I was recently seated amongst a group of twenty-somethings who had recently made aliyah and joined the Israeli army. Protecting fellow Jews is a tremendous act of bravery, and the commitment of these individuals is admirable. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, a few mentioned that although they no longer keep Shabbos, they feel closer to Hashem. I asked my kids about it and they mentioned how a lot of people change once they join the army, or when they make aliyah in general.
I spoke with another friend who also mentioned that ever since he made aliyah, he wasn’t quite as ritually observant yet felt more connected to G-d. One man I met, who is frum, admitted that since he moved to Israel, he finds a deep connection in meditation and doesn’t feel the need to wrap tefillin every day.
What struck me as odd was that these statements were all made by individuals who grew up Sabbath observant and attended Jewish Day schools.
Once when I was young and naïve, I had a client who wore a nice beard, white shirt and black pants, and supported his children while they sat and learned. I later found out he did time for a white-collar thing and from what I saw, he wasn’t a very ethical man.
I knew a woman who wore a sheitel and was very “frum.” One day, she purchased jewelry from my store yet refused to pay. After several letters, threats and Din Torahs, she admitted that she couldn’t pay her bill because she supported her children “who sat and learned in kollel.” Huh?
Surely, making aliyah is a huge mitzvah, as is serving in the Israeli army, but nowhere in halacha are we permitted to violate the commandment of keeping Shabbos. Serving the Jewish state – or even moving there – does not give anyone carte blanche to rewrite the hierarchy of mitzvot, just as wearing long payis hardly excuses dishonest business practices. What accounts for these inconsistencies?
Moral licensing is a cognitive bias that occurs when a person uses their prior good behavior to justify later behavior. This often occurs subconsciously and is a very dangerous tool of the evil inclination, whose ultimate goal is to test man. Sometimes the challenge is easy to pass. Many people are unaware or uninterested, and therefore succumb to temptation quite easily. Others are more vigilant, avoid the traps and put up walls.
It is for these smart individuals that the yetzer hara concocts an even more powerful elixir: rationalization. To accomplish this, he takes the back door.
“Listen, you’re. a good man. You are always serving Hashem and his klal, but everyone needs a break. It’s not the biggest deal to miss Mincha every so often…”
And then the games begin.
“Listen I may not wear tzitzit or make brachos but I donate more money to Israel than half of my shul.”
“I may not cover my hair, but at least my skirts aren’t ripping at the seams.”
“I may not give my partner every dollar I should, but I’m a harder worker and besides, I pay tuition!”
Truth be told, this is a tactic that was first utilized by the nachash when he accosted Chava. He knew he had no chance of telling her to eat from the tree, as she would simply say that G-d forbid it. Indeed, the nachash opened by asking, “Did G‑d indeed say, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?’”
The rest, as we say, is history.
What happened? Clearly, Chava forgot who she was dealing with. The moment she engaged the snake, she was done. All he needs is a crack in the armor where he can pry anything small enough to create an opening.
Because that’s all it took for Chava to change her whole tune as she goes in verse two from, “G-d has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die’” to “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave it to her husband with her, and he ate.”
She went from defender of G-d’s wishes to violator, and even brought her husband down with her. In just four pesukim.
It’s not rocket science. There’s no dialogue with a snake. Their job is to trick you and bite you. The great Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the intent of the evil inclination is to cause a person to do the opposite of what G-d wants. End of story. As long as you engage him, he will win.
My father has successfully employed this very tactic when dealing with unwanted sales calls. Before they even begin, he tells them. “I’m not interested” and hangs up before they have a chance to sell him anything.
Chava could have avoided the pitfalls of sin if she had simply said in her mind: “Listen up Mr. Cunning beast, I know what your agenda is. You want me to fail. You’ll say anything to get the ball rolling. You’ll even convince me that it is a mitzvah to eat from the tree (or steal while giving maaser money.) But guess what? I ain’t buying anything you’re selling so do yourself a favor, take your top hat and tails, and move onto your next foil.”
The evil inclination has many tools in his shed of deception. As long as we remind ourselves to avoid justifying sin and follow the well-traveled road of sincere observance, will we navigate a holier – and more fulfilling – life.