Dr. David Barlow of Boston U is known for making patients feel uneasy. If you try to take off your jacket in his office, he stops you and tells you to keep it on. The last thing he wants is for you to feel cool and relaxed when you’re sitting with him. He’s happy to see you as uncomfortable as possible. He wants to see real anxiety.

Which is what makes Dr. Barlow of the most successful therapists today for sufferers of anxiety disorders.

Doc Barlow wants his patients to face their anxiety head-on. Why? Because he believes there’s a fear structure wired into their brains, a little beastie with a messed-up mind of its own. To rewire that beast, you’ve got to meet it while it’s live and kicking, throbbing and pumping red. You’ve got to discover that you can beat it on its own ground.

Two paths beyond nature

You don’t need an anxiety disorder to have a beast inside. There’s a beast inside all of us. There’s a beast, and you’ve got to hold it tight, restrain it, harness it. Do nothing, and it will rip you apart and consume you alive, with rage, with passion, with fear, with depression, with stupidities—with whatever teeth and fangs adorn this particular beast of yours. Other creatures thrive by following their nature. But you are a human. Human nature demands that you transcend nature.

There are two ways to transcend nature. You could wage an endless war. Or you could transcend in utter peace.

The person we call a tzaddik is one who has walked away from his battle in peace.

What is the tzaddik’s secret? It is his unbounded love. The tzaddik’s soul burns with passion, the ecstasy of his heart bursts into flames—fierce, inextinguishable flames that consume the entire animal, meat, blood and bones, as a burnt offering brought upon a heavenly altar, transforming that beast at its very core, until it is more an angel than an earthly being.

The beast of the tzaddik knows reason and bows to it. It willingly offers all its power of passion to the divine soul that has mastered it, and all its brute strength to its service. While the rest of us—at best—grab the beast by its horns so we can harness its power to plow our fields, the tzaddik has already stripped that beast of its earthiness and taught it to fly to the heavens.

But what power fans those flames? What renders his love so real, so all-consuming?

Behind the tzaddik’s love lies his vision. A vision that pierces beyond the delusions of the human ego, and beneath the façade of corporeal perception. For where you and I see a world, the tzaddik sees Infinite Light. Where you and I see a static image, the tzaddik sees reality refreshed at every moment—as though the frequency of his soul exceeds the refresh rate of creation.

For us, this cold, hard world is the ground of reality. The idea of a Creator, of transcendence, of purpose and meaning—all this is a discovery, a revelation, perhaps even an intrusion for which we must apologize. For the tzaddik, that revelation is the background, the canvas from which all forms emerge.

For us, the world is obvious, and its source a revelation. For the tzaddik, the opposite is true: the Infinite Light is obvious, and the existence of this world an astonishment, a wonder that forever escapes resolution.

If so, for the tzaddik, the animal passions never had any dominion to begin with. For us, the animal is the host, and the divine soul arrives with its baggage as an unwelcome guest. As much as that soul might demand and command and assert its superiority, in the end this body is the meaty and earthy territory of the beast, and our soul is the alien who must bow to its conventions.

But for the tzaddik, G‑d is an absolute, and there is nothing else but G‑d. So too, the tzaddik’s love is absolute, and once ignited, there is nothing left in his heart but that love.

The love burns. A blazing fire. In that fire, there is peace.

While in our fire . . .

While in our fire, there is war. Our own persona is the battleground. The beast remains a beast, ever awaiting its moment to break free of its reins and run unfettered by the nuisances of reason, social propriety and moral decency. Every morning we are faced by a yet more powerful brute, already wise to the strategies the mind used yesterday to thwart it, kicking back with yet greater passion, sharper teeth and longer claws.

Some of us suppress rage that could rip apart our families and friendships. Some hold back burning passions for the forbidden. For others, every day is spent escaping addictions they know are destroying them. In business, not a day goes by without some ethical decision to face head-on. Each with his or her challenge, each with his or her battle. And each time, a victory demands reaching inside and awakening a source of power hidden deep within.

We struggle to touch that source, and at times it may even flicker within us. Perhaps even brightly, if just for a moment. Without doubt, it glows there inside us, like a tiny pilot light that glows at the foot of a cold furnace. It calls out to us, like the voice of a small child calling out from the depths of an uncharted cavern.

And then, it leaves us. Once more, we are on our own.

The light leaves us, the voice quietens, but its power is still there. It is the power of the tzaddik within us. For at that essence-core, he is us and we are him. And so, the power of his love is our power; and with that power, nothing can stand in our way.

And if we will ask the tzaddik, “Please, can’t you share with us your burning love? Can’t we, too, live in serene peace?”

Then the tzaddik will tell us, “But that is not the purpose. That is not why you came to this world. You came here to meet the animal eye to eye, to face it at its most primal level, entrenched at the brainstem, and to rewire it there. I cannot do that, for as long as this love burns bright, the beast does not dare to crawl out of its den. Indeed, it has no substance at all in my world, for it simply dissolves in the light.

“But you will meet it there, in the thick of its darkness. You will struggle to tame it, and it will challenge you. And so you will become yet stronger, stronger than you ever imagined you could be, until the very essence-powers of your soul shall emerge. And that is when the darkness of that beast will truly shine.

“So that you, not I, will change the world.”


This concept is presented in the seminal work of Chabad, the Tanya. It is developed in many maamarim, but see especially the maamarim of the Rebbe that begin with Padah b’shalom nafshi (“He has redeemed my soul in peace”).

The latter part is an elucidation of Chapter 27 of Tanya, as it is developed in many maamarim.