Getting to Know Your Imagination - 010 The Way to View Our Middos
Good Imagination Is To Expand, Evil Imagination Is To Invent
Our power of medameh/imagination comes from word “adamah”, “earth”. Earth nurtures something to help it grow. Earth is the element that brings the other elements to their potential. The earth does not produce new things – it merely takes something and expands it so it can grow.
This shows us that our imagination, which is rooted in the element of earth, is not meant to produce new information; rather, it is meant to take something that already exists and to expand upon it, bringing out the potential of a concept. This is the ideal purpose of imagination: it can serve to bring out the potential of a certain idea, when we imagine ourselves to it.
But our imagination becomes evil when we exaggerate the information and make up something totally new from it. This is when a person uses his imagination to come up with totally new information, instead of expanding it.
Therefore, when a person compares things in his mind, if his imagination is merely expanding upon the information, then this is the holy kind of imagination. But if one’s imagination is producing something totally new through comparing, then the imagination is evil.
Evil imagination involves comparing oneself to another person, while good imagination involves a person expanding upon his own potential.
Two Different Attitudes About Our Middos
This also explains the difference between imagination which stems from the nefesh habehaimis (lower, animalistic layer of the soul) and the imagination which stems from our nefesh elokis (higher, G-dly layer of our soul).
The middos of our nefesh elokis are rooted in Hashem; for example, our quality of rachamim/mercy stems from the rachamim of Hashem. The middos in our nefesh elokis are not regular middos – they come from Hashem; they are a continuation of Hashem’s middos. Our avodah with our nefesh elokis is to continue the middos of Hashem – they are not just “middos”, but they serve to reveal Hashem through the middos.
(Man was created “kedumeseinu”, “in our image” – this represents the middos of Hashem which exist in our nefesh elokis. Man was also created “b’tzalmeinu”, “in our form”, which represents the powers of the mind.)
This is how our nefesh elokis uses the power of medameh: to view my middos as a revelation of Hashem’s middos, because I am exercising good middos in order to get my middos to resemble Hashem’s middos.
But our nefesh habehaimis uses medameh/imagination to produce “new” middos. This applies to both our good middos and bad middos coming from our nefesh habehaimis – it is a kind of medameh/comparing which produces in a person middos that are new.
All of the middos that come from our nefesh habehaimis are based on medameh. They are not simply middos per se, but they are entirely created from medameh, and this is true for both good and evil. When a person compares himself with good, this will result in good middos, and when a person compares himself with evil, he will act evil.
This is why Reb Yisrael Salanter wrote that our main task in tikkun hamiddos is to uproot our imagination. It is because of all the middos that come from our nefesh habehaimis are based upon our medameh/imagination/comparing.
By contrast, the middos of our Nefesh Elokus is to reveal our true potential – to reveal from within ourselves the middos of Hashem. When we use middos of our nefesh habehaimis, we are using medameh to compare ourselves with someone else – or with a concept – and from that we act. The resulting middos from this will always be based upon medameh, and thus they do not reveal the true potential of our middos. Only using the middos of our nefesh elokis will reveal the potential of our middos.
How To Access the View of the Nefesh Elokus
When we use the middos of the nefesh elokis, it is that we are continuing the middos of Hashem. We do this by drawing forth to ourselves the middos of Hashem. A person can access this power by taking any of the good middos and to feel towards it: “This middah is not coming from me; it is coming from the Ribono shel Olam, and I am drawing it upon me.”
By contrast, our nefesh habehaimis has the attitude that any middah we have worked on to acquire belongs to us: “I have acquired this good middah.” Our nefesh habehaimis doesn’t attribute our middos to be a continuation of Hashem. All of the good middos that result from our nefesh habehaimis are thus all with an underlying attitude of “Mine”, and this is really a deep kind of gaavah/arrogance.
Our real middos are accessed only when we use the medameh of our nefesh elokis, which is to feel that all of the middos come from Hashem. It is to have an attitude of, “Even my good middos don’t come from myself. They come from Hashem; all of my good middos are a continuation of Hashem’s middos which I have drawn forth.”
Fixing The Middos of Our Nefesh HaBehaimis
How can we fix our nefesh habehaimis? We need to use medameh/comparing by getting our nefesh habehaimis to resemble our nefesh elokis. This is when a person feels that none of his middos can be attributed to himself.
This is one of the general ways of how we fix our nefesh habehaimis. One of the ways is through using our ratzon, such as by getting our ratzon of our nefesh habehaimis to have the ratzon of the nefesh elokis. Another way is through getting our seichel/intellect of the nefesh habehaimis to resemble the seichel of the nefesh Elokus. But another way of how we fix our nefesh habehaimis is by getting its middos to resemble the nefesh elokis – and the way to do this is by feeling that none of our good middos have been acquired by ourselves. They are from Hashem.
Without this attitude, all of our good middos are full of gaavah, because we would be attributing the achievement of good middos to ourselves.
The middos of Hashem are poured down into our nefesh elokis through what is called hishtalshelus (the spiritual “chain”), and we can get our nefesh elokis to carry over its understanding into our nefesh habehaimis, as we said.
