036 Torah Portion of the Week – Vayishlach – How Your Stop Ignoring What’s Important – The Evil of Indifference – A Powerful Parable about the Being Number One – A Great Story about the Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Peace and Education – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
The Torah Podcast Transcript
036 The Torah Podcast – How Your Stop Ignoring What’s Important – The Evil of Indifference
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayishlach
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz starts out in this week’s Parsha with a Gemara in Sukka. The Gemara says, “Whoever is greater than his fellow man, his evil inclination too, is greater.” In other words, in order for a man to have free will, if he has a tremendous drive towards good, he also has to have a tremendous drive towards evil, or else it would be uneven. In that same Gemara the Abaya explains that the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, goes against Torah scholars more than anybody else. He tells the story about Abaya. One time, Abaya saw a simple man who was refraining from sinning in a certain situation. Abaya said, “Oy. If I would have been in the same situation, I wouldn’t have been able to stand up to such a test,” and he leaned against the doorpost. An old man came up to him and said, “Whoever is greater than his fellow man, his evil inclination too, is greater.”
We see that the Yetzer Hara goes against a bigger man disproportionately. But the question is now, how can it be in the exact same situation- there’s a greater Yetzer Hara for the bigger man? Abaya was complaining, saying, “Listen, if I was in that situation, I wouldn’t have been able to stand the test.” But it’s the exact same situation, so what makes it greater for the Torah scholar than the person who’s trying to the right thing – why is his Yetzer Hara greater? What is it about the situation that makes the Yetzer Hara greater? What forces does the evil inclination use, in order to arouse the person?
The Bereishis Rabba says like this – it’s also according to Abaya. “The Yetzer Hara could be compared to a decrepit man who’s posed as a robber sitting at the crossroads, and ordering whoever passed by to surrender his possessions.” We’re talking about a decrepit man, an old man. He’s telling everybody, “Give up your stuff,” until one shrewd person walked by and saw that this guy is too feeble to rob anyone, and he beat him. That was the Moshul, the parable. Really in a sense, the Yetzer Hara is very weak. So, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explained that in reality, his only strength is in an allusion, the allusion that he creates. The building up of the imagination inside of the person, how they’re going to think, how this sin is going to be so great.
He goes on to explain, he also brings another Chazal that says, “The Yetzer Hara is like a dog who pretends to be asleep. He’s just waiting for the guy to look away, the baker to look away, and then he’s going to grab the bread,” because while the Yetzer Hara is actually too weak to confront a person head on, it’s only when our guard is lowered. In other words, the fantasy can only have power over us as long as we’re not thinking too much about the reality; as long as the fantasy is there, so then the reality is pushed to the side. And that’s the Yetzer Hara. He brings a beautiful Raya, a proof from this week’s Parsha. You’ve got to hear this.
When Yaakov met up with the Angel of Esav – and Yaakov was fighting with the Angel the entire night, and the dust was going up to the Shemayim, the Heavens, at the end after Yaakov beat the Angel he was still hurt in the thigh. He asked him, “Please tell me your name.” What did the Angel answer back? He replied, “Why do you ask for my name?” The Seforno explains, “When somebody asks for the name of something, they’re asking for the essence. Yaakov Avinu was asking the Yetzer Hara – we know that this Angel was the Yetzer Hara, was the Satan, the evil inclination. He was asking, “What is your essence?”
Most Meforshim, commentaries, explain this to mean that he answered back, “I don’t have an essence, because really it depends what my job is in the moment.” Angels are only given one job at a time. So, he answered him back, “It’s useless to ask my name.” But Rav Chaim Shmulevitz has a different explanation. He’s saying, “He did answer him, and the answer is, ‘my essence is this – why do you ask for my name? That is my essence.’” He was saying, “My essence, my strength, lies in the fact that people do not pause to examine me more closely, to know my name.” In other words, my essence is, “Why do you ask my name?” That’s the essence of the Yetzer Hara, because as soon as you ask for the name, as soon as you start to think about it, then the fantasy starts to fall apart, because the fantasy of the sin is always much greater than the sin itself. The dream of eating that piece of cake is always much greater than the actual piece of cake.
