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Positive Vision

testchart1 Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Positive Vision

By Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger


I basically keep the rules.

I wake up early, daven with a minyan, squeeze in a breakfast (sometimes) and a daf, and I'm off to work. After a long day at the office, I come home and try to be a good husband and father.

I try to do what's right ... but shmiras einayim is a really tough one.

Because I do not live in a ghetto. I am out there in the "real" world. I work, shop, travel, and interact with all types of people. I am exposed to all sorts of sights and sounds, some real and some virtual, and much of it is not all that kosher. Yet I have been told, and I myself recognize, that I still must maintain standards of kedushah and shmiras einayim ... but I wonder how this is even possible.

The whole topic of shmiras einayim leaves me frustrated because the world I live in is enticing and I know I will slip. This leaves me with a choice. Should I face the nisayon and my failures and feel guilty, or ignore the entire topic and feel numb. Either way, my relationship with Hashem suffers.

I want to feel deserving of having a connection with Hashem. When I stand to daven Shemoneh Esrei I want to be proud of who I am, and comfortable with the person I am presenting to Him.

The average shmuz on this topic just leaves me feeling bad, so what's the point? Not that I am unwilling to try to improve. I really would like to, but I will need a program that clarifies the struggle, not a shmuz. I want to know what happens to me when I see something improper. What exactly is kedushah, and why should I struggle to attain it? Will shemiras einayim make me a better and even happier person? I will need effective, down-to-earth strategies to help me along the way and help restart my engine after inevitable failures.

I want to grow.

I really do, but I am looking for someone to talk with, rationally and logically.

I am a yeshivah bachur, and I consider myself, like they say, "with the program."

I learn during seder and sometimes bein hasedarim, if I'm on a roll.

I go to Shacharis bein hazemanim - okay, a little late - and I have a seder afterward.

My rebbi speaks about kedushah every once in a while, but it has little effect ... not just on me but on most of the "normal" guys. Not because we don't believe him. We really do. It's just because it's hard, really hard. We're normal.

I have been a kollel yungerman for many years now.

I am excited to get up and go to yeshivah each morning, and I learn with geshmak.

Baruch Hashem, I have a fantastic wife and a good marriage and our kids give us much nachas - most of the time.

I learn mussar and strive to continually grow in my avodas Hashem. But shmiras einayim is one area that I still find hard to "break through." I guess it's part of being human, but I can really use a practical approach to tackling this issue.

The fact is that we all are in this together. We all struggle with a society and a culture run amok. No one can escape it and no one has the strength to go it alone. We need each other's chizuk and encouragement.

So let's walk together and work together.

Let's talk.

We often associate kedushah with tzaddikim. We think that kedushah is reserved for someone who is closeted away from society. It is not for the common man ... and it is not for me.

This is a mistake.

Each and every one of us, on whatever level we find ourselves, is capable of growth in this area. It is not an "all or nothing" issue. At any given moment, in every situation, we can become more kadosh. Even as we struggle with our most difficult nisyonos, we are never completely lost. We can always become just a little more sanctified and move a bit closer to Hashem. And who can possibly fathom the value of that little bit of positive movement?!

This is why the Torah specifies that the mitzvah of becoming kadosh
(קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ ) should be stated to every Jew דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

In the words of the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh:

This mitzvah applies to every person, for any Jew who fulfills this mitzvah is referred to as a "kadosh" [and] no category of Jew is ever shut out from this idea.

We know how hard it is to change once we become accustomed to a bad habit. It's so much easier to keep doing what we have always done. But we fail to realize that to a large degree the same applies to a good habit. When we train ourselves to do what is right, we continue doing so naturally. Healthy habits and behaviors are also self-perpetuating. They, too, can become second nature. And while we must always be on guard against slipping, the nisayon will certainly diminish greatly over the course of time.

When we decide, for example, to work on davening or learning, we do so with a positive attitude. We know from experience that davening with kavannah is so much more meaningful than mindless davening, and learning with energy so more satisfying than lethargic learning. We anticipate that our efforts will yield a certain satisfaction so we embrace the commitment. But when we think about working on kedushah we don't anticipate this reward, so even when we decide to improve, we commit with a different mindset - with a sense of duty. We do not embrace a pledge to kedushah; we do it because we have to.

This, too, is a mistake. We will see over the course of this program that improving in kedushah is rewarding and enhances our lives with a level of richness and satisfaction that we would not have otherwise experienced. The fleeting thrill of breeching our kedushah, which ultimately leaves us feeling ashamed and rootless, pales in comparison to electing to lead a life of kedushah. The gratification of being proud of who we are, the feeling of being in control of our lives, is infinitely more enjoyable.

Day 2

Positive Attitude

Embracing Change

There is a well-known legend about the inhabitants of an island who developed a most creative means to support themselves.

When a ship would draw near their island, the residents would play a magical tune that would drive the listeners into a crazed frenzy. The sailors would begin singing and dancing and would steer the ship straight to the island. The locals would then raid the ship, murder all its occupants, and plunder all the cargo and supplies.

Eventually, the captains of these ships became aware of this ruse so they took steps to prevent it from occurring.

Three strategies emerged.

Some captains ordered the sailors to stuff their ears before they came within earshot of the island, to block out the sound of the music.

Others ordered that everyone on the ship be tied down, to prevent them from redirecting the ship toward the island.

Yet other captains played loud festive music on their own ship to drown out the magical music issuing from the island.

There are similarly three ways of dealing with the yetzer hara, all of which are effective, and all of which should be employed.

We can do our best to try to "stuff our ears" in an effort to block exposure to the yetzer hara's stimulus, in this way avoiding the nisayon in the first place. Ideally, this is a great plan, but in today's environment, it is not always possible. Virtually every trip to the store, every commute to work, and every time we open the computer we find ourselves squarely in the line of fire.

We can also try to metaphorically "tie ourselves down" by placing ourselves in a position where even if we are drawn toward the aveirah, we simply cannot afford to fail. Yiras Ha'onesh, as well as programs that report the sites we have visited on the Internet, work on this level. Although we may be attracted to the aveirah and are "straining against the ropes" to commit the sin, the fear of punishment or exposure ties us down and prevents us from doing so. This is certainly an effective strategy, but it does not resolve the struggle. It merely scares one into doing what is right.

In conjunction with these first two strategies we must add the third: fighting the yetzer hara with "festive music." We must make doing what is right attractive and rewarding so that we will be drawn in that direction.

We will i"yH demonstrate that maintaining kedushah is extremely rewarding not only in Olam Haba, but even here and now, in this world, and it enhances our daily lives in a very real and tangible way. As such, we will more willingly choose it over its alternative.

To do this, we must first understand what kedushah really is.

Day 3

The Ultimate Pleasure

Attaching to Hashem

ואֲַניִ קִרְבתַ אֱלקִֹים ליִ טוֹב
As for me, it is closeness to Hashem that is good.

The ultimate pleasure, the most supreme goodness, is being close to Hashem. This concept, expressed by Dovid HaMelech, recurs over and over in Tanach and by the words of Chazal.

The Olam Haba experience, the ultimate reward, is in fact described by Chazal as a realization of this closeness, of this attachment to the Creator.

But trying to understand the enjoyment of Olam Haba in this world is like a fish trying to comprehend a fire. It cannot, because its environment is the very opposite of fire.

The Rambam assures us that our enjoyment in Olam Haba will be unending and infinite, and nothing in this world is even remotely comparable. He illustrates this with a mashal to which we can all relate.

This is like a powerful king who decides one day to abdicate the throne because he wants to return to playing ball in the streets. At one time, when he was a young immature boy, he really did enjoy ball-playing more ...

Can you imagine if the president suddenly announced his resignation because he wished to spend more time with his true passion, playing pickup basketball? You would question his sanity! “What is he thinking?! How can the fleeting diversion of playing ball in the park be compared with the thrill and ‘rush’ of wealth and power?!”


As we get older and mature, our sense of what is pleasurable becomes increasingly sophisticated and subtle. Most people, Rambam notes, will work long and hard for a promotion, even where the reward is merely respect and power without any financial gain. Although these payoffs are intangible — like they say, “You cannot eat kavod” — and many times they are illusory, the pleasure we derive from them is much deeper and more satisfying than physical pleasures, and than the childish pleasure of playing ball. We all have heard accounts of very successful people who possessed every possible luxury, who risked it all, and at times lost it all, for what they perceived as glory. But what is “glory”? It is a non-physical, subtle and sublime feeling.

The pleasure gap between ball-playing and glory is nothing compared to the infinite divide that stands between any enjoyment we can imagine and the sublime delight of basking in the Shechinah’s presence. The latter is so good that it cannot even be captured in a mashal. All we can say regarding this bliss is that which the pasuk says: ,מָה רַב טוּבְךָ אֲשֶׁר צָפַנְתָּ לִּירֵאֶיךָ How great is Your Goodness that You have reserved for those who fear You.

Nevertheless, although anything we experience in this world is incomparable to this pleasure, we constantly feel the need for this closeness even here. It is a primary force in our lives. It gnaws at us and motivates us and drives us to seek meaning.

Day 4

Searching for Meaning

Experiencing Olam Haba in Olam Hazeh

Religion and spirituality are big business. Really big business. Billions are spent in this pursuit each year. Even those who can barely make ends meet are willing to spend a considerable portion of their income in their quest for spirituality. Striving to find meaning in one’s life, to live for a ”greater cause,” may in fact be the primary, most elementary motivating force in humans.

What drives this need?

Mesillas Yesharim gives us insight with a mashal from a Midrash: A princess somehow found herself married to a common villager. Her husband tried his hardest to make her happy but she was miserable. She remembered the delicacies she enjoyed in her father’s home, the gold and diamonds, the splendid fineries and luxuries. Whatever her husband brought her - even if well intentioned - was nothing compared to the standard of opulence she had enjoyed in her father’s home.

The Midrash explains that this is the meaning of the verse: וְגַם הַנֶּפֶשׁ לאֹ תִמָּלֵא , The soul is never satiated.

Physical gratification can never satisfy the soul. It remembers the true pleasure of being close to Hashem and sees earthly pleasure as meaningless. Instead, it seeks desperately to go back to its roots, to be in the King’s palace, to be close again with Hashem.

We see this spiritual yearning at Har Sinai. Klal Yisrael was warned not to approach the mountain because if they would do so, they would die. Yet Rashi notes that Moshe Rabbeinu was sent down a second time to again remind them not to ascend the mountain. Why was this reminder needed?

Evidently, without repeated warnings, without a threat of death, their drive to get close to Hashem would have drawn them onto the mountain.

The quest for meaning exists even by non-Jews, but so much more so for a Jew. The neshamah of a Jew emanates from Hashem’s Throne; it is described as a “Cheilek Elokah Mi’maal,” a part of Hashem Above. A Jew’s soul comes from a most elevated place and urgently seeks to return.

This desire drives us to better ourselves in this world. It is why we seek to have a clear conscience when we daven, and why we feel guilty when we cannot. It is why we give tzedakah to the poor, why we wake up early to learn the Daf, why we make a seder between sedarim, and why we are reading a book like this one. It is an elemental force in our live - the desire to be in His presence.

We certainly cannot fathom the pleasures of Olam Haba, of basking in the presence of the Shechinah, as the Rambam writes. But we experience the slightest glimmer of this feeling in our daily lives when we feel connected to Hashem. We feel this deep happiness when we see our ruchniyus growing. This feeling is a “mei’ein Olam Haba - a taste of the World to Come.” It is the satisfaction of the princess returning to the palace.

Primary to this connection to Hashem is keeping to the dictates of kedushah, as we will see i”yH.

Day 5

Where My Neshamah Comes From


We spoke yesterday about how our yearning to feel close to Hashem is sourced in the fact that our neshamah wishes to return home, to reside again under Hashem’s Holy Throne.

We experience the source of our neshamah’s roots in another way as well.

Imagine you are as musically gifted as Beethoven. Elaborate musical compositions just pop into your head. You sit at a piano and instinctively know how to play. But aside from being a musical genius, you are also a fairly decent computer programmer. When the time comes to support your family, you take a computer course and work long hours as a programmer and earn a very respectable salary. Would you be satisfied?

Of course not!

You would be yearning to plumb the depths of musical theory and learn the intricacies of the various instruments, to study musical notation and record your scores to be played by a full orchestra.

All this has nothing to do with ego. You simply wish to bring your talents to full bloom. Psychologists refer to the need for self-fulfillment, for realizing one’s potential, as “self-actualization.” One of life’s greatest pleasures is when one’s potential is being used, and conversely, one of its deepest frustrations is when it is not. As the saying goes, “What a man can be, he must be.”

Hashem placed this need within us to motivate us to grow.

Our neshamah comes from the highest of places. Its potential is immeasurable. With its tefillah it can tear up gezeiros; with its learning it can fathom the deepest mysteries of Hashem’s Torah.

You - and every Jew - therefore have this immense longing to actualize your neshamah’s potential, a potential that is rooted in its source, its attachment to its Creator.

Day 6

Clinging to Hashem

Connection Through Kedushah

We have seen that the ultimate pleasure is attaching oneself to Hashem. The desire for this pleasure creates a force within ourselves that we live with each day.

Attaining kedushah is critical for this attachment for we find that Hashem generally defines Himself כביכול) ) as "Kadosh" - so much so, that we refer to Him as "HaKadosh, Baruch Hu." And the mitzvah for Klal Yisrael to be kadosh is repeatedly linked with Hashem's kedushah. For example:

וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי , You are to sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, for I am holy (Vayikra וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי ;( 11:44 , You shall be holy, for I am holy (ibid. v. 45); ,קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה' אֱלקֵֹיכֶם You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God (ibid. וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ;( 19:2 , You shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy (ibid. 20:26).

Apparently, the obligation for Klal Yisrael to be holy is directly related to Hashem's kedushah. This point is made explicitly by the Tanna, Abba Shaul, who comments on the verse: ' קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה אֱלקֵֹיכםֶ : "The household attendants of the king, what is their duty? To emulate the king."

The Midrash explains the pasuk with a mashal:

A simple person was once on the road when he came upon the Kohen Gadol walking alone. Seizing the opportunity, the man approached the Kohen Gadol and asked for the honor of escorting him. The Kohen Gadol agreed but added, "Be aware that as a Kohen, I am quite restricted as to where I can go. I can only take roads that I know to be tahor and I cannot even

approach a graveyard or any place where there might be tumah. If you want to escort me, you must accept my standards."

If we wish to be with Hashem, to bask in His glory and reap this reward, we must live up to His standards. Hashem's environment is one of kedushah. We must learn to operate in His environment and live according to His rules, the rules of kedushah, in order to keep His company.

There is also another factor that makes kedushah so critical for attaching ourselves to Hashem.

Ramchal among others explains that the “glue” that allows one to cling to Hashem is one’s “similarity,” so to speak, to Him.

In other words, if our conduct mirrors His conduct, if our actions are G-dly, we become in some way “similar,” as it were, to Hashem and thus cling to Him. This idea (for which there is a Latin phrase, “Imitatio Dei”) is mentioned in the Torah and Chazal in many ways, but perhaps is most explicit in the pasuk we have quoted: וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כּיִ קָדוֹשׁ אָניִ , You are to sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, for I am holy.

In this pasuk, Hashem tells Klal Yisrael: Become like Me and thereby attach yourselves to Me - by adopting My most defining middah, My kedushah.

In the words of the Ramban: “I want you to be holy so that you should be suited for Me, to cling to Me, for I am Holy.”

There are times that we feel connected to Hashem, whether after a meaningful tefillah, at Kabbalas Shabbos, or after a satisfying seder of learning. That connection is an infinitesimal sample, a distant echo of the experience of connection to Hashem that will be fully realized in Olam Haba.

It is a mei’ein Olam Haba. And that connection is predicated on one being kadosh.

Okay. Let’s regroup.

We have seen that the ultimate good is clinging to Hashem. Our neshamah’s realization of this pleasure drives us to have a connection to Hashem. We have seen also that since Hashem refers to Himself as Kadosh we can make ourselves similar to Him only by we, ourselves, emulating the middah of kedushah.

All this begs the question ... and what exactly is

Day 7 - A Defining Moment - Discovering Kedushah

Let’s open with a story.

Rav Mattisyahu Salomon shlita, the Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, relates the following incident that was told to him by a friend, a Rosh Yeshivah in Haifa. A refined yungerman serves as a mashpia in this Rosh Yeshivah’s school, and this is his story:

“I was raised in an anti-religious kibbutz without any connection to Torah and mitzvos whatsoever. All I knew about religious Jews was negative, to say the least.

“When I was sixteen, I heard of a shop that had just opened in nearby Haifa, whose ‘products’ could only be described as decadent, so of course, I made my way to town to check it out. As I stood, with many others, looking at the window displays, I caught sight of a religious Jew walking down the street from the other direction. He noticed the tumult in front of the store and looked to see what was going on. When he realized what it was, his face showed such revulsion that it took me by surprise. He quickly veered away, turned his head to the other direction, and made every effort to avoid the area. I was puzzled. I considered myself ‘normal’ and this was all harmless fun, but this religious fellow was avoiding my entertainment like the plague. Why? I resolved to ask him but by the time I decided to do this he was gone. Curious and a bit irritated, I determined to confront him so he could explain his perspective. I combed the streets until I finally found - not him, but another religious Jew who was only too happy to explain it to me.

“We sat down and talked. He explained that he finds meaning in his life - and deep satisfaction - through his relationship with his Creator, and this relationship demands kedushah. He elaborated, I asked more questions, and after a while he told me that if I really wanted more information I should enroll in a yeshivah. I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least drop by, so I did. One thing led to the other and here I am today, a frum Jew.” What did this fellow find so surprising? Why was it so puzzling, so surprising, to walk away from the shop? Why did he intuitively feel that shmiras einayim points to something spiritual, something higher?

Indeed, what is kedushah?

Numerous sefarim speak of kedushah in the same basic vein, but we will focus on the words of the Malbim, who defines kedushah as follows:

Kedushah refers to one’s separation and elevation from the path of the physical and natural to matters pertaining to the G-dly soul, which are so much higher and loftier than matters of the flesh.

There are many levels of kedushah. Some people are able to rise above the desire for arayos and forbidden food. But some rise [even higher], above anything physical and all that is associated with it; higher than any earthly pleasure until they become like angels ...

This is the kedushah that is stated regarding Hashem. It refers to the fact that Hashem [Who fashions nature] rises from the natural order to a miraculous order and annuls all the rules of nature and its laws.

All this seems very deep and hard to relate to. Let’s see if we can make it something tangible, something we can understand.

Day 8 - Natural Instinct Versus Free Choice - Defining Kedushah

Nature is one big machine and the entire machine is driven by “causality” - the law of cause and effect. This means that regarding nature, if I know every condition that exists at any given moment, I can predict exactly what will happen next.

For instance, if I drop a ball from a certain height, I can predict exactly how fast and hard it will fall. The same applies to everything in nature. If I know all the causes, I will know all the effects ... every single time.

A plant, for instance, is completely connected to its environment so that everything that will happen to it is predetermined by that environment. If I know how much sunlight it will be exposed to, how much water it will receive, and every other variable, I will know exactly whether, and to what degree, it will thrive or whither. It is all cause and effect.

Even animals operate the same way. Free choice is the exclusive domain of humans; animals act on instinct. Their reactions are locked in. If we theoretically knew all the internal and external conditions at any given moment, we could predict an animal’s behavior at the next moment. Their conduct is “hardwired.” It is predetermined and thus completely part and parcel of nature. It is all one big, interconnected machine.

On a certain level we humans are the same. We have within us a nefesh habehamis, an “animal spirit” that is impulsive, that reacts to stimuli in much the same way an animal does. Place any stimulus, say a slice of pizza, in front of us, and the nefesh habehamis, our animal instinct, will automatically be triggered and we will reach to take it.

If we behave this way, if we mindlessly follow our impulses, we are no different from animals. We are part and parcel of nature and completely connected and determined by our surroundings. We are part of the “machine.”

But if we try, we can rise above nature. We can separate from the system and elevate ourselves above it. In short, we can become kadosh, holy.

We can thereby become, so to say, like Hashem - the Creator - Who fashioned nature and rises above it. קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי , Be holy because I am Holy.

That is why kedushah in particular is associated with arayos.

Many forms of stimuli excite us and hold a powerful sway over our nefesh habehamis. The pizza in the example above could be exhibit A, and in fact kedushah is mentioned with respect to the consumption of forbidden foods.

But perhaps the most powerful of these stimuli is the desire for arayos. It draws us in and appeals to our base instincts so strongly that it can render us nothing more than animals. Think about it. Those selling ervah and those buying it clearly relate to themselves as nothing more than beheimos.

Therefore, although kedushah is mentioned in the Torah with regard to many mitzvos, it is most closely related to abstention from arayos, as Rashi states: “Be holy - separate yourself from arayos.”

To rise above it all, to separate oneself, to choose, is to achieve kedushah.

Day 9: The Kedushah of Kiddushin: Not So Fast!

Jewish marriage is a two-step process: The first stage is called kiddushin; the second, nisuin. The first is classically performed through the groom giving his bride a ring and stating, "Harei at mikudeshes li" ("You are hereby betrothed to me"), and the second, through the chuppah (canopy) ceremony.

Kiddushin is closely associated with hekdesh, the term that refers to sanctified objects. Through kiddushin a man prohibits his wife just as hekdesh items are prohibited from all benefit.

In other words, the groom "sanctifies" his bride.


But here is where it gets truly interesting.

After kiddushin the bride is prohibited to all people, but she is not yet fully married to her husband. In fact, she is (rabbinically) prohibited even to him! She becomes permissible to him only after the second step, nisuin.

Isn't this odd? What is the point of dividing the marriage into two steps and to prohibit her even to her own husband? Where's the benefit?

Even more strange is the berachah we recite when a couple marries.

... that You have sanctified us with Your mitzvos and commanded us about the arayos, and prohibited to us the arusos (the betrothed women, after the kiddushin but before the nisuin), and permitted to us those married to us through chuppah and kiddushin. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctifies His nation through chuppah and kiddushin.

What a strange blessing!

Since when do we make a blessing on a prohibition (You prohibited to us the arusos)? Why not simply say a blessing on the mitzvah of kiddushin?

And the conclusion is also strange: What do we mean by saying that Hashem sanctifies us through chuppah and kiddushin? He sanctifies us through all the mitzvos, as we said at the beginning of this very berachah (that You have sanctified us with Your mitzvos)!

It would seem that the entire formula of this blessing is an extended praise to Hashem for establishing the kiddushin/nisuin system ... which brings us back to our initial point. What is the significance of this system?

Let's reiterate the point with one additional source. The Rambam writes: "Before the Torah was given, if a man met a woman in the market and they both consented, he brought her home and lived with her ... After the Torah was given he must acquire her (through kiddushin) first" (Rambam, Hil. Ishus 1:1).

What is kiddushin?

It is kedushah ... separation.

It conveys that a Jew does not marry on instinct and impulse, after meeting a woman in the street. It suggests that a Jew's marriage is not analogous to the natural order followed by everything else on earth. A Jew's marriage is not just another example of mindless cause and effect, of the universal instinct to procreate.

Kiddushin is a separation from what comes naturally; it is a pause button.

A woman is indeed your wife after kiddushin, but a wife who is prohibited to you. You must relate to her in a different way. She is a vehicle through which you will be marbeh kevod Shamayim. She is kadosh, sanctified.

Indeed, all the mitzvos convey that Klal Yisrael rises above the natural order, but perhaps none more than the process of kiddushin and chuppah, which suggests that even marriage, that which seems so instinctual ... is in fact so much more. And so we thank Hashem, Who "sanctifies us through chuppah and kiddushin."

Day 10 - Yosef HaTzaddik - Doing What Comes Unnaturally

Any discussion concerning shmiras einayim and kedushah must certainly feature Yosef HaTzaddik, whose nisayon is highlighted in the Torah as an example of kedushah par excellence. We will elaborate on his experience later. But in the present context, let us focus on one small detail of that episode.

The pasuk in Tehillim tells us that at Kriyas Yam Suf, “the Sea saw and fled." It seems that the Sea would not split until it saw something. The Midrash explains: What did it see? It saw Yosef’s coffin. Just as Yosef ran away from Potiphar’s wife, so too, the Sea split.

Here’s one explanation ... in light of what we have seen.

The very opposite of nature, that which defies nature, is called a “miracle.”

The Hebrew term for nature is teva; the Hebrew term for a miracle is neis.

The root term “teva” is used in relation to things that are fixed, stuck, and unchanging. It is related to being stuck in quicksand [טָבְעוּ בַּיָּם , see Rashi],and to a coin [ַ מַטבְּעֵ ], which is stamped and whose value is fixed.

The term “neis,” on the other hand, is related to fleeing [ וַיּנָסָ ]. It indicates fluidity, escaping from the fixed situation.

The term neis is also related to a nisayon, a test.

So let’s pull this all together.

Every person has a certain character, a behavior pattern, an instinct, built into his nature - in Hebrew, his “teva.” He is now faced with a nisayon. The nisayon is a test to see whether he can break his behavior pattern, whether he can flee from doing that which comes naturally, whether he can grow beyond "what comes naturally."

Yosef’s nisayon with Potiphar’s wife was not to be fathomed. We’ll get into the details much later. But he broke the natural teva of humans. He fled from that predictable behavior pattern, וַיָּנָס הַחוּצָה , and he fled outside.

The Sea, too, was asked to break its teva. Naturally, waters don’t split. It acquiesced to do so ( (הַיָּם רָאָה וַיָּנסֹ only when it saw the coffin of Yosef, who had overcome his own teva and withstood his nisayon.

If Yosef could separate from the nature machine, so would the Sea.

This is what so intrigued the young man from Haifa (see Day 7). It seemed so weird, so unnatural, to avoid what everyone else was drawn toward ... and this realization, that we can separate and elevate ourselves over the teva, is what triggered his journey to frumkeit.

Day 11 - I Just Want to Be Normal! - Being kadosh in the Real World

It’s time to climb down from the mountaintop and its rarified, thin air and get down to earth.

Like they say, let’s get real.

So kedushah is separating from nature and living above it. Sounds lovely, but what, in practical terms, is being demanded? Is the goal to live alone on a mountaintop, to even disdain this world?

I can imagine the reaction: “... because if that is what you want, then I might as well check out now!”

In fact, Ksav Sofer1 says just the opposite. If one tries to be kadosh by rejecting society and leading a monastic life away from all people, then he has missed the point entirely. He is in fact not kadosh at all! He cites a Midrash:

In the same manner that I (Hashem) am separated, so shall you be; just as I am Holy, so shall you be.

In some sense our kedushah is supposed to parallel Hashem’s. How so? Ksav Sofer explains: There is a daily prayer dedicated to Hashem’s holiness, the prayer we refer to as “Kedushah.”

In this tefillah we describe Hashem as being completely separated from this world ... three times so: Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Hashem Tzevakos.

But this phrase is followed by another phrase that con-veys just the opposite idea, that Hashem is intimately involved with this world: Melo kol ha’aretz kevodo - the whole earth is filled with His presence.

Hashem is involved with every aspect of this world. His hashgachah, attention, control, and concern pervade every detail of this world. Yet He is Kadosh.

This is the point of the Midrash.

Do not think that we are charged with a kedushah that demands separation from society. Not at all. Our kedushah is meant to parallel Hashem’s kedushah. He is involved in this world and yet above it. This is the kedushah we are instructed to emulate. To be involved with people, to be concerned with their welfare, in much the same way Hashem is, and yet to be above it, all the same.

By now, I guess you are completely confused.

On the one hand, you are relieved to hear that you are supposed to be normal, living among people. On the other hand, you are told to be kadosh and separated. How does this work?

Day 12 -

Elevation Through Separation -

Bringing Balance to the Bri’ah

Kedushah is that which brings harmony to Creation; it resolves the friction between the material and the spiritual.

We have to get just a bit mystical here and introduce two basic principles:

When Hashem created the world, He wished to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds. In other words, Hashem wished to sanctify a base, physical world.

There is a concept of nitzotzos hakedushah, sparks of holiness, that are scattered in this world, which the tzaddik “gathers.”

Let’s explain the second concept first. Simply, one would think that every thing in the world would seem to be good, bad, or in-between.

For example, let’s discuss food. There are some foods that are a mitzvah to eat (e.g., matzah on Pesach); others that are an aveirah to eat (nonkosher food); and everything else falls in between. A kosher slice of pizza, for instance, is not good or bad; it’s simply pizza.

But the sefarim say that this not quite true.

That slice of pizza will become either good or bad depending on why you eat it. If you eat pizza just because it’s there, then it reinforces your material being, and it actually makes you more base. It becomes bad. But if you eat it because you wish to derive energy from it to serve Hashem, then it becomes good. It becomes a vital part of your service of Hashem. It becomes holy. By doing this you have “captured” its spark of holiness, and ignited it so that it becomes enveloped in a flame of kedushah. You have brought sanctity into this world and fulfilled Hashem’s wish expressed in the first concept, to inhabit a physical and base world.

Our bodies are like that slice of pizza. When we refrain from doing an aveirah, when we use our body for holiness, to perform mitzvos, to help our fellow man, to foster a relationship with our spouse, we sanctify it. When we use our body, and this world as a whole, to serve Hashem, when we refrain from that which appeals to our animal instinct, we make it a dwelling place for Hashem.

We resolve the conflict - the tension between our guf, our body, and our neshamah - and we are at peace.

Kedushah begins with separation from the world of nature, but ends with sanctification, and the whole world becomes holy because of our actions.
It becomes a place where Hashem wishes to reside.

”By elevating myself above my base nature,

I am elevating nature as a whole; the entire world

then becomes more kadosh and a place for

the Shechinah to reside."

Day 13 - The Do’s and Don’t’s - The Sources of Shmiras Einayim

Following the model of the Chofetz Chaim as regards shmiras halashon, let us briefly outline the basic prohibition and offer guidelines that pertain
to shmiras einayim.

Firstly, as regards the prohibitions: The Torah writes: ,וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם do not stray after your mind and eyes after which you tend to stray, which means that there are certain areas that we are prohibited from exploring through our mind and eyes. Chazal understand this as referring to inyanei arayos, improper interactions between genders.

As Rabbeinu Yonah writes: “It is stated regarding looking at arayos, ‘Velo sosuru ...’ We are warned against looking at a married woman and other arayos lest this leads to our stumbling with them.”

Another related prohibition is: ,וְנִשְׁמַרְתָּ מִכֹּל דָּבָר רָע Guard yourself from all evil matters, which Chazal interpret as meaning that we must refrain from improper thoughts because they lead to nocturnal tumah.

There are also two other general prohibitions against performing actions that may lead to ervah: אִישׁ אִישׁ אֶל כָּל שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ לֹא תִקְרְבוּ לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָה , Each and every man shall not draw near to any relative to reveal her ervah; and כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לאֹ תַעשֲׂוּ , Do not act in the manner [of the inhabitants of] the Land of Egypt, where you [formerly] lived.

In addition to these, there is a prohibition stated by the navi prohibiting one from looking at an unmarried woman: בְּרִית כָּרַתִּי לְעֵינָי וּמָה אֶתְבּוֹנֵן עַל בְּתוּלָה , I made a covenant with my eye. Why would I contemplate a maiden?

Thus far we have spoken of prohibitions. The positive commandment of קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ , sanctify yourselves, requires that we separate ourselves from arayos, as noted in Rashi there.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that the commandment of אֶת ה’ אֱלקֶֹיך תִּירָא , Fear Hashem, your G-d, requires that we not wantonly disregard Hashem’s mitzvos
by taking the attitude that He is not watching.

Moreover, one who wantonly disregards any mitzvah is subject to an explicit curse, as the Torah writes: אָרוּר אֲשֶׁר לאֹ יָקִים אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזּאֹת לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם , Cursed shall be one who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them, which refers to a person who does not accept the Torah in its totality.

Day 14 - The Focal Point - It All Revolves Around Kedushas Einayim

There are a host of sources that demonstrate how critical shmiras einaiym is for succeeding in avodas Hashem. But perhaps we should first begin with a brief anecdote that demonstrates the extent to which our gedolim understood the importance of guarding their eyes.

Anyone observing the scene could not help but laugh.

