076 -Torah Portion of the Week – Bereishis – Justifying Our Desires – Matter Over Mind – A Powerful Parable about an Inn keeper and the Soup – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Shiduchim
The Torah Podcast Transcript
076The Torah Podcast – Justifying Our Desires – Matter Over Mind
Torah Portion of the Week – Bereishis
So, the verses in Bereishis say like this. The last possuk in Chapter two says, “They were both naked, the man and his wife. And they were not ashamed.” And verse four in Chapter three continues and says, “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will surely not die, for God knows that on the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like a God, knowing good and bad.’” And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating, and that it was a passion for the eyes, and that the tree was desirable for awareness. And she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed together a fig leaf and made themselves clothes.” So, this is the story of the first sin. And from here we can learn the foundations of all sins. We can learn how sin works. So, the Seforno says like this. “What does it mean that they were naked and they weren’t embarrassed?” He explains, “At that time, all their organs, limbs and actions were used for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will exclusively – not to attain physical pleasure at all. Consequently, the act of sexuality was to them as normal as that of eating and drinking. Therefore, the reproductive organs were regarded to them as regards to a mouth, face or hands.” In other words, there was no difference between their hands, and that part of the body. Why? Because everything was done for the will of God. So, why did they have to be ashamed that they were naked, and it was only after they sinned and they didn’t listen to God, at that point they became ashamed.
So, the Ohr HaChaim explains, “The fact that they were aware that they were naked does not refer to the fact that they were just missing clothing, but the removal of an aura of holiness which has served them this far in the lieu of clothing.” In other words, it was their holiness that prevented them from being embarrassed. He says the opposite. “It is the characteristic of a wicked person that after he commits a sin, he becomes aware of how bad it was.” So, it was only after their sin, after they went down a level, after they did the wrong thing, at that point they became embarrassed.
So, the question is, what is this sense of embarrassment of shame, that’s built in to man, that if he does the wrong thing he starts to feel embarrassed? Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains, “Their eyes were opened and they became enlightened. But their first realization was that they were naked. If a person perceives he is naked, it means he has realized that something is showing that should not be seen. This is the sense of shame which we already indicated is the root of man’s awareness of his true calling. As long as a man stands completely in his service of God, he has no reason to be ashamed of the physical aspect of his being. Why? Because bodily aspirations too are holy and pure, as long as they are subordinated to the means to fulfill the will of God, for a holy purpose. But once this relationship is reversed, a person has to feel shame. A sense of shame precipitated by a voice of his conscious stirs within him reminding him that he must not be like an animal. As soon as a man submits to the rule of his baser instincts and does not endeavor to elevate sensuality into the realm of the holy, but on the contrary, sensuality lowers man’s holiness into the realm of the sensual. Instead of uplifting sexuality, he goes down to the level of sexuality. Then he becomes ashamed of his body’s nakedness.”
Now, listen to this. “This feeling of shame is the faithful garden of morality. It’s God’s call to man who has forsaken his moral stature. The feeling of shame warns man to be and remain a master of his body, so that he should ascend in freedom to the heights of his calling.” So, according to Rav Hirsch we see that this embarrassment is the spiritual compass to what we’re here for, what’s the purpose of our lives. This embarrassment is telling us that we are going in the wrong direction. Being embarrassed, being in shame is one of the most important feelings we could possibly have. It shows us that we’re off. How else are we going to know we’re off? And society tells us, you don’t have to be ashamed of anything. The most disgusting things are out in the open. And they’re telling us we should lose our shame, and the Nazis didn’t want us to have any consciousness at all. Let’s get rid of consciousness. Let’s be free. Let’s be democratic. Everything goes. You can run around naked in Times Square, what’s the problem? What’s the big deal? Pornography everywhere. Don’t be embarrassed. But no, the Jews we say no. This embarrassment is the most important thing we have. This is the only way we know if we’re on the right track or not. Just the opposite, we have to develop our embarrassment. We have to be more sensitive to our own shame. There’s nothing wrong with shame, it’s there to help us.
And the Malbim says like this. “Before the sin, the procreative organs were perceived just like any other part of the body,” like we said. “But afterwards with the new found tendency to seek pleasure for its own sake, they became aware of the potential that this desire had to pull them away from the elevated goal, and what they aspired to.” And this made them embarrassed enough to feel the need for clothing. When they started to seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure, they became embarrassed, because that’s not what the purpose of pleasure is for. Pleasure is a means to get to a goal. It’s not the purpose of life. We need pleasure because we’re human beings. In order to go forward, in order to have energy, in order to do the right thing, we need to have a good, comfortable life. It says if you have a beautiful house, and a beautiful wife, it gives revat daas, it gives you an open mind. It gives you yishuv hadaas, it makes you relax. But all this for what? Not for the thing itself. For the sake of serving God, for using all the pleasures that we have, that God gives us. We use them to serve Him. But if we take pleasure for itself we become embarrassed. We should become embarrassed, if we’re healthy, if we’re spiritually healthy we should become embarrassed.
