15 Dec You’re Not Alone Fighting the Yeitzer Hara
Our last few parshios have been dealing primarily with the great personality of Yosef. He is one of the few people in the history of the Jewish people who has earned for himself the title of HaTzaddik, the righteous one. He achieved this accolade because, with superhuman effort, he managed to avoid the multiple seductions of the wife of Potifar. Rashi informs us that when her feminine wiles became acutely overpowering, Yosef saw a vision of his father Yaakov and that fortified him from Potifar’s wife’s brazen advance. The obvious question is, if we were about to sin and Hashem sent us at that critical moment a vision of a great tzaddik, we would also probably desist. If Yosef was given such Divine assistance, why was his action considered so admirable?
I would like to share with you two important approaches to this problem. The first is that Yosef is credited for training himself to conjure up the image of his great father whenever he was sorely tempted to sin. It is for this strategic spiritual warfare against the Evil Inclination that Yosef is found to be so noble. However, this begs another question. Why didn’t Yosef train himself to conjure up the thought of Hashem instead of his father? After all, this is why the Kitzur Shulchan Orech starts its compendium with the mandate, “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi somid – I will place Hashem before me at all times (so that I won’t sin).” There is after all a positive commandment, “Es Hashem Elokecha tirah – You should fear Hashem your G-d,” and the Ramban explains that every time we refrain from doing a sin because we are thinking of Hashem, we fulfil this mitzvah. I believe the answer is that it is simply easier to bring to the mind an image of a tzaddik that one has seen, than the abstract notion that Hashem is watching. And, we find a Mishnaic basis for utilizing a tzaddik in this fashion for it says in the fourth perek of Pirkei Avos [Mishna 12], “U’mora raboch k’mora Shamayim – Let the fear of your rebbe be like the fear of Heaven.” So, Yosef accustomed himself that, whenever things got challenging, he was bring to his mind the visage of his father and that would arrest the Yeitzer Hara that was plaguing him.
The other approach is that Yosef indeed was given the vision of his father from Heaven. But, this was only after he exhausted all of his human efforts. When those weren’t enough, Hashem stepped-in and gave him Divine assistance. This help is available to all of us as we are taught, “Haba l’ta-eir, misayan oso – One who comes to act purely, Hashem will help him.” We are also taught the “B’Derech she’adom rotzeh le’leches, molichim oso – In the way a person wants to go, Hashem leads him.” This is a very fundamental lesson of Yiddishkeit. Sometimes a person thinks with dismay that he simply does not have what it takes to overcome a certain spiritual challenge. Perhaps it might be getting up early to go to minyan, not screaming in the home, or not watching a certain movie (or any movie depending on where you are holding). His assessment of his personal threshold of resistance might be accurate. But he or she is not taking into account the Divine assistance. Adding that to the equation changes the whole computation.
Is saw a beautiful mashal, parable, to illustrate this idea. A king built a tower with 150 stories. He challenged his 150 nobles: Whoever could reach the top floor in an hour will be rewarded with phenomenal riches. All 150 nobles started running up the steps. When they reached the 10th floor after about 15 minutes, 50 with exhaustion considered it hopeless and gave up. At the 20th floor another 50, mentally doing the arithmetic in their minds, also gave up in frustration. At the 70th floor, with 15 minutes to spare, another 40 dropped-off in defeat. Now, only 10 were left. When these 10 reached the 75th floor, with only 8 minutes to go, all except for one quit. This last devoted servant of the king reasoned to himself that if the king told me to do it, it must be that I can do it and so he plowed ahead. He got to the 80th floor with only a minute to spare and there he saw a door to an elevator with one button – going non-stop to the 150th floor. We must know that when we do all that we can, Hashem will lovingly do the rest and take us to many spiritual victories. In the merit of battling the Yeitzer Hara, the perennial fight of life, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.