Belinda: Welcome Rabbi Finley.  Thank you for joining me today. In my last article, I used the Passover theme of leaving our personal Mitzrayim (Egypt, constriction, slavery to bad habits, etc.) and making the transition into freedom.  How do you define the freedom that we’re going toward?

Rabbi Finley:  What I try to do is define what I mean by an actualized or fulfilled life.  I’ve broken that down into several elements:
1.  The ability to love and be loved well.
2.  To be able to work productively.
3.  Thrive in community.
4. The capacity for self-knowledge.
5. To be able to live a moral life of restraint; be morally disciplined.  To be disciplined in general in the daily virtues: be frugal, conscientious, cultivate equanimity, etc.
6. The ability to have fun; have pleasure in one’s life.
7. The capacity to know G-d or whatever other term a person would put in for that.
8. The capacity to find and generate meaning in one’s life.   
They’re not just overtly interpersonal, but the daily shaping of one’s character.
B:  We seem to have obstacles along the way.  What is the “human condition” that tries to prevent us from living this realized life?
RF:  The human condition is this:  the transcendent part of ourselves understands this (life) well and can guide us toward it.   Or we can do the work well.  It’s not obvious, but after a lot of work, we can get there. The ego self is where the destructive urges are located.  In a given person, that might be guilt, fear, shame, anger, resentment, despair, or depression.  What gets in the way is the destructive dimensions of the ego self.  So, by Egypt, I mean being trapped in the destructive dimensions of the ego self.  And liberation means: liberated from that so one can live a fulfilled, realized human life.
B: In your teaching, you use the Hebrew term Yetzer HaRa. What is the Yetzer HaRa?
RF: It is the patterns of human destructiveness.  The destructive urge seems to want to keep us unhappy.  It’s a strange thing.  It really doesn’t like us.  A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a part inside of each of us that does not like us, does not care about our well-being, and does not especially care if we succeed. In fact, if you actually listen to the destructive urge completely and ask where it would take you if it had its way, it would be to a pretty dismal place.   Most of us live in a kind of modus vivendi with the Yetzer HaRa.  We don’t give it complete reign—just enough to keep us miserable, but not enough to ruin everything.  It’s not our friend.  That’s one of the first insights.
B:  So you have to get very clear about what you’re dealing with...
RF:  You’re dealing with something that is profoundly destructive.  It does not like you and it is not on your side.
B:  Is it possible to overcome the Yetzer HaRa?  If so, how does one do this?
RF: First of all, one has to discover how the Yetzer HaRa operates in a given person.  This is where modern psychology helps a lot.  For example, a person may be very unhappy and blame his/her husband or wife:
“If my wife would just do the following...”  “If my husband would just do the following....”   A person has a destructive pattern of being hyper-vigilant to the faults of another; a profound need to control another person, thinking they should be a certain way.  This prevents love and intimacy and prevents a general sense of well-being.  Clearly they don’t have self-knowledge. They’ve taken the responsibility for their own well-being and projected onto another person.
Now, it could be that the other person is really doing atrocious, horrible things and making them suffer.  But most of the time, that’s not the case.  Most of the time people are immature, don’t want to grow up, and don’t want to deal with the fact that they can’t control what another person does. 
I’ll say, “Do you want to be happy?  Then become a happy person.”  They’re not happy because they keep expecting and demanding things of the spouse.  Therefore, they bicker.  Almost all bickering comes from the need to control somebody; you know, what they do, think, wear, say, or whatever.
B:  What do you offer in that kind of situation?
RF:  I teach them one of the core rules: it doesn’t matter what they do.  It doesn’t matter what she does.  It matters what kind of person you want to be.  The first thing a person would do is to take their eyes off of that other person.  Quit focusing on what they do and focus on what you do.  I’ve found, over time, that some folks just can’t do that.  They’re so addicted—really addicted—to hyper-vigilance about other people and picking on other people instead of becoming more self-sufficient, self-contained, and just leaving the other person alone.
B:  You talk about the transcendent self and lower self in regard to the spiritual realm of the inner life.  But you also teach about the mind/body connection.  How does this higher/lower aspect of the self show up physiologically? Specifically, in the brain?
RF:  We basically have what I call the tripartite brain:
1. The lower brain motor functions; the instinctive part, the sensory-motor part of the brain. 
2. Then what is sometimes called the limbic system; emotions, feelings, drives, impulses, urges. I would add that there are automatic thoughts, images, sensations, intuitions—that whole realm. 
3. And the higher brain; we call the prefrontal lobe, the neocortex, etc.   I like to just call it the neocortex, which means the new cortex; the thing that makes us human. 
So, when they’ve studied people who are in fear, anger, etc., they actually see that the limbic system is firing and the neocortex is quiet.  Then, for other people, when they are in a more thoughtful, conscious state, the neocortex is firing and the limbic system is quiet.
B:  So, in terms of the brain, how do we do this work of spiritual transformation?
RF: The physiological dimension of this is to put the processing of the world out of the limbic system and into the higher brain. In spiritual psychology, this is called the mind healing the brain. You have to be teaching the brain how to process information.  For example, let’s say a person focuses on this unruly spouse.  They’re in the limbic system.  They’re trying to control their environment. They need to stop themselves and say, “Wait a minute.  My spouse is a separate human being and she’s on her own journey to G-d. She has to face stuff by herself.  Let her try to live life like she wants to. I’m not in control.  I won’t be her judge.”
You actually get more reflective.  That kind of language is the natural place of the neocortex...evaluative, reflective, etc.  When you’re in that realm, you can’t be angry.  You can’t be controlling. It’s the reflective, philosophic aspect of the self.  So what I try to train people to do is when they catch themselves in the grip of the ego self—in the limbic system—force themselves up into the higher system.  Now the question is: who’s that managing the energy?  That’s really the deepest mystery of all of this.  Who is that?  That’s the deepest part of the self.  When you suddenly become conscious, and start to move the pointer of consciousness around inside consciousness, it’s a pretty amazing experience.
B:  How do you keep it there?
RF: Daily practice.  That’s the main thing that I teach that nobody does—the daily practice—every morning, every afternoon, every evening, before you go to sleep, several times a day.  Just keep workin’ it.
B:  So it’s not ‘once transformed, always transformed’?
RF: No, it’s about every 3 hours.  There’s always a new temptation.

Rabbi Finley is Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation. He received his doctorate in Religion-Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. In addition to his work at Ohr HaTorah, he serves as a professor at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus, where he teaches Liturgy, Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality, and Professional Skills. Rabbi Finley also serves on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and the Department of Continuing Education at the American Jewish University.

Author's Bio: 

Belinda Lams of Soul Organizer is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Professional Organizer, and speaker. She is passionate about helping people live from clarity and purpose. Belinda is available for coaching services by phone and can be reached at