So, the question now is, if we are healthy human beings and we become embarrassed when we sin, so why do we sin? We know we’re going to be embarrassed. Why do we do the wrong thing when we know the consequences are not worth it? What’s pushing us, how can we possibly do the wrong thing? There’s no worse feeling than embarrassment. Chazal tells us that if you embarrass a person in public you lose your next world. A person can lose his next world by embarrassing somebody. That’s how bad it is. Why? Because it’s like he killed somebody. He killed the person. A person doesn’t want to be embarrassed. If you embarrass somebody in public it’s like you killed him. So, if we know that we’re going to be embarrassed, we’re going to have those feelings, why would we possibly sin? How could we possibly sin? Why isn’t the embarrassment itself enough to stop us?
So, Rav Henoch Liebowitz brings the Seforno who explains like this. The Seforno says on the verse, “You will not die, for God knows on that day when your eyes shall be open.” So, how did he try to convince Chava to eat from the tree? He told her that, “Your eyes will be open.” What does that mean according the Seforno? You will gain added knowledge as a result. You’ll be like a divine being with perfect knowledge. You’ll have intellectual perfection. And that’s the approach that he took to convince Chava to eat from the eitz hadaas that you will have intellectual perfection. But on the next verse the Seforno explains it says, “The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating.” He says, “She perceived it was pleasant, sweet to eat,” because of its nature, it’s place, the atmosphere, the aroma of the fruit. So, the woman herself was attracted to the tree because of the pleasure that it would give her. Rav Leibowitz asks, “Wait a second. Why did the snake, try to convince Chava with this spiritual thing you’re going to have unbelievable wisdom? He should have just used that she herself was attracted to the tree. Why didn’t he just say to her, “Listen, this is delicious, it’s unbelievable. You have to taste it.” He could have won her over just by talking about the physical enjoyment that she would have gotten. Why does he have to talk philosophically, you could have this wisdom and this knowledge. She herself is attracted to the tree. The answer is, that that would have not been enough to convince her because you know why? Because the truth is that a person really is embarrassed. Because of embarrassment, a person will not sin. If he realizes he’s going to be embarrassed, he won’t sin. So, what does the evil inclination do? He convinces the person with some kind of philosophical idea. He convinces her it’s a mitzvah to do this thing. It’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t come with a frontal attack, “Wow, this is unbelievable. You have to taste it. What pleasure it gives you.” A person is embarrassed. “How can I go against God to get pleasure? That’s embarrassing.” But to do a mitzvah? Oh, that I’ll do. Wow, I’ll have spirituality. I’ll have daas, I’ll have wisdom. I’ll have a Divine knowledge. Oh yeah, that I’m going to do. I’m going to eat from that tree.” But really it’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Why? Because the person tricks themselves. They justify it to themselves that I’m going to do this thing for a mitzvah. But really, the interest is the pleasure itself. But for a good cause of course, because subconsciously you’re really doing these things for your own passions, for your own desires, because really that’s what you want. But you can’t admit to yourself that you’re doing this for your own personal desires, because that’s embarrassing. Therefore you have to make up a whole philosophy on why it’s right.
A Jewish person could decide he wants to save the whales. Why does he want to save the whales? I’ll tell you why, because he doesn’t want to stay in the beis medrash where he’s supposed to be, learning Torah, working hard. No, he wants to be at the beach and go on expeditions, and travel the world and do all these things. Why? For the good cause of saving the whales, of course. But that’s not what he’s supposed to be doing with his life. He has a higher calling than that. Every Jew has a higher calling than that. But he’s convinced himself for this great cause of saving the whale, he’s doing the biggest mitzvah he could possibly do. And he’s built a whole philosophy around it. But really at the end of the day he just wants to be a beach bum. He wants to go on boats and travel, who knows what he wants to do.
