The Battle of the Generation
The Chofetz Chaim relates that a wise sage was once asked: What should a person do if he wakes up near the end of the Shemoneh Esrei and realizes he spaced out for the rest of the prayer? How should he motivate himself to concentrate for the last few berachos instead of feeling down and giving up?
The sage answered with the following parable: A young girl was selling vegetables in the market. A thief came and started grabbing vegetables from her basket. Startled, the girl stood there frozen. A wise man standing in the distance screamed to her, “Don’t just stand there! Grab some vegetables too! Whatever you grab will be yours. Don’t let the thief take them all!”
This parable demonstrates that if someone finds that the yetzer hara has caused him to space out during the Shemoneh Esrei, he should not feel it is too late and give up. Rather, he should be vigilant and “grab those last few vegetables” by concentrating during the rest of the berachos. With this attitude, he will be motivated to accomplish instead of feeling down.
The Chofetz Chaim applies this perspective to shemiras halashon as well. If the yetzer hara causes a person to slip up and speak lashon hara, he should not say, “I just can’t do it,” or, “I’ll never be perfect,” and give up. Instead, he should do whatever he can to “grab another vegetable” when the next opportunity arises by making sure not to speak lashon hara. His focus should be on his opportunity to attain, not on his flaws. This will strengthen him, and rather than despairing, he will continue working to succeed.
We can also apply this outlook to challenges of desire. Many people caught in the web of desire feel they won’t be able to withhold from sin forever. They might also be unwilling to give these pleasures up, and are reluctant to entertain the possibility of improving. As a result, they don’t even try to succeed.