Self-Transformation on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail

Going across Santa Fe, there is a very nice path for both walking and biking, called the Arroyo Chamiso trail. As the name implies, it follows along an arroyo (with a lot of chamisa bushes), and during its meandering, passes through a few parks along the arroyo. While biking on the trail last week (wasn’t the weather was just perfect?!), I passed through one of those parks. In addition to the usual people there, there were two individuals on horseback.  It struck me that they must be quite experienced riders in order to ride through the park, near little children, with no fear of the horses either getting startled or causing any other damage; they must have trained a lot.

This reminded me of a verse in Job (11:12).  Job describes a person at birth as an ayir, a wild donkey.  This metaphor tells us that when a person is born, they have no real control over their desires and actions, and are unpredictable and unrestrained like a wild animal is uncontrollable.  However, as a person grows up, there is an expectation that one evolves from this state of vildeh-chayeh-ness to an adult who is totally in control of his or her behavior.

This transformation from an ayir into a mensch is a large part of what Hashem expects us to accomplish in this world.  This self-control is imperative, and can be perfected through Torah study. And we are constantly being tested in this realm. Situations arise that we are not expecting — we are thrown out of our comfort zone, we may not know what is the right course of action, so we get flustered. But if we have worked on ourselves, trained ourselves, like the riders on horseback,  we will make the right decision, or at least express ourselves with a healthy and mature response.  We will be in control of our responses and actions. This goes well beyond the horseback rider, of course! The scenario with our horse and rider is an external one, controlling the trained horse’s behavior. In regard to our own behavior, self-control is much more difficult and takes much more training. We must teach ourselves how to act, constantly bettering our inner essence and our personal ethics, listening to our emotions and judging our reactions, before determining the best response.

I am reminded of this lesson as we are preparing for Pesach, Passover. We are cleaning the whole house, going through our belongings. Not only can it be a stressful time of year physically, it can be emotionally difficult to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, so we must remember those lessons we have worked on, and keep our responses, if not our emotions, even-keeled.

Happy cleaning, inside and out!

Rabbi Ron