Emotions that Can Hinder the Four Virtues

Emotions that Can Hinder the Four Virtues
James Scott Trimm

We read in Proverbs:

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty:
and he that rules his spirit, than he that takes a city.
(Proverbs 16:32 HRV)

 In a recent article I showed that Torah brings wisdom and living Torah produces a “life of wisdom” which is the kind of life preferred by “the mind with sound logic” and this sound logic of Torah is the Logos (Word, Reason) which is sovereign over the emotions and nurtures within us the four labors of wisdom.  As we read in 4Maccabees

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

In the Mishna Ben Zoma is quoted as teaching:

“Who is strong? He who controls his inclinations.”  
(m.Avot 4:1)

Emotions are not evil, but they can inhibit reason which in turn inhibits the four labors of wisdom.  YHWH does not want us to purge our emotions, so this is not a Vulcan thing, however he does want us to control our emotions so that they do not hinder the labors of wisdom from being nurtured within us by the Word.  As the first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria said:

“For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.”
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

I should also point out that the definition of “emotions” or “passions” in 4Maccabees is broader than our own.  In 4th Maccabees a “emotion” is “irrational thinking” and can even include “ignorance” or “forgetfulness”  (1:5; 2:24-3:1).

According to 4Maccabees “the two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain” (1:20)

Each of these two most basic emotions is part of a past-present-future process of three emotions each:

21 The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
22 Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it.
23 Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.

This gives us three “pleasure” emotions: desire, pleasure and delight, and three “pain” emotions “fear, pain and sorrow.”  A seventh emotion is “anger” which is rooted in both pleasure and pain:

Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.

So the seven basic emotions are desire, pleasure and delight, fear, pain and sorrow and anger.

4Maccabees also tell us of these two root emotions of “pleasure” and “pain” that “each of these is by nature concerned with both body and soul.”  (1:20)

Meaning that we have physical pleasure and mental pleasure and all of the processes of is three phases of each.  And we have physical pain and mental pain and all of the processes of is three phases of each. And we have anger rooted in physical pleasure and pain and anger rooted in mental pleasure and pain.  (So now we have a total of fourteen sub-types of emotions).

There is another unique aspect of the root emotion of pleasure that is malevolent:

25  In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions.
26  In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice;
27  in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing.
(4Macc 1:25-27)

And reason (Logos) rules over all of these as well:

15  It is evident that reason rules even the more violent emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and malice.
16  For the temperate mind repels all these malicious emotions, just as it repels anger — for it is sovereign over even this.
(4Macc. 2:15-16)

So we now have Malevolent Physical Pleasure (boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice) and Malevolent Mental Pleasure (indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing). And each of these can also exist in any of the three phases of pleasure.  (So now we have a total of at least 44 complex emotions).

Now it is important to know which emotions hinder which of the four labors of wisdom, and how, in turn, the Logos (Word/Reason) can help us overcome them.

Emotions that hinder self-control are gluttony and lust (4Macc. 1:3).  An emotion that hinders justice is malice (4Macc. 1:4) and emotions that hinder courage are anger, fear and pain (4Macc. 1:4).  (The hindrances of rational-thought are forgetfulness and ignorance (4Macc. 1:5; 2:24-3:1) which we do not think of today as “emotions” and which cannot be overcome by reason.)

Now the goal of 4Maccabees is not to teach us how to purge our emotion.  No one could, or should purge their emotions.  There is nothing wrong with pleasure.  For example the Scriptures speak very favorably of the experience of sexual pleasure between a husband and wife. The Torah exempts a new husband from military service for a full year so he may “bring joy to his wife” (Deut. 24:5). In the Song of Songs Solomon writes of his lover “How fair and how pleasant are you, o love, for delights!” to which his lover responds “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.” (SoS 7:7, 11) elsewhere the Song of Songs, Solomon says “Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.” (SoS 5:1)  Pleasure however is be a blessing of life, but it should not be sought after merely for its own sake, at the expense of the four Labors of Wisdom.

It is not Elohim’s intent for us to purge our emotions, but rather to use reason (Logos) thru the Torah to control our emotions:

For reason does not rule its own emotions, but those that are opposed to justice, courage, and self-control; and it is not for the purpose of destroying them, but so that one may not give way to them.
(4Macc. 1:6)

2  No one of us can eradicate that kind of desire, but reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire.
3  No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but reason can help to deal with anger.
4  No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight at our side so that we are not overcome by malice.
5  For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their antagonist.
(4Macc. 3:2-5)

In future articles, I will demonstrate how the Torah helps us to control our emotions and how it can nurture rational thought; self-control, justice and courage within us. 

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