By Rabbi Amichai Cohen
Between the anxiety of Covid, the precarious government situation, and our overactive addiction to technology, our minds seem at a loss now more than ever. Having our children intermittently come in and out of school does not help either.
A Chassidic tale is told about a man who went to the Maggid of Mezritch and told him that his thoughts were overtaking him, seeking advice on how to master his thoughts.
The Tzadik sent him to a disciple of his in a particular town. When the man arrived in town, it was raining, and upon spotting the house, he briskly approached the door with loud knocks. A man inside asked who it was. The man answered, “It is I, Yankel.” No answer...
Yankel knocked again, this time louder. “Let me in, it’s raining,” Yankel cried out. No answer again. The knocking proceeded for some time until the owner opened the door, welcoming Yankel into his home. “Why didn’t you let me in the first time I knocked?”
With that response, Yankel understood why the Rebbe sent him all the way to this town; to learn that just because a thought is knocking on his mind’s door does not mean that he had to let that thought in. We have the ability to open and close the door of our mind and to shift from being in the passenger seat to the driver's seat.
The Alter Rebbe, in his seminal work the Tanya, describes how our two souls are at war with each other. Our G-dly-Divine soul seeks to connect to everyone and everything within creation altruistically.
How can we be expected to have control over and bring harmony to these two opposing forces?
The answer lies in what the Friedeker Rebbe called the intellectual soul and Kabbalah calls the witness.
To put things in perspective, the intellectual soul is akin to the power of choice. In his monumental book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” Victor Frankl assessed that what differentiated people’s experience in the holocaust was their ability to choose between seeing the cup half empty or half full.
Within the power of choice lies our very essential freedom. Along with our ability to choose comes our co-designing our destiny. The choice between right and wrong is the difference between life and death.
The witness is the part of our mind, our meta consciousness, which witnesses all situations, including challenging situations, as events rather than punishments.
Our witnessing mind views the events that life sends us. Of course, the witness is not the one who is living life, therefore, one of the sides, the G-dly soul or the animal soul, will benefit and get its way. The role of the witness is to give over unbiased messages, which are picked up by the two opposing souls.
Connecting to the idea of the witness, the word for Shema contains the Hebrew letters דע, meaning know, or witness when spelt the other way.
In other words, our witness/intellectual mind sends an unbiased signal to both sides and souls within each of us. The loftiness of the G-dly soul usually wins because of its genuine spiritual connection.
The choice is made when our witnessing mind is aware that it can be rewarded and absorb way more than what the immediate quick response would yield and benefit the animal soul. However, for the G-dly soul to win this battle, there must be a moment of delay in our response, stopping us from acting, or reacting, impulsively.
In life, we are often faced with situations, big and small, that require our response. Here we have gained many tools to help us in responding to these situations in the most conducive way for us, to help us remain connected to the highest selves in our thoughts, speech, and actions.
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