July 18, 2024
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Parshas Mishpatim: Training to Take the Positive Path

Your alarm rings in the morning. It’s dark out and you feel exhausted. Then the conversation with yourself begins. “I’m so tired, I need a couple more minutes. No, I’ll be late. But… I won’t be able to function today. Let me just hit the snooze button once. Better late and better rested, right?” Rav Dessler says this is an analogy to the “I” and “you” struggle. The “I” is the body, which craves immediate satisfaction and comfort, while the “you” is the soul, which wants a connection with Hashem and therefore wants what is best for us.

In Parshas Mishpatim, we learn a life-changing attitude about doing what must be done…even when we don’t want to. The parsha is replete with mitzvos that train us to be responsible and sensitive to others. One specific mitzvah in the Torah is to prevent unnecessary pain to animals. When one sees a donkey buckling under its load, one must go and help lighten the load. Besides the benefit to one’s friend to prevent the collapse of his animal, we must be considerate to the donkey to help alleviate its excess burden. This is known as tza’ar ba’alei chaim.

Still, a person is permitted to use animals for his needs, even though it might cause discomfort to the animal. Therefore, it’s permitted to use animals for labor, ride on an animal as transportation and to eat kosher animals.

There are cases, however, when a higher priority shifts the course of action. Let’s say you encounter two people at the same time—your friend, whose animal is buckling and needs help to unload his animal, and your enemy who needs help loading his animal. The Gemara tells us one must help his enemy load. Although unloading will help alleviate the suffering of the animal, in addition to helping one’s own friend, helping one’s enemy takes precedence because it’s more important to train ourselves to seek peace and to do things we aren’t inclined to do.

Rav Aharon Kotler says the Torah is teaching us that self-discipline to achieve positive character conditioning is so important to human beings that it overrides the pain the animal is [temporarily] experiencing. This conditioning is crucial to a person’s success in overcoming many daily challenges. We are confronted daily with opportunities to do good and sometimes we might have urges to do things we are not allowed to do. If we are honest and self-aware, we’ll see a pattern in our decisions. Too many times, the “I” (choosing to satisfy our urges) has the upper hand. If we feel insulted, “I” wants to respond with an insult. Or if we worked hard or feel stressed, “I” wants to put responsibilities aside to have a good time. The “you” voice inside us, telling us to take care of immediate responsibilities first, is easy to ignore.

The best strategy when trying to get someone to take care of a responsibility he doesn’t want to deal with (a “you” situation), is to motivate him by describing the task as something that will give him pleasure (an “I” situation). But if all our positive actions are motivated by being convinced they are actually pleasurable, then we don’t stand a chance of overcoming life’s challenges when we are just not in the mood or do not feel the necessity to perform the needed action.

The sefer Avos d’Rabbi Nosson says, “Performing a single task that is difficult is worth more than one hundred easy tasks.”

Ignoring the gratifying “I” choice of personal enjoyment, even if just occasionally, helps condition us for success when we are faced with challenges. There are many chances each day when we can make choices, and each occurrence is an opportunity. For example, there are benefits to wearing a suit and tie each day. Whenever I have a simcha to attend, I am already dressed for the occasion! For my wife and daughters, it’s much more of an effort to attend a vort or wedding because they have to change into appropriate clothing. I’m dressed up and ready to go! So I remind them, “It’s easier for me, but you get much more reward for going because it takes much greater effort to change clothing to look appropriate for the occasion.”

The next time someone asks us for a favor and it’s difficult to find the will to do it, remember to seize that special opportunity to be a positive “you.” Taking those extra steps, listening to that positive voice, awakens your soul to grab the moment. Taking that less traveled and more challenging path … is your road to the real you, the manifestation of your soul, which is connected to Hashem.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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