Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Should One Foucus on Understanding His Yetzer Hara?

In preperation for this post regarding the yetzer hara, I recently asked Rabbi Micha Golshevsky, the author of the weekly translations of Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's Torahs, the following question:

I remember reading recently, and I can't remember if it was from you, something about not focusing too much on understanding the yetzer hara, even if it is for the good reason of trying to understand it better in order to beat it. Whatever I read said that this could be dangerous because it will just bring you down, despite the good intentions.

I can't remember who i heard/read this from, or what the person's source was. Do you know where this idea is from?

Below is his response to me, collected from several e-mails in our e-conversation:

In terms of your question, virtually all of mussar and much of chasidus is a study of the yetzer hara, meant to insulate and protect us from its insidious methods. For example, it often causes one not to notice the bad tendencies and spiritual weaknesses within. This way we won't even know to do teshuvah. How can you correct a problem you don't know exists? Another method of the yetzer is rationalization. It is even possible to convince one that what is really a sin is a mitzvah in a particular situation.

However, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (in Parshas Achrei Mos, Vayikra, First one in perek 18) says something a little similar to what you wrote. Interestingly Rebbi Nachman says the same thing in Sefer Hamidos, Niuf I #10. He says that you should never get into a claim and counter claim situation (Toen v' nitan) with your tempter. This will make you all the more likely to fail in your challenge, since thinking about it when sorely tempted--even why you should reject it-- evokes the feelings for it from within. Every instant one spends explaining his rejection to the tempter within only serves to weaken his resolve.

Although the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh and Rebbe Nachman, discuss arayos specifically, it seems to me that "toen v'nitan" will not be helpful in other areas of temptation as well. For example: when a person sees a delectable dish, if he debates with himself whether to take an extra helping this will often cause him to overeat. Immediately afterwards he will bemoan, "There goes my diet." or words to that effect. (Sometimes he will bemoan this before he takes the extra cake!)

One needs to break out of the mochin dikatnus, "forgetfulness" of the bad effects of the indulgence, not debate the tempter. We have all heard about the chain-smoking doctor exhorting others of the dangers of smoking. He knows it's wrong intellectually and can even argue and debate the whys and wherefores but this doesn't help him one bit. When the cigarette "calls him," he lights up.

What will work to overcome a nisayon? Passionate prayer often helps. Another method that works (for me) is to pull out a powerful sefer that discusses the problem, open up to a potent piece and "go with it" by yearning for holiness and purity through the inspiration it affords. Sometimes the only thing that will work is to leave the place of temptation as quickly as possible.

On a deeper level, Rebe Nachman teaches that while one experiences a nisayon one loses one's da'as regarding the test. This is the definition of a nisayon, since if one were to retain da'as there would be no nisayon! Why would anyone overeat if he had true da'as and felt the bad feelings of overeating before indulging?

The time to prepare for a nisayon is beforehand. One method to build tools to enable one to refuse to do what is wrong as quickly as possible is studying the methods of the yezter and preparing counter-strategies. It is well known that the Ba'aley Mussar would say that the Chovos Halevavos understood the yetzer hara very intimately, and study of it enables one to understand and resist the yetzer. The "Chovos Hatalmidim" comes to mind as an example of a Chassidic Sefer that discusses understanding the yetzer and how to resist it at length.

Perhaps you also meant that you need to find the correct time to work on the yetzer since if you work on it immediately after a fall, you can fall to depression. This is illustrated in the following story:

Rav Noach of Lechvitch zt"l once said, "If a Jew succumbs to temptation or manifests a character defect, he must not allow himself to fall into the trap of self-absorbed despondency, but must do teshuvah instead.

"This could be compared to two servants of the king who were sent to war, one wise and the other foolish. During the battle, the wise one took a hit, but he decided that the middle of a battlefield is no place to attend to a minor wound. The foolish servant also sustained a minor injury, but he decided to immediately attend to it. He stopped shooting, became an easy target, and was killed immediately.

"Similarly, one who sustains a 'flesh wound' while fighting his inclination could easy fall into depression. But this will destroy his ability to focus on prayer or Torah study, his main weapons in the war! This leaves him completely vulnerable. Every soul is rooted in the olam hata'anug, the supernal world of delight, and anyone who does not feel pleasure in serving Hashem is automatically drawn after material pleasures. The only solution is to immediately change direction by doing teshuvah. This simply means resolving not to do the sin again!"

Rav Nosson discusses at great length a concept first brought in the Ramban in Iyov. Iyov said, "I feared a fear and it came upon me." This teaches a very profound lesson: one who fears literally draws this into one's life. One who focuses on the good and kindnesses in his life will draw even more kindness into his life. The mind is very powerful and the power of visualization is well documented. What we think affects us and those around us. We must think good, positive thoughts and forget the difficulties in our lives. It is enough to deal with them as they crop up. Let us remember the famous Chassidic adage: "Where your mind is, that is where you are!"

Hashem should help us overcome our unique spiritual challenges, each person in his own way!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of rome's world)

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A Simple Jew said...

Dixie Yid and Rabbi Golshevsky, thank you for that excellent posting!!

Anonymous said...

B'simchah rabbah!