The Real You
Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )
Character traits are tools that serve us or hurt us, but they are not you.
While coaching, I discovered something interesting about human psychology that so often repeats itself. When I ask a student, "What is stopping you from achieving what you really want?" I often get the following answer. "I am just lazy." So I ask him if he is always lazy in life. On a trip? Going out to a restaurant? Playing sports? The answer is always, "No. I guess that I'm not lazy, I just get lazy." That is a very big difference. One is identifying with laziness and the other is chosen behavior.
Now that laziness is recognized as an external trait, laziness is just a tool, not his essence. The person can decide when it is applicable and when it isn't.
This is what happened to humanity after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Our rabbis teach that the zuhama (spiritual toxins) of the Snake entered Eve during the episode, and this zuhama remains in all humanity till today. This is the Evil Inclination, and it infiltrated into the "I" of a person. The "I" that one identifies with. When someone has an evil thought, depression, laziness, lust, anger, etc., the inner voice says "I hate myself", not "I hate my behavior". "I am so depressed," not "I feel depressed." "I am so lazy," not "I got lazy."
On the other hand, when someone wants to do a mitzvah or learn Torah, the Yetzer Hatov (the good inclination) does not say "I want to learn," rather it says "You should learn." Not "I want to do a mitzvah," rather "You should do a mitzvah." (Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, in Nefesh Hachaim.)
Identification is a huge factor when it comes to accepting oneself and finding the energy to work on our goals and ambitions. Someone tells himself, "I hate myself." What he is also saying is that the "I" is not himself. There is something deeper inside him that is the real "I."
This is the most powerful tool of the Evil Inclination to bring you down. He finds a way to make you feel like you are the sinner, not that you are a good person who sinned. The Torah in many places teaches that this is not so. A person has different traits, and those traits are tools to get where you want to get. They are not the person himself. The trick is to know where and when to use each trait we have. Allow me to give an example.
Mr. Levy sells merchandise and signs contracts out of his home office. When things are quiet, he spends his time learning in the synagogue down the block. One day, a client came, wanting to place a substantial order. Upon answering the door, the family told this fellow that their father was not available at the moment. The serious client left and found himself another salesman with whom to make the big deal. When daddy came home and learned what had happened, he was more than upset about the excellent transaction that had passed him by. Mr. Levy, in a loud tone of voice, asked his family members why no one had even entertained the thought of calling him home from his study session to meet the man.
The next day, while Mr. Levy was out learning, Little Levy came into the study hall, huffing and puffing. "Dad, I told the man waiting at the door not to leave, and that you will be home in less than a minute." Mr. Levy hurried home and was far less than happy to find that it was none other than a tax agent, who was patiently awaiting his return. A couple of hours and many headaches later, Mr. Levy plopped himself down on the living room couch. Out of frustration, he addressed his family: "Fools! When a business man comes, no one hurries me home - but when a tax agent is at the door, you can't say I am not available?!"
We all have preprogrammed traits of enthusiasm and laziness. At times, we can use laziness to our benefit, and at times, we should look for the energy and enthusiasm within ourselves. We are commanded by God to observe both positive and negative commandments. The productive way of life is to use each trait at its proper time: energy and enthusiasm are appropriately used when performing the mitzvoth, whereas lethargy and a kind of indifferent laziness should be summoned when confronted with the possibility of committing a sin. The problem comes about when we are lazy when we are supposed to be enthusiastic, and we are energetic when we are supposed to be lazy.
This can cause people to describe themselves as lazy people. But let's ask them the question. If they really are lazy people, where does the energy come from when it comes to sin?
We can learn this lesson from the sacrifices discussed in our Torah portion. The parts of the animal that were sacrificed on the altar in the Beit Hamikdash were mainly the blood and the fat. This parallels what we mentioned earlier: the blood symbolizes energy; the fat, laziness. The sacrifices came as atonement for not having used these characteristics in the proper time and place.
This belief that people have that who they are is defined by how they behave is far from the truth. A person is his wants, ambitions and free choice. The character traits one has are not the person himself. Traits are just tools that serve us or hurt us. (See Chovot Halevovot, end of Shaar Avodat HaElokim)