Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

The Duties of the Heart

Gate Nine: "The Gate of Abstinence"
Ch. 7 (Part 1)

There have been special souls practicing abstinence throughout the ages, but by varying degrees. We ourselves are forced to practice a more stringent form of it, because of the exigencies of the age (though still with moderation), while our ancestors didn't need to. What got us to this point? Let's review the history of the yetzer harah, if you will, to see.

The ancient holy ones, like Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job and his companions, only needed to do a few things to serve G-d wholly and deeply, and they had to abstain from very few things, since they had such heart– felt faith in Him -- and also, most significantly, because they were "lucid in their reasoning, their yetzer harahs were weak, and because they were governed by reason" as Ibn Pakudah puts it.

Now, that's a vital point. It means to say that those ancient ones were so clear-minded, they could so easily distinguish between what truly mattered and what didn't, and that they were so motivated by truth rather than by temptation, that they didn't need much external prodding to do the right things, and didn't have to avoid doing many things that might thwart their devotions. But people didn't stay on so exalted a level for very long.

For when our ancestors came to dwell in rich and lavish Egypt, they began to enjoy their surroundings (obviously, before their enslavement), they began to want more and more, and temptation began to prevail over their clear reason. So, they needed a form of abstinence that would enable them to withstand their yetzer harahs. They were thus instructed to observe the traditional physical mitzvot (as opposed to the duties of the heart), since despite their struggles they themselves didn't need to take more stringent restrictions upon themselves.

But when our people then came to settle in the Land of Canaan (after the redemption, and despite the revelation of the Torah) and savored its richness, they were drawn into greater temptations. And in fact, "the more they settled the land, the more ravaged their sense of reason became .... and the more difficult it became for them to make the right (ethical) choices", we're told. So they needed to practice "a more austere form of abstinence that would withstand their desires, like the practice of becoming a Nazir, and taking on the customs of the disciples of the prophets we cited earlier".

As time passed, reason weakened even more so while temptation grew stronger yet. It has come to the point where we're so utterly distracted and enthralled by worldly things and delights that we're willing to settle for spiritual mediocrity. And while the ancients could occupy themselves with both worldly and otherworldly concerns at the same time to full advantage, we're compelled to detach ourselves from the world nearly completely when engaged in our spiritual practices, to the detriment of both on some level -- but we haven't any choice, lest we abandon our dreams of spiritual progress altogether.

Our prayer, of course, is that we take it upon ourselves to strive higher and higher, and that we learn to delight more in the lusciousness and sublimeness of things G-dly over more prosaic earthly delights.


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org


 






ARTICLES ON DEVARIM AND THE THREE WEEKS:

View Complete List

All Israel
Rabbi Label Lam - 5770

Elusive Allusions
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5764

To See or Not to See - That is the Question
Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky - 5762

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Visions, Visionaries, and Holy Words
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5760

Body Language
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5770

Not To Worry, G-d's In Charge
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch - 5765

Looking for a Chavrusah?

They Can Assure a Cure
Rabbi Label Lam - 5773

Of Prophets and Teachers
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5761

Faithful Contentment
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff - 5774

> Shabbos Chazon
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5762

Careful Consideration of Chinuch Concessions
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5768

A Day of Rebuilding
Rabbi Label Lam - 5761

ArtScroll

Look Deeper
Shlomo Katz - 5766

Harnessing Powers
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5761

In Our Best Interest
Rabbi Elly Broch - 5764

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5771



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information