הרע הוא רק לבוש
By "My Friend Yaakov"
Click here for the video shiur this translation is based on.
Shorashim Workshop- Part Two
I am pleased to learn that many of you understand that upon hearing ideas, the purpose is not just to hear them, but to apply them as practical avodah (spiritual work). One must listen in order to fulfill what is taught. With Hashem’s help, we will continue based on the fundamental principles taught last time. We will summarize in a few words the essence of what was said in the previous talk. Then, with Hashem’s help, we will continue further.
A person is a mixture of a spiritual component and a physical component: a soul and a body. One’s avodah is to recognize that one is essentially a soul and the body is just a garment for the soul. This is what we said last time.
At first, we wish to relate one of the significant principles taught by the Baal Shem Tov, which is the root of the method of avodah he founded: He defined the roots of avodah in three words — hachna’ah (subjugation), havdalah (separation), and hamtakah (sweetening). With Hashem’s help, we will explain these words. These are the words by which the Baal Shem Tov defined a person’s entire avodah in the world.
What is hachna’ah? I will provide a simple example so that you can understand it. When there are two objects strongly attached to each other, and you want to separate one from the other, one of the possibilities is to take a hammer and smash one of the two joined components. Through the smashing, you separate it from the other component. Smashing is one of the ways to undo the connection between them. This is the example. What is the lesson? As we said in the beginning, a person is a combination of soul and body, and these two are strongly attached to each other. A person’s avodah at first — and I’m emphasizing at first — is to make a separation between the soul and body. But since the connection is very strong, it’s impossible to take a fine saw and separate them. The avodah of hachna’ah is the “smashing” of the body. When you smash the body, you nullify it, “break” it, and separate it from the soul. In a few words, this is the definition of the avodah of hachna’ah.
After that, comes the avodah of separation — havdalah. Havdalah means that we separate the two things. We place each component in a separate place. One goes in one corner, and one in the other corner, becoming an absolute separation. As long as they are attached, you cannot put each one in a separate place. This is the definition of havdalah. After that, comes the avodah of hamtakah (sweetening), the reconnection of the soul and body.
The purpose of creation is to unify, not to separate. The separation is only a temporary means in order to arrive at the true unification, a positive unification, not a negative one. I realize that I have hardly explained the concepts, but slowly, with Hashem’s help, the concepts will be understood.
I want to state that we are going to focus now on hachna’ah (subjugation) and havdalah (separation), but the step of hamtakah (sweetening) is a later avodah. Hachna’ah and havdalah can be achieved simultaneously, or one after the other. The simple way, which is perhaps more difficult to accomplish, is to achieve hachna’ah and havdalah in two stages, one stage after the other. What that means is as follows: A person has a body and a soul. Some expressions of a person come from the body, and some come from the soul. In general, there are three forms of expression: thoughts, feelings, and actions. There are thoughts that come from the soul, and others that come from the body. There are feelings that come from the soul, and those that come from the body. There are actions that come from the soul, and those that come from the body.
Hachna’ah (subjugation), which is the avodah of smashing, when done without havdalah, occurs when a person tries to “smash” the body. One avoids the negative acts, and tries not to feel the negative emotions or think the improper thoughts. This path may be called simple, but it is very difficult. Why? If there’s something negative that a person is trying to avoid, it’s very difficult to direct the mind away from it. That is why we declared that hachna’ah by itself is very difficult.
We will now try to provide a different way to accomplish the avodah of hachna’ah (subjugation). The way is through of a combination of hachna’ah and havdalah (separation). As we said in the beginning, a person is a combination of soul and body. There are thoughts, feelings, and actions that relate to the soul, and those that relate to the body. In order to subjugate the negative powers that come from the body, one needs the power of havdalah.
The gemara says, “If there is no da’at (wisdom), then how can one accomplish havdalah? In order to make an inner separation, not just an outer separation, a person has to use the mind, using the da’at. The power of da’at is the key with which one can make a separation between the powers that come from the soul and those that come from the body. With Hashem’s help, we will try to elaborate and explain the concept.
We explained the root of it all, but there are many branches. As is known, two inclinations reside in a person’s heart: the yetzer tov (positive inclination) and the yetzer hara (negative inclination). Who is the person himself? Is the person himself good or bad? As the holy chazal (Sages) teach us, a person’s real essence is only good. He has no inherent evil. Whatever evil we see in a person comes from the force of the yetzer hara that resides there.
