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Da Et Atzmcha (9) Accessing the Inner Self


We will summarize what has been said until this point. The entire process presented has been to expose the true "I" of the person. Which part is the true self, and which part lies to the person and misrepresents itself as the self? A person's soul is the true self, but his body is only a garment over it. In the system we discussed, a person must undergo hachna'ah, havdalah, and hamtakah in order to attain an inner recognition of the self. Through hachna'ah and havdalah, one separates. For example, we stated that in order to detach from negative feelings and such, a person occasionally needs to enter an inner place called "the alone." We emphasized, though, that the state of being alone is temporary; it is really a stage on the way toward ultimately uniting and merging with others.

After a person manages to separate and subjugate the negative acts, feelings, and thoughts, he should then go and unite with all of mankind and even beyond. This is the work of hamtakah: unity with all of creation.

At this point, you must know that it was not my intent to suggest that a person unite with all of creation at all times. Certainly, there are times when a person is in an environment to which he should connect, and there are times when a person is naturally alone. But besides the superficial matter of a person being located either with a group or alone, the depth of the matter is that G-d created a person with opposite faculties: the faculty of aloneness, and the faculty of uniting and merging. Both faculties can be positive, such as when a person isolates himself in the proper time and uses a proper method, and when he joins with the right people in the right place, but they can also be negative. If a person is supposed to join with others and he chooses solitude, he is using solitude in the wrong place. And conversely, if one joins with openly sinful people, he is using the faculty of uniting in the wrong place.

Therefore, there is a need for a proper balance between solitude and connection. Superficially, we already understand that there are places where it is appropriate to associate, and places where it is not: connect with the good people, and not with the wicked. But these are obvious factors. There is also an inner sense in a person as to when it is appropriate for him to associate with others, and when it is appropriate to employ inner solitude.

As long as a person has not discovered the sense of inner aloneness, it is impossible to attain this balance. Balance only exists when there is something to balance, not when there is only one of the two sides. Hence, one must possess the world of the alone, and conversely, the world of connection, and then, he can balance them. We spoke of the world of connection in the previous talk, and we spoke of the world of the alone (in the third talk) as a means for hachna'ah and havdalah. At that time, solitude was only used as a tool for disconnecting from others. But once a person separates all evil from his body, actions, feelings, and thoughts, and learns to unite with others, he needs to uncover a world of solitude. This is not only as a means for disconnecting from negativity. Even one in a positive state must uncover the inner condition of the soul called "alone." The "alone" is not only a means for dissociating from negative elements, in the way described thus far; it is its own world inside the soul.

In the world in general, and especially in this generation, the concept of solitude has suffered. We spoke at length earlier that a person is always surrounded by people and the media and all forms of connection to the outside world that surface from day to day. A person who wants to find his soul, his true self, but only connects to others, even through a positive way of giving, is inwardly hollow, with nothing inside. Seemingly, he is fine, since he is giving all day without resting a moment, and is totally focused on it. But what is this like? A person might desire to give money, but he is destitute, so he has nothing to give. The more wealth one has, the more he can give. Just as one's ability to give material wealth depends on his economic status, so does one's inner wealth increase his ability to give to others. The more inward one is, the better equipped he is to really help others. But if only busy with giving, without any real sense of the self, he has nothing real to give. He might give money, food baskets, and advice, but he is not really giving of himself, because he does not recognize himself. His "I" is hidden from himself, and there is no way for the giving to come from the real self. One cannot give what he has not found.

If giving is an end in itself, this would not matter: someone was lacking something, and someone else filled the lack. But since we explained at length that giving is a means for nullifying the desire to take, the giving must be coupled with an awareness of the "I," with a will to nullify the elements of the "I" that seek to take. How does one find the "I"? Only through aloneness and quiet.

