web analytics
April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yetzer Hara’

Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

Internet Filtering – It Starts With Your Mouth

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Let me assure you that the purpose of this article is not to weigh in on the recent Internet Asifa (gathering) that was held at Citifield in New York. Suffice it to say, that irrespective of one’s views regarding the execution and specifics of this unprecedented event, it should be crystal clear to every sane adult that Gedolei Yisroel have brought to the forefront the perils that accompany the recent monumental advances in modern technology. It is incumbent on each and every individual to devise and implement a personal plan of action that will protect his/her family from one of the greatest dangers of the 21st century.

We must do our personal hishtadlus (individual efforts), and rely on siyatah d’Shmayah (Divine assistance) to bring our efforts to fruition. The various suggestions being put forth to filter the Internet to a level appropriate for each individual and family is part of our hishtadlus. However, there is a prerequisite to this filter that is, unfortunately, being ignored by too many. To fight the external forces of the Yetzer Hara, we must first conquer the challenges that lie within our own rank and file. History repeatedly proves that the first step in conquering the external enemy is to ensure that we possess a unified front internally. The only way to accomplish this is to invoke the assistance of Hashem; without siyatah d’Shmayah, all are efforts will unfortunately fall short, and our mission will be bound for failure.

So what is this prerequisite? Let’s revisit how Yaakov Avinu prepared for battle against Esav, the ultimate symbol of the yetzer hara in his generation. Before preparing a strategic battle plan, he turned to Hashem, utilizing the power of tefillah as his first and most powerful weapon. Today, that power, that koach that comes from davening, is still the greatest weapon we can use to combat the dangers we face as individuals and as a nation.

Parshas Matos begins with a discussion of the laws relating to a personal vow or oath. What is unique about the way this topic is introduced is that it’s missing the traditional lead-in pasuk of “Vayomer/Va’yidaber Hashem el Moshe laymor.” Instead it begins Vayomer Moshe el Roshei HaMatos – Moshe says to the leaders of the shevatim. Why is the introduction here different?

Rav Moshe Feinstein z”tl, in his classic commentary on the Torah, Darash Moshe, teaches that we can learn a profound lesson from the manner in which these laws are presented to the Jewish nation. Of all of Hashem’s worldly creations, only humans have been granted the power of speech, the ability to communicate verbally and only man has been created b’tzelem Elokim – in G-d’s image. Rav Moshe ascertains that we don’t need the pasukVayomer/Va’yidaber Hashem el Moshe laymor” to introduce the laws of proper use of dibbur, of speech. It’s abundantly obvious that this precious gift is only to be used in a manner becoming of those created in G-d’s image.

How sad is it to see how we abuse this unique gift of dibbur. We use inappropriate language, make inappropriate statements, and defile the gift of speech by speaking offensively, and insulting our fellow human beings. Perhaps the worst offense of all is the way we defile our mouths while amidst a private meeting with Hashem – during davening. Would any of us be discourteous and offensive to a hard-to-reach businessperson who has managed to fit us into his busy schedule for a private meeting? Would our minds and mouths be elsewhere if granted a meeting with the President of the United States? Would any of us display such unmitigated audacity? Yet, the Melech Malchei Hamilachim grants us a private meeting three times a day – how can we so abuse the privilege?

How can we possibly expect Hashem to assist us in combating the dangers threaten us and our families when we display behavior that flies in the face of the hishtadlus Gedolei Yisroel are asking of us? How will implementing filters on the Internet help us combat the Yetzer Hara if we can’t even place filters on our mouths while asking Hashem for help with all the trials and tribulations that face us?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/internet-filtering-it-starts-with-your-mouth/2012/08/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: