Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Ellul 5761 - September 5, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Problems Create Experts

by Rabbi Moshe Young

A person who buys an old car is more likely to know more about cars than someone who buys a new one. People always have stories to tell about mistakes the bank made or an inefficiency by the tax office. They become experts as a result of problems, and are ready to give advice to the unwary. It is the same with health, with education and with anything from how to fix a tap to how to find a good lawyer.

There is something about mistakes and disasters which makes a person wiser. The gemora says (Gittin 43a) that a person often arrives at a clear decision about a matter of halacha only after he had slipped up and made a mistake. The embarrassment of having made the wrong decision earlier sobers the person into thinking the matter over more clearly and eventually arriving at the right decision.

In political matters and in social values, society also tries to learn from its past errors of judgment how to make a better world for itself. But unlike Torah, the goals for a perfect society are not clearly defined by the world. They judge by trial and error, so mistakes will be noted, but who said that alternative approaches will indeed create the desired effect of creating the perfect world?

The reason why the highest moral standards elude society is because the inner urge for self-gratification stands in the way of looking towards the highest values. As a result, society is incapable of having an objective view of the truth. The result is that people philosophize about their mistakes and move on to alternative suggestions without fully considering that the new suggestions may also be filled with mistakes. Nevertheless, if at the moment it appears that they are making improvements to society, they are content to bide their time hoping that the next generation will sort out the mistakes which this generation chose not to anticipate.

That is how general society works. In contrast to this, we possess an ultimate and eternal truth which is Torah. When we have problems with making decisions on how to conduct our lives or how to relate to the outside world, whether on a personal or communal level, we have a much greater chance of arriving at the right conclusions because the Torah and daas Torah point us in the direction which leads us to what is right and what will produce happiness. This is especially true when we consult with great talmidei chachomim whose years of Torah study develop their daas Torah to a high degree.

But even with us when we make big and little decisions on our own, there is the tendency to obscure the truthful way because it might interfere with the inner desire to attain self- gratification and so ignore what is the right way. The difference, however, between us and the outside world is that they can justify their decisions, believing that they have no ideal definitive goal for which to aim. To them, everything points to the "right" direction. This is not the case with us, so we stand in a more difficult position.

It is, therefore, when we forget to keep the ultimate goals in sight that problems begin to accumulate. Rav Tzodok HaKohen zt"l (Resissei Loiloh 38) speaks about how beginnings have a habit of acquiring the stamp of permanence. Once an action with good intentions has begun, it becomes the foundation of future actions. However, this is not only in good actions but even in bad actions. That means that if a person does something wrong but does not see any bad in his actions, and he even believes that there is something good in the initial action, even regarding it as a mitzvah, he has paved for himself a course of action which is against the Will of Hashem. A person might be caught up in the enthusiasm of doing something good, but he has not thought it out properly nor has he asked a sha'aloh about it, and if it is really wrong he will be drawn into pursuing his folly and continue to believe that he is in fact doing nothing wrong at all.

There are many situations where a surreptitious and even unnoticed incident in one's life can be the thin end of the wedge which opens wide a pattern of behavior which might be very difficult to control. (This is especially true for youth in whom general patterns are less established.) There could be a fleeting encounter with a disreputable person who leaves an impression strong enough for a further meeting to be arranged. One might inadvertently see something unwholesome and unacceptable to Torah, and the mind becomes attracted to see it again. It happens many times and without previous warning, but once the door has been opened, the seeds have been sown into the mind. It is difficult to eradicate.

R. Tzodok says that this is the meaning of the attack of Amolek. Amolek is referred to by Bil'om in the Torah as the "first of nations -- reishis goyim Amolek." Their tactics were not to make a frontal attack on Klal Yisroel when they came out of Egypt. Their method was not to persuade Yisroel directly into rejecting Hashem. In this they would not be successful. Their way was by casual encounter -- "Asher korcho baderech" as explained at the end of last week's parsha. They looked for the right opportunity.

The word, "Zochor" -- "remember!" is the crucial safeguard against following the initial wrong desires of one's heart before activating the limbs of the body to act in a wrong way.

"When Hashem gives rest and respite from enemies -- Vehoyoh behoni'ach Hashem Elokecho lecho mikol oyvecho," when a person is in a state of relaxation it is then necessary to be aware of the sudden insidious attack of Amolek, the yetzer hora. If one recognizes the first signs, the reishis goyim, and remembers one's Torah responsibilities, one can protect oneself in the future. If one ignores this, then the yetzer hora takes hold of a person and becomes very difficult to shake off.

R. Tzodok continues by saying that the initial awareness that a wrong attitude or bad thoughts have quietly infiltrated the mind, means that the person was to some extent receptive to these thoughts. There was an atmosphere which was sympathetic to them even in a very small way. There was something there which could act as a foothold for the yetzer hora and it would be able to grow. However, as soon as one recognizes the mistake which is a michshol, one ought to remember the mitzvos and subsequently consciously reject any further incitement from the yetzer hora. One becomes stronger in the process and more ready and accessible to Torah thought.

The attack of Amolek came just prior to Yisroel receiving the Torah. An awareness of mistakes in avodas Hashem makes one more determined not to allow future mistakes to develop. As we noted above, one cannot really say that one understands Torah unless one has made a mistake in understanding and one has been corrected publicly. It makes one search for the emes more thoroughly in the future. If you are aware of a mistake in your Torah outlook, by correcting it immediately you become more sensitive to its bad effect.

Shaul Hamelech felt initially that when he went out to war against Amolek he was right in saving the life of Agog their king. He saw some good in him. As it turns out, the descendants of Homon the Aggogi (hence the descendants of Agog himself) learned Torah in Bnei Brak. Yet Shaul Hamelech should have listened fully to Hashem. Even if to the human mind there might be some other calculation as to why Agog should have been allowed to live, the word of Hashem is supreme. Once one allows one's own calculation to rule against Hashem's wishes, subsequent damage becomes inevitable.

Often people imagine that if a situation arises which might compromise the derech haTorah in some way, one can leave it in place, maybe ignore it, and it will just fade away by itself. When children come home from school with non-Torah ideas which they acquire from their friends, or modes of dress which bear some resemblance to non-Torah or non-Jewish fashions, or bad middos which they copy, it is the easiest thing to ignore these things in order to avoid any controversy or confrontation. (In some cases it might be better to ignore some things if parents cannot tackle the problems without creating greater problems. Sometimes talking in the wrong way can be counterproductive.) Yet generally the problem needs to be addressed and not ignored. Wrong ideas come into the home often accidentally, even into the most Torah-aware families, and the rot sets in. This is the maaseh Soton, the approach of Amolek.

There has to be zechiroh -- awareness, and then protest. Once there is protest, there is a chance that something will be done about it as long as one does not forget (lo tishkoch). That is already the first step towards the rejection of bad influences.

The increasing face of violence and immorality in the world ought to make the Torah Jew feel that there are many problems in one's life. One cannot pretend that they do not affect us. In these days of yemei rotzon it is necessary to analyze both one's own actions and the silent insidious outside influences. In this way we can recognize our enemy both from within and without and create a new consciousness. Problems increase day by day and having to confront them on a daily basis will make us greater experts in the art of strengthening Torah observance among ourselves.

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