Part Two: Menuchas Hanefesh
We all desire and value sholom. Nevertheless,
sholom is a vague term. It is also an elusive reality.
We generally think of peace as being the lack of conflict
between people. This definition, however, does not indicate
the need for menuchas hanefesh.
Sholom is the result of personal, inner peace. We must
achieve peace among our own inner drives and motivations
before sholom can be expected to flourish among
people. We must be happy with ourselves before we can be
happy with other people.
We are responsible for sholom. Sholom begins with us,
and the success of our marriages depends on us. The more
menuchas hanefesh we have, the more we will be able to
be calm in our homes and supportive to our families. If we
have menuchas hanefesh, then even in the face of daily
challenges and ordeals, the quality of our home life will be
If we achieve menuchas hanefesh, we enable others
— especially our spouses and children — to
achieve menuchas hanefesh. Therefore, the Torah home,
above all, must foster menuchas hanefesh, a harmonic
balance between our physical needs and our spiritual
Lack of menuchas hanefesh leads to discord within the
home. Bickering is an outward expression of the lack of
personal perfection — shleimus. Our inner,
spiritual life affects our behavior. Also, more than we
realize or would like to admit, our emotional state
determines our family and social relationships. Thus, one of
the most important goals in life is achieving menuchas
Our emotions always challenge our intellect. Life is a clash
between the seichel and the nefesh, which is
the interaction between our yetzer hatov and our
yetzer hora. The seichel is our G-d-given
ability to reason. The sefer Chovos Halevovos (Shaar
Avodas Elokim, perek 5) uses the specific phrases,
"omar haseichel" and "omar hanefesh" to
describe this constant dialogue between intellect and
The Chovos Halevovos explains that Hashem uses the
seichel as His medium of communication with us. The
true and primary purpose of the seichel is to transmit
the most important facts we need to know about life. The
seichel speaks to us. It says, "You have an obligation
to acknowledge G-d."
HaRav Yeruchom HaLevi Levovitz zt"l, the
mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir in Poland, elaborates on the
words of the Chovos Halevovos. He writes that "the
seichel tells us the will of Hashem; it reveals to us
the rotzon of Hashem Yisborach . . ." (Daas
Torah Devorim; alef, page 238).
In addition, Rav Yeruchom makes an important stipulation:
seichel is the means of communication between G-d and
the human being only "when it is a pure, clean
seichel; crystal clear, untainted by any impurity . .
." In other words, the seichel conveys a clear message
only when it is free from all traces of personal concern and
The seichel must be uninfluenced by gashmiyus.
The seichel, in its purity, is the yetzer hatov
- - Hashem's advocate for ruchniyus. In contrast, the
yetzer hora promotes the physical requirements of
human life — gashmiyus.
The soothing influence of Torah allows for a practical and
beneficial balance between ruchniyus and
gashmiyus. However, the seichel becomes silent
if the yetzer hora is allowed to dominate the
personality. Consequently, life becomes an arena for
jealousy, lust and vainglory which, as Chazal teach us in the
fourth perek of Ovos, "remove a person from the
Omar haseichel, omar hanefesh; Torah is the great
mediator. We have our minds and we have our emotions. Which
one controls us?
Our Best Behavior Begins at Home
The home is a place where we think we can be "ourselves."
Nothing can be further from the truth. At home, we have to be
better than ourselves.
We are angered much more easily at home. We lose control. We
say and do many things that are not nice. We cause people
pain. We become a source of suffering rather than a source of
joy. This behavior is especially common in the home.
At home, our defenses are down. We have no public image to
protect. We view the home as a refuge from the pressures of
the outside world.
At home, we are often tired and hungry. We seek the comforts
of home; consequently, we do not look forward to its
challenges, nor are we always ready to cope with its
pressures. We flare up if something is not to our liking.
After we calm down we realize that we did something wrong.
Only afterwards do we realize the seriousness of our mistake
and the results of our temper. We beg for forgiveness.