He explains, “If the dimensions of sin would clearly proceed as they really are, man would be able to withstand the enticement of sin. But since the Yetzer Hara built up this whole illusion, one becomes blinded and he starts to lose his seichel, his intelligence. Chazal says, “A person does not sin unless a spirit of foolishness enters him.” This answers how the Yetzer Hara could be greater in the Talmid Chacham than it can be in a regular person. The circumstances might be exactly the same, but the Yetzer Hara comes against a Talmid Chacham with a greater spirit of foolishness. He builds in a bigger fantasy into that person. That same Gemara quotes, “It will be the end of days, the Holy One will bring the evil inclination and slaughter him.” At the end of days, the Yetzer Hara is going to be killed, in the presence of both the righteous and the wickedness. To the righteous, it will appear like a towering mountain, and to the wicked, it will look like a thin hair. And both will cry. The righteous will weep and say, “Oy, how were we able to overcome such a big mountain,” and the wicked will cry, “Oh, how come we couldn’t overcome such a small hair.”
We see it’s the dream, it’s the fantasy, the dimion, the imagination, that pulls us into sin. And society is constantly bombarding us, the Jewish people, with all of this nonsense of Olam Hazeh, the fantasy of this world, and what it’s going to give us. The Beis HaLevi says like this – he brings a Possuk from this week’s Parsha. Yaakov was praying, “Please save me. Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” The Beis HaLevi asks, “Why does he have to say twice? He says, ‘being saved from the hands of my brother,’ and then he had to say again, ‘from the hand of Esav.’ And the answer is, he was really praying for two things. If he’s Esav and he’s not my brother, he’s acting like Esav and he wants to kill me, please save me. Also, please save me, even if he’s acting like my brother, because being friends with Esav is just as dangerous as being enemies with Esav.
This is an example of Maasim L’Avos, Simanim L’Banim – what happened to the fathers of the Jewish people is going to happen to the children of the Jewish people. All the time we’re in exile, we have two possibilities. Either the nations want to kill us, or they want to befriend us. But either way, it’s to our detriment. We go through stages in our history where they want to kill us, like the Holocaust. And we’re going through the stage now where they want to befriend us. What’s happening? Assimilation is 80%, and Jews are constantly being pulled into the false philosophy of materialism. It’s not a Jewish idea.
The Prophet Ovadia said, “In the future Esav will wrap himself in his Tallis, his prayer shawl, and sit next to Yaakov and say to him, ‘You are my brother.’” In other words, Esav is going to seduce the Jewish people away from Torah and Mitzvos, commandments, to run after the pleasures of this world, and view life as a temporary experience. And whoever dies with the most toys wins. Every day it innovates a new thing, a new way, a new iPhone, a new iPad, a new computer, a new car, new clothes, new furniture, new things. It’s always innovates these new things in order to pull us away from our service to God, because in order to be learning, and in order to be doing Mitzvos, we can’t be so involved with this world. Of course, we have to have the pleasures of this world, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s not the focus.
Rav Avigdor Miller brings down in the same Possuk, “Why do you ask my name?” He brings down the case of Manoach in the Tanach, when he also met up with an Angel. The Angel said to him, “Why do you ask my name which is secret?” But here, the Angel didn’t say, “Why do you ask my name which is secret?” because over there, the Angel was not the Yetzer Hara. Here it’s the Yetzer Hara, and every day he has a new name, he has a new thing going on. His name’s not secret, because even if you know it one minute, you don’t know it the next. The media, the society is going to come up with a new idea to drag you away from serving God. The question is now, what do we do? How do we fight this Yetzer Hara? How do we fight the media? How do we fight all these pleasures that are coming at us at 100 miles an hour?
The answer is also in this week’s Parsha. By Esav, when Esav and Yaakov met up, what did Esav say? Esav used the word, “I have plenty. I don’t want to receive the gift, I don’t need the gift. I have plenty.” And Yaakov said, “I have everything.” Rashi explains it to mean that Esav was being arrogant, and he was saying, “I have plenty.” He was telling him how much he has. And Yaakov was being humble and saying, “I have all I need.” But the Chofetz Chaim brings a different Pshat, explanation. Esav was saying, “I have plenty, but it’s open ended.” And Yaakov was saying, “I have everything. I don’t need more. I’m not lacking anything.” Yaakov was Somayach B’Helkoh, he was happy with his portion. He was satisfied with what God gave him.
