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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Yom Kippur 5770
True Desire
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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9/25/09

STAM TORAH

TRUE DESIRE

INMATE SUES HIMSELF FOR $5 MILLION

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 9, 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

An inmate who claimed he violated his own civil rights by getting arrested filed a $5 million lawsuit against himself - then asked the state to pay because he has no income in jail.

Robert Lee Brock, a prisoner at the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, filed a handwritten, seven-page lawsuit last month in federal court."I partook of alcoholic beverages in 1993, July 1st; as a result I caused myself to violate my religious beliefs. This was done by my going out and getting arrested," wrote Brock, who is serving 23 years for breaking and entering and grand larceny.

"I want to pay myself 5 million dollars," he continued, "but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can't work and am a ward of the state."

Judge Rebecca Beach Smith was unimpressed by Brock's ingenuity.

She dismissed the lawsuit Thursday as frivolous.

"Plaintiff has presented an innovative approach to civil rights litigation," Smith wrote. "However, his claim and especially the relief sought are totally ludicrous."

© 2009 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

The Chachmei Hakabbalah[1] explain that man has two levels of consciousness, his Ratzon Ha’elyon (‘upper will) and his Ratzon Ha’tachton (lower will). Although there are deeper esoteric explanations of this concept, we will analyze them from a psychological perspective[2].

The Ratzon Ha’tachton represents man’s pragmatic logic. It is the aspect of a person’s thoughts that are only interested in survival and gratification, and views the world from a very practical perspective.

The Ratzon Ha’elyon however, represents man’s cognitive, decision-making abilities. One’s ‘upper will’ seeks spirituality and a higher focus and is not limited by utilitarian and momentary concerns. It is more interested in right and wrong than it is on what is comfortable or convenient. One’s ‘upper will’ may decide to act in a way contrary to his pragmatic interests if it feels that delaying gratification or suffering physically may yield spiritual growth.

A person is often unaware of the decisions of his ‘upper will’, because he is more in touch with his physical body. He inclines himself to his utilitarian ‘lower will’ which seeks gratification before he seeks the spiritual demands of his ‘upper will’.

In the Shemoneh Esrei prayers we beseech G-d, “Us’filasam sikabel b’ratzon – And their prayers accept with favor.” We do not simply request that G-d accept all our prayers, but that He does so with favor. We often pray for things which we are confident are necessary and beneficial for us. However, only G-d can know if granting those requests will ultimately be detrimental on a physical, spiritual, or psychological level. Our ‘lower will’ may be praying for something which may be financially rewarding, but can be spiritually devastating. Therefore, we pray that G-d accept our prayers with favor, for only He can truly know which of our prayers He should fulfill[3].

The Rambam[4] rules that if a man refuses to offer his wife a divorce document the court must physically compel him until he agrees to give it.[5] The Rambam explains that the rationale for coercing someone to comply with Torah law is that, although the sinner’s ‘lower will’ is unwilling to comply with the Torah law, his ‘upper will’ wants to do what’s right. Unfortunately, the sinner himself is not in touch with his true desires and thinks that he wants to be recalcitrant. However, when we literally ‘beat it out of him’ his ‘upper will’ emerges and he himself realizes that this is truly what he wants.

This is analogous to an addict who emphatically demands that his addiction be nurtured. His true inner desire is to rid himself of the addiction which is dominating his life and destroying him. But because he is so enmeshed in the addiction and so badly craves the momentary gratification, he is unable to realize what he truly wants.

Another example where this concept emerges is in regards to the annulment of vows. A Jewish court has the right to annul a vow which was assumed voluntarily, if the court has legitimate grounds on which to absolve it. The rationale is that we assume that although the person’s ‘lower will’ accepted the vow, his ‘upper will’ never agreed to accept the vow. Torah law recognizes that, in respect to vows, the human personality also takes into account one’s ‘upper will’. It is based on that assumption, that the court can (at times) annul a vow.

With this idea in mind, we can understand why the holy day of Yom Kippur commences with the recitation of ‘Kol Nidrei’, a prayer which is nothing more than the annulment of vows. A vow is susceptible to rescission because it was not representative of the person’s true inner self, in that his ‘upper will’ was not in agreement with the vow. So too, on Yom Kippur (and whenever one seeks repentance), G-d acknowledges that whenever a mortal sins it is because he has acceded to his base ‘lower will’, and ignored his own higher calling, i.e. his ‘upper will’. The process of repentance entails our connecting ourselves with our ‘upper will’ which was never involved or tainted by sin.

