What is the source of all brokenness and strife?
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Matos, G-d tells Moshe to “exact revenge of the Children of Yisrael from Midian,” and Moshe informs the people, “equip men from among you for the army, so they shall wage war against Midian.” As opposed to other nations, the instruction to destroy Midian holds great value. In Likkutei Torah for the parsha by the Altar Rebbe, and in Heichaltzu by the Rebbe Rashab, there is deep exploration and explanation into the Midianite nation and what they represent.
It is taught that the destruction of the Second Temple was because of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred. In explaining why we are still in exile since the destruction, the Alter Rebbe shares that each of the 7 Caanaite nations, which the Jewish people were commanded to destroy, represents a certain immoral trait. As there was correction for these behaviors, the Jewish people were able to end the exile from the First Temple. The reason we are still in exile since the destruction of the Second Temple is because the Midianites, who represent baseless hatred for others. Whereas the other immoral behaviors are expressed, baseless hatred is not expressed; rather, it “serves as the root and source of all other evils and is the exact opposite of holiness” (The Chassidishe Parsha, Likkutei Torah - Parsha Matos). In other words, if there was no baseless hatred, there wouldn’t be the immoral behaviors. Holiness represents unity and an integration of parts. It allows for distinction so long as there is an underlying connectedness, like a symphony orchestra. The reason this war holds great value is because the aspect of Midian directly opposes G-d, Who is and Who expresses unity.
In Heichaltzu, the Rebbe Rashab drives the exploration deeper by sharing that the root of discord is the ego of the person, or in Chassidic terminology, yeishus. The ego comes from the base instincts and needs of safety and survival. When a person is living by the hormones of stress, his attention is on how he can survive from the perceived or real threat. This consumes his energy and ability to think and live creatively; his attention converges onto the cause instead of onto possibility. The feelings of stress cause him to feel separate from possibility and then to try and force outcomes. In this way, his thoughts are of competition, working hard, and self-protection. In this state, there is no working together because the person places his ego and selfish needs over G-d’s Will and/or other people’s needs. With the help of science, one can understand what’s going on and can even learn that in this state of survival, the brain and body actually function less optimally. If a person is mobilizing his energy for some perceived threat in the external environment, there’s no energy for the growth and repair of the internal environment. Put simply, when the brain and body are in stress, we are in stress, and when we are in stress it’s not a time to love one’s fellow. In stress - of all degrees - we can experience greater likelihood of frustration, annoyance, and baseless hatred.
This is not to say stress is a negative thing. It is a very functional response from our nervous system. In fact, all organisms can tolerate short term stress i.e a deer running from a predator. Humans are unique because we can think about our problems, forecast a scenario, and turn on a stress response by thought alone. In other words, it is okay to react or have a thought of annoyance toward another person i.e a coworker. However, if the person can’t turn the mental noise off, they are heading for disease because no organism can tolerate the effect of emergency mode for extended periods of time. For example, if a person has a coworker they dislike and every time they see him/her it triggers thoughts of hate or the like, the person’s body responds just like an animal under threat. The more he thinks similar thoughts which cause him to feel hate, the more he thinks thoughts of hate, and the thinking-feeling loop continues (as mentioned a month ago in Why Wait?). This generates a mood in the person. Perhaps they then go home and tell their spouse the terrible things their coworker did. The period of the emotional reaction continues. If the person doesn’t “work on [his] ego and bring bittul, calmness to [his] sense of self, [he won’t be able to] accept others and learn to forgive and respect the existence of another” (Heichaltzu of the Rebbe Rashab chapter 4-15). To read more on bittul, checkout my article Self-Care or Soul-Care?. The mood could turn into a temperament and if he continues to live in a state of anger, G-d forbid, it can become a personality trait… All from an emotional reaction.
The Rebbeim express a fundamental area of improvement and mindset and being, but how can we put ourselves in the best position to practice it and embody ahavah, love, for one’s fellow?
