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The "Terrorist" Within

May 9, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

The war on terrorism needs to be waged on all fronts. We may not have the power to determine world policy, but we can take charge of our internal landscape.

I recently heard an interview with a microbiologist who gave a frightening description of the new microbes, germs, and organisms that appear to be surfacing. He voiced great concern that, in large measure, due to the overuse of antibiotics, these agents have already become more resistant to effective treatment. And as they mutate they will present an even greater threat.

Listening to these disturbing facts, the interviewer exclaimed, "Wow! How frightening must be your world of microbiology!"

To which the professor responded, "It is not only my world. It's your world -- it's our world. The only difference between us is that given my expertise and resources, I'm able to see what's out there and you cannot. But nonetheless, you are subject and susceptible to the same dire consequences."

Terrorism has always been out there, but now it has tragically reared its ugly head on our territory. Gone forever is the golden age of innocence. Gone is our sense of security and belief that despite what goes on everywhere else, we are safe and invincible. We, along with the rest of the free world, have become vulnerable to the evil that lurks out there that can, God forbid, strike at anytime.

As we applaud President Bush's "war on terrorism," we wonder what our individual role in all of this might be.

The Jewish perspective has always been that when things occur in macrocosm, in the world at large, we need to look to the microcosm, into our internal world, for a corollary.

The "terrorist" within seizes control and seeks to undermine and destroy that which we have built.

Many parallel insights have been offered. My son, Rabbi Ephraim Twerski of Chicago, suggested to his congregation that as we begin this new Jewish year, we need to combat the "terrorist" within. All of us, by the decisions we make in life, are major players in the structuring of life around us. When we make choices based on morality, decency and honesty we effectively build the structure of our world. Brick by brick we add to the strength and well being of the context in which we live.

Bottom line, we are the architects of both the material and spiritual parameters of our existence. Towards this end we are invested with an inner compass, a pilot if you will, to keep us on course, to negotiate the turbulent winds i.e. the alien values that threaten our values. All too frequently, the "terrorist" within seizes control. He comes as a voice inside of us that seeks to undermine and destroy that which we have built and that which have the potential to build. It tries to convince us in subtle and not so subtle ways that we are failures, that we cannot rise above past mistakes, that our flaws and blemishes condemn us forever to the dark side.

The "terrorist" within knows our weak points and hence its arguments are compelling. It seeks to stifle our growth and viability. Our response needs to be swift and decisive.

The cardinal sin in Judaism is to underestimate our incorruptible essence.

The cardinal sin in Judaism is to underestimate our heavenly invested and incorruptible essence that exhorts us to lift ourselves out of our past mistakes, assume responsibility and move forward towards the legitimate excellence and majesty that is our birthright as God's children.

Every positive act of compassion, empathy, guarding our tongue, resisting verbal assaults, curbing anger, diffusing envy, etc. is a brick and a contribution with our name on it to the strength of the structural configuration that is our world. Conversely, a deliberate destructive deed, a negative belief about ourselves and others, is an assault, an act of terrorism, an act of killing our potential.

The war on terrorism needs to be waged on all fronts. But the global efforts will ultimately be only as effective and successful as the sum of its individual parts. And this means you and me - the struggle, the conquests, and victories on our internal battlefield.

We may not have the power to determine world policy, but perhaps more significantly we can take charge of our internal landscape.

Consider the following cases:

  1. Kate, a tall attractive 19-year old blonde considered herself a total failure. Her reputation at college had not been the best. Her limited attempts at finding employment were not very successful. Her group of friends was, as she put it, "more messed up" than her and her parents were greatly disappointed in her. Her greatest desire was to sleep all day.

    Kate's "terrorist," the negative voice inside of her, had assumed control of her life, convincing her that the only refuge was a pillow. He cast his pall on every area of her life and she was in great danger if she didn't rouse the pilot, the better part of herself to take control of her journey.

  2. Isabelle suffered the untimely loss of her young mother. At first, denial did not allow her the comfort of mourning. But this eventually gave way to a total break down. She was unable to interact with people, to work, eat, or function in any normal capacity. Her "terrorist" consisted of her inability to open up and share her feelings. Her misguided "private" stance kept her bottled up with her enormous pain and grief unresolved. Healing that is so dependent on openness and sharing of feelings, became impossible. Without immediate intervention, she was in real danger of self-destructing.

  3. Joe had a chronic back problem that had worsened over the years. He had many surgeries and endless procedures that compromised him physically. Pain became his constant companion. Drugs and more drugs were prescribed and they become his steady diet. He developed a "victim" mentality - always in pain, always on drugs, and eventually he resorted to alcohol to dull the acute awareness of how far afield he had gone. His "terrorist" had successfully convinced him that he was entitled to play the "victim" and that hence only addictive substances could bail him out.

Each of us has our own internal "terrorist" bent on thwarting the good and the positive in our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to others. If we are not vigilant and wise in identifying its tactics and rooting it out, our personal, internal world may be at great risk.

The war on terrorism begins on very personal ground, inside each one of us. As one world leader put it, "You have to be the change that you would like to see."


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