Day 1: The Goal: Self Mastery
The Talmud tells us that when Alexander the Great reached the gate of Gan Eden, he called out, "Open the gate for me!" To his chagrin, he was turned away with the response, "This is the gate to Hashem, only the righteous may enter."
Alexander retorted, "I am a king of great renown. Since you refuse to open the gate, at least give me something from Gan Eden."
They gave him an eyeball. When he weighed it, stacking all of his gold and silver on one side of the scale and the eyeball on the other, he was shocked to discover that the eyeball outweighed all of his wealth.
He asked the wise men for an explanation and they said, "This is the eyeball of a human being. The human eye is never satisfied with what it sees; it always wants more. Nothing in the world is enough, for a person will crave whatever he sees. In fact, his eyes are not satisfied until the day he dies and his eyes are covered with earth."
"Can this be true?" Alexander asked. The wise men countered, "Cover the eye with a little earth. The true weight of the gold will reverse the scale immediately." (Tamid 32b) Hashem denied Alexander access to Gan Eden because of his greed and obsession with power. Bent on conquering the entire world, his desires were inflamed beyond all reason. When he demanded the reason for his rejection, he was given an eyeball, because the eye is the source of desire. Just as his desire was out of control, so too, the weight of the eyeball was completely out of proportion.
Heaven was hinting to him about the futility of chasing after earthly desires which can never be satisfied. But Alexander lacked the Torah wisdom to perceive this truth and could not see anything beyond his own ego and self-gratification. This mighty warrior conquered most of the world, yet he could not overpower his own eyes.
I want to control my eyes, but I feel that I haven't got the will-power. Is there a Torah formula that can help me?
You Can Count on Divine Assistance
Many people would consider Alexander the epitome of strength. Undefeated in battle, he was one of the greatest military leaders in the history of the world. He was also a highly educated man, taught by Aristotle. Yet, he lacked both the strength and the wisdom to curb his insatiable eyes. (As we saw in yesterday's e-mail)
In contrast, the Mishnah (Avot 4:1) teaches, "Who is a man of strength? One who conquers his passions." Strength is defined as the mastery over one's desires. Our Avot, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov - were focused on spiritual pursuits and used their Torah knowledge to attain purity and closeness to Hashem. Unlike temporary world conquerors, they were true kings with eternal power because they mastered themselves. We, the People of Israel, have inherited their spiritual genes and dignified stature. The awareness of our intrinsic worthiness - and our royal lineage - inspires us with the confidence that we can rule over the lesser part of ourselves. The Torah gives us the wisdom to master our passions.
If the goal of self-discipline seems beyond you, it's important to know that you are not alone. There is a Torah formula that shows us how to attain Hashem's help. Specifically, our Sages teach us that if a person wants to cleanse himself spiritually, he will receive Divine assistance to succeed. The yearning for taharah, purity, burns in the heart of every Jew. Once we begin to strive for it, Hashem will help us gain control of our eyes. This control, in turn, will give us the key to control our thoughts and actions.
Today: Know that if you sincerely want to achieve self-mastery, Hashem will surely help you.
This is the first day of my journal. I've never done this before - writing down things that happen to me and what I think about on a daily basis - but I'm willing to try.
My best buddy, Dave, told me it's "essential" if you want to improve yourself. And I do have a particular challenge I want to overcome. Sometimes, I'm distracted by immodest sights. I am a good Jew; but with all the visual challenges in the city, I didn't think there was a way that I could always control my eyes.
Dave and I work near each other in Manhattan, so we walk together from the train to our offices. The sights along the way are getting bolder and bolder. When I brought up this topic with Dave, I thought he would agree with me that there's nothing much I can do about it.
But he didn't agree. He said there's plenty I can do. That's not exactly what I expected to hear, but the more I thought about what he said, the more right he seemed. When I said, "I feel like I'm alone. Nobody can really help me," you should have heard him! He practically shrieked at me. He actually stopped walking and turned to face me.
"You can't think that way! Don't you know who you are? Your great-grandfathers are Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. You've got the spiritual genes to overcome any challenge. Besides, you don't have to do it alone."
"Hashem will help. The Torah promises us that if we really aim to rid ourselves of bad habits Hashem will help us succeed. The more you want it, the more He'll help. You'll see."
"Do you think the Torah is talking about this kind of habit - something this personal, I mean?"
"Especially with 'this kind' of habit. Listen, that prohibition not to 'stray after your eyes,' is one of the six mitzvot t'mediot, one of the six mitzvot that we have to keep in mind at all times, all day long.First, you've got to commit to the idea of improving yourself, of course..."
"Okay, okay, I really want to try.'"
"Nice going. Now you have to start a notebook, some kind of journal so you can keep track of your progress."
When he said that, I was ready to get off right there. It sounded like too much work already. But I really do want to improve myself, to elevate my thoughts and really gain control over my eyes. I said I'd give it a try.
So here goes. I hope Dave knows what he's talking about.
These e-mails are excerpts taken from the book "Windows of the Soul" by Rabbi Zvi Miller of the Salant Foundation.