Rav Yisroel Salanter said that the yetzer hara, the evil inclination will let you say Tehillim all day, just as long as you don’t go to the beis medrash and learn Torah b’iyun, in depth learning with hard work. Ah, it’s a mitzvah to say Tehillim. Surely it’s a mitzvah to say Tehillim. But it’s less of a mitzvah. So, if the yetzer hara will trick you to do all these smaller mitzvas, maybe it’s even a mitzvah to save the whales. But that’s the trick of the yetzer hara, in getting you to do the wrong thing instead of doing the right thing, to get you to do the smaller thing instead of doing the bigger thing. And this is an unbelievable yesod, a foundation of all sins. This is why we sin. We justify for ourselves that it’s the right thing to do. We convince ourselves with a whole philosophy, with a whole liberal outlook, that we have to save all these poor refugees, you know? That’s what we have to do. That’s what you’re supposed to do with your life, save Arab refugees. That sounds like a very good cause, doesn’t it? And it may be a good cause, but not for you because if you look deeper inside yourself you’ll see you have a higher calling. The whole goal is to get to your highest calling, to do a cheshbon hanefesh, to figure out in your own soul what are you really supposed to be doing with your life?
And everybody has a yetzer hara. Everybody has all these things pulling in all these different directions, doing the smallest thing and missing the bigger thing. Like they say, “The enemy of great is good.” The Malbim brings a possuk in Mishlei that says, “According to his mind a person is praised. But if his heart goes astray he will be put to shame.” So, the Malbim says, “The heart here symbolizes the raw desire, unfiltered through the criticism of the mind. If he puts the mind in charge, he deserves praise for his intellectual powers. But if he puts the heart in charge, then the mind itself is put to shame. A person will look back on his life after 120 years, “What did I do? How embarrassing, I did the wrong thing. It was only because of my own desires. I put my own desires before my intellect. And I justified to myself that this is the direction I should go in.” If you do that, then you’ll be embarrassed in the end, and that’s it exactly. Embarrassment itself is enough to stop a person. Embarrassment itself is understanding that you really did the wrong thing, that you really did sin, that you put your personal desires before serving God. That’s embarrassing.
The Ramchal says in Sefer Melitzer like this, listen. “Once the will submits to its desires and is no longer drawn to things that it should be, then the tables are turned. And instead of following after the intellect, the intellect is drawn after the will. The intellect thereby loses its power of understanding and the thinking process itself becomes corrupted. The person no longer forms a picture of things the way they are, but rather as his will would like things to be, on the account that it’s subjugated to its desires. Things of great importance begin to be taken lightly, and become unimportant in his eyes. And strong things appear to be weak, and powerful forces seem insignificant. He remains unmoved by things he should rightly be moved by, and unimpressed by what would ordinarily make a strong and lasting impression.” This is unbelievable. In other words, if the desires are in control, the intellect stops working. And that’s how a person comes to sin, because the intellect becomes a slave to the desires, not the opposite. When man was first created and before he sinned, his intellect was in charge and he wasn’t embarrassed. Why was he not embarrassed? Because his desires were a slave to his intellect. In other words, he used all the desires for eating and for drinking, and for being together with his wife. But he did everything le shem shemayim, for the right reason, so he wasn’t embarrassed. But when things switched, so then the intellect started to become a slave to the desires to the will. And that’s why, and that’s what the Satan did. He convinced Chava with philosophical things, with liberalism and progressivism, all of the great philosophies of helping people and doing chessed and kindness, and doing everything for the right cause when in the end, all those things are just a way to free a person up, to go after his own desires. What’s the philosophy of live and let live? I want to do what I want to do. But if you say live and let live is a philosophical thing in the sense that I really care about other people, of course, and it’s very important that everybody has freedom and liberty – but really at the end of the day, what does it come down to? His own desires. He wants to be free. He wants to be liberal. He wants to do what he wants to do. So therefore, he makes a whole philosophy about helping people and caring about people, and liberalism, and freedom. And of course these things are true, but for what reason? For his own personal desires? Of course it has to be freedom and equal rights, and do the right thing, and help people with chessed. But it all has to be leshem shemayim, for the sake of God, not for his own personal desires.
