Day 44 - Giving Hashem Nachas - He Knows How Hard It Is
There was once a time when a fire-and-brimstone, podium-thumping lecture would scare people directly. A charismatic speaker’s thundering voice describing the perils and punishment of sin motivated people to correct their ways. For whatever reason, that approach does not work nowadays, at least not for the average American Jew.
Yet, we cannot help but notice how harshly the sefarim describe the punishments for aveiros associated with one who fails to maintain kedushah. For instance, the sefarim relate that certain tumah transgressions cause one to forfeit all his mitzvos, and the mitzvos themselves are somehow transferred to the forces of evil. Exposure to such writings can lead one to hopelessness and a fatalistic perspective. What’s the point of doing mitzvos when they backfire and go bad!
The Steipler Gaon addresses this problem in a letter.
First, he asserts that these authors do not mean that one loses the mitzvos themselves. Rather, under normal circumstances, the performance of one mitzvah automatically paves the way for the performance of a second mitzvah, both physically and spiritually. The sefarim mean that this “mitzvah-goreres-mitzvah” dynamic is temporarily lost when one is involved in tumah. As soon as one does teshuvah, however, it returns.
Second, explains the Steipler, the writers elaborated on the punishments to stop the sinner in his tracks.
Let’s say you are walking along a busy street when you come across a mother harshly disciplining her two-year old son. Outraged, you watch this scene and are about to confront the woman, when someone taps on your shoulder. You turn around, and this nice old lady tells you, “Calm down, young man! You saw only half the story. This little boy just let go of his mother’s hand and ran into the street. He was almost run over. She’s teaching him not to do again.” Sheepishly, you move on.
You understand that the mother is “talking” to the child in the only language he understands. She is doing whatever it takes to impress upon the child how dangerous it is go into the street. When the sefarim elaborate on the punishment of tumah, they were addressing an audience who responded to this lesson. They were talking to people who understood this language and reacted maturely. Stressing the downside of cheit served as a hindrance to sin. Certainly, we, too, have to face the facts and be cognizant of the effect of sin. However, continues the Steipler, nowadays it is vital to elaborate more on the positive side.
And in this vein, he provides us with the following, powerful words of encouragement:
Although someone has failed repeatedly, if he keeps fighting and wins many times, his victories over the fierce yetzer hara burning within him cause a Light of Kedushah to flow not only over himself but over all the Worlds. A great portion of the damage he did with his aveiros is repaired.
It is impossible to estimate the great degree of kedushah of one who conquers his desires in the heat of the yetzer hara’s power ...
Just as the transgression is terrible, the merit one earns [by conquering his ta'avah] is awesome as well.