Lazer Gurkow

Full of Hot Air

A Jew is a sacred spirit, a cauldron of Divine passion, a leaping flame hewn from the Heavenly throne. A Jew is a believer by nature and by birth. Jews are incapable of severing themselves from G-d.

How is it possible for a Jew to turn on G-d and transgress His will? Jews adore G-d; in His presence, they tremble in reverence and melt in ecstasy. A Jewish soul is a pure, sacred spark of Divinity. How does a Jew commit a sin?

Dual Forces
It is because G-d gave us competing inner forces. On the one hand, we have a sacred transcendental G-dly soul. On the other hand, we have a crass, craven, indolent, decadent, hedonistic, insecure, and fractured animal soul. The animal soul’s role is to entice us to turn against G-d.

Thus, our sages taught that Jews never commit a sin unless they are overcome by a spirit of folly. Our passion and excitement for a tempting sin is not really ours. It is introduced to us by a foreign agent—the animal soul. It is not natural to us. It is alien to our inherent nature. But G-d endowed the foolish animal soul with the power to compete against the G-dly soul.

The G-dly soul is much stronger than the animal soul. One is a sliver of the infinite G-d, and the other is a crass piece of refuse. There is no comparison between them. Yet, G-d enabled the animal soul to punch above its weight and challenge the G-dly soul.

The animal soul has a full arsenal of resources, but its most potent tool is its ability to infiltrate our psyches and make us think that its voice is our voice. The animal soul sets out to tempt us with all kinds of pleasurable allures. If we were to visualize the animal soul talking to us, we would peg it immediately as the enemy and ignore it. We would use the brilliant might of the G-dly soul to obliterate the tempting thoughts of the animal soul.

The problem is that the animal soul disguises itself and convinces us that we are hearing our own voice in our heads. We think that we are tempted by the forbidden pleasures. We think it is our heart that skips a beat in desire and attraction. This is not true. The Jewish heart beats only for G-d. The animal soul, however, disguises itself so perfectly that it sounds and looks like us. It manages to fool even us.

This is the folly of which our sages spoke. The foolish sensation that we want it when, in fact, we don’t.

Identify the Animal
The key to success in combating the compelling allure of the animal soul is to identify it. Manipulators thrive in the dark. When you shine a light on them, they shrivel and disappear. The animal soul shrivels and melts away when you identify it. The moment you identify the voice of the animal soul and recognize it as an intruder, you are on alert and can fight back.

The animal soul can’t fight the real you on an even playing field. The animal soul’s only hope for success is to sow havoc in our ranks by disguising itself as us—speaking to us in a voice that sounds like ours and planting ideas we think are ours. The moment we identify it as the animal soul, we have won.

Call it out and tell the truth. Thunder down on it with genuine wrath and tell it not to tangle with you again. You are a holy, vibrant, passionate spark of the Divine. You love G-d and His commandments. You despise anything that separates or, worse, distances you from G-d. The tempting voice in your head is not yours. It is the voice of the detestable animal soul whose only goal is to distract you and trip you up.

The moment you do that, the die is cast, and the game is won. The animal soul cannot stand up to this truth. It has no independent power. It is full of hot air. Its power comes from tempting you. When you succumb to it, it grows stronger. The stronger it grows, the harder it is to overcome it, and thus you succumb again and make it even stronger. It doesn’t have its own strength. It siphons strength from you.

However, when you identify it and reveal the Ponzi scheme, it topples. It loses its power source and can no longer challenge you. It is revealed as an imposter that pretended to be you. It is revealed as a failure who attempted to sway you but failed.

The moment you bust its balloon, all the hot air rushes out. What was once a proud, full, soaring balloon is now a ragged empty piece of plastic. You have shined a light of truth, and the animal soul’s opposition shrivels and wastes.

The truth is that the animal soul is secretly happy to have lost. After all, it, too, was created by G-d and is a loyal servant of G-d. It has given a G-d -given task to tempt you. G-d’s intention was not that you succumb to its wiles but that you overcome them. As a loyal servant, the animal soul does all it can to succeed. But secretly, it hopes that you are strong enough to make it fail. When it fails, it exults because G-d, its master, receives the desired results.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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