In general, this yetzer hara divides into three parts: a yetzer hara for actions, a yetzer hara for emotions, and a yetzer hara for thoughts. In a subtle sense, there is a yetzer hara that affect’s one will, but that’s a different topic. When we understand that the true basis of a person is good, and the evil forces are external, then we see that the positive thoughts come from our essence; the improper thoughts come from the yetzer hara. The positive feelings come from our essence; the negative feelings come from the yetzer hara. The positive actions come from our essence; the negative actions come from the yetzer hara — an external force that covers a person’s essence and motivates him to act in an improper way.
This understanding delivers a great light to a person for the sake of the avodah of havdalah (separation). In order to separate, one must detach oneself from the evil that resides within. As long as a person identifies with the body (as we said last time), since the body (at this stage) is mostly a negative influence, one sees oneself as a negative entity, and one does not have the ability to separate from the evil. According to the person’s perspective, the “I” is bad. But if the person sees the self as a soul on which there is the clothing of the body, one feels pure, as it says, “the neshamah (soul) You placed in me is pure.”
The soul has no evil; it is only good. If so, any evil that is in me is there because of the garment, which is the body that is present over the neshamah (soul). Yet the “I” is positive; it is good, it is pure. But if a person identifies the self as a body that has a soul in it, while there is a positive force called the neshamah, there is also the force of the body, which is mostly negative. It, too, becomes identified as one’s “I,” and the “I” cannot be erased. A person can erase that which is not the self, but the “I” cannot be erased.
When a person dies, the soul leaves the body, but the “I” of the person cannot be cancelled. It exists, it is forever. Hashem created a person and gave a neshamah which has an eternal power. This eternal power is pure. It is clean. It has no evil. But when a person identifies the body as the “I,” he includes evil in the “I.” Since he identifies the evil as the “I,” he cannot disconnect from the evil, because the evil is the “I,” according to his perspective. If so, the work of seeing the self as a soul with merely the garment of a body, as opposed to a body that has in it a soul, is the root of the entire structure of a person’s avodah. A person’s avodah is to drive away the evil from one’s midst and to reveal his true essence which is good.
Erroneously, some people think that a person has to “acquire” good behaviors, good attributes, good feelings, and good thoughts. That’s not really correct. You don’t have to “acquire” anything. You only have to uncover the good that is already within you, which Hashem planted in each of us and is our real essence. A person’s avodah should be to recognize that the evil is a garment over the self. It’s not the self. And since it’s not the self, one can become disconnected from the evil. But when a person sees the self as a neshamah found in a body, and identifies the self as a body and a soul, then one ensures that there will be a strong bond joining them, because both the soul and the body become the “I,” and the “I” cannot be divided in two.
When one understands that one is just a soul that has the clothing of a body, one relates to the body as a garment, that one would remove at night so as to don new garment in the morning. The garment is not unified with the person. There is some measure of connection, but it’s a very weak connection, and every one of us easily changes clothing.
Based on the Ba’al Shem Tov’s words, we should understand that a person’s avodah is hachna’ah (subjugation) and havdalah (separation). One must subjugate the power of evil and separate if from the self. This avodah is meaningful as long as one sees the self as a soul. But if one sees the self as a body and soul, one is trying to subjugate and separate one’s very self, but the self cannot be divided; that would cause a split personality, and would in fact be tragic. The “I” cannot be divided, and if one does divide it, there would be a distortion of the self and an emotional illness. On the other hand, if a person understands that one’s inner structure, the essence, is a soul with just the clothing of the body, then one wants to merely subjugate and separate the garment, not the real “I.” When this is one’s thought, one immediately enters a much easier kind of avodah.
You must understand that what has been said here is not just ordinary information. It is information that must change one’s entire perspective about oneself, and accordingly, allow one to build a world of avodah that’s much easier. I don’t mean it will be easy, but it will be much easier and much more possible than if one would try to improve oneself without this basic inner understanding.
A person’s avodah then, which is hachna’ah and havdalah, does not start off with new actions; it starts in one’s mind. This does not just mean that one has to think about separating the bad from the good; rather, the starting point is to know who one is, to recognize who really is the “I.”
