Hashem Knows How Hard it is
One of the greatest challenges in the life of a Jew, especially in the generation we live in, is the concept of hotza'as zera levatalah, emitting seed in vain. This is an extremely difficult prohibition that many, many struggle with, often unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most important prohibitions. Chazal are already very extreme about it, such as the Gemara in Niddah that states “anyone whose hand travels below his waist, it should be cut off.” In the Zohar Hakadosh, this sin is portrayed extremely negatively, and it is stated that for this sin, repentance is ineffective.
The Arizal explains that repentance is effective in certain circumstances and prescribes a system for atoning for this sin. However, the Arizal goes along with this same general approach and reveals to us the severity of this sin and how it damages much in the higher worlds. According to the Chassidishe sefarim, this sin is one of the greatest obstacles to having one's prayers answered (see Likutei Moharan, Torah 2).
In this week's parsha, Ki Savo, we are given a list of 98 terrible curses which could befall the Jewish people in their exile, Rachmana l'tzlan. The Arizal explains here in Likutei Torah that the reason why there are 98 curses is because the way of writing 98 in lashon hakodesh, tzaddi-ches, makes the word chetz, which means an arrow. Says the Arizal, “this alludes to the sin of zera levatalah, spilling seed in vain, for the seed shoots like an arrow.” Thus we see that according to the Arizal, these curses are ultimately a result of one's not being meticulous in this area.
However, what is puzzling is that the Torah itself appears to indicate a different reason for why these curses should befall the Jewish people: “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokeicha b'simcha,” literally, “because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with simcha (joy).” How are we to understand this?
The truth is, that both of these things are connected. As R' Nachman of Breslov explains, there is a direct relationship between this sin, and sadness. Sadness brings a person to this sin, and this sin itself causes sadness. It is literally a vicious cycle.
There is a simple way of understanding this psychologically. The action of intimacy is very much a drug. It causes euphoria and is a stress reliever like no other. When a person is depressed and down, that brief rush of euphoria helps him cope with his sadness, or at least it seems to. Of course, a person could do this in a permitted fashion, by being with his wife. But what should he do if he is not married, or if his wife is not currently permitted to him, or not currently available? Unfortunately, this causes people to fall into the trap of this sin. However, the solution is illusory – if a person has a long-term sadness, whatever the cause may be, it will not cure or help the sadness in any way to be given a brief high which lasts for a few seconds at most. This is purely a trap from the person's evil inclination. Not only that, but once the person has transgressed this, he feels even worse, because not only is he sad for whatever reason he was sad before, but now he also feels like a loser.
Thus, we see that the 98 curses are because “you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy” which is bound up part and parcel with the sin of zera levatalah. Thus, the only solution we have, the only way to help ourselves get out of this trap, is to serve Hashem with joy. Be happy, do things that make you happy, be with people who make you happy. Stay away from people who speak negatively and bring an air of darkness and bitterness into your life. Do not be this person yourself, either. Always look at things positively and speak positively. When doing mitzvos, be happy. Remind yourself how great each mitzvah truly is and how much it makes Hashem happy when we are doing His will, especially in such a world when the challenges are so great. And above all, when a person fails, whether in this challenging area of shemiras habris or in any other area, he should not let himself get down. He should remind himself that Hashem knows how hard it is for him, and Hashem will always give him another chance because of His tremendous love for him. This way one will have more siata d'shmaya and hatzlacha in fighting this extremely challenging battle.