Rachel Shifra Tal
Battling one’s inner demons
Battling one’s inner demons
Everyone has them, those inner demons that are always complaining, criticizing, predicting defeat and doom.
I can fill the page with the negative thoughts that go through one’s mind in any given day,
I am not worthy, I am lazy, I am a procrastinator, I don’t know enough Torah/Hebrew/the service….I am no good. I am not patient, I am judgmental, I am self-focused, I just all-around stink, if people really knew me they would not like me, I will never amount to anything that matters. I am not worthy of G-D’s love, I am a failure.
Then there are the inevitable comparisons; so and so is much better at coping than I am, I am a failure as a parent/teacher/leader/friend/colleague/spouse. Look at that person, they look so fit/put together/successful……
Let’s look at this word demon. A demon, according to the Google dictionary, is: an evil spirit; devil or fiend.
an evil passion or influence.
a person considered extremely wicked, evil, or cruel.
These descriptions have two things in common, first they shift the blame onto an outside entity, and second is that demons are all 100% evil.
The closest word we have to this definition of an inner demon is the Yetzer Hora. The translation is the evil inclination. This translation is not the best…here we have this word evil again. Before the sin in the Garden of Eden, this Yetzer was external, the snake. After the sin, this Yetzer was internalized/ Please G-D, in the time of Moshiach this Yetzer will either be vanquished or again externalized.
There is a legend that a group of Rabbi’s captured the Yetzer Hora and debated whether to ‘kill’ it. They came to a fascinating conclusion, if they destroyed the Yetzer "If not for the evil impulse, no one would build a house, marry, have children, nor engage in trade."
This seems counterintuitive, here we have this ‘evil’ inclination that is stopping us from achieving our goals, opening ourselves for receiving and giving love and we need it?
However, this inclination inside of us is a perfect match to our greatness. The greater the person, the stronger the inclination. The more greatness and refinement one achieves, the stronger our counter buddy gets. This can actually be a compliment to your abilities. One is not given something they cannot overcome and to have a strong, alert, alive and enthusiastic Yetzer gives you a hint to how great you can be.
When one is weight training, the stronger one gets the more they increase the resistance on the weights, they pile on more! Never satisfied with the 5-pound weights, the second they can handle 10 pounds up they go! The first push with the heavier weight one wants to stop, go back to the lighter weight; but without this push and resistance, the weightlifter will never grow and meet their goals!
There is a story about the bird after creation. G-D comes upon the bird on the ground crying in sadness. “What is wrong little bird, do you not have the most beautiful voice that the entire world wakes up to? G-D asks.
“I do, thank you Lord, I love my voice, but that is not why I am crying,” the bird sobbed.
“Then why, dear birdie, do you weep so bitterly? ”
“It is just these tiny itsy bitsy short feet you have given me; when I run, I run so slowly, all my foes catch me easily and I fear for my life every day. But it is worse than that,” wailed the bird, “not only did I get such tiny feet, but these two arms on my sides are heavy and drag behind me as I run, getting caught in brambles and are ever so heavy.” The bird collapses in sorrow, his tiny feet before his beak.
G-D answers so lovingly to the bird, “my dear bird, your arms are wings, you just spread them and take to the skies and fly!”
The Rabbi’s were correct when they decided to let the Yetzer live. We need it. Without resistance, just like the weightlifter and the bird, we would never achieve our goals, to spread our wings and fly.
A Jew is supposed to ask themselves four questions each day. Who am I? What will be with me when I am gone? Why am I here? And the fourth question is really for our Yetzer, what is keeping me from greatness?
Oftentimes the answer to what is keeping us from greatness is the struggle within, with these inner demons. I have a theory that a job a person goes into, or the life mission a person takes on, is to exactly designed to counteract the struggle within. We are all here on this earth to refine and define ourselves, to extract the potential and greatness within. This work is lifelong, as we grow, heal, and expand we are to take the world around us with us on our journey. This is called Tikkun Olam. Our Creator gave us a specific amount of time on this earth, to achieve these goals, the first step is to engage with our struggles within. We are not alone in this task. Hashem is with us wherever we let G-D in.
Our fellow humanity, family, friends, community, leaders and spouses are here with us. Some days, they are the challenge themselves, other days they are the cure.
We have a rich tradition filled with wisdom of literally thousands of years and hundreds of generations, thinkers, scholars and leaders supporting us.
We are told to keep our friends close and our enemies closer, embracing the Yetzer, learning it’s tactics and ways is how to vanquish this resistance.
I will end with a story of a great Rabbi who was in bed, he saw the sun rise and his Yetzer said to him, “just five more minutes.” The Rabbi jumped out of bed at these words and began his day. His answer to his Yetzer, “if you are up this early, so am I!”