The seichel cannot function while we are angry. Our
emotions overwhelm our sense of reason. They paralyze our
ability to estimate the damage that our words and actions can
cause. Taking vengeance for our own frustrations and
disappointments becomes more important than concern for the
feelings of our beloved ones.
Emotions and seichel cannot operate at the same time.
Only after we vent our anger can we realize what we did. At
that point, if we are honest with ourselves — if we do
not try to deny the truth — then the wrongness and
thoughtlessness of what we did becomes clear. We try to make
amends and to repair the damage.
However, rarely do we give sufficient thought to the
underlying causes of our discontent — the source of our
Very few of us have changed our personalities so much that
our seichel governs our emotions. Most of us live with
a constant struggle between knowledge and desire. Our
seichel, if governed by daas Torah, tells us
what is right to do. However, our emotions will compel us to
do otherwise if we have not trained to control them.
If we lack education and training about how to manage our
emotions, then this battle rages throughout life. The
seichel is a great commander. However if, through lack
of proper training, we do not heed the seichel, then
the seichel is powerless. If so, how can we hope to
put up a fight and resist the influence of the emotions?
Our lives are precious; far too important to be spent held
captive by the yetzer hora!
Therefore, people who are concerned and aware of these
dangers seek training. They train themselves to be able to
heed the voice of their seichel. They learn to give
preference to the seichel's commands rather than their
emotional needs. They achieve greatness.
Such individuals achieve menuchas hanefesh. They have
sholom. They are at peace with themselves. They are at
peace with their spouses and their children. They are at
peace with their neighbors and they are at peace with the
We cannot ignore our emotions, but we can direct them. The
emotions can become submissive to the seichel. Then
they will be manageable instead of assertive.
Individuals who are successful at this will not become angry
or infuriated. They are settled and calm. Tranquility is the
prevailing characteristic of their personality.
This is all possible, but only through Torah. Chazal have
very accurately and appropriately described the situation,
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu created the yetzer hora and
He created the Torah as its remedy" (Bava Basra
We have essential and undeniable physical needs. Life would
be impossible without them. We must eat, drink and sleep.
People must populate the world. These things are all true and
appropriate. Nevertheless, thought, control and moderation
must govern every physical act we do.
We must know how to live. Therefore, Hashem gave us the Torah
to guide our relationship with the yetzer hora. The
path of Torah is the path of sholom.
Torah brings sholom to all aspects of our lives. We
become balanced — spiritually and physically —
when we conduct our lives according to the dictates of Torah
and Chazal. Sholom is vital, especially between our
seichel and our physical desires. Sholom is the
foundation for a successful Torah life.
If we aspire to become wonderful, good-natured people, we
must embark upon the path of Torah. Torah changes our
personalities; instead of being insensitive, we become
compassionate, instead of being selfish we become kind
— instead of being takers we become givers. We become
patient and understanding. Torah gives us strength, strength
of character and strength of mind.
Torah and strength are synonymous. The Zohar, based on
the posuk, "Hashem will give strength to His nation .
. ." (Tehillim 29:11), equates Torah with strength.
With the fortifying, enriching and stabilizing influences of
Torah we can have sholom, because, as the posuk
concludes " . . .Hashem will bless His nation with
sholom." The path of Torah leads to peace. Hashem
Yisborach gave us the Torah in order that we can have
Torah and sholom go hand in hand. Torah is our one and
only means to achieve peace. Very appropriately, this
posuk is the basis for the concluding statement of
Mishnayos, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu found no other vessel
that could contain brochoh for Klal Yisroel
except for sholom" (Uktzin). Torah, as we
mention in our daily prayers of Shemoneh Esrei, is
life: "Toras Chaim."
The influence of Torah elevates us beyond the need for
pleasure. Indulgence, the thoughtless pursuit of every whim
for pleasure, will not bring satisfaction. When our sense of
priorities is wrong, an inner conflict will rage between an
unquenchable need for physical gratification and the
unfulfilled aspirations of the neshomoh.
