Bo: Sheer Determination


Celebrating 60 Years of Tenacity

How do you maintain spiritual focus in a material world teeming with every imaginable distraction?

Is there a way to perpetuate a moment of inspiration, not allowing it to dissipate under the weight of our burdens?

How do we keep our values aligned when we have bills to pay, promises to keep, a workload that never seems to go away?

How can your soul’s voice be heard amidst the surrounding din and congestion?

What should we do when doubts creep in, when uncertainty and other debilitating forces weaken our resolve?

How do we overcome adversary and all those detractors who cynically dismiss our noble and virtuous efforts?

Why do some people seem to have the strength and courage to prevail over challenges, and others do not? Where does their certainty and power come from? And can we all access it?

The answer to these and many other similar questions is given to us in – what may seem to some, a surprising place – a Chassidic discourse, studied by many people during this time of year.

Sixty years ago this week (the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat 1950) my mentor’s mentor (Rebbe’s Rebbe) ascended on high. His name: Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth Chabad Rebbe. The last discourse he published in his lifetime was issued for study that very day. The Chassidic discourse, titled Basi L’Gani, Come to my Garden (a verse in Song of Songs), consists of twenty chapters.

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, assumed leadership of the movement, he began his first discourse with the same verse, and elucidated on the original discourse. Every year hence, on this day, Yud Shevat, the Rebbe would focus, in consecutive order, on another one of the twenty chapters of the discourse, in 1952 – chapter two, 1953 – chapter three, concluding with chapter twenty in 1970. Then he began the order again. Based on this cycle, this year, 2010 (5770), corresponds to the 20th and final chapter of Basi L’Gani.

What is the theme of chapter twenty? Unwavering spiritual fortitude, determination and commitment in face of the challenges that we face living in self-indulgent material universe.

Esoteric in tone, this chapter, when deciphered, is as practical and relevant as any message you will ever hear.

Briefly, the chapter discusses the harsh challenges our pure and innocent souls face in a selfish and corrupt world. The soul, he explains, originates in a very pristine and sublime state – seamlessly bound to its Divine source. In that state no duality exists; the soul’s identity and agenda is one with the Divine plan. But then this pure soul descends into the physical body and material plane, which is dominated by different and conflicting self-interests. Your integrated soul is an alien in this fragmented world, creating radical dissonance. Yet, this drastic descent is precisely the purpose of all existence: So that the soul can repair the schism and overcome – and refine – the temptations and seductions of the physical body and the material universe.

This process demands enormous effort and exertion. The soul must fight a grueling battle to conquer the relentless pull of materialism.

Just as we become spiritually inspired, the “animal soul” unleashes its fury, assaulting our psyches and unsettling us with every type of distraction; at times, overwhelming us with baseless doubts and fears.

The only way to triumph in this battle is to muster the deepest resources of the soul – the enormous, unwavering power of Netzach – which emerges only in the face of adversary. Rooted in the core of the soul (beyond all other revealed faculties), Netzach (literally “victory”) is sheer determination – total and absolute commitment to forge ahead despite any challenge, unknown and doubt.

The energy of Netzach comes from a deep-rooted belief in who you are and what you need to accomplish; embracing what you believe in and not allowing anything to stop you from getting it.

We access this power precisely when we are under attack. When we fight to live virtuous lives in a corrupt world, when we stand up firmly for justice and morality, when we combat selfishness, our own or others, our conviction evokes the deepest Divine, spiritual resources. As demonstrated with the example of an actual war: When a leader is threatened and goes to battle, the drive to win causes him to unlock his most precious treasures and resources, ones that have never before been seen, anything to help him prevail. The challenges of life, thus, become catalysts that ignite our deepest strengths. The greater the adversary, the more powerful are the forces of certainty we awaken and the more determined we are to succeed.

Complacency is the root of weak resolve. By contrast, when we feel that our spiritual identity is threatened and we fear betraying our own highest aspirations, this danger stimulates new energies and will power, which draws out the unshakeable core of the soul rooted in the unshakeable Essence of the Divine.

There is no greater gift than the gift of determination: The absolute certainty that you are precious and indispensable; that you are on a mission championing a cause; that the place and time in which you find yourself is exactly where you belong; and that you have the power to make your unique mark on the universe.

So the secret to access inner strength and resolve is by looking at our own doubts and procrastination as an “enemy.” Define the enemy and then gather all your inner strengths to go into battle. Allow your enemy to empower you. When the challenge seems particularly formidable, act counterintuitively: Instead of retreating, obstinately commit, with suprarational tenacity, to fulfill your mission to refine your corner of the world.

When you make that netzach commitment, your inner soul, fed by the indomitable Divine, will carry you.


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14 years ago

So relevant. I need this article by my side as a reminder, and to refer to as each days challanges seek to distract me. Thank you.

miriam rhodes
14 years ago

thank you

Johanan Vargas
14 years ago

Lech Lecha to Abraham was a must; leave your idea of reality to a more ascended reality. Undiluted, arduous determination to move, not forward, but, upward.
Dont let them or that bring you down. Netzach indeed.

14 years ago

Thank you for this article! It was just what I needed. Next on the question list is how do we not let things get to the crisis point (to the battle point) since there is so much to fight (I get overwhelmed and exhausted.)

14 years ago

As always, I am so moved by your words.
I fight an addiction to food, and I am using the Mussar tradition of focusing of not giving it energy. Instead, I walk, bike and cook healthy soups.
When I fail and eat sweets, I remind myself that I am holy and I accept and love myself exactly the way I am . It is the only way I can live with myself and heal from a long abusive marriage. Otherwise, I would live in the shame. Mussar advises to go to the polar oppsite direction, ie physical activity or another route that complements good health, instead of beating myself up about it. How does this way reconcile with the Rebbe?

michael h
14 years ago

reading this is a race to my core. the tension between soul and material, between ambition and acceptance and quenching the thirst for purpose.

14 years ago


Jerry Pollock
14 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson

One of your finest articles, but what do you do when life keeps beating you down. Im not speaking for myself but am speaking for my twin sons, now 37. One has Bipolar Disorder and the other Schizophrenia. Its been 16 years of hell. Both boys are spiritual but netzach is very difficult when you are everyday swimming upstream. At some point, you are so embattled that you just want peace and you can no longer fight. You take the path of least resistance and the easy way out and not the path of strength and determination as you so elegantly write.

I have had my share of suffering and have overcome, but my sons are struggling. If I could, I would absorb all their suffering. I am so afraid for them, and have tried many different approaches to help them. Its easy to say or write words, but its difficult to connect the dots. God knows whats going on because I tell him in my prayers and on my walks. I believe He will come when Hes ready to help, but for whatever reason, He has chosen to remain in the shadows.

Not everybody is built the same way. Ive forwarded your article on to one of my sons (the one with Bipolar Disorder), just as Ive forwarded many of your articles. Thank you and may God bless you each and every day.

The Meaningful Life Center