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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Knowledge, Will and Blessings


Thoughts on Torah Portion Naso

I often meet with a person who is looking to change and it comes down to "the moment when." People want to give up anger, find courage or lose weight. All the pieces are in place, the skills are known, and the launch button awaits. When is the moment?

This is one of the mysteries of the will - that energy that seems to form somewhere deep in the unconscious. Oddly, we often can't just will the will. If I am resistant to doing something, I can sit and affirm all day long that "I have the will" and those affirmations will just tire me out. The will that forms in the unconscious is much more complex than affirmations. Affirmations have to register somewhere very deep, way below language.

I think the mystery of the will resides in some kind of knowledge. We know things in the mind and we know things in the area of the soul. When the soul knows something, it also knows its own calculus: the spiritual cost of doing something and the cost of not doing something.

Forcing yourself to do something before the soul is ready either produces nothing, or what it does produce comes at a great cost.

I have seen well-intentioned friends persuading feuding people to "just talk to each other", and have known of the reluctant encounters going very badly.

Hard battles go on deep within. Working through grief, getting sober (staying sober), facing others and facing oneself. Fierce battles rage in the realm of the unconscious. In the "hero's journey" this is the fight through the thicket. The hero knows the quest, has found the tools, has been given the map, but there is always the fight through the thicket.

We who know the story know whether the hero makes it through it or not. But in the story, the hero does not know the outcome. The soul does not know of inevitable victory. Something in the soul only knows one thing - no willful turning back. If I am to suffer defeat, it is because there were just too many pterodactyls. I think of Captain Miller in "Saving Private Ryan" - too much Wehrmacht. The hero deserves to live, to succeed. This deserving of victory makes little difference to the forces of destruction.

When that moment of realization - that one can do no other - occurs in the soul, it shudders through the body. It is a singular knowledge, a heart firming and an opening into the vastness of a life of meaning. That firm heart, though, can weaken and the opening into the mystery of being can close.

A second kind of will is needed. The first will is the decision to move. The second will is to keep moving. The first one is related to courage, the second to resilience. Doubt has been overcome. Now one must accept the pain.

To what end is all this? I have been thinking about the nature of a blessing. What does a blessing do? Perhaps a blessing awakens unseen, supernatural forces to some good purpose. But perhaps a blessing awakens the soul to a knowledge, a decision, a resilience, all circling in the realm of the will.

May we live so as to be a blessing for others - and may we be open to the blessings that abound.


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