Here was a stately old man, with his eyes tightly shut, surrounded by a gaggle of giggling children. They were directing the old man. “Make a right turn!” “No!” “Stop!” “Watch out for the pole!” The game continued until the man reached his destination. He smiled at the children and entered the house.

Who was this playful old man?

It was none other than the Chazon Ish!

This story was recounted by R’ Shimon Schwab. He explained that the Chazon Ish was once asked to attend a certain event, and he realized en route that he would have to pass a place where there were improper sights, so he asked these unsuspecting youngsters to play this game with him.

What a lesson in the importance of shmiras einayim!

Let us now enumerate but a few of the many sources that highlight the importance of shmiras einayim:

“Anyone who gazes at married women weakens his yetzer tov“ (Beis Yosef, Even HaEzer 21, citing Rabbeinu Yonah).

“Be very careful about improper thoughts and sights because they cause terrible damage to all spiritual pursuits” (Yaaros Devash 1:165).

“Just as Torah protects an individual from tumah, so (conversely) does tumah damage Torah and contaminate it. Anyone who stumbles in kedushah related issues weakens his Torah and dulls his mind” (Ha’amek Davar, Vayikra 18:30).

“Whatever you learn in the kollel by day you will lose on the commute back and forth unless you are careful where you look” (the Steipler Gaon to a young kollel man, cited in L’Shichno Tidrishu).

And on the positive side:

“Through overcoming his desires, one brings great Kiddush Hashem ... and thereby merits incredible siyata d’Shmaya in all matters, be it in studying Torah or improving one’s character, and even in matters pertaining to this world” (Karienah D’Igartah 15 [2]).

“One who is careful in inyanei kedushah merits to be a ‘king’ (Zohar) ... Since talmidei chachaim are referred to as ‘kings,’ this means that one who preserves his kedushah merits to disseminate Torah and kedushah to other Jews” (see Taharas HaKodesh, Maalas Notrei HaYesod 28).

In this vein, R’ Nosson Wachtfogel, Mashgiach of Beth Midrash Govoha in Lakewood, once related this to his students:

“I want to share something I have never told anyone. How did I, of all people, merit to become the Mashgiach of the yeshivah? I have nothing! Other people also wondered about this. Why did R’ Aharon choose me to be Mashgiach? There were many better candidates than myself. What did he see in me? Clearly, no great wisdom or insight! The secret is this: I merited this position because I guarded my eyes. No one knows about this. People know nothing, but I worked on guarding my eyes, and everything I merited was due to this. My rebbetzin’s students would come to our house every Shabbos and I had to speak to them at length. I never looked at them, and they never realized it (the Mashgiach demonstrated how he did this) ...’’ (Kuntres Leket Reshimos).

Day 15 -

For All the Wrong Reasons -

The Power of Ulterior Motives

Having defined kedushah and seen some of the basic sources regarding the obligation and importance of shmiras einayim, let’s proceed to some practical strategies.

One introductory thought:

There is nothing wrong with doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

In fact, one should train himself to do what is right by first doing so for ulterior motives.

Chazal say as much: “A person should always engage in Torah and mitzvos even for ulterior motives, and not for the sake of the mitzvah itself (shelo lishmah), since this will ultimately bring him to perform them altruistically (lishmah).”

We see this concept at work when Hashem instructs Yaakov to leave Lavan after remaining there for twenty years. Yaakov calls a meeting with his wives and gives them an elaborate justification as to why leaving makes sense. Over the course of seven pesukim he explains how their father tried to swindle him and withhold payment but Hashem was kind to him and he thrived all the same. At the end of this presentation he adds - almost as an afterthought - that Hashem has instructed him to leave.

Why did he not tell them straight from the start that Hashem ordered him to leave? The answer is that leaving one’s home is very difficult. Yaakov wished to minimize the nisayon by showing them how leaving is in their best interest in any case.

It goes without saying that this applies to prohibitions even more so. A person should harness whatever shelo lishmah consideration is available in order to prevent himself from doing an aveirah.

It would seem that this tactic was used by no less a personage than Yosef HaTzaddik. When faced with his nisayon, a test that serves for posterity as a model for overcoming desire, he first argues that performing the aveirah is simply not wise.

He refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances by telling her about how much her husband trusts him and how this trust resulted in his being custodian over the entire estate. He argues that this breach of trust is unjust and may jeopardize his job security. He then adds, almost as an afterthought, “and I will have sinned to Hashem.”

To fight the war for shmiras einayim consider beforehand all the negative emotions you will feel afterward, how you will feel demeaned and how unhappy you will be. Consider what someone will think of you if he suddenly walks in and sees you doing what you are doing.

Physically as well: Harness your bad middos, your laziness, as your friend. Go to a place where doing the aveirah will require effort on your part.

Anything, but anything, to maintain kedushah.

Day 16 - Of Men and Marshmallows - The Power of Distraction

We mentioned in passing yesterday that an effective strategy against the forces of tumah is simply distancing oneself from the place of the nisayon so that it takes effort to perform the aveirah.

In fact, leaving the area is not effective merely due to laziness but due to another consideration totally. Indeed, it may be the single most powerful means of exercising self-control.

This point emerged forcefully almost by accident, as a byproduct of a fascinating social experiment involving discipline and self-control.

Common sense dictates that someone who has better control of his impulses is more likely to live a successful life - but is this, in fact, true? This notion was put to the test in 1972 and the results were very conclusive. And they bear directly on our topic.

A researcher decided to examine the age at which a child begins to exercise willpower, so he submitted his four-year-old child and a group of his friends to an ingenious little test.

Each child was placed in a small room with a marshmallow or a sandwich cookie on a desk in front of him. An adult entered the room and told the child that he would return in 15 minutes. If the treat was still there when he came back, the child would get two treats. The researcher left, and the children’s conduct was secretly monitored.

Some failed to resist the temptation for even a minute. As soon as the adult left the room they ate the snack. Others held out a little longer - on the average, seven minutes - before succumbing. One little tyke licked the cream out of the sandwich cookie and put the two sides of the cookie back together in an attempt to trick the adult. But there was one group of children, about 30 percent of them, who successfully delayed gratification for the full 15 minutes.

Some ten years later, it occurred to the researcher to see how these children were faring. This led to a series of follow-up studies of these former preschool- ers over the course of several decades. It was discovered that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were significantly less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction, or obesity by the time they were in high school, compared with kids who gobbled the snack in less than a minute. The gratification-delayers also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT! They had more successful marriages and higher salaries on average.

Clearly, willpower and the capacity to delay self-gratification play an essential role in creating a successful life.

However, this finding is also quite discouraging in that it indicates that our future success in life is “locked in” at a young age.

This point was presented to the researcher and he disagreed with this conclusion. He maintained that despite his finding, he still believes that people can change. But they should study his experiment to learn how. “Look closely at those who resisted temptation and observe how they did so.”

So how did the mighty tykes manage to resist temptation? In a word, they distracted themselves.

Some turned around, others covered their eyes, yet others composed a little tune or kicked the desk. It turns out that these types of activities, these minor ploys to distract oneself from the nisayon) in this case, the treat(, is a remarkably effective method of self-control. [We will see later (Day 67) why this so effective.]

And these ploys can be taught and learned.

Day 17 - Broken Windows - The Power of One’s Environment

To understand why distancing oneself from a nisayon is so critical, we must appreciate the power of one’s environment.

At one time New York City was known as a dark and dangerous place. Large sections of the city were known to be unsafe. The subways were grimy with graffiti and filth, muggings and felonies were common, and crime was increasing at an alarming rate.

Then the city elected a new mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, and he, together with his Chief of Police, William Bratton, restored the city to normalcy. Crimes rates dropped drastically and the city’s image gradually improved.

How did they accomplish this? By implementing a policy based on the Broken Windows theory. This theory asserts that crime does not normally occur in a vacuum. It requires a certain environment to fester. A clean, tree-lined suburb is an unlikely place to become a home for criminal activity. Felonies are generated by an atmosphere of “Broken Windows” - filth, neglect, and petty misdemeanors. This type of environment leads to more serious crimes. In a word: A disorderly city is a dangerous city. As Mr. Giuliani told the press in 1998, “Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.”

So Mr. Giuliani cleaned up the city. He painted over the graffiti, kept the city streets clean, prosecuted misdemeanors such as loitering and turnstile jumping ...and sure enough, the major felonies decreased in turn. By taking a hard line on quality-of-life violations, he prevented the occurrence of more serious crime.

This idea - that actions are the direct product of the environment - is really expressed in a well-known Midrash, cited by Rashi.

After Klal Yisrael had worshiped the Eigel HaZahav, Moshe Rabbeinu tried to minimize their transgression by saying to Hashem, “You brought it about. You showered them with gold and anything else they wanted. If a king fills his son with food and drink, dresses him with the finest clothing, hangs perfume around his neck, and then sits him at the doorstep of a house of ill repute - מה יעשה הבן שלא יחאט - what can the son do to avoid sinning?”

Essentially, Moshe was saying that although Klal Yisrael committed a heinous crime, there were mitigating circumstances that should be taken into account. They had suddenly been showered with enormous wealth and unearned opulence. This bounty innately predisposes one to sin and generates decadence. Had Klal Yisrael themselves created that environment, they of course would be wholly responsible, but they did not. Since Hashem had showered them with this wealth, they cannot be fully blamed.

All this relates directly to our discussion as well.

Of course, a breach in kedushas einayim can occur at any time, just as crime can occur in the most pristine environment. But like crime, a breach in kedushas einayim is usually generated by a certain atmosphere. There is a toxic environment that invites a breach in shmiras einayim.

If we create, or even allow, this environment to exist in our own lives, the transgression will almost surely ensue - and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for failing to regulate our environment.

Day 18 - The Willpower Muscle - The Science of Shmirah

We have seen that one’s environment tends to generate certain behaviors. But it certainly does not determine them.

So the skeptic may ask, “Why should I distance myself? Why can’t people just decide what is right and stick to it! Who cares what the environment is? This is the real world. Everyone has to learn to control themselves.”

This is the stated or understood argument of anyone who fails to filter his devices. Some people even go so far as to apply this argument to their children as well.

“My son is supposedly learning a good portion of the day. Let him control himself!”

This argument is based on a misconception. We don’t typically think about willpower and motivation as a finite resource that is impacted by all of the things we do throughout the day — but it seems that’s exactly how it works. Willpower eventually “runs out,” like a muscle that gets tired at the end of a workout. If you use your “willpower” too much, it becomes depleted. Whenever one is in the place of a nisayon, the only means of escaping the aveirah is by drawing on your willpower. And when it runs out you will succumb to the ta’avos, the enticements, that are lurking in your environment.

Roy Baumeister, the noted social scientist, did the following experiment. He brought subjects into a room filled with the aroma of fresh-baked cookies. The table before them held a plate of the cookies and a bowl of radishes. Some people were asked to sample the cookies, while others were asked to eat the radishes. Afterward, they were given 30 minutes to complete a difficult geometric puzzle. Baumeister and his team found that people who ate the radishes — and therefore resisted the enticing cookies — gave up on the puzzle after about eight minutes, while the lucky cookie-eaters persevered for nearly 19 minutes, on average. Drawing on willpower to resist the cookies, it seemed, drained the subjects’ self-control for subsequent situations.

Common experience also verifies this idea. Picture a student cramming for a test, completely focused on studying. He will eat whatever is around, he may start smoking, and when he gets desperate, may not even change his clothes. There is only so much willpower to go around and when it is all used up on studying, everything else is ignored.

When you are in an unhealthy environment you are constantly taxing your willpower to overcome the nisyonos and eventually, you’ll run out of gas. That is why people find evenings so much more difficult to control their impulses. After a long day of using your energy on a host of things, you may feel drained, stressed, or overwhelmed. It is difficult to call upon the energy to fight the behavior generated by your environment.

This was the trick the “winners” in the marshmallow test understood instinctively. They did not fight their desire to eat the nosh; they avoided it by distracting themselves.

Several years back there was a national anti-drug campaign whose slogan was “Just Say No!” The slogan was dead wrong. And it is not the way to be successful in delaying gratification. It should have been, “Just walk away, leave!”

To change behavior, change the environment.

Day 19 - Toxic Environments - External and Internal

So which environment generates a laxity in kedushah?

This issue can be divided into two categories, the external condition and the internal one.

The external condition - aside from the obvious, such as being in a place where people are not dressed properly or where access to improper images is a click away - is being alone. When one is with friends, he realizes he is being watched and is unlikely to transgress.

When Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was on his deathbed, his disciples entered and asked for a blessing. He responded, “May it be that your fear of Heaven be like your fear of people.” They responded, “Is that all?” He countered, “Halevai! For whenever a person sins he says, ‘I pray that no one saw me!’ ”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was the preeminent leader of his generation at the time of the Churban. The Gemara tells us that he understood the language of angels and demons - but evidently he also understood what makes people tick. The embarrassment one feels when he is caught doing an aveirah is a powerful impediment against sinning. If only we would be as embarrassed in front of Hashem.

In this vein, Chazal prohibited yichud; one is allowed to be with a member of the opposite gender only in the presence of other people. It can be argued that this same prohibition should be applied to anyone using the Internet. By partnering with someone who monitors your computer, you are not alone. Your “buddy” is watching your actions.

The internal condition that leads to a breach in kedushah is atzvus, depression. We are not talking about “clinical” depression, where one cannot pull himself out of bed; rather, we mean the “blues” or just boredom. One who lacks joie de vivre, the simple joy of being alive, is vulnerable to compensate for this with the thrill of looking where he should not. Of course, the thrill is fleeting and he will be left more depressed than he had been - but for those few moments life is exciting. If you are experiencing these negative emotions, be on guard. And of course try to find a productive and engaging activity. Tomorrow we will discuss a general plan to pull oneself out of the “blues.”

"I will pay attention to my internal environment - my mood - and be even more vigilant not to trust myself to be alone where a nisayon exists when I am feeling down."

Day 20 - Choosing Happiness - It’s Up to You

Yesterday we mentioned that the internal condition, the mindset, that makes one vulnerable to tumah is yiush and atzvus (hopelessness and depression). Falling into this mode, even minimally, is extremely dangerous. Let’s take a minute to understand why.

Three factors combine to create this witches’ brew of vulnerability:

A depressed person seeks an escape from his agonizing situation - or to be more precise - from his agonizing mindset and thought patterns. By indulging in the exciting thoughts and sights of tumah his depression is momentarily forgotten. Of course, as soon as he is done, the guilt adds to his depression to make him exponentially more despondent. But for the moment, he experiences some gratification. He is like the person who is depressed about being overweight, who binges because he is depressed about his weight, which of course only aggravates the problem.

Even under normal conditions, it takes large reserves of energy and willpower to overcome ta'avah. A depressed person simply lacks the energy needed to put up a good fight.

There is nothing that assures defeat more than the belief you cannot win. If you think you’re a loser, you’ll lose. A depressed person generally has a defeatist attitude and this itself guarantees his failing.

It is therefore absolutely critical that we remain upbeat at all times. If you see the bad mood or negative thoughts coming, take steps to boost your mood as soon as possible. Granted, this is easier said than done, but here are some tools and general guidelines. [We are referring here only to mild depression or “the blues.” It is critical that a seriously depressed person go for professional help.]

The Steipler Gaon writes that he deals with mildly depressed people by telling them that their agony is passing, and it will not remain forever. Depression is alleviated when a person can hope and look forward to its passing.

Everyone has problems. At some point every person suffers from something, be it poverty, neighbors, family, children, health etc. Suffering is normal. If a depressed person realizes that he is not alone in suffering it takes the edge off the suffering, as the saying goes, “the suffering of many is itself a partial consolation.”

Exercise. Physical exercise releases endorphins that make a person happy. After running, for example, people describe a euphoria known as “runner’s high.” Exercise creates a positive and energizing outlook on life. Of course, when you’re depressed you’re unlikely to exercise, so the trick is to start before you are in the throes of despair.

But it is really deeper than all this. The “happiness” or “sadness” factor in most events is subject to interpretation. We superimpose upon the events of our lives a subjective interpretation. A happy person focuses on the positive and interprets these events to conform to his perspective. He, as they say, “counts his blessings.” As such, his life is, in fact, a happy life. A depressed person focuses on the negative and his life is, in fact, depressing. His problem, then, is not “out there,” it is “in here,” in his interpretation of the events and what he chooses to focus on. A depressed person must learn to reorient his thinking and learn how to be happy. How can he learn to do so? By associating with people whom he identifies as being happy. By keeping their company and understanding how they think, he can absorb, both consciously and by osmosis, the proper and healthy way of interpreting events.

Let’s face it.

We are instructed to serve Hashem with happiness, which must mean that we have the capacity to determine our state of mind. We can choose happiness. While we cannot control our emotions directly, we must realize that our emotions are generated by our thoughts. We can choose what to think about. If we learn to think correctly, to focus on the good, then we can learn to feel positive and happy.

Day 20 - Choosing Happiness - It’s Up to You

Yesterday we mentioned that the internal condition, the mindset, that makes one vulnerable to tumah is yiush and atzvus (hopelessness and depression). Falling into this mode, even minimally, is extremely dangerous. Let’s take a minute to understand why.

Three factors combine to create this witches’ brew of vulnerability:

A depressed person seeks an escape from his agonizing situation - or to be more precise - from his agonizing mindset and thought patterns. By indulging in the exciting thoughts and sights of tumah his depression is momentarily forgotten. Of course, as soon as he is done, the guilt adds to his depression to make him exponentially more despondent. But for the moment, he experiences some gratification. He is like the person who is depressed about being overweight, who binges because he is depressed about his weight, which of course only aggravates the problem.

Even under normal conditions, it takes large reserves of energy and willpower to overcome ta'avah. A depressed person simply lacks the energy needed to put up a good fight.

There is nothing that assures defeat more than the belief you cannot win. If you think you’re a loser, you’ll lose. A depressed person generally has a defeatist attitude and this itself guarantees his failing.

It is therefore absolutely critical that we remain upbeat at all times. If you see the bad mood or negative thoughts coming, take steps to boost your mood as soon as possible. Granted, this is easier said than done, but here are some tools and general guidelines. [We are referring here only to mild depression or “the blues.” It is critical that a seriously depressed person go for professional help.]

The Steipler Gaon writes that he deals with mildly depressed people by telling them that their agony is passing, and it will not remain forever. Depression is alleviated when a person can hope and look forward to its passing.

Everyone has problems. At some point every person suffers from something, be it poverty, neighbors, family, children, health etc. Suffering is normal. If a depressed person realizes that he is not alone in suffering it takes the edge off the suffering, as the saying goes, “the suffering of many is itself a partial consolation.”

Exercise. Physical exercise releases endorphins that make a person happy. After running, for example, people describe a euphoria known as “runner’s high.” Exercise creates a positive and energizing outlook on life. Of course, when you’re depressed you’re unlikely to exercise, so the trick is to start before you are in the throes of despair.

But it is really deeper than all this. The “happiness” or “sadness” factor in most events is subject to interpretation. We superimpose upon the events of our lives a subjective interpretation. A happy person focuses on the positive and interprets these events to conform to his perspective. He, as they say, “counts his blessings.” As such, his life is, in fact, a happy life. A depressed person focuses on the negative and his life is, in fact, depressing. His problem, then, is not “out there,” it is “in here,” in his interpretation of the events and what he chooses to focus on. A depressed person must learn to reorient his thinking and learn how to be happy. How can he learn to do so? By associating with people whom he identifies as being happy. By keeping their company and understanding how they think, he can absorb, both consciously and by osmosis, the proper and healthy way of interpreting events.

Let’s face it.

We are instructed to serve Hashem with happiness, which must mean that we have the capacity to determine our state of mind. We can choose happiness. While we cannot control our emotions directly, we must realize that our emotions are generated by our thoughts. We can choose what to think about. If we learn to think correctly, to focus on the good, then we can learn to feel positive and happy.

Day 21 - “Bittersweet” - Climbing Out of Depression

The Tanya suggests a fascinating way to turn negative emotions into a positive force.

He notes that there are two types of negative emotions, depression (atzvus) and bitterness (merirus). They seem, at first, closely related but are, in fact, miles apart.

Suppose a man decides to open a store. He puts up his savings, gathers investors, and expends immense time and effort to get the venture underway. The expenses - renting the facility, buying inventory, and advertising - are considerable. Opening day arrives and a few curious passersby walk in but show no real interest in his merchandise. Day after day, he waits in the store with debts rising and the inventory just sitting there.

How does he react?

He becomes bitter and depressed. Right?

Wrong, says the Tanya. He can become either bitter or depressed.

The essential difference is this: While both emotions are negative, bitterness is associated with life, whereas depression is associated with death.

A depressed person turns the negative emotion inward. He thinks, “I am just a loser. Whatever I touch turns bad. There’s no hope.” He sits around and mopes. Eventually he stops showing up at the store and stays in bed. He loses all energy and is dead to the world.

A bitter person, on the other hand, turns the negative emotions outward. He uses his negative emotions as a motivator. “I am upset about the situation and I am going to change it. I am doing something wrong! I am going to identify and correct it.” His bitterness motivates him to action and change. His energy level
increases and he becomes more alive.

The trick then is to turn depression into bitterness.

Let’s say you fell off the wagon - the yetzer hara got the best of you and you stumbled. Don’t get depressed. Don’t allow yourself to think, “I am such a loser.” Pull yourself up, get into the driver’s seat and create more safeguards and positive behaviors to keep yourself moving. Say to yourself, “I am not putting up with this anymore! I am not allowing myself to live a life I am not proud of. I refuse to go through life without doing what I know is right. I am going to do something to prevent this from happening again!”

Your negative feeling that was feeding the deadness of depression can be transformed into a source of action, life, and the energy to change.

Day 22 - Outsmarting the Old One - Preparation Is Key

Chazal tell us that a person does not sin unless he is overcome by a spirit of foolishness. At the time of a nisayon, our rational selves go into “sleep mode” and we can do things that in hindsight we know are both bad and self-destructive. Preparation is therefore key to recognizing the faulty thought patterns generated by one’s yetzer hara. One very effective strategy of doing so is “role playing.”

Role-playing is a method of training in which people rehearse a scenario they will later face. It is used in situations when one wishes to avoid “on-the-job training” because of the risks involved. Instead, one uses a dress rehearsal to practice and train for the event. For example, the army prepares through the use of War Games, where soldiers simulate an actual war. [They cannot train on the job because it’s pretty much too late.] The army also uses technological simulations to prepare soldiers and pilots how to react under certain circumstances Role playing is used in sales training as well. A designated person acts as a recalcitrant potential customer and an agent practices making the sale.

Let’s use this means to prepare a response to nisyonos, because when faced with an actual test there is no time to collect one’s thoughts; even a moment’s hesitation will be exploited by the yetzer hara. By role-playing the yetzer hara )YH( and talking in his voice, we can familiarize ourselves with his “arguments” and prepare an inventory of swift and immediate responses to counter the yetzer hara’s justifications.

YH: I am under so much stress. I need an outlet. I am entitled to a little “chill” time. Hashem cannot be upset with me about this.

Response: I am doing this because I choose to do so - there is no other reason. I am responsible for my actions. I am just using this as an excuse.

YH: I have done this so many times; one more cannot make a big difference.

Response: Sounds good, but this same reasoning will always be there. If I agree with this argument, I’m basically saying that I will never stop.

YH: I know that I won’t be able to stop forever anyway. I’m eventually going to mess up and break my streak and it will all be worthless, so I may as well throw in the towel right now.

Response: I don’t have to stop forever. All I have to do is win today. How hard can that be? Even the worst drunk can stay sober for one day! I’ll deal with tomorrow tomorrow.

YH: I will take a peek just enough to satisfy my curiosity, and I will be able to control myself before things get out of hand.

Response: Really?! I know from experience that my real bechirah is only before I begin - once I start, it’s all over. Last time I told myself this, it was a complete failure. I simply cannot take the chance.

YH: I am not addicted and I am definitely planning to stop, but not yet. After this time I will really stop. Promise.

Response: How many times have I said this in the past? With this reasoning, I will always have a reason not to stop. Besides, if I’m stopping anyway, I may as well let it be now.

YH: I’ve been good for a week or more - so if I slip a bit now, it’s not all that bad.

Response: Why should I reward myself with something bad, with something that will set me back. I worked hard, too hard, to get here. I’ll find something else to interest me. The longer I maintain kedushah the easier it gets, so why make life harder after all the work I already invested.

YH: What I look at is not that bad. I know people who do much worse!
(I myself have done much worse!)

Response: Everyone who descends into real tumah begins with something more benign, thinking that he can control it. I myself have seen that by breaking fences I proceeded to much worse aveiros.

Day 23 - The Doctor Knows Best - Barasi Torah Tavlin

In 1977, a seven-year-old boy, Joey Hofbauer, developed a lump in his neck and was diagnosed as suffering from Hodgkin's disease. His prognosis was excellent, with a 95-percent chance of complete remission according to expert oncologists. But his parents decided that there must be a more "natural" way to cure their son than toxic chemotherapy and radiation. They refused standard treatment and opted to "treat" their child with something called "laetrile," a supposed cancer cure extracted from apricot pits. The state of New York tried to take custody of Joey but lost the case because the parents found a "doctor" who agreed to administer laetrile, and who added other completely irrelevant ingredients as well.

Unfortunately, the boy died three years later at the age of ten.

The point of this tale of woe?

It is a variation on the Mesillas Yesharim's mashal as to how one should deal with his yetzer hara. He writes as follows:

Chazal state expressly, "I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as the antidote." This much then should be obvious. If the Creator created nothing but this therapy to treat this problem, then using this therapy is the only possible way to solve this problem. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional ... The yetzer hara is very strong, and without one's awareness becomes increasingly powerful and takes control. One can try anything in the world; if he fails to take the therapy that Hashem created, namely the Torah, nothing will work. He will not even realize how sick he has become until he dies with all his sins and loses his neshamah. This is like a sick person who goes to a doctor, is diagnosed, and is prescribed a certain medicine. Then, without any medical knowledge, this individual decides not to take that medicine but chooses instead to take some other medicine that he dreams up. He will most certainly die. So too here. No one knows more about the yetzer hara malady and its power than the Creator; He created it. And He Himself informed us that the antidote is the Torah. Anyone who decides not to use that therapy and tries something else instead, undoubtedly allows the blackness of his physical being to overtake him. He will not know what happened until he is completely mired in evil and very distant from reality, to the degree that he will not even think about coming back to the truth.

But, by involving oneself in Torah, and learning its ways, commandments and restrictions, he will ultimately be moved to return to the proper path. As Chazal teach, "If only they would leave Me, but still guard My Torah, its light would return them to good.

How the Torah cures us from the yetzer hara will be discussed later. But this much is clear. If we are to take control of our yetzer hara, it is all about Torah, Torah, Torah.

Day 24 - The Antidote - The Magic of Torah

Yesterday we read the Mesillas Yesharim that emphasizes that Torah is the true antidote to the yetzer hara.

Before examining how this operates, let’s see a small sample of the many sources that expand this concept:

R’ Yishmael teaches: My son! If you are confronted by this foul thing (the yetzer hara) drag him to the beis midrash. If he is like stone he will dissolve; if he is like metal he will burst.

“Much study wears out the flesh.” If you wear yourself out [studying] their words, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will remove the yetzer hara from you.

The Rambam, after mentioning several ideas that help one guard himself from arayos, concludes:

But more than all these is that which [Chazal] say, a person should turn himself and his thoughts to Torah. He should expand his mind with wisdom because thoughts of arayos gain power only over one whose mind is void of wisdom. And it is written regarding wisdom, “... you will always be intoxicated with her love.”

How does this work? What is it about Torah that so powerfully purges the yetzer hara from within a person and provides such protection against it reinfiltrating? The commentators offer several explanations, and these reasons are not at all mutually exclusive. Torah operates as an antidote against the yetzer hara through all the following means. We will present a brief outline of the various explanations:

Distraction is in general the most effective means of avoiding tumah. But since it is very difficult for one to draw oneself away from that to which he is so naturally inclined, he must occupy his mind with something else - by immersing himself completely in Torah study (Karienah D’Igartah).

The kedushah of Torah repels tumah. Arayos is a most powerful force drawing one to the carnal tumos of the material world. Torah study, on the other hand, as the greatest of all mitzvos, is sourced in the highest of all spiritual worlds and thus elevates the person to a place where the attractions of tumah become meaningless - just like a child’s toys hold no attraction to an adult (Birkas Avraham).

The Mishnah in Avos suggests that the age to begin Gemara analysis is fifteen. At this age, one’s physical drives become more intense and they have to be undermined through Torah study, which requires vast stores of mental energy.

Maharal notes that only men, and not women, are obligated to study Torah. Maharal explains: Women have a tendency toward serenity, a mindset that predisposes them to the serenity of Olam Haba. Men, on the other hand, have a natural inclination toward conquest, which is incompatible with the serenity of Olam Haba. They need to toil to achieve Olam Haba, and they achieve this by directing this tendency toward conquest of Torah study. Without Torah study, this same mindset leads them toward arayos.

This gives us some insight into the power of Torah to repel tumah.

Day 25 - You Are What You See - Z’nus Ha’ayin

Let’s elaborate upon our eyes:

Eyes are referred to as the “windows to the soul.” We intuitively feel that we see a person’s essence, what he is truly made of, by looking in his eyes.

They convey warmth, anger, frustration, and consternation, and a myriad of other emotions with the most subtle nuances. Hence, when a person refuses to make eye contact, we perceive him as dishonest and shifty. He appears to be hiding something.

Likewise, a person who feels inadequate will look away from a person whom he finds intimidating. A child “caught in the act” will look away from the accuser. He feels unworthy of making eye contact, as if he will be “exposed.”

Making eye contact is essential for bonding. Babies smile when we “catch their eye.”

When people agree with one another, when they are true soul-mates, we say that they see “eye to eye.”

Most people intuitively feel that their “self,” or “soul,” is found in their eyes. In 2012, a study was done by Yale University psychologists. The researchers tested both preschoolers’ and adults’ intuitions about where the “self” was located in the body. They showed the participants pictures of cartoon characters, and in each picture a small object )e.g., a buzzing fly or snowflake( was positioned near a different section of the character’s body, but always at the same distance. They were then asked in which picture was the object closest to the person. The vast majority of the four-year-olds and adults in the study thought the object was closest to the character when it was near his eyes. This was true even when the cartoon character was a green-skinned alien whose eyes were on its chest rather than in its head. The researcher concluded: “Since these judgments are shared by adults and preschoolers, these results do not reflect a culturally learned understanding ... but an intuition of where in his body the ‘person’ resides.”

In fact, Chazal tell us that our souls bond with what we see. Here are several examples of this concept:

At the end of Chumash Bereishis, Yaakov asks Yosef to bring Ephraim and Menashe because he wishes to bless them. The pasuk tells us, Bereishis 48:10, And the eyes of Yisrael were heavy with age, he could not see: so he [Yaakov] brought them near him and he hugged them and kissed them. The Sforno asks: What is the connection between the loss of Yaakov’s sight and the fact that he brought Menashe and Ephraim close to him? He explains that when one wishes to bless another he needs to first create a connection of the souls. Then and only then will the blessing have its intended effect. The most effective way of achieving this connection is through sight. Since Yaakov could not see his grandchildren, he had to bond with them by other means, so he drew them close and hugged them in order to create the attachment.

Seemingly, the same applies to Yitzchak, who was also blind when he blessed Yaakov. He asked for food in order to bond with the recipient of his blessing, so that my soul should bless you. Yitzchak wished to bond with the recipient of the blessing by eating his food. Had he not been blind, food would not have been needed.

This insight, that our soul connects to that which it sees through “the windows of our eyes,” gives us a deeper appreciation for the following words of Chazal: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: One who commits adultery with his body is called an adulterer; but even one who commits adultery with his eyes is referred to as an adulterer, as it is written: “And the philandering eye awaits evening.”

In the same vein Maharal writes:

The Gemara teaches: R’ Acha the son of Yoshiyah says: Anyone who gazes at women will ultimately come to sin; and one who stares at even the heel of a woman will have unworthy children because seeing is a connection to women, and seeing is therefore the beginning of z’nus.

Just as actual z’nus occurs where one connects physically with one who is forbidden to him, visual z’nus is when he gazes at that which he may not and thereby connects with it.

