July 24, 2024
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Dealing With the Conflicting Forces Within Us

A friend sent me a fascinating video clip which demonstrates how people sometimes don’t register everything they see. The viewers are instructed to watch a scene of people on a basketball court and to count how many times the basketball is passed between the players. Upon completion of the clip, the viewers are asked whether they saw a gorilla walk onto the basketball court. Most people, including me, did not. The same scene is then replayed, and one now clearly sees a gorilla slowly walking across the court and even waving at the camera! Most viewers missed the gorilla the first time because their focus was on counting the passes, not on an unexpected gorilla. Amazing!

Let’s further explore this concept of dueling realities that sometimes coexist not only right in front of us, but also within us.

In Parshas Bo, the Egyptian nation was afflicted with the ninth plague, darkness. The pasuk states that while the Egyptians were enveloped in darkness, there was light for the Jews, and that during the last three days of this plague, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were paralyzed. Still, the Jews could see, even standing in the same spot. The Ohr HaChaim adds that even when the Jews went into the homes and other places of the Egyptians, it was still light for the Jews, while totally dark for the Egyptians. According to Rashi, that’s when the Jews were able to locate the Egyptians’ jewelry, which they later requested before leaving Egypt as Hashem instructed.

How was it possible for the Jewish nation to experience light and the Egyptians to experience total darkness at the same time? The truth is that nothing is impossible for Hashem; He certainly can create a scenario where light and darkness coexist in the same place, depending on the viewer.

This phenomenon of clashing experiences and tendencies is still true today. We have within us darkness and light, good and evil, at the same time. They are driving forces which we need to focus on and control.

Such contradictions in the human psyche are dealt with often by modern psychologists and philosophers. Indeed, their insights can be very helpful at times. More importantly, the Ba’alei Mussar provide their own insights into the human psyche, utilizing the penetrating lens of the Torah to reveal and advise regarding the different forces that operate deep inside each of us.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz has two essays on the light and darkness that operate inside humans. He brings many insights from the commentators on this concept of the conflicting forces within us. This conflict is highlighted in the story in Navi where two women approached Shlomo HaMelech, each arguing that she was the true mother of a little baby. One of the ladies was obviously lying.

Why would someone want to steal someone else’s baby? It must have been because she couldn’t give birth, but nevertheless wanted to be a “giver.” She wanted to be a mother and raise a child. The paradox is fascinating: Although she was willing to dedicate her life to raising a child, including staying up nights, she was willing to achieve this by being a taker—by stealing someone else’s baby!! Where is the logic in this scenario? How could someone have such a desire to give, yet want to achieve her goal through such cruelty, by stealing someone else’s child?

The answer is … there is no logic. We live with contradictory forces operating inside of us. A person can be incredibly kind, yet sometimes be incredibly cruel. It’s not a mental illness—it’s just the reality of the human condition. We are all so complex.

Here’s a takeaway lesson from this concept: If we don’t realize that there is a struggle within us and focus on acting upon our good tendencies, then the negative drives within us will eventually overtake us and our light will be shrouded in darkness. We need to recognize the constant existence of the opposing forces of light and darkness—good and evil—and use the light to help illuminate a path to deal with the darkness.

May Hashem help us to overcome any darkness within us by using the light and good qualities which we all possess, enhanced by Torah study and feeling closeness to Hashem, our Creator.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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