Education Prioritization

From The Principles of Education and Guidance (Kehot), pp. 74-82,
by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Y. Eliezer Danzinger

Man's essential character is rational. This is the key distinction between humans and animals, and it is what makes man superior. All of man's deeds, speech and thoughts are in accordance with his understanding. His emotions, as well: to love and to hate; to extol, to give thanks and to vanquish; to choose the good and the beautiful, and to despise the bad and the repugnant - are all dictated by his rational judgment. Nevertheless, [the power of intellect notwithstanding,] the strength, the power and the force of man's will control everything within man.

Man's soul-powers are divided into four groups. These are: 1) delight [in Hebrew, "oneg"] and will ["ratzon"]; 2) wisdom, understanding and knowledge; 3) emotive attributes: love, hate, pride, gratitude, tenaciousness, etc.; 4) thought, speech and action. This is all in addition to the vital soul that animates the limbs of the body, enabling them to carry out their respective functions of providing man with sight, hearing, ambulation, touch, and so on.

These four groups are further divisible into two general classifications: 1) internal [in Hebrew, "pnimi"], and 2) encompassing ["makif"].

Though Chassidut makes use of the term "makif" (encompassing) to describe a certain category of soul-powers, it is not to be understood in a physical, spatial sense - that these soul-powers somehow surround the person - rather, in a figurative sense, as the text proceeds to describe. Only the first group of soul-powers, oneg and ratzon, are "encompassig"." The other three categories are considered "internal".

The differences between these two classifications are in four matters:
The internal powers are particular, whereas the encompassing powers are general.
The internal soul-powers have specific limbs upon and through which they act, whereas the encompassing powers do not, for they affect all limbs.

The intellectual attributes - wisdom, understanding and knowledge (chochma, bina, and daat) - are contained within the brain. The emotive attributes are found in the heart. Thought, speech and action, too, have their respective channels within the body. Oneg and ratzon, in contrast, are not limited to any particular part of the body; there is no specific "limb" of the body through which will or delight are exclusively expressed.

Although both are soul-powers, the depth of their respective roots in the soul itself differs. Encompassing powers are rooted deeper [in the soul].

Oneg and ratzon are rooted within the essence of the soul. Although they are not the essence of the soul itself, but an extension and reflection of it, they are nonetheless the first state of movement from the pure soul toward expression.

For the most part, the influence and effects of the internal powers come about pleasantly, and from a position of closeness to what they are influencing and affecting. The encompassing powers, on the other hand - especially the power of ratzon - influence and affect forcefully and dictatorially.

Since each internal soul-power has its particular channel of expression within the body, its influence on the person is direct and smooth. Oneg and ratzon, however, which do not have a particular channel of expression, influence the person in a coercive and forceful manner.

Oneg and ratzon, though both encompassing powers, and hence different from the internal powers in the four ways outlined above, are themselves different from one another. It is beyond the scope of this work, however, to elaborate on the soul-powers, their influence and their divisions; only to the extent necessary to sufficiently clarify the subject of education. As such, suffice it to present two general maxims that convey the particular motif of oneg and ratzon:

1) Nothing [i.e. no soul-power] ranks higher than oneg.
2) Nothing is as forceful as ratzon. [A variant text: Nothing stands in the way of ratzon].

These two succinct sayings express clearly the differences between oneg and ratzon, notwithstanding their similarity in that they are both encompassing powers. Namely, the main point of oneg is its elevation over all, being the initial manifestation of the soul, even though it too is but a faculty of the soul. The outstanding feature of ratzon is that it is forceful, and nothing - no faculty of the soul or a limb of the body - can oppose it.

The powers of the soul are divisible into two classes: internal and encompassing. The advantage of oneg is in its rank; the advantage of ratzon is in its forcefulness.

Intrinsic and Figurative Attributes

Two adages describing ratzon were mentioned above: "Nothing is as forceful as ratzon" and "Nothing stands in the way of ratzon". They give us detailed insight into the main aspect of ratzon, i.e. an appreciation of its broad and forceful influence, both on oneg - which is higher than ratzon - as well as on the faculties below it. They are all equally affected by ratzon, which acts upon them as if by decree and dictate.

All faculties, without exception, can be intrinsic or figurative. This is as equally true of the highest of powers - the power of oneg, which because of its pre-eminence is termed a "revelation of the soul" - though it too is still just a power of the soul - as it is true of the lowest of the soul-powers, the power of propulsion, a power possessed also by animals.

The difference between an intrinsic characteristic and a figurative one is that an intrinsic one is all-pervasive, both inwardly and externally, while a figurative term is ascribed - for the sake of comparison - to an external and adjunctive attribute. For example, the cleverness of the fox as likened to the intelligence of man and his understanding. This is the case with regard to ratzon as well. Intrinsic ratzon extends into all the powers and limbs in a forceful way, compelling them to act even contrary to their nature. Figurative ratzon, on the other hand, applies only to the simple aspect of wanting, and is influenced by what is outside of it, by the dictates of the power of oneg, or the power of the intellect. As such, figurative ratzon which, in addition to lacking this inherent forcefulness, is actually influenced and affected by external stimuli - figurative ratzon also extends itself broadly and most forcefully.

Hence, an educator or counselor must not only proceed slowly with a pupil, as one who teaches an infant to walk, one step at a time, but he must also apply discernment and keen understanding in selecting what to correct first in a pupil. An educator or counselor must be cautious not to attempt to rectify two things at the same time - be it the elimination of a deficiency or the invigoration of a virtue.

In other words, since a pupil's ratzon is forcefully bent on expressing itself and strongly resists any attempts to restrict it, an educator is well advised to leave an avenue open through which a pupil's ratzon can indeed express itself, even if this avenue be a negative behavior of some sort. In this way, the ratzon's resistance to curtailment in the selected critical area is minimized, and possible rectification of the more serious deficiency facilitated.

For example, if a pupil has two deficiencies: a) he exaggerates and lies; b) he is irascible and hot tempered. And in keeping with the nature of all who do not perceive their own blemishes, the pupil's ratzon extends with great force into both.

In such a situation, an educator must choose the imperfection to rectify first, giving priority to the more dangerous failing. Given a choice between lying and a hot temper, for example, one should select the hot temper as the shortcoming to focus on initially; this is because it contains within it the germs of sins and transgressions, such as the wasteful emission of semen, and the like. In turn, these precipitate many maladies, leading to, Heaven forefend, the ruination of body and soul, and mental imbalance, may the Merciful One protect us.

The educator or counselor who is mindful of the importance of prioritization in behavioral modification methodology - in the reinforcement of virtues and surely in the elimination of deficiencies - possesses a firm basis upon which to anticipate positive results, the achievement of the benefits of educational objectives.



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