“If a man becomes contaminated due to a human corpse or on a distant road…he shall make the Pesach offering for Hashem in the second month (Bamidbar 9:10-11).
Some commentators derive a mussar lesson from this pasuk. Noting the words “on a distant road,” they suggest that this verse is reminding us that mistakes are more likely to occur on the road. Therefore, a person must be extra vigilant to remain pure when traveling. That was true in past generations, and certainly true in our generation.
It is known that the Chozeh of Lublin was able to see from one end of the world to the other, and into the future as well. When asked in what merit he possessed such powers, he replied that he always covered his eyes to guard himself from seeing things he shouldn’t see.
In Tehillim (psalm 145), David HaMelech states, “Praiseworthy (ashrei) are those who dwell in Your house.” But just 25 perakim earlier (in psalm 119), he states, “Praiseworthy (ashrei) are those…who walk with the Torah of Hashem.” Which one is it? Is it praiseworthy to sit at home (or the beis medrash) or to walk on the road?
Our Sages tell us that whenever a person is presented with options, he must contemplate the consequences of choosing each one, as per Shlomo HaMelech’s statement, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Koheles 7:8). If we look at the end of psalm 145, we find the words, “May my mouth declare the praise of Hashem,” and if we look at the end of psalm 119, we find the words, “I have strayed like a sheep.” A person who travels on the road encounters all kinds of spiritual dangers.
The Doresh Tzion notes another difference between these two psalms that use the word “praiseworthy” (ashrei). Both follow the order of the Alef Beit, but psalm 145 contains one verse for each letter of the alphabet while psalm 119 contains eight verses for each letter of the alphabet. A person who sits at home or the beis medrash faces only one path – the path of Torah. A person goes on the road, however, faces eight divergent paths, with no clarity on what road to follow. It is not clear which road will lead him closer to Hashem and which will lead to spiritual descent, and he becomes confused.
The Vilna Gaon notes that the sense of sight is especially potent; what one sees, even for a nanosecond, can make an almost indelible impression on one’s neshamah. Seeing is more powerful than hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling. It affects an individual in a much deeper way.
The Gaon points out that Moshe learned that Bnei Yisrael worshipped the Golden Calf on Har Sinai; Hashem told him about. Yet, Moshe’s “anger flared up” (Shemos 32:19) only when he descended Har Sinai and saw the sin for himself.
R’ Chaim Volozhiner mentions that at the time of his bar mitzvah the Vilna Gaon resolved never to look beyond his own daled amos.
Not seeing anything improper is crucial to retaining one’s kedushah. The Maharal writes that the Jewish nation was saved at Kerias Yam Suf in the merit of Yosef HaTzaddik who retained his level of kedushah and did not lapse into immorality despite the threats and enticements of Potifar’s wife. Since Yosef went against his nature, Hashem made the Yam Suf go against its nature as well, middah kneged middah. So great is the merit of being vigilant in matters of holiness that it can save lives.
R’ Shlomo, a member of Hatzalah, participated one evening in a gathering dedicated to maintaining one’s level of holiness in today’s world. One of the speakers spoke about guarding one’s eyes and ears from seeing and hearing inappropriate sights and sounds, which is not always easy. Although he himself was not particularly inclined to be scrupulous about this matter, R’ Shlomo resolved to be a little more careful in the future.
A few days later, he and his wife attended an event to which they had been invited. The scene was rowdy and wanton, and many inappropriately-dressed people were standing around. As they sat down at their table, R’ Shlomo recalled his recent resolution and told his wife that he preferred to leave.
She suggested they remain for a few minutes. R’ Shlomo, however, was adamant and went down to the empty lobby to gather his thoughts. Suddenly, a person fell to the floor from the balcony above. His body started shaking from a seizure and his eyes rolled back. “He is swallowing his tongue,” someone yelled.
R’ Shlomo quickly ran over and struggled to clear the man’s air passages and administered CPR. As he worked to stabilize the man, R’ Shlomo also radioed for an ambulance.
Think for a moment: One man’s resolve to improve his shemiras einayim (guarding his eyes) saved the life of another man.