As Rav Chaim Vital writes in Sha’arei Kedushah, the “I” of the person is the neshamah. He brings a proof from a clear pasuk (verse). It says in the pasuk, “and on the flesh of a person it may not be anointed.” If the self were the body, it would not be called “the flesh of the person,” but “the person.” Since the pasuk calls the flesh “the flesh of the person,” it shows it’s not the real person. It’s a garment on the person. We understand then, that the root of one’s avodah is to understand that one is not a neshamah in a body , but a neshamah who has the body as a garment.
This is an avodah built on a firm basis, enabling one to recognize the true “I.” I will give a tangible example to help you understand this. Suppose someone has a load he has to carry. He has cartons that are full and must be transported for business purposes. He might rent a truck to transport the load. What kind of truck does he rent? Is it a truck that brings Angel bread (Angel is a large bakery in Israel), or a truck that moves concrete? Obviously, the question is: what is in the cartons? If, in fact, the cartons hold bread, then he rents a truck that transports bread. But if there are cinderblocks, then one must rent a truck that is designed for this kind of transport. When we come to work and build ourselves, we have to know: what are working toward? Where are we going? Which abilities do we need for this? The basic power a person needs in order to build oneself properly is, as we said, to have a basic recognition of who is the “I.” This recognition turns around a person’s entire life totally. We are going to try to give practical applications and show the difference between the perspective that one is a body and soul and the perspective that one is a soul with the body as a garment on it.
Every one of us knows that there actions he wants to stop, feelings that he wants to get rid of, and thoughts he’d rather not think. But at the same time, we know that we do what we don’t want to do, we have feelings that we don’t want to feel, and we think thoughts that we would rather not think. When someone does something and he knows that he shouldn’t be doing it, there are various possible attitudes: Some people embody the gemara’s statement that when a person does a sin and repeats it, it becomes like a permitted thing. At first, such a person is very upset when he does something wrong; the second time, less so, and by the third time, it feels normal. But if a person is more sensitive and still has proper feelings, he’ll do a certain wrong act, but his heart inside is not at peace with it. It eats him up.
There’s a statement in Chassidus that says that more than the yetzer hara wants to make a person sin, it makes him want to fall into sadness because of the sin. The sadness comes through the feeling of inferiority that one feels after doing the sin. For example, a man becomes angry. Besides that the anger itself eats him up, he gets upset about the fact that he got upset. After all, he already accepted upon himself fifty times not to get angry, but when it came to the test, he fell into the abyss. His failure causes in himself inner distress that often is more harmful than the anger itself.
One must get used to looking properly at everything in life. Let’s say that a person does an action which he knows he should not have done. How can he detach from the emotional difficulty that arises after the action? Should he treat his action lightly? G-d forbid! Then he’ll just do it again. What is the proper way to look at it? If a person looks at himself as a soul in a body, and believes that the “I” is the soul and also the body, then while he is doing the act, as well as afterward, he’s completely consumed. “I,” he feels, “fell into a terrible place. The act I did does not match with my worth. How did I fall to such a low place?” And from this thought alone he can deteriorate for a number of days. He goes around with troubling thoughts. Even if he tries to ignore the event, it’s very difficult.
But if someone looks at himself as a soul that has a body on it (like a garment), how does he look at the sin? It’s a completely different perspective. As the navi (prophet) says, the person has “dirty clothing.” The sin soils the garment. He feels that the “I” is as pure as it was, but he has garments that really aren’t clean, to say the least. He wants to be free of them at any price, but the feeling of the pain does not at all weaken the feeling of the inner purity of the actual “I.”
When a person identifies himself as a soul and body, and the “I” includes both, if the body sins, the “I” sins. And then, his soul feels weak, because it’s also part of the “I.” But if a person identifies himself as a soul that has a body on it, then only the body was tainted, but the “I” remains as pure as before. In this way, one has the inner strength with which to cope with life.
I will provide a common simple example from the material life. Many people invest in the stock market. There was a stock that everyone thought would rise, based on all the forecasts. It was supposed to jump by tens of percentage points. Many people decided to invest in it, to the point where some people sold their apartments because they were sure they would be able to buy with ten apartments with their profits. But forecasts are just forecasts, and the reality on the ground was completely different. Not only did the stock not rise, but it fell and nearly stopped being traded. All the money that was invested was lost. Anyone who knows the realities knows that this story is not a product of someone’s imagination. Such events occur every few weeks. Now let’s say that a thousand people invested, and all lost their money. Let’s now examine these thousand people and see what each one thinks when he loses his money. We’ll find many different reactions. There are some people who say, “Money comes and money goes. Now, it’s over. It will come from somewhere else.” They take it with ease. Not that they didn’t lose a lot of money, but they have a light nature and they go on. There are people who say, “I am a failure. There’s nothing to be done. Wherever I invest money, I lose.” Some people will say, “Next time, I’m not going to rush so much. I’ll be more patient. And if I do invest, I’ll do as Chazal said. I’ll divide it, and I won’t put all my money in one place.” They learn from their experience. “Anyone can learn from his experiences, and someone who does not learn from his experiences suffers.”
It seems that we are familiar with such statements. Based on what we have said until now, let’s examine where these thoughts come from. When a person identifies himself as a soul and body that together make up the “I,” anytime the body fails, the person says, “I failed.” If one feels this in a deep way, and then continues to fail, he will think, “I am rotten.” One who experiences failure after failure considers himself an unsuccessful person. Where does he locate his failure? In his “I.” The failure is not only a loss of money, but one feels that one’s very self is rotten. In fact, he lost money, but in the process, he lost his sense of self. He considers that the financial failure is located in his very soul.
But a person who says, “I’ll learn from experience. I failed now, but next time, I’ll be extra careful,” doesn’t identify the failure in his “I.” “My ‘I’ is healthy, it can be successful, but I have to learn that there are less stable companies, and more stable companies. One has to know how to direct his investments.” He sees it as an external event. His “I” has not been harmed.
We’ve only given one example, but if we think more, we’ll find this distinction in many, many cases in life. I’ll try to give another example. Someone has a child, and let’s say that the child didn’t go in the way that he wanted him to. The father grew up with a certain way of life, and he tried to raise his household in the same way. But his son has free will, and at a certain age, he decided to go on a different path. How does a father accept this? There could be various reactions: One person will say, “I tried to do what I could as much as possible. I went in the right direction. Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe there were some mistakes here and there. But it wasn’t in my control.”
There is another kind of person who will blame himself for everything that happened. Even if you ask him, “Think logically; exactly where do think were the mistakes?” (We are not talking about a case where the house wasn’t guided properly. We are talking about a case where the house was guided in a very sensible and stable way.) A person who tends to blame himself will say, “I don’t know what my mistake was and where I went wrong, but it’s certainly my fault.” You might ask him to pinpoint it, and he’ll mention three mistakes he made in the 17 years of raising that child, and blame his failure on those mistakes. Any objective bystander understands that something built in 17 years doesn’t just collapse because of a few mistakes. But if everything that happens around a person is viewed as part one’s self, his tendency is to criticize himself and put himself down. With everything that happens, he thinks, “That’s me; that’s because of me.” In this way, he eats himself up. He has no life.
I will give you an example that happened to me just this week. We ran a kollel, in which young men learned Torah. For a particular reason, we closed it. I received a phone call from one of the men that learned in the kollel. He asked, “Did you close it because of me?” I said, “What are you talking about? He said, “I did this and that and I think that’s the problem.” I said, “There is no connection whatsoever. It could be that what you did should be fixed, but don’t think that everything revolves around you. It’s much more complicated than that.” There is a kind of person who will see a police car on his street with its siren blaring, and think, “Oh, I didn’t pay a tax once two years ago, and they are now coming after me.” Whenever he sees something in the world, he thinks it’s about him. It’s not arrogance; it’s pathetic. When a person lives in a healthy way, he does not ignore his mistakes. He must take responsibility for what he did, and fix it. But to think that “everything that happens is all due to me and is my fault” destroys one’s life. He connects everything to his “I.” When he connects everything to his “I,” he experiences all kinds of things that a person is not able to handle.
When one looks at everything properly, he understands that some problems did result from his actions, but not everything came from him. And even what did come from him does not damage his real “I.” His “I” remains the same “I” — pure and holy. However, he has garments that he must get rid of.