If one has not yet found himself, he cannot nullify the desire to take, and he cannot build up a desire to give. This is like buying a garment for a child not yet born: there is no one to place it on. Only once a person has uncovered the self, his inner work stems from that real self within. Thus, when we speak of merging with others, it cannot be complete unless there is a clear revelation of the self. That does not mean that a person should not associate at all with others before that, but the real depth of the soul's merging with others can come only after the "I" is fully exposed. Then, he will be able to join with another while maintaining an awareness of the real inner self. He will be able to share his real self with another.

Therefore, it is essential, in order to develop the ability to unite with others, to have a clear revelation of the "I." This demands a quiet time in the day, and much more than that: a life built on a sense of quiet. The tumultuous life with which we are all too familiar might bring about a lot of giving, but it cannot bring about the exposure of the "I" inside a person. When we speak of exposing the "I," the alone, it is more than a short-lived experience; it is a perspective of life built upon inner quiet.

If you ask a person a question that requires an answer, there is a kind of person who will immediately answer. We're not referring to one asked the time of day, so that all he needs to do is look at his watch and answer. We're referring to one asked a more difficult question, who yet answers immediately. Conversely, there are people who are asked a question, and to some degree, are able to concentrate on it, and then respond based on a mental process of determining the correct answer to the question. If a person has never found himself, he will tend to answer without thinking much. He doesn't really know what it means to think. He might see an item on sale and calculate the payments, the interest, and the expense of an overdraft, but that isn't real thought; it is only the ability to calculate. Thought is the ability to delve and contemplate. It's not just the attainment of information. Calculation might show some development of the mind, but it is superficial. The real usage of the mind exists when there is a process of inner analysis.

The external means for discovering the "alone" is to find times of peace and quiet. Unless one has deeply developed his faculty of inner quiet, it is impossible to focus, for example, in the proximity of a loud orchestra. To build this quiet, a person needs time to be alone in quiet, separate from all the noisy events of the world. This is the external means for uncovering the true stature of the "I."

The internal means is to be a person who habitually analyzes and contemplates. The tendency for people not to think and to only perceive things the way they have been accustomed to is the most destructive thing in the world. Here is a simple example: Everyone here managed to attend this talk because he woke up this morning; otherwise, he could not have come. Did anyone think about why he woke up in the morning? Maybe he should not have risen, but remained sleeping in bed? If a person thinks about that, it is already something. Most people don't think about it, because they have a pressure due to their boss, or job, depending on how each person lives. On a day when there is no obligation to get out of bed, and the wife and children are out of the house, why does one get out of bed? In general, a person doesn't think about it; he just gets up. If he would think that he should get up because it's boring in bed, although that's not an ideal conclusion, the very fact that he thinks about this means that he is beginning to develop an inner aware of his daily activities.

The goal is not only to sift through the actions to determine which to do and which to avoid, although that, too, is positive. Rather, the very condition of thinking about events builds an inner structure of thought. To attain the self, one must be inward, thinking, contemplating, and analytical. If one lives without these faculties, he will naturally turn outwards. This does not mean that thought is the deepest part of a person, but it does enable a person to enter into himself and discover his "I" within.

One name of the neshamah mentioned in the holy works is the sechel (intellect). This has nothing to do with the meaning of that word in the parlance of the street, but an inner, spiritual sechel. The neshamah is considered an entity that delves into truths. The farther one is from analysis, contemplation, and thought, the more he will tend to engage in bodily activities, and even if they are good, such as giving to others, he will not uncover his real self. To reveal the self, one must first of all isolate himself at certain times from the crowd, and in addition, become used to contemplating in life.

It is possible to give countless examples of material worthy of contemplation. Each person has a degree of contemplation appropriate for his condition. But as one continues to think, the degree of contemplation must intensify. Contemplation can be stimulated by one's personal life, or by current events affecting the community, or by events in the whole world. With each event, a person must attain the perspective of one who contemplates and analyzes.

