To Rationalize Hedonism
"The novol said in his heart, `There is no Elokim.'" (Tehillim 14:1) We need to understand the connection between the term novol, whose plain meaning is a hedonist, someone full of worldly desires and the thoughts of heresy and denial, which the posuk attributes to the Novol.
Rav Saadiah Gaon explains that heresy stems from corrupt character traits. There is a simple explanation for this: How is it possible for a person who views creation, with all its wonders and its amazing order, possibly able to say, "There is no Elokim"?
Only if he is corrupted by the evil trait of rejecting any yoke will he try to argue thus.
We can understand this better through a story which involved Reb Chaim of Brisk ztvk'l. Reb Chaim had a talmid who fell under the influence of the maskilim, members of the so-called enlightenment, which corrupted an entire generation R'l. The standard of the talmid's behavior began to drop, to the point where he visited his friends in Berlin and joined them in chilul Shabbosand other aveiros, R'l.
Later, as he was passing through Brisk one day, the talmid, who was extremely gifted, called upon Reb Chaim. "Where have you come from?" his rebbe asked him, "And how did you come to sink so low?"
"Rebbe," the bochur began, "I have questions regarding religion . . . "
"First," said Reb Chaim, "There's something I want to ask you, and answer me truthfully." The bochur agreed and Reb Chaim continued. "When did these questions present themselves to you, before you started being mechalel Shabbos or afterwards?"
The talmid replied, "After I started sinning . . .
"If so," Reb Chaim told him, "then your conscience must have troubled you after you sinned and in order to calm it, you produced these questions. That means that they are not questions but answers to your own conscience. And how do you expect there to be answers to answers?"
Wonderful! This explains the matter of Novol. He wanted to indulge his desires but his conscience bothered him, so he denied Hashem's existence. When he wanted to sin and his yetzer hatov told him that he would receive punishment in Gehennom, he rationalized his conduct by arguing that he is a heretic anyway, and he said "There is no Elokim!"
This is what Chazal meant when they said that reshoim are controlled by their hearts. They want to break free of their shackles but they cannot do so for their hearts are under the control of their yetzer hora. This explains the term which the pesukim use when speaking about reshoim, Eisov, Yerovom, Homon, and Novol. They said "in their hearts." Their thoughts sprung from their yetzer hora [and then presented themselves as rational arguments].
The term which the pesukim use when speaking about tzadikim, Channah, Dovid and Doniel, is that they spoke "to their hearts." In this, they are comparable to their Creator, of whom the posuk (Bereishis 8:21), says "And Hashem said to His heart." Tzadikim speak to their hearts. They are in control of their hearts [and can subdue their yetzer hora with the truth]. This is something fearsome and awful!
Masters and Servants
"And Eisov said in his heart" (Bereishis 27:41). We find the idea of speaking in one's heart six more times in Tanach: "And Yerovom said in his heart" (Melochim I 12:26); "Novol said in his heart" (Tehillim 14:1); "And Homon said in his heart" (Esther 6:6) -- these three are examples of Chazal's teaching that, "Reshoim are controlled by their hearts." The other three pesukim show that "Tzadikim are in control of their hearts" -- "And Channah was speaking to her heart"(Shmuel I 1:13); "And Dovid said to his heart" (Shmuel I 27:1); "And Doniel took it to heart" (Doniel 1:8).
When Chazal say that reshoim are controlled by their hearts, they mean that although reshoim want to break free of their shackles, they cannot do so, because their hearts are under the control of their yetzer hora. This explains the term used by the pesukim which speak about reshoim, Eisov, Yerovom, Homon, and Novol. They said "in their hearts". Their thoughts sprung initially from their yetzer hora [and only then cloaked themselves in rational arguments].
Tzadikim on the other hand, are in control of their hearts, as we see from the above pesukim. When speaking about tzadikim, Channah, Dovid and Doniel, the expression used is that they spoke "to their hearts." In this, they are comparable to their Creator, of whom the posuk (Bereishis 8:21), says "And Hashem said to His heart." Tzadikim speak to their hearts. They are in control of their hearts [and can subdue their yetzer hora with the truth]. This is something fearsome and awful!
Through their observation concerning these reshoim, Chazal are giving us a lesson about the three evil character traits which "remove a person from the world" (Ovos 4:21 -- Rabbi Elozor Hakappor says, "Jealousy, desire and glory remove a person from the world.") The Vilna Gaon points out that in the mishnah, the term ho'odom, with the definite article, is used, although the mishnah is speaking generally about any person and all people.
The Gaon explains this as an allusion to the fact that even "the man," i.e. a distinguished individual of a higher and nobler stamp, will be nonetheless be driven from both this world and the next if he has the traits of jealousy, desire and glory.
Eisov's Tainted Mitzva
The three examples cited by Chazal show us how this fate befell three great men who were affected by these traits: Eisov with desire, Yerovom with jealousy and Homon with glory. We shall briefly explain each of these three cases.
