An Accounting of the Soul

parashas Shemot 5781

“No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying: ‘What have I done?’ Every one turneth away in his course, as a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle.”

– Jeremiah 8:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

When we do not reflect upon the nature of our ways, in thought, speech and deed, we are comparable to “a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle,” an analogy for those who do not repent of their aveiros (transgressions). The unrepentant continue in their recalcitrant ways, bringing them closer to the edge of danger, as their misdeeds increase until they are brought face to face with the enemy (yetzer hara), as if approaching headstrong a cliff, metaphorically, in the near distance (Ramchal).

In contrast, those who do teshuvah (repentance), in stride with the discernment, granted to them by H’Shem, will prevent the occurrence of aveirah upon aveirah (sin upon sin), thus taking control of the reins of a runaway horse, so to speak, before their “animal soul” leads them totally astray (Ramchal, Mesillas Yesharim).

The task of man, b’tzelim Elokim, created in G-d’s image, is to pursue a path of righteousness, countering the animal soul, akin to the yetzer hara or evil inclination, that makes an attempt to derail his efforts to serve H’Shem. Ramchal advocates heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – to be made every day, in order to bring the conscious individual closer to his true self, by repenting of his sins, and seeking atonement, with a heartfelt attempt to search his soul.

When the Children of Israel were enslaved by Pharaoh, they had almost no respite from their labors. They had very little time to focus on their connection to G-d. Pharaoh made sure to prevent them from reflecting on their condition, so as to diminish any hope for redemption. Today, the yetzer hara tries to convince us to remain preoccupied with virtually everything under the sun, except a sincere reflection on the condition of our soul. So, very little time remains for heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. Yet, we need to break free of this enslavement to busyness, in order to take stock of our soul.

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