Some of you might be familiar with the term “Yetzer Hora” or evil inclination. The Talmud describes the two voices inside our heads: Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hora, the former tries to influence us towards good, the latter towards bad. In the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya (classic original text of Chabad Chassididic thought) new terminology comes into play, he uses G-dly Soul vs. Animal Soul. (It can be understood as human soul, too, but that’s a discussion for a different time). This switch up from evil inclination to animal soul is significant for several reasons, for now we’ll focus on one of these reasons:
How should we deal with an evil inclination? Hopefully we should ignore his advice, turn a deaf ear to his enticement, try to block him out as much as possible. Shut him down as much as we can. Alter Rebbe’s “animal soul” envisions it differently. Of course, there are certain aspects that are wholly inappropriate or deserve a total knockdown, but many aspects of that drive within ourselves can and should be utilized, harnessed and channeled in positive, meaningful ways.
So while the animal soul within us is instinctive, self-oriented, pleasure-seeking and favors the tangible; and if left to its own devices can run amok and be quite destructive, if properly guided and harnessed by the G-dly soul, the animal soul can bring strength and stamina, down-to-earthiness, amazing energy and passion and drive to the table. Just as a horse and a rider, it can take our G-dly soul places it would hard to reach on its own.
Alter Rebbe describes these two drives within each person. We get to choose how much of which drive is in play, and in what capacity and what to do with it. There are healthy ways to involve and engage the animal soul without it taking over our lives, to make the most of its strengths and abilities, while guiding it properly.
In the Shema we say “love G-d with all your heart”. The word “your heart” is spelled strangely, with an extra letter Bet/Vet. Why that extra letter? The Talmud tells us that it means to love G-d with both of our hearts, with both our drives. Not only should we love G-d with our G-dly soul, but we should also try to engage the animal soul to love G-d as well, in its own way.
This is just a tip of the iceberg on the Alter Rebbe and the Animal Soul… hopefully more another time, maybe even a full Torah-Tuesday one day.