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Home » Free Choice, Shavuot

Shavuot: The Power of Self Liberation

Submitted by on June 5, 2011 – 4:34 amNo Comment | 1,901 views

Long Term Goals

Why is it so difficult to choose long tern gain over immediate satisfaction? Most of us make that choice, but not until we are forced to. We don’t refuse the extra snack unless we are already overweight. We don’t hold down our cholesterol unless the doctor orders us to. Why are we like that?

The simple answer is that long terms goals only become tangible in the future. Though we are intelligent souls, we are harnessed by physical bodies. To the body, the intangible is far less appealing than the tangible. Chocolate syrup is a tangible delight, easily appreciated. Long term health concerns are far more difficult to appreciate so long as we remain in good health.

Though our bodies are only interested in tangible and immediate benefits we can bend the body to our will. If we make weight loss a priority we force the body to stretch, sweat and exercise despite our longing for relaxation . In the end, our bodies are instruments of our will and when we want something we force the body to provide it. As goes the famous adage, “When there’s a will, there’s a way.

Obsession

This holds true so long as we are in control. When we surrender to an impulse more often than is healthy and normal we surrender control. Rather than choosing to indulge in a pleasure, the pleasure beckons us and takes over. We no longer indulge because we choose to, but because we feel we must and at that point it becomes difficult to regain control.  

Obsession is a strong word and most of us are not obsessed. But obsession begins in subtle ways. Choosing to take revenge against an offensive neighbor is a terrible choice, but at least we make our own choice. When we grow so spiteful as to lose the ability to be gracious we have effectively surrendered control. It is much harder to correct it now that it is no longer under our control. (1)

Yet, even at this stage we can be cured with therapy and hard work. In fact, our very nature gives us opportunity to regain control of ourselves. Every so often we are gripped by a sudden realization of our  own helplessness and yearn to break free . These bouts of regret are not nature’s way of torturing us. It is nature’s way of nudging us forward by reminding us that our free will has been co opted.

These pangs open doors for us, but they don’t force us across the threshold. We still need to choose to regain control, seek professional help and address our problems with a determination to see it through.

Bad Advice

The worst possible scenario is when we are surrounded by friends who are in similar straits. Friends who are just as obsessed or addicted as we are. Such friends encourage us to stay the path of self destruction. They assure us that we are perfectly healthy and that there is no need to seek change. Such advice is the worst possible scenario because it leaves us believing there is no problem. When the patient doesn’t acknowledge an illness the door to healing remains firmly shut.

Three Garments

when the Torah was transported across the desert it was ensconced in three garments. The first was a woolen garment tailored to the measure of the ark. The second was a slipcover made of animal hide . The third was the Parochet – the curtain that ordinarily hung between the Holy of Holies, the room that housed the ark and the outer room called the Holy. (2)the power of self liberation shavuot

The first cover conformed perfectly to every contour of the ark. The slipcover didn’t conform to the ark’s shape, but at least covered it fully. The curtain was a bulky cover that left the ark partially exposed.

If the ark were covered only by the curtain it would be forbidden to gaze at it for parts of it would actually be exposed. If the ark were covered by the garment that conformed to its every counter it would also be forbidden to gaze at it for though its body would be covered, its shape would remain discernible. Only when covered by the slipcover was the ark transported in public because this cover obscured it completely, in body as well as in shape.

These three garments correspond to the three levels of control we discussed above. The physical body’s desire for tangible pleasures obscures the soul’s yearning for holy pursuits. But though it is a garment that covers, it still leaves large tracts of the soul exposed. The body is an instrument of our will and it is not terribly difficult to assert our will for intangible rewards over the body’s preference for tangible ones. Like the curtain, the physical body does a poor job of obscuring our soul.

The garment that covered the ark completely, but hugged its contours, is analogous to the unhealthy impulses that control us. They overshadow our inner desires, but do not entirely obscure our free will. Just like the garment that covered the ark left us with a clear impression of what was beneath it so do these powerful impulses leave us with enough opportunity to remember what we really want.

It is the third cover, the one that obscured the ark entirely, that most concerns us. This is analogous to the person who is not only subject to impulse or obsession, but is convinced by friends that there is no problem. In this case the desire to break free is paralyzed and the inner will is entirely obscured.

The Journey

Still it was only when the ark was covered by this last cover that the ark could journey across the desert. The desert, an arid environment, is analogous to a state of mind that obscures the soul’s interests altogether. The ark’s journey across the desert is analogous to filling the desert with the beauty and joy of holiness. And though the slipcover concealed the ark entirely it was only with it that the ark could journey forth.

And so it is with us. The human spirit is resilient. When we are challenged our most potent powers are stimulated. No matter how strong the challenge we find ways to overcome them. Moreover, the harder the challenge, the steelier becomes our determination and the more fierce our commitment.

Just as the cover allowed the ark to journey forth so do our challenges give us opportunity to reveal the depth of our spirit and unbreakable bond with G-d. Ironically, this absolute cover becomes a spring board for unprecedented growth. (2)

Footnotes

  1. This is most often experienced by children who were
    abused by their parents. Their rejection of their parents begins as a
    conscious choice to seek freedom, but with time they realize that they
    are not in control of the rejection. They are not choosing to reject,
    they have no choice but to reject. Soon they begin to feel stifled by
    the very rejection that at first seemed so liberating.
  2. Numbers 3: 5-6, 19-20.
  3. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 8 pp8-20
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