Thursday, September 8, 2016

543 - Da'as Atzmeinu 11 (Shoftim)

As we discussed previously, when there are conflicting interests between our ratzon and what we sense to be pleasurable, our bechira is the mediator that decides how to proceed. In contrast to these two clashing factors which are instinctive, bechira is an attribute which must be acquired. The means of acquiring this quality is daas - intellect. Daas has the ability to take the instinctive "me" and transform it into a lofty being which is governed by intellect. Daas enables pleasures to be chosen wisely, and thereby elevates the natural tendency of pleasure seeking and makes it more sophisticated.

Torah law dictates that any acquisition must be accompanied by an element of daas. One who lacks daas cannot acquire an object. In a similar vein when we utilize our daas toward getting to know ourselves, we "acquire" ourselves i.e. we create a profound internal connection.

The intellect and discernment that are characteristic of daas are required also for a true analysis of middos. The topic of middos is the most confusing and most mistake-ridden subject in the Torah. While mitzvos have definite amounts (amah, kizayis etc.), middos are dependent on each individual person. Moreover, detecting each individual middah can often be difficult. For example, when Reuven approaches Shimon with a smile on his face, is he expressing kindness or flattery; is his shining countenance a manifestation of good heartedness or a representation of a conniving mind? Sometimes the difference between positive and negative middos can be a figurative hairsbreadth apart. 

Furthermore, at times it is difficult for one to determine which middos are present inside himself. While this is true with regard to negative middos, it is even more apparent when trying to uncover one's positive middos. Unfortunately, people are generally critical of others and therefore focus on their negative traits. This behavior then backfires when they attempt to focus on their own middos: they focus on the negative aspects and fail to see the many positive qualities.

There are a number of seforim that are extremely helpful in helping one get to know oneself. They include the Rambam's Shemoneh Perakim, Chovos Halevovos, Shaarei Teshuva and Ohr Yisrael. The road to become truly familiar with oneself cannot be traveled overnight. It requires paying attention to the thought processes that occupy our minds on a daily basis and understanding what makes us tick consciously and subconsciously. 

Yet, because a person is blinded by his partiality to himself, he evades perceiving the truth. Should he nevertheless reveal a destructive middah, he will automatically try to invent all types of excuses to cover this flaw. If he is unsuccessful in finding a satisfactory answer for his imperfection, he may become depressed. Interestingly enough, people also evade discovering their qualities. The rationale for such behavior is that the knowledge that Hashem has bequeathed a person with a valuable middah brings along with it certain responsibilities. The attribute was obviously given to him so that it be used toward personal growth or to benefit others. Subconsciously he may feel that it is so much easier to be average without any special responsibilities. 

However, the truth is that there is no reason to get depressed when revealing a negative trait and there is no reason to be worried or become haughty after revealing a quality. Deficiencies can be rectified and qualities were given to us to assist us in self improvement. Take a stance and get to know yourself. Elul is a great time to find out exactly who is the "ani" in "Ani l'Dodi v'Dodi li!"

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