Those of you old enough (or retro enough) to be familiar with the classic children’s tale, Doctor Doolittle (of talking to animals fame), might remember one of its fanciful creatures, known as the Pushmi-Pullyu (as in: ‘Push Me-Pull You’).
It was a sort of Siamese-twin llama, conjoined at the hindquarters, leaving the poor beast with a head on each end – each pointing in opposite directions. (Thus the name: (You) PUSH ME (to go in one direction, as I) PULL YOU (to go in the opposite.)
Needless to say, such an animal can make very little ‘headway’ in life and its conflicted drives would have made it the quintessential patient for the veterinary-psychoanalyst couch (was Doctor D. a shrink? I don’t remember).
Anyway, I used to laugh out loud at the ridiculous ‘Push Me-Pull You’, until I realized…he is me.
A human is ontologically defined as a hybrid being, with a spiritual, Godly soul enmeshed within a physical, animalistic body. The two ‘partners’ in this human-hybrid have very different ideas about what’s called a good time.
Like any animal, the animal side of the person is interested in ‘creature’ comforts – eating, drinking, sleeping, procreating, etc. Whereas the soul side’s idea of pleasure revolves around spiritual activities like prayer, acts of kindness, meditation, and Torah study.
For most of us (and certainly for me) much of life revolves around this ‘Push Me-Pull You’ standoff; as soon as one side (body or soul) gallops forward and begins doing its thing, the other side digs its heels into the ground, or at least brays loud enough in protest to distract, subtract, and detract from the pleasure of the whatever the experience may be.
For example: Soul-me is trying to study a little Torah – its favorite activity, while bored Body-me is heckling away: “I’m hungry…tired…at least spend your time making money so we can get some fun stuff.”
Then, say I listen to it, and sit down to some ice-cream (a Body-me fave), Soul-me (who couldn’t care less about even the best mint chocolate chip) pipes right up: “Glutton! What a waste of time. Do you think Rabbi XYZ eats ice-cream, and in the middle of the week?”
You get the picture.
I don’t know if Doolittle had a remedy for pushmi-pullyu-itis, but I found that one thing that works is to make ‘deals’.
“Okay, Mr. Body-self, how about I’ll learn for another half-an-hour, then we’ll eat, sleep, or whatever?”
“Okay, Mr. Soul-self, let’s say for each scoop of ice-cream I learn a chapter of Mishnayos?”
That usually works.
I suppose it’s not ideal, and I know there are some tzadikim, whose Soul-self rules 24/7 (or at last close). But for ‘Push-Me Pull-You’s like me, I figure it’s better to at least be a ‘do-little’ than a ‘do-nothing’.
I was asked to trim my fig tree (by our downstairs neighbors who didn’t appreciate waking up to ‘fig-newton smash’ on their patio every morning).
I looked at the dozens of overhanging branches, and wondered how I was ever going to be able to cut them all? Then I noticed that almost all of them were growing out from a single, large limb. One easy saw-cut later, the problem was solved!
(So too; when we look at all our spiritual shortcomings, the task of fixing them all can seem overwhelming. But when we discover and cure the root cause behind them all – usually lack of emunah/God connection – they all fall away at once.)