So, the question now is, if this is how sin works and this is what we’re into and we we’re completely absorbed by it, and every human being has it, he’s being driven by a desire so subconscious he thinks he’s doing the right thing, for the good cause. But it’s really his own desires, his own taivas, his own thing. What does it have to do with God? The question is, how do we get out of it? How do we escape this story? Rav Dessler has a solution. He says, “After Adam descended from the world of truth to the world of good and evil,” in other words, really had truth and he knew it was the right thing to do it. But what happens is, he descended. He went into good and evil. Why good and evil? Yeah, we have all kinds of stories why this is good, and why this is wrong, and why this is right. But really, this has nothing to do with truth. Now his task is to pull himself to a higher vantage point. By doing mitzvos and learning Torah with great intensity, he can reach a higher level, the level of truth where evil has lost its attraction, and truth prevails. The answer to this problem is truth, and that’s probably why Rav Dessler calls his book, “Strive for Truth.,” because that’s the goal. In other words, if we do a cheshbon hanefesh, when we check out why we are doing things, what’s pushing us, what’s the truth, why do we want that job, why do we want to live in America, why we want to go over there – why, why, what’s the truth? What’s the real motivating factors inside of our inner being, in our kishkas. And that’s the thing that’s going to save a person from sin. And that’s why Torah, Torah tavlin, the Torah itself is the antidote to sin, because the Torah is truth. And by learning Torah we learn to live truth. And we’re involved in learning Gemara back and forth to see what is the truth, to understand the truth, to build up our intellect, to be able to see through, to penetrate deeper, to see our true motivation and our true desires and where we’re coming from.
And that’s what it says, “Torah leads to zehirus.” If you learn Torah, you’ll come to watchfulness. You’ll come to watch yourself. And that’s what it says in the Path of the Just of the Ramchal it says, in summation, “A person must always in a designated time,” so he’s by himself, “Reflect upon the true path that a person must follow in accordance with the laws of the Torah.” And afterwards, he reflects upon his deeds, do they conform to this path or not? For in this manner it will certainly be easier for him to purify himself from all wrongdoing, and to rectify his ways as it says, ‘Align the course of your feet and thereby all your ways will be corrected.’ And also it says in Eichah, ‘Let us seek out our ways and examine them, and return to the Eternal.’ The solution to sin is truth. Truth is the only thing that’s going to pull you out of sin. Of course we’re too embarrassed to go directly for our own desires. We can’t handle intellectually, we get embarrassed. It’s embarrassing to be self-centered and egotistical. It’s embarrassing. And therefore, we have to make up a whole philosophy on why it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why we sin. So the only way out of that is truth. We have to be intellectually honest with ourselves. We have to look really to see why are we doing, what are we doing, what’s our deeper motivation? And we don’t want to wait for another 100 years for it to happen. We have to do it now. We don’t want to wait to oy, hayom ha din, oy, to the day of judgment, oy leyom hatochacha, oy to the day of rebuke, because we’re going to be rebuked because we were rationalizing why we’re doing everything. But in the end, we’re going to see we were wrong. We didn’t do it for the right reasons. We’re not living the right way. So, with this new foundation we can go forward and really do a spiritual accounting to find the right way back to a true path that we should be living to reach our greatest potential.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings a moshul, parable like this. The verse said, “The serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field.” So, one time there was an inn keeper who cooked meals for all the visitors that came to her inn. And her food was so good, that the local village people used to come to eat by her also. Her food was simple and filling, and the price was very reasonable. But what happened, one day she made a large pot of stew and it was coming towards dinnertime. She opens up the top of the pot and she smells it, and it smells bad. She realized that the vegetables went bad inside the stew, but dinner was coming. What was she going to do? You know what she did? She took some very strong spices with a strong smell, and sprinkled them in, so it changed the smell of the soup. When the laborers came down to sit and to eat they said, “Wow. This stew is excellent today. It smells like Gan Eden.” But another person sitting there said, “No, you’re wrong. This dish is completely spoiled. What you smell are the spices covering up the spoiled odor.” That was the moshul, what’s the nimshal? So too, the yetzer hara tries to persuade a person to sin. But the soul itself can smell, this is bad news. But the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, tries to wrap this sin in all kinds of persuasions and temptations to cover up the bad smell. And the worse the smell is, the more the yetzer hara tries to cover it up.
Great Rabbis – Rav Shach
The verse in Bereishis says like this. “Cain spoke with his brother, Hevel and it happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother, Hevel, and killed him.” The question really is, what was Cain speaking about with his brother, Hevel? One time in the Ponevitz Yeshiva, Rav Shach’s Yeshiva, all of a sudden there’s a lot of new students and there was no room for them. And they were sitting in the hallways, and they were taking up all the benches. It was very, very crowded. So, one of the boys says, “Why don’t we bring benches, more benches into the beis medrash? But the old students said, “No way. There’s already no room here,” and there started to be a conflict in the Yeshiva. So, when Rav Shach spoke to the Yeshiva he said like this. “What does the Midrash say that Cain was speaking with Hevel before he killed him? One opinion said they were decided to divide the goods of the world. Hevel would get all the movable property, while Cain would get all the real property, all the land. They would start to fight. He says, “Listen, all your clothes belong to me. Give me your clothes.” He says, “Yeah, but the land you’re standing on belongs to me, start flying.” What happened? He rose up and killed him. That’s one Midrash.