Day 26 - Ayin Tovah - Seeing the Good in Others

We spoke yesterday about how our neshamah connects to the outside world through the power of our eyes. They are the windows into the neshamah and the windows out.

R' Chaim Shmulevitz brings yet another proof of this concept. He cites a Midrash that states that when the generation of those who lived in the Midbar saw the produce of Eretz Yisrael that was brought to them in the Wilderness by local merchants, they died immediately. Why? Because Hashem had decreed that they may not enter Eretz Yisrael - and seeing the detached fruit was considered as if they had entered the Land, so they perished as soon as they saw it. Merely seeing Eretz Yisrael, and even just its produce, contravened Hashem's promise that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael.

R' Chaim, however, points out that this same idea, that we connect to what we see, provides a powerful silver lining, for seeing greatness has an equally positive impact. R' Yehudah HaNasi )also known as Rabbeinu HaKadosh( would say that he was greater than his colleagues because he had seen R' Meir, albeit only from the back. Yerushalmi relates similarly that

R' Yochanan and Reish Lakish say that they merited to understand Torah only because they once saw R' Yehudah HaNasi's finger.

Accordingly, R' Chaim suggests that if one wishes to undo the damage he has done by looking at improper things, he should endeavor to look at people who are kadosh, and he will thereby acquire kedushah.

The eye's power to connect has yet another powerful ramification.

One of the Rishonim, R' Menachem Recanati, writes as follows:

Know that the eye has the power to influence things both to the good and to the bad. Therefore an "ayin hara" can cause damage ... Similarly, if a tzaddik curses or even looks with an ayin hara, another tzaddik must come to do the opposite ... Therefore Hashem warned Klal Yisrael not to even look at idols because doing so feeds the yetzer hara, from which it draws nourishment ...

The polar opposite of an ayin hara, an evil eye, is an ayin tovah, a good eye. One of Hashem's middos is that He has an ayin tovah for Klal Yisrael, and in some sense, does not "see" the evil of Klal Yisrael as the verse states [Hashem] does not look at evil in Yaakov, and has seen no perver- sity in Israel. Hashem sees the neshamos of Jews and knows that they are overwhelmingly good and that their aveiros are external to their essence.

R' Tzvi Meyer Zilberberg shlita notes that we are all instructed to follow in Hashem's ways and adopt this middah as well. We should see only that which is good in others because, in fact, even with aveiros, a Jew is overwhelmingly good. He adds that those of us who cannot see this, have sullied their eyes.

R Tzvi Meyer adds: It is only pure and untainted eyes, those that reflect the middos of Hashem, that can see the world as Hashem sees it, and focus on all that is good within another person.

Day 27 - Appreciating Your Eyes - Using Them Correctly

These are among the many verses in Tanach that convey this most obvious point - that anyone who thinks about the wonders of the Universe knows intuitively that there is a Creator. As R’ Akiva states in the Midrash: “My son, just as a house is a testament to its builder, a garment to its weaver, and a door to the carpenter, so too the entire Universe is a testament to its Creator, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.” There is no need for detailed reasoning and intricate arguments, just honest intuition. When you see a building, you know there was a builder, and when you see the Universe, you know there is a Creator.

This is true for almost anything one chooses to focus on in the entire creation, but it certainly applies when we contemplate the wonders of our own body; as Iyov said, From my own flesh I see Hashem. And perhaps, from among all our limbs, the eyes provide the greatest testament to Hashem’s creative powers, as we say in Tehillim: Will He Who forms the eye, not see? If Hashem has created the wonders of sight, He certainly observes our actions.

In fact, the founder of the theory of evolution himself wrote: “Organs of extreme Perfection and Complication: To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” Of course, he goes on to say with unwavering belief in his theory that he is confident that compatibility will eventually be found, but even he realized how absurd his theory appears faced by the wonders of the human eye.

He was wrong, however, even about the question becoming more answerable over time. Quite the contrary has occurred. Recently, a biochemist, Michael Behe, has shown that even a “simple” light-sensitive spot requires a dazzling array of bio-chemicals that just “happen” to be in the right place and time to function. Without getting involved in the details of his argument, he demonstrates that for the eye to function, a photon of light must trigger a chemical to become a specific protein, which in turn triggers another chemical reaction, which triggers a third etc., and this happens five times over until the type of protein ultimately produced is one that the brain is pre-programmed to interpret as light. Each of these changes has no independent value except for the fact that it leads to the following step, which eventually, after a series of reactions, becomes something that is meaningful. Unless all five steps exist and are arranged in a specific sequence, we would all be in the dark. Clearly some Being, a Grand Designer, knew the entire system beforehand and designed it.

To take this gift from Hashem, the gift of sight, a gift that so clearly demonstrates Hashem’s existence, and use it for things that Hashem prohibits, is the greatest possible sign of ingratitude.

Day 28 - Lichvodi Berasiv - Discerning Hashem in Creation

Hashem's glory is abundantly obvious both through His Torah and through His Creation, as Dovid HaMelech says:

The heavens recite the glory of G-d, and the sky tells of the work of His hands ... The law of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is faithful, making the simple one wise. The orders of Hashem are upright, causing the heart to rejoice; the commandment of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes.

The fact is, however, that often we are inspired by neither. Why not?

R' Mordecai Gifter would explain by citing the following mashal of his rebbi, Rav Mottel Pogramansky:

A group of tourists once visited the Louvre and crowded around the famous painting, the "Mona Lisa." All around people were gazing at the painting in awe. But one slovenly fellow walked in and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. "I don't see anything so special. Some lady? Big deal!" The tour guide quietly walked over to the fellow and removed the fellow's glasses. He took out a tissue, cleaned the glasses, and placed them back on his nose. "Look again" he instructed the fellow. He watched with satisfaction as a wide smile slowly spread across the fellow's face.

Of course, Hashem's power is abundantly evident in every segment of Creation, and certainly in every part of His Torah. If we miss it, it must be that our "glasses are smudged." Tumah is obstructing our vision and interfering with the awe that should naturally wash over anyone observing His Universe or Torah.

This brings to mind another story told about the Louvre and the Mona Lisa. A tour guide was once taking a group of visitors around the museum; included among this group was an unsophisticated country bumpkin. The guide led the group to the Mona Lisa, which elicited gasps of awe expected of those who encounter the masterpiece for the first time.

The country bumpkin, however, was quite obviously unimpressed. "Why couldn't Da Vinci just decide if she was smiling or not?" The guide tried to give the fellow a quick art appreciation lesson but it was to no avail. He kept up his rant throughout the entire time at the museum. "My grandkids draw nicer than these pictures!"

In exasperation the guide turned to the fellow and said, "Listen sir. Millions of people have been through the Louvre, including the world's greatest artists and richest collectors. They have analyzed and examined every detail of these masterpieces. When you visit the Louvre, the paintings are not on trial; you are on trial. If you fail to see the beauty, then the deficiency is in you. The Louvre is not on trial."

Hashem's hand is abundantly clear in every facet of Torah and Creation. It is not on trial. If we fail to recognize it then we must conclude that we have sullied our vision with tumah and we must repair it.

Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah.

Day 29 - What You See Is NOT What You Get - Materialism

When Yaakov Avinu blessed Yosef HaTzaddik, he praised him for refraining from looking at the Egyptian girls who stood atop the walls vying for his attention. And because he did so he was rewarded with his own passage in the Torah.

The famed maggid, R’ Sholom Shwadron, asks: Why was this seemingly insignificant nisayon so celebrated by Yaakov and deserving of such reward, whereas the greater nisayon involving Potiphar’s wife was not mentioned and seemingly was not rewarded to this extent? Wasn’t the latter a much greater nisayon?

A well-known Gemara tells of a particularly handsome individual with long flowing hair who appeared before Shimon HaTzaddik the Kohen Gadol, and asked him to offer his nazir offering. Shimon asked the man what had moved him to become a nazir - a process that at the beginning requires one to leave his hair untrimmed and wild, and culminates with an obligation to totally remove every hair. Why did he decide to undermine his natural beauty? The man answered that while leaning over to fill his bucket from a lake, he noticed his reflection in the water. He was surprised to see how handsome he was, and immediately felt waves of vanity wash over him. He resolved to stop this feeling in its tracks and declared, “Rasha! Why are you being conceited about a world that is not even yours, over a body that will be consumed by worms and maggots?!” and he declared himself a nazir. When Shimon heard his story, he kissed him on his head and said, “May there be many more nezirim like you!”

Why, asks R’ Sholom, was it not enough for the nazir to merely reinforce his resolve not to do what is prohibited? What precisely was gained by declaring himself a nazir? Also, what did he mean by speaking of “a world that was not his own”?

R’ Sholom answers with a story.

There was once a young man with a studious nature. He was scholastic and cerebral and not the practical, hands-on type. He married, realized that it was time to earn a living, and decided to go into business. He scraped together his life sayings, rented a storefront, purchased merchandise, announced his Grand Opening and ... nothing. Barely anyone showed up and the venture was a spectacular failure. After a year or so he decided to shut the business down for a month to reassess his business model and see how he could correct his mistakes. He decided to step up advertising, repaint the store, and change the displays. Toward the end of this month, he met an old friend and asked him for his advice.

The friend looked at him sadly and put his hand on his shoulder.

“Well if you’re asking me, I’ll tell you. You know me. I’m not one to beat around the bush. I tell it like it is. My friend, you are barking up the wrong tree. Displays, advertising, paint - all these are Band-Aids. Your problem is deeper. Not everyone is cut out for business. You should be doing something with your brain. Become a doctor, lawyer, accountant. Business is just not your thing.”

Says R’ Shwadron: The genius of the nazir was that he addressed the root cause. He decided to reinforce in his consciousness that this world is transient. Every last one of us will eventually die. This world is never ours. The World to Come, however, can be ours if we use this world for the service of Hashem.

The nazir was in effect telling himself, “How can I be conceited about something as fleeting as physical beauty? How can I view that as reality? It is nothing. Here today, gone tomorrow! [Or in a nazir’s case, ‘Hair today, gone tomorrow.’]” He addressed the root cause of defiled eyes. Tumah is a celebration of everything physical. By becoming a nazir he dismissed this misconception.

Of course, in the moment, Yosef’s nisayon with Potiphar’s wife was the greater test. At that time, Yosef’s response was, as it should be, “No No! This is not allowed!” But the consistent conduct that he reinforced every time he left the palace, by looking down and refusing to acknowledge the distractions on the walls, was a statement that this world is nothing.

As the Gemara states: “Alei Ayin: These eyes that refused the nourishment and enjoyment from that which did not belong to them, will merit to be filled) in Olam Haba( with all that they can see.”

Day 30 - The Emerald City - Seeing What Is There

The Gemara in Makkos expounds the verse in Yeshayah, One who closes his eyes from seeing evil, as referring to one who carefully guards his eyes from improper sights. The reward for doing so is mentioned in the following verse: He shall dwell on high.

Commenting on this Gemara, the Taharas HaKodesh writes:

He will not reside in the Future among common men, but instead will inhabit the loftiest Heavens together with the righteous and holy men upon whom the entire world rests.

Taharas HaKodesh then adds:

The next verse states: "Rocky fortresses shall be his fortress," which the Targum renders: בית מקדשא תסבע נפשיה , "His nefesh will be satiated with the Beis HaMikdash." Apparently, not everyone will merit to see the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash. Only one who guards his eyes will. But not only will he see it; his soul itself will feel its radiating kedushah.

Let's make this real.

Mashiach has arrived and it is time to be oleh regel, to go up to the Beis HaMikdash for Yom Tov and bring the necessary offering. So you walk down the block to the neighbor who owns a 15-passenger van. Most of his children have already married and moved away so he has seats available. You ask if you can hitch a ride to Yerushalayim [to avoid the parking nightmare]. He agrees and you join him for the pilgrimage.

There is a great anticipation in the van as it first approaches the walls of Yerushalayim; the feeling builds as you proceed through the city gates and reach the Har HaBayis. You go to the mikveh, get dressed, and walk with him to the Beis HaMikdash. The excitement is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Together you proceed toward the gates, walk through and then ... nothing. The place is barren. There is absolutely nothing to be seen except the usual rocks and dirt. In shock and confusion you turn to your neighbor, and you see him standing there with the most awestruck, enthralled look on his face. He turns to you with a smile and whispers, "Isn't this the most beautiful sight you have ever seen?!" - and you have absolutely no idea what he is talking about!

It is difficult to assess how literally we should interpret the Taharas HaKodesh's words, but this much is clear: The experience of one who guards his eyes will be completely different from that of one who does not. And it will remain so eternally, because once Mashiach arrives there is no turning back. Teshuvah is no longer a possibility.

Let's make sure that our eyes will in fact be able to see Hashem's return.

Day 31 - Out of Sight, Out of Mind - The Power of the Eyes

True story:

A father calls in his young son on Chol HaMoed Pesach and asks what he would like for his afikoman present.

"Money," responds the young boy.

The father looks at him quizzically and asks, "Why do you want money, Asher? Whatever item you wanted in the past we bought for you. Just tell us what you want."

The young boy looks down, and explains in a quiet voice.

"I want money to take a taxi to yeshivah because I don't like what I see on the bus."

Who was that young man? R' Asher Arieli, shlita, who grew up to be the esteemed maggid shiur in Mir Yerushalayim.

What we see has a profound impact upon us, and it was something the sensitive neshamah of a young Asher Arieli picked up instinctively despite his young years.

R Yaakov Galinsky, the famed and beloved maggid, related that the Chofetz Chaim would say, "What is a man? He is what he sees."

R' Yaakov relates this to the famous Chazal: Anyone who sees a sotah, a suspected adulteress, as she is publically humiliated should refrain from drinking wine.

Chazal are referring to a woman who is brought to the Beis HaMikdash because she is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband. She is treated in a humiliating fashion and made to drink special waters that miraculously determine whether she was in fact unfaithful. If she was, she dies in a most unusual and grotesque manner as her stomach bursts open.

Shortly after teaching us the laws of the sotah, the Torah teaches us the laws of a nazir, one who foreswears )among other things( drinking wine. Our Sages )Sotah 2a( explain that the passage of a sotah is juxtaposed to the passage of the nazir to teach that whoever observes the sotah's ordeal should refrain from drinking wine. Rashi explains that this is because wine brings one to immorality.

Now this seems counterintuitive.

Witnessing the sotah's ordeal would seem to serve as a powerful deterrent against engaging in immoral activity. It certainly should not encourage it! Yet this Gemara states that an observer of the sotah's punishment is more vulnerable to committing immorality and must therefore exercise greater caution by refraining from drinking wine. Apparently, seeing a woman go through this trial actually put the observer at greater risk of committing the sin, and he must take steps to minimize the risk factors by refraining from drinking wine.

But why?

Says R' Yaakov: We are what we see.

Something that you have never seen poses less of a threat than something you have seen, even where there have been awful consequences. True, the sotah has suffered, but the very fact that one has seen a person who committed this sin makes him or her more likely to fail too. The aveirah has entered the world of possibility.

Out of sight is out of mind, and conversely, that which is in sight is in your mind. Such is the power of our eyes. And that is why shmiras einayim is so essential.

Day 32 - Selective Vision - You See What You Want to See

Guarding one's eyes, like all spiritual growth, becomes easier as we go along.

The obvious reason for this is the famous principle, ַexternal behavior motivates internal character; for example, if we want to become kindhearted, we should act kind to others. If we want to become humble, we should act with humility.

This formula makes spiritual growth increasingly easy. The more we act in a certain manner, the more we internalize that character trait, and so we more naturally act in the proper manner as well.

This applies also to shmiras einayim. The more we guard our eyes, the more kadosh we become, and the more natural it therefore becomes to avoid looking at improper sights.

But aside from this, there is a less obvious reason for why guarding our eyes becomes increasingly easier.

We say in the third chapter of Krias Shema: Do not stray after your mind and your eyes.

The obvious question is: Why this illogical order? Do we not have to see something before our heart can desire it? Rashi says that this, in fact, is what happens: the eye sees and the heart desires. Why then does the verse refer to the heart before the eyes?

Rav Mordechai Gifter, the late Rosh Yeshivah of Telshe, Cleveland, explains: What you see is very much dependent on the direction to which your heart is turned.

To see this principle at work, ask ten people who have just walked down the same city block, what they had noticed as they were walking.

Chances are that a real estate agent will have noticed a "For Rent" sign; the young mother may have noticed that the children's clothing store is having sale; and a 10-year-old will notice a child in her age group walking down the other side of the street.

What each person sees is the direct result of what each person's heart desires.

If we think about what we notice in various situations, we can gain some powerful insight into where our hearts lie. Where do your eyes focus? On objects that possess kedushah or on those that possess its polar opposite?

If your eyes are always going in one direction, you can be sure your heart has preceded them there. But we can change. The more we actively guard our eyes, the more we focus on that which is kadosh, the more kadosh we in fact become. And as our hearts become kadosh, our eyes will naturally be drawn only to things that we should be seeing.

For example, R' Moshe Feinstein rules stringently with regard to walking past sights that are improper where there exists a "darka acharina" - another available route.

Someone once respectfully asked him why he himself took a certain route to yeshivah although there were immodest pictures along the way. R'Moshe responded that he literally had no idea what the fellow was talking about. He had never seen them.

We do not necessarily see everything in front of us. Just as our mind blocks out "white noise," things that we are uninterested in, and we hear only that which we wish to, so, too, is it with sight. One notices only that which interests him, that to which his heart draws him.

Day 33 - Dying for the Cause - Yeihareig V'al Ya'avor

The Torah's punishments serve a twofold purpose.

On the one hand, like all punishments, they serve as a deterrent. Fear of punishment sets us straight.

But they serve another purpose as well. They convey the severity of the crime.

For instance, flipping a light switch on Shabbos seems like a pretty trivial thing, but if you would see your six-year-old son doing so (ch"v), you would quickly and forcefully "explain" to him that he must desist. If your non-Jewish neighbor happened to be in your house and observed you getting bent out of shape over such a seemingly insignificant matter, he would doubt your sanity. A frum neighbor, however, would not be surprised at all. For the latter, teaching a child not to flip a switch on Shabbos is like training him not to walk into a busy intersection. The magnitude of shmiras Shabbos has been burned into our collective consciousness, and all Jews instinctively know how critical observing Shabbos is to a Jew.

But how did we get here? How did Hashem convey to us the significance of keeping the laws of Shabbos? How does every Jew know how consequential Shabbos really is?

Hashem communicated it to us by (among other things) assigning the harsh punishment of stoning for one who performs melachah, forbidden labor, on Shabbos.

We don't often think about it, but inyanei kedushah are also subject to extremely harsh guidelines. Arayos is one of three capital sins for which one is obligated to give up his life. This requirement extends not only to the sin itself, but even to something related to sins (abuzrayu d'arayos), where the actual sins will not be committed.

This law impresses upon us the severity of the prohibition with which we are dealing. In certain cases, one must be willing to sacrifice his life in order to preserve his kedushah!

We also catch a glimpse of the severity of the transgression from the fact that the Torah generally leaves it to Chazal to construct safeguards for sinning, but in the case of arayos, the Torah itself constructs safeguards, and thus prohibits touching, seeing, and even thinking about arayos.

These restrictions are like signs stating, "Danger! No Trespassing! High-Voltage Wires!" Do not even approach the sin of arayos because the damage done is unfathomable.

Day 34 - The Laundry List - What You Have to Lose

We humans are both blessed and cursed with the need for our behavior to be consistent with our beliefs.

On the one hand, this is a blessing because if we figure out what we really believe in, we instinctively wish to act in accordance with that. It is a curse too, because if we act self-destructively, the need to justify our behavior is so strong that we allow ourselves the most far-fetched rationalizations. We change our beliefs to be consistent with our actions.

For instance, everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, but some will continue to smoke nevertheless. To justify their behavior, they will convince themselves with the most far-fetched arguments: “It’s so enjoyable, it’s worth it.” “The chance of contracting a serious disease is grossly over-estimated.” “It’s anyway impossible to avoid every possible danger.”

And of course, the ever-popular, “I can stop smoking at any time, so why stop now?”

These ridiculous rationalizations address “cognitive dissonance” - the feelings of discomfort that result from the discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors. At the moment of a nisayon, our mind becomes “fried.” We throw the yetzer tov some meaningless rationalization and plunge forward, ignoring the inner voice in our head that is telling us, “You’re gonna regret it.”

To avoid these contrivances, we must prepare a quick mental list of the downsides of submitting, and the reward for persevering, even before the challenge presents itself. (Bear in mind that the more these considerations are focused on self-interest, the more powerful they are.)

Here is a sample:

• I will feel depressed afterward; the pleasure lasts only a very short time. I remember how I felt after the last time I did this.
• I want to have a happy marriage and I don’t want to undermine it.
• I’ll never be satisfied, and it will just get harder to stop; it is like trying to quench thirst with saltwater.
• Eventually, I will lose all pleasure and will be left with out-of-control behaviors from which I will derive absolutely no pleasure.
• Everyone gets caught sooner or later - picture what that will feel like!
• I will pervert my mind and forfeit my desire to learn.
• How can I be a two-faced faker all my life?! If I live a double life with a hidden secret, it will eventually catch up with me and I will live in shame.
• Living a double life brings on social difficulties. It will distance me from my friends and will leave me excruciatingly lonely. My underlying guilt will turn against me and cause the many disquieting physical manifestations of severe anxiety.

Day 35 - Worse Than Titus - The Power of a Jew’s Thoughts and Deeds

We don’t take ourselves seriously enough.

This was probably always true, but it is so much more true nowadays due to technology, automation, and media. Whatever I can do, a machine can do better; whatever “chiddush” I come up with has already been printed in a sefer.

This is doubly true when we consider our attitude regarding our thoughts. What is a thought? It is fleeting. It comes and goes in a moment and has no substance. Does it really make a difference what I think about?

It certainly does! Through our thoughts and actions we can become either the builders or destroyers of worlds.

There is a stirring niggun to a poem composed by R’Yitzchok Hutner [based on a piyut from Sefer Chareidim]:

ִ בלְָּבבי ִ משָׁכן ֶ אבנֶה להדר כבֹודֹו

I build a Mishkan in my heart to His exquisite glory.

ּוַבמּשָׁכן מזְֵבחַּ אשׂים לקרנֵי הֹודוֹ

I place a Mizbe’ach in that Mishkan to His radiating splendor.

ּוְלנֵר תמּיד אקח לי את אש העקדה

As an eternal light I draw upon the flame of the Akeidah,

ּוְלקרבן אקריב לֹו את נְַפשׁי היְִחדיה

And as an offering I offer Him my one and only Soul.

The poem depicts an image of a man imbuing himself with the power of the Mishkan and its vessels.

Indeed, Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner in Nefesh HaChaim teaches us about man’s remarkable power to create cosmic worlds or to destroy them. He writes: “Let no Jew feel, “What am I? What difference do my insignificant actions make in this world?”

In fact, explains R’ Chaim, every Jew is created in the image of Hashem. Just as the Creator has the power to create worlds or to destroy them, so too man builds or destroys worlds with his thoughts and deeds. R‘ Chaim continues by quoting an incredibly powerful line from the Midrash, but let us first give the background.

The Gemara tells us that when the Roman general Titus destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, he first entered the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies), grabbed a Sefer Torah scroll, and performed an aveirah upon it with a zonah. Seemingly, one cannot even imagine a greater chillul Hashem!

R’ Chaim tells us otherwise.

What did Titus really accomplish with his aveirah? The true substance of the Beis HaMikdash is the spirituality of the Torah and mitzvos performed by Jews. They are its “soul.” By the time Titus arrived, the Beis HaMikdash was a shell of itself; it had no true substance.

R’ Chaim thus cites the Midrash, “[Titus] ground up flour that had already been ground before.”

But when a Jew dwells upon an improper vision he causes far more damage than Titus ever did. A Jew’s mind is like the Kodesh HaKodashim. In fact, the collective mind of Klal Yisrael is the source of its essence. It is the core of Creation, and their kedushah or lack thereof (ch”v) reverberates throughout the cosmos.

Let us never underestimate the power of our thoughts.

Day 36 - Who Is the Extremist? - A Realistic Assessment of Current Times

At one time, thinking, sincere people would struggle and debate about how much exposure to the “real” world was healthy for their children. Some chose to shelter their children from the outside world totally. Their primary concern was maintaining their children’s innocence.

Others felt that some degree of secular sophistication was needed - after all, chochmah bagoyim ta’amin, there is real secular wisdom - and they therefore allowed for a greater degree of exposure to the outside world. Parents had to carefully judge how much was too much, too little, or just right.

But to state the obvious, times have clearly changed. It is incontestable that in present times, whatever possible benefits secular society has to offer are far overshadowed by its complete and utter disregard of the concept of kedushah.

Here are some frightening statistics from Covenant Eyes, a non-Jewish company, which hosts WebChaver, the organization that provides an Internet buddy system. Bear in mind that the compilers of these statistics have a completely different standard of tumah than we do. If they included films that contain suggestive scenes, the statistics would be through the roof.

68 percent of young men use the internet to view grossly inappropriate images every week, as do 18 percent of young women. 93 percent of boys under 19 said that they have been exposed to such material. 56 percent of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in such websites.” More than 1 in 5 searches on mobile phones are for such material.

In a word: Unadulterated tumah has become the default setting in secular society; it is part of its basic fabric.

This much then is obvious: Parents who do not allow, or stringently restrict, the media from entering their home are not being hermits, weirdos, or frummies. They are merely keeping their family’s dignity intact by maintaining a modicum of modesty. They are conveying to their children that the concept of kedushah does, in fact, exist.

Do not just nod your head in agreement. What are you waiting for? What is your excuse?

If you fail to safeguard your home, the following scenario is likely to occur, and you will have nobody to blame but yourself:

Your teenage son comes home Thursday night for an “off-Shabbos” to “chill.” Somewhere in the house is the computer with Internet access that you haven’t gotten around to filter just yet. His rebbi had given a shmuz so he promises himself to be good. It starts out well enough, but then he gets a little bored. Lying on the kitchen table is an Ipad, which again has not yet been filtered. [I know; it really slows it down.] He figures he’ll play a game on it, and he takes it with him to the bathroom and then the back porch. This warrior son of yours had by this time drawn on three hours of willpower and is reaching the bottom of his reserves. He figures he’ll give just a little peek to see what the latest “kosher” movie online is, but on that page there were more enticing things and whatever was left of his willpower is gone. So he fails. Having failed, he is depressed, which just aggravates the matter, so he looks some more. And before he knows it he has seen the worst things imaginable.

Now, he can’t daven and learn. He may even start crying because he feels like a rasha. But ask yourself: Is he the rasha? Or is it the facilitator who put him in this position?

Clean up your home now! How can you allow your family to be exposed to such standards?! Surely you care!

If you strengthen the bars of your gates, your children will be blessed in your midst.

Day 37 - Environmental Protection - Where You Are Is Who You Are

Every Yovel on Yom Kippur, Beis Din would sound the shofar. This would signify that all slaves should be freed.

What is the connection between the shofar’s blast and the release of the slaves? Chinuch explains that the connection was psychological. It is very difficult to release a slave who may have been with one family for decades. The family may regard the slave almost like a family member. They may have enjoyed the comfort and convenience of his service for as long as they can remember. Now, suddenly, they are instructed to release him. This is no easy thing. So Beis Din sounds the shofar that serves to remind them that everybody is doing it - because it is much easier to do something when everyone else is doing it as well.

Now, while this clearly is human nature, it makes no sense. The fact that everyone is releasing their slaves should not make doing so any easier! But humans are social beings and we are predisposed to do what “everyone else” is doing. In fact, it takes energy and willpower to buck the trend and act independently.

In the words of the Rambam: “It is the nature of man that his opinions and actions are drawn to those of his friends and acquaintances, and he tends to behave like his fellow countrymen.”

This point was driven home several years ago in a quite humorous way with an ingenious experiment named, “Face the Rear.”

A hidden video camera was placed in an elevator. After an unsuspecting person enters, four actors fol- low him in. One by one, each of the actors inexplicably turns around and faces the rear wall of the elevator. The unsuspecting passenger looks baffled, but then, invariably, he conforms to their illogical behavior and also faces the rear of the elevator. Next, all four actors face the side-walls of the elevator and, of course, the unsuspecting victim follows suit. This repeats itself a third and fourth time and each time the “guinea pig” follows the actors.

We laugh as we see these victims manipulated like puppets on invisible strings ... but we really are laughing at ourselves. Our natural tendency is to follow societal norms mindlessly.

It is therefore critical that we choose our society carefully, because our default setting is to “do what everyone else is doing.”

Who, then, will be our “everyone”? Will they be a positive force upon us or otherwise?

The Mishnah in Avos stresses the power of a positive environment: “Make your home a place where wise men gather.” Similarly, Chazal tell us, “Attending to talmidei chachamim is even greater than studying under them.”

The idea behind both these teachings is the same. By regularly inviting talmidei chachamim into our homes, by being in their presence and attending to them, they become part of our “everyone.” We sub- consciously - by osmosis - integrate how they live and adopt their values and sensibilities.

But we cannot deny that our “everyone” will include secular society as well. There is no avoiding it. Every time we take to the street, whenever we go to work, we are exposed to their society. And since our behavior is strongly influenced by the company we keep, the nisyonos we face today, specifically regarding inyanei kedushah, are so much greater than those of yesteryear. Secular society simply has no sense of what kedushah is. It barely rates as a value and certainly not at the standards that we wish to maintain.

But we need not aggravate the problem. If we wish to grow in kedushah and shmiras einayim we must surround ourselves with an environment of friends and acquaintances who maintain our standards of kedushah. And in any case, where we can lock secular society out, we certainly must.

Day 38 - Chemical Warfare Tumah - the Quiet Killer

We spoke yesterday about the power of one’s environment and how critical it is in current times to lock secular society out of our homes.

But this is easier said than done.

For at the same time that society’s morality has collapsed, the means of locking it out has become immeasurably more difficult. Much of technology is geared specifically to bringing the world “out there” into one’s home.

By allowing such technology into our homes, the secular world and its values become a piece of our environment, and can easily become the central piece. Just enter a non-Jewish home and note how all the furniture seems to face the television. The couch and chairs in the living room, the cooking station and dinette table in the kitchen, all face the television. And of course, the TV is prominently positioned at the foot of the beds in the bedroom. The television is not only a piece of the environment; it is the focal point. Without proper precautions, the risk of technology overwhelming our lives exists for us as well.

What makes technology even more dangerous is its stealth. Technology hides as “information” displayed on a tiny screen. It appears to be so innocent, and is so easy to just ignore - which is exactly why it is so lethal.

Compare someone being attacked by a weapon with someone being attacked by chemical warfare. In the former case, the victim knows what he is facing, so his reaction is immediate: fight or flight. But chemical warfare is different. One could be under attack and be completely unaware that this is the case. Even one who remains at home is vulnerable to the poison that may seep into any crack in the walls.

Similarly, when one leaves his home, he knows that he is leaving his own environment and entering a foreign one. But when one enters his home, he feels safe and away from it all and his guard is down. Technology has changed all that. Protection is not that easy. Locking the door won’t help.

We are facing, as they say, a “double whammy”: a society with an ever declining morality, that is bolstered with technology that spreads it values (or lack of them) - with ever more sophisticated and pernicious means - through the Internet, smart phones, etc. Technology has made securing a safe environment much more complicated than it once was. We cannot just go home and lock the door. We truly need insulation.

Day 39 -The Cost of Kedushah -

Gauging Risks and Reward

David,* the owner and CEO of The Supersized Kitchen, a company that sells commercial kitchen supplies, decided to attend a trade show in Las Vegas at great personal expense, to boost his client base. He took out a $50,000 loan to buy expensive radio ads in the Las Vegas area, and rented a billboard to advertise his wares. A day before his trip, he went to consult with his rav about the logistics of spending Shabbos in Vegas, and how to manage with minyanim, etc.

“My dear David,” his rav said. “What a shame you hadn’t come to me earlier.

“It hurts me to say this, especially since you already invested so much money and effort into the preparations for this trip. However, I really would advise you not to go. David, you always come to see me before you make a decision. Now, as I understand, you already have tickets and a reservation at the show.”

“More than that, Rebbi,” David stammered. “I took out a loan on my house to pay for advertising in the Las Vegas area. I put up a billboard with my business name and phone number. If I don’t go I will lose a small fortune.”

The rav sighed once more. “Then perhaps we should reconsider. However, I feel that this trip might be spiritually harmful for you.”

David knew exactly what the rav was talking about. During his more difficult years in the business, he had gone through a spiritual challenge, and worked through it with the help of mussar sefarim, lots of tefillos, his rav and Divine assistance. By going to a place that was not known for its elevated morals, he was putting himself in harm’s way.

“Think about it,” said the rav. ”You’re spiritually stronger than you were a few years ago. I’m not telling you what to do. I am only offering my advice. Sometimes when we make a great sacrifice for kedushah, we are amply rewarded from Above.”

David went home and shared his dilemma with his wife. Leah was initially dismayed, but after much con- templation, agreed. “Perhaps Hashem wants you to make this sacrifice,” she said. “If it’s bashert, you’ll make the money some other way.”

David canceled his trip. The radio ads, however, were still running and the large billboard with the Supersized Kitchen logo was suspended over one of the major highways near the show. But with no presence in Las Vegas, it was a colossal waste of money.

Or so he thought.

Two days passed. Here and there, a potential client called David, having seen the billboard in Las Vegas, and their questions were like rubbing salt on an open wound. As soon as they heard he was not in Vegas, they lost interest.

A phone call then came in early one morning,

“Hello? Is this The Supersized Kitchen?” asked a polished voice.

“It is,” David replied reluctantly, awaiting another disappointment.

“This is Susan from NBC news,” she continued smoothly. “I was assigned a long-term project, highlighting small businesses across the United States. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if I may. Each month we choose one small business, with under ten employees, to profile on our show. We will highlight your niche and speak about where the business is heading, and how our team of experts can help you grow. In addition to our financial incentives, this will give your small business exposure and free advertising throughout the country. I have researched your business online and liked what I saw. Your products are unique and well-made, and your prices are very competitive. I always do my research before I select a business to profile. This is a program to benefit small businesses, and won’t cost you anything. It’s like winning the lottery.”

David paused, thinking that this seemed too good to be true. “If I may ask, how did you get my number?” he asked.

“It was actually just a coincidence,” Susan replied. “I was in Vegas on an assignment, and was driving back to the airport the other day when I noticed your billboard with its splashy logo. A few seconds later I turned on the radio to hear the traffic, and I heard a jingle, ‘Supersized Kitchen is the only way ...’ ” She even remembered the words! “I thought, this is a really strange coincidence. Maybe it’s some sign for which business to choose.”

After several weeks of consultations and several meetings with the NBC staff, Susan was as good as her word. She profiled the Supersized Kitchen on the show, highlighting the superior quality of their products. The effect was immediate. David hired two new office employees, who were busy with new clients around the clock. Before long his fledgling business doubled, both in size and profits.

One of the most difficult nisyonos we face regarding kedushah involves connections to which we must expose ourselves in our pursuit of earning a living. But ask yourself: Are these all justified? Can they possibly be avoided? Remember, those we are doing business with simply have no idea what kedushah means.

*Adapted with permission, from a true story (name and details changed) by C.B. Weinfeld, which appeared in Yated Neeman.

Day 40 - No Man Is an Island - Influencing Your Environment

The all-out assault against kedushah seems to be the nisayon of our generation. Seemingly, no other generation has ever faced the challenges we do with regard to shmiras einayim.

But why now? What's "motivating" the yetzer hara?

The Sheim MiShmuel notes that the final battle before Mashiach will be fought by the children of Yosef, with Mashiach ben Yosef leading the charge. Why? Because Yosef's most outstanding characteristic, that for which he is referred to as Yosef "HaTzaddik," is kedushah. And at the same time that he will lead the physical charge against the enemies of Klal Yisrael, he will lead the spiritual war as well.

The battle for kedushah is the final frontier. It is the last battle before Mashiach. It is not surpris- ing then that the yetzer hara is going for broke. Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered enemy, one that realizes it is now or never. Rambam rules that when Klal Yisrael lays siege to a city , they may surround it on three sides only. Meshech Chochmah explains that surrounding it on all four sides is likely to cause the inhabitants to become desperate. Without an escape hatch they will feel it is now or never, which will cause them to fight ferociously and lead to a calamitous battle with the loss of many lives . If one side of the city is left open and retreat is an option, they are not likely to fight as hard. Knowing that it is now or never, that this is its last stand, the yetzer hara is fighting with his entire arsenal to get us to fail.

Our experience in Egypt serves as a model for future exiles. Egypt was known as the most immoral place on earth, the "ervas haaretz") the nakedness of the land(. It was Yosef's inspiration and leadership in kedushah that preserved Klal Yisrael's kedushah all their years in servitude in Egypt. Hence, his kedushah will likewise help us in the final battle as well.

The sefarim write that not only in Yosef's case did his personal kedushah influence others but in fact, it is true for all of us. 6 Whenever any of us acts with kedushah, we create a ripple effect of kedushah to those in our environment. The effect is felt first with our immediate family; it emanates to our neighbors and colleagues, and finally reaches out to all of Klal Yisrael.

Perhaps the effect is mystical, but perhaps we can explain it logically as well. Each of us knows tumah for what it is. We have a natural revulsion toward it and are ashamed when we fail. Hence, when we see someone acting with kedushah, we admire him. We immediately recognize the correctness of his action and wish to emulate him. His kedushah has this positive ripple effect.

In any case, this much is clear: each person's battle for kedushah is not just about himself. It is about the kedushah of all of Klal Yisrael.

On the one hand, this is a huge responsibility; but on the other hand, it is an incredible opportunity.

For by being kadosh we are affecting the kedushah of the entire world, and hastening the Geulah!

Day 41 - True Pleasure - Coarse Versus Refined

Let's refocus on the mitzvah of Kedoshim tiheyu.

The Ramban famously says that this means that one may not be a "naval b'reshus haTorah" - a glutton within the Torah's guidelines. Even after the numerous taryag mitzvos with all their details and bylaws, we are still not done. We must still sanctify ourselves with that which is permitted to us.

Now this seems unfair. One feels like throwing up his arms in protest and complaining "Leave me be! Let me enjoy myself! I'm keeping the rules, with all the d'rabbanans and harchakos - and now you tell me to add more restrictions on my own! Am I supposed to be miserable?!"

Indeed. Is the Torah anti-pleasure?!

Of course not - and the point can be best driven home with the following true anecdote.

A man was asked by his employer to fly overseas for a business trip and the company provided him with a seat in business class. As he proceeded to his seat, he noticed the elderly Slonimer Rebbe seated in the economy section. He approached the Rebbe and insisted that they switch seats. The Rebbe demurred but the businessman persisted. So the Rebbe relented and went to the more luxurious section. Several hours into the flight the businessman decided to go up front to see how the Rebbe was faring. To his chagrin, he found the diminutive Rebbe reading a sefer while sitting contentedly on the edge of the oversized business-section seat! He had not even used the back of the chair! But then he looked at the Rebbe's face, on which pure contentment was evident. The business-man shrugged his shoulders, smiled to himself, and returned to his seat.

Let us focus a moment on the Rebbe. As he was perched on the edge of the chair, was he uncomfortable? Was he experiencing distress or was he enjoying himself? He had not even reclined!

Yet, if his facial expression was any indication, he was experiencing pure pleasure. What could be better than sitting and learning without being disturbed!

We are composed of two parts: a physical self and a spiritual neshamah. Each compo- nent wants pleasure, but they have different ideas of what is pleasurable.

In telling us to be kedoshim, the Torah is advocating a pro-pleasure position, but it is instructing us which pleasure to choose - the pure pleasures of the neshamah over the more immediate, but fleeting pleasures of the body.

We are not referring to some abstract, vague idea of pleasure, but rather to a concept of pleasure that is very much down to earth.

Take for instance two concerned fathers, one a simple peasant, the other a sophisticated intellectual. Each one wants the best for his child. The peasant teaches his son about the pleasures he understands - where the best tavern is and which fast-food place sells the best burgers. The sophisticate, on the other hand, sends his son to institutions of higher learning where he is taught to play music, to understand the elegance of complicated mathematical equations, and to appreciate subtle philosophy. After much toil, the young man in fact achieves these goals.

How much richer and meaningful is the latter's life. And indeed, how much more pleasurable!

The Rebbe R' Bunim of P'schis'che once said, "If the baalei ta'avah would only know how much pleasure the tzaddikim have, they would become tzaddikim overnight!"

Day 42 - True Pleasure II - Even in This World

The Mishnah in Avos states: "Sleeping late in the morning, getting drunk in the afternoon, and engaging in childish conversation remove a person from this world."

Now, this Mishnah seems difficult to understand. We can see how the pursuit of the passions discussed in a different Mishnah in Avos: kinah, ta'avah, and kavod - envy, physical desire, and the quest for honor - "remove a person from this world," for these are all serious character flaws. But the Mishnah we mentioned first makes no mention of any true aveirah, just bad habits!

Are bad habits sufficient to "remove one from the world"?!

The answer is that when one indulges in fleeting pleasures such as those cited by the Mishnah, he loses focus on achieving the real ones.

Certainly, sleeping late, drinking too much, and speaking silliness are problematic behaviors, but there is a more pernicious problem here: When one satisfies himself with counterfeit pleasures he forfeits his pursuit of the real ones ... and eventually he loses both.

Before performing an aveirah, ask yourself, "What am I doing? What am I gaining? A moment's pleasure, a fleeting jolt. But how will I feel after I'm done with achieving that pleasure? That moment will leave in its wake an avalanche of self-revulsion, regret, shame, and remorse."

And that's considering only the immediate, post-aveirah emotion. Taking the longer view, the futility of this moment's rush is even more obvious. In exchange for this distraction, one destroys his very essence, his kedushas Yisrael, and abandons the eternal pleasure of Olam Haba.

Go for the gold, the real, enduring pleasure of being connected to Hashem.

In fact, the Gra writes that a person need not wait for Olam Haba to be compensated for his sacrifice. In the Gra's words: "Any improper pleasure that a self-indulgent person enjoys after much effort comes to a decent person in a rightful manner without any work."

This is amplified by the Steipler Gaon, who writes similarly:

Realize that when one overcomes [his yetzer hara] and withstands the test, Hashem's Name is sanctified greatly, and the person's merit is awesome and wondrous. Even in this world the person will, in the long run, see gratification. For any pleasure from which a person refrains so as to honor Heaven will be repaid to him in another way, in a permissible manner, over the course of time.

By withstanding the immediate rush of seeing something, one receives a parallel, but permitted, pleasure at some later point in his life.

Day 43 - Feeling Inspired - Living in Harmony

Many of us live with a gnawing feeling that hovers just below our consciousness. Periodically it surfaces and we feel its presence.

Every day is just like the previous one and I am not inspired. Life, and particularly my Yiddishkeit, feels hollow. In fact, what makes it worse is that I am most aware of this feeling when I am involved with the very things that should inspire me, like davening and learning. I do what I have to because I know it’s right, but the inspiration I expect to feel is just not there. Something is very wrong.

What you are experiencing is nothing new.

In fact, this feeling is so commonplace and has been around so long, that it spawned a movement that revitalized Yiddishkeit, the movement of Chassidus. Chassidus is not about a mode of dress, a relationship with a Rebbe, or even ahavas Yisrael.

Rather, as the Piascezner Rebbe, Rav Klonymus Kalmin Shapiro, explains, at the core of Chassidus is the notion that everyone can feel d’veykus - a sense of attachment and intimacy with Hashem, and steps should be taken to facilitate this emotion. Chassidus has certainly taken on many external manifestations, but the central notion is this - that each person, on his own level, can be davuk, connected, to the Creator.

It is therefore not surprising that kedushah plays such a central role in Chassidus - because to feel closeness to Hashem, to feel attached and inspired, it is critical that one maintain kedushah.

The following is excerpted from the final chapter of Mesillas Yesharim (“Explaining the Meaning of Kedushah”), where Ramchal defines kedushah:

Even in the midst of performing those physical acts necessary to sustain his body, he never strays from the highest intimacy ... One who is kadosh, however, and clings constantly to Hashem ... - such a person is walking before Hashem in the Land of the Living even here in this world ... In summary, holiness consists in one clinging so closely to his God that in any deed he might perform, he does not depart or move from the Blessed One, until the physical objects of which he makes use become more elevated because of his having used them.

A line from the Mashgiach R’ Shlomo Wolbe provides further insight:

“Kedushah preserves the unity of the worlds, and tumah is the agitator that separates close ones.”

That is, ideally there should be complete harmony between one’s neshamah and his body. When that state exists, a person is in fact inspired by the soul within him. As described in Mesillas Yesharim, the truly kadosh person lives with that harmony and is constantly attached to Hashem. Tumah, however, is the troublemaker that interferes with this relationship.

If you wish to feel the intimacy and meaningfulness of being connected to Hashem, it is essential to maintain kedushah.

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.

Day 45 - Bangladeshi Chinese Auction - The Transformative Power of Mitzvos

Mitzvos are not just something we do. When we perform mitzvos they, in turn, act upon us and change us.

Though we may be unaware of it, mitzvos infuse us with an aura, an energy of sorts called kedushah, as we say twice a day in Krias Shema: ... so that you shall remember and perform all the mitzvos and thereby be holy to your G-d.

It is noteworthy that the same passage first states that we must guard our eyes; the next step is that tzitzis reminds us to perform the mitzvos; and finally, it is then that mitzvos make us kadosh.

Why, though, did the Torah not say right away that performing mitzvos makes us holy? Why bring in guarding one's eyes?

It must be, explains the Chofetz Chaim, that the ability for mitzvos to have their effect is not automatic. Without our having shmiras einayim the mitzvos cannot "work their magic" and infuse us with kedushah.

The Chofetz Chaim elaborates with a mashal:

Picture this: You live in a slum. Not any old slum but one of those most miserable slums in the villages of a third-world country. Your hut has mud floors, chickens scurrying in and out, and the only running water is the water dripping in through a leak in the roof.

Suddenly, rumbling and bouncing down the pitted road is a moving truck. You and your neighbors pop your heads out to see what the commotion is all about, and you see that the truck stops before your home! Wide eyed, you - and your neighbors - watch as movers empty the truck's contents into your home:

In short order, a fine hand-woven carpet, elegant draperies, and a dining- oom set with velvet chairs are all arranged throughout your hut. Apparently you won the Bangladeshi version of a Chinese Auction and since you don't have a phone, they couldn't reach you to share the good news.

But guess what? Your home looks absolutely no better than before. It, in fact, looks ridiculous.

The Chofetz Chaim explains:

"Studying Torah and serving Hashem can change a person and can make him more holy. But when? Only when one does not invite in the yetzer hara's sludge. Fine decorations can upgrade and beautify a decent home, but they are totally worthless in a slum."

Torah and mitzvos can change us. Within them is an incredible amount of kedushah. But if we wish them to reside within us and impact upon our lives, we have to create within ourselves an environment where they wish to remain.

If we do, the mitzvos can truly transform us.

Day 46 - Who Doesn't Love Their Children? - The Impact of Guarding Our Eyes

In today's world everything happens fast, real fast. To speak to someone, no landline is needed - just pick up the cell and there he is. To speak "in per-son," just "Skype." And to communicate in writing, just text, and don't even bother paying any attention to the spelling.

It is not just fast; it is just about immediate.

So are the nisyonos. One need not "prepare" to do something wrong. No forethought or planning is required. As soon as the impulse hits, the aveirah is right there, at your fingertips, literally.

How does one fight such a battle? By inculcating himself beforehand with a host of images and arguments that conjure up for him the dangers involved in failing and the reward to be enjoyed by overcoming the challenge.

The following excerpt from the Chofetz Chaim (Nidchei Yisrael Ch. 23) provides such an image:

It is found in the sefarim that one who overcomes the yetzer hara for arayos is granted a beam of light that shines over his head - a light that was actually visible at the times of Chazal!

While that image may be difficult to envision, the Chofetz Chaim continues with something that provides us with another image that we can easily relate to:

Realize also that one who overcomes his yetzer, especially in today's times, for the sake of honoring Hashem, will certainly merit an exalted level in Olam Haba... and will merit even in this world, that he and his children will be among the mighty people of Klal Yisrael, always doing what is cor- rect and just ...

That is, by being vigilant in inyanei arayos, one merits that not only he, but all his descendants until the end of time, will carry on his courageousness and strength of character, and will be predisposed to do what is "good and just."

Burn this image into your consciousness:

You have an impulse to do an aveirah.

Standing behind you are your dear children - your sons, of whom you are so concerned that they learn and grow in their yeshivos; your daughters, for whom you desire that they remain modest, marry well, and build wonderful Jewish homes. But that is not all.

Standing behind your children are their children, and behind them as far as your eye can see - spreading like an eagle's wings - are the exponentially increasing number of your descendants. They are all watching you, holding their breath, waiting to see what you will do, whether you will elevate their lives by resisting the temptation, or whether you will succumb to the blandishments of the moment.

Day 47 - Feeling the Connection - Davening Under the Influence of Kedushah

When does one experience his failings in kedushah most acutely? What part of one's avodas Hashem is most tangibly affected by a breach in kedushah?

It is undoubtedly his davening.


Because, as R' Chaim Soloveitchik tells us, the very definition of praying is omed lifnei haMakom, the feeling of standing before Hashem and engaging in a dialogue with Him. Ramchal writes beatifully that tefillah is like a person speaking to a friend. In fact, R'Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the late Rosh Yeshivah of Be'er Yaakov, would sing these words on the way to shul each morning.

The improper images that have been seen by one who has not guarded his eyes are in the forefront of his imagination. When he then wants to daven, when he would like to visualize that he is speaking directly to Hashem, those other images come to the fore and make him feel like a fraud. "How can I face Hashem and talk to Him when I am ashamed of what I just saw?" He feels like a guilty child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, who cannot bear to directly face the parent and instead stares at the floor.

This is true not only for children but even for adults. A polygraph )lie detector( works on this very premise. When someone feels like a fraud, he experiences a conflict between that which he knows within himself to be true and that which his mouth is saying on the outside. He is embarrassed, and the lie detector sens s the various physical manifestations - the quickening of the pulse etc. - of that conflict.The trained expert can read the polygraph results and establish that the person is lying.

Someone who does not guard his eyes cannot, metaphorically, "look Hashem in the eye," and his tefillah suffers accordingly.

On the other hand, one who guards his eyes is proud of the relationship he has with his Maker, and can talk to Him directly and honestly.

Indeed, Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein writes that he once heard the following from the Shomer Emunim Rebbe. Chazal say that one who sees an improper sight and turns away without allowing himself to enjoy it merits to see the Shechinah. Since at that time, the Shechinah rests upon him, it is a propitious time to ask Hashem for all his needs. While his eyes are looking down and he is suppressing his desire to look, Hashem will surely answer his prayers.

Day 48 - Self-Interest - Preserving Individuality and Family

R' Shlomo Wolbe would say that the yetzer tov is a very unreliable friend.

You just can't count on him.

He tends to be enthusiastic at the beginning but then loses interest and tires out. So he - and we - need help to persevere. Where to turn? Help can be found in the most unlikely of places - with the yetzer hara, who clearly has much more "stick-to-it-ism" than does his counterpart.

If we serve Hashem with both inclinations, by harnessing even shelo lishmah considerations - that is, we do what is right for self-interest, and not to serve Hashem - we are much more likely to persevere.

Here is one such consideration.

A scientist once put five monkeys in a cage, placed bananas beyond their reach, and placed a ladder beneath the bananas. As soon as one of the monkeys spotted the bananas, it began climbing the ladder to get to them. As it did, however, the scientist sprayed it, and all the other monkeys, with freezing water. The monkey scrambled off the ladder and all five sat for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon a second monkey decided to give it a try and began climbing the ladder. Again the scientist sprayed it and all the other monkeys with freezing water. Most of the monkeys had by now learned their lesson: Going for the bananas meant a freezing shower, so they abstained. One of the monkeys, however, was a little slow on the uptake so he figured he would give it a try. As soon as his sharper cage-mates saw what he was up to, they attacked him and prevented him from doing so.

The scientist then began replacing each monkey one by one. Each newcomer would of course reach for the bananas, and the rest of the monkeys - as expected - would beat it up. Eventually, however, every one of the original monkeys was replaced with a different monkey, one that had never experienced or even seen the initial punishment. Nevertheless, whenever a new monkey was introduced and reached for the food, the rest of the monkeys would attack it. Why? Because it had become their minhag (custom)!

This experiment, like the "Face the Rear" experiment we mentioned earlier (Day 37), highlights the idea of "group mentality." Members of a group tend to conform their behavior to that of the group, whether this behavior is logical or completely baseless. Whereas earlier we spoke about lishmah considerations - i.e., how important it is, therefore, to regulate our environment - we now wish to stress a "shelo lishmah" consideration. Let's not even talk about kedushah. Let's talk simply about personal space.

The entire day, every member of your family is out- side your home, joining one group or another. Group mentality discourages individuality and critical thinking. It declares, "Just fit in! This is the way we do things here." The group impacts, and to a large degree determines, their behavior. You and your family members then come home. The walls of your house allow for individuality. The home leaves room for personal space, for family members to be alone with themselves, and with their siblings as well. Both of these relationships are important. A person needs time alone, and needs time with family. In fact, there is no greater nachas for parents than seeing their children bonding and coalescing as one unit.

The Internet, and specifically social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc), undermines both of these relationships. It constantly brings large groups of people together, leaving them with a mob mental- ity without individual perspectives and values. It is always, "What is the other person thinking?" These distractions also rob them of the opportunity to bond with their siblings and parents.

To foster within your children both a sense of individuality and of family, allow your home to be free of all outside influences. Allow yourself and your family to be their true selves. Why allow anyone "out there" to infringe upon your space and invade your castle?

By restricting technology in your home, you make space for your family to flourish as individuals and to coalesce as a family.

Day 49 - Who Are You? - A Holy Jew!

Everything in this world has a defining feature, a particular quality that identifies it as unique from its neighbors. Take a wooden chair, for example. Many things are made out of wood, but a chair has a specific shape and function that defines it and makes it into a “chair.” If it loses that function, say it becomes too fragile to sit on, you can call it wood and use it as fuel, but you can’t really call it a chair. It has lost its identity.

The same is true with people. Many of us associate ourselves with a certain character trait so strongly that it becomes our defining feature.

Take the kid who dreams of becoming a baseball player. Baseball is his life. He eats, drinks, and thinks baseball, falls asleep listening to the game, and uses his glove as his pillow. It is not just what he does; it is who he is. It is how he identifies himself. Should he seriously injure his leg and thus be forced to abandon his chosen “career,” he does not only have to figure out what to do with his life, he also has to decide who he is. He must redefine himself. In psychological parlance, he has an identity crisis.

Many of us live, in varying degrees, with this crisis.

We don’t quite know who we are. When we go into the work world, we identify ourselves as businessmen or professionals. We then go to shul and try to squeeze in a seder, and think of ourselves as bnei yeshivah. We go home and our wives ask us to spend more time with the kids, and we are reminded that we are also husbands and fathers. We are pulled in a million directions and at times we can feel rootless.

Everyone wants an identity, a clarity about who he is.

But if we think about it, we know the answer, or at least what the answer should be.

Who am I? I am a Jew and if I truly believe that, I can be a businessman, father, husband, and learner all at one time.

But what is a Jew? What is the defining feature of Klal Yisrael? What character trait most strongly makes the Jewish nation “Jewish”?

It is kedushah ... as it is written multiple times in the Torah.

In the words of the Midrash: “For you are holy to Hashem, your G-d - The kedushah that is upon you caused you [to be Hashem’s nation].”

In the words of the Ibn Ezra: “I took you out of Egypt only to be your G-d; if you will not be holy I will not be your G-d. If you wish that I be your G-d, be holy.”

How did we acquire this exalted character trait? It was conferred on us by none other than Hashem Himself, as we say in Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov.

In this tefillah we mention seven expressions for the love that Hashem has for His nation:

He has chosen us, loves us, is pleased with us, has raised us up, has sanctified us with His mitzvos, has drawn us near to His service, and finally ... He has conferred upon us His Great and “Holy” Name.

The final and ultimate expression of His love is in the fact that He has called us holy ... and how? By conferring upon us His “Holy” Name. This is our defining characteristic!

Day 50 - A Flawless Diamond - The Delicate Nature of the Jew’s Neshamah

There is often a correlation between an item’s value and its sensitivity to imperfections and flaws. For example, the value of a diamond with a seemingly infinitesimal flaw is seriously diminished, whereas another scratch on an old clunker barely makes a dent in its value. Once we acknowledge and appreciate that we are Hashem’s diamond, His treasured nation, we can also embrace our responsibility to carefully guard our correspondingly sensitive neshamos.

The Dubno Maggid makes this point in addressing another question (raised in the Midrash): Why is it that Jews have so many more laws and courts than non-Jews? It would seem that we need extra work to straighten ourselves out! His answer addresses also why we must be so careful as regards the kedushah of our neshamah.

He explains, as is his style, with a mashal:

A country bumpkin once met a city dweller and they started comparing notes about their different lifestyles. The urbanite noted proudly that there are many more doctors and hospitals in the city than in the rural areas. The other fellow countered:

“I’m not so sure having so many doctors is a good thing. I think they make people sick. Look, where I live, we have very few doctors and there are very few sick people. We farmers almost always show up for work. But you city slickers - you people are always taking off days due to ‘sick leave’!”

The city dweller smiled.

“Okay. Let me explain. Where you people live, a person isn’t considered sick until he is at death’s door. As long as he can move, he can drive the tractors and milk the cows. So unless a person is completely disabled, you have little need for doctors. When you use your gross faculties, your physical body, fine tuning is not needed. Many city dwellers, on the other hand, work with their minds. We are actuaries, doctors, lawyers, accountants, programmers, and investment bankers. If we are even a little under the weather, we cannot perform our jobs properly. Sublime things, like one’s mind, require delicate care. So we have to maintain higher standards for our health, and this fine tuning is provided by our many doctors.”

Klal Yisrael, as Hashem’s chosen people, are expected to live up to high standards of moral and ethical conduct. This standard demands an extensive system of laws and judges, and great attention to the dictates of kedushah, to attain and maintain the level of ethical behavior demanded of Hashem’s people.

Like they say, it comes with the turf.

Day 51 - Everything Is Not Relative - The Standard Bearers of Kedushah

We have seen that Klal Yisrael’s role as the flag bearers of Hashem’s Name demands that we live according to a higher standard. This concept is an expression of noblesse oblige, the concept that with privilege comes responsibility.

The Dubno Maggid, however, takes this to a whole different level and presents his case with yet another mashal.

A wealthy man once traveled from his backwater village to the big city in search of a husband for his daughter. He went to the most prestigious yeshivah in the city and approached the Rosh Yeshivah.

“I want the best young man, the brightest, the biggest masmid, for my daughter ... and I am willing to pay whatever it costs.”

The Rosh Yeshivah pointed out a young man, the young couple met and married. The wealthy man desired the company of his children so he brought the couple back to live in the village.

The wealthy man kept his end of the bargain and supported the young couple handsomely, but was disappointed with his son-in-law. The boy, who was formerly the biggest masmid in the yeshivah, became increasingly lazy. Instead of remaining 14 hours in the beis midrash the hours increasingly dwindled to 8 to 6 to 5. His father-in law approached him and complained, but the son-in law defended himself.

“True, when I was in yeshivah I learned 14 hours a day, but come by just one day into the shul in this village and observe what is going on. No one is ever there. My 5 hours in the beis midrash is so much more than anyone else in town.”

The father-in-law would have none of it.

“When I went to the Rosh Yeshivah and asked for, and paid for the biggest masmid in the yeshivah, I wanted the one who was learning there. I don’t care how much you learn relative to the ignorant people in this town. I am not interested in a “relative” masmid; I want a true masmid.”

Says the Dubno Maggid:

The Torah writes, You shall be holy because I am Holy. This means that just as My Holiness is not a relative kedushah but an intrinsic kedushah, so shall yours be.

Don’t rate yourself against the world out there. In today’s milieu, kedushah is simply non-existent. If we judge ourselves against that standard of the world at large, even a modicum of holiness will suffice. No. We must strive to be the standard bearers of holiness, to show the rest of the world that the concept of kedushah is alive and well.

We do not rate our morality against the norm in the world. We act as a standard bearer for mankind.

We carry Hashem’s Name, as we say in davening, ּושׁמנּו קרתאָ בּשׁמך , You have called us in Your Name. What is Hashem’s Name? It is Kadosh, as we say in davening, קדֹוׁש
אתּה קדֹוׁש וְִשׁמך, You are Kadosh and Your Name is Kadosh.

We, who have the privilege and responsibility of carrying this Name, must behave according to the dictates of kedushah in order to bring honor to His Name: And the holy ones praise You each and every day.

Day 52 - Positive Chutzpah - Doing What Is Right

Our society has been labeled by some a “victim culture,” in which the greatest claim to fame is to have suffered some indignity or injustice. Discrimination, poverty, rich- but-absent parents, mental and physical abuse, over-employment, unemployment, old age, and hundreds if not thousands of other bad draws from the deck of life give many people the only reason they need for doing less with their lives than they should.

But in the berachah many of us give our children each Friday night, we take just the opposite point of view. We bless our daughters that they emulate their Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah, and we bless our sons that they should be like Menashe and Ephraim. Why do we choose these role models?

The Imahos are an obvious choice since they embody the most exemplary traits of a Jewish woman, but why Menashe and Ephraim for the sons? How are they parallel to the Imahos?

The answer is that each of these ancestors rose to spiritual greatness in unholy surroundings. All four matriarchs were raised by idol-worshipers, and Menashe and Ephraim were raised in Egypt. As the sons of Yosef, second-in-command to Pharaoh, they were undoubtedly surrounded by all the immorality of Egyptian culture.

In our current society, there would be no expectation of any of these men or women becoming tzaddikim. Yet, they all not only overcame the challenges they faced, but flourished and brought the world their immeasurable gifts.

In the same vein, Maharshal 1 explains why a person who himself possesses a fine character but whose ancestors did not, may serve as a shaliach tzibbur (chazzan). Some wished to say otherwise based on the statement: “The prayers of a tzaddik the son of a tzaddik are incomparable to those of a tzaddik the son of a rasha.”

Maharshal explains, however, that this is true only for personal prayers, where the merits of one’s ancestor advance his descendant’s needs. But as regards public prayers, “On the contrary, the prayers of one who left his parents’ path and chose on his own to follow the way of Hashem are even more valuable!” The courage it takes to break the mold and do what one believes is correct is inestimable, and his prayers are even more powerful.

This trait, to do what one believes in, even though it is contrary to the prevailing environment and trends, is, in fact, a uniquely Jewish trait - chutzpah.

It is often associated with the Torah’s reference to Klal Yisrael as being an “am keshei oref,” a stiff-necked people, people who stubbornly live according to their standards and march to their own drummer. It certainly has been the source of our transgressions but it is also the source of our power. It may very well be the driving force behind the innovations through which the State of Israel has become known as “The Start-up Nation,” but much more importantly, it empowers Klal Yisrael to buck social trends of decadence and live according to the dictates of kedushah.

So we bless our children: Whatever may come your way, you, like your ancestors, will not only survive, but shine, and bring something special and holy into the world.

We may live in an era of great tumah, but do not despair. You can still reach greatness - it’s in our DNA. It is maaseh avos siman labanim.

Day 53 - Self-Respect - First-class Stowaway

There is a well-known mashal that should be helpful in the struggle for shmiras einayim.

It is the late 1800’s and an ignorant farmer is tilling his field when he comes upon some unknown substance. He has it tested and it turns out to be a precious metal. Prospectors hear about his find and offer him a handsome sum for his tract of land, but he hangs on and waits as the competition grows and their offers increase. Finally, he decides to sell his field to a wealthy financier who lives in the big city. The fellow sends him a nice advance payment and asks him to meet him at his office where they will close the deal. The farmer agrees to make the trip, but the big city is far away, about a two-week trip from his village if he travels by horse. His more sophisticated neighbors, however, catch him up with the times, telling him about the new mode of transportation, the train.

Thrilled, he goes to the central train station to purchase a ticket. The lady behind the ticket counter asks him what type of ticket he wishes to purchase, which throws him for a loop. She explains that one can travel either first, second, or third class.

