Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let's recap

In our first lesson of the SOUL MAPS course we explored the duality that exists in man. We learned about the two opposing souls that vie for control over the body, each with its own distinct drives and personalities, each desiring to find expression in the body’s garments of thought, speech and action.

In our second lesson we picked up our first tool in managing this internal conflict. We were introduced to the three personalities of the tsadik, rasha and beinoni, and learned that the model of perfection for the common man is the beinoni.

The Tanya thus presents a revolutionary perspective on self-mastery, as one does not need to change his or her insides (a goal only attainable by the tsadik) rather man is given the ability to overcome his or her animalistic and selfish instincts and impulses, and can thus achieve perfection in his or her behavior. While we may not be able to change our insides, each of us does have the innate ability to control the expression of our internal faculties, to control our outsides.

Coming into our third lesson, we discovered that impulse control alone is not sustainable for a prolonged period of time. We can experience a beinoni minute intermittently, but simply “white-knuckling it” creates a very stressful lifestyle where one becomes physically and emotionally drained due to the constant struggle and internal stress in fighting one’s impulses and desires. Thus, we need to find some additional strategies which will enable us to develop emotional congruity, where our “insides” can catch up with our “outsides” – where we can develop feelings that raise the comfort level of our behavior, so our quest for perfection in external expression is matched with an internal appreciation and excitement to make those improvements.

To that end, Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman introduced two strategies for us to use: The long way and the short way.

The long way is simple. It consists of meditation. One devotes specific times to think deeply about G-d, about His purpose in creating this world, the vastness of His creation and the personal interest and concern that He has for each individual creation. Meditating about these and other ideas and fundamentals of Judaism over a long period of time will effect a change in one’s emotional thermostat; it will generate feelings of love toward G-d, and provide greater inspiration and motivation to overcome any selfish impulses and desires, allowing one to comfortably improve one’s behavior, speech and even thought.

This strategy affects change over a long period of time, the results are cumulative, thus it called “the long way.”

There is yet another tool, one that can work instantly. This strategy, called the short way, is one that is not based on the absorption of information or in one’s immersion in a new set of ideas, rather it is something ingrained in the nature of the soul. It is not something that one must incorporate into his life, rather it is already there, part and parcel of man’s spiritual identity. The challenge is to tap into that latent force and allow it to come to the fore.

This strategy is based upon three kabbalistic concepts that Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman explains in a span of eight chapters in the Tanya. They are the process of creation, the purpose of creation, and the power of a mitzvah.

Chassidism teaches that G-d did not just create the world during the six days of creation and then disengage from the creative process. Rather, the world exists because at every moment G-d continuously creates and sustains the universe. The entire creation thus is seen not as an independent existence, but as an expression and extension of G-d Himself. The world does not truly exist in the truest sense, but is actually G-dliness “enclothed in physical matter.”

This is the deeper understanding of the statement that “G-d is One” – meaning, that G-d is the only one. There is no true fragmentation or disunity in our universe. Creation does not truly enjoy an independent existence (though it sure feels that way) but is here because G-d is enabling it to exist.

This is why Judaism does not see idolatry only as one who denies that G-d exists, but even one who accepts G-d but claims that there are other independent entities; even one who believes in G-d but asserts that he or she also exists, is denying G-d’s unity and is considered as having worshipped idols.

G-d’s purpose in creation was that man navigate through the opaque veil of Divine concealment to discover the Truth of His existence. Our mission in life is to “find G-d” by becoming sensitive to the greater truth of His existence (to recognize the fallacy of man’s seeming independent existence) and to transcend our instincts of self and ego and focus on serving Him.

Thus, a mitzvah, which is G-d’s truest will and desire, is much more than a “good deed”. A mitzvah is a divine act that allows man to become a vehicle for G-d’s expression. A mitzvah enables man to bond with G-d, to becomes His partner in perfecting and illuminating this world. Conversely, when one transgresses a negative mitzvah, that causes a separation from G-d (albeit temporarily).

Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman explains that the short way to achieve emotional congruity is to tap into the hidden love that each of us has deep inside; to touch the deepest part of our soul which desires never to be separated from the true source of all existence. We call this the “spiritual survival instinct,” the ability for the soul to exert a power surge of spiritual adrenaline that when threatened – will do anything to retain its connection with G-d.

This is why throughout our history, many simple and unlearned Jews surprisingly gave their lives when their Jewish identity was threatened – even though they may have not felt the urgency to observe G-d’s code of conduct during other times in their life. This is because the power surge of hidden love only exerts itself when it’s very survival is threatened. A mother who doesn’t realize that a product is harmful will not do anything extraordinary to prevent their child from coming in contact with the danger. However, when she does realize that there is a life-and-death danger, her maternal adrenaline will kick in and she will do extraordinary things to care for her child.

The short way is the ability to look at every choice that we have, large or small, major or minor, as a choice between life and death, between connecting with G-d or separating ourselves from Him, each an equal threat to the spiritual survival of our soul. (Just like in a marriage, every betrayal, even a minor one, is a rejection and denial of one’s absolute and complete love and commitment to their spouse.)

Thus, each of us has the power to tap into that spiritual power surge and feel a jolt of emotional energy that will help us make the right decision – after all we are not asked to give up our lives, only a little bit of comfort.

This week, when you practice your “beinoni-minute,” try to incorporate these two strategies and see if it makes it easier to practice impulse control. See if you feel more inclined to make the G-dly choice.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences next week!

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