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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hunting down the beast

Daf Yomi Nazir 48

The Men of the Great Assembly were jubilant.  They had just succeeded in slaughtering the evil inclination for idolatry.  No longer would Jews flock to the vanities of the nations.
“Brothers, we’re on a roll,” exclaimed Rabbi Shimon, “Let’s shoot to kill the evil inclination for intimate relations!”  They davened hard and did just that.

The next morning, it was breakfast time.  Rabbi Yehuda sat down to eat his sausages and eggs, but the eggs were nowhere to be seen.
“Where are my eggs?” he cried.
“We have none,” replied his wife, “in fact, there are no eggs anywhere.  The chickens and the roosters have suddenly chosen not to mate.”  At that point, the Men of the Great Assembly realized the folly of their decision and davened that the natural inclination be restored.

Concerning the nazir, the Torah declares, “All the days of his nazirism to G-d, he may not come into contact with a dead nefesh (life).”
I might think this verse implies that even the nefesh (life) of an animal is included in the prohibition, since the Torah states, “One who strikes the nefesh of an animal must pay.”  Therefore the Torah declares, “he may not come into contact with a dead nefesh,” which means only a human life.
Tosfos explains: An animal is never called ‘dead.’

Inside of us, there are two ‘souls’ – the Nefesh Elokis (G-dly Soul) and Nefesh Habehamis (Animal Soul).  On the one hand, you have the Nefesh Elokis, which is what makes us Divine beings, able to transform this world from its physical state into the realm of spirituality.  It is part of G-d; He manifests Himself within each and every one of us.  That’s why disrespecting your fellow equals disrespecting the Almighty, G-d forbid!    

On the other hand, you have the Nefesh Habehamis, which does not want spirituality.  The Animal Soul seeks to enjoy this world.  All it wants to do is have a good time without being hassled with any higher purpose.  Life is about maximizing pleasure. 

So how do you deal with your Nefesh Habehamis?  You could try striking the animal inside, in an attempt to obliterate it.  But, like Tosfos points out, the animal is never really called dead.   Why?  Because to kill it would be to deny your natural instincts.  That was the mistake of the Men of the Great Assembly.  They initially assumed that the easiest solution would be to obliterate the desires of the flesh.  But in doing so, they thwarted the natural order and life could not go on.

The Almighty does not want us to kill our natural instincts; He wants us to utilize every facet of our being for our service of Heaven.  Your job is to work to transform the Animal Soul to become a force for good.  How do you do that?  By directing your inner beast’s natural desires towards spirituality.

But doesn’t it seek the pleasures of this world?  Certainly.  It wants to eat, drink, achieve career success, fulfill the desires of the flesh.  But all those aspirations may be directed towards Heaven.  You don’t need to starve your Animal Soul; your mission is to convince him to consume this world for the sake of Heaven.

Every time you pick up a sandwich you have a choice: eat it to fulfill the desires of the flesh, or eat it to have strength to serve Heaven.  When you go out to work, are you driven by greed or are you working to have an abundant livelihood to serve Heaven?  When you engage in intimate relations, do you simply seek to satisfy your bodily desires or are you utilizing the opportunity to deepen your marital bonds and reconnect your soul to its source of unity?

Don’t shoot the beast.  Capture him and ride him to victory.  May you merit a life of transformation as you strive to direct all your aspirations and yearnings towards Heaven!

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