“Third-class tickets guarantees a place on the train but nothing more. There may be a seat on a hard bench, but not necessarily; you may have stand for the entire trip. First come, first serve. Second class guarantees a seat, but costs somewhat more.”

Giving him a quick once over, she figures that there is no point describing first class, but indignantly he insists. Rolling her eyes, she explains the luxuries and amenities offered to the first-class passengers, which guarantee them a very comfortable journey. She concludes, “It’s generally only for the very, very wealthy.”

Sensing her condescension, he juts out his chin and tells her, “First class for me,” and pays the exorbitant price.

The train was scheduled to depart in several days, and the farmer noted the date and time.

Departure day arrives and the farmer is so excited that he arrives at the station two hours early. Somewhat confused by the process, however, and too proud to ask, he decides to go with the flow, and just copy whatever the other passengers are doing. The train pulls into the station and since it is still early, most of the passengers have not yet arrived. He notices, however, some passengers boarding the very last car on the train, so he follows them in. He observes them looking around furtively and then squeezing beneath the benches, so of course he does the same. Somewhat put off by the lack of luxury but pleased with the warm air flowing from a nearby vent, he gets into a cozy position and in no time falls asleep.

The next thing he knows he is being awoken by a furious man who is kicking him and pulling him out from under the bench. Startled and disoriented, he stumbles to his feet and confronts his attacker. “Who are you?!”

The man smirks, grabs his shirt, and speaks right into his face. “I am the conductor. That’s who. And you lowlife are trying to hitch a free ride.”

“No I’m not! I paid top dollar for a first-class seat,” he responds, which elicits peals of laughter from the other passengers, who are relishing the free entertainment. He starts fishing around and to their utter surprise pulls out, just as he said, a first-class ticket!

The conductor studies the ticket, realizes that it is authentic, and then, speaking in the respectfully hushed tones reserved for the very wealthy, asks the farmer:

“Sir. You have a first-class ticket. Why were you under the bench?”

The farmer’s face flushes in embarrassment, “But that’s what everybody else was doing” ... to which the conductor tells him:

“Sir. You are not everybody else.”

Klal Yisrael is the Chosen Nation. Since Mattan Torah we are elevated.


If you see a cat rummaging through your garbage and finding what for it is a delicacy - say, a discarded chicken bone, would you feels pangs of jealousy? Will you feel deprived of the pleasure of eating that bone? Of course not. It is nothing more than garbage.

The same is true for tumah. It’s just not our thing. The world out there may have completely lost their sense of kedushah, but we are not them. Es past mir nisht, it is unbecoming for me. Our sense of pride should prevent us from sullying ourselves with tumah.

Day 54 - Sensitive Eyes - The Purity Required of a Jew

The late Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshivah, R’Yerucham Levovitz, once visited Vilna. He was put up in a residence that faced a co-ed secular school, whose students ranged in age from sixteen to eighteen. Each morning he saw through his window the boys and girls arriving, joking and socializing as they entered the school. When he returned to the yeshivah he told his students what he had seen, and commented:

“These teens are presumably gaining knowledge, taking tests, acquiring degrees, and becoming experts in their field of choice. They are clearly learning. So I ask myself: What would happen if in our yeshivah of some 400 students even one girl would come to sit in the beis midrash? Could we continue to learn? Of course not! Her presence would completely undermine the learning and detract from our studies! How then do all those students attend mixed classes and continue their studies unperturbed!

“This surely points to the fact that Jews and our Torah are holy. Torah resonates within the neshamah of a Jew, and through Torah one connects with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Holiness cannot tolerate tumah and coexist with it. Hence, even a single improper thought can interfere with an entire yeshivah. Secular knowledge evidently experiences no such conflict at all.”

The neshamah of a Jew and tumah are completely irreconcilable.

It is not surprising to find that tumah has a tangible impact upon the eyes of a Jew. R’ Moshe Shmuel Shapiro cites Targum Yonasan ben Uziel, who writes that Mashiach will have beautiful eyes because he will have never seen anything improper. Evidently, notes R’ Shapiro, what a Jew sees affects him even physically.

He adds, in this vein, that when Yaakov blessed Yosef he stated that Yosef is deserving of such blessings because he had not glanced at the girls who were vying for his attention in Egypt. R’ Moshe Shmuel asks: How did Yaakov know that Yosef had never looked? Although Yaakov was a prophet, prophecy informs a person only of that which pertains to him, and here it seemingly did not! He answers that Yaakov did not know this through prophecy but rather, simply by looking at Yosef’s face. He looked into Yosef’s eyes and saw nothing but kedushah and he knew that Yosef had withstood the nisayon.

Indeed, the first time Yaakov meets Yosef after their long separation, Yaakov says, “I can now die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.”

The Ohr HaChaim asks: Why did Yaakov not say this immediately when he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent him, which also proved that Yosef was still alive? Why did he wait until he saw “his face”?

He answers that Yaakov in fact believed that Yosef was alive, but was concerned about Yosef’s spiritual level, having spent so many years on his own in Egypt, the “ervas ha’aretz” (the nakedness of the Earth). By seeing his face, and the beauty and purity of Yosef’s eyes, Yaakov saw that Yosef was very much alive - radiating a life of kedushah.

Day 55 - The Balancing Act - Thinking About Not Thinking

Let’s see if you can follow instructions:

Do not think about a green elephant wearing a bright yellow cap. Are you listening? Do not imagine a huge green elephant sitting upon a small stool wearing a yellow cap puffing a Cuban cigar. Are you following instructions?

I didn’t think so.

This little game crystallizes one of the challenges of maintaining shmiras einayim. On the one hand, we have been speaking about how preparation is the key to preserving kedushah. Without reminding oneself about kedushah before taking the subway to work, one is liable to fail.

On the other hand, the commentators note that hesech hadaas, distraction, is one of the primary means of guarding one’s kedushah.

As the Steipler Gaon writes, “Generally, the most effective means [of avoiding tumah] is distraction.”

And even more explicitly writes the Chovas HaTalmidim (Ch. 13):

Do not think, “I may not look there.” Such thoughts are not effective. In general, one’s mind should not be occupied about looking altogether. Rise above them. Just bear in mind that you are a Jew.

Yet, how does one think about not thinking?

The trick must be that before exposure to a possible breach of kedushah, one should put himself into a distracted, “lost in thought” mode. Ideally, one should occupy his mind with Torah, but it could really be with anything. Be realistic. If thinking in learning is not going to hold your attention, then find something kosher that will, be it a nice tune, business, anything that you will find interesting.

Chovas HaTalmidim continues that one can arrive at a point where this distraction becomes natural, that one simply won’t see that which he should not. He stresses that he is not referring to some special siyata d’Shmaya but rather to a natural phenomenon that is built into our psychological makeup.

For instance, he writes, if a fly lands on your arm while you are reading a book, you will subconsciously brush it off without even really being aware that it is there in the first place. You will do so even while sleeping, when your conscious mind is in “sleep mode.”

Such subconscious reactions can even be learned, he adds. For instance, a small child will often move around while sleeping and roll off his bed. Yet, after a short while, the subconscious mind learns where the bed ends. Adults don’t fall off their beds.

So, too, one can train himself to automatically turn away from that which he should not see. It can become second nature. He adds, however, that this works only if one takes caution not to unnecessarily expose oneself to places where such improper sights are common.

He concludes with a challenge to his readers: “If you doubt this [that shemiras einayim becomes second nature over time], ask the Elders, the Chachmei HaTorah, and they will tell you it is so. But why even ask? Test the theory yourself and you will see for yourself the power of this idea.”

Day 56 - Yiras Shamayim - Hashem Is in Control, So I Have the Controls

Hey, it’s a democracy, a free world. Live and let live. As long as you don’t bother anyone, it’s nobody’s business.

All these clichés reflect the value system - or the valueless system - of current times. The only value that matters is tolerance and not taking advantage of others. A victimless crime is thus not a crime at all.

Without taking active steps to reject the prevailing attitude, by osmosis it becomes our attitude as well. Like the famous Yiddishism goes, “Vee es kristalt zich, es yidelt zich.” How the non-Jews behave, so do the Jews.

It follows that in today’s society, shmiras einayim is total anathema. It makes no sense to guard what you see when “it’s nobody’s business,” and it (seemingly) harms no one.

More generally, this humanistic attitude is diametrically opposed to yiras shamayim, the fear of Heaven experienced by every sincere Jew - a fear based on the awareness that I am being watched and judged constantly by Hashem. What I think and see is of extreme importance to me and to Hashem.

Working on yiras Shamayim is therefore vitally important in maintaining kedushah under such conditions.

In one of the letters in which the Steipler addresses the topic of kedushah, he writes:

I know of no specific way of working on the trait of ta’avah (improper desire), other than the general idea that true yiras Shamayim prevents one from doing that which he should not. For yiras Shamayim brings awareness of the holiness of one’s neshamah, which was hewn from beneath the Kisei HaKavod (Hashem’s Throne of Glory), and of the great damage and pain caused in all the Worlds through a breach of kedushah.

One must fix in his mind that this world is a mere seventy-year waiting room, and for thousands upon thousands of years he will live in the World to Come. Why would he forfeit that extended life for a momentary glance?

Working on yiras Shamayim means truly feeling that there exists a “Seeing Eye” observing our actions. This realization greatly alleviates the lure of tumah and allows us to be faithful to Hashem.

Working on yiras Shamayim helps in shmiras einayim in yet another, surprising way.

We have mentioned that willpower is like a muscle, which gets depleted after repeated use. The following is excerpted from an article about self-control.

Social experiments have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control.

People who felt compelled to exert self-control because of their core beliefs had significantly more self-discipline than others who acted just to please others.

When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.

Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of the brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion.

The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of aerobic workout for self-control.

Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn’t seem to be related to self-control. The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors.

Personality studies have identified a difference between true believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress people or make social connections. The intrinsically religious people have higher self-control ...

How, then, does a person grow in yiras Shamayim? By learning those sefarim that he finds inspiring, whether sifrei mussar or Chassidus; and by attaching himself to a person whom he regards as being closer to Hashem than he is.

Day 57 - Pavlov’s Dogs - A Carrot and a Stick

In the late 1800’s a Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, discovered something that has since become so accepted that it hardly seems worth mentioning. In its time, however, it was such a novel idea that it earned him a Nobel Prize in psychology.

When hungry, dogs [like humans] salivate upon being presented with food.

In his famous “Pavlov’s dogs” experiment, Professor Pavlov would ring a bell whenever he fed his dogs. After a while, the dogs salivated whenever they heard a bell ring, even when they were not fed, because they subconsciously associated the ringing of a bell with food.

This idea - that our minds associate things that happen concurrently even when they are actually coincidental - is [at least in part] the basis for why we punish a child’s bad behavior and reward his good behavior.

By associating undesirable consequences with unwanted behaviors and desirable consequences with good behavior, we condition the child to instinctively associate proper conduct with positive feelings.

The fact is that we can use this same approach to train ourselves to behave properly - by setting up a system of rewards and punishments to serve as external controls for our behavior.

Here are some ideas. [We should stress that we are not dealing here with those who are suffering from a true addiction. Behavior modification in those cases involves an intense regimen. They should contact for help.]

• One can establish a predetermined fine for looking where he should not.
• This fine should include a safeguard for not following through on the fine.
• This consequence need not be financial, but maybe anything the person finds undesirable (e.g., skipping a treat).
• The fine should not be too hard to follow; otherwise, it may backfire and may even reinforce the bad behavior (since it can reinforce one’s feeling of being a failure).
• The fine should not cause any physical pain.
• The fine must be payable immediately. If one can owe or push it off, the effect is not powerful. It will often just accumulate indefinitely.
• Nedarim (vows) are not recommended because should the person fail, there are added complications and will just diminish the value of nedarim.
• One should likewise reward himself and celebrate his victories by treating himself to something special. Although this sounds simple, it can actually be quite useful. Think of some treat that you would like to buy for yourself, nothing too major. Buy it and put it away with the understanding that if you guard yourself for a certain length of time you will then be allowed to enjoy the treat.

This works since it turns the struggle into something enjoyable. It also makes succeeding a bit more exciting by creating a tangible goal through which the accomplishment can be measured.

Here’s another practical idea:
Have a confidante whom you can call to confide in, a person with whom you are not embarrassed to share you failings and whom you can call at times of nisyonos.

Day 58 - Torah Therapy - The How and What

We spoke earlier about the power of Torah study to eliminate the power of tumah.

The Noda BiYehudah emphasizes that the benefit of studying Torah is realized only when one is totally immersed in his learning. In his words:

If one is constantly thinking about Torah, there is no room for thoughts of ervah to take hold. The Gemara therefore writes that if one succumbed and saw something improper he should “involve” himself in Torah study, as it is written, “say in your heart” - i.e., it does not suffice to learn Torah superficially. Rather he must study with intense depth, as it is written, “in your heart ...”

R’ Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz makes this same point:

Sadly, experience shows that some people who study Torah nevertheless struggle with their yetzer hara and are swayed by it.

Why? Why did their Torah not save them? The answer is ... that it is not sufficient to merely learn Torah. A person must focus all his mental powers into Torah so that it completely fills his heart and mind, without leaving room for other thoughts.

R’ Yisrael Salanter (Iggeres HaMussar) also stresses that "Torah therapy" requires one to delve deeply in Torah, but adds that learning Torah is particularly effective when one studies the halachos that pertain specifically to the area in which he is being challenged:

When using Torah as therapy for the maladies of the yetzer hara, it is critical that one study energetically and with great depth the laws of that specific sin with all its details.

He notes that most people will never eat bread without washing their hands first even when hungry, but people speak lashon hara freely - though the punishment for the latter sin is clearly much more stringent. He explains that this is simply a matter of training and doing what you are used to. In order that avoiding the sin should become second nature, he suggests studying Torah (particularly the relevant laws) and training oneself through repetition.

Day 59 - The Toil of Torah - The Pleasure of Torah

We mentioned yesterday that toiling in Torah is essential for it to act as an effective antidote to the yetzer hara.

Why is that so?

This brings us to yet another reason that Torah protects one from tumah.

The Apter Rav makes the following comment to the well-known Rashi in Bechukosai: If you follow in my laws - [I.e.,] that you shall toil in Torah:

Even if someone knows the entire Torah and the secrets within the mitzvos, he must nevertheless toil in Torah ... for whatever a person studies with hard work, he finds pleasure in ... [Aside from knowing Torah] there is a separate mitzvah to work hard studying Torah, and to thereby add increasingly to one’s pleasure in it...

The Apter Rav is telling us that one derives pleasure from Torah only when he has to work hard to understand it. Interestingly, Professor Tal Ben Shachar, an Israeli who is currently the most popular lecturer at Harvard University, makes much the same point regarding happiness in general. He asserts that one derives pleasure only from having a goal that pushes him forward and encourages him to maximize his potential. Possessing something does not generate happiness. Working toward it and achieving it, does.

If one is to derive pleasure from Torah, it is essential that he work hard at it. One may think that deriving pleasure from Torah detracts from the reward. After all, we are supposed to perform mitzvos lishmah, just because Hashem said so, and mitzvos lav leihanos nitnu, the mitzvos were not given for us to enjoy.

This, however, does not apply to Torah study. Torah study is meant to be pleasurable, and the Torah was given for us to derive pleasure by studying it. Rambam writes that one fulfills the commandment to love G-d by thinking about and analyzing His mitzvos (a reference to talmud Torah) ... “until we understand it and enjoy its attainment with an extreme degree of pleasure.”

In fact, it would seem that the pleasure of Torah study is a reflection of the ultimate pleasure of basking in the Shechinah’s presence in Olam Haba. The Gemara, in describing this experience, writes: “There is no eating or drinking nor relations in Olam Haba. Rather, the tzaddikim sit with their crowns upon their heads basking in the radiance of the Shechinah.”

The Midrash applies the same dynamic to Moshe, who did not eat or drink for the forty days he was in Heaven receiving the Torah. The Midrash explains that he didn’t need to because by toiling in Torah he was basking in Hashem’s radiance, and this experience substituted for the need for physical nutrition.

Mesillas Yesharim begins with the assertion that man was created “l’his’aneig al Hashem,” to enjoy Divine pleasure in Olam Haba.

A person is naturally drawn toward pleasure because he was created to ultimately enjoy the greatest pleasure of all - basking in the Shechinah’s presence. One who fails to satisfy this need for pleasure through Torah study, which in essence is the Olam Haba experience, is automatically drawn toward illicit pleasures (R' Meir Stern shlita, cited in Essa Einai).

In fact, R’ Tzadok HaKohen writes: “Do not be depressed and think how base you must be if you struggle with a great desire for physical pleasures. On the contrary, you are a vessel ready for the full power of yearning to seek Truth.

Day 60 - Either Or - Filling the Vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum.

That axiom, attributed to Aristotle, is the principle through which one cleans his carpets and moves liquids to defy gravity. By creating a vacuum in a vacuum cleaner or in a siphon, a force is created that causes dirt to be pulled out of carpets and liquids to fill a tube.

But it seems from Chazal that this rule applies not only to physical matter but even to human nature. The human spirit also abhors a vacuum, and will fill the vacuum either with kedushah or with tumah.

The following Midrash indicates as much:

Whenever Torah wishes to enter and find the chambers of one's heart clear [of sin], it enters and dwells within it, [after which] the yetzer hara cannot take control, nor can [the Torah] be removed.

This is comparable to a human king who, while traveling in the wilderness, comes upon a mansion with spacious rooms. He enters and dwells within it [and cannot be removed]. Conversely is the case for the yetzer hara: If the yetzer hara finds one devoid of Torah, it takes control and cannot be removed.

This "either/or" relationship between Torah and tumah is highlighted also in Rabbeinu Yonah on the Mishnah in Avos that states:

A person who speaks excessively with women brings misfortune upon himself, removes himself from Torah, and ultimately is confined to Gehinnom.

Rabbeinu Yonah comments:

For Torah concepts cannot be placed before one whose mind is focused on women, or socializing with them. One's mind cannot maintain both [Torah and tumah] simultaneously.

This idea can be understood as consistent with the general observation that the vacuum of kedushah is replaced by tumah.

For example:

When a person dies and the soul leaves the body, the kedushah is replaced with tumah. Therefore, the corpse of a Jew generates more tumah than that of a non-Jew (specifically as regards tumas ohel), because a Jew's neshamah is from a higher source.

A woman is tamei after giving birth because she no longer is housing the neshamah of a Jew within her.

Saturday night is known to be a time of tumah because it is when the kedushah of Shabbos departs.

The place in the world that once housed the greatest kedushah, the Holy of Holies in the Beis HaMikdash, is now a house of worship for a barbaric and violent religion.

One's mind is the repository for Torah.

Even before one is born, Hashem fills the mind of a Jew with Torah. This creates the either/or tension. One can fill his mind with Torah, in which case the tumah cannot enter. But if he fails to do so, tumah will be drawn to it as with a vacuum, as it is always drawn to a place that once housed, and that has the capacity, once again, to house the kedushah of Hashem's Torah.

Day 61 - Beware - Curiosity Kills

It is much easier to keep the enemy at bay than to fight him once he has arrived.

Likewise it is easier to avoid seeing offensive sights in the first place than to repress the desire to stare at that which one has already seen, for the Gemara teaches: The yetzer hara controls only that which the eyes see.

The Midrash teaches that it was Chavah’s curiosity that led to her eating from the eitz hadaas. Once she was told that she should not eat from it, what was the point of looking at it? But she was curious, so she looked. And as the pasuk writes, She saw it was good ... and the rest, as they say, is history.

The problem is that people are by nature curious about their surroundings. So when we venture out of doors we tend to look all around, and much of what the street has to offer is not what we should be looking at.

What complicates this is that curiosity is certainly a good thing.

Our mind is trained to enjoy that which is new and fresh. Hashem made us that way so that we should explore and enjoy His Torah and Creation. As the Rambam writes, nothing engenders love and awe of Hashem more than the discovery of the wonders of
Torah and Creation. But like every other personality trait it has to be moderated.

An often overlooked harm that the Internet has wrought upon society - one that is completely unrelated to tumah - is that it has created “curiosity junkies.” The incredible access to information that the Internet offers allows one to get the “high” of discovery infinitely more often than was once possible. Just a click here and there - related sites are linked and they fight for your “eyeballs” - and one can discover things that he never knew before, and it can be quite intriguing.

It also serves as a dreadful distraction for whatever task one should be focusing on. Instead of working on something that may involve a fair amount of drudgery, as much of life demands, a person can instead receive a quick, novelty “hit” by clicking and distracting himself from his boring task at hand. This high, like all pleasurable experiences, can become addictive, and one can become a slave to his curiosity. How many people check their email while driving? The high of the “new” interferes with common sense.

Bear in mind the cautionary words of the Raavad, who writes:

Chief among all the safeguards is that one should guard his eyes from anything that is not his. If it’s not your business, why look?

The Raavad continues:

One should even guard his eyes from that which is his. He will then exemplify true modesty ... Should one guard his eyes, his heart will be guarded as well. And once his eyes and heart will be guarded, he will be entirely safe from sin, for one trans- gresses through three senses: sight, thought and touch ... (Baalei HaNefesh, Shaar HaKedushah).

The Chovos HaLevavos echoes this concept:

Work on shutting your eyes from looking at that which you don’t need, at that which will distract you from what is beneficial for you. Stay away, as much as possible, from too much looking, as Chazal tell us, “One’s heart and eyes are the two mediums for sin.

As a normal curious person, your “default” setting is to look around. Prepare yourself before you go out to the street by making a firm commitment not to look around.

Day 62 - To See Up, Look Down - There’s Always a Way

Clothes make the man.

Dress for success.

These axioms contain truth. As the Sefer HaChinuch famously writes, a person is influenced by his own actions. If a truly rotten individual decides to behave like a tzaddik, spending his days learning Torah and performing mitzvos, even if he does so for ulterior motives, he will eventually become good. The converse is also true. If a truly good person is forced to do bad things - say, the government coerces him to take a job that involves cruelty - he eventually will become cruel. Such is the effect of our behavior.

Why is this relevant?

Chazal tell us that a person should repair his aveiros with the very limb that performed them. Accordingly, Rabbeinu Yonah writes that if person looked at ervah and corrupted his eyes, he should repair the damage by teaching himself to look down as he walks. The Reishis Chochmah points out, however, that this is not just about practical considerations, that by looking down one avoids seeing improper things. Rather, looking down engenders feelings of humility, and humility leads to yiras Shamayim, which prevents him from sinning.

The Shevet Mussar writes that if one who is walking sees women walking toward him he should look down. Don’t argue, he adds, that it is only a glance, for if it were so, why is the yetzer hara pushing him to continue to look?!

Similarly, the sefarim suggest that when going outside, a person should train himself not to look around. Even if he is seeking someone, he should not survey his surroundings but should rather rely on Hashem to send him the person he is seeking.

Now, you may be thinking, “There is no way I can do this. I am not the type to look at the floor when I walk, or when I see someone approaching. I would feel like a total fraud. This is only for the really holy type.”

You’re right of course ... but the only difference between you and the holy type is what they do, not how they think of themselves.

Look down, look away, and presto - you too will be the holy one, for as the Chinuch writes: “You become what you do” [and you will come to terms with that too]!

Day 63 - The Best Tefillah - Davening for Ruchniyus

There are numerous examples in Tanach and in the words of Chazal of prayers for the sake of spiritual growth. For example, the following verses are found in Tehillim 119:

Remove from me the way of falsehood and favor me with Your Torah. Lead me in the path of Your commandments for I desired it. Extend my heart to Your testimonies and not to monetary gain. Turn away my eyes from seeing vanity; with Your ways sustain me. May my heart be perfect in Your statutes in order that I not be shamed.

All these verses are prayers for success in ruchniyus.

Similarly, throughout our daily prayers we ask Hashem for assistance in spiritual matters. In Shemoneh Esrei, in Ahavah Rabbah and in Birchos HaShachar.

How do these prayers conform to the well-known principle, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven”? 2 This principle, after all, is the very basis for personal accountability. It’s all up to us. Yet in all these prayers, we take a back seat and ask Hashem to take the steering wheel and steer our ruchniyus!

The Meforshim explain: The ball is indeed in our court to decide whether to do right or wrong. Hashem does not get involved with this initial step. But once we decide that we truly wish to do what’s right, we can ask Him for assistance.

In fact, we must ask for assistance, for without Hashem’s assistance, we cannot succeed, as Chazal say: “One’s yetzer hara overpowers him daily, and if not for Hashem’s assistance, he cannot win.” Apparently, the bechirah )free choice( system is set up so that we will certainly fail unless we humbly submit to Hashem with the realization that we cannot do it on our own.

In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos:

He (King David) chose (on his own) to serve Hashem, but then prayed to Hashem for two things: first, that Hashem strengthen his resolve by removing the factors that detract him ... and second, that he should be able to carry out that which he resolved to do.

Now, you may think, “Of course I want to do what is right. Who doesn’t? It’s the actual doing it that is the problem.” But be honest, do you truly want to do what’s right? Say you’re sitting in front of the computer and a click away from doing an aveirah. At this moment are you thinking, “I really don’t want to do this,” or perhaps, “Just leave me alone already! What’s so bad?!”

This is reminiscent of that famous line of the baalei mussar: True, Chazal teach that Hashem says: “Open for Me an opening the size of the head of a needle, and I will open for you a gate wide enough for a team of horses to pass” - but that opening had better be all the way through.

Day 64 - The Only Way - Prayers for Kedushah

In the case of guarding one’s eyes specifically, praying to Hashem for help is absolutely critical. As the Ohr HaChaim asks: If someone has already fallen into tumah, how can he possibly control himself from sinning again? He answers by quoting the verse: Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them, “I am Hashem, your G-d. Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you have dwelled.” Explains the Ohr HaChaim, the Torah is addressing those who have “dwelled in Egypt” and became accustomed to seeing and thinking about tumah. They are told: “Tell them that I am Hashem your G-d” - that is, while human strength cannot possibly prevail, a Jew has within him “Hashem’s strength.” By tapping into it one can quash natural physical drives.

How does one reach that part of himself? As we have seen, one must merely daven for help. We will continue with several prayers specifically for preserving kedushah.

The Shelah HaKadosh writes:

I found the following manuscript from our Heavenly Master, HaRav Moshe Cordovero: A certain elder taught us that to rid oneself of an improper thought one should repeat several times the verse, “A permanent flame shall burn on the Altar; it should not be extinguished.” It was obvious to me that the elder was Eliyahu the Prophet, but the Master concealed the matter because of his great humility.

R’ Chaim Volozhiner writes:

Before one takes to the road, he should pray: “Master of the World! I am about to go to the Valley of Death (i.e., a place fraught with spiritual dan- gers), a hazardous place. Save me from the yetzer hara and from inadvertent and deliberate sins, and specifically from [a specific transgression].”

The Steipler writes:

A person should recite even one hundred times a day a short prayer to be saved from that sin and from improper thoughts. Even if he thinks that he has said the same prayer many times and it was not effective, he should not lose hope. Rest assured that ultimately the prayers will not return empty-handed, as time will tell.

R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk writes:

... And if he came across an improper sight, Heaven forbid, he should immediately recite the verse, “And you shall not stray after your mind and eyes” ... to avoid contaminating his mind.

R’ Shimshon Pincus writes:

In my mind, another strategy is to train oneself to pray with all his might at times like this. He should cry out from the depths of his heart for Hashem’s help. Even if he notices as he is crying out that these matters are still disturbing him, he should not be concerned but should continue crying out and praying for himself, saying, “Master of the Universe! See what is happening to me!” And he will see wondrous things over time.

Day 65 - Not Now! - The Power of Postponement

About thirty years ago, a family looking for a yeshuah approached Rav Bransdorfer of the Eidah Hachareidis in Yerushalayim. He suggested that the family focus on shmiras halashon, and proceeded to outline the rules of what eventually became known as the Machsom L’fi (lit., a muzzle for my mouth) program. The concept was for a group of people to accept upon themselves to refrain from improper speech for a given two hours each day. Thirty years later, the Machsom L’fi initiative is thriving and becoming ever more popular.

Let’s examine why the program is so successful, and whether we can derive lessons from its success to help our battle for shmiras einayim.

Why is Machsom L’fi effective? In addition to the incredible zechusim it generates for all those involved, the Machsom L’fi works in many ways:

1. Consistency: A person reminds himself every day bar none to guard his tongue. There is nothing like an everyday boost to effect real change.

There are many compilations that have been published recently that aim to strengthen one’s shmiras einayim. Studying these each day, consistently, will certainly have a powerful effect.

2. One commits to a small manageable goal. Try telling yourself “I’ll never speak lashon hara again!” and you may as well surrender immediately. But when the commitment is for just a two-hour period, one can taste success. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin reportedly commented on the verse, the superiority of man over beast is naught: A person is greater than an animal with his capacity to say “No!” A small manageable goal allows one to tap into this capacity.

If one commits to guard his eyes for a period of time, say during his commute, he will certainly have the same benefit.

3. Controlling oneself for two hours strengthens the self-control muscle and allows one to build up strength and to maintain even longer periods of self- control.

4. By focusing on not speaking lashon hara each day, one’s level of awareness and diligence increases appreciably for the entire day. Awareness is the first step in personal growth.

This is clearly applicable to shmiras einayim as well.

5. Many Machsom L’fi group members accept upon themselves small consequences if they fail, such as giving a small sum of money to tzedakah. This strategy aids in discouraging lashon hara.

6. An incredible benefit that becomes apparent to anyone who joins a Machsom L’fi is that by postponing the aveirah of speaking lashon hara, one is much less likely to speak that bit of lashon hara later. Lashon hara that has been delayed for an hour loses its luster. Once the person refrains from sharing gossip when it’s “hot” and the moment passes, he will most often not speak it altogether.

This same dynamic is most certainly in play with regard to ta’avah as well, which is most powerful in the moment. A powerful strategy for shmiras einayim thus emerges: Postpone. Tell yourself, “I will just not do this now.” I need not refrain from doing so forever, just not right now.

Several years back there was a national campaign to resist dangerous substances. The slogan was “Just Say No!” As it turns out, the slogan was wrong. It was too demanding. And it is not the way to successfully delay gratification. It should have been, “Just Say, Not Now!” When faced with a nisayon, one should bear in mind that the moment of full blown ta’avah is fleeting. As long as you distract yourself, get up and move to a different area, etc., you will likely discover that the desire was fleeting and illusory.

It would seem then that the Machson L’fi program has many aspects that may work for shmiras einayim as well. Perhaps the time has come for men to make a parallel program for shmiras einayim.

Day 66 - I Am Who I Am - The Peril of a Comfort Zone

The teacher and his student were taking a hike in a remote forest outside the city. They walked absentmindedly deeper and deeper, turned a bend, and suddenly found themselves facing a surprising, but disturbing sight. Before them was a dilapidated house. The parents were sitting outside and three barefoot children, wearing torn and dirty clothing, were playing in the front yard. The teacher approached the man of the household, a dour-looking fellow, shook his hand, and after making small talk, asked him.

"You live here in the middle of nowhere. There is no work or business here. How do you survive?"

"Well, I'll tell ya," the man shrugged and said in a soft drawl, "as you can see, it ain't easy, but we have this little cow that gives a couple of liters of milk every day. I go to the nearest village, sell a little, and buy some food for the wife and kids. With the rest we make yogurt and cheese. We get by."

The teacher thought about this for a moment and looked around. He smiled, wished the man a good day and turned to head back home. After they had traveled a short distance he turned to his student and told him, "See that cliff over there. Quietly sneak back to the house, steal the cow, and toss it off that cliff." The student was too shocked to reply. He stared for a moment open mouthed and when he found his voice he started arguing passionately with his teacher. "But this is their only cow! Their only source of money! They'll starve to death!" He kept on pushing but the teacher refused to budge. Reluctantly, the student obeyed. He stole the cow, shoved it off the cliff, and watched as it bounced from stone to stone to its death. The image was burned into his mind.

Several years passed. The memory of what he had done and his guilt feelings drove him to distraction, so he traveled back to the forest to find the family, confess, and offer them any help he could.

However, as he approached the house he noted a definite change. Trees were freshly planted, the house had been remodeled, and normally dressed children were happily frolicking in the front yard. The student figured that the family must have sold the house in desperation. With a sense of dread he knocked on the door to seek information in locating the previous owners. The door swung open and facing him was the very man he had met several years before, though barely recognizable. He was dressed nicely, and wore a big smile on his face.

