The Mesillat Yesharim writes in the very beginning that a person in this world is always at battle. There is always a war, whatever you do and wherever you go. The reason why we are not conscious of this is because we are living in a trance. We get used to thinking that things are the way they appear on the surface. For example: One might think that he is going to a wedding, when, in reality, he is going to war. Is he or she going to keep the guidelines of tzniut and modesty? Is he or she going to be jealous of others? Are you going to the wedding to enjoy the food and the music or to make the bride and groom happy? This is an inner war. We have this battle every day of our lives, in every scenario, at every moment. We think that if we socialize, we are just socializing. But our rabbis tell us that this is not the case. We are actually waging a war against letting ourselves speak freely of the faults of others. We think that when we sit down for a meal, we are just having a meal. No such thing. If and how you say the blessing before you wash your hands or eat is an inner war. If you will speak Torah at the meal or not is a war, and when you think that you are just having a sandwich, you most probably will lose your battle with the Evil Inclination. This is written between and behind the lines in the words of the Messilat Yesharim on the very first page.
This is the importance of the words that start off our parasha כי תצא למלחמה על איוביך When you go our to war against your enemy … One must mentally and intentionally be prepared for this inner battle. If you are going to be passive about this war thing, then it is more than likely that you will lose the battle. Thus, the Torah warns us that we must go out to fight, and not just sit back, thinking that things are just “chilled”.
The way we go out to fight is by planning: we plan what and how we will behave at the wedding in advance, we decide consciously that we are coming not to look around with envy at what others have; rather, we know that coming to the wedding is a mitzvah, one to be done with a smile on our face. Our presence says that we are happy for the new couple. With this mental preparation, there is a much better chance that this is how we will behave. Similarly, if we have in mind that the Shabbat table is a time when we can share Torah thoughts and learn some halachot, then there is a better chance that the planning will come true than if we do not plan at all. And, even in areas in which we are weak, if we plan ahead, there is a greater chance that we will succeed in overcoming our obstacles. This is one of the ideas that was very much encouraged by R’ Yisrael Salanter. One can help himself to form good habits by picturing exactly how he will make his Berachot and thinking what type of blessing he will make. People are creatures of habit, and being used to something will more often than not dictate the way they will behave. That is, unless they plan differently. And, when someone does plan, for better or for worse, there is a special Divine aid to put a person on the path which he chooses for himself. בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכים אותו . I have found this true while coaching people. Once someone says and describes, spells out in detail what he wants, G-d just helps him achieve it. .
SHORT AND SWEET
The Gemara in Makot tells us, “How foolish are those who stand up for a Sefer Torah, but not for the rabbis! The Torah states, YOU SHALL SMITE HIM 40 TIMES, and the rabbis come along and say that one should get only 39 lashes.” A great question is asked about this. Why does the Gemara have to go through so many parashiot to find a passuk which highlights the point that our rabbis had the power to interpret a passuk in a way different from the literal translation? In Sefer Vayikra, we find the same concept regarding Sefirat Ha’omer. The Torah tells us to count 50 days, and our rabbis come along and tell us to count only 49!”
The answer is this. To be able to learn that the Torah means to say that one should count only 49 days when it says 50 is not such a great feat. However, to say that one gives only 39 lashes, not 40, decreasing the amount of pain this Jew would have to go through, making his life easier for him – THAT’S GREATNESS!
The Mabit, in Beit Elokim asks the following: If we read the Ten Commandments with concentration, we will find that the first five, the commandments that are between man and his Creator, are much longer in comparison to the last five, those between a man and his fellow. Some of the latter five are merely two-word commandments. If this is so, why did G-d leave so much empty space in the last tablets in comparison to the space in the first tablets? Could He not have elaborated a bit on the commandments between a man and his fellow, making the size of the margin somewhat equal?
The answer given is that when it comes to the laws between man and his fellow, people often prefer to ignore their social duties. It is much more difficult to forgive and forget, especially in a case where there is money over which we are in dispute with others, then it is to part with possessions to do a mitzvah. It is in this very sensitive area of preserving our honor, our self image, that we are given the opportunity to excel in refining our middot. When a person is able to rise above his distaste for a fellow Jew – no matter how justified his feeling may be – he transcends himself and makes a powerful Kiddush HaShem. This is why G-d wrote the latter mitzvoth in big letters, leaving the same amount of open space as in the first set of commandments. Just to have the commandments between man and his fellow stand out, showing and underlining their importance. It is in observing these mitzvoth that we have the opportunity to be complete in our serving G-d.
People who recognize that the latter five commandments are those that give us an opportunity to care about others – whether we like them or not – are people who deserve to be stood up for. They stand out like bold letters on a blank page!
COMFORTABLE WITH SIN
At first I did not understand the Midrash in this week’s parasha. But when I did, I was all shaken up.
“…And G-d did not want to listen to Bilaam, and Hashem your G-d turned the curse to a blessing, because He loves you…” The Midrash comments, why did Bilaam go against the will of G-d, and try to curse the Jews? Because he thought that he himself would redeem the Jews from Egypt, and he thought that the Torah would be given to the Jews through his hands. Once Bilaam saw that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt by Moshe and that the Torah was given by Moshe, Bilaam became filled with jealousy and planned a list of curses against the Jews….
