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Two-Faced Honesty

Two-Faced Honesty

Hypocrisy is not always a bad thing

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Integrity is perhaps the most sought-after character trait. Whether searching for a spouse, business partner, employee or friend, honesty is usually a non-negotiable quality. When necessary, we make compromises regarding intelligence, disposition or other character flaws — but we simply refuse to deal with someone who is perceived to be hypocritical and duplicitous.

At times, however, a strong sense of integrity can be a significant impediment to spiritual growth, and the cause of one's undoing.

Take prayer as a prime example. We are certainly aware that prayer is intended to be much more than a few minutes of mindless muttering. Prayer has the potential of being a personal audience with the Creator; an excursion into a spiritual world. Deep down we all long to experience true prayer. We can sense our soul tugging at the leash, and we so wish we could accommodate its wishes.

Why don't we? What is holding so many of us back from losing ourselves in the beautiful words of the prayerbook? Why can't we block out all other thoughts and focus on G‑d for a few minutes a day?

The culprit is our integrity.

"Who am I kidding? Me praying like some kind of saint?! You think I can fool G‑d with my prayers? He knows very well exactly who I am. He saw what I did yesterday and the day beforehand, and has a pretty good idea what I'll be doing later today after prayers. The same mind which was yesterday occupied with xxxx should now meditate on G‑d?! Believe me — G‑d has no interest in my spiritual delusions of grandeur!"

At times, a strong sense of integrity can be a significant impediment to spiritual growthThe same is true in other areas of life — we are uncomfortable with certain mitzvot or Jewish customs because we believe that observing them would be hypocritical. Often we aren't concerned about what others will think; it's our very own conscience that is stopping us.

An examination of the Jew's unique psyche should solve the integrity "issue." Rabbi Isaac Luria, the famed 16th century mystic, taught that in addition to the standard soul which animates every human being, the Jew possesses a second soul — a G‑dly soul. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains this concept in very practical terms:

Every person has many desires, many of which are naturally contradictory. For example, the dieting person simultaneously wishes to eat cake and to lose weight. When the alarm clock rings in the morning, many of us have conflicting desires — wanting to awaken and wanting to throw the alarm clock out the window. Yet, looking beyond the surface reveals that these desires aren't so contradictory after all — they all stem from a yearning for self-gratification. The problem is that life is filled with so many paths to self-gratification. [Generally, these paths can be divided into two categories: a) The easy ones which lead to immediate but shallow gratification, and b) the hard-fought decisions which bring profound fulfillment.] The question is which path to self-gratification will I choose today? Taste buds or self-esteem? Sleep or self-discipline?

The agendas of the G‑dly soul and the human soul, however, really are conflicting. Each has a completely different objective. The human soul naturally craves that which will yield physical or emotional self-gratification. The G‑dly soul, on the other hand, has no sense of ego or personal agenda whatsoever. Its only desire is to serve G‑d and connect to Him.

Prayer (or any other Torah commandment) is an expression of the G‑dly soul. All those activities which render the prayer "hypocritical" are expressions of the human soul.

So where is the hypocrisy?

The G‑dly soul's integrity is absolute. It was never involved in any activity which contradicts its passionate prayer. It suffered silently while the human soul was in the driver's seat, but now it is overjoyed that the time for prayer has arrived. Now it can take control and express its love for G‑d.

So forget about what happened yesterday and what may happen later today. Right now it is time to pray; go ahead, indulge your G‑dly soul and focus on your prayer. Interestingly, after doing this several times you will notice that your "yesterdays" and "later todays" will suddenly start looking much nicer too!

"A little light dispels much darkness."

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
In the former USSR, Kreina Clement was a refusenik and activist in the underground Chabad movement. She was denied entry to the Moscow Academy of Art because she was a Jew. Today, Kreina pursues her artwork full time and works in a variety of media. Her interests are portraiture and landscapes.
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Anonymous March 1, 2017

I have never heard it put like this, & it is beautiful, since it gives me permission despite my often lowly & inappropriate thoughts to offer my prayers. It seems I can't even keep focused during the prayer & my mind will offer thoughts I do not care to entertain. Now I can just focus on keeping the G-dly soul up front & can at least scowl at the human soul. Reply

Fro December 4, 2015

Wow..this is so freeing..many times it is the constant and endless self analysis (which often brings no resolution and very accusative) that continually hinders one to even begin to grow spiritually ..thank you Rabbi Natalie Silberberg. Reply

Rabbi Mordechai Berger melbourne, aus. September 25, 2008

once more I enjoyed Rabbi Silberbergs profound article.I was struck by the honesty of the words "two paths of self gratification...".I believe this article can be used as a text for study for it unlocks profound themes. K'siva V'chasima Tova. Reply

Liz Marietta, GA September 24, 2008

Prayer Thanks, Rabbi, for the reminder that nothing I do negates my prayer. I just love knowing that during prayer, my "G-dly soul's integrity is absolute." I also know for sure that prayer changes things. Reply

Moishe NY September 23, 2008

Conclusion Right on, Joel, I was taught that a non-Jew's Godly soul has the same first three parts as a Jew has, nefesh, ruach, neshama, but doesn't have the two others, chai and y'chida. Is it not possible for a non-Jew to connect to God when praying?
I haven't learned that much chassidus, but I'd like Rabbi Silberberg to address this problematic understanding.
This is an extremely sensitive area of mysticism that requires tremendous knowledge to explain correctly & appropriately. Reply

tehila leah September 23, 2008

hypocrisy in prayer thanx for helping make this year's prayers more open to me. you hit "my" problem on the nail head and, with this essay added to my machzor as a reminder, shul will be more meaningful. Reply

Dario September 23, 2008

Thanks, your message brings hope and life. Reply

Joel September 23, 2008

I liked the article, it was very well written and very informative, but my only complaint is that he said only us Jews have a G-dly soul, I've always believed and have been taught that every human has these two souls. I don't think we exclusively have a G-dly nature, all humans do. And to think only we have a G-dly soul and a spiritual nature is foolish and destructive. I do believe there is a Jewish soul that makes us unique, but I defiantly wouldn't say we are the only ones with a G-dly soul. But maybe I misinterpreted what the rabbi meant when he said that. Reply

M.H. North Miami Beach/Jerusalem, Florida/Israel September 23, 2008

strugglling with prayer Saying "no" to a piece of cake is, for me, "a piece of cake." Responding immediately to the 6;15 alarm clock ringing-- no problem! Opening up a siddur to daven -- uh oh! So I'm willing to try and follow your advice about "indulging" my G-dly soul. You packaged it so well, it might just do the trick.

Keep up the good work...and Shana Tova, as well! Reply

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