And you shall count for yourselves… from the
day on which you bring the Omer offering, seven complete
weeks shall there be; until the morrow of the seventh week
you shall count fifty days, and you shall proclaim that
very day a holy festival – this week’s Torah
portion (Leviticus 23:15)
We are now in the forty-nine day period between Passover
and Shavuot, which is marked by an intense journey toward
emotional refinement. Each of the 49 days corresponds with
one aspect of our seven multiplied by seven (49) emotional
attributes, as outlined in detail with daily exercises in
my book, The Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer. Day one
focuses on refining the “love within love,”
day two – discipline within love, and so on.
Whenever addressing the issue of self-refinement and personal
growth, we must ask the big question: Can we indeed change
Animals, for instance, do not work on themselves and their
relationships. They are who they are, controlled by their
inherent instincts, and that’s that. Animals don’t
go to therapy, don’t take Prozac and simply play out
their lives according to their built-in mechanisms.
True, we can train an animal to jump through hoops and
perform other tricks, but we cannot fundamentally change
their natural patterns, as Dr. Moreau tragically discovered.
The famous parable of the proverbial cat drives the point
home. Two philosophers were arguing the point whether animals
can be trained and changed to behave like humans. The first
thinker pointed to a cat that was trained to be a waiter
in a fancy restaurant. Dressed in coat n’ tails the
feline served patrons walking on two with his nose and whiskers
elegantly facing upward. The second philosopher took out
a bag and opened it up releasing several mice scurrying
in different directions. The cat in tuxedo and all suddenly
dropped on all fours to pursue the mice, leaving the wine
and dinner strewed across the cherry wood floors, and the
philosopher to scratch his head…
Humans too have their inherent natures and dispositions.
Just as we can’t change the color of our eyes or our
height (except superficially), how can we change our emotional
Especially considering the contemporary prevailing Darwinian-Freudian
theory of man – as an evolved beast driven by the
self-ish preserving Id – it would appear that there
is little hope for any fundamental change beyond the behavioral.
Just witness the ugliness to which man can stoop when our
survival instincts are challenged. Ravenous people have
been known to kill other men with cannibalistic fury to
satisfy their desperate hunger. No one should ever be tested,
but history is fraught with brutal examples of mans’
fall to bestial behavior capable of unimaginable atrocities
when his survival (real or perceived) is at stake.
This may upset the entire billion-dollar self-help industry
and therapeutic community (and conversely help the lucrative
cosmetics business), but hey, if we are unchangeable creatures,
let’s just call a spade a spade, and stop wasting
time, energy and money trying to work on perfecting our
inner selves (it may be time to buy cosmetics stock).
If, for example, someone is born with an angry gene, or
acquired angry fits at young age – either due to overexposure
to an angry parent, or to deeply embedded resentment built
up over the years – can we actually expect that this
person will cease reacting with bouts of fury? Or if another
is stingy by nature (first or second nature) can she ever
Is compassion wired into our systems, with some of us given
a larger measure, while others are wired in different ways
with different features?
When observing familial patterns it appears that certain
traits “run in the family.” Whether this is
due to “nature” or “nurture” –
heredity or acquired attitudes – doesn’t change
the obvious difficulty or impossibility to change the grains
of our natures, just as we can’t change the grains
So what value or hope do we have in attempting to change
our natural tendencies – a seemingly doomed cause?
How many people have you actually met that have changed
The argument can be made that we really can’t change
our essential selves, but we can change our
behavior. What is expected of civilized beings is not that
they transform their insides, but that they live by a common
law that dictates mutual respect: Superimposed “green
lights” and “red lights” that allow us
to co-exist. Hopefully, the façade of behavioral discipline
will hold the inner beast at bay, with only a few anomalies
in the shape of monstrous criminals put behind bars. Fear
of punishment, in this system, is the determining deterrent
that stops humans from gravitating back to their natural
But left to their own, people will naturally return to
their primal roots: Beasts struggling to survive at all
Not a pretty picture, but do we have an alternative?
Now for the good news.
Every assumption is based on our initial premise. Every
theory is defined by its axioms.
The reason we assume that we cannot change our personalities
is because our initial impression is that everything in
this universe doesn’t really change in any fundamental
way. Minerals remain minerals, vegetables are always vegetables
and leopards do not “change their spots.”