How could Bilaam, the most impure, the most selfish of all, the master of the Evil Eye, believe that the Torah could be given through him? How could he be “shocked” that Moshe Rabbeinu, who loved each and every Jew as himself, was chosen to take out the Jews fromEgyptinstead of him? What was he even thinking?
I thought about this for a while, and when I figured it out, it shook me up. The reason is because Bilaam could only be so wicked as Bilaam, if he really, truly believed that he was as righteous as Moshe Rabbeinu. When people we know do wicked things, it is along the lines of “all roads to hell are paved with good intentions”. A person, in essence, cannot do bad. One can only do something wrong when he thinks that there is something right to it. That it can be justified. So Bilaam, as well, could only be so evil, only if he truly thought that he was a tzaddik like Moshe. He truly believed it, and when he faced reality in the mirror, he was filled with rage.
A person can go his whole life thinking that he is a tzaddik. He has no clue that this is many times the only way that his conscience will allow him to actually go ahead and be a Rasha. As we approach days of Judgment, let us keep this in mind.
READY FOR WAR
כי תצא למלחמה על איוביך ונתת ד’ אלקיך בידך ושבית שביו כא:י When you go out to war against your enemy, and Hashem, your G-d, gives you victory…
Our Sages tell us that this passuk is hinting at going to war against the Evil Inclination, our worst enemy. As the Chovot HaLevovot writes: Know this: Your greatest enemy in the world is your Evil Inclination…he gives you advice for your every step. While you sleep, he is awake plotting against you. He appears to you as a friend, and he becomes one of your most trusted friends and advisors… His greatest weapon against you is confusion and false arguments to make you forget your true interests and doubt your confirmed goals and beliefs… (Shaar Yichud Hamaaseh). The ways of the Evil Inclination are manifold. He always has new ideas, and he never gives up. When you thought you conquered him, you find that he has only gotten stronger. This is the general picture. The Rebbe from Pashische put it even more dramatically: You should always perceive the Evil Inclination as one who is standing over your head with an axe waiting for the moment to chop off your head. If you cannot perceive him as such, it means that he has already chopped off your head!
The metaphor of battling the Evil Inclination has always been extremely apt – all the way down to our time. We can illustrate this through the example of the modern tank, which was a product of World War One. During the war, the leaders of England and France (Allied Forces) looked for a way to break through the front lines of forts established by the Germans. After much thought and research, they concluded that this could be accomplished by vehicles with thick side walls to protect them from being stopped by machine-gun fire, and ones in which soldiers could hide and shoot. They also wanted a vehicle that could climb over obstacles and pass over trenches.
At last, a vehicle was invented that met all these requirements, and a squadron of them was to be brought to the front. The leaders of the Allied Forces wanted their new weapon to surprise and startle the enemy. To conceal their true identity as weapons, they were brought to the front lines as water carriers for the Mesopotamian campaign, and referred to as tanks (as in water tank).
The Evil Inclination works very much the same way. He presents himself as innocent – a mere water tank – or even as good. And he always invents new ways of doing things.
As for the essence of the Evil Inclination, the statements of the Sages may, at first glance, seem paradoxical. Is it an external angel or an inner part of the human psyche? On the one hand, we have a Talmudic passage which tells us that the Evil Inclination, the Satan (Adversary), and the Angel of Death are one and the same. The Evil Inclination attempts to get one to sin, and when he succeeds, he goes to the Heavenly Court as a prosecuting angel. When he succeeds in his prosecution, he returns to the world as the Angel of Death, and executes the punishment (Bava Batra 16a). From this description, it seems that the Evil Inclination is external. On the other hand, the Sages tell us that ever since Adam and Chavah ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the Evil Inclination resides within us (see (נפש החיים א’ פ”ו . This also seems to be reflected in the Chumash itself: “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”(Bereishis 8:21); “Love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your hearts“ (Devarim 6:5) – with both the good and the evil inclination (Rashi); “You should not have in you an alien god” (Psalms 91:10 ) – i.e., evil inclination (Shabbat 105b).
The resolution of this paradox lies in the observation of R’ Yisrael Salant that there are actually two Evil Inclinations – the internal and the external, or what he calls the Yetzer Hatumah and Yetzer Hata’avah (see Iggeret Hamussar). R’ Yisrael uses this to explain contradictions in a given person’s behavior that almost make the individual look like he has a split personality. He notes, for example, that while a person may have a desire for honor, this desire is strangely absent when it comes to honor for spiritual or ethical matters. He explains that this person’s inner desire for honor is being neutralized by an outside force (Yetzer Hatumah) which influences him not to look for honor in the spiritual or ethical realm.
Although it is often difficult to figure out whether the external Adversary or the internal Evil Inclination is operating, one thing is for sure: neither one has anything to do with our “inner self.” There is an “inner self” deeper inside than the “heart,” the abode of the Evil Inclination. In other words, the Torah perspective is that our bad habits are external, something we can fight against. This is an amazingly useful self-help concept! (If the Evil Inclination had been part of our inner self, we wouldn’t have had a chance.) This may well be hinted at by the Torah when it speaks of “going out to war against your Enemy.” Even the internal Inclination is not part of the inner self. With all this in mind, we are ready for war!