For example, about a year ago, there was a war (against forces in Lebanon). Everyone knows there was a war, but how did each person look at the war? A superficial person will immediately judge if the Commander-in-chief, or the Prime Minister, or the Defense Minister is guilty, because such were the morning's headlines in the paper. He doesn't think past that, because the paper directs his thought: "Are they responsible, should the army have gone to war, or not; should it be stopped, or not? How much should be invested to bring back the captured soldiers? Is this ethical, or not?" The headlines are the guides of this person's thoughts, as well as a few analysts who have the opportunity to impress their ideas on the people.

But if one is more inward, he would contemplate the war on his own. I will give some examples, but the intent is not that this is the only way to think, but that a person must learn to consider things from his own personal perspective, using his own original thought. "Just as their faces are unique, so are their opinions unique" (Berachot 58a). A large group of people should not be seeing an event uniformly. There must be some uniqueness, and to develop this, each person must develop originality. Some people develop originality because they must write an article, and if they repeat what they wrote yesterday, it will be boring. It's not that they really have a personal view, but they train themselves, because of their vocation, to generate new ideas. A truly original person thinks by himself from within himself.

For example, one hears that there is a war. He first attempts to expunge all the opinions he received from the outside, and then tries to contemplate: what is this war causing? When he looks at this, he will consider that some people, chas veshalom, lost their lives. Others were injured. Others totally lost their livelihood; they had certain businesses, and because of the unrest, the business failed, and they lost their livelihood. There are others who did not totally lose their livelihood, but they got into financial straits. Others were traumatized, and still have not healed. Others decided that they want to replace a government official. Others were filled with agony over the suffering of others. Others, upon hearing of people's troubles, immediately contacted people to offer their homes for hospitality.

If a person will take one event in the world, and develop his thought about it - and we have only begun - will see that one war has many effects, and understandably, there are tens of other effects that we have not mentioned. A person might say, "What will I get out of this thought? Just to think and analyze? What's the point?" The benefit is very clear: a person must get used to seeing things from their proper perspective. To attain this, one must take a subject and try to analyze it on as many different levels as possible. If one just takes the newspaper, he may see only one point, because all the journalists focus on the one point, and this is all people discuss and debate all day, and everyone ignores thirty other facts that are at least as important.

If one takes a topic and contemplates it, he will be able to uncover his inner faculty, which is the essence of the analytical sechel. If he only receives information from outside, and certainly, if he attains a thought process from outside, he loses his very essence. He is programmed by some people around him. Public opinion is very fickle, because almost no one stops and thinks. If a person would stop and think, he would uncover things that will amaze him. "Why didn't I notice this before?" But it is not surprising. At first glance, a person cannot attain a full knowledge, but only the facts that float at the surface. If he is always satisfied with that, he will always be floating on the surface. The inner self is based on an ability to really think.

As one has the merit to enter the world of Torah, he will employ his analysis on the Holy Torah and develop there. But even a person who has not yet had the opportunity to learn Torah must take facts and contemplate them.

There was an incident that occurred with the Rosh Yeshivah of Mir, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. He was told of a tragic incident that occurred, in which a young man passed away. When Rav Shmuelevitz heard the incident, he began to cry. After he had already calmed down, he started crying again, five minutes later. Someone there asked him why he started crying again. He said, "It's simple. When they told me the story of the young man who passed away, I thought of his father's suffering over the event. When I felt his pain, I started crying, and then I stopped, as is human nature. But then, I started thinking about the suffering of his mother. And then I cried again." Only a person who thinks can approach life this way. He took an event and considered, "Who will miss this young man? He has a father, a mother, brothers, sisters, and grandparents on both sides." But if one doesn't think, he will certainly feel bad that someone died, but he will not delve to think about who is suffering.

Only a person who breaks down an event into all its parts and considers each one can begin to uncover his power of thought within. When he uncovers it, he will begin to enter inward. As long as one does not think, he will naturally turn outward. Only when a person contemplates - and we have only mentioned a few examples, but there is certainly no limit to it - and trains himself to think more and more, he will be so immersed in his thoughts that he will be as if disconnected from everything else. We sometimes see people who think deeply and are called "absent-minded professors," who wait at the bus stop thinking and never notice the buses coming. This, of course, is a negative result of deep thinking. But essentially, deep thought is positive. Every positive thing has negative side-effects, and one must cleanse it of its negative elements.

