It’s a very famous pyramid, but it has its limitations.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one of the best-known theories of motivation. His theory states that human actions are motivated by certain needs, often represented by a pyramid of needs, with the most basic ones at the bottom and more complex at the top. A person proceeds to tackle a “higher need” once a lower need is more or less taken care of.

The most basic needs are “physiological” (food and water), which leads to needing “safety” (security), followed by a desire for “belongingness” and “love” (friendship), which then leads to a desire for “esteem” (prestige). The ultimate need is for “self-actualization” (self-fulfillment or creative endeavors). These describe the natural ability to focus on higher and higher needs as the lower and more basic ones are met.

The highest ideal is self-fulfillment and self-actualization, the key word being “self.” Looking at our human side, the highest possible goal is to be a moral, kind, expressive and self-fulfilled person.

The G‑dly Soul’s Need

Here’s the limitation: Psychologists are only analyzing our “human psyche”—aka, our animal soul. However, our G‑dly and altruistic soul is also part of our psyche. It is not enough to live a good life because our intellect or hierarchy dictates so; we need to take that self and transcend it. We need to fulfill G‑d’s desires, not just our own. We will never feel fully fulfilled and satisfied attending only to the needs of the animal soul, but will only feel “right” when even this self-fulfillment has a higher goal in mind: to serve G‑d. To be holy.

And that really in short is the mission of the G‑dly soul. To influence the animal soul not only not to engage in bad but to seek positive pursuits for a holy and G‑dly purpose.

The Daily Wrestle

The animal soul and the G‑dly soul wrestle on a daily basis. While it’s true that the animal soul originates from G‑d as well, it appears to not recognize its source and perceives itself as its own independent being. The animal soul wants to indulge in selfish endeavors, thoughts and emotions, whether they are negative (for example, anger) or positive (for example, being kind), but does so with an ulterior motive (for example, being kind and giving charity in order to get a large plaque named on a building).

The only reason we are capable of sinning is because of the selfish nature of the animal soul. But the G‑dly soul, which is compared to G‑d’s breath that He inhaled into us, retains its connection to G‑d and tries valiantly to separate the good from the bad and elevate, and refine the animal soul. The G‑dly soul endeavors to elevate the animal soul and its very drive so that it, too, only desires all of Maslow’s hierarchy for the sake of heaven, because that is what G‑d wants from it. The G‑dly soul wants kindness and morality to be rooted in obedience to G‑d, rather than just dictated by human logic or what feels good. It wants the passions and desires of the animal soul to be transformed to the point that a person’s true desire and pleasure are derived from living a life dedicated to G‑d and His Torah.

This G‑dly Jewish soul is called “Israel” (“Yisrael”), thus named because “you have struggled with [an angel of] G‑d and with men, and you have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29). The soul has an obligation and ability, as long as it is found in the body, to wrestle and prevail over the emotions, thoughts and behaviors of the animal soul.

It takes a lifetime to work on it. In fact, a person is given as many years on this earth as it takes to transform the animal soul. As it says in Psalms (90:10), “The days of our years because of them are seventy years.” Who does “them” refer to? The two forces inside of you. You’re given whatever time you need to tackle your inner beast and make a mensch out of it. Your life span is determined by how long your soul needs to accomplish its mission.

Prayer as the Battlefield

Prayer is the interface where this all happens. Prayer is the battlefield—the platform where the battle takes place and where the animal soul and G‑dly soul interact.

So what’s the secret? How does a G‑dly soul overcome the animal soul during prayer? How does this mental and spiritual war take place? Are we going arm-to-arm combat with our impulses?

Not exactly. The strategy is entirely different. In fact, we don’t acknowledge the specifics of the negative nature of the animal soul at all. By focusing our mind and concentrating on G‑d, it automatically weakens the negative in the animal soul and elevates it. The structure of prayer naturally takes you on a process to separate the bad of the animal soul and to elevate even the good of the animal soul.

So that you can live beyond the Pyramid.

(Stay tuned for the next article expounding on the tactical process of prayer.)

Source: The Maamar, Ki Tihiyena Li’ish, in Likkutei Torah, as explained in Chassidut Mevueret, Chapters 1-3.