by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Because of this, those that speak in parables say: come to Cheshbon; it is
[re-]built and established as the city of Sichon." [21:27]
This is very unusual - I know of no other place in the Torah where we find a
similar reference to a history or lesson being told by storytellers!
Perhaps as a result, the Talmud interprets the verse very differently than
its simple translation.
"Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan, 'what is the
meaning of [this verse]? "HaMoshlim" [which we translated "story-tellers",
also means "rulers"] - these are those who rule over their inclinations.
[What do they say?] "Come to Cheshbon" [which means "calculation" in Hebrew]
- come, and let us make the world's [ultimate] calculation: the loss
involved in doing a Mitzvah vs. its gain, and the gain involved in doing a
transgression vs. its loss. "Built and established" [can be read as "you
build and establish"] - if you do this, you will build in this world, and
establish for the World to Come.'" [Bava Basra 78b]
In Jewish thought, an individual is seen as under two contradictory
influences: the "good inclination" and "bad inclination". Apparently this
is not all that different from the id - super-ego - ego model, but not being
a psychologist, I spent a good deal of time considering these concepts; now,
they're axiomatic. The "bad" inclination is the one always trying to get
you to satisfy yourself with the "here and now", while the "good"
inclination looks for far more spiritual, long-term joys. If you want to
know the difference, I heard the following general rule from Rabbi Ezriel
Tauber: if you want desperately to do it beforehand, and regret (or feel
nothing) afterwards, that was probably the "bad" inclination. If you had to
drag yourself to do it, but feel _happy_ with yourself afterwards, that was
the "good" inclination. Works every time.
Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato, in his "Path of the Just," understands the above
Talmudic explanation as not only a single guideline, but as a call for
repetitive calculations about our actions - in order to see which
inclination is responsible for them. Today, time-management courses all
advise setting out your schedule on paper, to see how _efficiently_ you
spend your time; the Path of the Just asks, "towards what ends?"
The two analyses actually work well together - if you write down your
actions over the course of a day, that alone is a push to act both
efficiently and responsibly. Then, at the end of the day, you can see how
well you're doing (in all ways) and how you can improve.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.