy and fat, and calculated to excite treacherous pleasure, well knowing that such, attracting as with a bait that most slavish of all the outward senses, namely, taste, produce insatiability, an incurable evil to both souls and bodies, for insatiability produces indigestion, which is the origin and source of all diseases and weaknesses. (101) Now of land animals, the swine is confessed to be the nicest of all meats by those who eat it, and of all aquatic animals the most delicate are the fish which have no scales; and Moses is above all other men skilful in training and inuring persons of a good natural disposition to the practice of virtue by frugality and abstinence, endeavouring to remove costly luxury from their characters,
(Special Laws IV)
This is in keeping with the teaching of 4th Maccabees which says:
For whence is it, otherwise, that when urged on to forbidden meats, we reject the gratification which would ensue from them? Is it not because reasoning is able to command the appetites? I believe so. 34 Hence it is, then, that when lusting after water-animals and birds, and fourfooted beasts, and all kinds of food which are forbidden us by the law, we withhold ourselves through the mastery of reasoning. 35 For the affections of our appetites are resisted by the temperate understanding, and bent back again, and all the impulses of the body are reined in by reasoning.
Paul lists one of the “fruits of the Spirit” as “patience” or “self control” or “temperance” (Gen. 5:23 the second word, in Aramaic M'SAIB'RANUTA and in Greek EGKRATEIA).
His teaching is in keeping with the teaching of Ben Zoma who, in the Mishnah said: “Who is strong? He who controls his inclinations.” (m.Avot 4:1)
We read in 4th Maccabees that one key to self-control is to become master over the emotions and that this is accomplished thru reasoning (or in the Aramaic version, a “mind of shalom”):
30 For reasoning is the leader of the virtues, but it is the sole ruler of the emotions. Observe then first, through the very things which stand in the way of self-control, that reasoning is absolute ruler of the inclinations and emotions. 31 Now self-control consists of a command over the lusts.
The first century Jewish Philosopher Philo of Alexandria echoes this teaching saying:
For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)
According to 4th Maccabees it was this ability of self control that empowered Joseph to resist the temptation of Potiphar’s wife:
1 And what wonder? if the lusts of the soul, after participation with what is beautiful, are frustrated, 2 on this ground, therefore, the temperate Joseph is praised in that by reasoning, he subdued, on reflection, the indulgence of sense. 3 For, although young, and ripe for sexual intercourse, he abrogated by reasoning the stimulus of his passions. 4 And it is not merely the stimulus of sensual indulgence, but that of every desire, that reasoning is able to master. 5 For instance, the law says, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor anything that belongs to thy neighbour. 6 Now, then, since it is the law which has forbidden us to desire, I shall much the more easily persuade you, that reasoning is able to govern our lusts, just as it does the affections which are impediments to justice.
Philo also writes that Moses, even before he was commissioned by YHWH, had this mastered self-control over his emotions:
VI. (25) And when he had passed the boundaries of the age of infancy he began to exercise his intellect; not, as some people do, letting his youthful passions roam at large without restraint, although in him they had ten thousand incentives by reason of the abundant means for the gratification of them which royal places supply; but he behaved with temperance and fortitude, as though he had bound them with reins, and thus he restrained their onward impetuosity by force. (26) And he tamed, and appeased, and brought under due command every one of the other passions which are naturally and as far as they are themselves concerned frantic, and violent, and unmanageable. And if any one of them at all excited itself and endeavoured to get free from restraint he administered severe punishment to it, reproving it with severity of language; and, in short, he repressed all the principal impulses and most violent affections of the soul, and kept guard over them as over a restive horse, fearing lest they might break all bounds and get beyond the power of reason which ought to be their guide to restrain them, and so throw everything everywhere into confusion. For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint. (27) Very naturally, therefore, those who associated with him and every one who was acquainted with him marvelled at him, being astonished as at a novel spectacle, and inquiring what kind of mind it was that had its abode in his body, and that was set up in it like an image in a shrine; whether it was a human mind or a divine intellect, or something combined of the two; because he had nothing in him resembling the many, but had gone beyond them all and was elevated to a more sublime height. (28) For he never provided his stomach with any luxuries beyond those necessary tributes which nature has appointed to be paid to it, and as to the pleasures of the organs below the stomach he paid no attention to them at all, except as far as the object of having legitimate children was concerned. (29) And being in a most eminent degree a practiser of abstinence and self-denial, and being above all men inclined to ridicule a life of effeminacy and luxury (for he desired to live for his soul alone, and not for his body), he exhibited the doctrines of philosophy in all his daily actions, saying precisely what he thought, and performing such actions only as were consistent with his words, so as to exhibit a perfect harmony between his language and his life, so that as his words were such also was his life, and as his life was such likewise was his language, like people who are playing together in tune on a musical instrument. (Life of Moses 1; VI)
4th Maccabees also tells us that when Eliezer was offered the choice of eating meat offered up to idols, or suffer unspeakable tortures and die, he chose death (2Macc 6:18-31), because he had such control over his emotions (4Macc. 5-7). As we read:
1 For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions,
2 and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty
waves of tortures,
3 in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.
4 No city besieged ever held out against mighty vassals coming against its walls and its various parts like this. He was dressed in all the armor. For while his soul was suffering, consumed by torture, and by tribulation, and by burning, he conquered the tribulation because of his mind was fighting with the shield of truth.
Moreover when Hanna and her seven sons were martyred as recorded in 2nd Maccabees (Chapter7) and in the Talmud (b.Gittin 57b) 4th Maccabees tells us they also were able to face their tortures and deaths with courage (chapters 8-18). As we read:
13:16 Therefore put on the full armor of authority over the passions, which belongs to the mind that fears Eloah….
15:31 Just as Noah's ark, carrying the world in the universal flood, stoutly
endured the waves,
15:32 so you, O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms that assail religion.
(4Macc. 13:16; 15:31-32)
We read in the Tanya:
Now, each distinction and grade of the three— nefesh, ruach and neshamah— consists of ten faculties, corresponding to the Supernal Ten Sefirot (Divine manifestations), from which they have descended, which are subdivided into two, namely, the three "mothers" and the seven "multiples," to wit: chochmah (wisdom) binah (understanding) and da at (knowledge); and the "seven days of Creation:" chesed (kindness), gevurah (power), tiferet (beauty), and so on.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)
The Tanya goes on to say:
Similarly is it with the human soul, which is divided in two— sechel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes). The intellect includes chochmah, binah and da at (ChaBaD), whilst the middot are love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth. ChaBaD [the intellectual faculties] are called "mothers" and source of the middot, for the latter are "offspring" of the former. The explanation of the matter is as follows: The intellect of the rational soul, which is the faculty that conceives any thing, is given the appellation of chochmah—כ"ח מ"ה— the "potentiality" of "what is." When one brings forth this power from the potential into the actual, that is, when [a person] cogitates with his intellect in order to understand a thing truly and profoundly as it evolves from the concept which he has conceived in his intellect, this is called binah. These [chochmah and binah] are the very "father" and "mother" which give birth to love of G-d, and awe and dread of Him.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)
The Tanya goes on to say:
For when the intellect in the rational soul deeply contemplates and immerses itself exceedingly in the greatness of G-d, how He fills all worlds and encompasses all worlds, and in the presence of Whom everything is considered as nothing— there will be born and aroused in his mind and thought the emotion of awe for the Divine Majesty, to fear and be humble before His blessed greatness, which is without end or limit, and to have the dread of G-d in his heart. Next, his heart will glow with an intense love, like burning coals, with a passion, desire and longing, and a yearning soul, towards the greatness of the blessed En Sof. This constitutes the culminating passion of the soul, of which Scripture speaks, as "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth,.. ." and "My soul thirsteth for G-d,..." and "My soul thirsteth for Thee...." This thirst is derived from the element of Fire, which is found in the divine soul. As students of natural science affirm, and so it is in Etz Chayim, the element of Fire is in the heart, whilst the source of [the element of] Water and moisture is in the brain, which is explained in Etz Chayim, Portal 50, to refer to the faculty of chochmah, called "The water of the divine soul." The rest of the middot are all offshoots of fear and love and their derivations, as is explained elsewhere.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)
Now this is in exact agreement with the teaching of 4th Maccabees which says:
1:1 The word of philosophy that I am about to discuss before you:
If the true mind of shalom (peace) is sovereign to the fear of Elohim. I am an upright adviser to you, that you should pay earnest attention in philosophy.
