Thursday, September 8, 2016

541 - Da'as Atzmeinu 9 (Eikev)

On our journey toward getting to know ourselves, we have discovered our dominant middos, and revealed the powerful forces of the imagination and the yetzer hara which wield great influence over our actions. Now, writes Rav Wolbe, we are ready to approach the most fundamental aspect of one's character - the "me" of a person.

There is no other word that we use on a daily basis as frequently as the word "I". The "I" of an adult relates to the same thing that it referred to decades earlier when he was a mere child. It's the word that upon which his internal world rotates. It is the word that encapsulates the unique blend of personality and numerous character traits that make up a specific person. Sometimes, when a person says "I" want/think/need etc. he might have to spend a good deal of time to be able to discern which of the hundreds of possible middos is the impetus behind the statement. "I" is also the word which describes control; it refers to the ability to accept or refuse, to support or undermine.

If we were to decipher the "I" with the intention of understanding its essence, we would discover that it is made up of two basic facets. The first aspect is a person's will. This profound force is what guides a person through life in general and through the numerous daily decisions in particular. It is also a most powerful force, for there is much truth to the cliché, "Where there is a will there is a way." 

The second aspect is the sensations associated with pleasure and pain. From day one, everything that a human strives for involves some form of pleasure. It begins with bodily pleasures of food and drink and progresses to the pleasures involved in games and from there it moves on to the desire for honor. If the person is a ben aliyah then he will seek to find pleasure in the spiritual arena with an eye to attaining the ultimate pleasure described in the first perek of Mesilas Yesharim "l'hisaneig al Hashem" (the pleasure of a connection with Hashem). Hand in hand with a human's pleasure seeking is the natural tendency to run away from anything that might cause him pain.

The Hebrew word for pleasurable - areiv - shares the same root as the Hebrew word to blend - l'hisareiv. What is pleasurable mixes and fuses into a person's being, while those things which are unpleasant are rejected by the body. It is with this in mind that we daven each morning that Hashem make the Torah pleasant for us so that it may bind with us and become part of our very essence. 

Understandably, there is a close connection between a person's will and the feelings of pleasure and pain. The internal nature of a person is his drive toward pleasure while the external nature is his will. Pleasure is exhilarating and thus it almost always directs the desire to follow the path that will bring pleasure. Even if a person wants something very badly, if he does not enjoy it then it will never become part of him. Conversely, if one enjoys something, even if originally it did not interest him, the pleasure will ultimately ignite the desire.

When there is a discrepancy between a person's will and his sense of pleasure, he must exercise his bechira (free choice) to come to a decision as to how he should proceed. This describes the essence of a human in a nutshell. It's the body (the sensations associated with mainly tangible pleasures), the soul (the profound and essentially spiritual will), and the capacity of bechira which resolves their conflicts. It is up to the "I" to decide if one's will shall be subordinated to the body, or if the innate drive toward pleasure shall be directed by one's willpower toward lofty spiritual endeavors. Some say you are what you eat. In truth, you are what your bechira decides!

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