Chassidus: The Real Evaluator
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
The purpose of this paper is to provide the reader with a spiritual framework for evaluating one self and one’s reality. To accomplish this objective, I will introduce four Chassidic concepts: 1) Leit Atar Panuy Mi Ney – There is nothing outside of Him, and there is no place devoid of Him. 2) Tzimzum – Contraction; His essence fills all of time and space. 3) Chelek Eloka Mimaal Mamash – The Jewish soul is truly a part of G-d above. 4) Levushim – the Garments of the soul; thought, speech, and action. In each segment I will demonstrate how people typically evaluate themselves and their realities, and how an understanding of some basic Chassidic concepts can help provide an alternative framework for evaluation.
Leit Atar Panuy Mi Ney – Natural vs Spiritual:
Evaluations of oneself and one’s reality need to begin by considering the spiritual component that drives reality as opposed to the natural order that expresses it. Typically, we tend to perceive ourselves and our realities solely from a natural perspective. I didn’t get the job I wanted; chalk-it-up to bad luck. My romantic interest didn’t reciprocate my feelings; I must not be attractive enough. I have a dream to become a professional musician and I run into obstacles or setbacks; who am I kidding? I should be more realistic. While these are socially acceptable and perfectly natural explanations, they are also quite depressing. They tend to leave us with a sense of a lack of control, a lack of meaning, and an “extinguished” outlook on life.
Admittedly, it is hard to argue with the logic of operating in the natural world in accordance with the natural order, but from a Chassidic perspective such logic excludes the most essential element, and the driving force of reality; the spiritual one. Chassidut teaches us that G-d’s presence is in every aspect of our reality. “The Holy One blessed be He [is not] Heaven forfend, separated from His blessed Self, for there is nothing outside of Him, and there is no place devoid of Him” (Likuety Amarim Ch.21). He is in every atom of material matter. He is in every moment of history. He is in every one of us and in every aspect of our lives. Consequently, an evaluation that looks for the spiritual in every occurrence will, by definition, be connected to the driving force and essence of reality. As a result, a spiritual outlook will produce meaning and motivation, a sense of control over our lives, as well as a sense of expectation and hope for the future.
Tzimzum – Contracting Himself to Time and Space:
Evaluations of oneself and one’s reality need to begin with a focus on the thoughts held at the outset of a given action, and with a clear understanding of the level of focus being evaluated. Typically, when examining ourselves and our realities from the perspective of time and space, we make two separate mistakes. First, we tend to judge ourselves according to the results of our actions and usually worry about their implications. Second, we tend to subconsciously switch between levels of focus thereby giving us inaccurate feedback for future references.
Consider the following two examples. You’re at work and your boss mentions how she isn’t happy with your final product. Anxiety and self-doubt begin to creep in. Am I going to lose my job? Maybe I’m not qualified enough? I can’t go back to living with my parents!!! My boss has judged my actions and I have begun to contemplate the implications of that judgment. I am now anxious and have little insight into the process of correcting this project or doing better on future ones. Next, my ex-girlfriend’s dog “Brownie” eats my Play Station 3 controllers. Now I can’t play my favorite game and conclude that I never want have a dog in my house again. I have extrapolated from the particular case of Brownie to all future general cases. Chassidut teaches us that these two approaches are not taking into consideration a fundamental understanding of reality.
Chassidut teaches that “His Essence and Being, may He be blessed, which is called by the name En Sof (“Infinite”), completely fills the whole earth temporally and spatially” (Shaar Ha Yechud Ve Ha Emunah Ch.7). Tzimzum is the idea that there is an extrapolation from G-d’s Oneness and essence down to every atom, and to every moment in time. In each instance of evaluation, there is a starting point in terms of time, and level of focus i.e. space. Rather than becoming anxious about our boss’s assessment of our final product we should be examining the information and intentions we held at the outset of our project in order to gain insight into our thought process and future performance. In fact, by confusing the starting point of our evaluation we can actually become disconnected from ourselves, and thus from actualizing our fullest potential. Regarding Brownie, as silly as this example may seem, it actually illustrates how simply we create inaccurate connections between the particular and the general, and how such extrapolations can color future interpretations and subsequent actions. While I may be justified in not wanting Brownie around my Play Station right now, it would be inaccurate for me to assume that all other dogs would eat my controllers as well. Thus, from a Chassidic perspective, beginning one’s evaluations from the outset of a given process, and staying consistent with the level of evaluation at hand, are both key components to a healthy evaluation framework.
Chelek Eloha Mimaal Mamash – Inward vs. Outward Approach:
Evaluations of oneself and one’s realities need to start from within and move outwardly. Typically, we begin evaluations by looking to external factors to determine who we are supposed to be. One of the most recurring questions you hear people ask is what they should do; what should I do with my life? What profession should I choose? What should I study? Where should I live? And so on. There seems to be a perpetual question mark lingering over every stage of our lives where we would actually want an exclamation point. The uncertainty essentially boils down to a simple question. When we say “I”, what are we referring to?
According to Chassidut, when we say “I,” we are referring to our Divine soul; to our very essence. “The Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G‑d above” (Likutei Amarim Ch.2). “And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Ibid.). “And it is written in the Zohar, ‘He who exhales, exhales from within him,’ that is to say, from his inwardness and his innermost, for it is something of his internal and innermost vitality…”(Ibid.). When we examine our lives from our interests and dreams, from our talents and will, we are touching on the very things that make us unique. We then begin looking to reveal who we are rather than attempt to match it to the confines of any external reality.
Furthermore, because each and every one of us has a unique soul, we all have our own unique potential to fulfil. Subsequently, a Chassidic approach frees us from the excess evaluation and over-analysis typically associated with an outward-inward approach, and allows us to evaluate ourselves and our realties from a single perspective; the cultivation and revelation of our talents, interests, and dreams. When viewed this way, we are left with but one question and one answer in any setting; am I revealing my truest essence or not. Either way, you will be answering with an exclamation point!
Levushim – What We Believe is What We Perceive:
Evaluations need to be done by examining one’s beliefs not their expression. Typically we evaluate ourselves and our realities according to what we think, feel, or sense. My friend holds a political opinion that differs from mine; I find myself in a state of intellectual tension over the dissonance. My spouse and I don’t feel the same way about a night out with the guys; I find myself on the couch. I am in a pressure-packed situation before a major recital or athletic performance; I find myself wanting to flee the scene. While we reluctantly deal with these realities throughout our lives, we also somehow sense that something isn’t quite right about them. We would love to be able to find the point of connection with our friend; one we can both relate to and possibly grow from. We would love to sleep in our own beds like normal people. And we would really like to blow the crowd away with our performance. Chassidut helps teach us how to evaluate ourselves and our realities so as to make those aspirations a reality.
Chassidut teaches that the soul has garments. As it is written, “The soul possesses three auxiliary powers [thought, speech, and action], which are its instruments of expression. Like garments, they can be donned or shed at will. When the soul utilizes any of these three powers it is ‘clothed’ in them… Also, just as garments give expression to their wearer’s beauty and importance, so, too, when the soul dons and utilizes these “garments,” its intellect and emotion find expression (Likutey Amarim Ch.4). In other words, our thought, speech, and actions are vehicles that express our soul; they are not the soul itself. The problem with the soul’s garments, however, is that they are essentially “blind.” Left unchecked, all they can do is merely react to the stimuli they encounter. We essentially become prisoners of our soul’s expressions.
In contrast, if we evaluate ourselves and our realities according to what we believe, we gain access to the underlying concepts that govern how we perceive, interpret and act in a given setting. As a result, we actively express our soul in each one of our auxiliary powers. Furthermore, since our beliefs can readily be examined and expanded-on according to the knowledge we obtain and the deepening of our understandings we gain over the course of our lives, we can improve upon the expression of our soul in its garments. We gain the freedom to choose how we will respond in future settings. Thus, instead of an argument over policy, I can have a discussion with my friend over the relationship between the principles at hand, and potentially come-away with a greater understanding of the issue and respect for my friend. Rather than argue with my spouse, I can express why it’s important for both of us to spend time with our friends. And even though I specifically spend time with my friends when her mother comes to visit, I can now, by my own free will, express what my wife told me to say; that “I am simply wrong in doing so.” Furthermore, if I remind myself that the purpose of music is to move people and that the purpose of athletic performance is to transcend the body and express the soul, I will not want to flee such challenges. I will embrace them and thrive off of the inherent pressure I experience in such settings.
In conclusion, over the course of this paper I have demonstrated how we typically evaluate ourselves and our realties when it comes to contemporary issues we all face in our day-to-day lives. Through the introduction of four Chassidic concepts – “Leit Atar Panuy Miney,” “Tzimzum,” “Chelek Oloha Mimaal Mamash,” and “Levushim” – I was able to provide a simple alternative framework for evaluation. This framework emphasizes the spiritual over the natural, accuracy in regards to time and space, an inward-outward approach, and an examination of what we believe as opposed to what we perceive. It is my sincere hope that this framework will allow readers to examine themselves and their realities in a happier and healthier way.
 This would be true even if the results were positive. Receiving things not earned would produce the same affect.
 For Example: A dog would fall under the general category of animal, and then the more particular mammal, then dog, and type of dog until we got to the individual dog that ate my PS3 controllers; Brownie.
 This is not to say that learning to adapt to your realities is wrong. It is perfectly fine to learn and understand what is deemed permissible or impermissible in a given social setting. However, that is an entirely different issue from learning who you are and discovering what you’re truly capable of.
 Take for example the idea the underlying belief that an argument = war. If we perceive an argument as war we will think about it in terms of winning or losing. We will experience an argument as a stressful occurrence, and we will act aggressively towards one another. Typically by raising our voices.