5. The Neutral Zone

The first step in self-refinement is learning how to identify and classify thoughts, speech, and actions. Dividing all reality into three general categories, we will distinguish between abject “evil”, neutral, and “holy.” Most things in the world are neutral—neither negative nor sacred. An example of this is money, which can be used for charity or for crime. It is up to the person to elevate or lower the object. Only a select few elements are always negative and cannot be redeemed (such as “murder” as opposed to “killing.”) The neutral zone introduces a distinct psychological system within Jewish literature wherein thoughts and emotions can be divided into the same three categories as physical matter—and most are neutral.  For example, the feeling of depression—a numbness that lacks vitality—is always a red flag. A feeling of deep regret or bitterness, however, contains some positive energy, and if applied in the proper context, can be a cathartic tool and fuel for growth.


Context matters: When assessing whether a trait or emotion is helpful or should be discarded, context matters. The same thoughts of regret can, in one context promote growth, but in a different context be trick—bait sent by one’s opponent to entice one to fall. Arrogance, usually regarded as one of the worst traits, can in the proper situation and proportion be used as impetus to accomplish great things. Compassion when misplaced can be destructive. Likewise, humility in the wrong place can be a disguised manifestation of ego. This book will present a system for how to evaluate and navigate various attributes given their context.


He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” 

                                                                                    —The Talmud


Bags of tricks: At what time the thought appears (during business hours, while reflecting, etc.) is also a factor in learning where they come from and how to deal with them. Once detected, the trick is to know when to limit or harness this emotion. It’s like an athlete that turns his own weakness into strength or a martial art’s principle of using the opponent’s strength and energy.


The quality of being (overly) self-critical or “a perfectionist” may be an asset or a source of destruction—depending on when it is applied.  Thus, instead of becoming a devout “anti-perfectionist,” one may learn how to read the signs—when this instinct comes as a trap, and when it is a gift that can allow for higher achievement.