SATAN IN A SHTREIMEL
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
Even in the best, most peaceful of times we always have an enemy: the yetzer harah. Call it your evil inclination; your private demon; your lack of conscience; that little voice that whispers, "Oh, go ahead ó if it feels good, do it!"
Even in the best, most peaceful of times we always have an enemy: the yetzer harah. Call it your evil inclination; your private demon; your lack of conscience; that little voice that whispers, "Oh, go ahead ó if it feels good, do it!" The yetzer harah is how we know we are alive and thinking human beings, continually having to choose the proper path, constantly pulled in opposite directions by the mutually-irresistible forces of will and temptation.
The yetzer harah is amazingly clever. Wwe may fashion it from our own wants and desires, but it seems to have a life of its own. It offers powerfully persuasive pretenses for sin: It tells us, "Youíre only human, donít pretend to be an angel;" "Youíre far from perfect, donít be hypocritically righteous;" and the ever-popular, "Trust what your own eyes see. Live for the moment, for the here and now!" Usually, the yetzer harah takes on the guise of a despicable, shady character. Usually, but not always.
In this weekís Torah portion, when Abraham was commanded to bring his son Isaac to be sacrificed, the yetzer harah first tried the usual approach. The yetzer harah told Abraham to trust his own instincts, not G-dís, and reminded him how terribly lonely and bitter his old age would be, minus that son he so cherished and had waited for so long.
But when that angle didnít work, the yetzer harah tried a new tactic. He put on a mask of piety and became Satan in a shtriemel. "Abraham," he pleaded cogently, "canít you see youíre being tested here? You, the ultimate man of righteousness, can never kill another in cold blood! You know the Torah, and it warns that a Jew must die before murdering an innocent person. You know human sacrifice is an abomination to Hashem. Donít be fooled by that phony voice telling you to slaughter your son. Stand firm on your holy principles of faith and morality."
Pretty potent logic if you ask me, but Abraham didnít buy it. He wouldnít be swayed by the yetzer harah, whether he wore a Pokemon t-shirt or payos.
On virtually every issue in the Jewish world ó and in human affairs in general ó you will find sanctimonious logic on both sides. Serving in the Israeli army vs. studying Torah all day? The "peace" process? Vegetarianism vs. eating meat, pluralism vs. isolationism, and so on. You name the cause, and Iíll supply you with compelling religious arguments, pro and con.
Example: Of course, we should interact with other cultures. Didnít Abraham seek out all kinds of people and try to befriend and influence them? Donít we Jews have to ultimately infuse the world with our knowledge of Hashem?
Or, on the other hand...
Of course, we have to remain a separate, protected nation. Donít we know we cannot mix with others? Why, even in Goshen ó the very first Diaspora ó Joseph arranged for us to be apart from the Egyptian multitudes, so that we did not adopt their culture and moral standards. We are meant, as the Torah spells out, to be "a nation that dwells alone."
See what I mean?
So we pray to the G-d of Abraham. Help us see through the mist of temptation, to know your will so that we may follow and fulfill it.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana'ana, Israel. He is also the author of Shammes: Stories of Jewish Experience.
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