In order to change and shorten the period of an emotional reaction, it’s important to look at the emotions we live by. Be mindful of the thoughts you think. If where you place your attention is where you place your energy, then it is important to pay attention to what you place your attention on each day. Set an intention for who you want to be - the thoughts you want to think, the feelings you want to have, and how you want to act, and those you no longer want to have (for more checkout Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza).
Below are scenarios and tools to consider “equipping” yourself with to ‘destroy’ the Midian within us, and therefore, truly embrace Ahavas Yisroel to bring the Geulah (redemption).
What to do when thoughts of judgement for your fellow arise.
A friend and study partner of mine here at yeshiva voiced to me a concern he has in which he has thoughts of negativity toward other people, like when he’s studying with them. Seemingly ironic, the effective approach is to feel excited. The excitement is that you became aware of this thought in which you recognize is not aligned with who you are. Through being excited you can employ effective tools and the power of choice to not engage with that thought. Instead, as you will read further below, you can look for something positive about him, or see the situation as an opportunity of improvement. Its through the excitement and acknowledgement that will end the thoughts of hate. It’s not an instantaneous change, but if you are intentional and keep up with it, sooner than later, thoughts of love for your neighbor will be the new normal.
Smile in the face of challenge and even at the thought of dislike, for you became aware of this thought that you recognize you no longer want to think (watch “Celebrate your awareness!” for a 1:42 min explanation). Rather than resist the thought through, for example, feeling frustrated that you are thinking negatively, smile. In smiling, you can say “oh hey judgement, nice of you to show up,” and then allow it to pass. As the saying goes, what you resist persists, so accept the thought and allow it to pass by. It’s okay to have thoughts of judgement, dislike, and so forth, we all do, but you have the choice to think about it or not. Checkout the short clip from my interview with Rabbi Shais Taub I Can Choose What I Think ABOUT, but not What I think OF. (Full Episode: Ebb & Flow 66: Free Choice - Use it Wisely | Rabbi Shais Taub).
As I mentioned two weeks ago in Certain of the Unknown, our Sages in Shabbat 88b taught to “rejoice in the suffering.” Physiologically, the brain and body communicate more effectively when approaching a difficulty with an attitude of positivity.
Tools to “Equip” yourself with to ensure you’re on the top of your game physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, you will be able to increase awareness of and then apply the necessary tool toward the yetzer hara, or the ego, and feelings of separateness.
Nutrition & Exercise - checkout Activate your Vagus Nerve, which includes the podcast I did with Dr. Habib and my notes from his book. Additionally, checkout other performance related podcasts below:
Orderliness - In the Hayom Yom (day by day) lesson on Tammuz 7, it is brought that the Baal Shemtov, the Maggid of Mezritch, and the Alter Rebbe were very intentional about orderliness. We see that when things are set up in an orderly way, it allows for a flow of influence. When the external environment - home or room - is clean and orderly it facilitates clarity of thought and the internal environment.
Meditation - See that the other person is you, you come from the same Source. If there is a disagreement in opinion about something, separate the stance they have or the action they take from their identity.
Forgiveness - In an instagram post I shared last August about Forgiveness, there’s actually a study done at @uwfosterschool in 2015 that showed forgiveness helped people “perceive hills as less steep and even jump higher.” Based on the study and my own experience, there is a visceral lighter feeling psychologically and physically… Closing the eyes, taking a breath, and thinking of someone or some event that triggered a response, then forgiving them (and you), is a great way to start. Despite jumping higher, forgiveness releases feelings stored in the body that limit one’s creative energy.
Journal - write down the thoughts you have and the things you reacted to, and consider how you will respond differently if it were to occur again. This action sets intention and actually primes your brain and body to respond that new way in a similar situation.
Sleep - I think we’re all aware of the importance of sleep.
Also, consider setting up a free discovery coaching call with me to see how we can transform your health!
By taking care of your health physically, mentally, and spiritually, you will be equipped for ‘war’ and able to respond intentionally to situations arising from strife, and you can see others for who they really are. And even if/when you react to a certain situation, such as a person acting annoyingly, you will be able to regulate your emotions much quicker, so the reaction does not become a mood.