18 Feb Two Paths To Recovery The Fear Of Setting Yourself Free
A man walks into a bar. He calmly orders a drink and proceeds to abruptly pick up his glass and hurl it at the shocked bartender.
After a moment of uncomfortable silence he begins apologizing profusely, pleading for forgiveness: “I am mortified, I suffer from uncontrollable rage, I am deeply ashamed of it, I don’t know what came over me, please forgive me for my embarrassing behavior.” The bartender graciously forgives him. However this happens nightly for a week straight, each outburst followed by sincere regret. Finally, the bar tender makes an ultimatum: “Either undergo intense anger-management therapy or do not ever enter this bar again.” The man consented.
A year later, he returns to the bar, a rehabilitated man. But lo and behold, he immediately takes his glass and heaves it at the bartender. “What are you doing?” the bartender thundered, “I thought you went to therapy!” “I did,” the man replied, “and now I am not embarrassed anymore.”
This week’s Torah portion (Mishpatim) deals with the laws of damages caused by one’s animals. Say, for example, your domesticated bull suddenly and uncharacteristically gores and kills another bull. Perhaps your domesticated usually well-behaved dog goes berserk and suddenly attacks and bites another dog, or worse yet, an innocent stranger. What’s the law? The Torah tells us, for the first three altercations the owner of the bull pays for only half the damage. Since it is unusual for a bull to suddenly gore, the owner was not expected take all precautionary measures to prevent this. Therefore, he is not deemed completely responsible, and he splits the losses with the owner of the wounded animal.
However after three attacks, it is established that this bull is aggressive and has a destructive nature, and the owner is held fully responsible to guard his animal. He therefore pays for all damage occurring as a result of his failure.
IS “REPENTANCE” POSSIBLE?
How about re-orientation? Meaning, can a bull or any other animal resume their original status of innocence after damaging three times?
Yes, says the Talmud. And this can be achieved in two ways: Either the owner rigorously disciplines his animal until its disposition is transformed, and it learns to behave. Or he can sell the animal or give it as a gift to someone else. With a new owner and new patterns and schedules, the Halacha (Jewish law) assumes the animal, will return to its natural inborn domestic nature and is considered to be nonviolent until proven otherwise.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DIMENSION
We have pointed out numerous times that every law of Torah has a psychological and spiritual rendition, in addition to the concrete and physical interpretation. One of the primary functions of the Jewish mystical tradition — Kabbalah and Chassidism – is to explain the metaphysical meaning behind each law and Mitzvah of the Torah and the Talmud.
How can we apply the above-mentioned set of laws to our own personal and spiritual lives?
THE MYSTICAL ANIMAL
Each of us possesses an animal within; an earthy, mundane consciousness that seeks only self-preservation and self-enhancement. In Jewish tradition, the “human animal” is considered self-centered and animalistic, but not inherently evil; however, left unchecked it can become destructive and corrupt. This is in sharp contrast to other traditions which claim man is inherently sinful, and therefore in need of salvation.
When one is born, the animal within is innocent and even cute. Its primary goal is merely to preserve its existence, gratify its natural desires, and enjoy a good and comfortable life. However, if our animal consciousness is not educated, cultivated and refined, this cute innocent animal can become a self-centered beast. The beast can turn into a monster, prone to destroy itself and others around it in its quest for self-enhancement and self-aggrandizement. Sometimes our animal can become addicted to various things (food, drugs, nicotine, alcohol, sexuality etc.) to desperately fill a void it is experiencing. Many people’s animals do indeed become, at one point or another, damaging forces, causing pain to themselves and to others.
TWO TYPES OF ANIMALS
Yet, there are two distinct types of “damaging human animals.” There is one whose moments of aggression are seen as unusual deviations; and one for whom these destructive patterns have become common behavior.
In the first instance, the Torah tells us to be more understanding of the “owner” of the animal. Nobody is ever entitled to “gore” or “bite” another human being. But practically speaking, we need to remember that even the gentlest husband can lose himself, and raise his voice in anger, and even the most loving woman may, in a moment of stress, make an obnoxious comment. It is painful and amends must be made, but it’s not the end of the world.
