Who You Are and How You Express Yourself
-- Samech Vov 100 Years – Part Four --
What is the driving force of all human behavior?
What lies at the core of the psyche? What is the Kabbalistic/Chassidic
view on the unconscious? Which is stronger – willpower
or pleasure? How powerful are these two forces in our lives?
This week’s essay, as part of our continuing
series discussing central themes of the Rebbe Rashab’s magnum
opus, Hemshech Samech Vov, attempts to tackle an incredibly
complex discussion on the psychology of the soul. 100 years
ago this week, in one of the most profound analyses ever
written on the nature of the psyche, the discourses of Lech
Lecho and Vayeira 5666/1905 take us on a journey into the
innermost recesses of our souls.
Most of us most of the time are immersed into
the minutiae of our lives. Our struggle for survival, whatever
shape it takes on, requires that we dedicate a disproportionate
amount of our time and energy to the means rather than the
ends: We work hard to earn money so that we can buy the
things that make us happy. We eat, exercise and visit the
doctor to maintain our health.
Just take your average day and count how many
hours you spend commuting, preparing, cooking, shopping,
traveling, socializing, sleeping – all to hopefully
achieve certain goals, some immediate, most long term.
The process to achieve our goals so consumes
our lives that for many of us it becomes our lives:
We live to work instead of the other way around. To the
extent that we can even forget what our goals are in the
first place – so distracted we become by our plans.
In a take-of of a famous cliché: Life is what happens to
you while you are busy making other plans. We make elaborate
plans to achieve certain objectives, and at the end of the
day the process wears us down to the point that we no longer
have the strength and time to remember the objectives, let
alone benefit or enjoy them.
It therefore should be no surprise that we
don’t have much time to focus on our souls –
on our inner lives, the lives of our loved ones and the
pursuit of our higher values. To temporarily relieve our
existential desperation and enjoy a quick fix of transcendence
many us compartmentalize: We carve out moments – weekends,
vacations, holidays – which we dedicate to prayer,
reading, meditation, music, arts, romance and religion –
which help us reconnect. But these are fleeting moments
in comparison to the hours that we spend on the means.
The plot thickens. Perhaps the most devastating
effect of our being inundated by the mundane means of life,
preparing, preparing and preparing, is that it distorts
our perception of reality.
What is real: The tangible deluge of the daily
grind of our quotidian lives which utterly consumes our
time and focus, or the invisible world of our souls and
the inner dimensions of existence?
Who has the time and energy to even focus
on this question? So, by default our immediate preoccupations
dictate our reality and our priorities. The means of our
lives first conceal our end goals, and then replace them,
like an imposter masquerading as the real thing.
How refreshing is it then when we hear someone
uncover the mask and describe for us in intimate detail
the nature of our true selves, the nature of reality and
the purpose of our existence?
This is precisely what the Rebbe Rashab does
in his classic Hemshech Samech Vov. He takes us on a trip
into the inner workings of the universe, and you return
a different person.
In the first
part of this series, we discussed that the purpose of
existence is to introduce into the world a dimension that
is beyond the world; to transform the material universe
into a Divine home.
Samech Vov breaks down the anatomy of existence
into three dimensions: 1) The inner force of existence (memaleh
kol almin). 2) The force that transcends existence (sovev
kol almin). 3) The force that transcends both existence
and non-existence, which has the power to integrate existence
In order to achieve this on the macrocosmic
level, we have to generate this process within our microcosmic
selves, which also consist of these three dimensions:
1) Our personal, specific intelligent and
emotional faculties (ten faculties in all, corresponding
to the ten sefirot: three intellectual ones – chochma,
binah, daat, and seven emotions – chesed, gevurah,
tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod and malchut. Click
here for a detailed explanation of these levels). The
spectrum of human conscious experience is defined by our
intellect and emotions, as they are expressed through (the
three “garments”) thought, speech and action.
2) Our transcendent faculties (corresponding
with the level of Keter), sometimes referred
to “all encompassing faculties,” because they
but reflect and affect the entire person, not like the ten
individual self contained faculties (in the first category)
which express only one part of the individual.
