June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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The External World That Lies Behind the Internal World

Picking up on the words “v’di zahav” in the first pasuk in our parsha, the Gemara (Berachot 32) says that Moshe Rabbeinu was coming to defend Bnei Yisrael for their misdeed with the golden calf. Moshe argued to Hashem, “You gave them so much silver and gold [hence “zahav”] to the point that they said “dai, enough” of so much wealth [hence “v’di].” In other words, by giving them so much wealth, it brought the miseed. The Gemara gives an analogy to the argument of Moshe of a king who pampered his son; he bathed him, clothed him in nice clothing, fed him and gave him drink, gave him a purse full of cash money, and put him in front of a tempting situation. How much already is expected for him not to falter?

One might see a person with a deficiency, whether inward or outward, and while one way of approaching this person is with a narrow perspective, thinking it’s strictly his “free will” that he utilized to head the wrong way, however, we see from here a much broader perspective on how to view people who struggle: to take into account the totality of their lives, the situations they are in, and the surroundings that they interact with on a daily basis. It isn’t necessarily strictly their internal world, but also their external world, that may have significantly contributed to that person’s actions and where that person is now.

We know that the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam (Gemara Yoma 9b), which the Chafetz Chaim explains that it’s also due to lashon hara, for lashon hara is an outgrowth of sinat chinam. Perhaps we can suggest that the above idea is one way of overcoming lashon hara, for when one takes into account that such and such a person has background info that we virtually have little or no idea about, one is humbled to realize that saying lashon hara about such a person might be highly unfounded and to a large extent might just be plain ignorance.

R’ Yerucham Levovitz applies this concept to each of our own personal lives. He notes that one might think that the initial inclination toward deciding to do something wrong at its ripest stage occurs with a person’s free will in that at that premature stage a person utilized his free choice to go do something wrong. However, we learn from Moshe Rabbeinu that the initial curve toward a spiritual falling begins from other factors that arent even necessarily in and of themselves wrong. (Is bathing, eating and drinking, wearing nice clothing and having wealth all wrong and against our beliefs?) Yet, it’s the way one approaches the permissible activities in his life that may henceforth determine whether they will produce positive results or the opposite. Hence, according to R’ Levovitz, a major emphasis is put on a person’s preparatory details, for it’s the approach and actions beforehand that largely determine his future actions—for better or worse. [For example, if a person needs to wake up early, going to sleep very late the night before may make it difficult to get out of bed that early. If a person is on a diet and hasn’t eaten for a full day, putting oneself in a bakery may make it much harder to then resist. On the other hand, making an effort to wake up with alacrity may cause more success throughout the day. Keeping healthy food with you throughout the day may prevent engaging in unhealthy food]. The basic idea is to focus on the stage(s) before the “have tos,” responsibilities and goals of our lives and ensure that the things we are allowed to do don’t set us up to create an outgrowth of a potentially more difficult situation to overcome.

The Gemara (Taanit 29) says that the day that the spies returned and delivered the negative report about Eretz Yisrael was Erev Tisha B’Av, and Bnei Yisrael cried upon hearing about it. Hashem said, “Since you cried in vain, I will establish it [that time] for you as a time of weeping for all generations.”

R’ Gavriel Friedman notes that if we observe closely, it comes out that Bnei Yisrael’s mistake really began way before their “baseless crying,” but rather, the root of it can perhaps be traced back to their initial desire to send the spies, which eventually led them to cry upon hearing the “horrors of the land.” Yet, was it wrong per se to send the spies? We don’t really find anywhere that they technically were not allowed to! Yet, this act, although perhaps permissible, was setting themselves up for a much more difficult situation that would arise as a result. Hence, it may have been technically OK, but it surely wasn’t a good thing to do.

Being aware that there are many seemingly minor and unrelated external factors and decisions in our lives that can contribute to bigger, more important actions as a result may lead one to view others in this same light—that they too have a myriad of things in their lives that can contribute to their actions and overall way of living. Thus, taking stock of the effects that the seemingly insignificant details of our lives can produce can in turn lead one to see the person next to them in a more humble and favorable light.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected].

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