Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Negative Middos: Can be Overcome, Must be Overcome!

This post is dedicated to our war against the Yetzer Ha'Ra (evil inclination). During this troubling time when Jews in Israel are fighting against Hezbollah terrorists and many are staying in bomb shelters, as well as a week long "WorldPride" event scheduled for August 6 - 12 in Yerushalayim, we must strive harder to improve ourselves. It is our teshuvah (return to HaShem - repentance) that will bring about the coming of Mashiach. In this troubling time of what appears to be the "birthpangs of Mashiach", we must help ourselves and our brothers and sisters of Bnei Yisrael by trying our best to improve ourselves, not giving into the dictates of the evil inclination. Each of us should pick one (or more) negative traits we have and agree to focus on seriously overcoming that trait. In the Torah there are 613 mitzvos, proper observance of the mitzvos is largely determined by proper middos (character traits). Such traits include laziness, anger, jealousy, and haughtiness, among others. The book Orchos Tzadikkim (The paths of the Righteous) devotes many of its chapters in discussion of negative and positive traits. In relation to the trait of anger, the RaMBa"N (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) writes in the famous "Letter of the RaMBa"N" that anger leads is such a bad trait as it opens the person to all sorts of sins.

There is a gemara that discusses how the tzaddikim (righteous) will see their evil inclination as a mountain, realizing what they had overcome. However, those that fall prey to the whims of the evil inclination will see it as a hair, something extremely easy to overcome. How come those that overcame their inclination see it as a mountain, while those who give in to the inclination see it as a hair?

"Rav Assi said, the Yetzer HaRa is similar to a strand of a spider web in the beginning and in the end it is similar to the ropes of the carriage, as it says, 'Woe to those who pull the sin with the ropes of nothingness and as the ropes of the carriage is his sin.'..." (Sukkah 52a) The evildoer allows his/her evil inclination to "get the better of them", adding another sinful "strand of hair" until the sins and temptation added up becomes "ropes of a carriage". The gemara goes on to explain that HaShem has seven names for the evil inclination, including "evil" and "the one who hates you". The gemara notes that one of the four creations HaShem regrets is the
Yetzer HaRa (the other three are the Yishmaelites, Chaldeans, and exile of the Jewish People). The gemara notes that if the Yetzer HaRa becomes as a rock or as iron, take him (the Yetzer HaRa) to the Torah study hall, "if he is a rock, he will melt, and if he is like iron, he will shatter."

The Yetzer HaRa is a very serious threat, strengthening over us every day, intent on killing us. If not for the Help of the Holy One Blessed is He, we would be unable to overcome him. However, it is necessary for us to put in some serious effort of our own to overcome the Yetzer HaRa if we want that Heavenly assistance. For more on this gemara, click here.

It is our obligation to try to improve at least one "character flaw" or mitzvah to help in the current situation. We should also try to overcome such anti-Torah events as the "WorldPride" event scheduled to begin in a week-and-a-half. With the current war in Israel and the threat of attack from Iran, we must all improve in the Way of the Torah. The gemara (Sanhedrin 97b) notes that if the Jews do not do teshuvah of their own volition, HaShem will bring a leader against the Jews with decrees as harsh as those of Haman, thus encouraging the Jews to improve themselves. The teshuvah brings the Mashiach. Rabbi Brody notes that the
gemara in Sotah 49a notes that prior to the arrival of Mashiach, the Galil (northern Israel) will become desolate and the inhabitants will travel from city to city. So far over 2,200 rockets have been fired at Israel.

My fellow Jews, it is time for us to improve in the Ways of the Torah. Focus on at least one thing and fix one character trait or mitzvah, it can bring Mashiach and make Tisha B'Av into a happy day (Zechariah prophesies at Tisha B'Av will be a happy day in the future).


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