The momentary distractions of pleasurable pursuits do not
silence the alarm signals of a life gone off course. A life
of turmoil results from giving in to unrestrained physical
desires. Under such conditions life, and certainly marriage,
becomes difficult and chaotic.
In contrast, our lives become enjoyable when we follow the
prescribed guidelines and restraints of Torah. Life becomes
calm and pleasant. We can have menuchas nefesh. All
the pleasurable sensory experiences of life remain intact.
However seichel, guided by daas Torah, decides
when, how and how much of this world and its delights, shall
The Sefer HaYoshor, which is attributed to Rabbeinu
Tam, defines a rosho as one whose inclination toward
the physical outweighs his desire for the spiritual. "Since
his soul is more inclined to the base pleasures, to the
pursuit of riches . . . to greed, to stealing and enjoyment -
- than it is inclined to serve Hashem, to pray, to act kindly
and to do good deeds — he is a rosho" (Shaar
People who give free reign to their desires, indulging in the
pleasures of this world for the sake of self- gratification,
have no peace. Hashem Himself testifies, "The reshoim
have no peace" (Yeshayohu 48:22). The reshoim,
as Yeshayohu the novi describes, are like "the driven
sea that cannot rest" (Yeshayohu 57:20).
Reshoim have no peace because the clash between
seichel and emotion within them is unresolved. Their
life is not true life, because their wish for pleasure
distorts the purpose of life.
Most of us want to be good. Nevertheless, the best of us can
fall prey to daily stresses, fatigue and frustration. The
seichel is certainly influenced by the body and its
physical needs. Obviously, the more we fortify our
seichel with Torah the less vulnerable we will be to
the influence of our emotions. Counterproductive emotions,
especially anger, flourish best under stressful
The best response to a situation where anger has gained
control is to remain silent. Try not to react, and instead
maintain your own composure. Be tolerant, for most good-
natured people, although temporarily enraged, will surely
come to their senses and snap out of it.
We must realize and value the importance of sholom. We
must behave like mature people and control the urge to vent
our anger. Self-control is vital for creating and maintaining
healthy marriages. If our seichel is so undeveloped,
and therefore weak, that it cannot resist a momentary upset
— then we will make many mistakes and we will have many
Under the influence of anger or frustration, spouses will
make hurtful statements. It is difficult to retract such
harmful words. We have to be sensible enough to evaluate our
loss against what we gain. A thoughtless outburst of anger is
destructive. Under all circumstances, whether we are provoked
from within or from without, we must remain silent.
To remain silent is very difficult, but the reward for
holding back angry words of retort and revenge is great. If
we are able to exercise control over ourselves we will feel
wonderful about our success, and our marriages will
Our emotions should not rule over us and thus hamper the
success of our marriages. Sholom with ourselves,
sholom with our families, sholom with other
people are the basis for a Torah life, a Torah family and a
Spouses owe each other the greatest respect and deepest
appreciation. Spouses however, tend to treat each other with
less outward respect than they give to other people. The
daily contact spouses have with each other tends to lower the
original esteem each spouse had for the other.
We all have shortcomings. Everyone makes mistakes. Who can
claim to be perfect? The key to our success is our attitude.
We do not have to ignore our spouses' imperfections;
nevertheless, there is no excuse to become annoyed, critical
or rude. Our approach must be peaceful, positive and
If we do not have sholom, all the luxuries in the
world mean nothing. If we allow jealousy, lust and vainglory
to control our thoughts, our relationships and our lives,
then the seichel has no more than a slight chance of
governing our emotions.
Our lives are very hectic even though we have many luxuries.
Hence, we are much more susceptible to lose our self-control
and become angry. Moreover, even though earlier generations
had much less, they understood the purpose of life. They knew
the purpose of marriage. They knew the terrible power of
anger. They knew the wonderful power of sholom.