The tendency to think deeply is the beginning of the revelation of the true self within. If one doesn't think, he will turn outward, with no expression of the original self. There are people who have no idea of what they like or dislike. They have no awareness of the self. Another does know what he likes and dislikes, but has not developed himself beyond that natural awareness that surfaces in the fast pace of life.

The "I" has deeper powers, but to reach them, one must think more and more. The more one contemplates, the more he will slowly expose an inner faculty previously unknown to him. Scientifically speaking, a person uses only a very small percentage of his mental abilities. Especially because of all the media that exists today, we are not used to thinking. Now they have GPS systems, so you don't even need to look right and left and see the signs. It tells you, "Go right, go left, left at the light, then go right, and stop." The person is programmed. In the past, if a person would travel abroad, he would have to buy a map and learn a little of the local language in order to learn how to get around there, but now, there is no problem. I agree that there is a lot of good in this technology, but one must use it for the positive, and not let it bring us to a state where our ability to think weakens.

There are a lot of ways to develop the mind. If it only comes from reading books written by others, even if the books are profound, it will develop the person to some extent, but it will not bring him to a revelation of the true "I." He is basically being sustained by an outside theory that becomes built in him. To expose the real "I," he must uncover his own original thought hidden within. Understandably, most people aren't even aware of it. They will claim that they have no opinions. Their only opinion is about which Prime Minister to vote for, and understandably, this cannot be very original.

So that a person can uncover himself, he must believe in his individuality. In the words of Chazal (Sanhedrin 37a), this is described as "the world was created for me." That is to say, "There is a unique world existing inside of me. I have unique inner qualities." If one does not uncover his uniqueness, whether of his nature or of his ideas, he cannot find himself. There is no self, because there are a thousand more like him. This is like a flock of a thousand identical sheep. When a person believes in his uniqueness and contemplates things, he will reach an original perspective of thought.

Certainly, there are people who are more inclined to this kind of thinking, and there are those who are less so. If one has the tendency, his work is easier. But even one without the tendency must learn to contemplate and be original in thought; he just has a longer task ahead. He must uncover his thoughts. I do not mean that a person must generate all kinds of different and strange thoughts so as to be original and be quoted somewhere. Original means to uncover independent thought.

Here is an example: Around ten years ago, on Tisha B'Av, I thought to myself that the most appropriate place to be on Tisha B'Av is next to the remnant of our Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the place for which we mourn, the place of the destruction. When a person wants to feel the destruction, the closest place to do so is the Western Wall. I traveled there. To my surprise, when I arrived, I found quite a large number of people there. I stopped and asked myself, "How could it be that until today, it never occurred to you to go to the Wall on Tisha B'Av?" The most appropriate days to go are either the three regalim (Festivals), when there was a requirement to go to greet the Presence of G-d, or Tisha B'Av. I asked myself, "You have already been an adult for many years. Why wasn't it obvious to you to try to be near the place of the Bayit (Temple) on the day of its destruction? If a person loses a relative, he would certainly want to attend the funeral. It's natural! The most natural feeling should be to attend the Wall. At that time, I discovered an original thought that was not natural, but once it appeared, became as obvious as can be.

Anyone can find such examples in his life. For example, when Tisha B'Av comes, one must contemplate, "What is this day? Where can I best feel the day?" If he sees a sign in the paper that there is a trip to the Wall being organized, and he participates, I would not belittle his prayer near the remnant of our Beit HaMikdash, but he only came because he saw an announcement. He didn't arrive because he pondered and concluded that the most appropriate place to be on Tisha B'Av is the Western Wall. When he saw the announcement, he said, "Good idea," and joined in.