But the other Midrash says, “No, they agreed to split all the movable stuff and all the land, and they were fighting on whose land is the Temple going to be?” Rav explained, “When it comes to Midrashic explanations, they’re not mutually exclusive. Both arguments could have been happening at the same time. So here you new boys came to the Yeshiva, and they want to come to the beis medrash. And they’re coming for a good reason. But that same dispute comes to the fact of, ‘Hey, you get out of here. Give me your clothes, or you have to jump, you have to fly in the air.’ And you’ll come to reject them completely.” He said, “Who here is willing to play the role of Cain and fight these boys? They’re coming to learn.” And after that, the fight stopped.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern speaks on shidduchim. Now, some of these ideas are a little bit foreign, and if you’re not a ben Torah it’s hard to understand a little bit – even if you are a ben Torah. He’s talking about the first meeting. He says, “The first meeting between a boy and girl when they’re about to get married is very important, the first shidduch. The Netziv says on the verse where Rivka saw Yitzhak and she fell off the camel, that was because she saw him as a malach. She saw him as an angel, even to the point where years later she had her opinion about Esav and Yaakov, but she held it to herself because she was scared of Yitzhak. Everything follows from the beginning. We know the Torah commands to give the first fruits, because a good start makes all the difference. Every day and night starts with kriyas Shema. Why? Because it’s a beginning. Everything goes according to the beginning.
In your first meeting, when a boy meets a girl, he has to tell her what his goals are. There can’t be any deception, can’t be any tricks, because even though a girl in Beis Yaakov knows she should marry a ben Torah, a guy who sits and learns all day, maybe her heart is not really there. She’s going along with it. This has to be discussed. He has to tell her what it means to be a ben Torah, a person who sits and learns Torah all his life, and the difficulty that entails. Things have to be clear up front”. He says, “Even after the wedding, an avreich has to show his wife what the purpose of life is.” He says, “I see boys after sheva brochas, schlepping around with all their gifts, returning them to stores, to try to exchange them. The boys should have gone to the beis medrash. Okay, maybe not full time, obviously. It’s shana rishona. But he should get up in the morning and go to the beis medrash. He has to show his wife that studying is the most important thing in his life. And even his wife wants him to go out. He says, it’s like a fifth wheel. He’s all the time at home trying to help her, what a big baal chessed he is, helping her. But his wife actually wants him to go to the beis medrash.
Or they spend the first month going to relatives. Every night they’re going to different relatives. It goes on for a month. He says, “It’s a shana rishona, it says the first year not the first month. Every day in the first month you go another relative? It’s ridiculous. If the man brings spirituality into the house from the very beginning, it will continue the entire marriage. The Torah has to be set right. Also, you have to understand that a Jewish marriage is not like marriage in the world. The love comes afterwards. Love doesn’t have to come before. Obviously, there has to be some attraction. But you can’t fool yourself and be in a fantasy, you’re in love, you’re in love. The love comes after time. The verse says, ‘Yitzhak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka to him as a wife.’ And only afterwards does it say, ‘And he loved her.’ First, they got together and afterwards he loved her. The main thing is good character, that she comes from a good family. But all this love that the world pushes is purely based on imagination.” He brings a proof from derech eretz that says, “If you want to cleave to your friend with love, constantly seek what is good for him.” In other words, it’s the giving that creates a love. It’s not because you love, you give. It’s because you give, you love. That’s why Rav Dessler explains, “Ahava, ahav which in Aramaic means to give. Love comes from giving.” That’s the proper Jewish approach to shidduchim. She has good middos, good character. She looks nice, and attractive. That’s all it takes. He also says, “Even after the engagement you have to be very careful. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach used to say, he would stop all meetings after the engagement if he could. Because after the engagement,” he says, “Nothing but trouble – going out to dinner, you wind up in all the situations that are not tznenius, that are not modest, because you really can’t touch each other. You’re not married yet, and you’re going out with this girl. What are you doing there with her?” He says, “It’s not only unnecessary, but it’s downright dangerous.” He says, “No kedusha with the yetzer hara. Holiness and purity were not results of these meetings.” Even though these concepts are fine too in the modern world, but this is the Torah way. This is the right way that shidduchim should go.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff