The inner harmony behind
the struggle of Souls
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
In order to enable us to have free choice, such that the task of refining the sparks be earned through our efforts, we were created in a way that we must constantly struggle.
Generally speaking, a Jew possesses two souls—the Bestial Soul, and the Divine Soul, or Neshamah. At first glance, the desires of these two souls are opposite. The Bestial Soul is drawn to the physical and coarse, while the Neshamah gravitates to the spiritual and G–dly.
The Bestial Soul seeks survival, self-interest, and self-gratification, while the Neshamah desires to serve Hashem, draw close to Him, and ultimately become subsumed within Him (Tanya ch. 19).
The Jew (with rare exceptions) was born to spend his entire life waging an intense struggle between the Bestial Soul and the Neshamah. These two souls struggle for total, absolute control of the Jew’s thought, speech, and action. This is akin to two kings locked in constant battle, each fighting for total control over a small city, with neither willing to allow one inch for the other (cf. ibid. chs. 9, 27, 35).
A deeper perspective
Despite this constant state of vehement conflict between the Neshamah and the Bestial Soul, when we view our inner selves as purely in a state of conflict, then once we follow the desires of the Bestial Soul and become immersed in the physical, we typically neglect the spiritual.
Yet this dichotomy is only true on the superficial level. The Baal Shem Tov teaches (as explained recently here) that the true reason for our attractions to particular material pursuits is that the Neshamah is pulling us in that direction because it senses the sparks of holiness that it needs to refine there. By being mindful of this, in a sense one has seen through the conflict (along the lines of the parable from a prostitute discussed here), and the struggle is no longer. Now, the goals of the Neshamah and the Bestial Soul can consciously converge.
How will this manifest itself? On the one hand, the person will not inappropriately pull away from the physical, thinking that any involvement with it is damaging to the Neshamah. At the same time, the awareness that the Neshamah in fact desires that one be involved with the physical grants one the inner strength not to become immersed and inappropriately preoccupied with one’s material pursuits. After all, if the true reason for one’s physical desire is the urging of the Neshamah, then that desire ought to be obtained in a way that the Neshamah would wish. (This is also the concept of balancing ratzo and shov—see here and here).
For example, a businessman will make sure to attend the Minyan, and fix times for Torah study. Likewise, he will be scrupulously honest in his business dealings, despite the constant temptations that he faces. Similarly, eating, drinking, and the like will be done in a refined manner and in moderation.
This goal is accomplished best when the person is not just aware of the above concept in general, but he reminds himself of it every single time that he engages in anything physical. This is the idea of having kavanah—the conscious intention to refine the sparks that lie within the physical object from which the person is benefiting.
In this way, the sparks of holiness in the physical world will be refined most effectively, and the Neshamah’s mission in this world will be fulfilled in the fullest manner.