Headlines »

August 14, 2022 – 12:52 am | 9 views

When I lived in California people complained that they missed the seasons. I always wondered about that. Having come from the East Coast, I often told them that if they were looking seasons, I could tell them exactly where to find it. They came to California for sunshine so why …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Naso

Naso: The Choices we Make

Submitted by on June 5, 2006 – 1:51 amNo Comment | 2,413 views

 

Show Me the Money

If I set two plates before you, one filled with cookies, the other with a million dollars, which one would you choose?

Consider the benefit you and society could derive from the money. Contrast that with the short term pleasure and long term belly-ache that the cookies will bring. Furthermore, the cookies can’t buy a million dollars, but the money can buy as many cookies as you like. Finally, there is no saturated fat or hydrogenated oil in the money, but the cookies? Yikes!

If choosing short term pleasure over long term gain is short sighted then why do so many intelligent people make that very choice? Why do so many risk a loving marriage and happy family for a few moments of extra-marital pleasure? Why do so many risk their first dose of narcotics or first dose of alcohol when they are familiar with the long term risks of addiction? Why do so many opt for grease filled fast food when they know the  benefits of a healthy diet?

The Foolish Spirit

According to our sages this is due to a spirit of folly that overtakes us. It distorts our vision and clouds our clarity of thought. Our sages taught that a Jew never transgresses unless overtaken by this spirit. (1) This teaching was derived from an interesting passage in the Torah portion that we will read this Shabbat.

The Torah describes a spouse who engages in extramarital affairs as one who has, “gone astray.” (2) In his commentary, Rashi, the famed eleventh century commentator, explained that such a spouse has strayed from the path of modesty. The Hebrew use here for “going astray (tisteh) is related to the word for “folly” (sh’tut). (3)

Following this analogy our sages taught that there is a path of wisdom and a path of folly. Wisdom dictates modesty, restraint, devotion and reflection. Folly dictates the reverse. The wise path should be the obvious choice, but our spirit of folly propels us to stray.

Making all the Wrong Choices

Every time we perform a mitzvah we forge a real bond with the divine. The hand that distributes alms becomes a vehicle for divinity when the mitzvah charged energy pulses through it. The mouth that recites a prayer becomes a conduit for G-d when sacred words pour forth from it. The mind that studies Torah becomes a container filled with divinity when it is stimulated by divine thought.

When we perform a mitzvah we merge and become one with G-d. We draw G-d’s presence into our heart, mind and soul and are transformed into G-dly beings.

Contrast this blissful, transcendental experience with the commission of a sin. By choosing the path of sin we chose to reject G-d and to destroy our union with him. Rather than merging, we tear away from him and form a barrier between us. On one side there is light, love, sanctity, beauty and divinity. On the other side there is darkness, distance mundanes, materialism, and narcissism.

One side is the path of wisdom, the other is the path of folly. The former is inspiring, the latter, hedonistic. One leads towards G-d, the other towards self. One offers eternal bliss, the other holds no hope of salvation.

Given the choice, which would you prefer? The eternal and profound or the transient and temporal? A wise person would choose the former, but we so often choose the latter.

Consider the effort that we invest to save even one dollar on our tax bill. Consider the energy that we expend to excel at whatever sport we play. The saved dollar will last, but a moment, the thrill of victory, even less. They are so meaningless yet we invest so much into them. Why don’t we apply the same rigorous commitment and robust enthusiasm towards the truly meaningful?

Because we are overtaken and compelled by our spirit of folly.

The Base Nature

Our base nature is tactile and materialistic. It is incapable of considering, let alone appreciating, the finer nuance of higher devotion. Gross and temporal, it cannot grasp the intangible concept of spiritual gain. It is given to instant, rather than delayed gratification.

That is our base nature. That is our folly. It is the lot we have drawn and the condition with which we are born. But we mustn’t yield to it. We mustn’t  capitulate. We must combat it.

Our base nature may not understand G-d and eternity, but our soul does. It is our duty to choose the soul. To choose wisdom over folly, eternal gain over temporal pleasure.

Our soul remains loyal to G-d even as our hearts and minds break faith with him. It is always there, steady and dependable. It waits for us to notice it and return.

Why Wait?

The path of return is always available to us because our soul is always available to us. Given its stubborn allegiance it can help us to overcome our folly and to restore our clarity of thought.(4)

The soul is ready and available, but it needs to wait for us. It needs to wait till we take advantage of the freedom that G-d gave us. The freedom of choice. The freedom to choose G-d.

Every Jew will inevitably return to G-d, so why wait? Let’s make that choice today. (5)

Footnotes

  1. Midrash Tanchumah, Naso, ch. 5.
  2. Numbers 5: 12.
  3. ibid. (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105)
  4. The Talmud (Nedarim 66a) teaches that the daughters of Israel are beautiful, but are made to look ugly because of their poverty. The Chassidic masters translated this to mean that the Jewish soul (King Solomon, in his Song of Songs, often referred to the soul as G-d’s daughter) is beautiful, meaning inspired and filled with faith (see Yad Hachazakah, Maimonides, R. Moshe ben Maimon, Egypt, 1135-1204, ch. 2.), but are made to look ugly due to their poverty of mind (their ignorance of Torah). Accordingly, we need not create new beauty (or establish our faith anew) in order to return to G-d, we need only  restore our wealth of knowledge and our natural beauty will emerge. For more detail see Likutei Sichos, v. III, p. 957 (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994).
  5. This essay is based on Tanya chapter 25 (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813) and Sefer Hammamarim Basi Legani p. 5 (R. YY Schneerson, sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1880-1950).
Tags: ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.