The Gates of Repentance
Ninth Principle of Teshuva: OVERCOMING YOUR PHYSICAL CRAVINGS
Sometimes the sensitive soul feels like a child of two conflicting parents
who always disappoints one of them, no matter what he does. For indeed, if we
indulge ourselves we seem to satisfy our body and disappoint our soul, while
if we deny ourselves we seem to satisfy our soul but disappoint our body. So
what's a person in search of spiritual excellence to do?
The truth of the matter is that the Torah teaches us how to satisfy both at
the same time, by channelling our physical drives into spirituality.
But we'd do well to recall that Rabbeinu Yonah is speaking of individuals who
had lapsed into spiritual mediocrity and over-emphasized the physical. People
who’d thus have to bend over backward in the other direction in order to
achieve teshuva (to return to G-d).
Rabbeinu Yonah points out that we're driven by our desires. And that once one
of them takes hold of our heart, the rest of us follows suit. That's a
daunting thought, as far as sins are concerned. Since they evoke images of
being overtaken by things against our will. After all, as Rabbeinu Yonah
himself puts it, at the time we're "drawn away by the chords of desire".
But it also offers us hope. Because if we can be pulled and pulled by
untoward impulses, we can allow ourselves to be pulled and pulled by
*righteous* impulses. Since the same mechanism is at play. So in short, we
can indulge a desire for spiritual excellence, too, if we allow it to take
hold of our heart.
And that will allow for what Rabbeinu Yonah refers to as the "triumph" of
overcoming your baser desires. After all, who doesn't beam with joy and feel
triumphant when he or she manages to stick to an exercise regimen, for
example, or a diet, and thus conquers a self-destructive pattern? The
righteous enjoy an elation when they conquer a spiritually self-destructive
pattern that touches upon many of the same feelings-- and more.
We're then told of some other advantages to overcoming our physical cravings,
aside from the sense of triumph.
The first: Rabbeinu Yonah points out that it's our cravings that separate us
from others. After all (to use a common enough example), if I really want one
thing, and you really want its opposite, we're on different wave-lengths, and
there's a certain tension between us. But if you or I don't particularly care
one way or the other-- that is, if we’d each conquered our personal
cravings-- we're in synch.
The second : If I've mastered one untoward craving and another one comes my
way, I can always legitimately convince myself that if I overcame the first
one, I could certainly overcome the second. After all-- I have a track record!
And the third: When you overcome and lose your taste for old self-destructive
cravings you prove just how legitimate and true your search for spiritual
excellence is. Since you'd turned your back on the very things that
distracted you from G-d and threw you into spiritual mediocrity. And you’d
set your sights on triumphant teshuva instead.
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.