12 Cheshvan 5782 / Monday, October 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Emuna Muscles

We're not aware of most of the decisions we're making, because they aren't under our conscious control. But if we aren't in the driver’s seat for these decisions, then who is?


Have you ever thought about how many decisions you make every day? Would you believe that you are making thousands upon thousands of decisions every day, including right now? We're not aware of most of the decisions we're making, because they aren't under our conscious control. But if we aren't in the driver’s seat for these decisions, then who is? The answer is that they are really being made by the Evil Inclination, who slips into our unconscious minds and makes these decisions for us.


Just imagine there's a three year old boy, who's really only interested in getting some social approval and maybe a squeeze on his cheek, or a kiss, from his dad. That little boy is handed a knife and shown a picture of a person from another country, or from another religion, and then he's told that this “other” person doesn't have a right to exist, and neither does his country.


What's this innocent little boy going to do? Remember, he's all of three years' old. What that little boy wants is to be noticed, to be listened to, to be loved, to be respected. Now they put a big knife into his little hand and presto, he immediately has significance and importance; he immediately has all the things he's really after: people are making a fuss over him, they are praising him, they are making him feel very powerful, and he can get his deep needs for “love” and approval met.


At age three, that little boy is making a key decision that's going to affect his life, and others' lives and the lives of millions of people. But now, that boy has turned into a grown-up man, and we have to ask him: “Isn't it time that you upgrade the decision that you made when you were in diapers? Why should you continue to be dominated by the infantile decision that you made when you were so small and impressionable?”


Consciously he thinks that his “decision” to fire rockets at another country, or to plan terrorist attacks on innocent people is his choice, but really, his conscious mind has practically no part in that “decision”. If it did, it would be showing him clearly that his decision is putting his own home and family in danger, and is risking his own life unnecessarily. And for what? Just so that his dad could pat him on the head and tell him how cute he is?


Maybe the above example sounds a bit extreme to us; after all, we aren't planning to blow anyone up, or to start World War III just to get kudos from our parents. But the truth is that whenever we make a decision – any decision - without getting G-d actively involved in the process, this decision is bound to fail, and it's bound to get us caught up in patterns of behavior and beliefs that won't be productive, and won't end in a good way.


Today, the Evil Inclination is so strong, that even in the most religious homes and even amongst the most religious people, it has completely infiltrated the way we think. Again, I'm not talking about our conscious minds here. For the most part, the conscious mind is easier to guard against negativity and evil.  But our unconscious minds are comparatively very poorly defended, and this is where the Evil One is having a field day. Just like a snake, he's so wound up in our unconscious decision making process, that our waking selves have no idea what's really going on, and just how compromised we actually are.


It's like when a person goes to sleep at night. They can be the biggest giant of a man, 6ft 8 inches tall, with muscles on his muscles and iron biceps; maybe he's a middle linebacker for the New York Giants - but, when he's lying in bed at night, asleep, he's just a passive victim with no strength. While we are asleep, the Evil One is going straight into our unconscious minds and wreaking havoc precisely there, where our ego defenses aren't so strong.


So how can we fight the evil inclination and stop him from sneaking into our unconscious minds? By strengthening our conscious minds all day long! By becoming much more conscious of our decisions. Most people don’t realize that they have tons more emuna, kindness, strength, discipline, and a capacity for joy than they think they have. The terrorist also doesn’t know how much happier he would be if he were consciously using his strengths instead of running on automatic pilot.


The reason that most people don’t know about their own capacities is because they are not conscious of when they are using them. People can be enjoying a pleasurable glass of wine and not taste it; or feeling happy at a family get together but are only vaguely aware that they are having a good time. In order to benefit from all of the emuna that is already in you, you need to be aware of when you are using your emuna.


Every time that you make a decision you are choosing between at least two possibilities. If I buy an apartment on paper because someone I respect tells me it’s a great deal, do I know with absolute certainty that it’s the right decision? No, I don’t. Even if the chances are slim that the contractor will run away with my money or that once it is built it won’t look anything like it did in the picture – I am still using my emuna to make this purchase. If I tell myself ahead of time, “OK, I don’t really know if this is the right move but I’m going to use my emuna and do it, I’ve just exercised my “emuna muscle” and consequently strengthened it. 


Let’s take a few more simple examples: I turn on the water faucet. Do I really know for sure that water will come out? No. So tell yourself “I’m using emuna to believe that water will come out.” You’re sitting in your living room. Do you know for sure that the ceiling won’t collapse on you? Do you? No you don’t. So again you have a chance to exercise your emuna muscles: “I’m sitting here now because I have emuna that the ceiling won’t fall and that there won’t be an earthquake under my chair.”


We trust that most things that we see happening over and over are going to happen that way again but if we think about it we don’t really know with certainty that they will and we miss the opportunity to strengthen emuna if we don’t make ourselves consciously aware that we are in fact using emuna for countless decisions that we make throughout the day. You hire a worker to fix your fridge and he wants some money upfront – that’s right, it’s your emuna. You pour some milk into your coffee and “trust” that it’s going to taste the way it always has in the past – that’s emuna too. You choose to get on a bus (which can be a bit uncertain in Israel) instead of a cab – you’ve got emuna!


The bottom line is that every decision we make in life can only be made with emuna – nothing is for sure. So when we make our emuna decisions with deliberate conscious awareness, often enough, even for small things like the coffee or the water faucet or the chair that is holding me up right now, then when a bigger challenge comes our way and our heart starts to tremble with fear, our mind can say to our heart, “Hey don’t you remember all of the many examples of how you have made decisions with emuna and G-d has taken care of you and how things came out OK?” And our heart will hear our mind and agree with it and our fears begin to calm down.



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