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IS THE FORCE WITH YOU?

by David Appelrouth    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Jewish nation, ad infinitum, has been striving to infuse the physical world with sparks of G-dliness and holiness. Such a task has earned us the title of the "chosen people" and a "light unto the nations."

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The Jewish nation, ad infinitum, has been striving to infuse the physical world with sparks of G-dliness and holiness. Such a task has earned us the title of the "chosen people" and a "light unto the nations." However, we should not pride ourselves of these lofty titles. As Rabbi Tarfon points out in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 2:20), "the day is short, the task is abundant, the workers are lazy, the wage is great, and the Master of the house is insistent." Like every corporate hierarchy, the greater one's position is on the ladder, the greater his or her responsibility becomes. Similarly, our task of adhering to Torah precepts requires tremendous subjugation to the "Master of the house," a.k.a. the Lord above. Although we continue to illuminate this world with our ethical and moral behavior, our ability to shroud ourselves in sin has always been a historical mainstay. Even during the times of the Temple, people possessed the will to abandon Hashem's Torah.

For example, in this week's Torah portion, we see the pursuit of licentious behavior and its outcome. The severe punishment of adultery, a harsh death manifested through the waters of the Sotah, reveals that even in ancient times Jews wrestled with the cardinal crimes. In order to remedy such challenges, we first must understand what we are up against.

The instigator of all of our sins is classified as our yetzer hara evil inclination. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, a classic 18th century Jewish philosopher, describes the blinding capacity of our evil inclination in his masterful work entitled "The Path of the Just." He compares our evil inclination to different degrees of darkness. The first form of darkness is that of pitch black. Stumbling through a forest, without traces of space or dimension, can be a very dangerous journey. Undoubtedly, a person will become injured or even killed in such a predicament. We see this form of the yetzer hara through the adulterous episode described in this week's Torah portion. Although the Torah severely warns us against adultery and other equally destructive acts, we can reach this immoral state by abandoning the Torah.

Yet the other form of the evil inclination, also found in this week's Torah portion, is much more subtle. Rabbi Luzzatto describes it as a darkness in which we can only perceive faint images; what we recognize in our mind to be a human may in fact be a broad pillar. The person who sees an adulteress in disgrace understands that the act in and of itself is wrong. Yet, even when a pious Jew sees an adulteress in her doom, he is inspired more by her ability to defy G-d than the actual outcome of her being killed for it. This lack of clarity, this moment of doubt and confusion where he also may be led astray, is inspired by the evil inclination as well.

What is the remedy to such a destructive force? The episode of the adulteress is followed by the laws of the Nazarite's oath. (A Nazarite is a person who abstains from wine and grape products for a period of time.) Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that this ascetic approach to life is, in fact, a response to the disgrace of the adulteress. Instead of drinking wine and other intoxicants in excess, which may lead one to licentious behavior, the ascetic instead rejects wine altogether. Yet we see clearly from the Torah that a Nazarite must bring a sin offering once this period of restraint has ended. Clearly, then, an oath of abstention is not the ideal path either.

We see the effect of the evil inclination in this week's Torah portion. Those of us who fall prey to this inclination are led astray by our own, selfish motives and drives. Yet we still possess the title of the "chosen people." Our mission is not achieved through the selfish indulgences of adultery, nor through ascetic restraints limiting our movement completely. Instead, "Consider the path of your feet and all your paths will be established" (Proverbs 4:26). We must involve ourselves in introspection, and chart our spiritual movement daily. In this fashion, we can reach our spiritual potential while still participating in the richness of life. By demonstrating to the world that life can be both precious and rewarding under the auspices of the Torah lifestyle, we will have succeeded in becoming the authentic "light unto the nations."

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David Appelrouth, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Bais Yisroel in Jerusalem.

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