As long as the offender acknowledges his or her wrongdoing and accepts accountability, understanding and forgiveness should follow. To be human is to err. Our goal is not perfection, but accountability. Life will sometimes throw you a curveball, and in the shock that follows you may lose yourself and begin to “gore.” As long as you are accountable for your actions and words, your negative behavior is considered an anomaly, an aberration from your natural self. But if the incidents of abuse and destruction persist — if a husband continuously shouts at his wife or children; if a person in a position of leadership shatters the lives of the people he is responsible for; if a wife only derides and ridicules for her husband; if one cannot control their food or sexual addiction — their behavior cannot be condoned. We are dealing with an animal whose selfish, destructive, and unhealthy inclinations have become the norm.
Making mistakes is part of life. But if these mistakes are repeated continuously and become regular habits without being controlled and stopped, they are dangerous. They have become a lifestyle, a routine, sometimes an addiction. The owner of this “animal” cannot excuse himself or herself by saying, “I did not realize, I did not know.” He or she must “seize the bull by its horns” (pun intended), and accept full accountability. But how does such an animal return to its original, innocent status? How can one rehabilitate oneself? How does one regain the trust of the people he/she has hurt so badly?
TWO PATHS TO RECOVERY
There are two roads available: The first is the rigorous process of self-refinement, in which your animal learns to confront and challenge its deepest fears and urges, and it painstakingly de-beasts its abusive character. Yet, even before you manage to work through all of the dark chambers of your wild animal, the teachings of Judaism present another alternative: Change the jurisdiction of the animal. Take your animal and submit it to the higher power, to the property of G-d. Even before complete therapy, surrender to the higher reality. Take your rage, your addictions, your depression, your fear, and submit them to G-d. According to Kabbala, the universe is created anew at every single moment. You, I, and all of existence, are being re-created right here and right now. This is G-d’s perspective; this is His domain. Transferring to His ownership means that at this moment you can put your past demons to rest and start anew. You are as fresh as a newborn.
Talk to your animal and reflect together on the following truth: Yes, I know that you have a complicated past and I am not denying that; I know you believe that you are prone and addicted to all types of behavior. But right now, my dear animal, let us look and live in the present. You and I were just created anew, with a clean slate. So let us finally begin to live. For real.
It is sometimes scary to throw away the baggage of our past; at times familiar misery seems more comfortable than unfamiliar change. But we need to take full responsibility for our future. Let us muster our courage and view ourselves from the G-d’s perspective, from His ownership. In His world, everything is recreated each moment. We can liberate ourselves from our past and defy ominous predictions of our future, and we acn do it now.
If you are serious, your animal will listen.
THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA
I read this fabulous story.
In the 16th century, an innocent Jew was thrown in prison by a feudal baron who gave him a life sentence. For some reason, this tyrannical baron decided to show the man a bit of mercy. He told him, “Look Jew, you’re my prisoner for life, there’s nothing that will change that. But this I will do for you: I will grant you one day of freedom a year during which you can return to your family. Do whatever you want. I don’t care which day you choose. But remember, you have only one day a year.”
The man was conflicted. Which day should he choose? Should he choose Rosh Hashanah, to hear the sounding of the shofar? Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Passover, to celebrate a seder? His wedding anniversary?
This prisoner, not being able to make up his mind, wrote a letter to one of the rabbinic leaders of that generation, the Radbaz, asking for his advice.
The Radbaz said the prisoner should choose the first available day. Whatever it is, grab it now, don’t wait — be it a holiday, a Shabbat, a Monday, or a Wednesday.
A FLOOD OF POSITIVE ENERGY
This was a marvelous reply. More importantly, it is true for us as well.
Take your animal and submit it to G-d. Submerge yourself in goodness and holiness. Fill your days and nights with meaningful behavior: with the study of Torah, the observance of Mitzvos, with acts of goodness and kindness, with a life of productivity and meaning. Your animal will change. Now that’s a holy cow.