A Summary Of Our Avodah In Tikkun HaMiddos
To summarize, we must realize that all of our middos are a result of our power of medameh. When we have a good middah, it is because we have succeeded in resembling Hashem through our behavior. If we have a bad middah, it means we have compared ourselves with something evil, which resulted in the bad middah. So medameh is always the root of our middos.
This is really what Reb Yisrael Salanter has written about many times, throughout Sefer Ohr Yisrael. Anyone who is familiar with his writings knows about what is being said here.
Our avodah is thus two-fold. We have work to do with both our nefesh habehaimis as well as with our nefesh elokis. We need to access the understanding of our nefesh elokis, which is to feel that all of our good middos are essentially a continuation of the middos of Hashem, meaning, that when we exercise good middos, we are revealing forth the middos of Hashem that are inherent in our nefesh elokis. This is how we reveal forth the middos of our nefesh elokis.
As for our nefesh habehaimis, we need to improve it and fix it with the following attitude: We have to feel that even our good middos are not our own, and that they are not “our” achievements, because good middos can only come from Hashem.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH THE RAV
Q: If so - that every middah we have can only come from Hashem – does that mean that we do no really have rachamim (compassion) on others, but only if we are medameh (resembling) ourselves to Hashem, who has rachamim?
A: Very good question; this is a very fundamental question. However, all our middos really come from our medameh – we pick up good middos from others, because we compare ourselves to others. For example, we have rachamim towards others because we picked it up from somewhere, so we are comparing ourselves to what we saw, and that is how we act merciful. Many people act kind because they were simply raised in a home where kindness is practiced; but is that the only reason why we should be kind – because we were raised that way? This is a good example of how our middos are never intrinsic, but rather from how we compare ourselves to situations.
When we remain with our middos which stem from our medameh, although such middos can definitely help us open ourselves up to that good middah, still, we shouldn’t remain our entire lives with such undeveloped middos. Any of our good middos which we simply picked up from others are not intrinsic – they are just coming from our power of medameh/comparing ourselves to others, and therefore we need to develop our actual middos. So we cannot base our good middos in life on how we grew up and what we learned from others – these good middos are just middos from our nefesh habehaimis - because we are simply comparing ourselves to others - and thus we have to develop our middos more.
Q: Doesn’t our pull towards evil simply stem from the pull towards evil, and not from comparing ourselves to the evil middah?
A: All of the bad middos come from our medameh – we compare ourselves to those who we saw having the bad middah. A person who gets angry, for example, only gets angry because he saw someone else get angry, and thus he learns anger and picks it up from others. When a person has gaavah, although we call it “gaavah”, it’s really a manifestation of medameh, and it’s just being played out through gaavah. The problem with gaavah isn’t stemming from one’s gaavah – it’s stemming from his medameh, which has caused him to learn and pick up gaavah from others.
The fact that there is a general pull towards evil is a separate issue, and it is not what we are discussing. We are discussing the cause for all bad middos. All bad middos are not simply because we have bad middos, but because we have compared ourselves to others who we saw that have the bad middah. Therefore, the solution to all bad middos is not to deal with the actual bad middos, but to uproot the power of medameh/comparing ourselves with others, which is the root cause of the bad middah.
Q: Is there any middah in our nefesh habehaimis which stands on its own and does not come from our medameh?
A: Yes, because there is a general pull towards evil – a desire for evil. Before Adam and Chavah ate from the Eitz HaDaas, people had a pull towards evil, but we did not perceive our “I” as having any evil in it. After Adam and Chavah ate from the Eitz HaDaas, imagination entered us, and now people start out life thinking that their actual “I” contains evil, because a person compares himself with evil, and thus he learns how to act evil.
Q: How can a person ever know if he is doing the right thing, since his entire “I” is perceived only through his imagination, and thus we never know if our motivations are coming from our actual “I” or our imagination?
A:There is no way to ever know if you’re doing the right thing. (This is the concept called safek d’kedushah – holy doubt; we must always be in doubt about if we are doing the will of Hashem or not). For this reason, we have to keep purifying ourselves more and more – not only on a major scale, but on every last detail in our life.
This is how we fix our entire nefesh habehaimis, the animalistic part of the soul: to recognize that our middos are not intrinsic. We do not – and cannot - have any middos of our own. Our bad middos come from our medameh – we have compared ourselves with others and picked up bad middos from our surroundings. The good middos we have are only middos that we learned from the way we grew up and from our surroundings, and therefore we haven’t really developed the power of our good middos.
We gain good middos only when we “compare” ourselves with how we are supposed to act – the middos of Hashem. This is the good kind of medameh we can utilize, which will counter the evil kind of medameh we have been utilizing until now.
The more and more a person recognizes this – not just to internalize this matter in his heart, but to let it penetrate into his animalistic part of the soul – the more he we will fix the animalistic part of the soul.
 As explained in the works of Maharal, Nefesh HaChaim and others, everything on this world is a microcosm of the Heavenly spheres, and since our physical earth cannot handle all of the spiritual radiations, the spirituality gets downsized more and more until it eventually reaches our physical earth, where it can take on a physical form. This concept is called “hishtalshelus” (the spiritual or Heavenly “chain”).