Rav Wolbe extends this idea. He says, “Since Esav’s life was revolved around pleasures and materialistic acquisitions, all he could possibly say was, ‘I have plenty,’ because there’s no end. A person will never feel he has everything. Chazal tells us, “One who has 100 wants 200. One who has 200 wants 400. And a person doesn’t even leave this world with half his desires fulfilled.” Yaakov was happy with what he had, but it didn’t come from weakness. He says, “Being content with what one has does not stem from a feeling of resignation.” “Oh, I’m depressed. I’m going to make do with what I have.” No, it’s a positive frame of mind. I’m happy with what I have, because what I have is good. It’s seeing the good in what God gives you. It’s the opposite – the person who’s not happy with what he has, a person who is obsessed with buying the latest fashions and home furnishings, will never feel he has anything that he desires. Let’s fix the kitchen again, and re-do the living room, and re-do the kitchen, and re-do the bathrooms, and get the new couch, get a new car. There’s no end. That’s the person who’s going to feel down and depressed, because he doesn’t have what he ‘needs’. This is exactly the point – that’s the Yetzer Hara. The fantasy, the dream, the imagination of what you could have.
But the character that Yaakov had, the solution against the Yetzer Hara – being happy with what you have. What’s fantasy? Dreaming, imagination? You’re dreaming and imagining because you don’t have something in reality. So, you have to think about what you don’t have. And you’re all day thinking about what you don’t have, and you’re dreaming, “I wish I had this girl, and I wish I had this car, and I wish I had this thing,” dreaming, imagining how great it’s going to be. It’s Kulo Yetzer Hara. That’s all the evil inclination. To counterbalance that, you have to be happy with what you have – be in reality, and focus on quality, not quantity. We stop dreaming about all those things, we’ll realize that life itself is good. What God has given us is good.
The Gemara in Bava Basra says like this – 16b. Three people were given a taste of the next world, who are still in this world. You’ve got to hear this! It’s a taste of the next world in this world – Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. Why? Because Yaakov said, “I have everything – Kol.” And three people ruled over the Yetzer Hara, Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. V’Kol Mi Kol Kol,”, the same idea. It’s a taste of the next world to be happy with what you have. This is what we do in Havdala, when we say, “Kos Yeshuos,” we lift up the cup. Chazal tells us, this means the Kos, the cup, but a Kos is limited. How much could you put in your cup? Only a certain amount. But you’re happy with what you have. A person who does this, and slowly weans himself from all these dreams and all these fantasies, he is weaning himself from the Yetzer Hara. Because like Rav Chaim Shmulevitz said, “The Yetzer Hara is, why do you ask for my name?” The Yetzer Hara is fantasy, imagination, dreaming. A person who takes away those things, he’s taking away the Yetzer Hara. He’s happy with what he has. And the just the opposite, the person who engages with the pleasures of this world, the more sucked in he gets.
Rabbeinu Bechaya says like this, “The more frequently one engages in such activities, the more they become part of one’s personality.” Preoccupation with such concerns gradually estranges one from God. On the other hand, the act of eating, if performed within reason – in other words, qualities that are appropriate to your physical needs – actually make you spiritually healthy, and physically healthy. He brings down Eliyahu HaNavi, who reminded the people when they were worshipping Ba’al, that God had instructed them to become Sichlin, intellectually oriented people. We are commanded to use our minds, to use our Seichel, to use our intelligence – not to get sucked in to all the fantasies that the world is pumping at us.
This is exactly what it means, why was Yaakov limping at the end? That was his connection to the physical. The Gid haNashe is connected to the thigh, which is connected with the sexual part of the person, and Yaakov limped after that – for a while. In other words, the Jewish people are going to be limping from their involvement with the pleasures of this world. And this is the fight with Esav. This is the fight with the nations of the world that are telling us what life is about.
The Vilna Gaon in Even Sheleimus says like this, about the Yetzer Hara. “Sediment preserves wine, when it’s resting on the bottom.” In other words, the sediment of the wine preserves the wine. But if the sediment rises, the wine becomes unfit to drink. The same is true of the evil inclination. As long as it’s subordinate to the good inclination, it is beneficial to the world – in other words, to procreate, in order to eat, in order to do things we might need to do. But once it rises to the top and gets mixed in with everything, it ruins all the wine. So, that’s the idea, not to stir up the sediment. The more you dream and fantasize about all these things, the physical world, the more it’s going to mess up your life. And there’s no end, because if you have 100, you want 200. If it’s 200, you want 400.
Chazal tells us, “There is a small limb in man. The more you feed it, the more it wants.” The way to break away from the essence of the Yetzer Hara is to stop the fantasy. Now, how does a person stop the fantasy? The Mesillus Yesharim gives an answer, he says like this. “Come, let us do a Cheshbon, an accounting. And therefore, those who rule over their evil inclinations say, ‘Come and evaluate the balance sheet of the world. The loss of a Mitzva versus its gain; and the gain of an Avera, of a sin, versus its loss.’” As soon as you start to apply your mind like we said, as soon as you start to use your Seichel, and you start to use your mind, and you’re in reality, the Yetzer Hara will start to break down, because the Yetzer Hara has no power. It’s just pure fantasy, dreaming. As soon as you start to do a Cheshbon, do an accounting of the loss of the Avera, if you do that sin, what is it going to cost you? What is it going to cost your family? What is it going to cost your friends? What’s it going to cost your relationships, are you just thinking of the moment of pleasure?