(They are explained more fully in the work Da'as Torah, in the discourse entitled Servants of the Heart.)
At the beginning of parshas Vayishlach, the posuk (Bereishis 32:8), tells us that upon hearing that Eisov was coming to meet him, "Yaakov feared greatly and he was very troubled." What was Yaakov Ovinu afraid of?
He certainly wasn't afraid of Eisov's physical strength and might, for he also possessed great strength. This is clear from the posuk (Bereishis 29:10), "And he rolled the stone from over the mouth of the well," on which Rashi cites Chazal who say that Yaakov did this as though he were merely removing the stopper from a bottle, thus attesting to his great strength.
And earlier, after Lovon had pursued him and told him that although it was within his power to do him harm, Hashem had come to him [Lovon] and warned him to speak neither good nor evil to Yaakov, the posuk (Bereishis 31:45) tells us, "And Yaakov took a stone and raised it as a monument." In the medrash (Bereishis Rabboh 74:13), Chazal tell us that the size of the stone was like "the tooth like rock of Tiveria" [a very tall outcropping of rock]. And the next posuk moreover relates that "Yaakov called his brothers" -- these were his sons (Rashi) -- and told them to gather stones. Each of his sons took a stone that was the same size as Yaakov's. This was their response to Lovon's threat to harm them: "So, you want to use force against us?... Nu, we will also resort to force!"
Just as Yaakov Ovinu was unafraid of Lovon's strength, he was also unafraid of Eisov's powerful limbs and muscles! What made him afraid however, were the mitzvos that Eisov had fulfilled -- dwelling in Eretz Yisroel and honoring his father. And this caused Yaakov to be extremely troubled.
Eisov however, "said in his heart" -- that is, he didn't speak out his thoughts; they remained buried within him and in fact, he wasn't even aware of entertaining such thoughts, though they influenced him -- "the days of mourning for my father approach," and with them, the chance to avenge himself against Yaakov Ovinu. Chazal point this out as the indication that Eisov was controlled by his heart and that he was unable to subdue his wishes and desires.
The Dangerous Test
"And Yerovom said in his heart." Chazal tell us (Sanhedrin
102) , that Yerovom was a great talmid chochom, to whom all the other chachomim of that generation were greatly inferior. Yet the posuk (Melochim I 11:26), tells us that Yerovom rebelled against Shlomo Hamelech.
HaRav Yitzchok Blazer ztvk'l, explains Chazal's statement, "In what merit did Yerovom deserve the throne?
Because he reproved Shlomo Hamelech." The king built up an open space known as the milo, where the people had been able to gather, in order to take tax from them for his men and his army. Yerovom rebuked Shlomo about this, saying, "Your father broke open the milo so that Yisroel could come up for the regolim and you have built it up so that you can take taxes. You are preventing the people from coming up for the regel."
Because he delivered this rebuke, Yerovom merited the throne of the kingdom of Yisroel. However, Chazal tell us that he was ultimately punished because he rebuked Shlomo in public, in addition to which, he ought to have judged the king favorably and realized that he needed the income for his armies.
HaRav Blazer asks that the mishnah (Sanhedrin, perek Cheilek), states explicitly that Yerovom was punished because he sinned himself [by erecting the golden calves in Beis El and Don] and because he also led others to sin [by preventing them from going up to Yerushalayim, which led them to offer sacrifices to the calves]. What then did Chazal mean when they said that he was punished because he rebuked Shlomo Hamelech publicly?
HaRav Blazer's answer is that it was because Yerovom delivered his rebuke in public that he later came to sin and to cause others to sin. He explains this answer with a parable.
A man became sick and the doctors said that an operation was necessary in order to save him. However, there was a degree of risk involved in operating and there was a chance that the man would not survive. Since there was no other way to cure him though, there was no choice but to operate.
So it was, says HaRav Blazer, with Yerovom. He merited becoming a king because he rebuked Shlomo. However, since he did it publicly and shamed Shlomo, it was decreed in Heaven that Yerovom himself would be tested with royalty, to see how he behaved as a king in need of revenue for his army. [There was danger in this for Yerovom but this was the only way to test him.]
When Yerovom became king, he went up to the Beis Hamikdosh. We learn from halocho leMoshe miSinai, that only kings who come from the family of Dovid Hamelech are allowed to sit down in the azoroh, whereas rulers of the kingdom of Yisroel must stand. Yerovom reckoned that if the people saw Rechavom sitting while he stood, they would say that Rechavom was a king but not Yerovom. "And Yerovom said in his heart, `Now the kingdom will revert to the house of Dovid', "(Melochim I 12:26). He therefore erected images of calves, "and he said to them, `Enough of your going up to Yerushalayim' . . . and he put one in Beis El and one in Don" (ibid. 28-9), sinning himself and causing the people to sin. He thus failed the test of ruling, because of his jealousy of the kingdom of the family of Dovid Hamelech [which led him to advance a "logical" argument to justify himself].
The Fatal Obsession
The third example is that of Homon, who craved honor. "And Homon related to Zeresh his wife and to all his friends . . .
and how the king had raised him . . . " (Esther 5:11). Our master and teacher [HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman] zt'l, explained that the word "vayesapeir, and he related," is connected to the idea of sefirah, counting something out, for example money, coin by coin. It was, he explains, as though Homon was placing all the various things which accorded him honor into one pan of a set of scales: his exalted standing in Achashverosh's court, his large family and his vast wealth, while into the other pan went the fact that Mordechai the Jew, who sat at the gate of the royal palace, neither rose nor even moved in deference to Homon.
And this second pan, containing just Mordechai's refusal to honor him, outweighed the first, loaded with all his privileges and status. How fearsome it is to contemplate the consequences of thirsting for honor!
My father-in-law, HaRav Chaim Yehuda Leib Auerbach zt'l, quipped that the most needy person of all is one who craves honor. Imagine someone coming home by himself to an empty house and starting to accord honor to himself, "Please have a seat on the mizrach . . . you are a tzaddik and a gaon . . . " and other praises!!
Will he feel honored by this, if there is nobody else to hear? Of course not! honor is only honor when someone else accords it. Therefore, nobody needs other people more than a man who wants honor. On his own, he's the poorest of paupers.
This is a wonderful idea!
It was Homon's very desire to be honored that caused him to stumble and eventually led him to the gallows. King Achashverosh asked what should be done to the man whom he wanted to honor. "And Homon said in his heart, `Who does the king want to honor more than me?' And Homon said to the king . . . `Let them bring royal clothing . . . and a horse which the king has ridden on' . . . And the king said, `Hurry, take the clothing and the horse . . . and do this to Mordechai the Jew . . . ' " (Esther 6:6-10).
These then, are the three bad traits. Eisov stumbled because of desire, Yerovom because of jealousy and Homon because of honor.
Rising Above Jealousy and Pain
Tzadikim on the other hand, control their hearts. The first example is that of Channah. "And her husband's other wife continually annoyed her," (Shmuel I 1:6). Three times a day, when the childless Channah sat down to eat, Peninoh would ask her whether she had bought anything for her child to wear that day and similar questions. Rashi quotes Chazal, who tell us that Peninoh's intentions were good. She wanted to spur Channah to pray to Hashem to give her children.
HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l asked why, in that case, Peninoh was punished. Chazal tell us that, "Soton and Peninoh [in what they did, both] intended to [make their victims] turn to Heaven." Yet Rashi on the posuk (Shmuel I 2:5), " . . . until the barren woman gives birth to seven and the mother of many children is wretched," explains that for every child which Channah eventually bore, Peninoh buried two R'l. Why did this happen, if she acted out of good intentions?
HaRav Shmuelevitz answers that since Peninoh's attacks on Channah involved causing pain to a fellow man, it made no difference that her intentions were worthy, or that she was completely righteous. The danger in sinning against others is like that of a fire, whose nature is to burn.
This is a fearsome idea, for anyone who contemplates the precision of Divine judgment against tzadikim. However, when Channah prayed, she did not, chas vesholom, mention that her husband's other wife was distressing her every day. "And Channah was speaking to her heart . . . " She was in control of her heart and was telling her heart to be silent [regarding her personal anguish]!
Commenting (in his work Nefesh HaChaim), on the posuk, "And Channah prayed for Hashem," HaRav Chaim of Volozhin asks why the word al Hashem, with an ayin, meaning "on," or "on behalf of Hashem," is used, rather than el Hashem, with an alef, meaning simply, that she prayed to Hashem. He answers that Channah's prayers were not only for herself at all, as any person's might have been when praying that they be given children. She prayed "for Hashem," in accordance with what we learn from the posuk, "In all their troubles, He is troubled."
The holy Shechina was distressed because Channah had no children. Her prayers were on behalf of the Shechina's suffering, not only her own!
How very fearsome! Channah was speaking to her heart, in the way of tzadikim, who control their hearts, to see that no purely personal wishes would find their way into her prayers for children. She prayed only for Hashem. The posuk (Shmuel I 1:15) says, "And Channah replied and said, `No, my master, I am a woman of bitter spirits. I have drunk neither wine nor liquor; I am pouring out my soul before Hashem'." Chazal (Brochos 31) explain that she told Eli, "You are not a master in this matter, and ruach hakodesh is not resting upon you when you suspect me of that [i.e. drunkenness]." With this she meant, "Do you imagine that my wanting children is a mundane, earthly wish and that my distress and my tears are from physical pain? Or from jealousy and anger because of my husband's wife? No, I am a woman who is bitter of spirit, not of body! I am pouring my soul out before Hashem. There is no trace of earthly wishes in my prayers. They are completely spiritual, coming entirely from the soul!"