> Spirituality > Personal Growth

Principles of the Soul #2: The Ego

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Chaim Levine

Your ego is that inner voice that makes you act like an idiot. Silencing it may not be possible, but controlling it is.

It’s 9:15am. You’re more than a little late. The traffic is thick and you’re still a long way from the office. The driver in front of you stops to speak to a pedestrian. You watch as they chat away. You wait another 20 seconds. You tap your horn lightly. The driver turns to give you a dirty look. That’s it. You fly into a rage, slamming your horn and yelling. You consider ramming him from behind and calculate the projectile. You grab around searching for a sharp object to throw. People are watching and you don’t care. Then the pedestrian turns and looks at you quizzically. You notice he has a dog. It is a seeing-eye dog. You stop honking your horn.

You have just had another encounter with your ego.

Your ego, referred to in Hebrew as Yetzer Hara (destructive force), is the self-centered, immediate-gratification-at-any-cost part of your personality.

The mystical sources say the Yetzer Hara covers your essence like mud on a windshield. It’s given to you at birth and dies along with the body. In the interim, it wreaks havoc. It speaks to you in the first person saying things like:

“If someone gets more recognition and honor than me, I’ll just die”

“I don’t really have to prepare for the meeting, maybe I’ll catch a movie”

“Just one more piece of double chocolate cheesecake and that will be it.”

The ego has no compassion for where others are coming from, and it's always there when you are stressed out, angry or upset. When you look back at your life on all the stupid, rash decisions you made -- be assured your ego was doing the talking.



If your ego is so terrible why is it there? Think about the last time you had road rage, you were making a catastrophe out of nothing. The job of the ego is to make things seem bigger than they actually appear. Why? In order to challenge the soul to strengthen itself –- and make the ego disappear.

The ego is like a giant man holding a battle-ax, standing in front of you at a crossroad.

The secret of overcoming the ego is having clarity that it is only an illusion. The Torah says that the ego is like a giant man holding a battle-ax who is standing in front of you at a crossroad. The fool is frightened and runs for his life. The wise person looks closely and sees that the giant has no feet. He walks right past him.

That’s the ego: all bark, no bite. To the degree that you can recognize the ego as a giant virtual mirage, you will be able to see through the mirage and increase the frequency of experiencing life through the soul. If the ego is the mud on lens of the soul, then this clarity is the water that washes it away.


Clarity begins with the awareness of the true nature of human experience: You are a soul -- but you experience life through the senses of the body. A thought in your mind and the corresponding feeling in your senses is called consciousness.

The process works like this: A pack of Dobermans is charging at you. Your consciousness translates the thought “OH MY GOSH!!” into a sensory feeling of abject fear.

Computer geeks may relate more easily to this example: Imagine your consciousness as a computer screen. A thought arises from your ego: “I know I’ve gone over this presentation 100 times, but what if I blow it?” Your screen is filled with a picture of self-humiliation in front of your boss and all your peers. Your speakers blare sounds of crowds murmuring about your failure. You feel like jumping off a bridge.

At every moment your consciousness is being bombarded by thoughts. You have the ability to choose.

The crux of it all? At every moment your consciousness is being bombarded by thoughts. Like a movie projector turning film into the experience of the big screen, your senses faithfully give you the corresponding feeling of whatever image is in your mind. You have the ability to choose whether what you are experiencing is just your ego doing its thing, or a true depiction of real life. You are a soul but you experience yourself as a chooser.

Is the trick to living a happy, well-adjusted life filled with a living reality of motivational posters? It’s the ability to recognize and choose to see that -– just because your thoughts and feelings appear real –- doesn’t mean that they need to have any greater impact than a bad B movie playing in your head.



Here are some exercises to help you develop your awareness.

Sit back and spend five minutes observing all the thoughts that come into your head. Notice that it is a continuous process that just keeps going.

Notice what feeling you get with each different thought. The more intense the feeling, the more real the thought seems to be.

Ask yourself at any given time: “Where is this thought coming from –- my ego or my soul?” If it’s from your ego, see that it is distorting reality. Choose to doubt its validity.


This article is featured in's book:
Heaven on Earth.
Buy it now!



Leave a Reply

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram