Mankind has always sought to repair its “broken vessels” - those places and spaces within our individual and collective psyche that have been tainted by trauma (of one form or another). Truth be told we all share “stock” in this brokenness for we all breathe the air of an imperfect world. And where is this “brokenness” most manifest? Explains Kabbalah, in our personality.
Hence, it is our personality (“middot” in Hebrew) that requires the bulk of our attention, for as Rabbi Israel the Baal Shem Tov explained (in the name of the Saddi Gaon), a person enters this world but for one purpose, to fix bad (broken) character traits. Refinement of character is thus the central focus of the Torah (Bible), and to become truly great “craftsmen” (fixers of broken vessels), we need first discuss the specific methods/techniques involved in attaining spiritual refinement. Explains Kabbalah, the path to refinement/rectification depends upon 3 very specific steps, which, in the terminology of the Baal Shem Tov, are called: Submission, Separation, and Sweetening. Let’s clarify the terminology. What does it mean, “Submission?”
For our purposes, think of submission as, “setting aside,” i.e. discontinuing the use of a thing that can’t perform its prescribed task. In the case of our personality, “submission” is the setting aside of behavior(s) deemed harmful to spiritual growth. This is no easy task, for stopping behaviors to which we are well adapted is easily man’s greatest challenge - just ask any addict striving for his/her sobriety. Challenging as it may be, real change only begins with the willingness to surrender the comfort of habitual behavior in favor of “higher-living,” reaching a better more polished version of self. After successful “surrender” has been obtained, we advance to an even higher form of service (in our pursuit of the true self), “separation.” The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimonides) explains that while the “middle ground” is always preferable in matters of personality, change sometimes involves a little “extremism” - practicing obsessively the opposite form of the bad behavior for a prescribed period of time. For example, if one is well practiced in laziness (and wishes to break its influence), he/she must cultivate an “extreme” form of alacrity (speed) in all behaviors - until the negative trait is overcome. “Separation” thus involves the disciplined practice of removing oneself from old undesirable behaviors (by practicing their opposite traits over and over again) until all traces of their previous existence are removed. Only once we have successfully endured submission and separation (and the old trait(s) no longer predominate) do we merit the 3rd and final stage termed, “sweetening.” Simply defined, sweetening is pleasure, a sublime soulful pleasure that fills us upon the realization of our true potential. Hence, to “taste” sweetening, one must first pass thru the difficulties of stopping old behaviors (submission) as well as permanent detachment from them (separation).
So how do we apply the above ideas?
Choose just one “broken vessel” (defective character trait) you wish to fix and practice for one week straight “setting it aside” - stopping the behavior when the need/urge arises to engage it. Simultaneously, “obsessively” (temporary extremism) practice the opposing trait, e.g. if you are stopping anger be extremely patient, until you feel the undesirable trait no longer lingers. Lastly, taste your moments of victory (the pleasure of “sweetening”) and ask Hashem (God) to assist your efforts daily, for the Talmud teaches, “Would it not be for Hashem’s help we would not be able to overcome” (the Evil Inclination that rises against us daily).
Blessings and Success!