Monday, August 27, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Mon., Aug. 27th)

Happy to say that Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta is due to be married today and seems to be out of the woods. Thanks for your tephillos!


CHAPTER TEN (Continued):

Our sages tell us that King David would be careful to thoroughly cleanse himself of all this-- so much so that he would go off to war securely, asking of G-d, "May I chase my enemies and overtake them, and not return until I will have destroyed them?" (Psalms 18:38) (Introduction to Eicha Rabbah 30). This is exactly what Yehosophat, Assa, and Chizkiyah could not do, because they were not cleansed from this trait, as David himself pointed out when he said, "G-d will reward me according to my righteousness; He will repay me according to the innocence of my hands" (Psalms 18:21); as well as, "G-d will repay me according to my righteousness; according to the innocence of my hands in His eyesight" (Psalms 18:25), referring to the aforementioned innocence. Then he goes on to say, "For with You I will run upon a troop.... I will chase my enemies and overtake them" (Psalms 18:38). And he proclaimed, "Who will go up to G-d's mountain? And who will arise in His holy place? -- one of clean hand and pure heart" (Psalms 24:3–4).

In truth it is very difficult to foster this trait. Our natures are weak, our hearts are easily swayed, and we allow ourselves things which bring us to error. But one who does obtain this trait will have reached a very high level, as he will have proven himself to have withstood temptation and been victorious in a mighty war. We will now go on to enunciate the particulars of this trait.



There are many aspects of innocence-- as many as there are negative mitzvot (365 in number). But in essence, to be innocent is to be cleansed of even the off-shoots of sin, as I have already stated. Even though it is always the yetzer hara that has you sin, there are some sins that your personality may be drawn to and would tend to rationalize reasons to allow. It is in those instances that you will especially need help in subduing the yetzer hara and in cleansing yourself of sin.

Our sages pointed out that "in terms of forbidden acts, people are especially drawn to thievery and promiscuity" (Makkot 23b). Yet we know that most people are not blatantly dishonest. They would not actually reach out and take someone else's money and place it in their pockets. Nevertheless, most people are involved in acts of petty thievery in their business practices by unfairly profiting from others' losses, and they reason that "business is different!" Many theft-related negative mitzvot are stated in the Torah: "Do not steal", "Do not rob", "Do not extort", "Do not lie", "Do not be untruthful with your comrade", "One should not deceive his fellow", and "Do not falsify your neighbor's borders". These sorts of possible thievery cover many daily practices in the business world. And in each and every one there are many prohibitions, for not just the obvious, flagrant violations of extortion or thievery, for example, are forbidden. Things that lead to them are included in the prohibition as well. Our sages pointed out that it is written, "He did not make his neighbor's wife impure" (Ezekiel 18:6). That infers, they tell us, that "he did not enter into his friend's line of work" (Sanhedrin 81a). We find that Rabbi Yehudah forbade shopkeepers from handing out roasted treats and nuts to children which they used to accustom them to come to their store (Baba Metzia 60a). The only reason the sages finally allowed it was because the competition could do the same if they wanted to. They also said that "thievery against people is worse than thievery against the One above" (Baba Batra 88b). We find that they excused those working alongside their employers from taking the time to recite the blessings after meals, and only required them to interrupt their work to say the first paragraph of the Sh'ma Yisrael (Brachot 16a). How much more so, then, so does this notion of not taking what is not yours hold true for mundane things! Workers have to occupy themselves with their assigned tasks exclusively, and if they do not they are considered thieves. Abba Chilkiah would not even return a greeting tended by certain scholars so as not to waste time at his job (Ta'anit 23b). Our father Jacob expressed it best when he explained to Laban, "...I never took a ram from your flocks as food. I never brought you an animal that had been severed, but rather, I took the blame myself.... By day I was consumed by heat, and in the night by frost, when sleep was stolen from my eyes" (Genesis 31:38-40). What can someone who serves his own needs and busies himself with his own affairs when he is on the job say, therefore, other than the truth: that he has done what he wanted to, to his own benefit.

The principal of the matter is that one who is hired to do something sells his part of the day, as our sages pointed out when they said, "Being hired is selling yourself for the day" (Baba Metziah 56b). And whatever you take for yourself is taken in thievery, and you are not forgiven by G-d unless the employer himself forgives you, as "Yom Kippur does not forgive for sins one commits against another unless that person himself forgives" as our sages said (Yoma 85b). Even if you were to do a mitzvah when you were supposed to be doing your job it would not be accredited to you as a righteous act, but rather a sin-- because a sin is not a mitzvah. As the Torah says, "(G-d) hates thievery in a burnt offering" (Isaiah 61:8). In a similar vein our sages said, "One who steals a measure of wheat, then grinds it, bakes it and pronounces a blessing over it is not blessing G-d but blaspheming against G-d, as it is written, 'The thief who blesses blasphemes' (Psalms 10:3)" (Baba Kama 94a). It is said in such a case, "Woe to the one who makes his defender a prosecutor." In the Jerusalem Talmud (Succah 3:3) our sages speak about a stolen lulav. It is decided there as well that stealing time is as much an act of thievery as is stealing objects. Just as when one steals an object and performs a mitzvah with it he turns his best defense into a case against him, when he steals time he does the same.

The Holy One (blessed be He) cares only for honesty. As it is said, "G-d protects the honest" (Psalms 31:24); "Open up, gates, so that a righteous, an honest nation may enter" (Isaiah 26:2); "My eyes are towards the honest of the land, to those who will sit with Me" (Psalms 101:6); and "Are not Your eyes directed towards honesty?" (Jeremiah 5:3). Job said, "If my steps have turned out of the way, or my heart has gone after my eyes, or if anything has cleaved to my hands, then let me sow and another eat" (Job 31:7). Notice how perfect this image is. It equates unintentional thievery with things sticking to the hand: that is, though the person may not willfully set out to take some particular thing, it nonetheless "sticks" to him, and comes to be in his possession. In our case as well, though someone may truly not want to steal, he can nevertheless find it very difficult to be completely free of it. In truth, all this comes about because the eyes have the heart arrive at rationalizations for what it finds attractive and wants instead of the heart being in control of the eyes, so that you are not attracted to others' possessions. Job said that he had not acted so, that his heart was not drawn after his eyes-- that was why nothing "stuck to his palms".


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman