Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Does a Weakness Mean That You Are Damaged Goods?

Mishpatim

Among the most convincing arguments that cause anxiety and depression are: “I’m no good” and “I can’t change”.

And they are generally supported by “irrefutable proof”:

  1. I was born with this nature (to eat a lot, sleep a lot, etc.);
  2. I can’t control my impulses (to get angry, be jealous, etc.);
  3. No matter what I do, It won’t make any real impact;
  4. If I respect rules imposed on me, I won’t be able to realize my personal ambitions.

How do you get out of that pit?

In this week’s reading, Mishpatim [1], we read about four categories of damage, and their prototypes, for which one is responsible. They are:

The “bull”, the “pit”, “man” and “fire”.

In the Torah they appear as prototypes of harm to others for which one is responsible: 1) when one’s animal does damage; 2) when a pit dug or uncovered by someone in the public domain causes harm; 3) when one personally does intentional harm; and 4) when a fire lit by someone on his property goes out of control and damages the property of others. Each of these prototypes represents a specific level of responsibility and their respective reparative obligations.

The Rebbe —may his merit shield us— explains how, in addition to the physical implications of these realities, there is also a dimension of spiritual damage implicit in them, four excuses that one usually gives to justify his harmful behavior. He also explains what the response to each of the excuses is.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into that aspect of the subject [2], but to apply the concepts as tools for dealing with similar arguments when they cause anxiety and depression and thereby cause harm to oneself.

Here goes:

Many times one feels that there is nothing he or she can do to change their way of being because of one of the following arguments: 1. it is my nature to be like that, why repress my nature?; 2. I am powerless to control my temper; 3. I don’t feel relevant; 4. legal/religious/social impositions prevent me from realizing my personal ambitions.

Without going into an analysis of each of these arguments, their underlying causes and fallacies, there is a general “tool” that serves as a base when attempting to deal with any of them:

The idea is not to confuse what you are with issues that you might have. Being lazy is not synonymous with having a tendency towards laziness; being sad is not the same as having a tendency to be sad. It is the difference between day and night. If one is a certain way, it is practically impossible to change. If you simply have a negative tendency, it will be difficult to overcome it but it is not impossible. As a matter of fact it might very well be the most important challenge in your life; by overcoming it you will be able to express the most important and deepest potential that you have and would not otherwise have activated.

This is how G-d created us. He gave us challenges so that we would have the satisfaction of overcoming them. If you want to know what your mission in life is, look at your biggest challenge. The greatest achievement in life is when you defeat the strongest opponent possible, and you have no stronger opponent than you and your own comfort zone.

—————

  1. Exodus 21:1-24:18

2. For an excellent rendering of the original concepts, please see here: www.chabad.org/library/36361

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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