Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The True Enemy - An Ellul Message from Rav Asher Weiss, Shlit"A

In the Aggadic portion of last night's (Sept. 8) shiur, HaGaon Rav Asher Zelig Weiss, ShLiT"A, discussed the opening pasuk of Ki Teitzei - "When you go out to wage [the] war against your enemy..."

He cited the well-known explanation of many darshanim (including Ohr HaChayim in Devarim 21:11) that this pasuk is referring to the greater war - the war that each person must wage against his yetzer hara. This is implied from the style of the pasuk. It does not read: Ki teitzei l'milchama - when you go out to wage a war - but, rather, it reads: Ki teitzei la'milchama - when you go out to wage the war. Not just any war...

He linked this to the aura of Ellul as we customarily recite Psalm 27 which says:

אם תחנה עלי מחנה לא יירא לבי אם תקום עלי מלחמה בזאת אני בוטח

If a war (מלחמה ) should arise upon me, in this (זאת) I am confident...

The word זאת is always a reference to Torah as it says זאת התורה - אדם כי ימות באהל and it says וזאת התורה אשר שם משה , etc. So, apparently what King David is telling us is that the remedy for the מלחמה - the great battle against the yetzer hara - is זאת - Torah. This is in line with the famous gemara in Kiddushin (30b):

כך הקב"ה אמר להם לישראל בני בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין ואם אתם עוסקים בתורה אין אתם נמסרים בידו שנאמר הלא אם תטיב שאת ואם אין אתם עוסקין בתורה אתם נמסרים בידו שנא' לפתח חטאת רובץ ולא עוד אלא שכל משאו ומתנו בך שנאמר ואליך תשוקתו ואם אתה רוצה אתה מושל בו שנאמר ואתה תמשל בו

So says G-d to Israel: My son, I have created a yetzer hara and I have created the Torah as an antidote. If you will busy yourselves with the study of Torah, you will not be given over into his hands...

And so, the message is that the sole antitdote to the influence of the yetzer hara is the study of Torah.

He then went on to challenge this concept from the following Chazal:

א"ר לוי בר חמא אמר ר"ש בן לקיש לעולם ירגיז אדם יצר טוב על יצר הרע שנא' רגזו ואל תחטאו. אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יעסוק בתורה שנאמר אמרו בלבבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יקרא קריאת שמע שנאמר על משכבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יזכור לו יום המיתה שנאמר ודומו סלה.

A person must always infuriate the yetzer tov against the yetzer hara... if he is victorious, well and good. If not, he should busy himself with Torah study. If he is victorious with this, well and good. If not, he should recite the kriat shema. If he is victorious with this, well and good. If not, he should remember that the day of death will come...
Rav Weiss asks: If Torah study is the true antidote, why do we require some alternative backup remedies? How is it possible that Torah does not work, and what do we gain from these other suggestions?

He answers that Torah and only Torah is the antidote for the yetzer hara. Nevertheless, it is similar to all medicines that must be "taken as directed". Some medicines are to be taken on an empty somach and others only just before or just after meals. In some cases certain foods will nullify or exacerbate the effects of the medicine, or certain other medicines or alcohol, or certain medical conditions (i.e., if a woman is pregnant or nursing or if one has hypertention, etc.).

Therefore, for people who are in the proper state of spiritual health and maintain a proper "spiritual diet", the Torah study alone should be sufficient. However, for one who has a more severe condition, he may need a booster to supplement the Torah study (which cannot be dispensed of). He may have a problem in emunah and as such, his Torah study alone will not do the trick. And so, in order to strengthen his emunah, the gemara suggests that he recite kriat shema. Then, with a new surge of emunah, his Torah study will succeed.

The gemara continues that if that still doesn't work, he may have another "condition". He may have a strong case of gaavah which prevents the Torah study from penetrating to his soul. As such, the gemara suggests that he remind himself of his eventual demise as the Mishna in Pirkei Avot says:
Look at 3 things and you will not come to the hands of sin. From whence you came, to where you are going and before Whom you must account...To where you are going - to a place of dust, maggots, and worms...
If even this does not work, then one has already "come to the hands of sin" and he must first do teshuva before the Torah study will help.

May we all be victorious in the battles of the greatest of wars!

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