This week the Torah goes in a new direction, and we are going to spend many months immersed in learning. “Story time” has ended and halacha shiur begins. It seems like a new Torah, but the Torah resembles a precious jewel with an infinite number of facets.
Rather than examine specific halachas, I would like to discuss a phenomenon which applies to every halacha at every time. I want to speak about the yetzer hara, that powerful, tireless force which relentlessly attempts to prevent us from carrying out the will of Hashem.
The yetzer hara not only opposes Hashem’s will, but also our own will. In the depth of our neshoma, weknow that Hashem exists and that we desire to observe His commandments. The yetzer hara tries to prevent us from following our heart’s desire!
Why did Hashem create this powerful force?
Because He loves us so much!
In olam ha ze, where Hashem’s Presence is hidden, we are confused by the attraction of the physical world. That is why we are so tempted to go “acharai levavchem and acharai eineichem … after our heart and eyes,” which is exactly what the yetzer hara wants us to do.
Hashem put us in this world to accrue merit. Here we can fight our yetzer hara and earn the reward of elevating ourselves. That is our avoda, to go higher and higher in the service of Hashem, to elevate our soul.
A few days ago, my wife and I were flying to New York from Israel. We had about twelve hours. That’s a lot of time. My plan was to say Tehillim. What better time, right? Tehillim are always the right thing!
And there were no distractions!
There was actually one “very innocent” distraction.
(The yetzer hara is so clever. The distraction is always “innocent!”)
A lady one row in front of me was watching The Wizard of Oz! You heard me … “The Wizard of Oz.” She watched it (literally) three times! This classic movie was made in 1939, an era in the U. S. that was much more innocent than today. I had a perfect view of this lady’s screen. There was Dorothy being lifted by the tornado and deposited in the Land of Oz! There was the tin man, the talking scarecrow and the cowardly lion! There was the Wicked Witch of the West! It was all so innocent! What could be bad about taking an occasional look at the screen?
This is the yetzer hara. It tells you that, “It’s so innocent! You deserve a break! A few seconds here and there. You’re saying Tehillim! So you look up every few seconds and see what’s happening in the Land of Oz? Big deal!”
My friends, let me tell you what was going on in my brain at that time.
I felt that I was suspended between heaven and hell. I am no longer twenty years old. I was thinking that soon I am going to be judged in the Court where I cannot lie. I am going to have to account for every second of my life … every second! How can I justify looking up from Sefer Tehillim for even one second?
Our son and I were once privileged to speak with Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman zt”l. Our host had an urgent call and the conversation took a brief hold. Immediately, Rabbi Shteinman’s head went into a sefer. He did not waste a millisecond. Our son remarked: a gadol is always in the World of Truth.
The pull of The Wizard of Oz was strong. Then my neshoma said to me, “Yisroel, wake up! Eternity is at stake, eternal life! Forever and ever you will exist in the World of Truth. You can be in Hashem’s Presence forever! If you look up from the Tehillim, you are sacrificing part of your Eternity! Someday, in the World of Truth, you will shed bitter tears for every second you looked up.”
Think! Make the cheshbon! Which way will you go?
The argument inside my head went on and on.
“Rabbi Yaakov said: One who walks on the road while reviewing [a Torah lesson], but interrupts his review and exclaims, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field,’ Scripture considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul.” (Pirkei Avos 3:9) This is our challenge from minute to minute, second to second.
Hashem places before us righteous ordinances, our ticket to Life! “V’aileh hamishpatim …. And these are the ordinances you shall place before them.” (Shemos 21:1) Hashem is giving us Eternal Life. We can grab it!
This is our avoda! Am Yisroel Chai! We can live forever!
Avoda: Holy work we are obligated to do in this world
Cheshbon: spiritual calculation
Gadol: great rabbi
Halacha: Jewish law
Olam ha ze: This world
Sefer: Holy book
Shiur: Torah class
Yetzer ha ra: Evil Inclination