The student introduced himself, "Remember me? I was here several years ago with my teacher."

The man smiled and the student duly noted the improvement and inquired what happened. The man smiled.

"Well, I don't know if you remember but we used to have a little cow. It fell off a cliff shortly after you were here and died. So we had to figure out another way to make money. My wife and I learned some other skills and looks like we're doin' just fine. Go figure."

"Indeed," thought the student. "Go figure."

Of course, this is only a mashal )stealing is always forbidden(, but it conveys an important lesson.

We all have our comfort zones. The place where we tell ourselves, "Look. I'm just being honest with myself. This is who I am. There is as far as I can go. I need my distractions, just something to help me 'chill,' and calm down after a long day at the office."

This thinking is terribly self-limiting and completely untrue.

We can always strive to reach higher levels and push ourselves farther. Nothing bad will happen to us if we restrict our exposure, and conversely, everything good will happen.

Day 66 - I Am Who I Am - The Peril of a Comfort Zone

The teacher and his student were taking a hike in a remote forest outside the city. They walked absentmindedly deeper and deeper, turned a bend, and suddenly found themselves facing a surprising, but disturbing sight. Before them was a dilapidated house. The parents were sitting outside and three barefoot children, wearing torn and dirty clothing, were playing in the front yard. The teacher approached the man of the household, a dour-looking fellow, shook his hand, and after making small talk, asked him.

"You live here in the middle of nowhere. There is no work or business here. How do you survive?"

"Well, I'll tell ya," the man shrugged and said in a soft drawl, "as you can see, it ain't easy, but we have this little cow that gives a couple of liters of milk every day. I go to the nearest village, sell a little, and buy some food for the wife and kids. With the rest we make yogurt and cheese. We get by."

The teacher thought about this for a moment and looked around. He smiled, wished the man a good day and turned to head back home. After they had traveled a short distance he turned to his student and told him, "See that cliff over there. Quietly sneak back to the house, steal the cow, and toss it off that cliff." The student was too shocked to reply. He stared for a moment open mouthed and when he found his voice he started arguing passionately with his teacher. "But this is their only cow! Their only source of money! They'll starve to death!" He kept on pushing but the teacher refused to budge. Reluctantly, the student obeyed. He stole the cow, shoved it off the cliff, and watched as it bounced from stone to stone to its death. The image was burned into his mind.

Several years passed. The memory of what he had done and his guilt feelings drove him to distraction, so he traveled back to the forest to find the family, confess, and offer them any help he could.

However, as he approached the house he noted a definite change. Trees were freshly planted, the house had been remodeled, and normally dressed children were happily frolicking in the front yard. The student figured that the family must have sold the house in desperation. With a sense of dread he knocked on the door to seek information in locating the previous owners. The door swung open and facing him was the very man he had met several years before, though barely recognizable. He was dressed nicely, and wore a big smile on his face.

The student introduced himself, "Remember me? I was here several years ago with my teacher."

The man smiled and the student duly noted the improvement and inquired what happened. The man smiled.

"Well, I don't know if you remember but we used to have a little cow. It fell off a cliff shortly after you were here and died. So we had to figure out another way to make money. My wife and I learned some other skills and looks like we're doin' just fine. Go figure."

"Indeed," thought the student. "Go figure."

Of course, this is only a mashal )stealing is always forbidden(, but it conveys an important lesson.

We all have our comfort zones. The place where we tell ourselves, "Look. I'm just being honest with myself. This is who I am. There is as far as I can go. I need my distractions, just something to help me 'chill,' and calm down after a long day at the office."

This thinking is terribly self-limiting and completely untrue.

We can always strive to reach higher levels and push ourselves farther. Nothing bad will happen to us if we restrict our exposure, and conversely, everything good will happen.

Day 67 - A Life of Control - A Life of Happiness

There is a great feeling of satisfaction in living a life of self-control.

Self-control, or discipline, suffers from an image problem. In its extreme form, it is associated with a person who is so highly self-disciplined that he is miserable. The caricature paints a picture of a person who lives a grim, joyless life marked by dutiful self-discipline. This strait-laced killjoy has no spontaneity or newness in his life and he never smiles. He is simply no fun.

This portrayal, however, is false because it depicts a person who has taken a middah to the extreme.

Under normal circumstances, exercising selfcontrol not only does not make you miserable, it makes you happy; and this is the surprising part ... not only in the long run, but also in the moment.

To elaborate: Disciplined people report more happiness in their lives than their impulsive counterparts. In a sense this is not surprising: People leading lives of self-control will ultimately be more satisfied since they more effectively realize their long-term goals. But most people would guess that the self-discipline types are less happy in the short haul because, until those goals are met, they are sacrificing the present. Delaying gratification would seem, by definition, to mean that you sacrifice happiness now for the sake of more happiness later on.

As it turns out, this is not true. Studies have shown that a person's self-denial does not interfere with his happiness. People with greater self-control report greater happiness in their lives even in the moment, even as they are delaying gratification.

The late Mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir, R' Yerucham Levovits, makes a fascinating point:

He asks: Who is the essential "You"? What is your core essence?

Is it your body? Well, it is certainly not your entire body for if, chas v'shalom, your finger is cut off, you would still be here. Perhaps, then, it is your heart? A person cannot live without a heart! That is true, but you can have a heart transplant and "You" would still be here. Perhaps it is your brain? After all, if you had a brain transplant and they would replace your brain with someone else's, then "You" would no longer be around; the original brain owner would be and he would be occupying your body.

Okay, so we now know that "You" must be strongly associated with your brain. No brain, no You.

Now, which part of your mind is the essential "You"? Is it your yetzer hara? I hope not. How about your yetzer tov? R' Yerucham writes that neither is the essential You. Hashem implanted both within You. But neither is You.

Who are You?

You are your capacity to choose and how you use that capacity.
The yetzer tov and yetzer hara are the mere backdrop against your choices. But that which is most closely identified as the essential You is your capacity to choose.

"Hakol b'yedei Shamayim chutz miyiras Shamayim - Everything is in the hands of Hashem except for fear of Hashem." Your choices are the essential you. When you exercise self-control you are tapping into the part of you that is most essentially who you are. Every time you control yourself, you are in fact coming alive. No wonder you are happy!

Day 68 - A Class Act - A Man of Character

We spoke yesterday about the power of self-control.

Here is another way to look at it.

Think of someone you would describe as classy; not fancy, but classy. You certainly know people who present themselves in an understated and modest fashion and can best be described as “classy.” What character trait specifically makes them classy?

We often describe people with class as having “character” [not as in “What a character!” but as possessing character]. What does it mean to “have character”?

Several commentators explain the pasuk that states that Hashem created Adam in His Image )b’tzelem Elokim (as meaning that Hashem granted Man bechirah - the capacity to choose. This capacity is exclusive to Man. Whereas everything else in nature is instinctive, Man is in a class by himself. He can choose to suppress his impulses. This capacity, the capacity to choose, is thus his character. When we speak of the “character” of wine, we mean its unique quality. When we speak of man’s defining character, we refer to his capacity to choose.

Think about a classy person. His defining quality is that his actions are measured. He never acts on impulse, but responds in a logical manner to whatever the situation calls for. He is “classy” and possesses “character” because in his approach to life, he exemplifies the defining character of Man, that which places Man in a class of his own.

Don’t you want to think of yourself as being classy? As possessing character?

The Torah refers to us as a “Kingdom of Priests,” and Chazal tell us that we are royalty: “All Jews are princes.” What is a prince? He is one who is in control - first of himself; second of others.

In the Sefer HaKuzari the king asks the rabbi to describe a pious individual (a chassid). Here is his response:

“A pious man is the guardian of his country; he gives its inhabitants their provisions and all they need. He is just; he wrongs no one, and doesn’t give anyone more than his due. When he calls upon them, they are ready to obey him. He orders, they execute; he forbids, they abstain.”

The king asks: “I inquired about a pious man, not a prince?”

The rabbi responds: “A pious man is nothing but a prince who controls his senses, his mental and his physical faculties, as it is written: ‘One who rules his spirit is greater than one who conquers a city’ (Mishlei 16:32). He is fit to rule, because if he were the prince of a country he would be just as he is to his body and soul. He subdues his passions, keeping them under control ...”

Don’t you want to be proud of who you are, to regard yourself as a prince?

It all begins with self-control.

Day 69 - Building the Muscle - Increasing Self-control

We mentioned earlier [Day 18] that willpower is like a muscle whose strength ebbs after a long workout; it is like a muscle in another way as well: While muscles become exhausted by exercise in the short term, they are strengthened by regular exercise in the long term. Perhaps regularly exerting "self-control" improves willpower "strength" as well.

In fact, the Chinuch to the mitzvah of "Velo sasuru" explains the well known concept of "mitzvah goreres mitzvah; aveirah goreres aveirah" - the performance of one mitzvah "pulls one" )predisposes one( to perform another mitzvah, and the performance of an aveirah predisposes one to perform another aveirah - as follows:

If you decide to follow your physical urges one time, you will automatically be drawn to follow them many times; and conversely, if you are disciplined and control your desires by shutting your eyes from seeing immorality, it will be easier for you to continue doing so in the future. For self-indulgence draws the flesh like wine attracts alcoholics ... the more they drink, the more they thirst for. If they would only drink even a [single] cup of water instead, their burning desire would diminish, it would make their life easier.

So it is with regard to [guarding one's eyes]: As long as one continuously satisfies his desires, he empowers his yetzer hara. But when he disciplines himself [the yetzer hara diminishes and] he will rejoice every day [as his nisayon decreases correspondingly].

Recent scientific research has reached a similar conclusion.

In one study, researchers found that smokers who practiced self-control in another area of their lives - avoiding sweets or regularly squeezing a handgrip - for two weeks were more successful at quitting smoking than control subjects who performed two weeks of regular tasks that required no or little self-control, such as writing in a diary.

In another study, volunteers were assigned to a two-month program of physical exercise - a routine that required willpower. At the end of two months, participants who had stuck with the program did better on a lab measure of self-control than did participants who were not assigned to the exercise regimen. That's not all. The subjects also reported smoking less and drinking less alcohol, eating healthier food, monitoring their spending more carefully, and improving their study habits.

Regularly exercising their willpower with physical exercise, it seemed, led to better willpower in nearly all areas of their lives.

Remember, the job gets increasingly easier. We just must train ourselves to do what is right.

Day 70

The Flesh Is Weak

The Dangers of Overconfidence

It is Yom Kippur. We feel different. Closer. Alive. Even as we dread the ultimate outcome of the Judgment Day, we cherish the feeling of being like an angel. If only we could bottle this closeness and tap into it throughout the year.

And now the day is getting darker. We have been in shul a good portion of the day. Perhaps there was a short break and we have now gathered again in shul and are up to "the home stretch." We are reaching deep within ourselves to find untapped resources of inspiration.

We take out the Sefer Torah and what do we read? The story of Mattan Torah? No. An inspirational pas- sage in Devarim? No again. Perhaps Shiras Ha'azinu dealing with elevated and mystical concepts? No. None of the above. We read the portion in Acharei Mos dealing with the most base transgressions, arayos. This seems like such a let-down, a squandered opportunity.

Why, in fact, did Chazal instruct us to read the pas age of arayos at this time?

Chazal are telling us something we may have missed: Even as we stand as one in an exalted state of holiness, even on Yom Kippur at Minchah, we are no stronger than our weakest link, the flesh and blood bodies that house our neshamah, and we are thus vulnerable to the most debased aveiros even at this time.

There are no guarantees at any time and in any situation to protect us from terrible failures.

Overconfidence fosters recklessness, and the Torah is forewarning us that vigilance is always, but always necessary. Let's take an honest look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we trust our self-discipline. Imagine the following scenario, one that sadly does not take too much imagination.

You had the proverbial bad day. Stressful, difficult, vaguely depressing, or plain boring. There is no one around and you are checking your email on your desktop or smart phone, or perhaps just browsing the Web for some light entertainment, say for the latest news. But to shake off the "blues" you want a quick picker-upper. I am not referring to a calculated decision; it is more like something straddling the border between the conscious and subconscious. Something in your chemical makeup, perhaps your hormones, is looking for a jolt, a rush of endorphins to chase the "low" feeling away.

In the pre-web days, your only option was to saunter over to the kitchen and nosh on something to get the quick fix. The sugar fix may not be the healthiest or smartest alternative and may leave you with some unwanted inches around the middle, but who's perfect? But now the web is here, and there are easier ways to get the quick upper. You don't even have to leave your chair, and there is also no residual collateral damage when you step on the scale. Also, since there is no physical evidence of this momentary lapse, you are left with room for psychological plausible deniability. You can almost convince yourself afterward that it never happened. After all, where's the evidence?

Overconfidence is particularly problematic with regard to adolescents. At this age young men tend to be reckless and place themselves in compromising situations. Their self-control also tends to be weak, while at the same time they are physically drawn toward ta'avah.

It is silly and naive to be overconfident. It is downright foolish and negligent to be confident about one's adolescent son.

As the Yiddishism goes, "A mentsh iz nohr a mentsh - A human being is only a human being." We are imperfect and will not always have perfect self-control. It is simply inexcusable not to filter, or at least place a monitoring program, on each and every device that can access the Internet, including, and perhaps, most importantly, the smart phone.

Day 71

The Trusted Servant

When Nobody Sees

How does Hashem identify those who are completely loyal to Him, who will stick with Him through thick and thin, whom He can count on to never even consider abandoning Him?

Yerushalmi Berachos tell us how:

HaKadosh Baruch Hu says: If you give Me your hearts and eyes, then I know you are truly Mine.

What is it about shmiras einayim specifically that conveys such loyalty and dedication?

It is like someone once said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching." Inyanei kedushah are intensely private. No one knows what you are thinking, and generally, no one knows what you are looking at. There are therefore no ulterior motives in these matter. It's all about true dedication to Hashem. This brings to mind the words of the Rambam:

"Among the fundamental principles of faith in the Torah is the notion that if a person fulfills just one of the 613 mitzvos properly without any ulterior motive whatsoever, but he performs it from pure dedication, he merits life in Olam Haba."

How much more so is this true nowadays?! Shmiras enayim in the prevailing environment is such a powerful statement to Hashem about our degree of dedication.

The Beis Avraham (R' Avraham Weinberg, the former Slonimer Rebbe) visited Eretz Yisrael some 80 years ago. He addressed his chassidim while in Tiberias and said:

If in present times, with the prevailing immodesty, we guard our eyes when walking the streets, we may be almost as great as the tzaddikim of the previous generation. We can apply the verse in Koheles: "Do not say, 'How is it that the earlier days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you have inquired about this."

The Rebbe added, "Don't say that the previous generations were much greater than ours. Perhaps, we can be almost as great."

He then paused and changed his mind. "No! If we guard our eyes we are definitely as great as they were!" And he again invoked that verse. " 'How is it that the earlier days were better than these?' We certainlycan be just as great."

He paused again and then rose from his chair and roared, "Still no! If we walk the streets nowadays and maintain our kedushah we are much, much greater than the previous generations."

And for a third time he repeated this verse: " 'How is it that the earlier days were better than these?' On the contrary, if we act with kedushah in our much more challenging situation, we are much greater than they!"

Bear in mind now that this story happened some 80 years ago. Can you imagine how great is someone who guards his eyes in today's times with all of its nisyonos?! Hashem certainly turns to him and says:

There is no one, aside from Me, to see what you are doing. There is no one to demean your failures and no one to celebrate your victories. Yet in the privacy of your home and mind you have dedicated yourself to Me.

You have given Me your heart and eyes. I now know that you are truly Mine.

Day 72

No Guarantee

The Yetzer Hara’s Immense Power

Never underestimate your enemy. It is a recipe for disaster.

What is truly frightful about tumah is its capacity to accelerate from 0 to 60 at a moment’s notice. When everything seems fine and your ruchniyus is stable, without a context, gradual descent, or warning, it is possible that you may find yourself facing the most difficult nisayon imaginable.

This is conveyed most powerfully by the well known story of Rav Amram Chasidah.

Briefly, the city of Nehardea once ransomed a group of girls who had been kidnaped. The women were temporarily housed in Rav Amram’s attic until they could return home safely. In the interim, in order to avoid yichud, the ladder that provided the only means of access to the attic was removed. However, there was one open area through which one could see from the lower floor into the attic. Rav Amram passed that opening just as a particularly attractive woman was standing there. His yetzer hara urged him to do an aveirah, so he grabbed the ladder and began climbing up the rungs toward her. Halfway up, Rav Amram got hold of himself and realized what he was about to do, but he did not trust himself to overcome his desire.

So he cried out, “There’s a fire in Amram’s house!”

There were many talmidei chachamim in the area who heard his call and came running to the rescue.

When they saw Rav Amram and realized what was actually happening, they were mortified. “Amram, you are embarrassing us!” Rav Amram responded, “Far better that you should be ashamed of me now in this world than to be ashamed of me forever in the World to Come.”

There are several lessons to be gleaned from this incident.

First, how quickly the yetzer hara for tumah operates. There was no gradual process here. Rav Amram Chasidah was a recognized talmid chacham at the time of his nisayon (as is clear from the reaction of the
other talmidei chachamim). Yet, the ta’avah to perform a most heinous crime involving arayos almost got the better of him.

Second, it is clear from this story that no one, not even an Amora, is immune from ta’avah.

Third, the story drives home the point that at times the yetzer hara can be so strong that one may simply be incapable of escaping the nisayon on his own accord ... and must seek help from outsiders.There is absolutely nothing wrong, and in fact, everything right, for one to seek the assistance of a support group when needed.

Fourth, the story conveys that fear of embarrassment should not prevent one from seeking help. In this story, a significant Rabbinic leader sought help for his problem and was not afraid to admit his weakness.

Last, Rav Amram used the power of embarrassment as a means of preventing him from sinning. He knew that upon the arrival of other talmidei chachamim, their presence would break the spell he was under. The same principle is operative with the Internet- reporting devices. The very fact that one knows that he is being “seen” by the “shomer” acts as a deterrent to sin.

Day 73

To Steal a Glance

The Need for Constant Vigilance

There is a well-known expression, “Know thy enemy.”

If you wish to win a battle, you have to know your opponent: his strengths, weaknesses, tactics, and strategies. Does he simply try to overpower you, or does he go for the sleight of hand, for the unexpected?

When it comes to spiritual matters, our enemy is the yetzer hara, whom Chazal describe as a cunning and wily adversary. If we are aware of his tactics we will be better prepared to battle him.

How does the yetzer hara operate when it comes to inyanei kedushah?

Reb Arele Roth, the founder of the Shomrei Emunim Chassidus, provides insight:

In the battle for kedushah, the yetzer hara focuses on the prohibition against histaklus (gazing at improper sights). Why? Because it wishes to avoid making a fuss.

Here’s a mashal from the world of sports. In baseball, there are homerun hitters and singles hitters. The homerun hitter swings for the fences. When he connects, his hits cause damage, and he gets all the fanfare. On the other hand, he tends to strike out a lot and has a relatively low batting average. The singles hitter, on the other hand, flies under the radar. He tries merely to put the bat on the ball and is satisfied even with a walk. But his batting average is generally much higher that that of the homerun hitters.

When it comes to inyanei kedushah, the yetzer hara is a singles hitter. He knows that he cannot get you to perform a serious crime. Aside from practical considerations, a “big” aveirah triggers red lights of alarm that prevent the aveirah from transpiring. So instead he plays the game - the battle of kedushah vs. tumah - differently.

The yetzer hara goes for the singles, for the “easy” aveirah of histaklus that has always been very available, and is even more so in present times. Should he swing for the homer, he most likely will strike out, but by shooting only for the singles - histaklus - his rate of success is, sadly, much higher. And the aveiros can snowball; a series of singles can be as devastating as a homerun.

Unless we are vigilant, unless our personal filter is set for sensitive, we can perform the aveirah without any fanfare, barely noticing what we are doing.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Day 74 - The Vortex - When One Thing Leads to Another

Did you hear about the fellow who borrowed $100 from his friend but could not pay him back? The friend started pressuring him so the next time he was in a store he grabbed some money from the register when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking. The CCTV, however, videoed his action, so the police come to arrest him. He assaulted the police so they threw him in jail. He got out on bail but when they came to take him to trial, he pulled out a gun and started shooting.

The point of this story is to depict how a slippery slope operates.

It gathers momentum, snowballs, and becomes increasingly difficult to stop.

We often turn to our base desires as an escape. We feel under pressure, unfulfilled, or slightly depressed, and we want a release, a momentary respite from our negative emotions. When we are in a negative state of mind we are vulnerable, our self-control is weakened. And when we are down, the negative emotions and behaviors can gather steam.

The trigger to this downward spiral can be the most insignificant thing.

It’s a Sunday morning, you wake up late and miss davening at your regular minyan. Not the worst thing, but perhaps you missed z’man Krias Shema as well. You could go to a late minyan but parking is a hassle, so you decide to daven at home. But you don’t really daven; instead, as you mutter the words, you patter around your house, picking up things and getting distracted. In no time you’re finished.

All this makes you feel a little like a loser.

The yetzer hara is slowly getting you.

Instead of going to your shiur, you go downstairs to your office and check your email, feeling bored and gloomy. A click here and then there, and poof, you’re gone. It’s all too easy ... and too predictable. The trigger was merely getting up late, but it spiraled to something else entirely.

How do you stop the slide before you drop off the slippery slope in an out-of-control free fall?

Firstly, by being self-aware. If you are feeling vulnerable, be extravigilant not to fail. Also, put in safeguards beforehand. It is inevitable that we will wake up some mornings on the wrong side, with our self-control below par. We have to make sure that we are protected and prepared for such eventualities by putting strategies in place and putting our own roadblocks in place beforehand, thus making it exceedingly difficult to do that which we know is wrong.

Day 75 - What Is My Line? - Wherever You Struggle

To state the obvious, we are all different, sometimes, astonishingly so. Like Chazal say, "Just as people's appearances are different, so too are their personalities."

Our varying personalities manifest the idea that we were all placed on this world to accomplish a specific and unique mission. We have different personalities because we have different tasks. The problem is - and it's a pretty big problem - that not only must we succeed in our mission, but we are unsure what our mission is altogether! Where should we focus our energies?

R' Tzadok HaKohen provides a clue.

If you want to know what your unique mission is, look no further than to the very area that your yetzer hara drives you hardest to transgress.

The Gra writes similarly that we are placed in this world to repair that which we corrupted in previous lifetimes. But how do we figure out where we went wrong? He tells us to examine ourselves:Whatever aveiros we commit most often, and whichever aveiros we are most drawn to, those are the ones that we must repair.

At this point you must be thinking, "Go figure! My job is to do that which comes most unnaturally!"

But don't despair, because R' Tzadok also writes that this same area is where we have the greatest potential for growth.

This is no cruel coincidence.

Chassidus adopts a phrase from the Gemara to convey this idea. The Gemara (Chagigah 5b) relates that Rebbi was once reading Eichah. As he was reading the verse, "[Hashem] cast from heaven to earth the glory of Israel," he dropped the sefer. He commented, "From a high roof to a deep pit."

Simply, this means that just as the book fell from his hand, so did Klal Yisrael's prestige fall after the Destruction. In Chassidus, however, this is understood differently. The phrase really means that the higher they are, the lower they fall. That is, every object, or even concept, that exists here in this world is rooted in the upper world. The higher its source, the lower it can fall. Hence, the very area in which a person has the greatest potential for growth, his "high note," will inevitably be the very area in which he experiences his greatest struggle.

R' Moshe Feinstein sees a very similar idea in a Gemara that relates that Rav Yosef the son of R' Yehoshua ben Levi survived what is referred to nowadays as a NDE, a Near Death Experience. When he recovered, the Amoraim asked him to describe what he saw when he was "dead." He responded, "I saw an upside-down world: Those who were high in this world were low in that world, and those who were low in this world were high in that world."

R' Moshe Feinstein explains: Each of us struggles in some area in this world. It is the place where we most often fail, but where we also have our most meaning- ful victories. According to the Gra and R' Tzadok, it is the very place that our unique individual mission is to be found. It may seem to the outside observer that this area is our low note. But in reality, in the future we will discover that specifically for this area of struggle we will receive the most reward.

Many of us struggle with kedushah. Perhaps it is the unique and special mission of our generation. But we should take heart in the knowledge that every victory is recorded and will be well-rewarded in the World to Come.

Day 76 - Feeling Like a Rasha - Bad Remorse Versus Good Remorse

Jewish guilt is a cliché; it is fodder for many a corny joke, but it certainly is no laughing matter. Without an inner conscience to motivate us to do what’s right, without a sense of guilt after we failed to do so, there would be nothing to push us to improve.

Perhaps, the greatest proof of this truism is the following two, heinous quotes uttered by one of the most despicable men to ever walk this earth, Adolf Hitler.

“Only when the human race will no longer be haunted by the consciousness of guilt, will it find the inner peace and energy to brutally cut down without hesitation the wild shoots and weeds that grow amongst it.”

“Conscience is a Jewish invention; it is a blemish like circumcision.”

This wicked individual intuitively understood that the greatest obstacle restraining his evil agenda from becoming a reality is mankind’s inclination to do what is good )a conscience(, and its feelings of regret upon failing to do so (guilt). So he made bold proclamations to discredit these basic underpinnings of civility and civilizations.

Ironically, he spoke the unvarnished truth. The consciousness of guilt is indeed that which prevents people from doing evil. And since Hashem created morality (as stated in Tehillim, You established fairness), and it is Klal Yisrael that disseminates Hashem’s ideals, we may very well be “blamed” for the presence of conscience in the world. Some aveirah!

Guilt, however, can become a force of evil.

The yetzer hara at times hijacks this most noble of human emotions - which demonstrates that we have a neshamah - and uses it to facilitate sin. Guilt can be debilitating, and thus generate more aveiros. One thing is certain: Changing a character trait is no easy thing, but if you allow yourself to sink into despondency you’re certainly doomed!

When should we embrace guilt and when should we reject it? How can we distinguish healthy guilt from harmful guilt? By having our antennae up and being sensitive to the nature of these similar but very different emotions.

The difference stems from their source, and is manifest in their results.

True remorse is productive. If you feel a strong desire to repair that which has been damaged, if you are infused with strength and determination, and invigorated with fresh energy, then you’ll know that the remorse is positive. Positive remorse certainly makes one feel bad at first, but it ultimately produces happiness, in much the same way that one experiences strong positive feelings after reconciliation.

True remorse stems from one’s mind - from a sober decision to stop and confront oneself, to consider one’s actions and courageously admit you are wrong. It requires hard work and deliberate thought and is driven by one’s understanding of his capacity for greatness: I am special. I am proud of who I am. How can I justify having done such an act?! Enough is enough! This individual values himself as a person and deems his performance of the act bad; he does not devalue himself in totality. He does not beat himself up psychologically and see himself as a loser. Instead, he assumes responsibility for what he has done and is energized to improve.

False remorse is destructive. If you have abandoned hope of ever repairing the damage of your aveiros, if you feel drained of strength and determination - in a word, “paralyzed” - then you’ll know that you are dealing with negative remorse. It sabotages your energy (in fact, sleeping more is often a telltale sign of this despondency) and leaves you with a mindset that repeating this aveirah is a foregone conclusion. It leads directly to hopelessness and depression.

This remorse stems not from a deliberate decision to consider one’s reaction, but comes on spontaneously. In fact, it has the opposite effect: It compels one to shut off his mind from fear of dealing with these uncomfortable feelings. Very often such guilt is generated by low self-esteem: This just proves that I am really worthless. How else could I have done such an act?! I may as well face the facts. I simply can’t change. It causes one to consider him- self bad, not just the act. Instead of taking responsibility for his past missteps, he sees himself as a victim of circumstance, which, of course, only reinforces the possibility of the act recurring. After all, if you were a victim the first time you committed the aveirah and your actions were beyond your control, then you cannot stop yourself from repeating the act another time. The same way it was not your fault the first time, it won’t be your fault the second time either.

In summary: Any thought that makes you want to improve comes from the yetzer tov. Any thought that weakens you and decreases your desire to grow comes from the yetzer hara.

DAY 77 - You Are Not Bad - The Magic of Teshuvah!

Most mature adults don’t believe in magic.

If something is so surprising, so out of the ordinary, so unreal, then guess what? In all likelihood, it is not real. It must be a sleight of hand, an optical illusion that gives the appearance of something that it’s not.

This intuition - to reject that which flies in the face of our daily experience - can deter one from doing teshuvah, because the premise behind teshuvah does just that.

“You can’t turn back the clock” is axiomatic to our experience. There are no “backsies” in this world. Whatever was done, remains done. Yet, when it comes to teshuvah, the Torah states otherwise. When one does sincere teshuvah, he wipes out the past, as if it never happened at all. He presses the “Undo” button and restarts as if nothing ever happened.

Teshuvah works like magic - but like real magic.

Teshuvah was created before the world, before the very creation of “time,” and therefore is not bound to “before” and “after.” Just as the future can be changed so can the past.

The pasuk therefore states regarding teshuvah: Hashem! Return us to You, and we will return. Renew our days to how they used to be.

This idea is amplified also in the pasuk that states: Create for me a pure heart, Hashem, and renew a spirit within me.

If you truly accept that teshuvah works, you can look at yourself in the mirror and see a new, cleansed person. You need not be saddled by guilt, because the stain is no longer there.

In fact, the Rambam states that as part of the teshuvah process, the person has to dissociate himself from his sins. “That was not me. I am no longer the person who committed those sins.” And by doing so, by letting go and distancing himself from his past, by denying that it is part of who is he today, Hashem grants him his wish. Through the magic of teshuvah, one is allowed to hang a “Grand Re-Opening” sign, to restart himself, to shed his past like a worn coat.

Of course, there is a process to teshuvah, and it involves reflecting on the past and regretting what one has done. But the sefarim emphasize that these thoughts should be relegated for specific times when a person “does” teshuvah; they should not constantly weigh him down. By following the guidelines of teshuvah, the past is in fact erased.

In a fascinating responsa, the Noda BiYehudah was asked to set forth a program of teshuvah for someone who had committed multiple heinous sins over a three-year period - sins which would have been punishable by death at the time of the Sanhedrin. It is amazing to read the respectful tone he employs when addressing this individual. It is so abundantly evident from the way he writes to and about this individual, that to the Noda BiYehudah there was absolutely no reason to see this individual as somehow tainted and besmirched. On the contrary, he is to be celebrated and respected for doing teshuvah.

Teshuvah really works!

DAY 78 - Remorse - Feeling Good About Feeling Bad

We have mentioned that regret about past mis-deeds should be relegated to specific times when a person is doing teshuvah.

However, even during this time, when one feels remorse, the regret should not be debilitating. One should feel good about feeling bad.

Harav Yosef Zevin, in Sippurei Chassidim, relates the following story.

In a small village lived a simple man who worked as a wagon driver. We meet him on a cold Friday night as he bursts into the village’s shul.

“Where’s the rav! I must speak to him immediately!” He spotted the rav and rushed over.

“Rav, please help me!” he said, as a look of desperation washed over his face. “I was mechaleil Shabbos (desecrated the Sabbath)! I need a kapparah (atonement). What should I do?”

The rav stared at him. “How? What happened?”

The man looked down at his hands shamefacedly, and spoke in a low voice. “I was returning Erev Shabbos from the market in the next city and I got lost in the forest. I was so panicked that I didn’t even realize that the sun had already set ... until it was too late. “His voice trailed off. “Rav,” he continued, “please help me.”

The rav smiled at him warmly. “Don’t worry. The gates of repentance are never closed. Just donate a pound of candles to the shul to be used for the Friday night prayers and Hashem will forgive you.”

Sitting in the shul and observing this scene was a young man, R’ Yechiel Michel, who eventually became known as the Maggid of Zlotchov. “A pound of candles for violating the Shabbos?!” he thought to himself. “How could the rav treat chillul Shabbos so lightly?”

The next Erev Shabbos, the wagon driver dutifully donated a box of candles to the shul, to be used for the Friday night prayers, but it did not work out. A dog ran into the shul, grabbed them, and ran off. The shocked man ran to report what had happened to the rav.

“Hashem does not want my teshuvah! It’s a sure sign. What should I do now?!”

