Have you ever listened to the BBC? Occasionally I catch their foreign service on my Panasonic SW Double Superheterodyne, model RF-B300 thats a fancy name for the stout, gray, short-wave radio receiver lying on my dresser
Have you ever listened to the BBC? Occasionally I catch their foreign service on my Panasonic SW Double Superheterodyne, model RF-B300 thats a fancy name for the stout, gray, short-wave radio receiver lying on my dresser. Despite its sophisticated name, only three buttons and knobs are essential to operating the RF-B300: the power switch, the band indicator, and the tuning knob.
To hear the Sunday evening BBC news broadcast on 9.83 MHz, first I flip the red power switch to ON, then I fiddle with the band indicator. Each band includes a different range of frequencies. For example, the SW2 band covers frequencies between 4.0-10.0 MHz, while the SW3 band starts at 10.0 and ends at 20.0 MHz. My most direct approach to tuning in 9.83 MHz, then, is to switch the band indicator to SW2 (4-10 MHz), swivel the tuning knob, and land on the BBC at precisely 9.83. But some Sundays I feel especially creative and try to fool the machine: By choosing the SW3 band (10-20 MHz), I can jam the tuning knob counterclockwise and reach as low as 9.9 or even 9.85 MHz lower than what this setting is really designed for. This way, I can approach 9.83 and the British Broadcasting Company. But it never works. I can feel the knob giving me tension, and I know that if I turn any harder, Ill spend the rest of my Sunday at Radio Shack repairing a broken tuning knob. SW3 just wont reach 9.83 MHz. Conceding to defeat, I flip the band indicator to SW2 and tune in the BBC in the conventional manner.
According to Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a leading Jewish thinker in post-World War II England and Israel, character improvement is a lot like tuning in the BBC. The Talmud (Tractate Sukkah 52b) records that Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish said, A mans evil inclination overtakes him each day and seeks to kill him, for it is said, The evil one searches for a righteous person and desires to kill him (Psalms 37:32). And were Hashem not to help us, we would not survive, for it is said in the next verse, Hashem will not abandon us to the evil inclinations hands. The evil inclination lurks around every corner, poised to dissuade us from fulfilling our G-d-given mission of character improvement. When we are presented with an opportunity to tell lashon hara (evil speech or slander), the evil inclination argues, You cant possibly overcome your desire to spread gossip about that individual. When an opportunity arises to gain money at the expense of performing a mitzvah, the evil inclination prods, You dont have the stamina to overlook this venture you value your livelihood too much. The evil inclination specializes in convincing us that we are incapable of changing our ingrained habits: Why should you even try to change your ways? Youve already put forth a monumental effort and you have yet to make a dent in your true inner nature.
On the surface, continues Rabbi Dessler, the evil inclination has a valid point. As indicated by the Talmuds opening sentence, humans are capable of controlling their premeditated actions; but the character traits that are a true gauge of personality, the instincts that mediate an uninhibited gut reaction, are not necessarily under human control. The evil inclination employs this fact to convince us to give up hope, that it is not worth trying so hard when we are doomed to fail anyway. But the evil inclination is only telling us half of the story. He cleverly ignores Rabbi Shimons conclusion: Hashem will not abandon us to the evil inclinations hands. But how, according to Rabbi Shimon, does Hashem help us in our seemingly impossible task of improving our character?
Enter the RF-B300. Creativity and a little elbow grease revealed that a Panasonic locked on to SW3 can still approach 9.83 MHz. Likewise, we can approach the goal of attitude improvement by using the available resources namely, our actions. The way we act strongly affects the way we think. Although molding our actions may not whitewash our deeply rooted character traits, it can make serious inroads toward changing them. Indeed, Hashem does not expect us to actually reset our attitudes on our own that may be impossible but He does expect us to do whatever we can to approach that goal. Then, once we have done our part, Hashem flips the proverbial band indicator and suddenly the goal falls into our laps.
As the Day of Judgment approaches we might ask ourselves, Am I doing everything possible to reach my goals? One who answers yes can rest confident that he will win this battle over the evil inclination, because, in the words of Rabbi Shimon, Hashem will not abandon us to the evil inclinations hands. If we only dedicate ourselves to the fight, Hashem will be there to help us in our struggle.
Kevin Rodbell, a third-generation Atlantan and an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, writes from Baltimore.
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