In My Opinion: New manifestations of old stuff – The Register-Guard

Posted By on April 11, 2020

A colleague recently posed a very powerful question: How is your yetzer hara manifesting in new and different ways during this moment (of pandemic)?

Of course, that question requires some unpacking. The Hebrew term yetzer hara literally translates as the evil inclination.

Nonetheless, it is not so much an inner demon as that part of ourselves that is most distractible by the temptations of the moment, the part that focuses on the superficial and immediate gratification rather than on the deeper essence of what we know to be true.

Jewish tradition teaches that we all need a little yetzer hara its what drives us, say, to eat when were hungry. Theres even a fanciful story in the Talmud that says the ancient rabbis once captured the yetzer hara, and the world basically stopped functioning. So, the task is not to eradicate this urge, but to have it exist in balance. And times of great upheaval, times when we are scared, or stressed, are times when this urge can run wild.

My colleagues question could well be translated as, How are the psychospiritual patterns that generally keep you from being your best self-manifesting in new and different ways during this moment?

We all seek those distractions in different ways: For some, its hyper-consuming, everything from toilet paper to news. For others, hyper-productivity: bread baking, yard work, language study. Perhaps, for all of us, worrying about what might happen.

I know that since my work has become more remote, I have found myself feeling more frantic about work, not just about doing the job I legitimately need to do, but also in some ways desperate to prove myself useful and productive. It was only when my friend asked that question that I could even put my finger on what I was doing and realized that my turbocharged attitude towards work was less about what others need from me and more about distracting myself from the fear and vulnerability that so many of us are feeling.

As my colleague said, I see lots of people trying to fix their roofs, and no one just sitting on their porch.

I am by no means suggesting that we shouldnt do what needs to be done. I really do have to do my job. And sometimes our roofs need fixing. And sometimes we are out of toilet paper! I am suggesting the question What needs to be done right now? is a seductive one, and sometimes, the best thing we could do, for our long-term health and the well-being of those we love, is to stop. Stop and take a deep breath. Sit down for a few minutes.

So, if youve had a low hum of anxiety that youve sought to quiet by doing things, I invite you into the question with me: How are the psychospiritual patterns that generally keep you from being your best self-manifesting in new and different ways during this moment?

Take it in, with great compassion. And then consider if youd like to make some different choices.

Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein is the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Eugene and writes a monthly column for The Register-Guard.

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In My Opinion: New manifestations of old stuff - The Register-Guard

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