A series of commentaries on the soul:
“Poetry, music, love, wonder – these things that have no survival value, but which speak to our deepest sense of being – all tell us that we are not mere animals, assemblages of selfish genes.
By bringing that which is animal within us close to God, we allow the material to be suffused with the spiritual and we become something else:
no longer slaves of nature but servants of the living God.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (from a commentary on the Torah Portion Vayikra)
As ‘servants’ what does the living God ask of us? He asks that: ‘You shall be holy’.
This is your purpose for your life. This is your calling as a servant of the living God.
This is the advice from the Almighty. He has built into our very being, a desire to improve ourselves (and our surroundings). Yet, this urge can be mistaken as a drive for material possessions. It is instead, an innate drive to spiritual growth, to becoming holy.
In the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible – see in particular, Leviticus), the Hebrew word translated as ‘Holy’ is קָדוֹשׁ (qadosh) and is an adjective, or an active verb and thus a state of being. The goal of holiness is an individual one, but it is also one which we are all, (and by ‘all’ I mean every single living human being), called to hear, even if that call is virtually deafened out by our chaotic lifestyles.
We were made incomplete. Deliberately so.
While we were made ‘very good’, and made in the image of the Almighty, He has deliberately made everyone of us less than complete, less than whole, so that part of our task in this life is to heal and complete ourselves, and in doing so, and as part and parcel of this task, we are called to heal or ‘repair the world’ (tikkun haOlam).
Full Holiness means wholeness.
In this sense then, all our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings are deliberate, to the degree that we have been made with these less than perfect traits so that we do, in fact, have a job to do – the job of completing ourselves.
What is really challenging and almost unbelievable is that it is in fact possible to complete ourselves!
It is possible to gain that state of completeness, when a person becomes all that HaShem created him/her to be.
Sadly, most brought up in the Western tradition, and especially within the Christian community are taught to reject this fact, through the insidious and seriously harmful doctrine of ‘Original Sin’.
So how are we to become holy?
Firstly, we need to appreciate that we all have a life curriculum – the good, the bad and the ugly come our way to help mould us (if willing), to be the unique people G-d intended us to be and to be fully Holy. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner whether we acknowledge it or not.
But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.
Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (G-d Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?
There is a spark of Holiness, a spark of divinity in every person. There is also every character trait in every person. As part of our “curriculum’ we each uniquely have some traits that we find more problematic than others, and that we need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control and in the proper balance.
The person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.
Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice.
A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!
Lust (as in a ‘lust of life’) or desire is the true secret to a successful marriage. A marriage where that desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive.
All character traits can be shown to be beneficial if in the right balance and exercised to the right degree.
Imagine all the possible character traits on a continuum, such as anger and passivity being at opposite ends of a balance. Or humility and arrogance on a separate continuum. Imagine each and every character trait being on a continuum between the two extremes of that characteristic.
Inside us, in our inner-most soul is a light of divinity, a light made in the image and likeness of the Almighty that should shine out from us and brighten the world around us.
But also imagine the many character traits that are not in balance as ‘clouds’ that block that light or ‘sun’ that should be shining out from within.
As we mature and grow so that each trait moves towards being in the right balance, our inner ‘light’, our spark of divinity, shines out more strongly as the ‘clouds’ are removed.
As we work on ourselves and our traits, a trait’s balance then moves towards its proper centre, and the ‘black or dark cloud’ gets less and less opaque and more and more transparent.
With many traits to balance, the clouds can really block out the ‘sun’s rays’ (our inner light), the light that should be shining out from our core.
As we learn to improve ourselves and find the proper balance of our character traits and learn which are most problematic for each of us, and how we can learn to control and rectify/balance these traits, we should find that without any real and noticeable effort, our light shines brighter, and begins to impact those around us in positive and helpful ways.
So in seeking to complete ourselves, we quite naturally and effortlessly end up helping others to ‘see the light’ and in so doing perhaps help them to complete themselves.
Next: Dealing with the inner adversary, the Yetzer HaRa.
— to be continued —
This introduction and the articles to further and bring some depth to this overview are some reflections from Mussar instruction and other Rabbinic teachings.
The books that this series of short articles are primarily based on:
‘Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar’ by Alan Morinis.
‘10 Conversations You need to Have With Yourself’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘Shalom in the Home’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
‘God According to God: A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along’ by Dr Gerald L Schroeder