This is why immediately after Kol Nidrei we read the verse in which G-d says[6], “I will forgive the entire assembly of the Children of Israel… because the entire nation’s (sins were committed) inadvertently.” Even sins which a person commits willfully are in a sense inadvertent, because such actions counter one’s own pristine ‘upper will’. Essentially, on Yom Kippur we commit to realign ourselves and be more cognizant of our ‘upper will’. Once we have made that commitment, the sins which we committed by pursuing our ‘lower will’ can be pardoned and forgiven.

At the commencement of each of the seven hakafos celebrated and danced on Simchas Torah, a prayer is recited beseeching G-d for salvation. The prayer for the fourth hakafah states, “He Who knows our thoughts, please save us.”

One year, someone asked me why we refer to G-d as the One, “Who knows our thoughts”? If anything, it would seem that we would want to stay far away from mentioning our thoughts. Do our fantasies, daydreams, and reveries make us worthy of salvation?

I replied that we are not referring to the superficial fleeting thoughts which dominate our minds much of the time. Rather, we are referring to our innermost thoughts, the lofty thoughts which stem from the deepest recesses of our souls, and which we often forget that we feel, the thoughts of our ‘upper will’. It is those thoughts that render us perpetually worthy of salvation.

One of the core beliefs and responsibilities of every Jew is to serve G-d with mesiras nefesh (giving over his “nefesh”). This concept is generally understood to refer to giving up one’s life for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. It is associated with mental images of martyrs marching to their deaths, their heads aloft, as they proclaimed “Shema Yisroel” in their final heroic moments. We think of those who were persecuted with gas chambers, inquisitions, pogroms, crusades, and marauding Cossacks.

Therefore, we believe that those of us who are blessed to live in a democracy and are not persecuted for Torah observance do not have the opportunity to fulfill this fundamental responsibility. But that is a fallacy.

The Mashgiach[7], Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, notes that the word nefesh refers to one’s desires. When the children of Efron negotiated with Avrohom Avinu about the sale of the Cave of Machpelah they said[8], “If it is your desire.”

The greatest level of mesiras nefesh is giving up one’s life, because our ultimate desire is to live. However, any time one suppresses or overcomes a desire or a craving for the sake of G-d’s Name, he has been moser nesfeh – i.e. he has given up some of his nefesh. Therefore, we indeed have the opportunity to be moser nefesh constantly. Every time we challenge our base desires and overcome our whims we have demonstrated mastery over our animalistic self. One who averts his senses, alters his behaviors, or invests added resources and efforts into his spiritual pursuits, allows his upper will to dominate his lower will.

On Yom Kippur we completely absolve ourselves from many of our most basic physical comforts and needs. On that one day a year we go to the extreme, giving ourselves a momentary hiatus from the dominance of our lower will. In the waning moments of Neilah as the sun begins to set and our physical strength is almost completely sapped, we continue in our service unabated, with almost superhuman drive. At that point our upper will has complete reign and, for a few moments, we connect with our true selves.

Shortly thereafter, the day and all of its arduous service and august opulence concludes. Within a few hours life resumes its course and we are again busy with life[9].

If only we were able to capture a small measure of the deep emotions we feel in those waning majestic moments of Yom Kippur! What a different live we would live!

Throughout the rest of the year we must maintain a taste of the beauty of living a life dominated by one’s upper will. This will ensure that even when we stumble, we will remember that within us is a divine spark that we can always reconnect with.

“He Who knows our thoughts, please save us”

“I will forgive because their sins were inadvertent”

If you are interested in receiving Stam Torah by email, please send your email address to thestaums@kewnet.com

http://www.stamtorah.info



[1] Scholars of kabbalah, the esoteric portions of the Torah

[2] The explanation of ‘upper will’ and ‘lower will’ and its connection to the Rambam (hil. Gittin) and to the concept of annulling vows, was adapted from a lecture by Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l, (Nora’os Harav, volume 16), in an essay entitled “Teshuva and Bechira”. The concept of ‘upper will’ and ‘lower will’ is found in the writings of the Ba’al Hatanya, Rabbi Shemur Zalman of Liadi.

[3] As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.”

[4] Hilchos gayrushin 2:20

[5] “They beat him until he says ‘I want’”.

This is done despite the fact that a divorce document given out of coercion is invalid.

[6] Bamidbar 15:26

[7] Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, Queens, NY; Camp Dora Golding, East Stroudsburg, PA

[8] Bereishis 23:8

[9] hopefully with the needs of the upcoming holiday of Succos



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