(Yes, his books can be found as free articles on the Bilvavi website, but for such deep & contemplative reading, I prefer print. So I bought the actual book.)
While the initial reason for the book was for its elucidation in the first half on doing inner work according to the four elements of personality (earth, wind, fire, water), the second half on the 13 faculties of the human soul also provides tremendous insight.
While different opinions exist on how to count the faculties of the human soul (the Vilna Gaon addresses 70, much of Chazal describes 10), Getting to Know Your Soul utilizes the system of Rav Chai Gaon, who enumerates 13 faculties.
(As a side point, while the original Tribes of Israel are numbered as 12, they're actually 13 if you count Menashe & Ephraim as 2 separate Tribes.)
The 13 faculties of the human soul are:
- Havayah—Sense One's Own Existence
Certain ideas jumped out at me in the section on Oneg—Pleasure.
The Torah Way of Self-Love
Growing up within the American culture of pop psychology, I heard about the importance of self-love for most of my life.
As written elsewhere on this blog, I basically rejected the pop psychology approach because I didn't see it in Chazal.
(Also, many proponents of self-love aren't particularly loving or generous or connected with others.)
Chazal tends to focus on love of Hashem, rather than love of self.
(Once you love Hashem, you can truly love yourself & others.)
Likewise, the Pele Yoetz discusses love of self. But again, he connects it to love of God and taking care of yourself so you don't die early, unnecessarily suffer ill health, or go to Gehinnom.
In Strive for Truth, Rav Dessler notes the more you maintain the conviction of your own intrinsic value, the less you need the approval & kavod of others (Volume I, Part II, Parable & Meaning).
But again, your intrinsic value is based on the value imbued within you by Hashem, due to your lofty soul & your Tzelem Elokim (Divine Image).
In other words, it's not self-love just to feel good.
Genuine self-love emanates from genuine self-awareness, which in turn leads to ahavat Yisrael.
Along these lines, Rav Schwartz notes that ahavah (love) equals the numerical value of echad (one).
Thus he states:
Proper self-love is to have the various parts of one's soul interconnected.
True ahavas Yisrael (love of fellow Jews) only exists in someone if there is a unified Yisrael within himself.
You must be united within your self before you can unite with others.
The more you cultivate inner unity, the more that will naturally spill over and enable you to truly love others.
Very powerful idea.
The rav notes that there are 3 ways of returning to yourself:
- Return to the Creator
- Return to the beginning of Torah by focusing on the word Beresheit.
- Return to the basis of Self.
While affirming that returning to the Creator is the highest level, the rav also acknowledges that most people cannot find their inner calm by focusing on the knowledge of the Creator's Existence because they lack a strong belief (emunah) that our Creator will take care of us.
This shows a very clear understanding of our generation because so many of us sincerely work on emunah, and even as we make some progress, we still find ourselves falling on our face in this area when coming up against massive humps in the road that we simply cannot manage to overcome.
The truth is, you can work on both.
You can continue to fortify your emunah while also doing the Havayah exercise (in another 2 sections) to return to your self.
Working Out the Puzzle of Self-Love
How can you unify your inner Yisrael if you aren't aware of the different aspects of your inner self?
You can't. You'll be like an incomplete puzzle.
This perhaps explains the inner fragmentation many people experience today.
People describe themselves as feeling "broken" or "lost" or "lonely" or "confused."
Exactly—they're missing pieces of their own self!
Rav Itamar Schwartz describes our current situation as "a world of individuals who are all strangers to each other."
Strangers aren't necessarily hostile. But even when pleasant, strangers lack emotional connection with each other.
Yet as long as others act nicely, many people feel content with the status quo.
However, notes Rav Schwartz, if you express too much concern about this lack of emotional connection with others, people criticize you as being too sensitive—as if you're looking for problems.
Ooh, the "you're being too sensitive!" label. It's the scarlet letter of Western society.
And so, on page 106, Rav Schwartz presents one of the best descriptions I've ever heard of the highly sensitive person:
To say to someone not to be sensitive is like telling someone to close his nose when there is a foul odor.
He will die from lack of air.
But tachlis, how do we achieve this inner unification?
The 2-Word Havayah Exercise toward Self-Unification
Remember: In Judaism, baby steps lead to major growth.
First, we start with Havayah—The Sensing of Our Existence.
How do you know you exist?
Descartes was wrong with his whole "I think, therefore, I am" philosophy.
As Rav Schwartz explains, based on the list of 13 above, "think" falls into the category of Chachmah—Wisdom, which only hits number 5 on the list.
We want to start with #1: Havayah.
(This is why you should always stick with authentic Torah philosophy; the other stuff tends to be superficial at best & inaccurate at worst.)
So Rav Schwartz suggests finding a few quiet moments in a quiet place (closed off from the outside world as much as possible) and think simply:
And keep repeating this to yourself.
That's the first step.
He advises that relaxing music can be helpful, if you need it. (Kosher music, of course.)
Also, how should you respond to the natural movement of your thoughts during this exercise?
Rav Schwartz recommends simply noting the distraction, allow your thoughts to return, and then repeat to yourself, "I exist."
This imbues you with a centering focus to which you can always return.
Not coincidentally, now is a great time to do this before you sleep.
As the rav said in his class Power of Sleep, this month of Kislev contains the power of sleep.
Paradoxically, sleep is davka the time when you can achieve high spiritual levels.
The rav advises a really geshmak Kriyat Shema as you recite the order of the Bedtime Shema, in which you focus on being mosser nefesh (self-sacrificing) for Hashem.
This can give you very powerful sleep, especially now in the month of Kislev.
So you can do the "I exist" exercise before Bedtime Shema.
Frankly, I've done it after too, if I couldn't fall asleep right away.
In his class on Power of Sleep, the rav notes that going to sleep with a Kriyat Shema of mesirut nefesh can cause you to wake up an entirely new person in the morning.
Again, the more you cultivate inner unity (via increased self-awareness), the more that inner unity will naturally spill over and enable you to truly love others.
Moshe Books/Sifrei Avramovitch (with stores in Yerushalayim & Bnei Brak)
For those in Eretz Yisrael dealing with non-English-speaking bookstores:
I approached my local bookstores and asked for Da et Nafshecha (Getting to Know Your Soul) of Bilvavi in English. It's important to stress the Bilvavi organization of Rav Itamar Schwartz so they know exactly what you mean. The first bookstore had no clue how to do this, but the second one did.
And there you go.