“If you don’t have anything to write about, then don’t write this week.”
That was the advice my daughter Elkie gave me when I told her I wasn’t sure what to write about. No thought, no experience, was compelling me to share it.
Had I run out of inspiration? Would I have to throw away my new business cards?
When I realized where those thoughts originated, I knew I had found my topic.
I went to the Chabad women’s convention not so much for inspiration but for nachas. To sit at the banquet with my three daughters and daughter-in-law who are emissaries of the Rebbe is a gift from G-d and a dream come true.
I am truly awed by the number, the diversity, and the commitment of the women there who serve as “lamplighters.” This lamplighter analogy, referring to the townsperson in the olden days who was assigned to carry the long pole in order to light the street lamps, is often used to describe a Chassid: one who puts aside his or own comforts to ignite the souls of others.
The only soul I remotely understand is mine, thanks to the many lamplighters I have known, but I would like to share some of what I’ve learned about it.
I don’t know how you feel about yourself, but I used to think I wasn’t such a great person. Chassidus explains that I am only partially right, because every Jewish soul has two opposing components, the Nefesh Elokis (the G-dly soul) and the Nefesh HaBehamis (the animal soul). The former is rational and intelligent, firm in its desire to do G-d’s will because it is alive with a part of G-d Himself; the latter is hot and passionate, seeking selfish pleasure and gratification. The animal soul is also the source of the Yetzer Hara, which directs these pleasurable urges into the realm of the unholy. Negative thoughts about others and preoccupation with our own self-importance stem from this force.
Until I learned about that G-dly soul, I identified with that insatiable animal soul as “the real me.” All the nice things I said, or did, or thought couldn’t compare to how rotten I felt when the nasty stuff emerged.
Trying to get my animal soul to listen to my G-dly soul has taken years of effort, requiring both learning and unlearning. (The bumper sticker that says, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” could have been created by a Chassid.) I still feel ugly when I have an unholy thought about someone or something but I know now that that G-d puts such thoughts into my consciousness through the Yetzer Hara for the express purpose of testing me. Will I start meditating on this thought, an activity that will surely not lead to anything good, or will I recognize its source and “just say no” until the thought or desire stops coming back?
Why G-d enjoys giving us these inner tests is a bit mysterious, but Chassidus explains that He clearly does. Because each time we subdue this passionate beast within ourselves, we are transforming our desires for egotistical pleasures into desires for G-d and His spiritual ones. The bad news is that the world around us is on the side of the animal soul. (Think Hollywood.) The good news is that G-d is on the side the G-dly soul. (Think G-d.)
This process of self-transformation is supposed to define a Chassid’s life mission; I have been a diligent student but the battle is somehow a never ending one, even in the holiest of places…
I was so excited to get to Crown Heights last Thursday for the convention, my feet weren’t quite touching the ground. I wish this were true literally, since I somehow misunderstood the weather in New York. I only brought my “good” black boots and the snow and slush pretty much ruined them.
But, lo and behold, on Sunday night at the banquet, I got an irrepressible urge to replace them with boots not unlike some of the stunning ones I saw there.
Welcome to my inner world.
Pure desire: new black boots. (Nefesh HaBehamis)
Desire for “attractive” black boots. (Yetzer Hara says, “Attractive?” You’re such a low-life.)
Thought: There’s nothing wrong with buying something pretty. A Jewish woman is supposed to be beautiful. Just look at the shluchas. (Nefesh Elokis)
See how it goes?
Well, I don’t want to incite anyone’s Yetzer Hara with the details of my purchase but Zappos did say I would be the envy of everyone if I bought them (Is that why I bought them? Oh no! I am a low-life!)
This fighting has got to stop.
Experts agree that our thoughts have real power, so let’s make a deal: you’ll try to think good thoughts about me (as you see, I have plenty of stuff going on inside already) and I will try to think good thoughts about you (even if I see that you got nicer boots for less money).
Together, we might just transform ourselves enough to catalyze the ultimate transformation of the world through the arrival of Moshiach, thereby fulfilling the whole purpose of creation. Then we can all give the Yetzer Hara the boot.