The power of self-restraint
In our generation, we all know all too well how much power and authority the animal soul, the Nefesh behemi, exerts, and how difficult it is to repel it.
That’s why we also need to know the deeper points that will help us to fight against it and repel it.
The holy books talk about a very deep concept called the ‘tikkun hayesod’, or ‘rectification of the foundation’.
To put this in simpler language, this is called the ‘power of self-restraint’, and this is the key to managing the relationship between the profane and the holy, and the animal soul and the Divine soul.
The animal soul’s yetzer hara (evil inclination) wants to break through all the fences, and wants a person to gulp his food down, and to eat a huge amount, and so on and so forth.
Our work is to rule over our eating habits, and to not let our eating habits rule over us.
The strength we have to restrain ourselves, and to hold ourselves back when our lusts are waxing stronger will determine who’s really in control – our intellect, or our desires.
We need to know that when we come into close contact with our animal soul, at that very moment, some very powerful forces are revealed within us, and this strength is what is going to rule over a person.
So our job is to learn how to restrain ourselves.
When that desire for something wakes up inside of us, like that well-known desire, sometimes it can attack us forcefully. This is when we need to have the power of self-restraint in our nefesh, in order to overcome these lusts.
We need the strength to be able to say: “No, I’m not taking that. I’m abstaining from this. There’s a huge plate of food here, but I’m not going to eat!”
From experience, it’s so much easier to completely abstain from eating than to just eat a little and then hold back from eating the rest.
Why is this so very hard? Because at the moment that we start to eat, our nefesh wakes up, the strength of that lust wakes up, and now it’s really difficult to stop it in mid-flow.
A little is also good
It’s important to understand that it’s impossible to fight against these lusts head-on, because then the nefesh will only increase the level of desire even more. So then, what can we do?
Rebbe Nachman reveals another big rule: “A little is also good.” Rebbe Nachman is not saying this to comfort us, but to teach us a very deep secret.
Hashem created us with all of our desires and bad middot (negative character traits), that’s the reality.
But if this is the case, then what does He want from us? That we should work hard and make an effort to escape from this bad, and this happens when we get used to restraining ourselves a little more, each time.
Each time, we should work on another stage, step by step, without trying to jump two levels at once.
When someone tries to advance too fast, his yetzer hara breaks him. But when a person restrains himself a little, he then achieves a huge tikkun (rectification) in his nefesh.
Every time that he successfully controls himself, even just a little, his power of self-restraint grows.
Let’s take an example: Now, it’s lunchtime. So wait five minutes, but no more than that, and then see what you experience in those five minutes.
A Jew has an enormous, awesome ability to restrain himself. We can restrain ourselves in the face of every lust contained in the whole world, but we’re just not used to doing that.
We need to practice, we need to get used to doing this, so we can make our power of self-restraint a reality.