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Thought for the Day: Staying On (and Returning To) the Path to Olam HaBa

My high school chemistry teacher once handed out a paper entitled, "Don't X the Y too Z".  The paper was about how not to write instructions and procedures.  What is one to do when the instructions advise, "Don't tighten the screw too much"?  Turn the screw till it breaks, then back off a quarter turn?  (I've tried that; it doesn't work.)  L'havdil, Shlomo ha'Melech, the ultimate m'chanech, certainly knew that very well.  Before telling us the three main highways to oblivion, he has already given us the cure for each.

The problem with pesatood (the state of being a pesi, a simpleton) is just not knowing how to reply to the yeitzer hara.  The first attack of the yeitzer hara is usually, "Hey, it'll be fun.  And, after all, what could be wrong with it?"  If you don't know what to answer, then it is very difficult to refuse.  We all know, and the yeitzer hara better than most, the Yerushalmi that a person will be taken to task on the yom ha'din for every permissible pleasure that he didn't enjoy.  We all know, and the yeitzer hara better than most, the story of the Brisker Rav who was insistent that he go to see the Alps while recovering in Switzerland because of that Yerushalmi.  The same yeitzer hara that doesn't want you to learn certainly is a buki in all the Chazals and ma'asei rav along those lines.  So the answer to question of what could be wrong is simply, "Good question! Let's to learn first and see what's wrong."  That's called learning to know.

For the leitz (scoffer), the cure is to realize that every action, thought, and desire produces a spiritual environment that encourages more of those desires, thoughts, and actions.  Speech, coming as it does from the highest realms of creation, is a very powerful producer of spirituality.  When used for d'varim b'teilim (and all the more so d'varim assurim) it pollutes the environment with the worst stench and poison.  When used to t'fila and limud ha'torah (ie, the purpose for which is was given to us) the environment is not only filled with the sweetness of Gan Eden, but it also cleans up all the tuma.  The power of the k'dusha is 100s of times more powerful than the power of tuma, so even the smallest amount of learning can quickly change the environment from Loraxville to Gan Eden.  That's called learning for d'veikus and is a higher level than just learning to know.

Finally, for the k'sil (the fool who is lazy and hates those who are not), the cure is to redirect his efforts.  My father, alav ha'shalom, used to tell me that if I would put half the energy into weeding/cleaning up my room/homework as I put into whining and devising schemes to avoid weeding/cleaning up my room/homework, I'd be finished already.  (I heard that a lot.)  He was right, of course.  (Not that I stopped whining so fast.)  The cure for the k'sil is to just learn.  He will so quickly be caught up in the beauty and depth that he'll forget to be lazy and won't have time to hate.  That's called learning lishma -- just for the pure joy of it -- and is the hightest level of limud ha'torah possible.

In case the message is too subtle: learning, good; avoiding/neglecting learning, bad.

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