I knew a true story of an 18 year old boy, a religious boy, who was one time seduced by an older woman, and she was married. And until this day, that boy cannot recover. That’s the Yetzer Hara. Just in the moment, the fantasy of the moment, did you think of the ramifications of the sin? Did you think about where it’s going to take you, what it’s going to do to you? And that’s what the masters of sin, the people who have overcome the Yetzer Hara are telling you – do a Cheshbon. He says, “This advice could only be given by those who have already overcome the Yetzer Hara. Now what’s the advice?” he says. “Come, do a Cheshbon. Do an accounting. Evaluate the balance sheet of the world.” And he says, “For these are the ones that have experienced and have seen and have already learned, they know the true way. The true way is to use your intelligence, and to break out of fantasy.”
He ends with the Possuk from Eichah like this. “Let us seek out our ways and examine them, and return to God.” So, with a little bit of spiritual accounting, checking what you’re doing and thinking what you’re doing, together with the character trait of being happy with what you have, you will be able to beat your Yetzer Hara, your evil inclination.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a Moshul about being number one. He brings a Possuk from last week’s Parsha, which says like this. “Hashem saw that Leah was hated, and he opened up her womb.” We know that Leah gave birth first. He asked the question, “What is the connection between Leah being hated, and Hashem opening up her womb?” He brings a Moshul like this. There were once these three important people who were responsible for all the affairs of the city. They basically ran the city. The nobleman on top of them, he was the one who appointed them. There was another guy who said, “Listen, I also want to be one of these guys.” What he would try to do is to always speak to the friends of the nobleman to try to get him into a meeting, in order that he should also become one of the bigshots of the city. He would buy him gifts, and try to get in to speak with him.
So, one time, he knew somebody who was very close with him. What he did, he gave him a letter requesting that those guys should be taken down, and he should be put in their position. He tells the guys, “Listen, when you find a good day, please give it to him.” Exactly on that day when the guy was planning on giving it to him, there was a whole scandal. What happened is, those three guys did bad things, and they were about to be put into prison. That same day, the guy brought the letter, asking him, “Could I be put in the place of those three guys?” The nobleman and the governor said, “No problem, let’s put this guy in jail instead of these three guys.”
What was the Nimshal, the message? Really, it was supposed to be Rochel then Leah. We know that Avraham and Yitzhak both had wives, who had a decree that they weren’t going to have any children. Sarah wasn’t supposed to have children, and also Rivka was barren. The first wife of all the Avos was supposed to be barren. Who was the first wife? Leah. Leah was really supposed to be barren.
It happens to be that Yaakov had a second wife, Rochel. She was supposed to give birth. What does the verse say? The verse says, “Hashem saw that Leah was hated.” In other words, Leah was really number two, not number one. Rochel, even though she came later, she was the number one wife. Therefore, what happened? Because she was hated, Hashem opened up their womb. In other words, Rochel who was really number one, her womb was closed. And Leah who was number two, her womb was open. So, being in the higher and upper position or the number one position, is not always the best position to be in, because along with that, there comes other decrees that may not be so pleasant.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
When Yaakov sent a gift to Esav, the Possuk says like this, “And he put a space between herd and herd.” In other words, he separated all the herds with a space. The Midrash explains that Yaakov was really praying, “Master of the Universe, if trial and tribulations are before my children, do not afflict them ceaselessly.” Don’t make it continuous; rather leave space between them and their troubles.
One time in Rav Shach’s Yeshiva there was a boy that was getting older and older. He refused to get married. He wouldn’t talk to anybody about it. He refused every girl that was offered to him. Rav Shach said, “I’ve got to speak with the boy.” He spoke with the boy, and the boy promised to listen to people’s suggestions during the summer break. What happened? The summer break came and it went, and the boy is still not listening to anybody. This kept going until Yom Kippur. So, Rav Shach said, “Listen. We had a discussion. You said you’re going to listen. What’s going on with you? Why don’t you want to get married?” The young man was silent. Rav Shach said to him gently, “You are probably concerned about the difficulties that arise in marriage.” He says to him, “I’m not telling you, you don’t have anything to worry about. There are challenges. But it’s important to know that problems don’t all come at the same time. First, you have one problem, and you solve it. Then another problem comes by, and you solve that. They don’t all come at the same time.”
The words hit home, and the boy asked the Rosh Yeshiva if he would officiate at his wedding. And the Rosh Yeshiva said, “Yes. I’ll even dance with you.” He brought down a bottle of wine, and gave it to the boy. He said, “With this bottle of wine, we will make the Kiddushin at the wedding.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Diament speaks about Shalom Bayis, peace in your home, and Chinuch, the education of children. He says, “Many parents fight with each other openly in front of the children, without any shame.” He said, “I once asked a father, ‘Does your child have to hear all of this?’ The father said, ‘Yes, he should know what kind of mother he has.’” He said, “It doesn’t make any sense. You’re destroying your children.”
We know for a fact, the first ones to divorce are those who came from a broken home. They copy exactly what they saw in the house. People say, “Oh, I saw so many negative things in my house. That’s not going to happen to me.” But it’s not true. One time there were two sisters that made a pledge. They’re not going to allow their husbands to treat them the way that their father treated their mother. But he pointed out to her, “You know what you’re doing in your own marriage, in order that it shouldn’t happen, that your husband shouldn’t treat you badly, you’re treating your husband badly. You’re treating him like a shmatah, a rag.” What happened? It’s still coming out to be a shaky situation, because the kid sees that his mother has no respect for the father, because that trauma has to go somewhere.
A warm, loving home is not a luxury. It’s the foundation of your children’s life. “And even if your spouse doesn’t deserve it,” he says, “At least your children deserve it.” He says he gets at least eight phone calls a day about broken homes, and fights that are happening – so much divorce and so many fights. He says, “You know how embarrassing it is for a child to say they came from a broken home? And most of the children that go off the way, that are doing wrong things, they’re all coming from broken homes, from fighting in the house.”
He says, “The solution to this, which is not so easy, is the parents must have a unified approach. It can’t be everything the father says, the mother says no, and everything the mother says, the father says no. In order to have good Chinuch, good education of your family, you have to have Shalom Bayis, you have to have peace in your house. I’m not saying it’s easy.”
He says, “Some people make the mistake of thinking, ‘No, you can’t show too much love in front of your children, because it’s not tznius, it’s not modest. It’s not true,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with a wife saying, ‘I’m so excited, Abba’s coming home soon.’” He told a story of one girl who used to always draw when she was a girl, pictures of a clock that pointed to 9:30. When she was older, her mother asked her, ‘Were you so connected to Abba that you always drew 9:30 when Abba was going to come home?’ She says, ‘No, it didn’t come from Abba, it came from you, because you were always saying, ‘In a half hour, Abba’s coming.’”
On the other hand, you’ve got to hear this. One cause of stuttering in children comes from parents fighting. The children lose their self-confidence. The child doesn’t know right from wrong. He says, “The essential quality of educating your children is how the mother or father reacts when their spouse comes home.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave some comments. I would love to hear from you. I would really appreciate if you could please leave a rating on itunes to help spread this podcast.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Antwi Felix Twum says
Isn’t Amazing that this week’s “podcast” has directly given me the opportunity to raise a guard against an opponent “the yetzer hara” which is standing tall in front of me, even as I am reading this email. Hashem will continue to bless you Rabbi Mitterhof and the your entire family. Amen!
Stephan Sundkvist says
First of all, I always feel very inspired when I read your letters. Because, I always learn something new each time. So, please, feel encouraged!
It is absolutely true that we easily lose in our battle with our Yetzer Hara, as soon as we lower the gard.
There is no other essence (name) in these Yetzer Hara than to break our relation with G-d.
The fantasy very often is our worst enemy, as it does not appear physical immediately, but takes place in our sinful desires. This can brake the best spiritual ambitions we ever have, as it is like a sneeking spy and a snake that wind up in our minds.
The adaption to the surrounding environment can be very dangerous indeed. It takes some courage and strong will and concentration to avoid to get contaminated. Especially in an evil godless world. And one of the enemies that can diguise themselves as friends, like many Christians do to us, we can be tempted to accept their sins and attractions to idleness and idolatry (to celebrate pagan festivals and alike). This is one side of the tricky Esav.
We must also really learn to be satisfied with what we have and what we are. I have found this a very important key to a successful life. And to this end we must also learn not to mix up the good “wine” with the bad one. This goes for all mixes we are tempted to do.
It is easy to become a slave of our own fantasy. Therefore we must learn to use the intelligence we can learn from the Torah to brake our bad fantasy habits. And not to forget to make a Teshuva and get on the right track again.