Roy Neuberger - Jun. 29, 2018

Why do people hurt themselves?


People have been hurting themselves for 5778 years, since our first parents hurt themselves profoundly in the Garden of Eden and bequeathed a life of suffering for their children until the end of time. We tend to think of ourselves as normal and sensible, yet we hurt ourselves constantly. And this does not refer just to minor pain, but in fact to the most grievous, almost unbearable mental and physical trauma imaginable. And we do it to ourselves!


This, my friends, is preposterous and absurd … yet it is true.


There is in fact a reason. There is a terrible enemy called the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination). In daily life most people ignore the Yetzer Hara, but one should not ignore it, because it is worth all our strength to defeat this enemy.


And we know the cure! “My son, I have created the Yetzer Hara and I have created Torah ‘tavlin’ … as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b) It is so simple! Yet, since the Yetzer Hara will do almost anything to separate us from Torah, it is the fight of our lives!


I want to try to illustrate the almost irresistible power of the Yetzer Hara. There was a great enemy of Israel named Balak. It is interesting that this week’s Torah Portion is named after him rather than Bilam, because Bilam appears to be the main player in this week’s huge drama. But, upon examination, this does not prove to be the case. “The Sages say that Balak was a great sorcerer, even more than Bilam, and he performed his sorcery by means of a certain bird called ‘Yadua.’ [For this reason, he was called ‘Balak ben Tzippor,’ since he was] the ‘son of a bird.’ He was able to see things through the sorcery performed with a bird…. The bird was his ‘father’ and ‘mentor.’” (Or Hachaim on Numbers 22:3)


All the ensuing troubles which came to Israel, the curses, the attempt to destroy us, which almost succeeded, the attempt by the daughters of Moav to corrupt us with the resultant death of 24,000 of the Children of Israel … all this came about because Balak ben Tzippor could “see” the future through his sorcery. Can you imagine that our Great Nation was almost destroyed by one man who could prophesy through means of a bird? What is the frightful power that he possessed?


This, my friends, is the Yetzer Hara. If you think you are bigger than the Yetzer Hara, you are so mistaken! If you think you can ignore the Yetzer Hara, you are so mistaken! If you think that you have defeated the Yetzer Hara, you are almost certainly not only mistaken but in great danger,

G-d forbid!


Recently, I had to stay in the hospital. This came as a major shock. I went to the doctor because I had been in pain for several days and had not been eating. My doctor looked at me and said, “You are seriously ill. You are going right over to Emergency Room. Don’t be surprised if you need surgery tonight!” That was a shock! I was quite shaken up. Before I knew it, I was in the emergency room.


The Gemora says, “A person is obligated to bless [G-d] for the bad just as he blesses [Him] for the good, as it says: ‘And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart … with the good intention and the evil intention … even if he takes your life … whatever measure He metes out to you….” (Berachos 54a)


I tried to keep this in mind through all the pain and perplexity, the needles and the beeps and the doctors and nurses. And – you know what? – it’s not easy! How do you accomplish this?


One of my enduring memories is the funeral of Rabbi Moshe Dov Stein zt”l. Just before his death, one of his sons asked him, “Tattie, how are you feeling today?” to which he answered, “Baruch Hashem, worse!” Please contemplate these words. This man was not suffering from a cold. He was about to die and he knew it. Yet, he blessed Hashem! Here is a person who believes “b’chol levavcha…. With all his heart” that whatever Hashem does is good!


I received a powerful lesson in the hospital. It was very difficult to bless Hashem for my condition. I had no kavana; I could not say it with enthusiasm.


But, actually, I realized that I could still say it.


Maybe to say it without enthusiasm is a first step toward saying it with enthusiasm. I hope so. Because that is how I said it. And then I began to think about Balak and all the mighty and terrifying forces of impurity that he tried to summon against Israel, G-d forbid. And I started to think about the towering tsunami of trouble that appears poised to devour us today, and I started to realize that this is the answer.


It is all l’tova, for good! There is nothing they can do to us! If we ensconce ourselves in Hashem’s protection – which means His Torah – and make this our world, then all will turn out to be a blessing. I thought about all the trouble that our Nation has battled over the millennia and all the trouble that I personally have battled, and I realized that it has all led to bracha and to the all-encompassing embrace of Hashem! He is taking care of us! He is watching over us! Whatever it is – “bad” or “good” – He is with us totally.


“Please be revealed and spread upon me, my Beloved, the shelter of Your peace. Illuminate the world with Your glory, that we may rejoice and be glad with You. Hasten, show love, for the time has come, and show us grace as in days of old.” (Yedid Nefesh)  


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