Suddenly A Power
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
If G-d has angels in heaven doing exactly what He wants, without ever going against His will, why did He decide to create us? When He has such great spiritual servants, why does He desire finite people to serve Him?
The common answer to this question is that while angels never do anything other than serve G-d, they serve Him because He programmed them to; they don’t know otherwise. But G-d wasn’t satisfied with spiritual robots. He wanted people who would choose to serve Him. Creation fulfills this desire.
I was born – you were born – to choose to serve G-d over all the glittery distractions the world has to offer. But what of the days when making the right choices doesn’t go as well as we would like? What of our decisions that aren’t in-line with G-d’s will, decisions that later make us wonder what possessed us to choose them? G-d derives the greatest pleasure when people serve him despite other options. But with choice comes risk; there is no guarantee we will choose well. And if we don’t know how to choose correctly, how then do we justify our existence?
Chassidus speaks to regular people about real-life struggles and helps us deal with them. In Kuntres Umaayan, the Rebbe Rashab outlines a problem we face multiple times – even daily – and teaches us a practical method to overcome it.
Choosing right isn’t easy. When we make decisions, we often delude ourselves into thinking that our choices are good even when, in reality, they aren’t. What drives us to choose bad over good? And how can we learn to recognize the better choice and actually do it?
The Three Steps
Before learning how to choose good, we first need to understand our goal. Next, we need to understand what causes us to stray from this goal. Only after understanding our objective, and
figuring out our enemy, can we be victorious in battle.
As we explore this Maamer, we will be discussing some Chassidic concepts, specifically—ruach shtus, and etzem haNefesh.
Step One: Eyes on the Target
Without a clear goal, it’s easy to stray from the right path. Through understanding life’s mission, the choice-making process becomes clearer and less confusing. Kabbalah says that G-d desired a dwelling place where people would refine their physical surroundings by studying Torah and living its commandments. Strike out robotic servitude. G-d desires people who overcome temptation, thereby affecting the world around them for the good.
To complete this task, He outfitted us with both body and soul – a G-dly soul. This soul sees the world as G-d does; it sees the great potential within each mundane thing and wants to pursue spirituality. If it were the only soul we had, we would do no wrong.
Step Two: Know Your Enemy
We weren’t only born with a G-dly soul. We each have another soul – an animal soul – which lives to pursue physicality. It doesn’t necessarily want bad, but it wants its desires fulfilled. It wants ice cream right now and to make money – loads of it. It doesn’t care about the goal of elevating physicality; it cares about enjoying as much as possible for as long as possible. Instead of viewing the world as a means to an end, it mistakenly views the world as the goal.
Without the selfish animal soul or conflicting thoughts, G-d could have been satisfied with His angels. We were put here to triumph over our animal souls and put G-d’s will before our own. By choosing to give money to charity instead of splurging on ourselves, we refine the energy that went into earning that money. Without the urging of the animal soul to spend the money selfishly, there would be no value in choice; it wouldn’t be a choice at all.
Chassidus teaches us that the animal soul’s most powerful tool is a ruach shtus—misdirection. This causes people to delude themselves into thinking that what they’re doing is good, even when it really isn’t. The animal soul knows we deeply desire to do the right thing and live for G-d, so it tries misdirecting our thought-process. This causes people to put their personal desires first, although they know G-d’s Will is infinitely more important.
The more we give in to misdirection, the stronger it becomes. Every small victory gives it the power to sway our decisions even more. The animal soul is insatiable as it chases after every pleasure imaginable. Strangely, chasing worldly pleasures leaves us even emptier and less satisfied. This is because the G-dly soul still hungers for truth, to fill its life with meaning. Since G-d is the only truth, this gaping void of emptiness grows bigger every time we choose to follow our animal soul’s desires.
Step Three: Innate Power
Jews are called a “stiff-necked people.” This innate resoluteness to uphold our way of life has enabled us to survive persecutions, pogroms, inquisitions, and concentration camps. The Maamer teaches that this comes from the essential level of the soul, called etzem haNefesh. This type of resoluteness is not controlled by reason; hence, it can extend its power in a limitless fashion.
Chassidus empowers us by applying this characteristic as a sudden surge of power that enables us to overcome the misdirection the animal soul repeatedly throws our way. By tapping into the knowledge that we are essentially programmed to rise above the “spirit of folly” of the animal soul, to instead follow the call of the G-dly soul, this realization enables us to make the correct decisions, in alignment with our mission on this world.
Here is a simple, everyday example of this method: Sara woke up one morning and knew she had one hour until she’d be meeting with friends. She badly wanted to go back to sleep for a little longer – but she knew if she did that, she would have to rush through her morning prayers. As her animal soul battled to keep her in bed, Sara didn’t even try reasoning with it; she realized it wouldn’t be swayed by logic. She acted – said modeh ani, washed her hands, and was ready to start her day. She concentrated on prayer and left her house, satisfied. It felt good to know she was capable of choosing well.
Decisions, both small and weighty, can become a highly stressful part of our everyday life. The average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day numbers in the thousands.
Million-dollar industries trumpet skill building sessions that allow people to succeed in their decision making. Correctly labeled as “Essential Life Skills,” these techniques are often burdened with caveats: Go with your Gut Feeling; Hindsight is 20/20; Solicit advice and opinions; Don’t worry, decisions are reversible. It seems the experts are still deciding how we should decide.
After learning what our goal is, and what causes us to stray from our goal, we are better equipped to deal with making correct choices by internalizing these three truths: a) the influence of the animal soul is merely a flimsy spirit of folly; b) we retain the Divine sensitivity to elevate our physical surroundings; c) we possess the innate resoluteness to overcome misdirection. Thanks to Chassidus, we are able to make decisions in life that are free of guilt, worry, second-guessing or stress.