It all started many years ago, shortly after we reached adolescence. We were innocent, pure, and clean; our feet walked the path in the direction of heaven. Not long after we embarked on our journey, we curiously studied the surroundings of our path, and that is when the trouble began. Side roads breaking off our path appeared every few meters; they overwhelmed us with their excitement and pleasure, their glamour and beauty. As hard as we tried to stay true to our path and its destiny, the side roads enticed us to change our ways. At one point or another, we succumbed to their seduction and abandoned our path. Months, years and decades passed with lightning speed but we were too drunk to feel the passage of time. One day, we awoke like a drunkard from his wine; we looked around and wondered where we are, how did we get there, and then worried of the final destination to where these roads lead us. It is that point that many call a “turning point.” We realized that the road leads to the abyss, to absolute nothingness, with sad feelings we turned around and looked back. Our old path is far, far away, our previous destination seems lost forever. It is an uphill hike yet not impossibly difficult, so we gather our courage and turn to the direction of our original path. This road suddenly changed its appearance to the one we originally walked, and with that, the side roads appeared as well…
To all my dear friends that can identify with the above I would like to dedicate the following four articles. You know that the story I told it neither a metaphor nor a fairy tale, it is the story of our lives. Let’s understand why we fall for the traps of the side roads and how we can keep our focus. Yes, we tried a thousand times, let’s try just one more, hopefully we can get back to our path and stay true to it till we reach her destiny.
Step One: know your enemy
“It is written, however, “One nation shall prevail over the other nation.” The body is called a “small city.” Just as two kings wage war over a town, which each wishes to capture and rule, that is to say, to dominate its inhabitants according to his will, so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them. So do the two souls— the Divine and the vitalizing animal soul wage war against each other over the body and all its limbs. It is the desire and will of the Divine soul that she alone rule over the person and direct him… and the desire of the animal is the very opposite…” (Tanya chapter 9)
The path described above and the ordeals in its way, the Tanya teaches us, are at war. Part of us is drawn to heaven above, and the other part is pulling down to the abyss. We live in constant inner-conflict; we are at war with ourselves. Therefore, it would be wise, to learn from the ways and tactics of general warfare and perhaps apply it to our personal struggles, as Solomon says, “For through wise strategies you can wage war for your benefit…” (Proverbs 24:6).
Young Barry lives in his comfortable home, surrounded by his family and knows of no worries. One day, Barry’s blissful life came to a sudden halt, as he was summoned to appear before a military general immediately. Upon his arrival, Barry was handed a uniform, a machine gun, some weaponry, and a location. No questions asked. He has no idea whom he is fighting and why, if he is defending his people or killing innocents, why him and why now. His heart enters the battlefield hesitantly and reluctantly, and his finger trembles on the trigger. It is obvious that this soldier will not persevere through the hostility and danger of war, for a fight requires courage and strength, one cannot fight without a purpose.
One day before D-Day, one of the bloodiest and most fateful days in modern history, General George Patton spoke before tens of thousands of American troops, “…Some of you men are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. War is a bloody business, a killing business. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them, spill their blood or they will spill yours… When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt from your face and you realize that it’s not dirt, it’s the blood and gut of what was once your best friend, you’ll know what to do… There will be some complaints that we’re pushing our people too hard… I believe that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder we push, the more Germans we kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing harder means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that…”
It is hard to read without cringing; it is a gory, bloody, and hateful speech. Nevertheless, it is exactly what soldiers must hear before they engage in dangerous battle. It is about purpose, reason, passion, and perspective.
Application and Implementation
Like our young charming Barry, if we enter the battleground of life unprepared, without understanding the urgency and desperation of our fight, we will fail terribly. Therefore, the first step in our struggle with self-control (that is the power to overcome the seduction of the side roads,) is to remind ourselves contently that these side roads are our greatest enemy; while they seem to be attractive and fun, in truth, they are luring us into their trap. They wish to destroy us and will do so mercilessly if we give them the chance. These roads can sometimes appear to target our spiritual selves and at other times even our physical health and wellbeing. Sometimes we smoke, drink, and gamble, we fail to control our eating habits and other destructive overindulging pleasures. Yes, subconsciously we know that it is not good for us, but that is not enough; for as long as we do not internalize the nature of our enemy, to the extent that we feel the threat it imposes on us, will not have the strength to fight and eventually overcome them. We have to appreciate the side road for what it is, a suicidal path to our own destruction.
“Only a person who [understands the danger of his sickness, and thus] longs for health will put up with the bitterness of a medicine; but one who does not long for health will not submit to bearing the severity of the treatment.” (Duty of the Heart, Avodas Elokhim 4)