Monday, July 21, 2008

What Comes First? Sin or Theological Change?

At the end of Parshas Balak, Bamidbar 25:1-2, the pasuk says "וַיָּחֶל הָעָם, לִזְנוֹת אֶל-בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב. ב וַתִּקְרֶאןָ לָעָם, לְזִבְחֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶן וַיֹּאכַל הָעָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶן." "Yisroel settled in Shittim and the people [of Yisroel] began acting promiscuously with the daughters of Moav. They [girls of Moav] invited the people [of Yisroel] to their idolatrous sacrifices; and the people ate and prostrated themselves before their gods." (translation courtesy of Here's my question. Why does the Torah say that the Jewish people first had illicit relations with the Moavi girls and only later worshiped their idols? If they believed in Hashem, how could they sin with those women? Shouldn't it have said that they worshiped the idols first, which would have given them the theological permission slip to sin with the daughters of Moav afterwards?

It's probably not a chidush, a novel idea, to say that it almost always works in the oposite order of what my question would suggest. We don't sin because of an intellectual or theological conviction that what we want to do is alright. We just sin because we are weak and give into our ta'avos, desires. The theological changes, intellectual realizations and religious rationalizations only come along later as our way of making ourselves feel less guilty for what we have done. Therefore, the pasuk says that they first indulged their Yetzer Haras, their evil inclination, and then only afterwards worshiped the idols as a way of rationalizing their actions to alleviate the sense of cognative dissonance.

After an aveira, we have two choices. Either change our definition of what an aveira is so as to redefine what we've done as a non-sin, or preferably a mitzva. Or we can choose the harder path of recognizing that what we did is wrong and work to correct it for the future. Sometimes, it may seem too difficult to change at the present time. And this is when it is especially tempting to redraw the lines to allow ourselves to believe that what we have done and want to continue doing is permitted or obligatory even. However, it is at a time like that when it's better to say to one's self:

"I know that this is wrong and I admit it. I am sorry for it, but right now I don't feel that I have the stregth to overcome this right now. B'Ezras Hashem, with G-d's help, I will get to changing this in the future. In the mean time, I will change the more managable things in my life first. But I will not rationalize my sins and convince myself that they are permitted. This would take away all hope of tikun, of repair from my life so I will remain honest with myself about what's really right and what's really wrong. Hashem, please help me continue acknowledging what's truly right and live up to that standard one day..."

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Rembrandt)

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