01 December 2009

Jacob's Three-Step Program toward Serenity

by: Rabbi Y Y Jacobson

After  thirty four years away from his parents, Jacob decides to go home. On the way he finds out that his brother Esau is moving towards him with an army trying to kill him.

Jacob prepared for the confrontation through a three-way approach of "tribute, prayer and war ."

First he sent huge gifts of animals to assuage Esau’s wrath. Next, he engaged in some serious praying, surrendering himself and his fate to G-d's compassion. Finally, he got ready for war.

The Daily Battle

The stories in the Torah are not just events that occurred at certain times to certain individuals. They are also reflections of spiritual and emotional episodes that occur continuously in every human heart.

Man is a duality: He is a heap of dust and a vision of G-d. The twins: Jacob and Esau embody these polar forces within the human race. Esau is self-centered, egotistical and animalistic, while Jacob personifies our transcendent, spiritual and idealistic soul.

The conflict reflects the never-ending tension and struggle between the two forces in our lives: the struggle between our ego and our humbleness, between cravings and aspirations, between lusts and yearnings.

None is exempt from this daily confrontation. We are constantly overwhelmed with materialistic burdens, selfish moods and immoral appetites. The incessant demands of our selfish and beastly consciousness present a threat to kill the "Jacob" within us.

Is there a way to deal with these forces, which  seem much more powerful than the holy forces within us? The answer is “yes” and to do so we need to use  Jacob's three-step program of tribute, prayer and war.

Honoring Your Animal

First, we must grant Esau some of our assets and to admit that the animal consciousness is within us and honor its presence by granting it its needs. We must eat, sleep, exercise, earn a living and engage in an ongoing relationship with the physical world around us. The animal soul deserves to receive a lavish daily tribute which includes our time, energy, and resources.

How do we ensure that we don't overdo it and guarantee that our tributes to the animal identity will not place it at the center of our lives, supplanting the spiritual soul as the true core of our identity?

This is done through prayer. "Rescue me," Jacob prays as Esau approaches, "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau. I am afraid of him, for he may come and smite me." Why the redundancy "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau"? There would be no need to fear Esau's influence if we were detached from the Esau reality and lived as spiritual ascetics. Yet Judaism demands that Esau become our "brother;" that we engage our bodily and animal needs, and that we deal with the physical world around us. Thus the only way we can ensure that Esau does not dominate and control our lives is through prayer.

The Gift of Prayer
What is prayer? Just as there is a time to engage the animal soul, there is a time each day to let go of our physical identity and enter into the transcendental oasis of our soul. It is the time when we put the ego to sleep and we discover our inner love and spirituality.

All day, we think about materiality; during prayer we focus on the splendor and meaning of life.
Daily prayer is a necessity because without it,  we inevitably become vulnerable to the onslaught from the inner Esau within.

For example, when you don't pray, meditate and connect to your soul in the morning, you often lack the courage and vision to control the food addiction of the Esau-impulse and you engage in an unhealthy breakfast. When you go to the office, you may lack the fortitude to conduct your business affairs honestly. Prayer ensures that the tribute we present to our animal soul does not exhaust us completely till we have nothing left to call our own.

Under the Knife
Yet, all of the above does not suffice. Jacob must also prepare himself for war. Some of the urges and passions of our animal soul cannot be dealt with through prayer alone. We must declare war against them.
At times during the day or the night, we are overtaken by a powerful, animalistic Esau-like urge that is burning in our hearts like a furnace. At such a moment there is only one thing to do: You must take your fist, punch the impulse in its face and get on with your life. War isn’t pretty, but at times it is our only hope to survive the demons determined to kill us.

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