1:2 For it is also necessary for all men to suffer, more especially these are steps to virtue.
1:3 For I bear a good report:
If the mind of balance is over the emotions that stand against self-control, showing that the mind of virtue rules over gluttony [and] over lust.
1:4 And it is not only over the walk, but also over the other emotions that hinder righteousness. It is shown to be sovereign, over fornication [and] evil and over other emotions that impede courage, over rage, and that a man be not soft before tribulation, and over fear.
(4th Maccabees from the Aramaic version)
1:13 The question therefore is this: If the mind is sovereign over emotion.
1:14 But you may ask: What is the mind? And what is emotion? And what are the kinds of emotion? And is the mind sovereign over all of them?
1:15 The mind therefore is thus: That in uprightness we choose the life of wisdom.
1:16 Now wisdom is knowledge of the hosts, of the Godhead, and of manhood and of their effects.
1:17 Now this is the discipline that is in the Torah, that through it also you learn of the Godhead greatly and of manhood to our advantage and obtaining favor.
1:18 Now the forms of wisdom are these: prudence, righteousness, [courage] and temperance.
1:19 Now the head of all of them is prudence because through it the mind rules over all emotions.
(4th Maccabees from the Aramaic version)
1:30 For reasoning is the leader of the virtues, but it is the sole ruler of the emotions. Observe then first, through the very things which stand in the way of temperance, that reasoning is absolute ruler of the emotions.
1:31 Now self-control consists of a command over the lusts.
1:32 But of the lusts, some belong to the soul, others to the body: and over each of these classes the reasoning appears to bear sway.
(4Macc. 1:4, 13-19, 30-32 from Aramaic)
Moreover 4th Maccabees teaches that the emotions are seven in number and are derived from two: pain and pleasure, which polarize these two:
20 Of the passions, pleasure and pain are the two most comprehensive; and they also by nature refer to the soul.
21 And there are many attendant affections surrounding pleasure and pain.
22 Before pleasure is lust; and after pleasure, joy.
23 And before pain is fear; and after pain is sorrow.
24 Wrath is an affection, common to pleasure and to pain, if any one will pay attention when it comes upon him.
25 And there exists in pleasure a malicious disposition, which is the most multiform of all the affections.
26 In the soul it is arrogance, and love of money, and vain gloriousness, and contention, and faithlessness, and the evil eye .
27 In the body it is greediness and gormandizing, and solitary gluttony.
(4Macc. 1:20-27 from Aramaic)
Thus the teaching of 4th Maccabees and that of the Tanya fit like a hand in a well fit glove.
The Tanya continues:
Da'at, the etymology of which is to be found in the verse: "And Adam knew (yada) Eve," implies attachment and union. That is, one binds his mind with a very firm and strong bond to, and firmly fixes his thought on, the greatness of the blessed En sof, without diverting his mind [from Him]. For even one who is wise and understanding of the greatness of the blessed En Sof, will not— unless he binds his knowledge and fixes his thought with firmness and perseverence— produce in his soul true love and fear, but only vain fancies. Therefore da'at is the basis of the middot and the source of their vitality; it contains chesed and gevurah, that is to say, love with its offshoots and fear with its offshoots.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)
The "love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth." which are the "offspring" of Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge (CHaBaD) are personified to us as the Word. the Son of Yah! When the Tanya teaches us to embrace these emotions that pour forth from our knowledge of Torah, it is teaching us to embrace the Son of Yah and in doing so to receive the outflowing of emotion that comes from CHaBaD (Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge).
The Torah and the Messiah are one. When we study Torah, the Wisdom of Torah gestates in our Understanding and gives birth to Knowledge of Torah. This is what is meant by having the Torah in our inward parts. Since the Torah and the Messiah are one, this is also having the Messiah within us. The Messiah within us is a spark of YHWH within us, a second soul. While our animal soul has an inclination to do evil, this second soul has an inclination to do good. This helps us to overcome the emotions of our evil inclination. This occurs as Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge of Torah within us flows from our mind down to the emotions of our good inclination, resulting in a love for Elohim that inclines us to keep the positive commandments, and an awe for Elohim that inclines us not to violate the negative commandments.
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