3) The essence of the soul (etzem ha’neshomo),
which transcends and therefore has the power to integrate
the previous two dimensions.
One distinction between the personal faculties
(category one) and the transcendent ones (category two)
can be understood as the difference between the conscious
psyche and the unconscious one.
A disclaimer should be made that this “unconscious”
state should not be confused by the one described by Freud,
Jung and other contemporary psychologists. The Kabbalistic/Chassidic
“unconscious” is actually more like “supra-conscious,”
in the sense that it reflect the person’s inner identity
and vision, while the specific faculties express limited
and particular aspects of life, which is what we call “conscious”
For instance, you can use your intelligence
to analyze football statistics (in case you were wondering:
this is my own example, not one used in Samech Vov), or
to build your business, or you get emotional over a moving
scene in a film – and it may be completely fictional
or tangential, with no connection at all with your soul’s
identity or purpose. In other words, your conscious life
can be disconnected (or milder: unaligned) from your “supra-conscious”
being. Essentially, this is what happens when we live our
days consumed with the means and neglecting our higher goals
– a psychological dissonance, what Marx called “alienation”
when there is a dichotomy between who you are (your identity)
and what you do (your activities).
A good analogy to explain this is the creative
process of any given production. Whether it is a new business
venture, a book, a film, a composition of music or the construction
of a building every effective creation begins with a vision,
which reflects the identity of the creator, and then the
vision is translated into a specific plan which is then
implemented piece by piece, until its conclusion, when the
initial vision comes to fruition.
If you were to enter a construction zone you
can see the plumbers laying pipes and the electricians wiring
the joint, with no clue as to the vision, let alone the
identity, of the architect. The same with a book or another
production: If you read the first draft of one chapter of
a new book, you may not have inkling as to the greater objective
of the author. “Never show a fool half a job”
is a Yiddish euphemism (“a naar veizt men nit kayn
halbe arbet”). Even after the conclusion of the project,
it is no small feat to understand the bigger picture, and
not be distracted by the obvious details, especially if
it is a complex and comprehensive creation.
Every business needs a mission statement to
begin with. The mission is usually an expression of the
creator’s vision and dream, which goes back into his/her
For conscious life (our conscious faculties)
to be lived to its fullest, it needs to be informed and
directed by the supra-conscious, transcendental faculties.
Just imagine the said plumbers and electricians
deciding mid-course to follow their own instincts instead
of the blueprint created by the architect! No matter how
skilled they are, their specific strengths are only as good
as the direction they receive from the vision of the project.
Indeed, the more skilled they are the greater damage they
can cause should they choose to wander off their own way.
So what does the transcendental “supra-conscious”
look like? What faculties does it contain?
A centennial ago this week, the Rebbe Rashab
explains this “supra-conscious” state in the
discourses beginning with verses in these weekly chapters
about Abraham’s journey and commitment – perhaps
because in history Abraham reflects the transcendental roots
of spiritual life in a material world. Abraham set into
motion the vision, becoming, as it were, the
historical “supra-conscious” state which informs
the rest of history to follow.
The vision, mission, goals, end – as
opposed to the means (the ten conscious faculties) –
consist of two components: Taanug and Rotzon.
The literal translation of these two Hebrew words, respectively,
is pleasure and will. But these English words/concepts hardly
convey the true meaning of the original, which requires
a short introduction.
The soul, before it expresses itself through
any of its faculties, has a personality – a unique
identity. When you say, for example, that a melody touched
your soul or that you feel loved, you in effect are describing
your soul’s experience as opposed to one of its faculties
(e.g. plumbers, electricians) at work. This is not to say
that the soul cannot express its inner identity via its
faculties; however the faculties can have a “life
of their own” if they are not being directed by the
“supra-conscious” identity of the soul.
The most natural state of the soul, when it
is at its deepest peace, is a state of pleasure (taanug
atzmi). Not objectified pleasure, not pleasure as
an experience, focused on some specific goal – but
simply a state of being, a state of utter calm and belonging.
