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Horse or Rider: Who Are You?

April 20, 2020 | by Rabbi Yisroel Roll

Understanding the human being’s inner conflict of desires.

This morning I looked in the bathroom mirror and was startled to find someone looking back at me. I asked the image, “Who are you?”

Simultaneously, the image said to me, “Who are you?”

I answered, “Yisroel Roll.”

“I didn’t ask you your name. I asked, ‘Who are you?’”

“I am a psychotherapist.”

“I didn’t ask you what you did for a living. I asked, ‘Who are you?’”

I tried again, “I am the husband of Julie, and father of…”

“I didn’t ask what your relationships were. I asked, ‘Who are you?’”

Persevering, I ventured, “I have a home in Baltimore, I drive a…”

The image cut me off. “I didn’t ask what you owned. I asked, ‘Who are you?’”

Exasperated, I responded, “Ok, I give up. Who am I?”

The image said, “You are a horse.”

“A horse! What in the world do you mean?”

“Horses like to graze on the meadow and I happen to know that you like to graze over a well-done rib steak with Southern barbecue sauce.”

I said, “That’s a pretty broad comparison. You’ll have to do better than that.”

He boldly replied, “When horses run in the meadow, there is always one horse that tries to run ahead of the pack, chased by the others. In your career, you always try to come up with new ideas and programs so that you too can run ahead of the competition. So, you are just like a horse.”

Getting a little nervous, I stuttered, “Not bad. What else do you have?”

He said, “When a filly enters the meadow, the stallions get up on their hind legs and begin to neigh. When your wife enters the room, you adjust your tie and act differently. So, you are a horse.”

I have qualities similar in nature to a horse, but I am not a horse. I am the rider of the horse.

After having been compared not too inaccurately to a horse, I defiantly said, “Just a minute. I may have certain basic qualities similar in nature to a horse, but I am not a horse. I am the rider of the horse. I can direct and determine what and when I eat, what career I pursue and how I develop it, and I can control my inner passions and desires. I can direct my horse-like tendencies and guide them. I can raise myself above the level of the horse within me by reminding myself it is I who is in the saddle. So I can direct myself to meaningful activities because I am in control of the reins.”

The horse within me is only the lowest part of my psyche – the animal-like part of my being. It is true that, like a horse, I have instincts, lusts, and passions that drive me. Those impulses for self-preservation (i.e., food), self-gratification (i.e., pleasure), and power (i.e., money), rage so powerfully within me that I am sometimes convinced that these drives make up the sum total of my being. But that is not all I am. The rider within me can direct these passions and animal instincts. The rider is the core of my real self – the part of me that decides which passions to pursue, which to delay pursuing, and which not to pursue at all.

The rider within me allows me to discern between worthwhile and meaningless activities. It allows me to appreciate sensations like beauty, symmetry, and harmony. It allows me to choose to pursue spiritual endeavors like kindness, empathy, and fairness. It inspires me to pursue values like truth, honesty, and loyalty. It allows me to look inward and to become aware of my “self.”

This core, this rider within me, is my soul. It is the source of my decision-making process. It is the life energy that activates and motivates me. This is the source from which I can draw my hidden strength in order to help me meet life’s challenges.

If we stop running through life and take a moment to reflect upon our inner values and character, we will be able to get in touch with our soul. By so doing we will be able to get to know more of our authentic self. What a wonderful self-empowering feeling to be able to perform a quick “quality control” check on ourselves to ensure that we are channeling our drives and passions in the direction that our soul wants them to go, rather than allowing our passions to drive us.

Our soul gives us the inner strength to choose how to deal with a challenge from an informed vantage point. We can access this inner strength any time we choose.

Our soul enables us to summon all of the strengths, passions, and drives within us to deal with a challenge from a position of conscious choice rather than with our usual knee-jerk instinctive reactions. Our soul gives us the strongest resource at our disposal – it provides the power and inner strength for us to choose how to deal with a challenge from a considered, informed vantage point. And we can access and activate this inner strength at will, any time we choose.

Nourishing the Soul

The soul is God’s ambassador. When you listen to your soul’s yearnings and nourish them, then you are relating to the Godliness within you which develops your spirituality. The soul is not nourished with the same things that the body may crave. A new car, a steak or a beautifully remodeled kitchen will not do anything to satisfy the soul.

A story is told of the king’s daughter who fell in love with a peasant farmer. They got married and he tried to provide for her needs. He brought her the things that made him happy – finely ground alfalfa, an aged and masterfully dried out salami and some fresh fish just caught down by the creek. But no matter how hard he tried to please her, she was never satisfied, because she was used to the finer things in life.

The king’s daughter represents the soul and the peasant farmer is the body. The body tries to satisfy the soul by bringing it physical pleasures. But the soul is not rooted in the physical world, but in the spiritual world. The soul, therefore, craves spiritual satisfaction. It wants to be nourished by things like honesty, kindness, wisdom, and truth.

But if earthly pleasures are all we know, how can we ever hope to satisfy our soul? The answer is that lust, passion and a kosher hot dog at the ball game are not the only pleasures we know. There are deeper, more meaningful and more lasting pleasures – spiritual “delights” that are even better than a refreshing swim on a hot day.

You can decide to act instinctively or impulsively, or you can look at a given situation and choose to react spiritually. The act of deciding between right and wrong, between spiritual and physical paths, is the soul’s domain.

The decision-making part of our soul – although given by God – is not controlled by God. God has given us free will. If we choose to live our lives satisfying only our physical desires, or if we choose to act destructively or to cause others pain, God will not intervene because removing our free will would undermine His ultimate purposed in creating us. We would be preprogrammed robots. God wants us to make moral choices since it is only through exercising our free will that our souls can grow and achieve their potential.

Another dimension of the exercise of our free will is how we react to the challenges that God sends our way. We can choose to be angry with God for giving us a rough ride and expend energy being depressed and frustrated. Alternately, we can access our soul and discover what God wants us to learn from this situation. We can thus choose to exercise our free will proactively and positively, by working through the issues God is presenting to us, and grow through the experience. God does not benefit from our choosing the spiritual pathway; we do. We get an opportunity to grow in personality and character.

If God preprogrammed us to act as He wanted, the world might be a nicer place, but it would be a preprogrammed world, lacking in meaning and connection. God created the world so that you and I could choose to make it a decent place out of our own free will and thereby earn our spiritual reward. This world is for choosing between good and evil, and the world after this one – the World to Come – is for receiving reward for the choices we have made.

Of course, we may get certain physical rewards in this world as God’s investment in us, to allow us to continue to choose correctly in the spiritual aspects of our lives. But the ultimate reward for our positive choices will be in the World to Come, which is also a world of body and soul, albeit on a much higher level than the current world. As Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Rmachal) states, “…in the renewed world, man will enjoy his reward with body and soul.” (Derech Hashem 1:3:10).

Where on earth, then, is this “World to Come”? It is right here. When we perform positive acts of kindness or make other spiritual choices, we create positive spiritual energy. This spiritual energy accumulates in the spiritual dimension that co-exists simultaneously with This World. This spiritual energy is our World to Come. That is why the next world is not called “That World.” Rather, it is called the World to Come, which comes out of This World. It is The World which “comes out” of This World. When we transition from This World of trial and travail into the World to Come, we will be able to access and we will live in this spiritual energy that we ourselves have created while in This World. It is in the World to Come that we will awaken to full consciousness and enjoy the true root of our actions in this world.

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