Inner Peace

How does one achieve inner peace?

To answer this question we must first ask, what factors deprive us of inner peace? There are all kinds of answers to the second question. Inner peace can be hampered by money stresses, family stresses, insecurity issues and others. But I submit that the most prevalent issue that hampers inner peace is our innate conflict. The chasm that causes turmoil. The schism that robs our sleep and tears us apart.

The very essence of the Jew is in conflict. We are a paradox by our making. On the one hand, the human is the only being that G-d created without life. Every animal, mammal, insect, bird and sea creature was created as a living being. Every flower, fruit and blade of grass was created with life. Only Adam was created lifeless. Formed out of lifeless dust with the breath of life coming later. On the other hand, only the human was given a divine soul, and only the Jew was given the uniquely Jewish soul.

This paradox generates tension within us that leads to inner conflict. On the one hand, we are earthlier than plant life. We were formed out of inanimate lifeless substance. On the other hand, we are gifted with the holiest and most heavenly soul of all creatures on the planet. We are a slice of heaven, breathed into a clod of earth. It is no wonder that we are at once inspired to heavenly pursuits and tempted by earthly and even sinful urges.

We live within this raging tempest. It is an earthly storm of heavenly proportions. We aspire to the noblest causes, but are drawn to selfish and shameful pleasures. It is why we can’t live with ourselves when we are forced to confront the base side of our nature. We stare at our image and say shame on you.  A heavenly being living an earthly life, what will become of you?

When someone points out our faults and shortcomings, we are overcome with regret. It is a perpetual conflict. We want the highest and are drawn to the lowest. In simple terms, we want to feel at home in the synagogue, we want to embrace the fervency of our heritage, yet we also want to be at home in the outside gentile society. We want to be recognized in both places, we want to belong to both.

This generates emotional tension and internal conflict. We cannot be comfortable in both worlds, and we wind up being uncomfortable in either world. In the end, we must make a choice, where do we belong, on the inside or outside?

No Schism
Rabbi Herbert Weiner, author of Nine and a Half Mystics, once told the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he detects a sort of naivete in the eyes of the Lubavitcher Chassidim. They embrace Judaism and matters of faith fervently and don’t leave room for independent thought. The Rebbe replied that it is not naivete that he detects in the eyes of the Chassidim, but the lack of a schism.

The Rebbe explained that in the modern age, Jews walk around with a tortured look that passes for sophistication. We are constantly asking ourselves where we belong, which is the real me? We are always trying to reconcile our societal principles with our Jewish beliefs and when we fail, we live with an internal schism. Among my Chassidim, concluded the Rebbe, there is no schism. They have found their place and made peace with it. They have embraced their inner selves.

Heaven and Earth
It is not easy to make peace with ourselves and emerge from our perpetual conflict, unscathed. G-d placed us on earth as paradoxical beings for good reason. He wants us to be earthly creatures, who feel comfortable on earth, but with heavenly souls, able to transcend earthliness. He wanted us to be the levers that dig down beneath the surface and lift the bottom up.

We can’t reach down to the bottom if we don’t belong at the bottom, which is why our bodies were made of the lowest, lifeless earthly material. But we can’t lift the world up if we are not blessed with heavenly souls who can yearn and reach for heaven. In a sense, we must be both. The only question is, which is the real me, where am I more myself?

There was once a Chassid, who was also a well-heeled businessman. When he traveled on business, he dressed in modern attire. When he visited his Rebbe, he donned traditional Chassidic garb. One day he came to his Rebbe dressed in modern attire. The Rebbe expressed surprise at the change, and the Chassid explained that he wanted to be authentic. If he wore modern attire at business, he may as well wear it at the Rebbe’s home.

The Rebbe replied that he knew of the Chassid’s modern attire at business venues, but, said the Rebbe, I thought your business attire was the costume and your Chassidic garb was the real you. Now I see I was wrong. Your modern attire was the real you, and your Chassidic garb was the costume.

The inner meaning of the Rebbe’s comment has little to do with attire and everything to do with mindset. We need to live in both worlds, but which is the real me? Do I belong in the Jewish world and put up with secular society because I must or do I belong in secular society and put up with the Jewish world because I must? I have a body and a soul, which is the real me and which do I tolerate?

When I travel and run into Jews, do I run to embrace my people or do I run and hide so they don’t recognize me as one of theirs? When I travel with my non-Jewish friends, do I insist that they visit the synagogues and Jewish sites or do I let them pull me into the Monasteries and Cloisters? Which is the real me, and which is the external me?

The Hebrew word Noah, means relaxation. In the first verse of the Torah reading about Noah, the name Noah appears twice in succession. This led our sages to comment that Noah brought relaxation to the upper and the lower spheres.

The deeper meaning here is that Noah reconciled the internal conflict between body and soul. Although this conflict raged in the heart of his generation, Noah lived in total relaxation. Noah found inner peace. His body was comfortable with his soul and his soul was comfortable with his body. The raging waters and storm surges that represent the pressures, stresses and distracting pleasures of life on earth, did not interfere with his heavenly pursuit. And his heavenly pursuit was not diluted by his forced existence on earth. Noah had found inner peace. He lived with no schism.

As we read about Noah we must ask ourselves how close we are to finding inner peace? Are we bodies that have souls, or are we souls that have bodies?

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