What happens when kindness alone isn't enough? * Our true strength lies not just in what comes naturally to us but in what we achieve through striving. * On Tanya for 10 Elul.
Have you ever found it easy to be kind, to extend a hand to someone in need without a second thought? The lesson from the text of Tanya for 10 Elul provides an illuminating perspective on this, focusing on the attributes of kindness and judgment. According to the text, our souls inherently possess traits of kindness and compassion because they come from God's attributes, in which kindness is more dominant than strength or judgment. This isn't just a state of mind but a state of being. However, the text sharply distinguishes between an "act" and "service." The term "service" refers to what a person does with immense exertion, going against their soul's natural inclination.
So, what happens when compassion isn't enough? This question marks the central theme of this discussion. When kindness and innate compassion give way to deliberate effort and spiritual work, something extraordinary takes place, a harmony that transcends emotion.
The classic text of the Zohar writes, "The soul is called the 'daughter of the priest,' since it comes from the attribute of kindness, which is known as 'Priest.'" This suggests our innate predisposition towards kindness. Yet, even this celestial affinity doesn't absolve us from the need for deliberate effort. The Talmud adds another layer by saying, "Who is mighty? The one who controls their bad inclinations." Our true strength lies not just in what comes naturally to us but in what we achieve through striving.
In Iggeret Hakodesh, the term "spiritual work" is explained as exerting oneself "in the study of Torah and prayer, to the point of pressing out the soul." So, while your nature might be to give, to serve requires a dedication that tests the limits of your soul. It's not enough to just do; one must strive to be more, to give more, going far beyond the comfort zone of natural inclinations.
In today's world, where personal development gurus abound, encouraging us to "find ourselves," ancient wisdom gently prods us to "create ourselves" through the choices we make and the efforts we exert. Indeed, every act of service hastens the coming of the Messiah, who will reward our earthly struggles with eternal bliss.
So how do we apply this in modern times? Simply put, the next time you give charity or extend a kindness, ask yourself: Is this my natural inclination, or am I striving to go above and beyond? Is this an 'act' or is this 'service'? That simple question can make a world of difference, transforming not just the act of giving but the very soul that gives.