Ki Yetzer Ha’adam – The Evil Inclination Wants Us to View Ourselves as Bad (don’t!!)

Kee Yetzer Ha’adam Rah Minoorav

There is a verse that says, “the inclination of man is bad from his youth.”  This verse has many explanations and expounding details.  One is that a child is born with willfulness, the “me, me, me” unrealistic expectations and desires.  Only after Bar or Bas Mitzvah does the child get the maturity to have a “good inclination” a desire to do the morally right thing.

The Gemorah discusses this verse and then discusses how to deal with this bad inclination, this desire pull that drags us down.  We are told to drag our desires into the Bais Medrash, into the study hall as Torah study wears it down, that bad inclination.  We are also told to pray, as prayer also smashes and bashes and pushes away that evil inclination.

Yet, there is something I’ve noted.  Read that verse again, but put a pause there.  Read it this way.  Kee Yetzer Ha’adam, the evil inclination of man, “Rah minoorav” is to value himself as bad from when he was little.

The Yetzer Hara starts off with you’re a bad person.  That is the first sin as a youngster, to have that feeling of failure before you even start off in life.

Not allowed, my friend.  We can never allow ourselves to think of ourselves as bad.  Nor should we ever call our children bad.  They might mess up.  We might mess up.  But calling ourselves Rah is just the Yetzer getting the better of us.  How do we know we are not all bad, even when our inside voice likes to tell us that we are bad?  Because we have the ability to go into that study hall and learn the exalted Torah.  We have the ability to talk to G-d through prayer.  Surely, if we can do that, there is no way we are bad.  We are good, just with some slips and errors in our past.

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Tzama Nafshi – Sating a Thirsting Soul

During one of her pregnancies, someone craved ice chips in a major sort of way.  She would sit in front of her non-frost-free freezer some nights, having finished her ice cubes in record time, and chip away any ice she could from the buildup.

There are children who will eat things like paint and sand and even feces.  Like the ice-craving pregnant woman, their body is calling out for weird foods.  Excuse me, while I go chew on that wall for a while.

Now we can chuckle about it, but it is no laughing matter.  Pica[1], the name of the disorder, often stems from a lack of iron or zinc in the body.  The body is calling out for something, but somewhere in the brain there is a lack of clarity about what the body needs.  Therefore, the person is stuck craving inadequate substitutes that have traces of what the body lacks.  Iron pills would have cleared up the ice chip craving quickly and that woman could have spared herself sleepless nights in front of a freezer.

Within each of us is a spark of Divine, something called our soul.  And the soul, too, has cravings.  It wants to forge a deep relationship with its Creator, wants to connect with Eternity and Spirituality.

Ever note how everyone wants to name drop and show you how they know someone famous?  See there, that’s my photo of me with Hillary, as if we’re on a first-name-basis, Hil-and-I go way back when, or other such nonsense.  What causes folks to do that?

It is our soul chewing ice chips.  We want to connect with G-d, greater than all of us, but we don’t realize it and try to rub shoulders with rich, famous or other folks we might view as “great” in their own way.

Much of what we do, unfortunately, feeds us the same way.  We try for happiness and spirituality in ways that are inadequate because our soul is so thirsty we try to sate it, this way and that, and none really stilling that urge that tells us more, more and more.

When dealing with physical Pica disorders, medical practitioners are instructed to do a blood panel to try to see what the body might be missing.  Then, when a deficiency is noted, it is easy to prescribe the diet or supplements that would stop the disorder.

Spiritually, we ought to do a panel of our innards every now and then, see how close we feel to truth and see how much we adhere to a healthy spiritual diet.  For then, we might avoid eating sand and turd.  We might avoid spiritual scams.


[1] For more information about PICA, you can read here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002505/

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HASHEM LOVES YOU, LOVE YOURSELF TOO

 “You cannot find peace anywhere except for inside your own self.

When a man has made peace within himself,

he is able to make peace with the whole world.”

– Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshicha

 G-d loves giving. He gives us countless gifts each day.  It is our job to recognize all those gifts so we can begin to understand the depth of His love.  Count your gifts.  Include the sights, the sounds, the beautiful world you encounter.

 For some reason, sad beyond words, most in our generation have no clue they are loved.  No other generation had people hate themselves so much they resorted to self-destructing behavior.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk informed us that depression brings one away from G-d.  Therefore, the Hebrew word for depression “Atzav” is closely related to Atzabayhem,- idols.

Heartbreak and depression are two different things.  Heartbreak is, Hashem, I need help.  Depression is, I give up.  The first is beneficial.  The latter, destroys lives.

At the first meeting between the Baal Shem Tov and the Toldos Yaakov Yosef found the Baal Shem Tov admonishing the other Rav not to fast and not to resort to self-inflicted pain, even in a quest for greater spiritual heights.  Rather, he instructed, we must find joy in serving Hashem.

Some folks hate themselves because of circumstances they’ve undergone, because of having being mistreated or abused.  You have to know, if this is you I’m describing, that abuse is what happened TO you, not BY you.  It’s an outside event you experienced, not a description of who you are.  If you have gone through trauma, find the help to cope with the after-effects.  Yet, keep reminding yourself the trauma does not define you.  It was an outside event unrelated to who you are as a person.  You are defined by your choices, not the events through which you’ve suffered.

Some people are self-loathing due to mistakes they’ve made.  You’re a child of Hashem.  He knows you’ll mess up at times.  Each mess up can be made up.  Just apologize.  You’re still loved.  You’re still precious.  Will you throw out your kid for spilling milk?  I think not.  Then, know, Hashem is not ready to discard you, even when you slip and fall.

When we feel alone and think Hashem is not there, remember how you learned to walk.  Your parents stood you up and moved slightly away.  It was up to you to take those first few steps into their waiting, embracing arms.  At times, to get us to take the steps we need to learn to take, Hashem, so to speak, moves a little out of our reach.  Not because He is leaving us alone.  He is waiting there, a few steps out of reach, waiting for us to learn to take the steps necessary to get to His waiting embrace.

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The Good Struggle — keep running the race

Olympics.  Able bodies, arms, legs, moving like well-oiled pistons.  Strength and muscle exhibited as the runner gains mile after mile until – finally – exultation – a cross of the finish line.

Special Olympics.  A test more grueling, almost ugly to watch in the clenched determination to make it to the finish line despite obstacles and pain.  A cripple with only one leg hobbles past, compensating with implements.  Another one, on two crutches, teeters along determinedly.  One mile, he gains.  Then, wham – a screw gives on one crutch and he lands flat out.  You cheer him on as he gets up and keeps going, now with only one crutch.  He’s got only a few more yards left when, bam, he’s down on the ground again.  You hold your breath.  Will he give up now?  Grimacing, yet happy in an odd way to persevere, he begins to crawl.  Inch by torturous inch he pulls himself until – finally –exultation – he makes it, barely, but he makes it, across the finish line.

We Jews, we’re running the Special Olympics in history right now.  Used to be our forefathers ran forward, ably.  Yaakov wrestled that angel with force and might.  He held that evil force down until dawn wiped away the danger.  We, however, we teeter about trying to compensate for our vast emotional and spiritual disabilities.  One day, then another.  Pushing through life, we must live true to our mission no matter how torturous the strain on our soul might feel.  Every muscle aches with the effort.  Push on, past the Holocaust.  Stumble on past the hypocritical leaders who were exposed as shams.  Keep running the course despite the confusion.  Teeter, wobble, get up again  or even crawl.  It is just a few short yards now to the finish line.  The final epoch is soon unfolding.

C’mon, onwards, because soon, for those who continued running the good race, it will soon be time for exultation.  If we teeter onwards, we’ll make it across that finish line!  Hold steady until “alos haShachar” until dawn wipes away the pain.

