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    Ladders to Heaven

    The navi Zecharyah foresaw a great mourning in the future, as it states, “On that day, there will be a great eulogy in Yerushalayim…” (Zecharyah 12:11). The Gemara (Succos 52.) says they will be mourning and eulogizing the yetzer hara who will be slaughtered in that era. The Gemara describes that moment: “Hakadosh Baruch Hu will slaughter the yetzer hara in front of the tzaddikim and in front of the resha’im. To the tzaddikim, the yetzer hara will appear like a tall mountain.

    To the resha’im the yetzer hara will appear like a strand of hair. The resha’im and the tzaddikim will both cry. The tzaddikim will cry and say, ‘How were we able to conquer such a tall mountain?’ The resha’im will cry and say, ‘Why couldn’t we conquer this strand of hair?’” Why will the yetzer hara appear different to the tzaddikim and to the resha’im? The Sfas Emes (5637, Re’eh) answers that the yetzer hara comes to a person looking like a hair. If one passes the test, he’s confronted with another test. Each test is called a hair. These hairs accumulate until they become a mountain. The resha’im, however, never overcame that first challenge, that first hair. Therefore, to the resha’im the yetzer hara appears like a hair, and to the tzaddikim, the yetzer hara appears like a huge mountain. As the Sfas Emes writes, “The yetzer hara is always a hair.

    When the tzaddikim conquer it, they are confronted with another hairsbreadth of a yetzer hara. This goes on and on until the hairs accumulate and become a mountain. But the rasha’im are static; they don’t fight the yetzer hara. They remain with the first yetzer hara, which was the size of a hair…” We should therefore do a good deed, then another one, and then another, because these good deeds will end up a being mountain of goodness.4 The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Devarim 863) teaches, “A person shouldn’t say, ‘How can I learn the entire Torah and keep all the mitzvos? The Torah is so vast…! We can compare this to a king who had a bottomless pit. He told some workers to fill the pit with earth. When the workers came to the site, they realized that the mission was impossible. The foolish workers said, ‘How can we ever fill this pit?’ The wise among them said, ‘Why should I care. I get paid for each day I work. I’m happy I have a job…’ Similarly when one sees the length and breadth of the Torah, he despairs of ever knowing the entire Torah or of ever keeping it properly. Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to him, ‘Why should you care? You are a a hired worker, and you will be paid in Olam HaBa for each day that you work. Do your day’s work!’” The Midrash states that this lesson is hinted to by the words (we say in Shema), “These words that I am commanding you today…” (Devarim 6:6). The passuk is hinting that you should focus on hayom, today. You probably won’t finish the entire masechta today, you might not even finish the daf.

    It’s possible that you will only understand a few lines. But why should that bother you? Hashem keviyachol hired you to work for the day, and you will be rewarded for your work, today, regardless whether the job is finished or not. All you have to do is focus on knowing as much as you can today, and you will be rewarded for that. In addition, the little amount of Torah that you learn each day will accumulate and become a lot.

    So learn a little bit of Torah today, and learn a little bit of Torah tomorrow, and in the end you will discover that you made great strides in Torah. Improvement of one’s middos and habits also occurs by the accumulation of many small steps.

    For example, if a person has an anger problem, by overcoming anger once, and then a second time, and then a third time, he will eventually eradicate that nature, since a change of character is the product of many small steps towards improvement.

    But the problem is, how do we encourage people to take so many small steps? The path toward change is so very long. Even after taking several steps towards improvement, one often finds himself in the same spot as he began. He doesn’t see any signs of growth. This causes people to think that they will never change, so they don’t want to continue the long process of accumulating good deeds that lead to their improvement.

    How can we encourage them to persevere on the long and often disappointing journey of change? The answer is, they must know that Hashem has a lot of pleasure with each step they take towards improving their character. With that in mind, one is willing to take all those small steps. Although he doesn’t see growth initially, he will persevere because he knows that each encounter with the yetzer hara and each step he takes towards improvement is precious to Hashem.

    And then, a year or two later, he looks back and sees the many good deeds accumulated and that he is now in a completely different place. The Beis Aharon (Chanukah p.48.) teaches this lesson from “chashavti darchei v’ashiva raglei el edotecha”. He writes, “Every person — also those on a low level — must consider every mitzvah and good deed he performs…to be very significant. He must believe and know that every deed…creates an impression in heaven. With this knowledge one can drop his bad habits. But if he doesn’t consider his deeds special, he won’t be able to change his ways. This is the meaning of the passuk, I consider my mitzvos chashuv, special to Hashem, therefore I am able to [do many good deeds and] turn away from my regilus, habits, and I can return to Your Torah.”

    The Torah says, “Kalev silenced the nation” and said, “Is this the only thing that [Moshe] the son of Amram has done for us? Behold he split the sea, gave us manna and slav. Thus, we can go up to the land. Even if [Eretz Canaan] would be in heaven, and Moshe tells us to build ladders to go up there, we will succeed with all his words” (Rashi, 13:30). A ladder is mounted rung by rung. If one continues climbing a ladder long enough, he will reach heaven. That demonstrates the pattern for growth. Step by step, rung by rung, until you reach the heaven.