“Calm down. These things happen,” the rav reassured him. “Just bring another pound of candles next Shabbos. It’ll be okay.”

R’ Michel Yechiel was again in the shul and observed this scene as well. He was now even more surprised at what he viewed as the rav’s cavalier attitude toward shmiras Shabbos.

In any case, this, too, did not work out. The candles were lit the following Erev Shabbos, but within twenty minutes they had all melted down and the shul was left in the dark. And - as you may have predicted - a similar thing happened the third week as well: A strong wind blew out the candles just as Shabbos began and once again the shul was dark.

At this point even the rav grew concerned and told the man to go to the Baal Shem Tov in the neighboring village of Mezhibuzh. So the sincere wagon driver hitched his wagon and traveled to the Rebbe for counsel.

The Rebbe received him and after hearing his story told him, “Never mind. Your rav was right. Just donate another pound of candles and it’ll all work out this time. But when you return to your village, tell the young man who is always sitting and learning in the shul that I would like to meet him.”

The wagon driver did just that and R’ Yechiel Michel immediately set off to meet the Rebbe, but he instead met with all sorts of trouble. His wagon fell into a ditch and the axle broke, so he returned home to have it repaired. He finally set off again but this time he lost his way altogether and by the time he found the road to Mezhibuzh it was late Friday afternoon and the sun was about to set. So he abandoned the wagon and went the rest of the way by foot. Shabbos was well underway by the time Reb Michel reached the Baal Shem Tov’s door. He stood there shivering, not so much from the biting wind and snow, but rather from the trauma of his near violation of Shabbos.

He knocked and after a short wait the door opened. Standing before him was the great Baal Shem Tov.

“Good Shabbos, Reb Michel! Come in. You seem to have had a rough trip. Come sit by the fire and warm up.”

Reb Michel did just that and sat quietly.

“Reb Michel,” continued the Baal Shem Tov. “You are surprised that a box of candles can atone for a sin as severe as desecrating the Shabbos, but that is because you have never experienced the bitter taste of sin - and therefore could not fathom the remorse a Yid feels when he thinks he did an aveirah. Having gone through what you just have, I think you now know the agony the wagon driver feels. Trust me. His remorse alone was more than enough to atone for his aveirah ....”

Of course, the regret, shame, and remorse you feel during the time you set aside for teshuvah will be painful. But embrace that pain. It is the very energy that powers your teshuvah to guarantee that you will receive a full atonement.

DAY 79 - “It’s Just Not Who I Am!” - Believing in Change

The biggest obstacle to change is the belief that we cannot change. It is the perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The following is brought in the name of the Shelah HaKadosh:

Some overly pious people [who wish to discourage tumah] are very stringent, asserting that it is impossible to repair a sin involving kedushah ...

These individuals increase the number of sinners in Klal Yisrael by discouraging them from returning to beneath the Shechinah’s wings. For upon hearing this, the sinner tells himself that there is no repentance in any case. Once I am lost, I’m gone forever ...

A recent social experiment demonstrates this truism.

A group of students were read a passage from Francis Crick, the famous molecular biologist, who denied the existence of free will. In this article Crick asserts that free will is a quaint old notion no longer taken seriously by intellectuals, especially not psychologists and neuroscientists. Afterward, when compared with a control group that read a different passage (also from Crick, but on a different topic) the former group expressed more skepticism about free will - and promptly cut themselves some moral slack while taking a math test. Asked to solve a series of arithmetic problems in a computerized quiz, they cheated by getting the answers through a glitch in the computer that they’d been asked not to exploit. The supposed glitch, of course, had been put there as a temptation by the researchers.

In a follow-up experiment, the psychologists gave another test in which people were promised $1 for every correct answer - and they could compute their own scores. Just as the researchers feared, people were more likely to cheat after being exposed beforehand to arguments against free will.

When we lose sight of the fact that we really do have a choice - then and only then have we lost the battle.

In fact, this mindset played a pivotal role in Acher’s downfall. To recount briefly: There was once a Tanna named Elisha ben Avuyah. He was R’ Meir’s rebbi and is quoted in a Mishnah. Sadly, he eventually became a heretic, after which Chazal began to refer to him as “Acher” - the Other. One Yom Kippur he brazenly
mounted his horse and rode to the vicinity of the Beis HaMikdash where he heard a Heavenly voice stating, “Return, you rebellious children - except for Acher.” Upon hearing this, he said, “Since I can never repent, let me go and enjoy this world.” He despaired of changing and as they say, just “threw in the towel.” In fact, says the Shelah, he was mistaken; the Heavenly voice merely was not inviting him back; but he still could have changed on his own.

But even this voice was for Acher only. As for the rest of us, Hashem is actively calling out to us, encouraging us to change.

He is there to help us along, as we say in Neilah: You extend a hand to repentant sinners. You draw them back to You.

It is like the well-known scenario: A person rushing to make a train enters the platform just as the doors close and the train begins to pull away. In desperation, he races alongside the train as it slowly picks up speed; a passenger standing in the open caboose at the rear of the train extends his hand toward him. He reaches for it; they lock hands and the passenger hauls the man onto the train.

Hashem extends His hand and hauls us in, as long as we reach out toward Him.

Every Jew can change. Hashem not only waits with open arms; He reaches out toward us! We are never forsaken.

DAY 80 - Wake-up Call - The Benefit of Failure

The Steipler Gaon provides a most surprising insight into failure.

One instinctively assumes that there is nothing actually positive about failing.

“I don’t benefit by my failure. It just demands that I pull myself up by the bootstraps and get back to work. My avodas Hashem is not going to improve. Failure is nothing more than an annoyance interfering with growth.”

According to this understanding, when the pasuk in Mishlei states: For the righteous fall seven times and arise, it means that what separates the tzaddik from the rasha is the tzaddik’s persever- ance to keep on getting up, whereas the rasha stays down for the count.

This is certainly true.

But the Steipler tells us something more, something quite shocking:

In fact, it is because he is a tzaddik that he fell down in the first place! He explains that spiritual failures have inherent value.

When it comes to money matters people are never sated. As Chazal say, “One who has $100 wants $200.” But when it comes to ruchniyus we tend to get complacent. As long as we see our spiritual level as stable, we will leave well enough alone. We might even be successful in this maintenance mode ... but eventually, maintenance becomes monotonous, and one’s avodas Hashem can deteriorate into being nothing more than habit.

Failure, states the Steipler, wakes a person up. When one sees that which he has already attained become unhinged and begin slipping away, he works energetically to save himself from further failures.

Let me pause before continuing with the Steipler’s concept.

Inherent in his words is quite a novel idea.

One normally assumes that while the performance of positive commandments )mitzvos asei( must be done with intention and emotion and not out of habit, there is nothing wrong with refraining from an aveirah out of habit. The Steipler tells us otherwise. We have to embrace our plan to avoid aveiros with wholehearted intention! The failure is the wake-up call.

Okay. Back to the Steipler:

He continues that something else is gained by failing. The attention and effort to restore the previous spiritual level can cause one to ultimately reach even greater spiritual heights than he had achieved initially. And this was the very point of the failure. It is a wake-up call to pay attention to your ruchniyus.

The Steipler concludes with the following sobering, yet encouraging words:

Of course, the effort itself is a sacred task even without that eventual spiritual gain. One’s life purpose may be to struggle his entire life.

But in truth, this condition is unlikely to remain forever. Ultimately, one merits siyata d’Shmaya - and due to his struggles he will remain vigilant and conscious of his avodas Hashem even without the motivation of failures.

In summary: Though failures certainly carry the danger of breaking one totally - and one must daven to be saved from this - the failures themselves are a means of growth. For one who bounces back and is careful to keep rising in avodas Hashem has gained immeasurably from the falls.

DAY 81 - The Spoils of War - The Task Becomes Easier

Shuffling along with his slight stoop, the man looked to be in his mid- 0’s. In fact, he was about 15 years younger but he was struggling under the weight of huge debts. He felt the heavy load at all times, even when he was not actively thinking about his financial situation, and somehow the weightiness of his thoughts had bent his back.

Today, however, his bent back gave him an advantage.

He was heading from his shop in the Diamond District where he worked as a watch repairman, staring as usual at the ground due to his hunched back, when he noticed a shiny object partially hidden by some garbage. He half-heartedly kicked the refuse aside, which revealed that the object was a watch. With a passing glance his trained eye realized that it was a Rolex and he thought, “Of course, just another cheap knock-off,” and was about to walk on, but then figured that he could always give it to his grandson. So he bent down to pick it up and his eyes widened. He immediately realized that this was the real McCoy, and it was a high-end model, worth upward of $25,000. He could easily sell this in an off-market site and the funds it would fetch would greatly reduce his burden. He flipped the watch over and his heart sank. Engraved, of course, was a serial number. All he had to do was make a couple of inquires to find out where the watch had been sold and he could locate the buyer. His mind was racing and he was struggling. The whole trip home he allowed himself to dream about the feeling of being debt free, of the menuchas hanefesh he would feel. But even before he stepped into his house, he knew he would return the watch. He came in, said hello to his wife, and after a couple of phone calls located the owner. The fellow was ecstatic. He came racing over to the finder’s home, of course in his high-end vehicle, picked up his watch, dropped off a nominal reward, and was off.

Whenever the watch repairman reflected back on this incident, he felt a great sense of satisfaction. He knew it wasn’t easy and he was proud of his decision. Although he was a very humble man, he clearly enjoyed it when his children would relate the story. He was proud of doing the right thing.

The funny thing was that over the next several years he twice had similar experiences. Once he found an expensive diamond on the floor as he was leaving the shop, and another time he saw a cash envelope drop from someone’s pocket. In both case he immediately informed the owner and experienced no struggle whatsoever. Not only that, he never reflected on those events.

The point of this mashal is this.

One derives pleasure from doing the right thing and the pleasure corresponds directly with the effort involved in doing it. People who lived through the Holocaust will often relate how they fulfilled a difficult mitzvah under trying circumstances, but will not reflect on the hundreds of times that they did that same mitzvah without those challenges. The difficulty itself generates the pleasure and satisfaction one feels from the accomplishments. And because performing the mitzvah was pleasurable, the mind naturally returns to it.

This natural inclination to reflect upon the good he had done made the man’s nisayon so much easier the next time and he did not even struggle. His mind had been trained to associate hashavas aveidah with pleasure, so doing so became much easier.

The same applies to kedushah.

Getting on track in inyanei kedushah is not easy, but when victory is achieved, it is accompanied by a deep feeling of satisfaction, specifically because it is so difficult. And this in turn makes the next battle much easier.

DAY 82 - Building the Base - With 300 Prohibitions

As we mentioned earlier, it's much easier to get excited about fulfilling positive mitzvos than to refrain from violating a negative commandment. We feel so much more accomplished when we perform a good deed - e.g., davening with kavannah, or learning with a geshmak - than we do when we merely refrain from doing what is wrong.

But feelings can be deceiving.

In 1967, for example, Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the Moon, was celebrated as a national hero. While he certainly was brave, why was he the hero? Perhaps the scientists and technicians who developed and constructed the spaceship should have been celebrated. After all, it was their intellect and hard work that made the entire project possible; Armstrong basically followed instructions. The answer is, of course, that he did the spectacular. The image of Man walking the surface of the Moon was dazzling - and Armstrong was the man who made that image a reality.

The lesson? We get caught up in our feelings and confuse the spectacular, that which we can see and feel, with actual worth.

The fulfillment of an asei may feel more holy, but the Gra tells us that in fact, we are granted much more reward for refraining from sin.

The Mishnah teaches that Hashem grants each and every tzaddik 310 "worlds" of reward. The Gaon writes that a full 300 of these "worlds" are granted to the tzaddik because he turns away from evil (sur mei'ra), whereas only 10 worlds are given to him because of his good deeds (asei tov). What a contrast! 300 "worlds" for refraining from sinning compared to just 10 for actively performing mitzvos.

This emerges from the Gra: It may be easier to appreciate the performance of a commandment - celebrating Yom Tov, learning an intriguing "daf," or praying a meaningful tefillah - than to refrain from transgressing. The feeling of spirituality, the "wow factor," is indeed more readily accessible in the cases of "asei tov." But the substance of a Jew, the foundation upon which it is all built, is the "sur mei'ra."

When we commit to be more careful with what we see, we are laying that foundation, and we are therefore rewarded with the bulk of our reward in Olam Haba, the "300 worlds" earned through "sur mei'ra."

DAY 83 - Stemming the Tide - The Second Cookie

But let's say you started slipping. Your willpower gave way and you had the proverbial "bad day." You feel the yetzer hara gathering steam because you feel like a loser and now he is ready to sink its teeth in. You know its shpiel:

"You are who you are. This is just you. You messed up and you will keep on messing up. So just forget about fighting. You're wasting your time. It's over."

The truth is, it's much harder to stop now. The yetzer hara has momentum and the snowball effect is advancing at full speed.

And that is exactly why, if you do stop now, you will receive even more reward.

We all know the famous story of Elazar ben Durdia, or "Rebbi" Elazar ben Durdia, as he was later titled.

To refresh your memory:

Elazar was an epicurean (baal ta'avah) of epic proportions. He would do anything - really anything - to satisfy his desire.

The Gemara recounts that he once crossed seven rivers to consort with a certain woman and paid her a bagful of gold.

As he was about to sin, she encouraged him to enjoy and indulge in the pleasures of this world because he will never experience those of the next.

Her casual remark somehow hit him like a thunderbolt. He suddenly saw his shallow and meaningless life for what it was. He cried out to Hashem and cried and cried, until he died with complete repentance. A Heavenly voice rang out saying, "R' Elazar ben Durdia is ready to enter Olam Haba." When R'Yehudah HaNasi heard the story, he said, "There are people who acquire the reward in Olam Haba in a single moment!"

Beautiful story ... but what does it mean. How could R' Elazar ben Durdia earn such great reward in a single moment after a lifetime of immorality?

The answer must be that when he refrained from performing this aveirah, he was fighting not that aveirah, but a veritable avalanche of bad behavior. His yetzer hara had been reinforced by a lifetime of immorality and was steamrolling him to perform this new aveirah. Yet, somehow, he rose to the moment and managed to push back. What incredible self control must have been involved!

As soon as you start slipping, the yetzer hara gains momentum, and that's why it is so hard to stop; but on the other hand, it is a special zechus to stop at this point.

Like they say regarding dieting: The success of a diet depends on staying away from the second cookie.

Another example: The paragon of kedushah is Yosef HaTzaddik. Yet the Gemara tells us (according to one Amora) that he actually was approaching Potiphar's wife to be with her and was therefore punished by forfeiting ten tribes that otherwise would have emerged from him. Nevertheless, he still remains as the enduring symbol of kedushah.


Because with all the momentum of the aveirah, he pushed back.

That act of gevurah defined him and made him who he was: Yosef HaTzaddik.

DAY 84 - Fighting the Good Fight - Forever!

No fair!

It is the battle cry of every child. But as we grow older we discover that life in not always fair. Some people just have it easier than others. And as we mature we learn to live with that reality.

The Baal HaTanya tells us that the same applies to ruchniyus. There are some people who do not have the same constant struggle as others do. Their inclination is to do what is right and they do not have the same nisyonos as the rest of us. He refers to such individuals as "tzaddikim." But they were not just born that way. Rather, they have successfully vanquished their yetzer hara. Normal people, who struggle with their ruchniyus, who have constant difficult tests, are "beinonim," the average ones.

If the yetzer hara surrenders and gives up the fight, you are a tzaddik; if he comes back for another round, you're a beinoni.

But do not think of a beinoni as a second-class citizen.

The Gemara tells us that the Amora, Rabbah, deemed himself a beinoni - this, despite the fact that he never stopped learning, so much so that the Malach HaMaves (Angel of Death) could not get to him when his time came. Tanya explains that Rabbah considered himself a beinoni because he felt that he, too, was constantly struggling with his yetzer hara. He may have defeated it every time, but the struggle persisted.

The Tanya continues:

The beinoni should not get frustrated with the continuous battling, but instead, he should celebrate his victories.

For when the verse states, Do not follow your hearts and eyes that lead you astray, who is it speaking to?

It speaks to one whose heart and eyes lead him astray and who is inclined to keep looking after inadvertently seeing. It is enjoining him to refrain from following this challenge. The verse is not even addressing the tzaddik.

When a beinoni who is confronted with a nisayon overcomes that challenge, he earns great reward, as the Gemara teaches, If one sits and does not perform a transgression, Heaven grants his reward as one who has actively performed a mitzvah.

Certainly, this statement does not refer to the tzaddik; it refers rather to the normal person who struggles with his yetzer and nevertheless does not succumb. Tanya thus writes:

"Do not be upset if you spend even your entire life doing battle, for perhaps you were created for this very purpose; this is your fate, to constantly struggle with and subdue the powers of Evil. For there are two ways of giving nachas to Hashem: one, that of the tzaddik who successfully vanquishes his yetzer hara and 'turns the bitter into sweet'; and the other, of the beinoni, who is in a never-ending war and continuously battles his strong yetzer hara and subjugates it."

He reads the struggles of the beinoni into a verse, that also holds out promise: Make yourself as if you are holy - fight and act as one who is, in fact, holy and separated from animal instincts - and then you will indeed become holy.

He concludes:

"Ultimately, Hashem will expel the inclination from your heart. Hashem will reward your effort and make your battle easier."

Day 85 - The Big Lie - The Gedolim Have It Easy

It is undeniable that stories have an extraordinary power. If we wish to convey a concept to others there is no better way than expressing it through a “maaseh.” A story takes an abstract concept and demonstrates how it applies to everyday life. For example, it’s one thing to learn about the mitzvah to study Torah day and night. It’s an entirely different thing to hear a story of the phenomenal diligence of Chacham Ovadia Yosef or Rav Elyashiv. The concept, the ideal, becomes alive and real.

But there is a downside to gedolim stories: They generally place the gedolim on such a level that their accomplishments become completely removed from something to which the average person can relate.

This issue is addressed by one of the gedolim, R’ Yitzchak Hutner, in a letter to a student who was struggling with his yetzer hara. Allow me to share with you a loose translation of parts of this letter:

We do ourselves a big disservice when we tell gedolim stories. We skip over the struggles that raged within them and instead speak only about the final perfected end-product. This leads to the false impression that these gedolim were created perfect.

For example, everyone speaks about the Chofetz Chaim’s pure speech. Do we know anything about his struggles along the way? The result is that when an ambitious and enthusiastic young man finds himself facing all sorts of obstacles and failures, he sees himself as undeserving of dwelling in the “House of Hashem” — a state which he misconceives as one resting blissfully, enjoying his yetzer tov like the tzaddikim basking in the Shechinah’s radiance in Gan Eden.

Dear Son, realize that your neshamah is rooted not in the yetzer tov’s peace but rather in its battles. You certainly have failed and be prepared to fail again. But I promise you that after all the casualties you will emerge with the crown of victory upon your head, savoring the sweet taste in your mouth.

People mistakenly think that when it says in Mishlei, “For the righteous fall seven times and arise,” it means that despite repeated failures, the righteous persevere. True sages know that the intention is otherwise: The tzaddik is who he is because of his seven failures.

Do not think of tzaddikim and their yetzer tov as being one and the same. To the contrary, picture them as being engaged in an awesome battle with base and lowly impulses. When you feel the yetzer hara storming within you, realize that at this moment you are much more similar to the gedolim than when you experience the calmness that you seek. When you find yourself faced with your greatest descent, at that time specifically you stand to be an exquisite vehicle for increasing Hashem’s honor.

DAY 86 - Lag B’Omer - Rabbi Akiva and Perseverance

No one likes a prophet of doom, but here goes: You will fail.

As sure as the sun rises in the east, there will be times when you will not guard your eyes properly. ּThis is simply a pasuk: There is no man on Earth who will do only good and will never sin.

In fact, in all likelihood you will fail repeatedly. But do not get discouraged.

Let me tell you a story about a very great man who failed in a most heartbreaking manner, but who “pulled it together” to the degree that Klal Yisrael is forever indebted to him because of his perseverance.

There was once a saintly old man who poured his heart and soul into teaching Torah. He had been ignorant until his 40’s, when he met his wife who encouraged him to learn. The rest, as they say, is history.

R’ Akiva eventually became a leader of the Jewish nation and the Rosh Yeshivah of an academy attended by 24,000 students who came from far and near to immerse themselves in the Torah he taught.

However, despite R’ Akiva’s brilliance and the student’s diligence, something, somehow, was deficient. In some manner, Heaven found the disciples to be lacking the full and proper respect that they should have had for one another, and therefore deserving of a terrible punishment. An illness began coursing through the student body, and thousands succumbed, day after day. All told, over the course of a relatively short period of time, all 24,000 of R' Akiva's students had passed away. R’ Akiva was left alone.

After dedicating his life to implanting Torah into the best minds of his generations, he was left with nothing.

According to many opinions, the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer is the day on which the dying stopped. And that, we are told, is why we celebrate Lag B’Omer.

Some reason to celebrate!

The end result of a plague was … that there was no one left to die!

Is this reason for celebration?

Rav Gedaliah Schorr explains:

We rejoice because R’ Akiva refused to despair!

Instead of falling victim to hopelessness, R’ Akiva rededicated himself to his mission and fulfilled it.

In the words of R' Schorr:

Even if one has not learned properly ... on Lag B’Omer he should ... take a lesson from R’ Akiva ... He developed five new disciples, among them R’ Shimon bar Yochai, and it was through them that Torah was disseminated among Israel ... So too, a Jew should not let past failures and difficult situations lead him to despair ...

According to R’ Schorr, Lag B’Omer is a day that is designated to celebrate perseverance.

True, you will not always successfully guard your eyes. But when you fail, get back up and keep fighting. Think of R’ Akiva, whose calamity could have broken him completely, but whose perseverance produced the very talmidim through whom we have Torah today

Day 87 - The Light in the Middle of the Tunnel - Hashem Is With Us at All Times

There is a cliché in the business world, “It’s all about the results. I don’t care how you get there.”

In the ruchniyus world, the opposite is true: It’s all about the journey; the results are beside the point.

The Malbim says that this is the meaning of the passuk, Seek Hashem and His power.

In a game of “hide and seek” the point is to find the one who is hiding.

If our goal here is to seek Hashem and find Him, we might as well give up before we start. Reaching Hashem is clearly unachievable; His essence is unfathomable.

The pasuk continues by acknowledging the futility of this mission, Searchּ for Him constantly.

Since the goal is unattainable, you will be in a constant state of seeking.

What then is the objective?

It is the quest itself.

The struggle may seem endless, without a light at the end of the tunnel — but therein lies the mistake:

The light is not at the end of the tunnel; it is running alongside of you. It is illuminating your path.

Every time we try to move forward, to grow and subdue our instincts, Hashem is there beside us holding the lantern.

The Midrash says that the pasuk: You shall be holy, is related to the pasuk: May Hashem send you assistance from the Holy.

THe Midrash is addressing an unasked question:

“Do you really want me to be holy? This is impossible. I’m bound to fail!”

The answer is that Hashem realizes this, so the Midrash adds: As regards holiness there is a special siyata d’Shmaya. Every spiritual endeavor requires Hashem’s help, but inyanei kedushah even more so.

This idea is reiterated again in the famous Chazal — “If a man sanctifies himself even a little, he is sanctified a great deal.”

In both the Midrash and this Gemara, we see that there is a special siyata d’Shmaya for kedushah.

Why? Because Hashem knows how hard it is.

We are not alone.

Day 88 - The Struggle - Boxers in the Theatre of Your Mind

We mentioned earlier (Day 47) that one is most likely to be aware of his failings in kedushah when he wishes to daven. He feels like a fraud trying to visualize himself speaking to Hashem when his imagination was recently occupied with tumah.

Surprisingly, however, the Baal HaTanya adds that in certain cases the sudden appearance of an improper image or thought is not cause for concern but rather cause for celebration.

How so?

He explains it this way: Picture two people engaged in a sports competition, say boxing or racing. As long as one is not going all out, his adversary will likewise pace himself and hold back. But as soon as one chooses to let loose and go full throttle, his opponent will respond in kind and fight back with every ounce of his strength.

The Baal HaTanya explains that when one is about to daven, his spiritual self (which he refers to as the “nefesh Elokis”) intensifies and concentrates on standing before Hashem in prayer. At this point his physical self (the “nefesh habehamis”) senses the “threat” to its mission and leaps into action to fight. It does so by introducing improper thoughts into the person’s mind. Many people assume that the appearance of such thoughts just as they are about to daven proves the worthlessness of their prayers. [“If I would daven properly these images would never arise!”] If that is your thought process, the yetzer hara has you right where he wants you — feeling bewildered and cheap.

In fact, this logic is flawed.

Such thinking would make sense, explains the Baal HaTanya, if a person would be comprised of one nefesh only. The sudden introduction of tumah when you’re about to daven would indeed indicate that your commitment is lacking. But a person is not composed of one nefesh only; each of us must deal with two distinct motivators, one good and one bad. There is a constant war raging within each of us as to who will take control — or to be more precise, whom we will allow to take control. When we decide to learn Torah or think about fearing Hashem we have empowered our spiritual self; when we think improper thoughts, we have ceded control to our base impulses.

When one wishes to daven, his mind thus becomes a battleground between these two opposing forces, with each vying for control. The yetzer hara realizes that its adversary is about to wrest control and is trying desperately to stop it, so it sends images and thoughts into one’s mind to interfere. The sudden and unexpected appearance of improper thoughts as one is about to daven in fact demonstrates the potential for growth. These thoughts have entered one’s mind for this very reason.

In practice, how should one deal with such thoughts?

Envision the following scenario: You are involved is some constructive task when a deranged homeless fellow walks in, ranting angrily and demanding your attention. [Anyone who regularly “enjoys” the New York City subway system need not stretch his imagination too far to visualize this.] How would you react?

You would ignore the individual and simply walk away. There is no point grappling with a madman. If you wrestle with a filthy person, you’ll end up filthy yourself.

Says the Tanya: When an improper thought enters your mind, don’t let it bother you. Don’t dwell upon it, just ignore it. Don’t allow it to get your attention at all. Distracting oneself (hesech hadaas) is a very effective tool in the battle for maintaining kedushah [as we elaborated on in Days 16 and 55].

But primarily, the Tanya is telling us not to get dejected.

The fact that you are struggling does not mean you are bad. In fact, it may indicate that because there is great opportunity for growth the yetzer hara is fighting harder.

Fight back.

Day 89 - Bitachon - Spiritual Success Is Ours for the Asking

A prayer for Hashem’s assistance in ruchniyus is guaranteed to be answered, as R’ Eliyahu Dessler would quote from R’ Yisrael Salanter: “It is a tried and proven fact that a prayer for ruchniyus is always fulfilled.”

Why is this so?

Think of this scenario. A son approaches his father: “Ta, can I have the car keys?” The father eyes his son suspiciously. “What for?” The son responds, “We ran out of that good coffee you like, so Ma asked me to run to the store to get more.” Smiling, the father hands him the keys. How could he refuse his son who wants to do him a favor?

When we ask Hashem for assistance in spiritual matters we show Him that we cherish His presence within us, and that we value that which He values. We are telling Him that we wish to serve Him.

Turning to Hashem for success in ruchniyus matters also generates within ourselves humility. It is a statement that we need Him for everything — even for that which seems to be ours — our capacity to do what we choose. It demands true humility to realize that even our “will” is a gift from Hashem, and to beg Him to help us go in the direction that we know is right.

HaRav Gershon Edelstein suggests yet another consideration: When one prays for material concerns, there is a preexisting decree as to what should have otherwise been, and his prayer may be running counter to it. For instance, a person’s income is predetermined for each year. He may be praying for more than his due. Or there may have been a decree that he should forfeit some income and through his prayer he wishes to overturn that decree. Since he wishes to override a preexisting decree, he may or may not be answered. When it comes to spiritual concerns, however, there is no preexisting state, so there is nothing standing between the prayer and its fulfillment.

Psychologically, as well, praying for ruchniyus demonstrates and generates bitachon in Hashem’s assistance, and this sense of security itself helps one grow. Generally, the desire to change, to push oneself to greater heights, is quite stressful. You are testing your limits, your core essence, to see what you are made of. The stress itself is difficult. But one who turns to Hashem says, “Hashem. I know that You have the power to change everything. This is not about me and my capacities, but rather about You helping me.” By making this proclamation he “decompresses,” as he senses Hashem’s presence holding his hand and encouraging him along. He proceeds with joy and confidence in his mission. The sense of security that Hashem will help allows him to take the plunge. Indeed, Ramban explains the verse: “Trust in Hashem and do good,” as follows:

The verse begins by saying “Trust in Hashem” that Hashem will assist and support you to do His will and mitzvos. It continues that you shall then “do good” — pursue mitzvos vigorously. Do not get discouraged because of your limited capacities. Rather rely on Him and He will help you. This is the meaning of “Trust in Hashem and do good.” This is why the command to trust in Hashem precedes the command to do good.

It is clear from the Ramban that included in the middah of bitachon (trust in Hashem) is the clear belief that Hashem assists us in the fulfillment of His mitzvos. This knowledge provides the serenity needed to extend ourselves beyond our limits.

Day 90 - Who’s Embarrassed? - Courage in a World Run Amok

It is undeniable that, at times, maintaining shmiras einayim will require one to act, for lack of a better word, unusual. The nature of this nisayon is so prevalent, and treated so lightly by society, that one who wishes to maintain standards will quite often find himself swimming against the tide.

In some measure, it has apparently always been that way. Here is a quote from the Sefer Chassidim, written by R’ Yehudah HaChassid, in the 12th century:

The most powerful [expression of] piety is [where one is consistent] from beginning to end. Even when people ridicule him, he does not relax his piety … He refrains from looking at women, even when he is among other men who are doing so, for instance, at weddings where women are dressed stylishly. Since others are all looking and he does not, he merits the great good that is stored away, as it is stated: “How great is the good that You have stored for those who fear You; [You have made it for those who take shelter in You in the presence of people].” His eyes will then be satiated from the radiance of the Shechinah, [as it is written]: “Your eyes will see the King in His splendor.”

In fact, Rama feels that courage is so essential for one’s service of Hashem that he includes it in the very first halachah of Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim: “One should not be embarrassed of those who ridicule him in his service of Hashem.”

This is not advocating that one “make a scene.” Certainly, one should avoid drawing attention to himself and his conduct. But one must have the courage, where no option exists, to do what must be done.

Rabbeinu Yonah instructs one how to conduct himself out of doors:

Do not tarry too long on the road. Do not place your kerchief over your eyes because you will be ridiculed. Do not walk standing very erect for walking in this manner seems to be removing from yourself the fear of Heaven. Walk, instead, in a humble manner, not too erect and not too hunched over … If you should happen upon an immodesty dressed woman, whether married or single, Jewish or non-Jewish, shut your eyes or turn to the side to avoid seeing her, for as the wise man said, ”There is no better safeguard against lust than shutting one’s eyes.“

Imagine the following scenario:

You are in a hospital and a woman is in labor about to give birth. You cannot see into the room but you can clearly hear the voices. Many doctors and nurses are inside and there is a palpable fear in the air. You hear them murmuring to one another. They are concerned that the baby will be grotesquely deformed just as the woman’s previous children were. One senior doctor assures them, however, that he has monitored the situation and the child will certainly emerge healthy. The woman is now giving birth … and then there are cries of horror!

“No! Nooooo!” you hear the woman cry out, and then the expert doctor is apologizing. “I am so sorry. I really thought I had solved the issue.” The woman is sobbing.

The nurse leaves the room carrying the baby and you find yourself looking at a beautiful, cherubic child.

She apologizes and hands the baby to the whimpering father.

You now notice the faces of the doctors, nurses, and parents. Each one has the most fearsome, grotesque-looking appearance you have ever seen.

This is the world we live in, a world in which the grotesque and the repulsive has become the norm, leaving those who wish to maintain kedushah as the “weird” ones.

But we know the truth.

Chapter 1 - Doing What’s Right

Although the single greatest trigger that has brought the issue of shmiras einayim to the forefront is undoubtedly the ubiquitous Web, we have been careful in this book not to make that the focus. The requirement to guard one’s eyes is bigger than that single permutation. We will devote an entire chapter below to the Internet, but first let us set our sights on other areas of life where we face nisyonos of this nature.

To prevail in these tests, whether at the office, at a business meeting, or on a trip, a Jew must resolve to have the courage of his convictions, to do what is right simply because it is right. In the long run, his colleagues or business acquaintances will come to respect his strength of character.

In short, one must strive to be counted among the גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עשֵֹׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ , the mighty in strength, who perform His word, to hearken to the voice of His word.

Day 1. The Commute/The Office
Day 2. The Business Meeting/The Home/The Vacation
Day 3. The Business Trip

DAY 1 - The Commute

If we are commuting by car or on a community-run bus, we should be safe for a while. But then, of course, we must park our car or disembark from the bus.

One way the obligation of shmiras einayim impacts directly on our commute is the halachah that a man is prohibited to walk directly behind a woman. This ruling is cited in Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 21:1):

If one encounters a woman in the market he may not walk behind her; rather, he should run and pass her, [leaving her] to his side or directly behind himself.

In practice, this is difficult. On a crowded city street, running ahead of one woman just leaves you walking behind another, as noted by Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l.3 The halachah applies to a man who “encountered (paga) a woman in the market” — that is, he “happened” upon her. This refers to former times, when women were not generally found in public. Nevertheless, it is essential that we try to avoid walking directly behind a woman and look down as much as possible.

Certainly, using public transportation presents problems. While the inadvertent jostling that occurs on a crowded bus or subway does not involve any prohibition according to Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Even HaEzer 2:14), that is true only if there are no improper intentions.

While traveling by subway, we should occupy ourselves with something that engages our mind in a productive way. Torah learning is preferred; but we can also bring along “kosher” reading material or music tapes to distract ourselves from the alternative all around us, actively fulfilling a mitzvah — shmiras einayim.

True story: A successful, midtown-Manhattan doctor living in Brooklyn recently purchased a magnificent $2,000 menorah. He shares the reason for this purchase: “I decided that enough is enough. On my way to work, I was finding myself looking at things that I should not be looking at. So I decided to look away and to reward myself with a dollar every time I did so. In time, I amassed $2,000 and I used it to buy myself this menorah.”

The Office

On the whole, as frum Jews we try to isolate ourselves from our surroundings: our neighbors are Jews, we go to Jewish schools, and we socialize with Jews. But then we leave home to go to work. And many of us spend most of our waking hours at the office, among colleagues with whom we share neither standards, nor values, nor sensitivities.

We are stuck. How do we handle this reality?

Our co-workers become our “family.” What are their standards? How do they dress? What do they talk about? Is there in fact no alternative? Are we willing to compromise our standards just because the earning potential is higher? Are we halachically allowed to do so? Perhaps we should confer with our rav, or consider working for a lower wage at a firm that does not demand that we battle the yetzer hara for eight hours each day.

But given that we are working in a non-Jewish environment, what is our mindset? Do we embrace the reality, or do we resist it?

Embracing the “inevitable” is the path of least resistance. Humans are social creatures who want to fit in. We are uncomfortable appearing standoffish, different, even weird, and out of the loop. But preserving our kedushah demands that, to some degree, we dissociate from our co-workers. Shmirah at the office is possible if we have the courage, conviction, and energy to be somewhat different and distant.

The easiest way of doing so is by maintaining an aura of professionalism. Avoiding casual dress, not sharing personal information, and referring to co-workers as “Mrs. So and So” are some examples.

Scrupulously adhering to the halachos of yichud prevents us from being placed in compromising situations. Briefly, the prohibition against yichud applies when one is behind a closed door that someone else will not enter without knocking first.

A general thought about how a Jew should relate to non-Jews: How do we balance our two objectives — to be a positive influence upon our non-Jewish neighbors while at the same time separating from them? The answer is that we are meant to lead by example, not conviviality. Our goal must be to garner others’ respect for our integrity and work ethic, rather than seeking membership in “the club.” We may not be able to come across as a “regular guy” but we will lose no traction in our careers — and will most likely gain — if we strive, instead, to come across as an extraordinary guy.

DAY 2 -The Business Meeting

As we mentioned earlier,1 networking presents a serious challenge. Sales, in particular, are based on relationships, and without pursuing a relationship we’ll put ourselves out of business.

That’s the given, but to what extent must these relationships be pursued? Most people value professionalism, accountability, and reliability more than anything else. While the quick joke, the box of chocolates, and the charm may get us in the door, maintenance of a relationship involves putting out a good product and providing reliable service. Ask yourself: “To what degree do I need to foster this relationship? Does the connection have to be this casual?”

Refraining from shaking hands in a business context is admittedly awkward and difficult, but Jews are used to acting in ways that require gevurah. The decision to maintain kedushah will ultimately enhance our standing in others’ eyes and add to our own self-respect.

If one is asked to attend a networking conference, he should opt for daytime gatherings, in which people tend to act in a businesslike way, for they are certainly safer than evening meetings, which can mimic bar scenes.

Maintaining a mindset of caution and connection to a rabbi who can guide us is critical.

The Home

When we are at home, the obligation to guard one’s eyes is even more pressing. Our home serves as the training grounds for our children and should therefore be a cocoon of love, innocence, and purity. Kids are not stupid. If the monitor is facing away from them, or if we quickly click to another screen when they come into the room, they know exactly what we’re up to.

But let’s not focus exclusively on technology. The window to the outside world is our mailbox. Do we give enough thought to the types of catalogues and brochures that try to enter our homes? Here is an easy strategy: Let the woman of the house pick up the mail and dump whatever doesn’t belong in a Jewish home.

How about the media? Almost all newspapers and magazines contain improper images and content. Even the once highly respected New York Times is a villain that endorses the loose morals of these times. Should we be bringing such materials into our homes?

How about the cleaning help? Do we insist that she dress properly, or better yet, wear the modest maid’s uniform that we bought for her? It may be uncomfortable to ask her to do so, and there may be some hesitation and perhaps hostility on her part when we ask, but chances are she’ll give in, because she needs the money and the next employer is going to make the same condition anyway (we hope!).

Realistically, most people need Internet access on a pretty regular basis; but we must ask ourselves, “Do we really need it in our home?” Without unremitting vigilance, Internet access in one’s home can change the whole family dynamic. Internet is not the same as the once ubiquitous “box” (TV), because it is not used just for entertainment;
but in very many ways it presents a much greater menace. See Chapter 2 for an eye-opening discussion on the dangers posed by the Internet. Obviously if one does bring it into the home, the need for a stringent filter and/or reporting software is critical.

The Vacation

Where? If we would be embarrassed to tell our rav where we’re headed for vacation, then that’s probably a place we should not be going to.

With whom? The easy, relaxed atmosphere of vacation should be shared exclusively with one’s own spouse and not with unrelated couples.

The bungalow experience is a great battery-recharger. But it can create unseemly situations for anyone with a sense of kedushah. Mixed groups sitting together on the lawn are symptomatic of the problem. This issue has to be faced and dealt with.

DAY 3 - The Business Trip

Our business may demand that we travel to some out-of-the way place to meet with clients, network, or attend a conference. This is a minefield. For someone alone, away from home, tests are everywhere, and none of the normal safeguards are in place.

When we are away on business, we lack the anchors of a schedule, acquaintances, a wife, and a home. The natural good habits and strategies that we have developed may not be automatically transferred to the new set of circumstance and new schedule (or lack of one). We may not see another frum person and possibly no one, not even a non-Jew, knows us at all. The code of conduct that we follow among friends and family because they expect it of us may not hold up when we are anonymous.

There may be no minyan. We daven quietly in the hotel room trying to have a modicum of kavannah … but is this davening? What about the boredom of long, lonely evenings when the day’s work is done and the only company is the TV with an infinite choice of channels? Let’s face it. This one is tough.

If we are to surmount this serious challenge, preparation is key. The goal, as always, is to minimize the time where we are exposed to the nisayon, namely, the down-time when we are alone in the hotel room. Starting the day earlier has been found to be helpful. Some business travelers have noted that getting up for an early-morning swim [in the empty pool] or an exercise session has helped them feel energized during the day, yet ready to retire earlier at night — when the nisayon is greatest.

There are websites that list minyanim in all sorts of far-flung areas. Making the effort to join other frum Jews and davening with them is such a chizuk that it is well worth a half-hour or even a 45-minute drive. It sets the whole day on a different spiritual plane.

We can ask if there’s a kosher eatery in the area. We can find out when Minchah/Maariv is scheduled so that we start and end our day with thoughts of the Creator, and reinforce our feelings of being a true trooper, an eved Hashem.

Returning to the hotel room at the end of the working day, the first thing to do is to unplug the TV. [Hopefully this involves moving a heavy piece of furniture. This acts as a shmirah against plugging it back in!] Now we can call home and schmooze with our wives, parents, children, and friends. We can also listen to a Daf Yomi or other shiur on the phone. Then, when we say Shema and go to sleep, we can be secure in the knowledge that Hashem appreciates our struggle and what we are doing to be His man.

At times like this Hashem proclaims, “If you give Me your heart and your eyes, Ana yada d’at Li — I know that you are truly Mine” [Yerushalmi Berachos 1:5].

Chapter 2 - What You Still Don’t Know About the Internet - DAY 4

R’ Nechemia Gottlieb, the director of TAG, has worked closely with the Gedolei Hador to address the challenges posed by the Internet. He has graciously allowed us to excerpt and adapt his monograph, Nisayon Hador, in which he elaborates on this issue.

The Internet has ramifications in a host of areas. We will break them down by category:

1. Tumah
2. Waste of Time — Bitul z’man
3. Consumerism
4. Challenge to Authority
5. Cognitive Damage
6. Heresy — Kefirah
7. Where the Wicked Meet — Kinus l’reshaim
8. Loshon Hora and Disputes
9. A Breach in the Wall
10. Addiction
11. Gaming
12. Social Networking
13. Family and Social Life
14. Filters and Monitors

1. Tumah

In this book we highlighted many of the challenges presented by the Internet, but to see these issues as “bullets” may shock us into action. Note that each of these eleven (!) bullet points is a danger that exists almost exclusively in connection with the Internet, and not in connection with any other nisayon:

• Anonymity. One can browse without fear of being caught.
• Ease and speed. With everything only a click or two away, there is no time for contemplation.
• Constancy I. Everyone has weak moments. The constant challenge will exploit those vulnerable moments.
• Constancy II. The need for self-control is unceasing, and eventually our self-control can be depleted.
• Gratis. Almost everything is free, and we need not be hindered by financial considerations.
• Virtuality. We can rationalize by thinking we are “just” looking at a mere “virtual” image, and not one of flesh and blood.
• Repeat Access. Once one is “hooked,” the sin is always readily available for repetition.
• Proximity. The inappropriate content is located in the same “place” as legitimate business and research.
• Linking. A legitimate page is linked to a questionable page, to a shaky page, to a totally inappropriate page. Three to four clicks and we’re done!
• Rapid evolution. Technology is evolving so quickly that we do not have time to evaluate potential downsides of new technologies and devise strategies for their use before we embrace them
• Positive emotions. It is difficult to demonize something that is so constructive in terms of knowledge, power, earning a livelihood, savings, and convenience, not to mention entertainment. Perceiving your enemy with ambivalence or perhaps even as your friend is one sure way to lose a battle.

This potpourri of factors has created a situation in which viewing true tumah, something that was limited to the fringe only ten to fifteen years ago, has become all too common… Unfortunately, for many Yidden it has moved into the category of aveiros into which they may fall from time to time.

DAY 5 - 2. Waste of Time — Yours and Others’ (Bitul z’man)

In assessing the damaging effects of digital technology, one important feature to be aware of is the “digital pull.” Aimless surfing, compulsive news checking, and excessive preoccupation with email and messaging are some examples of “digital pull” with which we are familiar. All the quality activities in which we need and want to engage
must compete with this “digital pull.”

The negative consequences of “digital pull” are several. Digital pursuits of little or no value rob us of time better spent learning, in pursuit of parnassah, engaging with family, and a host of other worthwhile pursuits.

These digital pursuits also undermine our performance as employees. How much of our employer’s time do we waste checking in on social networks, logging on to personal email accounts, shopping, monitoring the latest news and weather, and simply surfing the Web? How about our Smartphones? Between texting, messaging, shmoozing,
and reviewing apps, the average American is engaged with his or her Smartphone for three hours a day!

The problem is not just the quantity of time lost; the quality of our work suffers too. After every distraction we must regain focus in order for our work to be up to par. Is it okay to clock hours and charge for time in which we are completely uninvolved in work?

The Rambam concludes (Hilchos Sechirus 13:6-7): Just as the employer is warned against stealing his poor worker’s wages or withholding them, so a hired worker may not steal time from his employer — wasting a bit of time here and a bit of time there, until the whole day has been squandered in deceit.

Of course every employer understands that intermittent breaks are normal and even productive. Hakol k’minhag hamedinah — whatever is considered normal in general society is assumed to be the agreement between employer and employee, unless the contract between them stipulates otherwise (see Choshen Mishpat, siman 331).

But the amount of time being wasted has reached new highs … or lows. There is no way to justify wasting large amounts of time, even if “everyone else is doing it.”

3. Consumerism

In an interview on Fox News, commenting on a study of teens’ aspirations, nationally recognized psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow condemned the Internet for breeding a destructive level of consumerism.

Mass advertising suffers from a big drawback: it’s “mass.” Huge resources are expended on getting out a message to everyone in the hopes that it will reach the single one who will respond. Targeted advertising is far more effective, but it is difficult to accurately identify the targets. The Internet provides a solution to this problem by creating a platform (and culture) to set up a trade. Free services such as Gmail and Facebook are provided in exchange for access to our personal information. All our communications and posts are subsequently evaluated to determine our needs and desires. In-depth analysis of our personal data reveals many details of our lifestyles and spending
habits, and, increasingly, advertisements, deals, and sales are being personalized for the specific consumer.

This means not only that one receives advertisements based on what he might want, but that the actual content of the ad is tweaked according to what might appeal to him. (If a person often browses basketball subjects, he may get an ad featuring a basketball player; if he frequents soccer sites, the advertisement might contain soccer language.) All this is accomplished algorithmically, with no need for human guidance or intervention.

Placing the advertisements is virtually costless. The advertisement contains a link to the website where the proffered product or service can be purchased, and this serves to smooth the transaction. Singleclick purchases, accomplished without the need to handle cash or even a credit card, ease any emotional barriers we have to unnecessary spending.

The system outlined above works quite well for online purchases. How about advertisements for brick-and-mortar stores? By the time the customer reaches the vicinity of the store the online advertisement may be long forgotten. The answer is the Smartphone.

Due to its GPS capability, your Smartphone “knows” where you are. This paves the way for location-based personalized advertisement. Large companies such as Sears, Toys “R” Us, and Starbucks are currently employing this technology, and it is expected to spread to small retailers in the near future. Imagine getting an irresistible price for your favorite dish every time you pass the pizza shop. Furniture, clothes, electronics, toys; the bombardment will not stop. Even with our high tolerance for materialism, it is apparent that a hedonistic society is being created in which we will all need to struggle constantly against unacceptable levels of self-indulgence.

DAY 6 - 4. Challenge to Authority

Speaking at the Ariel Conference for Ethics, Prof. Avinoam Reches, chairman of the Israel Medical Association’s ethics bureau, stated that 25 percent of respondents in a Medical Association poll reported changing their medical treatment on the basis of information found online — without consulting their doctor. Doctors are so challenged
by this practice that it has become accepted to require prospective patients to sign a form stating that they will not research their illness online.

The dethroning of experts is not just a tolerated side effect of Internet culture; it has been formalized and actually celebrated. The largest single repository of human knowledge today may be the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and it was all written by … whoever. No credentials are necessary to post or edit an entry. Everyone can write about
everything. Web enthusiasts are so excited about Wikipedia that they are proposing it as a model for many other areas. Bestselling author and noted media theorist Steven Johnson writes: “Wikipedia is just the beginning … we can learn from its success to build new systems that solve problems in education, governance, health, local communities and countless other regions of human experience. That is why we are optimistic — because we know it can be done.”

Recognizing the limits of one’s own knowledge and respecting the superiority of the opinions of more qualified people is one of the keys to success in life. This anybody-can-be-an-expert attitude breeds cynicism and rebellion, whereas Yiddishkeit is founded on mesorah, a tradition going back to Har Sinai, built on respect and honor for the wiser, holier, and better informed.

5. Cognitive Damage

Noted thinker Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, has this to say: “The Internet … has a trade-off. As we train our brains to use it … what we lose is the ability to pay deep attention to one thing for a sustained period of time, to filter out distractions. … What the web seems to be doing, and a lot of the proponents of the web seem to be completely comfortable with, is pushing us all in the direction of skimming and scanning and multitasking, and it’s not encouraging us or even giving us an opportunity to engage in more attentive ways of thinking … that … are actually the most valuable ways of thinking that are available to us as human beings.”

As in many other areas, in the area of knowledge the Internet is providing us with quantity over quality. TMI (“too much information”) is a syndrome well-recognized by Internet users. The glut of information makes it difficult to identify the relevant nuggets. This difficulty is compounded by hyperlinks and search engines. The average time spent on a web page is less than a minute. We rush from one eye-catching tidbit to another without processing what we are reading. Even what is gleaned is quickly lost; studies show that this type of skimming does not allow for transfer of information to long-term memory.

All this sounds pretty bad, but it is not the worst thing. The true horror is in what this behavior is doing to our ability to learn and study. Habituated to being constantly hyper-stimulated by new snippets of information, we lose the ability to follow long, involved arguments. Reading a book becomes a chore rather than a delight. Our core means of intellectual pursuit are weakened, and through increased disuse, become atrophied. One of the gedolei Roshei Yeshivah of our generation said that the damage to the future of Klal Yisrael posed by bachurim who cannot concentrate in learning or grasp a Tosafos may be greater than the danger posed by the inappropriate material on the Internet.

DAY 7 - 6. Heresy (Kefirah)

Websites have been established for the express purpose of targeting frum Jews and turning them against their religion. This is in addition to the garden-variety secular sites that espouse atheism and other heresy. It may be simple curiosity that leads people to investigate such sites, but once exposed, maintaining emunah can become a struggle. Chazal tell us, “Heresy is unique in that it draws one in.”

7. Where the Wicked Meet (Kinus l’reshaim)

The Internet provides a platform for anyone and everyone to disseminate his ideas or feelings to the whole world — for free! In previous eras, a person having an occasional inappropriate thought was embarrassed to tell anyone, and it would usually pass quickly from his mind. Today, as soon as one is assailed by an unsuitable thought
he can Google it and find a support group of like-minded individuals.

A case in point: People who have left Yiddishkeit have designed a website to ease the transition for other unfortunate souls who are following in their path. Last year the website featured a writing contest in which people were encouraged to relate the story of their first aveirah — eating a cheeseburger, chillul Shabbos, eating on Yom Kippur, etc.

Other websites and blogs promote all manner of inappropriate ideas and attitudes. Often these sites are not dedicated to impermissible content; rather, they are open forums that host free-speech discussions on any issue. Due to their innocent guise, well-meaning people visit these sites and, whether unthinkingly or with the intent to debate people who are posting negative views, get drawn into very harmful discussions.

Until the advent of mass Internet use, mocking Gedolei Yisrael was almost unheard of. There was of course the occasional angry and bitter person, but these people were such outcasts that their voices were barely audible. No one wanted to be seen socializing with them, and in fact, interacting with them was difficult; their negativity was so pervasive that everyone just stayed away.

But the Internet “solved” the problem. They can now share their hateful and bitter words with other sick people, and “curious” outsiders can listen to their rants without being seen, and without the stench found in their proximity. Their negative, destructive perspective has wrought terrible damage upon the chashivus and deference accorded
our gedolim and leaders.

8. Loshon Hora and Disputes

Just a short while ago, defaming someone was not easy. When printing derogatory or potentially slanderous remarks, journalistic pride and ethics caused journalists to (at least attempt to appear to) be impartial,
providing balance by including the response of the defamed party.

Reaching a large audience with defamation was expensive; you had either to own a publication yourself or else pay a publisher to disseminate libelous content — and then a distributor might draw the line. The printed word was generally traceable, as printing houses and periodicals concerned for their own reputation and afraid of being sued made sure to publish writers’ names.

The Internet has dramatically changed the playing field. Anyone can create a website anonymously, in a snap, for free. Search engines ensure that whoever has an interest in the content can reach it with relative ease. Once a website is discovered, new posts can often be followed via RSS feed, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Furthermore, our respect for the printed word (due in large measure to the constraints on print media listed above) is often transferred unthinkingly to written words online.

This situation has brought about an enormous proliferation of loshon hora and rechilus, whether on special websites devoted to their dissemination or as articles or comments on news websites. Even worse, the “regular” yetzer hara for salacious material is compounded by a culture of online vigilantism. This culture leads people to erroneously believe that they are doing a community service by publicizing misdeeds of other members of the community.

DAY 8 - 9. A Breach in the Wall

As is mentioned many times in the book, our distinction as a nation is based upon our separate, unique identity. We are different from “them.” But continuous exposure to non-Jewish culture facilitated through the Internet breaches this wall of distinctiveness, and engenders a tolerance for non-Jewish values and culture.

This tolerance causes various negative outcomes, some blatant and some subtle. Take, for example, entertainment news. The enter tainment industry and the personal lives of its principals embody all that we consider ugly and abhorrent. None of us would purchase an entertainment magazine. But while on, or Google News, with
entertainment news on the front page and elaborate stories and pictures just a click away, many people find their curiosity aroused. One peek follows another and slowly the tolerance level rises. What was once repulsive becomes merely not allowed. Our sensitivities get dull. Additionally, we must take into account the sheer volume of exposure.
We were always exposed to a certain amount of the world-out-there in our daily lives, but when plugged into the web, the quantity rises exponentially.

10. Addiction

The medical profession is now recognizing formally what has been known for some time, namely that some people become clinically addicted to Internet use, not only to tumah, but also to social networking, shopping, gambling, online gaming, and “just-checking.” The term addiction is also used in the broader sense, referring to the fact
that many people use digital technology excessively and at unsuitable times and places. Intense attachment to digital devices causes many people to repeatedly check or continuously handle their cell phones, and many feel the vibrating even when their cell phone is not on them. (This phenomenon is so common that PVS, phantom vibration syndrome, was voted word of the year in the annual Macquarie Dictionary survey.) Inability to control our use of digital technology affects almost all users. This must be taken into account as a central element in our relationship to digital technology.

11. Gaming

Computer games are intentionally designed to condition the player to keep on playing. Design theorists discuss complex models based on dopamine release, compulsion loops, and attentional bias that help game designers make their games more irresistible. These esoteric concepts are summed up for the layman in the accolade “addictive,” reserved by the gaming industry for the most successful games. It should not be surprising, therefore, that computer games are huge time wasters and have addictive properties. Game immersion often causes people
(even adults) to neglect important duties and obligations. Many times, game play infringes on normal social or familial activities. Children often choose these games over wholesome outdoor play.

The vividness of the images and sounds in computer games ensures that their memory intrudes during learning and davening. How can “dry” things like Gemara or davening compete with the rich sensual experiences of video game-play? Even more, game-play conditions a player to expect real-time feedback and instant gratification. It damages our ability to invest in the important areas of life that as a rule provide deferred gratification. While this applies even to success in parnassah, relationships, study, and other worldly pursuits, its ultimate application is in spirituality, whose underlying premise is delayed gratification: “Perform them (Torah and mitzvos) today; and receive reward tomorrow.”

Many games also have salacious content and promote violence.

DAY 9 12. Social Networking

Imagine a large pub in which many groups of people sit and drink. There are groups of all cultures and creeds, men and women, marrieds and singles, teenagers and adults. The atmosphere is informal and people in the groups chat, exchange personal information, show pictures, and create friendships and romances. The prevailing culture in the pub is that if a member of one group wants to join another group he is accepted, especially if he knows one person in the new group. Additionally, the owner of the pub is constantly making recommendations about new people you might like to meet and get to know. Becoming acquainted with someone new does not even require leaving one’s group or making awkward introductions; from the comfort of your own group you can listen in on the conversations of another group and even participate without showing your face. Now imagine the digital counterpart of this pub in the virtual world and you will have an accurate picture of Facebook.

Need more be said?

A particularly severe danger of social networking is the way it serves as an escape from harsh life situations into a virtual fantasy world. This escape takes two forms. One is that virtual relationships are just that — virtual. People engage in them for their own reasons for as long as they feel like it and then … nothing. They can just disappear at will. The problem is not just the devastation felt by the person who is “dumped.” The built-in escape clause means that there is no real responsibility structured into the relationship from the start.

In the second form of escape, a person creates a fictitious image of himself online. Shy or inhibited people may act out in ways that would be unthinkable in the real world. A person dealing with an obesity issue may post a fake picture of himself with the desired body image. One may appear rich, successful, suave, beautiful, or popular, or possessing any other desirable attribute. With the virtual world being so comforting and alluring, people may lose the strength to take the steps necessary to improve their real lives, withdrawing instead into an online fantasy world.

A more subtle aspect of social networking is the damage wrought to the genuine concept of friendship. Friendship implies responsibility and reciprocal emotion. It is about a commitment to another individual, whether convenient or otherwise. We treasure a limited number of close friendships over a broad number of superficial one. On social
networks, however, “friends” are perceived as a group of people to whom one brags and shows off. Friends are trophies, status symbols — the more “friends,” the better. And when a friend becomes inconvenient he can be “defriended” with the click of a mouse.

Another devastating effect of social networking is that it engenders a lack of privacy. Social networking or (for the ancients) blogging about personal life carries the implication that the more one shares about his private affairs, the better. The social networking barons have created a philosophy about the good that will accrue to humanity by casting off all restraints of privacy. It begins with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like that encourage people to constantly “share” their activities and emotions with the world. Moving right along, we have Foursquare and similar networks on which a person continually broadcasts his location in real time. Finally (for now) we have Snapchat (an app that allows one to send pictures that erase themselves automatically after being viewed) that encourages the user to send pictures of potentially embarrassing or compromising situations and poses. Contrast this with the Torah perspective that declares, How beautiful are your tents, Yaakov, which Chazal explain as meaning that the doors of their tents did not face each other so as to ensure privacy.

13. Family and Social Life

As we discussed in the book (Day 48), digital technology has a profound negative impact on family and social life. Relationships need to be nurtured. The common family structure — living under one roof, sharing mealtimes, and encountering one another numerous times during the day — are not just byproducts of the economy of a group
of people utilizing one dwelling. Sharing experiences, emotions, small talk, and serious discussion create and reinforce deep and loving bonds. Increasingly, screen time is supplanting these healthy interactions.

To add insult to injury, the encroaching screen is often one of a social nature (text message, status update, etc.) that sends the implied message that the “remote other” is more important than the present family member. The same applies to social situations. Taking a call while with friends, or even a (supposedly) surreptitious glance down at a screen, besides being rude carries the implication that present company is second to whoever is on the line.

DAY 10 - 14. Filters and Monitors

One of the most misunderstood areas of digital technology is filters. Many people believe that once a filter is installed on their phone or computer, their Internet connection becomes safe or even kosher. This is a very simplistic understanding of a highly complex issue, to say the least. While a filter serves to temper the extreme environment of the Internet and give the user a chance to be protected from many of the online challenges, there is no filter that turns the Internet into a preferred environment for a frum Jew, for a number of reasons:

A. Filters have categories and levels. There is no filter on which the categories and levels have been created to fit the Torah standards. A prime example of this is pictures. Once a website is open, most filters do not block immodest pictures at all. Additionally, categories like lashon hara, heresy, and mocking Torah and its sages cannot possibly be blocked.

B. Filters have loopholes. There is no filter that is 100 percent foolproof.

C. Most filters can be removed or neutralized with minimal technical expertise.

D. Filters rely on passwords, and passwords can be compromised.

E. Technology constantly changes in unpredictable ways. Something that is filtered today may not be filtered tomorrow.

F. Many of the detrimental aspects of Internet use cannot be filtered out, e.g., addiction, cognitive damage, time wasting, consumerism, etc.

All this applies to computers. The situation of Smartphones (at the time of the writing) is even worse. The filters for Smartphones are far less customizable than computer filters, and most are plagued with serious loopholes and bypasses.

An additional form of Internet protection is monitoring — having a monitor (friend, rav, wife, chavrusa, etc.) receive a review of one’s Internet activity. Monitoring works on the principle that a person will be embarrassed to view inappropriate content if he knows that someone else will find out. Also, if a person does stumble, the monitor can
encourage him to behave properly. Monitoring needs to be evaluated in two ways: as a replacement for filtering, and as an addition to filtering.

Monitoring fails (is not effective) as a replacement for filtering for a number of reasons:

A. Monitoring only helps for intentional usage; it does nothing to protect the user from inadvertently accessing bad content.

B. The main protection provided by monitoring is embarrassment. When a person is caught a few times, the embarrassment may be gone.

C. Experience shows that when people stumble, the monitor is often incapable of dealing with the situation.

Monitoring as a supplement to filtering is recommended, since it adds an important level of shmirah in a number of areas:

A. The monitor will see how much time was spent online and on which websites. This can help with time-wasting and with categories that do not lend themselves to filtering.

B. If a person found a loophole in the filter, he is vulnerable to the yetzer hara. The cat’s away and the mice are at play. The safeguard was the filter and now it’s gone. With the addition of the monitor, even if the user noticed that the filter is not blocking an inappropriate website he will be afraid to access it.

C. Regardless of the level the filter is set on, there is an area just shy of that level that is only borderline appropriate; although it is not blocked, it should not be accessed continually. Monitoring can discourage excessive accessing of the borderline area.

In summary: Filtering and monitoring do not “kasher” the Internet or eliminate the possibility of abusing it. Filtering and monitoring restore free choice, so that a person may have a chance to protect himself from danger.

Chapter 3 - Resources - A. Addiction — there is help

Our book is geared to the “average” person who wishes to maintain his kedushah. But one has to be honest with himself. Fueled mainly by the accessibility and anonymity of the Internet, addiction to tumah has spared no class of Jews. Anyone whose situation is grave and has spiraled out of control needs more direct intervention. Guard Your Eyes (GYE) is an invaluable resource in the Jewish world today for people dealing with addiction to inappropriate images (on the Internet) and related behaviors. They have helped thousands of people get back on a path of sanity, healing, and self-control, and have touched the lives of tens of thousands more.

Guard Your Eyes has the support of many gedolim such as HaRav Aharon Feldman, HaRav Shmuel Kaminetsky, and many others. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, one of the world’s leading experts on addiction, writes in a letter of support for the organization:

“In my 40 years of psychiatric experience I can testify that traditional psychiatry and psychology alone are not effective. The only thing that works is a support network, primarily of people who have recovered from this terrible condition. The Guard Your Eyes organization offers this service anonymously, allowing thousands of religious Jews to get help where they otherwise would have been unable to. They have saved many hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals and families. Their network provides a variety of tools, counseling, and support for affected people as well as their spouses. Their success rate is phenomenal. It is the only effective tool we have today.”

Website: / Hotline: 646-600-8100 /

B. Protection — resources

We cannot enumerate all the means of providing protection. Tips to fight tumah and how to deal as safely as possible with the Internet are too numerous, nuanced, and constantly evolving to list here. GYE offers chizuk and general tips for protecting your Internet-enabled devices, whether it is a computer, smart phone, or gaming device.

First of all, most safeguards and filters require you to insert a password for when you want to make changes or un-install, and an email address in case you forget the password. To ensure maximum security (for yourself as well), it is very important to have a rav, friend, or spouse insert their email address and make a password that only
they’ll know.

Here are two resources to help you find and install the best protection for your Internet-enabled devices:

(1) The website can help you choose the best option for you. For specific questions, write to

(2) TAG (Technology Awareness Group) has offices all around the world that specialize in guiding the frum community in installing the best possible filters and reporting programs available. They provide these services free of charge. Call 718-CALL-TAG (225-5824) to speak to someone live or to find the nearest TAG office.

TAG has knowledge and experience in this field, and will help you install the protection more quickly, more safely. TAG will also keep your passwords safe in their database, which will prevent anyone from uninstalling your filters and will safeguard you as well. In the event you want to change something, it’s only a phone call away (most changes can be done remotely). TAG’s Helpline is available 20 hours a day. TAG maintains strict confidentiality; there’s no need to divulge your name.

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