Friday, August 17, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Shabbos Aug. 18th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill and is now in intensive care.

Please keep him in your tephillos.


The point of caution is that you should be cautious in both your actions and your interests; that is to say, conscious and aware of whether your actions and methods are for the good or not. You should not abandon your soul to the threat of destruction, G-d forbid, nor simply go blindly on in your accustomed way, in pitch black.

This is certainly what common sense would dictate. We have the sense to rescue ourselves by running away from what would destroy our soul; would we possibly want to conceal from ourselves the means of our rescue? There could be no greater degradation or foolishness than this.

One who would act in this way hasn't the native intelligence of the animals or beasts who just naturally watch out for themselves by fleeing from all that is likely to threaten them. One who goes about in the world without reflection upon whether his path is for the good or the bad is like a blind man who walks upon the shoreline, where the threats of danger are great, and harm is more likely than not. In truth, being blind from birth or by decision (by willfully closing your eyes) is one and the same thing.

The prophet Jeremiah would complain about the evil ones of his generation who would be afflicted by this trait of closing their eyes to their actions and not giving thought to whether they should abandon or continue them. He said about them, "No one repents of his wrongdoing to say, 'What have I done!?' Every one of them turns about in his course like a horse rushing headlong into battle" (Jeremiah 8:6). That is to say, they would rush about in their way without setting aside time for themselves to examine their actions or methods, and they would fall into evil ways inadvertently.

Relentlessly burdening yourself with tasks so that you haven't the time to reflect upon or consider where you are heading is in fact one of the devices and guiles of the yetzer harah. It knows that if you were to concentrate upon your ways for just an instant you would certainly repent of them, and a strong regret would grow within you that would lead you to utterly abandon your sins. This is one of the suggestions the evil Pharoah had when he said, "Make the men's work more burdensome! ...." (Exodus 5:9) His intentions were not only that he would not leave them time to plot against him. He meant to destroy any chance of self-reflection by loading them down with relentless, unending labor.

This is in truth the advice of the yetzer harah to us. It is a crafty and sly fighter. The only way you can escape from it is with great wisdom and reflection. This is what the prophet exhorted when he said, "Pay attention to your ways!" (Hagai 1:5); what Solomon said in his wisdom, "Allow neither sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids-- save yourself like a deer from the hand of the hunter..." (Proverbs 6:4-5); and what our sages meant when they said, "All who are deliberate in their ways in this world, will merit to see the salvation of the Holy One (blessed be He)" (Moed Kattan 5a).

Obviously, even if you do enjoy mastery over yourself, without G-d's help you could not save yourself, as the yetzer harah is mighty. As it is written, "When the evil person looks to the righteous and wants to kill him, G-d will not abandon him..." (Psalms 37:32–33). If you are in control of yourself, G-d will rescue you and save you from the yetzer hara. But if you are not, G-d himself will certainly not oversee your doings. After all -- if you will not have compassion upon yourself, who will? This is what our sages were referring to when they said "It is forbidden to have compassion upon those who simply will not understand" (Brachot 33a), and when they said, "If I am not for myself, who will be?" (Pirke Avot 1:14).


If you want to master yourself, you will need to involve yourself in two kinds of self-analysis. The first concerns the consideration of what is the true good you are to choose and the true bad from which you should flee. The second concerns the consideration of your own actions to determine whether they are good or bad. This latter one can be further broken down into two categories: while active and while not.

As to while you are active: you should not do anything without considering it in light of this notion. And as to while you are not active: you should recall your past actions and consider them in light of this notion as well as to determine if there is some bad therein to be removed, or good that should be continued and fortified. If you do find some bad, then you should reflect, and come up with devices that will allow you to flee and be purified from it.

Our sages had us know about this matter by telling us, "Man would have been better off not having been created than being created. But now that he has been created, let him examine his actions. Others are of the opinion that he should feel his actions" (Eruvin 13b).

We see that these two terms are in fact two very good and beneficial warnings. Generally, one who examines his actions would inspect them so as to reflect upon them and see if there could be found anything that he should not do-- that does not correspond with G-d's mitzvot and laws, for all that would be found to be in this category should be removed from the world.

But feeling one's actions includes even the good ones and involves inspecting and observing them to see if there is any underlying motivation that is not good, or if there is any part-bad that you might be forced to extricate and remove. This is like feeling a garment to see if it is good and strong, or weak and shabby. You should carefully "feel" your actions to determine their motivations this same way so as to stay pure and clean.

The principle of the matter is that you should delve deeply into all of your actions and examine all your ways and not leave yourself with bad habits or traits, or, certainly, sins or transgressions. I believe it is as necessary for you to sift through and analyze your ways each and every day as it is for successful businessmen to constantly evaluate their businesses to be sure they do not suffer loss, and that you set aside particular times to do this so that this sort of self-evaluation will not be a once-in-a- while kind of thing, but fixed. Such a practice promises great returns.

Our sages clearly taught us about the need for such self-evaluation. They said in regard to the verse, "Therefore the rulers said, 'Come, let us account for things'" (Numbers 21:27)-- "Therefore the rulers said over their yetzer haras: 'Come, let us evaluate matters of the world, that is, the loss incurred in the doing of a mitzvah against the gain, verses the gain in sinning as against its loss.'"(Baba Batra 78b).

The veracity of this advice can only be truly seen and internalized by those who have already freed themselves from the stronghold of their yetzer hara and have mastered it. One who is still bound and imprisoned by it cannot come to see or recognize the truth of this statement, as he is literally blinded by his yetzer hara. He is like someone who is walking in the dark and cannot see the many stumbling-blocks before him.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman