Defining Pnimius – Inwardness [#1717]


1) Often the Rav speaks of a general definition “The more a person becomes inward (pnimi).” What does the Rav mean by this, and what are the conditions for this?

2) In relation to the above question, is it possible for a person to become more pnimi/inward if he doesn’t know well the Shulchan Aruch and halachah l’maaseh of the Poskim, at least in day-to-day living? It would seem that if a person isn’t meticulous in the halachah, he cannot be a proper container to receive any spiritual illumination or pnimiyus – whether from the outside, or from within. Therefore, it would seem that the beginning of a person’s avodah should be to first learn a lot of halachah, so that he can learn how to meticulously observe halachah, and thereby become a “container” and “basis” [to receive spiritual illumination], on a simple level. Only after this would it make sense for a person to become more “pnimi”! For if a person is becoming more “pnimi” but he isn’t that careful with halachah, he is living a contradiction.

My question becomes stronger based on what the Rav says in the introduction to Bilvavi Part 9, that a person needs to be very careful with halachah, as a necessary condition in order to gain from any of the content in the sefer, so that one can become a “container” to receive the light of emunah and the “light of Mashiach” [as explained in Bilvavi Part 9]. If a person is missing this condition, the Rav makes it clear that it is dangerous to learn the sefer, because the increase of spiritual light will damage him if he doesn’t have the proper container to hold onto it.

Therefore, before anything, a person needs to be immersed in Torah and carefully observe halachah and keep the mitzvos. This warning is probably not only a condition to receive the light of Mashiach, but a general rule for all areas of Avodas Hashem. In simpler language: it should seem that if a person wants to become more internal, his first area to work on is to learn halachah very well and become very meticulous in observing each halachah of Shulchan Aruch, and he should place all of his focus on the careful observance of halachah. I am not even speaking of chumros (being stringent), but of fulfilling the halachah on a basic level, such as how to wash the hands properly, etc.

Why is this not the definition of becoming a more internal person? Why does becoming more internal mean that one needs to “enter more inward” as the Rav puts it? Isn’t the main thing to learn how to fulfill the will of Hashem, which is through fulfilling the mitzvos properly, as revealed to us through the holy Torah?


1- There are three root pathways in Creation, and accordingly, there are three different approaches in avodah (serving the Creator):
(1) One way to view our avodah is in terms of “igulim”, circles – our avodah is like a circle within a circle. The outermost circle has the largest circumference from all of the circles. Accordingly, the avodah of a person is to come out of his circle and enter into the bigger circle outside of him. This implies that the avodah of a person is bittul, self-nullification.
(2) Another way of avodah is hishtalshelus, “chain”. In this view, our avodah descends from the highest Heavenly realms all the way down to the lowest realm [and we begin from the lowest point and we need to work our way upwards to the highest point]. This implies that the avodah of a person is to ascend higher, and this is the implication of the term “ben aliyah”, “one who ascends spiritually.”
(3) Another way of avodah is halbashah, “garment”. This means that the highest level is cloaked by the lowest level, as if the lower level is a garment for the higher level. It is like the layers of an onion, where the innermost layer is the choicest part of the onion. In this approach, the avodah of a person is to keep entering inward, and accordingly, one will need to identify what his main avodah is, according to the root of his soul.

2- Rabbeinu Yonah says in Shaarei Teshuvah that as long as a person accepts upon himself the words of the Sages, he is considered to be a total baal teshuvah (penitent), and it is considered as if he has done it all. That is why there is an avodah upon a person to take upon himself that he will fulfill every halachah with all its details. There is a lot to learn, and one needs to amass much knowledge about it, but as soon as one gets up from learning his sefer and he seeks to fulfill what he has learned, he is considered to be a total tzaddik. This is what the Ramban says in Iggeres HaRamban. For it is impossible for a person to learn all of the details of every halachah in a short amount of time, and if only an entire lifetime would even be enough to know all of it! When one does [to fulfill all that he learns], he is connected to the holy realm of “Asiyah” (action), but beyond this, there is also a more inner realm, the realm of emotion, and beyond that, there is the realm of thought. Beyond that is the realm of Atzilus, which is d’veykus (attachment in Hashem). These are four realms, one of top of the other, and they are also each within the other. The more that one enters inward [into the higher realms, and all the way to the highest realm, atzilus/d’veykus] the more “internal” one becomes.