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Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Battleground of the Soul

Hashem gives us challenges and tests precisely because we have distanced ourselves from Him.
Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 11:18 AM


In the Garden of Eden, the snake was outside Eve, but when she ate the fruit, the negative impulse to rebel against Hashem's command became part of her. Her children to this very day carry within them this inclination to rebel. If we want to rid ourselves of the influence of the evil inclination, we should understand that it is not intrinsically a part of us and our soul is pure, as we say every morning, "Ha neshoma shenasata bi tahora hi.... the soul You placed within me is pure."

When I was a child, long before I had heard the term "evil inclination," I knew that some force, resembling a huge spiritual boulder, blocked my way wherever I wanted to go. This "immovable object" made my life a constant torture. I couldn't breathe; I felt I was a prisoner within myself, and even worse: I was afraid that not only did this "object" thwart me at every turn, but it controlled me and could force me to act against my will and become its slave. Without ever having heard the term, I was face-to-face with the evil inclination.

This spiritual conflict was actually a gift from HeavenIt forced me into the lifelong search which resulted in my discovering the Torah and recognizing the Existence of G-d. I see now that Hashem gives us challenges and tests precisely because we have distanced ourselves from Him. The only way we can find Him is through the intense process of giving up the blind, blundering lifestyles which have separated us from Him and threaten to ruin our lives.

Perhaps when our Father Jacob rolls away the boulder over the well (Genesis 29:2ff), this hints at, among other things, this great struggle, the fight to subdue that obstacle which separates us from the living waters of Torah. As Jacob's children, this is also our struggle.

When a seed is watered by the rains and dew from Heaven, the roots of the plant spread downward and the tendrils reach upwards toward the light. Interestingly, the most choshuve, important, food comes from trees, which soar above the ground toward Heaven. In the Garden of Eden,the food grew on trees, and such food is ever-renewing, because when you take fruit from a tree, the tree does not die, but flourishes. However, in the case of fruit from the ground (some species, for example potatoes, onions, beets and carrots, actually grow underground), harvesting destroys the plant, which must - unlike a tree - be replanted the following year. In the Garden of Eden, nothing is destroyed, which would make it clear why the food grew on trees.

The Midrash tells us that Adam was fashioned by Hashem in a manner similar to challah, Sabbath bread. Earth and water were mixed. Hashem planted a "seed" within this mixture which is called the soul. The soul has a certain attachment downwards, because it dwells in a material body, but its essential nature is to reach upwards, toward Heaven. 

If Hashem made Adam like a challah, then challah must be intrinsically kosher. Well, of course challah is kosher! We eat challah all year. Why then, at Passover, are we not allowed to eat challah or even have it in our possession? If it is kosher, then what could possibly be wrong with it?

I believe that we can learn something about the soul from the difference between chometz, leavened food and matzah, which is unleavened. Chometz and matzah are essentially the same, except that chometz is allowed to remain un-baked for a longer period, but they both come from the same mixture.

The Gemora in Berachos (61a) says that "the evil inclination ... sits between the two chambers of the heart." One chamber leans toward sin and the other leans toward G-d. We are warned in the Shema not to follow "acharai levavchem v'acharai ainaichem .... after the heart and the eyes." (Numbers 15:39) Rashi states here that "the eye sees, the heart desires and the body commits the sin," implying that our troubles begin when the heart follows the eyes toward material objects. But if we look at the tzitzis, fringed garments, meaning follow the Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments, then we will be safe. It seems that we have one heart which can go either way.

Hashem created us as one. We have one soul, not a variety of spiritual parts. Is there a hint for this? We know that "Hashem is One," and that we are made in His image, "b'tzelem Elokim," in His image. So we must be one also. In other words, there is no "outside" influence over which we have no control. Hashem created us with free will. Our entire work in this world is to use that free will to "look at the tzitzis," which means following the Torah to safety.

The surrounding culture follows many idols. Likewise, the prevailing psychological theory is based on the assumption that there are many "parts" to the psyche. "Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche." (Wikipedia) 

But the Torah, on the other hand, tells us there is one G-d and one soul! Our soul is not split. It is one entity, and the job of that entity is to cleave to its Creator. Nothing can force us to go the other way! I believe that this understanding is crucial to success in the battle against the influence of the evil inclination. If one understands that there is no "outside object" controlling us, then one can try to understand the tactics we need in the battle to come close to our Creator.

In the war against our evil inclination we need to achieve a highly disciplined level of sanctity in order to achieve victory. This, perhaps, is why at certain times in our existence the level of "challah" is, although kosher, just not sufficient. At such times we are called upon to elevate ourselves to an even greater extent and eliminate all "chometz" from our souls as we approach the Final Redemption.