Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Mishlei / Proverbs 16:32
Ben Zoma asks in Pirkei Avot 4:1 (Ethics of the Fathers) “Who is strong? One who overpowers (controls) his inclinations.” And continues to quote the pasuk (verse) in Mishlei 16.
It sounds so easy. You want to be strong? Overpower your inclinations. Simple, right? I thought so. Thus I tried, and I got stuck on some repeat mode, because more often than not, I was the one overpowered by my inclinations than the other way around. So I would try, fail and mourn my loss, hate my failure and try again. And for the longest time I didn’t even think to ask, “How, pray tell, does one exactly go about controlling oneself?” Because obviously I was missing something.
The Talmud says that everything is in the hands of heaven except for the awe of heaven. Meaning that everything is in HaShem’s control, except for my understanding and appreciation of that fact. Every reaction, or wrong attitude or sinful inclination comes from me not being aware of the fact that He is running the show, not I.
The way He is running this reality is totally not my business, but the way I chose to respond to that and the choices I make, that’s totally my business. I do His work, not His job. His job is to run all existing realities, mine is to obey His will.
Sadly I am not always aware of that. And even more tragic is the fact that sometimes I’d catch myself being busy trying to do His job. But if I’m busy being HaShem, then who’s left to be me?
There is a story about Rabbi Zusia, that one day he went to his talmidim (disciples) and he was crying bitter tears and the talmidim asked him “Rabbi, why are you crying?” He told them “because I am close to my death and I fear judgement.” The talmidim said “Rabbi, but you are a tzadik (righteous man) and you have done so much good in the world, why would you fear judgement?” He told them, “I am not afraid that I haven’t done enough good deeds. I know HaShem will not ask me why wasn’t I more like Avraham or Moshe (Moses), but what shall I say when He asks me “Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?”
I know I am on this planet with a limited amount of time and with a mission. And that mission is to be everything that HaShem wants me to be. The good news is I don’t have to be anybody else. I’ve tried and it’s exhausting. I am here to be me. The best version of me there can possibly be.
I need to let Adonai be God and I need to be me. He Is Who He Is. Nothing more and nothing less. I on the other hand am sometimes someone else, and it pains me because I can feel His voice whisper in my very bones “This is not who you are, you’re better than that. You know this is not you.” I have to let Him be Who He Is and I need to be who I am.
I need to stop trying to change things that are His domain and start focusing on the things that I can change, and that’s my attitude towards what He does. Do I like what He does all the time? NO. As bad as that makes me sound, no, I don’t like everything He does. And I catch myself sometimes trying to change His mind, make Him see reason, see that there could be an easier way (I’m hopeless in my pride, believe me).
I heard about a psychiatrist asking his son once “son, what is the difference between psychosis and neurosis?” The son sensing a joke went along and said, “I don’t know, what?” The father said, ‘Son, psychosis is when you think 2 plus 2 equals 5 and neurosis is when you know it’s 4 but you can’t stand it.”
Two plus two equals four. Regardless how I wish it was 3 or 5 it’s still 4. And I can spend my life angry with that little fact, or I can accept it and stop wasting energy on finding ways to make it 5 instead of 4.
There’s really only one choice I get to make. Do I live in awe of HaShem alone, or do I choose to be ruled by the fear of people, places and things? If it’s awe of HaShem alone then I no longer have to live my life in fear of the little idols I have made for myself by placing my trust in powerful people, or institutions or places where I’d feel safe, worrying that they could hurt me or hoping they could help me. If I live my life in awe of HaShem alone, then I understand that He is running things and He is doing a good job. All I have to do is show up and try to choose the right thing. The outcome is no longer in my control.
The problem is I don’t like discomfort. Whether it is because I am human or because I am a woman or just because I am me, I don’t know, but I don’t like discomfort. I often get a fight or flight reaction to situations I am in. And when I feel uncomfortable I need to find a way to make it go away, or escape that feeling. If it’s pain, I need to find relief ASAP. If it’s emotional discomfort, make a joke and laugh it off. If it’s certain people, avoid them like the plague. If it’s the present reality, disconnect from it and be in la la land imagining a future. But those are just things I use to deny the present reality. And my reaction often spells “HaShem You got it wrong so I’ll be in denial until You get right.”
I am learning in my journey even if I don’t like painful lessons. But my dislike for pain doesn’t diminish in any way shape or form the fact that HaShem runs things perfectly. That doesn’t mean always pleasant, but it’s always perfect.
I can learn to submit to His plans and His way. I can learn to act like a beloved daughter from His beloved Son. Yeshua was in the garden praying and He told Adonai “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) It’s not wrong to not enjoy pain. To wish it wasn’t the only way. But regardless of what I feel to be obedient to HaShem’s will knowing that even in death He’ll find a way to turn things for good. And that is faith not fantasy.
Often fantasy and faith are thought to be the same. Fantasy is an idea that I cling to in order to avoid facing reality. Faith is an idea I cling to in order to have the courage to face reality.
Yeshua had faith and I can learn from Him to face my reality, not find ways to deny it.
Pain in this life is unavoidable but suffering is optional. Pain is a stimuli response. There is nothing neurotic about pain. Suffering is the philosophical interpretation of pain. If I hurt my toe it’s OK cry out. That’s a response to pain, but wondering ‘why does this always happen only to me?’ that’s optional.
How does one control oneself? By getting over yourself. By understanding that HaShem runs things, not I and that’s OK, because I have something better to do. I can accept the things I cannot change, have courage to change the things I can change and ask for wisdom to know the difference.
Bat Melech בת מלך