 

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Haftorah this Week – Four Who Will Connect to G-d

The Haftorah is from Yeshayahu.  The reading begins with the complaint of G-d against our nation for not doing the services we ought to have been doing for Him.  Verse 23:  You did not bring me a lamb…

Did the Jews really not do the service in the Temple?  We know that even as they sinned, the services and sacrifices continued.  So what is the complaint here?

We are told by G-d, “Torahsee al ta’azohvoo – don’t leave My Torah.”  Really that sentence should read, Torah Al Ta’azohvoo – don’t leave Torah.  What is the emphasis on the word MY that is placed before Torah.

Many folks go ahead and try to tailor Torah to their own ridiculous desires.  Snip it, pinch it, sew it up and use it for their own motives.  When folks brought a sin-offering from stolen goods, was it a sin-offering to G-d…or them just being “frum”, doing as the neighbors did?  If we go to synagogue and pray, but don’t mean it, and do it for the social aspect of keeping up with the Schwartz’s, are we praying to G-d?  If we keep Shabbos just because in our neighborhood that is the thing to do, with no thought of keeping Shabbos to proclaim G-d’s Creation of the world, is Shabbos about G-d or about our children finding a great playdate?  The lament of G-d is that the Karbanos were not brought for HIM.

That is why we were thrust into exile.  And that bitter, long exile will end well, eventually.  Our Haftorah continues with the assurance that Hashem will open gates of knowledge of awareness and pour it into the world.  Like water being poured to those parched with thirst, Hashem will ensure that everyone (even those logging in remotely to this website) will have access to pure Torah learning.  When that happens, the Haftorah continues, “This one will say, I am for Hashem; and this one will call in the name of Yaakov, and this one will write on his hand ‘for Hashem’ and in the name of Israel they will take on.”

RASHI (quoting from Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan):  the first person is the righteous, the second are those who are the sons of the wicked, the third are the wicked repenting and the fourth and the righteous converts.

An interesting side note, folks – there are four types of people listed in this Passuk in the Haftorah.  Remind you of the four sons at the Pesach Seder?  Professor Herman Branover who is the founder of the field of science called magneto-hydrodynamics was a famous Russian refusenik who found his way to G-d and observance in Soviet Russia.  He wanted to see scientifically how long Jewish identity could last without Torah observance.  His result is startling.  It is four generations.  Anyone who knows that he/she is Jewish, must have had a sincerely religious ancestor at max four generations up.  That is the four sons of the Haggada.  Chacham – the wise generation who kept Mitzvos, vibrantly attached to G-d awareness.  Then came the Rasha – the wicked sons who turned from G-d.  They are followed by the Tam – a generation who has no clue what it means to be Jewish (bagels for breakfast on Sunday type of Jews).  The last generation doesn’t even know who they are – they cannot even ask about their identity and marry out.  There is no next generation, unfortunately.

We are reassured in this week’s Haftorah that there will be a reversal of that when Moshiach comes.  There will be converts walking in our doors, there will be repentant sinners, there will be children of those sinners who bring their fathers back into the fold.  And, yes, there will always be, there always has been, the proud Jews who never lost their way.  May we merit to be in that category.

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Harness Your Evil Inclination (and put ‘im to work)

When a car hits an icy patch in the road and begins to skid, drivers are told not to turn against the skid.  If the car is skidding rightwards and the driver yanks the steering wheel immediately to the left, there would be too much friction and the car would flip itself over, wheels spinning in the air.  Drivers are taught to start to move the wheel in the direction of the skid, and then, once they gain control of the steering wheel, then they move the car back against the skid.

This principle sometimes helps with Chinuch [pedagogy] – when a child is slipping, we stand to lose total control of the child when we try to yank control quickly opposite the will of the child.  Sometimes, you need to go along with some Mishigas [craziness] to gain control of the child and be able to safely bring the child out of the skid.  Not completely should you go with the Mishigas, but to gain control of the child by seeming to start off with the child’s direction, and then easing the child back into the direction that is right.

This concept is not just for the Chinuch of our children – we need it for our own lives.  Dovid HaMelech says that his Yetzer Harah [evil inclination] would tell him to go to places where he shouldn’t, to “have fun”.  If he were to have fought it fully, he would have lost the battle.  Therefore, Dovid HaMelech lets us know how he tricked his Yetzer.  He would say, okay, let me go “huhtzkeh”[party], and he would get up and get ready to go.  It is quite the reality that when our evil inclination is pushing us to go places where we shouldn’t, we are motivated to get ready fast.  So, chick-chock, Dovid HaMelech was up and dressed and ready to go.  Once he was ready to go he would run to the study hall quickly, outsmarting the Yetzer HaRah.    We need to learn how to go with our skids and take the control of ourselves back from the Yetzer HaRah.  We can even use our Yetzer Harah to bribe ourselves to do the right thing. Rav Dessler describes how he loved a hot coffee in the morning – and he used that desire to get himself going to morning prayers – if he was up on time, he got his coffee.  He used a “ta’ava” [desire] to push himself to Zrizus [alacrity to good].

The question is, if we are “going with the skid”, using our Yetzer Hara into getting control of ourselves, is that a copout or is that the way things were meant to be?

G-d says, “I created the Yetzer Harah, I created the Torah as the spice for it.”  The Yetzer Hara could be harnessed, should be used, can be an ingredient in our worship of G-d.  Those desires which might seem bad can be used for good.  That is why in your Shema, you say that you will serve G-d “Bechal Levavcha” – and there is a double Bais letter even though only one is called for in the spelling of that word.  We are taught that one Bais represents the Yetzer Tov, which naturally turns towards good, and one Bais for the work we do to serve G-d with our Yetzer Harah.  Know your Yetzer Hara.  Know your children’s Yetzer Hara.  Then harness that Yetzer Hara, put it to work in doing good.

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Rabbi Dessler’s ideas can be read in Strive for Truth.  You can read a bit more about this Torah philosopher here:  http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/290/rav-dessler-the-life-and-impact-of-rabbi-eliyahu

For an interesting Q&A about this quote of the creation of the Yetzer Harah, read here: http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/27/Q2/

 

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The Concept of Tzniyus

 

Tzniyus, we jump to the word’s translation of modesty.  However, that translation doesn’t do it justice.    Tzniyus actually is about measurement, putting things in its proper weights, and in fact, in one place in the Torah (when discussing proper measurements) it is used directly to mean weights and scales.

Up until the Chayt [sin] of Eitz HaDa’as [tree of knowledge], Adam and Chava walked around buck naked.  And never noticed.  After the sin, the first thing they notice, is “OMG, we’re naked!”  What changed?  Their eyesight?  The feel of cool wind on bare skin?  Nope.  Not that.  Their perception, their measurement of the value of each object is what changed.

Let’s examine the Chayt to understand it.  Before Adam and Chava ate from the Eitz HaDa’as, Adam had a perception of what each object’s mission in the world was to be and also viewed everything as true and false, not right and wrong.  The difference between true and false and right and wrong is that true and false cannot be blurred.  There is no grey area in true and false equations.  1 + 1 = 2 – that statement is true.  It is not right, it is truth that cannot be argued.  Mitzvos are truths –that is why we call Torah, Toras Emes [a Torah of truth].  Before sinning, Adam and Chava knew that the wrong things were not just wrong, they were false, clashing against truth.  After eating the fruit, they got the gift of “dimyon” of imagination, of blowing things way out of perspective.

So before Chayt, Adam and Chava saw each other naked and it meant nothing other than the truth of what it meant.  Their physical attributes they knew were only to be focused on in the proper time, and they didn’t get sidetracked with their imagination blowing things up.

