30 Av 5777 / Tuesday, August 22, 2017 | Torah Reading: Shoftim
 
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Climb the Spiritual Ladder     Climb the Spiritual Ladder

All too often, we think that it's too difficult to change and to peel off the undesirable, thick layers that cover our pure souls and keep us away from Hashem...

 



Spiritual growth and self-improvement is important all year long, every day of our lives. Our purpose in this world is refinement and ridding ourselves of negative traits. We ask ourselves if we truly believe we can correct our less-than-stellar attributes. All too often our answer is that it appears too difficult to change and to peel off the thick layers that cover our pure souls.

 

Many of us do not believe we can become better people. We say, “Well, I have a short fuse and that’s that. I can’t help it. I fly off the handle.” “My father was addicted to sweets, and so am I. It must be genetic.” These cop-out statements, in which we sell ourselves short, are not only falsehoods, but they zap our personal power and are counter-productive and debilitating. Transformation is not easy. Change comes in steps. We need to learn the tools that will help us to better ourselves. When we accept that our purpose in this world is to transform our negative character traits for the better, then we take the positive road to success and accept that nothing worthwhile comes easy.

 

Negative traits that persist are reinforced by habit. They come from the amygdala, the lower part of the brain, which develops in-utero and continues growing to adulthood. It is the center of emotional reactivity, of the fight or flight instinct, and the desire for comfort and to feel good. It is the seat of immaturity, of the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) that encourages us to desire instant gratification, to act impetuously, and to exhibit negative reactions. When we instinctively respond with sulking, anger, lack of patience, frustration, arrogance, stubbornness, or lack of empathy, we are influenced by an over-active amygdala.

 

In order to be able to defer to our pre-frontal cortex in the front of the brain and exhibit positive traits such as patience, compassion, and unselfishness, we need to calm down, slow down, and become keenly aware of how we are presenting ourselves to others. We must realize that only through practice will we be able to quiet the ego and reinforce the pre-frontal cortex so that we grow in maturity through rational behavior. Meditation helps as does listening to calming music. Talking to Hashem is critical.

 

The most important truth that will help us shift from a negative emotional response to a positive rational one is the realization that every situation we encounter is G-d’s personal communication with us bar none. Repeating often on a daily basis the Hebrew words Ein Od Milvado (There is Nothing but Him) will solidify in our minds that each and every event in our life  is orchestrated by G-d as an opportunity for us to choose to come closer to Him by recognizing His hand and responding positively.

 

We must remember that Hashem presents Himself to us when our child hits us, when our boss praises us, when the driver of the car behind us honks at us, when the neighbor’s son throws a ball and breaks the window at the front of our house, and when a policeman pulls us over for speeding. How we respond----with composure or with negativity----will determine if we feel G-d’s Presence and are applying the ultimate truth of Ein Od Milvado. When we make a habit of repeating multiple times a day the phrase Ein Od Milvado, we help to inculcate its meaning into our psyche, into our pre-frontal cortex. We then grow in our ability to replace a negative attribute with a positive one by realizing that a mature response solidifies our connection to the Creator. We recognize the truth that when we get angry or frustrated at anyone, we are really getting angry at Hashem Who is the energy behind the whole scenario. This is the definition of spiritual growth---of climbing the spiritual ladder.

 

When we are able to fully accept that there is only Hashem creating the daily circumstances in our lives and that the way we respond reflects the way we relate to Hashem, then we can begin to control our anger, put out the fire, settle down, and see Hashem in every situation. The events become gifts----opportunities to grow---because we consider them to be a test to pass, a cleansing, and a chance to move closer to the Almighty. Each event is an opportunity to correct and elevate our holy souls.

 

Being able to see Hashem clearly within each event will help us to say thank you to Him for loving us so much that He gives us personalized opportunities to better ourselves. Our effort must be to look beyond the tool that Hashem used in any given situation----be it our child, our spouse, the neighbor, the boss----and recognize only Hashem Himself. When we can plainly see His hand and connect to Him on the spot, we will see evidence of a shifting away from the ego (the control by the amygdala) to the maturity of the G-dly soul (situated in the pre-frontal cortex). How proud Hashem will be of our effort in this area. We are working to complete ourselves. It is a win-win situation. This is how we better ourselves. Nothing could make our Father in Heaven happier.





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