by Twerski, Rabbi Dr. Avraham (See all authors)

Sixty-five years ago, in high-school, I learned a powerful mussar lesson, but I did not realize it at the time.

Ulysses was a hero and traveler in Greek mythology. He heard of the "music of the sirens." This was music that was heard at a particular harbor, and it was so enchanting, so attractive, that it drew sailors to the shore. However, there were sharp, ragged reefs in the harbor, and the ships would crash into them and were destroyed. Sailors knew this, and passing by the harbor, they would see the wreckages of the ships that had been destroyed, but once they heard the music of the sirens, they were helpless and headed into the harbor to their own destruction.

Ulysses wanted to hear the fabled music of the sirens, but knew that this would be fatal. He, therefore, stuffed his sailors' ears with wax so that they could not hear any sounds, and he told them that they were to sail by the harbor and pay no attention to anything he said. He then had himself tied securely to the ship's mast so that he could not move.

As the sailors approached the harbor, Ulysses began hearing the music of the sirens. He began shouting to the sailors to head for shore, but of course, they could not hear him. He began screaming at them, "I am your captain! You must obey my orders!" As he heard the music of the sirens, he struggled to free himself from the ropes. "Head for the shore!" he shouted. "I will have you hung for mutiny!" But the sailors rowed on.

After they had passed the harbor and the music was no longer heard, Ulysses fainted from exhaustion. The sailors then untied him, and he realized how helpless he had been, and had he not rendered the sailors unable to hear, they would have all been destroyed.

Much later I realized that the "music of the sirens" is the yetzer hara. It can enchant a person and render one almost helpless to resist its temptation. Seeing the wreckage of the ships did not prevent sailors from rowing to their destruction.

One cocaine addict worked in a mortuary, and buried people who were killed by cocaine, but that did not stop his use, and he died from cocaine at age 33. Cocaine, music of the sirens, lust, the yetzer hara - they are all the same.

There is no way we can "stuff our ears" to the "music of the sirens" that can be heard almost anywhere in our environment. The Talmud cites Hashem as saying, "I created the yetzer hara, and I created Torah as its antidote" (Kedushin 30b). It is our only defense. However, just holding on to Torah is not enough, just as Ulysses' holding on to the mast would not have been enough. We must tie ourselves so tightly to Torah that we can not break loose from it. This is why Moses repeatedly stressed, "But you who cling to Hashem-you are all alive today" (Devarim 4:4), "to Him you shall cleave," (ibid. 10:20) and "To love Hashem, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him (ibid. 30:20). King David says, "I have clung to your testimonies (Tehilim 119:31). To cling and cleave means to be inseparably attached to Torah.

Learning Torah and doing mitzvos is of greatest importance, but does not yet result in the necessary fusion. The Talmud says that the single verse that the entire Torah depends on is "Know Hashem in all your ways" (Mishle 3:6, Berachos 63a). Cleaving and clinging is not accomplished by relating to Hashem just in Torah study and in performance of mitzvos, but in everything we do - eating, sleeping, transacting, socializing. The works of mussar tell us how we can accomplish this. It is this kind of observance of Torah that can save us from the destructive attractions of the yetzer hara.

When you pick up a fruit, think of what borei pri ha'etz means. Hashem designed a tree that would sprout from a tiny seed and produce succulent fruit, and feel gratitude to Hashem. When you say the beracha "poke'ach ivrim" think of the wondrous ability that Hashem instituted within protoplasm that it can have vision, and feel gratitude to Hashem. If we bring Hashem into all our activities, we are cleaving and clinging to Him, and when we tie ourselves securely to the mast, we can avoid the yetzer hara's "music of the sirens" that would pull us to our own destruction.

Interestingly, after reading this article by Rabbi Twerski, I read a post by "Momo" on the forum, where he discusses Duvid Chaim's 12-Step phone conference and writes:

"Duvid Chaim often speaks about our need to be more spiritual and not just act religious".

And then "Momo" goes on to quote from an article in today's Jerusalem Post written by a contemporary religious writer, whose ideas - although critical - are surprisingly similar in nature to what Rabbi Twerski wrote above:

Orthodox Judaism has reached a moment of truth. Many people no longer believe that Jewish learning and observance make you a better person. They no longer believe there is any correlation between keeping Shabbat and keeping honest, between wearing tzitzit and avoiding adultery, or between lighting Shabbat candles and seeing the light of God's grace in every human being.

And we Orthodox have no one but ourselves to blame. We are often "religious" without being spiritual, prayerful without being humble and ritually precise without displaying the same punctiliousness in business.

I am a passionately Orthodox Jew; not even the threat of death will come between me and the God of Israel. But Orthodoxy without morality and basic humanity is a religion without God. It is cold, harsh, an abomination.

The notion that Orthodox Jews are no more moral than anyone else could prove to be the single most catastrophic event to ever befall religious observance. Simply put, if learning and honoring God's will doesn't make us better people, then most (in the coming generations) will choose to discard Judaism as an empty relic of a superstitious past...

We the Orthodox have it in our power to restore the true light and love of Judaism by demonstrating the power of our faith to shape outstanding ethics and inspire righteous action. Indeed, most Orthodox Jews live lives of exemplary honesty, hospitality and communal devotion. But now is the time for that truth to shine. Now is the time to demonstrate that resting on the Sabbath and studying Torah actually do make people less greedy and more noble.

Our children must be taught not only the rituals that will make them good Jews, but the underlying values that will make them good people. Children in yeshiva should learn not only the correct blessing before eating an apple, but that the purpose of all such blessings is to instill gratitude. When our sons don yarmulkes, let us remind them that it's not only a symbol of identity but a reminder of constant supervision. God is watching us at all times, even when other humans are not. When our daughters light Shabbat candles let us teach them that the purpose is not only to continue the tradition of Sarah but to illuminate the dark places of the spirit.

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