Let me explain it another way.  The Gemorah talks about a couple who was very Tzinyusdik.  The wife was missing one arm and the husband did not know that.  The question the Gemorah asks is, “who was the more Tzniyusdike one?”  I pose this question and get a kick out of hearing the reasoning.  Some folks say, ‘the woman – she never uncovered herself.’  The Gemorah never said she didn’t uncover herself.  Some say, ‘the man – he never looked at his wife.’  The Gemorah didn’t say that either.  All it said was that he had no clue she was limbless.  The Gemorah then answers that the man was the more Tzinyusdike one.  Remembering what I just told you above, let us reason this out.  The man saw his wife as a whole unit, a whole person, not just good boobs, nice eyes, hot legs and, oops, missing hand.  He saw his comrade, his love, his soul mate.  And, therefore, he did not get sidetracked into focusing on any limb and never noticed she was missing one.

That is also the meaning of the Midrash that talks about Avraham’s realization that Sara was beautiful.  Isn’t it puzzling, as they near Mitzrayim [Egypt], suddenly Avraham wakes up and says, “hey, I’m married to a beautiful woman.”  C’mon it can’t be that simple.  Was he blind?  So the Meforshim look at the scenario to figure out what is going on.  And what is going on is that up until now Avraham knew he was married to a beautiful woman, the whole woman.  However, as they neared Mitzrayim, Avraham took a look again, putting his view into the mindset of the Mitzriyim.  And he got scared, ‘uh oh – I know she’s the most beautiful, but now I see the Mitzriyim will be able to focus on each aspect of her beauty in a base way,  Through their eyes, they will be able to say, she’s one hot mama.” Therefore, Avraham hid Sarah.

If you look at the Halachos [laws] of Tzniyus, you will see that it is about keeping the whole picture of the woman in focus, instead of letting anyone take her apart into irrelevant pieces.  The parts of our body we don’t have to cover are the face, the hands and the feet.   Why those?  The face is the word Panim, which can also be read to as P’nim [inside].    Our face, with its expressions, with its language, with its eyes to the soul, allows folks to get to know who we are inside.  That is what we are allowed to show the world because that is our whole self.  Our hands we are allowed to show, because that is our creativity – that we are allowed to show.  And our feet are our balance and where we go and how we go – that we are allowed to show.  All the things we are allowed to show are our uniqueness, the essence of our Neshama [soul].  The rest are things that would get folks sidetracked from who we are and would turn us into objects of imagination, leading to our being cheapened.

Jewish women, do yourself the favor of keeping your bodies within the framework of your whole personality by keeping the laws of Tzniyus.  Don’t become random body parts.

NOTE TO READERS:  I’m not original in thought in formulating this.  Most of the material is based on the writing of Rabbi Shraga Silverstein’s amazing book: The Antidote: Human Sexuality, along with Shiurim by Rabbi Friedman and Rav Shimon Green.

 

 

postscript:  There I was in shul listening to the reading of the Torah.  Some women I know were there, too.  The Torah reader got to the verse that prohibits the placing of a stairway in front of any altar and the words were intoned, “so that nakedness would not be revealed.”  I looked around at the women listening attentively to the words, as their Chumash rested on their exposed thighs as their mini skirts crept upwards.

I thought, the Kohain wore a tunic so no thigh should be exposed, even as he was wearing trousers that covered his thigh!  Holy women!  How can we walk around in mini skirts?

A Sefer Torah is never shamed by being uncovered needlessly.  When not in use, it is swaddled and put away.  Why are Jewish daughters shaming themselves by uncovering their bodies to every wanton leering shmo-bagel?   Why are some of  our daughters’ skirts  reminiscent of a hooker’s?

Bring back respect for our bodies.  Tniyut – it’s about glorifying our daughters.   Bring back Jewish pride – bring back the dignity of Tzniyut.  The crowning glory of Jewish women is Tzinyut – let’s bring it back.

After all, if we really cared to understand, there was no mistaking that exposing a thigh wantonly is not our ideal.

 


 

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