Each of us faces two kinds of intertwined struggles: those with the world and those inside oneself. It’s true that, if you change yourself, you are likely to act differently toward others, and if you act differently it will trigger changes in the self. Yet we still appreciate that these are somehow distinct. Meditation and prayer we understand as essentially internal. Feeding the hungry or taking part in political demonstrations, for example, we think of as mostly external.
There is a large body of Jewish literature on practicing even if one does not feel the desire to do so, in the belief that action will change one’s internal state. There is also a considerable discussion on what Bahya called “duties of the heart” — the need to train oneself in feeling as well as in practice.
The Talmud tells us that Rabban Gamliel used to announce, “Any student whose inside is not like his outside may not enter the House of Study.” Doing what your heart says can be as difficult as feeling what your hands do. So we try to act better, feel more and to align our actions and feelings, divided creatures in an unredeemed world.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).