ANYONE FOR SECONDS?
We all know the scenario. Having engulfed a three course meal, you know that you're stuffed. But just as you imagine it's time for the meal to end, your host brings out that mouthwatering chocolate-chip, double-fudge-topped, triple-layer cake extravaganza.
We all know the scenario. Having engulfed a three course meal, you know that you're stuffed. But just as you imagine it's time for the meal to end, your host brings out that mouthwatering chocolate-chip, double-fudge-topped, triple-layer cake extravaganza. "Would you like to try some?" your host asks cordially. The question poses a terrible dilemma. On the one hand, you are full to the brim; another bite will, without doubt, cause a stomach ache. Plus, who needs the calories? On the other hand, you haven't eaten a chocolate-chip, double-fudge-topped, triple-layer extravaganza for literally months, and it's absolutely your favorite desert. Meanwhile, you glance at your host. Then you look towards the cake, the gooey mound prodding you closer. As you stare at it, visions of chocolatey delicious desert begin to fill your mind. What do you do?
Most likely, the following will be true: Two hours after eating three medium slices of the chocolate extravaganza you will have assumed the horizontal position and be lying in bed. The stomach ache will have subsided a little bit and you will have resolved that in order to compensate for the extra calories, you will not eat solid food for the next three days. Then you will mumble to yourself, "What was I thinking when I ate that cake? I knew that it never pays to stuff myself!" Clear foresight would have prevented the ingestion of so much chocolate.
The same holds true for sins in general. The Talmud explains that people sin only when they are overcome by a kind of "temporary insanity" which blocks their foresight (Tractate Sotah 3a); because if a person could foresee the negative effect of a sin, he would never dare commit it. The Talmud terms this phenomenon of temporary insanity as ruach shtus. In this week's Torah portion, when Hashem details the construction of the tabernacle, He describes the altar with a grammatically similar word, commanding, "Make the altar of sheetim wood. . ." (Exodus 27:1). The Midrash senses that the words share a common root and the Kli Yakar, one of the leading Polish rabbis of the early-17th century and a popular commentator on the Torah, expounds upon it. On the altar, he explains, people offer sacrifices as part of a process of repentance -- repentance from sin. The name of the wood from which the altar is constructed -- sheetim -- reflects its role in removing the effects of ruach shtus. It reminds a person that he is bringing a sacrifice because he let ruach shtus get the best of him; without that temporary loss of foresight he would have controlled himself and refrained from sinning.
After an action, hindsight is 20/20. But the real talent is to think straight before acting. So, the next time you've finished your meal and you feel the sudden urge to devour a chocolate-fudge-overdose brownie. .
Yosef Rodbell, a fourth-generation native Atlantan, is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York.
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