We are not talking about being the most original person in the world. There can be other people that share that original idea. But the point is that the person acts based on an inner source inside him. He doesn't see what others are doing and then say, "If it's good, I'll join in, but if it's negative, chas veshalom, I'll avoid it." Rather, he uncovers the idea from inside himself. Each person who accustoms himself to ponder in life can uncover thoughts that can be applied to very original actions. Even if it turns out that another person did the same thing, it does not detract from his originality. The act was done not because he read or heard about it, but because he brought it forth from inside himself.

The education we received as children is surely a positive thing, because we need a general framework for approaching life. But if a person continues exactly as he was taught, he is like a monkey that acts as it was trained. A person must uncover the "I" inside him. For example, we are now in the nine days. Certainly, the halachah (law) has defined what we may and may not do. But a person who really contemplates about the fact that there was a Beit HaMikdash and it was destroyed must try to find, "What did I lose?" When he discovers that, he will also find a personal way to mourn for it and a way to try to replace what was lost.

If a person reads books that describe the destruction and thinks about them, and reaches the same conclusions as the author, his conclusions are true, but he has not revealed himself. He has lost his very self by reading the book. Of course, in the beginning, we must read a lot. But to continue, instead of taking an hour for reading, one should take an hour for thinking. If that is not possible, he can start with even two minutes. After succeeding for two minutes, the next day, he should try three, and so on. But he must discover an original way of thinking in himself.

Another example: There are times when a person gives a gift to another. He gets engaged, for example, and he wants to give a gift. Or perhaps one of the spouses celebrates a birthday, and the other wants to give a gift. Nowadays, there are gift shops with lists of possible good wishes. They present a choice of eighteen possible good wishes, and you just pick one, and go. If one wants to express good wishes from deep down, how can he just go to the center of town and find something on a sign and use that? This does not express what a person feels. Can he really say that this is exactly what he felt? The truth is that if a person really wants to give something to a spouse, he won't think, "What did I hear that so-and-so gave? What is most fitting according to the standards of today?" He sits and thinks to himself, "What does my spouse really like?" When he comes to a conclusion, even if it doesn't seem appropriate for a birthday present, the originality of the thing can be more appreciated than a more traditional symbol.

There are people who will not do anything that is not customary, and only do what is customary. But as a person becomes more inward, he will base everything on a certain degree of originality (and he may balance originality with custom). He does not look at what other people are doing. He tries to feel what the other person is lacking - better still, he tries to sense, "What do I really feel I can give?" He uncovers his self in this process, without looking for outside norms. He identifies himself from within himself. Many people go to learn a trade just because it is considered dignified. If they would discover that it doesn't truly interest them, they might abandon it. A person should consider, "To where am I drawn? Where do I fit into all of this?" And he should direct himself there - of course, to the extent it is practical.

Life must flow within, whether in feelings or in thoughts. One must uncover the originality, the uniqueness, not, chas veshalom, in order to oppose anyone or to be conceited, but to actualize and uncover the self. If one is not used to this, he must radically change his life to become inward, and think to himself: "Who am I, what am I, what are my qualities? Where is the I,' and what part is affected by the environment?"

We perform a lot of actions. When a person tries to recognize himself, he will take an action or two and think: "Why do I do this? Is it because of an external cause, or an internal one?" Habit is an external cause. Personal thought is an inner cause. If we would examine, we would find that most of the events in the world occur without thought, but due to habits, either personal habits, or habits picked up from the outside environment. Therefore, our sense of self has been crushed. It has almost no opportunity to manifest itself. A small child starts growing up and wants to do something, and his parents might say to him, "It's not done in our circles. It doesn't match with what other do." I'm not talking about something that is actually negative. But if it is positive, and they say something like this, they bury his "I" 2000 cubits underground. They're not letting him become himself. And this applies not only to one's child, but also to the person himself.

In conclusion, in order for a person to mingle with another, he must find his self. This comes out through times of solitude by sitting quietly all alone (which this is the external aspect of it), as well as the habit of thinking and analyzing everything, or when there should be some feeling, considering, "What is my inner feeling?"

Don't rush along with the fast pace of life. Try as much as possible to think deeply about the things that happen in our lives. The sharper one gets, the more he will think in the course of the day. But the way of life must be to try to delve more and more. Get used to dividing a thing into its elements: What is it made of? What does it include? There are people that order things and don't even check what costs are included in their order. All kinds of expenses appear, and they didn't think these were part of it. Why not? Because they didn't think at all, not because they thought they weren't included. If they would have contemplated, things would be different.

Some people buy an apartment and calculate what it costs, and take out a mortgage. Then they get the key and start to think, "What about the air conditioners?" "The bed doesn't match the width of the new room." And then they suddenly discover that they need to spend at least 40,000 shekel more than they had thought. How did it happen? It's simple. It's not that the temperature in the world changed so much in the year and a half in which they were waiting for the apartment. They simply didn't think. A person should really think about what is involved in buying an apartment: paying the agents, the cost of the apartment, changes in bank rates, the purchase tax, then moving costs, and then appropriate furniture. One might decide to initially move in the old furniture, and later buy new items, but in that case there was thought, analysis of the issue, and a decision.

There are countless examples, but the point is the same. When entering a situation, we must be in the habit of checking it. See what it includes, break it down to its smallest possible elements, and then examine all the details. "How will I deal with each detail?" Certainly, it is best when one thinks mostly of the practical things in life, and less about distant matters. But sometimes, one doesn't want the pressure of thinking about things in his own life, so he would rather contemplate and break down something foreign. This can also be constructive. Finally, a person will attain a calm, calculated, contemplative, and analytical approach to his actions. The goal, as we said, is not merely to be careful not to stumble in the traps of life that are caused by a lack of thought, but primarily, for the person to become a thinking and deep person, through which he will attain original thought. The more one develops his thought in areas not usually thought about, so will he uncover more and more originality, until his thought will be patently original. Once he reaches that stage, he has already progressed far in revealing the "I" inside. With G-d's help, next time, we will try to continue and conclude.

Basic points that emerged from the question and answer session:

  • 1. At first, in order to distinguish between truth and falsehood, it is helpful to discuss ideas with an objective outsider who will be able to notice if you are fooling yourself because of some self-interest.
  • 2. If a person keeps a record of his ideas, he will see that over time, he has changed his mind on various topics. If one analyzes what he originally thought and why he changed his mind, his thinking will sharpen, and he will learn a lot about life.
  • 3. During the period of solitude, one should take a particular topic and analyze it. It is very hard for most people to start doing this for an hour, so one can start with a few minutes. It may be helpful to aid the contemplation with a pen and paper, to record the various ideas. A person may be considering some important decision. He should write down the various considerations and focus on making an intelligent decision. A person will later come to contemplate questions about life. We are faced with so much information on a daily basis that we don't have time to think about what is going on, but one should take certain points and focus on them for a while. If one does, he will begin to gain tremendous pleasure from the process.
  • 4. To properly analyze a topic, one must first nullify the personal will as relates to that topic. We have discussed this nullification earlier (in the fifth talk). Also, where there is an event beyond one's control which disturbs him, he must remember that it is in G-d's hands and nullify his own will.
  • 5. Once a person has begun learning Torah, his contemplations should be about Torah concepts, or about other things from within a Torah framework.
  • 6. Contemplation will help a person deal with difficult situations in life. If a problem arises, one who thinks will be able to realize that such problems have arisen in the past and been solved, and that he will get through this challenge, as well. He might also realize that the problem is not nearly as serious as he first thought. But one who does not think will tend to be overwhelmed by any problem currently affecting him.
  • 7. Some people have a very clear sense of their mission in life, but in general, one must go through a very long process of self-knowledge in order to sense that mission. Think of the difference between the superficial thoughts of a child and the deeper thoughts of an adult. If we let outer circumstances control us, we are like children. We need to develop our minds so that we can hear the voice inside us.

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