Existence as we experience it on a sensory level is a static
place. Yes, things move about but they do not fundamentally
change their natural personalities and do not transcend
their inherent boundaries. The sun rises each day and sets
at night. Then the moon rises and sets. The moon goes through
its lunar cycle consistently each month. Every part of “nature”
is a like a predictable clock following a pre-set unwavering
program. So just as a stone, a tree and an animal all remain
the way they have always been, why should we assume that
a human being is different?
Based on this premise, that existence is static and even
dying, the impossibility of changing ones personality seems
as inevitable as the fact that a lamb will never behave
like a wolf.
Indeed, existence as we know is worse than static; it is
dying. Everything we experience, even physical matter, is
in the process of erosion. Life in particular is mortal.
Everyone and everything ages and dies.
However all this is based on the premise of existence “as
we know it.”
There is another premise – one that upsets the entire
theory of an unchanging existence. This premise is posited
by the Torah. Like a true blueprint the Torah doesn’t
describe symptoms but causes. It doesn’t define existence
by the way we humans perceive it with the naked eye, but
by its true inner character. When we look at a structure
we see the outer layer; it’s body. When we look at
its blueprint we see its internal engineering; it’s
The Torah, which defines things as they truly are, opens
up by describing man – not as a five or six foot skeleton,
not as a creature of intelligence and feelings, not as a
being that is born and dies. Who then is man? The first
thing we are told is that the human being is not human but
“divine,” created in the “Divine Image.”
At the core each of us is a “Divine persona.”
This declaration changes the entire picture. Were we mere
human personalities then our personality could change no
more than land can become water or earth can transform into
Without getting into the intricate meanings of “Divine
Image,” the basic difference between human and Divine
is the difference between death and life. Divine is dynamic.
Human is static. Divine is alive. Human is dead.
You see, the fact that the physical universe ages and erodes
tells us that it is in fundamental demise from the outset.
In Torah law there is a question about what can be categorized
“mayim chayim,” live waters. If a live spring
were to dry up in seven years, the law dictates that even
while the spring is “alive” during the seven
years it cannot be called “live,” because its
demise is an inevitability. If something will ultimately
die, is it truly alive in the first place?
Eternity, in other words, is not discovered at the end
of “the road,” but at the beginning. Eternity
is qualitatively, not quantitatively, different than the
ephemeral, just as infinity is qualitatively equa-distant
from the number one as it is from a trillion.
We may not know much about the Divine, but one thing it
is not is human (that is, human as we define the term).
The divine is a source of constant energy flowing from the
Essence of it all. It is dynamic and alive, and always open
By stating that the human being is made in the “Divine
Image” we are compelled to rethink the very nature
of our beings. Instead of trying to fit our spiritual “concepts”
into human terms, we are asked to fit our “human”
parameters into “Divine” context. As some thinkers
have noted: “We are not human beings on a spiritual
journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
Indeed, the Divine behooves us to rethink the very nature
of existence itself. Not just the human, but the entire
universe, beneath the surface, is pulsating with vibrant
and dynamic Divine energy. By seeing ourselves as Divine
we can begin looking at the universe in a new way and then
recognize our ability to change existence as a whole.
I have always been intrigued by the statement of some French
atheists that if “G-d didn’t exist we would
have to create Him.” Beyond the sacrilegious tone
of this statement, it carries a deep truth: If we allow
ourselves to see life as nothing more than mortal, than
we are doomed to the death of all things mortal. In effect,
rendering all our life choices, all our sacrifices, all
our commitments, into dying causes – dying along with
Our only wellspring of hope – one that infuses all
our commitments with eternal meaning – is our connection
with the Divine.
As one Holocaust survivor once said: “After the holocaust
we have no choice but to believe in G-d, because we no longer
can believe in man…”
The implications of personality change due to our Divine
(rather than human) nature are far-reaching and revolutionary.
It creates an infinitely higher standard of what we can
expect of ourselves and of others. It motivates us to reach
places we may never have considered imaginable. Above all,
it gives us the power to change our vary nature –
even if it is deeply ingrained into our genes and personalities,
due to heredity or training.
So, can you change your personality?
No, if it’s a human personality.
Yes, if it’s a Divine one.