In addition to the essential state pleasure,
the second dimension of the supra-conscious state is will
(rotzon), which is the soul extending and
expressing itself. Will, in effect, reveals the interests
of the inner pleasure (which always remains hidden in its
essential form) and reaches outside of itself seeking something
on the outside to fulfill its inner self.
Both supra-conscious pleasure and will stem
from the same source in the essence of the soul. They are
not two distinct faculties, but one. The only difference
between them is that pleasure is the internal dimension
and will the external one, which expresses the inner pleasure.
Supra-conscious pleasure is who you are –
your essential identity; Will is how your identity expresses
itself, seeking to fulfill and realize your inner self (pleasure).
It’s critical to distinguish this supra-conscious
pleasure from conscious “pleasure” as we know it. Conscious
pleasure – regardless of its cause, healthy or unhealthy
– is object oriented: You have pleasure in a certain feeling,
activity or experience. You therefore desire the things
that bring you pleasure.
The same with will: Conscious will reflects
the different things we want, whether they are informed,
healthy and productive or not. Supra-conscious will reflects
the soul in search of its destiny – the “will
of all wills,” the “essence will” or the
“will to will,” which precedes all attributes
This also explains the apparent contradiction
about pleasure or will – which is more dominant? On
one hand we find that pleasure is the root of all. If you
have no pleasure in something you won’t want. Clearly,
will is a product of desire. On the other hand we also see
that if you set your mind that you don’t want something
you won’t have any pleasure in it, even if it’s
a natural pleasure.
Samech Vov explains that this interplay between
pleasure and will is only on the conscious level. Because
both pleasure and will are two sides of the soul’s
essence, that’s why they are interchangeable: In certain
instances pleasure affects the will, in others willpower
can affect pleasure. But even when it does, it only affects
the conscious level of pleasure, not its essential state,
which always remains more intimate and fundamental than
will; even when will overrules conscious pleasure it has
within it the essential supra-conscious pleasure (which
No doubt that this subject matter requires
much more elaboration. But even on an ostensible level it
gives us a fascinating insight what we are capable and the
infinite possibilities we have before us.
It is an absolute breath of fresh air (to
say the least) to hear that we all have at the heart of
our soul a deep calm and profound pleasure.
In today’s society we have been programmed
to think that we are all dysfunctional “damaged goods.”
And then our self-fulfilling prophesy of doom is fulfilled.
Looking around we see a cruel world, greed and corruption
the norm, with the occasional glimpses into human nobility,
but only occasional. The wicked prosper and good suffer,
people hurting each other all the time, even those they
presumably love, children scarred by parents, long term
committed relationships the exception, inhumane behavior
of senseless murders around the globe – all this feeds our
fears and insecurities that we will never attain lasting,
meaningful pleasure, only bouts of escape.
Comes Samech Vov, written one hundred years
ago, in most difficult times with bloody progroms and more
Up), and tells us that we each have within a deep-seated
state of pleasure – an innate knowledge that we belong
and have an indispensable role to play.
The only way to free ourselves from the inbred
psyche of our desperate universe and its regurgitated message
is to access the supra-conscious dimension within ourselves,
a force that transcends the common laws of society and the
limited resources of our conscious faculties. And then align
our conscious lives with our supra-conscious identity, so
that our daily activities are infused with the vision and
clarity of our inner selves.
How do you align your inner and outer life?
Through a multi-fold plan:
1) Free yourself
of some of the trappings that hold you hostage and keep
you from seeing the end from the means. Transcend your conscious
wills and pleasures that offer superficial satisfaction.
2) Recognize the
“peace at the center” that lies at the core of your being
– the pleasure in the essence of your soul.
3) Actualize the
supra-conscious pleasure of your soul with your willpower:
To want and desire to realize your soul’s mission in this
world, and then act upon it.
4) Practically this
means, as the Rebbe Rashab eloquently concludes, that by
living a virtuous life filled with mitzvot we have the power
to uncover the essence of Divine will and pleasure (see
Power of a Mitzvah) and actually reveal it in this universe.
That is the ultimate achievement:
The ability to defy paradoxes and consciously experience
the supra-conscious, to reveal the unrevealable and express
the inexpressible – in a total fusion of that which
is beyond, and beyond beyond, with the here and now.