Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues., Aug. 28th)

Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta was married last night and is doing well. Thanks for your tephillos!




Let us consider deceit. It is so easy to fool yourself and stumble in this. You might think it is only right for example to make a product you are selling to a customer as attractive as possible so you could profit from your work, and to speak cunningly and enticingly to him so that he would want it. After all, have not our sages themselves pointed out that "It is an enthusiastic salesman who will sell, as it is written, 'The hand of the diligent will grow wealthy' (Proverbs 10:4)" (Pesachim 50b)? But if you do not fully reflect upon or are not conscious of your deeds, you might pick a thorn when you mean to get wheat-- that is, you might inadvertently sin and stumble in matters of deceit. We have already been warned by the Torah to "let no man deceive his fellow" (Leviticus 25:17), to which our sages have added that it is forbidden to fool a non-Jew as well (Chullin 94a). The Prophet says, "The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity, will not speak falsely, and no trickery will be found in their mouths" (Zephaniah 3:13). Our sages warned us not to paint-over old wares to make them like new, and to "not mix together different bunches of fruit -- even new fruit with other new fruit; even high priced with low so as to sell the higher priced for less" (Baba Metziah 60a), for "whoever does this is guilty of iniquity" (Deuteronomy 25:16) and is called five things: wrong, hateful, abominable, unbearable, and reprehensible (Sifra 19:35). Our sages added that "one who steals even a minute amount from his neighbor is likened to one who has taken his life from him" (Baba Kama 119a), indicating the severity of even a minor act of thievery. They also said, "the only reason rain is withheld from the world is because of acts of thievery" (Ta'anit 7b); and "what testifies against you first out of a load of your transgressions? -- thievery" (Vayikrah Rabba 33:3); and "The judgment against the generation of the flood was what it was because of their thievery" (Sanhedrin 108a). You may be saying, "How can I not try to point out the value of my product to my customers?" You should know that there is a difference between pointing out the true value, worth or beauty of a product-- which is a perfectly honest and honorable action-- and covering over the product's imperfections, which is deceitful, and therefore forbidden. This is a major principle in honest business practice.

Needless to say this refers as well to the matter of honest weights and measures. The Torah clearly states that, "All who do these things are an abomination to G-d" (Deuteronomy 25:16). Our sages said, "The punishment for dishonesty in weights and measures is more severe than that for promiscuity" (Baba Batra 88b). And they have demanded that the wholesaler clean his scales once in thirty days so that he might not unwittingly cheat his customers and have to be punished (Baba Batra 71a).

All the more so is this true in the case of the great sin of loaning money on interest, which is likened to denying the existence of the G-d of Israel, G-d forbid. Our sages said about the verse which reads, "He has given out money on interest, and has accepted increase; shall he then live? He shall not live!" (Ezekiel 18:13) that it means to say that such a person will not arise at the time of the resurrection of the dead (Shemot Rabbah 31:6). Both he and his dust are abhorrent and abominable in the eyes of G-d. I see no need to expand on this; the dread of it already rests upon the hearts of all Jews.

The point is that the stumbling-blocks on the path to them are as numerous as the yearnings for possessions. Great and profound self-reflection is required to actually free yourself of it. You should know that if you do free yourself of it, you have reached a very great level. Many have attained various of the many levels of righteousness and have not been able to abhor unjust gain. Tsopher the Namasite referred to this when he said to Job, "If there is iniquity in your hand, put it far away: do not allow wickedness to dwell in your tents. Then you shall surely remove yourself from blemish, you will be steadfast, and you will not fear anything" (Job 11:14).

Up to now I have spoken about the particulars of just one of the mitzvot. I could certainly analyze the rest of the mitzvot the same way, but I will only do so for those which people are most likely to have their failings in. Let us speak now about promiscuity, which is second only to thievery in the degree to which people transgress against it, as our sages indicated when they said, "Most people commit sins of theft, and some commit sins of promiscuity..." (Baba Batra 165a). No small amount of effort is required if you want to be thoroughly innocent of this transgression, because not only is the act itself forbidden, but actions related to it are forbidden as well. The Torah clearly says, "Do not come close to uncovering nakedness" (Leviticus 18:6). Our sages said, "The Holy One (blessed be He) warned, 'Do not say that since it is forbidden to have illicit relations with this woman you will just hold onto her and you will not be committing a sin; or you will just hug her or kiss her, and you will not have committed a sin.' The Holy One (blessed be He) said, 'Just as if you had vowed to be a Nazir, disallowing wine for yourself, and it then became forbidden for you by the Torah to eat grapes and raisins and to drink grape juice, as well as all other products of the grapevine-- so too may you not even touch a woman who is not your wife. And whoever does brings an early death upon himself..." (Shemot Rabbah 16b). How profound this statement is when it compares the prohibition of illicit sexual relationships to the Nazir. For even though the main thing forbidden to the Nazir is the drinking of wine, the Torah itself explicitly forbids him all things connected with it. This principle was handed down to the sages to teach them how to build "protective hedges" that insure the keeping of the Torah. They learned from the Nazir to forbid all things equivalent to the main prohibition. The Torah taught this principle through the mitzvah of the Nazir to have the sages apply it to the other mitzvot and to show that this is the will of G-d. And it did this by stating the prohibition to us outright along with its off-shoots so that they would know how to infer further prohibitions from stated ones. In this case, the tradition forbids illicit intimacy and all other such things however they may be found-- tactily, through sight, speech and hearing, or in thought. I will now bring you words of proof for all of these with statements of the sages.

Tacitly involves light physical contact, or hugging, and so forth. We have already explained this above, and we do not have to say anything further. In terms of seeing-- our sages said, "It is written, 'Those who join hands for wicked ends shall not go unpunished' (Proverbs 11:21)-- that is to say, all shopkeepers who go out of their way to dispense change to women customers to stare at them shall not go unpunished in the judgments of Gehenom" (Brachot 61a). They asked why the Jews of a particular generation especially needed forgiveness, and answered that it was because their eyes strayed licentiously (Shabbat 64a). Rav Sheshet asked why the Torah discusses underclothing along with outerwear when it says, "We have therefore brought an offering for G-d-- what every man has gotten of jewels of gold, chains and bracelets, rings, earrings as well as girdles ..." (Numbers 31:50), and answered that it was to teach you that whoever stares at even the little finger of a woman is likened to one who stares at her private parts (Brachot 24a). The sages said further, "It is written, 'And you shall guard yourself from any evil' (Deuteronomy 23:10)-- this means to say that a man should not stare at an attractive woman, even if she is unmarried; nor at a married woman even if she is ugly" (Avodah Zara 20a). In terms of speech with a woman-- we find it explicitly stated, "Whoever over-involves himself in small talk with his wife brings bad upon himself" (Pirke Avot 1:5).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman