The man walked into the convenience store; it was quiet. Or maybe silent would be a better word. There was one other customer wearing a hood and seeming anxious. Most of all, the man noticed the clerk was sweating and looked very nervous.
The man left. He wasn't entirely sure why - a hunch, intuition, maybe. The store, you can probably guess, was robbed just afterwards.
This story is among many that appear in the book The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. He is a safety and security expert whose company provides education, consultation, and protection for all sorts of clients from businesses to schools to until her passing, Olivia Newton John.
I encourage everyone to read his book given the world of risks in which we now find ourselves.
But most of all because the biggest lesson of the book is to trust your intuition. Intuition, he says, always provides two critically important things to you. First, it is always responding to some outside stimulus and second, it is there to help you.
Intuition is a good friend when you think of that way!
As much as this applies to one’s personal safety, I want to say it can apply to something else. Something perhaps even more important. And that is our intuition, our gut feeling, about knowing what is good, right, to do in each situation – for oneself and more importantly, for how we deal with others. It is our Soul Intuition, or in Hebrew our Nefesh HaSichlit, the way our innermost selves would operate were we able to access that. It is the perfect lesson as we begin a new year, to let our Soul Intuition help us be the people who seek holiness that we pray today we will be.
What’s more, this is a gift nobody needs to give you. God gave it to you at the moment of your birth. Our goal with the Soul Intuition today is to find it, as it were, up in the attic, or in the box of your stuff your mom sends you when she’s cleaning out her attic. This what makes this so urgent for me to share, because we already have it in ourselves to live in harmony with God’s Divine Spark within us, with our souls.
People already know. When people come to see me, I am no longer surprised at how often the following is the case. People who come in and really want advice – they already “know” what it is they should do. People really seem to be just checking to make sure there isn’t some “get out of this moral dilemma rabbi card” I can give them to play for whatever situation they are facing – sorry, insider trading, stealing from the tip jar, and pushing your brother down the stairs and blaming the dog are not allowed. And even in situations where it is choosing between two good or reasonable things to do – people still seem to have a sense as to which is the more important to prioritize.
Why this is because of the Soul Intuition, or the term I’m borrowing from elsewhere in the tradition, the Nefesh HaSichlit. We have this in us from the start. Think of the blowing of the shofar. What is one of the best things about it during services? To me, it’s all the kids who come up to hear it and see it up close. They don’t need to be told this is special, this is important, or that it must be blown in these three ways and with such and such other considerations. Innately, immediately, you can see it on their faces – they look up and they just know – they are connecting with God, with the very essence of human experience.
You may be familiar with the concepts of our two inclinations, the two desires in each person. These, Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa, often translated as the Good and Bad Inclinations, are probably better for our understood as the Altruistic and Selfish Inclinations. Sometimes, it’s good to be Selfish – we’re told the Yetzer Ra exists so people will feed themselves and put on a coat when its cold outside. And while it is often good to be altruistic, giving someone else your coat when it is cold outside doesn’t reduce the number of cold people there are.
Chasidic Judaism gives us the name for the Soul Inclination – the ability to know how much of each inclination you need in any situation. This is Nefesh HaSichlit. It is usually translated as the “Intellectual Soul” from the word seichel. But as you know, seichel is less knowing how to build a rocket to the moon and more about knowing where you can get a deal on the parts for your spaceship. That sounds more like a “gut feeling,” a “hunch,” or “intuition.” Hence, it truly is our Soul Intuition – our Nefesh HaSichlit.
So how can we get better at trusting our Soul Intuition and not letting too much or too little of one of our Inclinations keep us from doing what’s right?
The expert swimmer will tell you that it’s not the ocean you need to be afraid of. Cold water? Where’s your wet suit? Lots of waves? Maybe you should have looked at the weather. Sharks? You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
De Becker uses this to point out that awareness of what’s around you is key and that there is little need to be surprised if you observe what is or will happen. Preparing for what the water might be like, preparing for the things that might worry you or might actually cause you fear, is something you can do to help your Intuition in its work to keep you safe. The same is true with the Soul Intuition.
Why don’t we help people? We are feeling stressed, we are tired, we have concerns about where our resources are going to go – our time, our wealth, our patience for helping. We may carry suspicions based on past experiences that make it hard to believe such and such a person really needs help – they might be stealing from us. If not just the food we are about to give, then even worse – our trust in people! I was cheated, I was tricked!
Our Soul Intuition helps us dial between Tov and Ra. Helps us see that even if we are late, we could probably pull over and check on the stopped car – just call your appointment and say, give me five minutes, you can make this work.
The person who needs a sandwich or money every day as you turn on 347 to Old Town? Your Soul Intuition would help point out to you that it really doesn’t need to bother you that much if you help this person out and maybe they aren’t as deserving as you think – it will be okay. Give him something. You could give him some change, you’ll be fine. You could buy him something at Seven Eleven, that way it would be food after all, and less likely to be used for something bad. You could go home and make a sandwich, showing a level of care and dignity I would imagine anyone sitting outside for any reason does not get enough of.
Your Soul Intuition would also point out, if you gave it that minute, that if it really bothers you that much that maybe he’s a schnorrer and not truly in need, that you could invest the time into getting him true help. You could really do that. And while that would really be going above and beyond, when you consider you could do that, the sandwich or the change doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.
Therefore, we simply need to prepare ourselves for the day ahead and the opportunities that may present themselves. Try just these three or use these examples to derive other methods of preparation:
1. Make sure you have coins or small bills with you to help out in whatever small ways might come up – helping the person on the street, tipping the waiter, paying it forward in the drive-thru, etc.
2. Build in some extra time. There was a study done that found people in a hurry were less likely to help someone who appeared injured they had to walk past. Give yourself five extra minutes of mitzvah time during the day. Even if no cats are up trees on your morning jog, showing up on time to meet someone is a small kindness and act of respect that is a mitzvah itself.
3. Smile. Make yourself smile. A mental health worker told me even if you can’t sincerely smile, making yourself smile makes you feel better. And as long as you aren’t doing a creepy forced smile, remembering to smile at others can be a huge mitzvah. The person who is lonely, the person who looks up to you. The person you love – if you don’t think smiling is a mitzvah, stop for a moment. I want you to think of your youngest grandchild or great-grandchild smiling and laughing. Did it make you smile just thinking about them? What about everyone who doesn’t have any grandkids or great-grandkids – did you happen to notice that you are now sitting in a sea of people smiling to themselves? That’s the mitzvah of a smile.
When it comes to our personal safety, we need to remember: our intuition is real and serves to help us. Our senses evolved to pick up on cues that help our survival, and they are doing this even if we are not conscious of it. And since our intuition can only be better the better, we prepare ourselves to listen to it, plan accordingly.
The Soul that God has planted in each of us longs to connect us, others and the world to its Creator through what we do and say. Our desires to help ourselves and help others are neither good nor bad without context. Our Soul Intuition, or Nefesh HaSichlit, when trusted and exercised and prepared, will allow our Souls to succeed at their tasks – at letting us live purposeful, intentional, helpful lives.
While it would be a true miracle were we to always maintain that high level of attunement and holiness; rest assured it is innately within each of us. For this New Year, let the sound of the shofar penetrate to your very Soul, your Soul Intuition, to guide you along the way.