Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The long way vs the short way

Dear JLI Student,

Our last lesson, in many ways, comprises the heart of the Book of Tanya. We began our study by setting the scene—outlining the internal makeup of the Jew, labeling and discussing the nature of each part as well as discussing the various spiritual possibilities. One cannot legitimately allow one’s self to “act out” until such a time that the opportunity has arisen to master the art of self-betterment, so the first step in our journey to self-betterment involved basic impulse control, as outlined in Lesson 2. Still, it is impossible to constantly battle to restrain ourselves on the “outside,” if we do not balance it with working to better ourselves “on the inside” so that the strain on our psyche does not overwhelm our efforts to achieve self-control.

This past lesson, our third, introduced us to Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s two methods towards achieving the rank of beinoni- learning to manage the battle within. Let’s review these two methods:

“The Long Way” is a long and arduous program of serious study. When we exert true effort and grapple with subject matter, the knowledge gained becomes a part of us internally and it affects our emotions and actions. In class, we discussed the example of a person who educates himself or herself on the local sports team. The more you know about the rules and the players, the more your emotional investment in the outcome of the game will grow. “The Long Way” creates deep-seated, lasting change, though it takes time and effort before one sees and benefits from its effect.

The other method is “The Short Way.” This method does not create new emotions, but simply allows us to take advantage of a dormant emotion that is already present. The best example is the mother who experiences the rush of adrenaline and is able to lift the car that is pinning down her baby. Though the strength obviously existed previously within this woman, it is only available to her in circumstance where her motherly instinct to save her child is tapped. The counterpart in the sports example cited above would be tapping into an your local community pride and and celebrating a hometown victory because everyone else in town in exceited even though you know nothing about the game.

The advantage of this “quick fix” is exactly that—it’s instant effect. However this surge of inspiration is bound to wane quickly as well. The mother will no longer be able to lift cars the next day, and the budding sports fan will probably lose interest in the game as the excitement of the victory decreases in the city.

In terms of service of G-d, by tapping into our natural aversion of being cut off from G-d, and recognizing that any transgression creates a state of absolute distance and separation, we are able to quickly garner the resources to resist temptation. But this surge of energy is likely to quickly dissipate, and unless we bolster this “short way” with contemplation and study, we run the risk of finding it difficult to continually arouse the indignation and revulsion that is our soul’s natural reaction to evil.

Both methods are necessary, and they are best used in congruity—“The Long Way” to create deep, internal change over time, and “The Short Way” to infuse this lengthy process with the necessary bouts of instant inspiration in order to maintain dedication and resolve.

I look forward to seeing you next week when we further discuss the applications of these methods as well as gather some tools for preemptive problem solving.

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