We’ll try to give another simple example: We have parents, and someone who is fortunate even has grandparents that are still alive, but one day, each person goes on his own way. Let’s say that the elderly parents had lived in the same house for fifty years, and they didn’t properly maintain it. After the mourning period, the children get up, and they see that there’s something of value to deal with. One of the children looks around and says, “This property has been so neglected. Just look at the walls. The sink is broken. Look at the flooring. Let’s just knock down the building and sell the land.” The second brother looks around and says to him, “Look, it’s true that the sink is broken and the paint is peeling, but that doesn’t nearly justify knocking down the whole building. We will hire a contractor, make some small improvements, and solve the problem. A house that’s been standing for 70 years is not presumed to be ready to be demolished.”
This example seems extreme, but the moral is really the same thing. There are people who look at themselves as bad people if they have some faults. If you sit with them and analyze all their good and bad qualities, it’s likely that you’ll come to a ratio of 90% percent good qualities, and only 10% bad qualities. But such a person will get a negative self-esteem from that 10%. Another kind of person is healthier. He will say, “I have some faults, but I have a lot of good qualities. I can use my good qualities and I must perfect them, and I must fix my faults.” Such a general outlook on one’s basic “I” is not like that of a person without substance and meaning in life. He’s a person in the process of growth.
You should know that this idea does not come from psychology. The psychologists took some sparks from our holy Torah and stole them for their own books. As I said in the beginning, everything being stated here is from the words of the holy Chazal and their commentaries. I did not add a single thing that is not written in their words. These words are written black on white in the holy works. It is not a theory of psychology. This is a true recognition of the “I” that Hashem created in the world.
An improper identification is rooted in the sin of Adam. The snake seduced Chavah to eat, and then Adam ate from the tree. Of that sin, it says, “for on the day you will eat from it, you will die.” There are many explanations. However, for our purposes, what it means is that their sin causes a person to look at the self as a bad person, and so, every fault brings him closer to death. Instead of looking at himself as a person full of life who improves himself and then others, he looks at himself in a self-destructive way. He’s killing himself through this self-perspective. We know that when people are very sick, their healing is dependent upon their inner hope for life. The stronger the inner hope and the will to live, the longer they will live. But if they have a weaker will to live, they cause themselves to die, they shorten their life. They take their lives and decree on themselves a death sentence.
Let us now return to the first point. The avodah of man is to recognize who is the “I.” For a person to be aware of his true “I,” he must identify himself as a soul. The soul is pure: “My G-d, the soul You placed in me is pure.” It never leaves its state of purity. If a person will fix in his mind and thoughts that his essence is pure, that he is always holy, that there is no evil in him, he will begin to look at himself differently, and he will receive inner powers of purity. When a person looks at himself in a negative light, he blocks the light of the soul that is within. On the other hand, when a person looks at himself properly and truly, he knows the truth, which is that the soul is pure and is untainted. Then, from the light of the soul, one is able to draw forth powers with which to cope with everything one undergoes in life. Our essence is pure. We need to engrave this in our souls.
To make a practical beginning in this area, there are two methods: The first is that a person should accept upon himself, bli neder (without an oath), that twice a day, when he notices that he is doing something negative, or feeling an improper feeling (whether toward himself or toward others), or thinkink improper thoughts, he should acknowledge the negativity, but remind himself that even though the act was negative, or the feeling was wrong, or the thought was wrong, the “I” created by Hashem is yet pure. “It is only my garments that are not pure. But my ‘I’ is still good.”
Another way of avodah does not specifically relate to actions. A person should set aside some time during the day: five minutes, or two minutes — each one according to his ability — and repeat to oneself the recognition of the truth: “Who is the “I”? The “I” is a holy entity, a pure entity. It was created by Hashem. It has no faults; not even a little scratch. And anything I see in myself that is negative (even if there are many such things) is only the garment that is over me.” The person must repeat this, and begin to place this in the daily consciousness.
This process cannot be completed in a day, or two days, or even two months. It’s a process that totally changes a person’s inner perspective. With Hashem’s help, we will try to continue and elaborate. But so that the teachings will help, you should all try to actively do these exercises, at least to try to see how this is accepted by your hearts. And according to the responses we receive, we shall see how to continue.