Emunah and Self Control

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In Vayikra, Levyticus 1, 8, Rabbeinu Bachaye explains the concept of sacrifices; “G-d takes delight in His most perfect creation, i.e. man, for whose sake the entire universe has been created. Their purpose is to be so governed by their intellect that they will remain free from sin just like the angels. If man does sin, due to the evil urge, it is appropriate that he repent and recognize his Creator whose will he transgressed, and that the sin he committed affected both his body and his spirit. Since everything man does involves three components, the Torah commanded man to bring a sacrifice to atone for his sin and to place his hands on the sacrificial animal in order to atone for the physical action involved in the sin. He has to confess with words in order to make up for having misused the power of speech. He has to burn up the inner organs of the animal including the kidneys, the seat of his thoughts, in order to make up for the faulty thinking. Tanchuma Shelach 14 explains the concept of animal sacrifice in a similar way. Whenever Avraham Avinu prepared a part of the animal that was ‘in lieu ‘of his son Yitzchak (by the Akeida), he first recited a prayer beginning with the words: “May it be Your will Hashem that the sacrificial service I am about to perform should be considered as if it had been performed on my son. The animal’s blood should be considered as Yitzchak’s blood, its body which is being burned as if Yitzchak’s body had been burned.” G-d accepts the sinner’s offering in place of the sinner and grants him atonement. This is an expression of G-d’s great love for His people.”

The lesson of the קרבן, translated as a sacrifice, but more appropriately to bring oneself closer to Hashem, is to without ambiguity place oneself completely in Hashem’s presence with constancy. As quoted above, “for Hashem’s desire is that a person…  should be completely intellectual (dominating all emotional reactions) negating any emotional influence that causes sin due to momentarily removing one from intellectual clarity.” How? By placing oneself in His presence.

In the episode of מי מריבה, Numbers 20:1-14, Moshe Rabbeinu struck the rock twice, and miraculously, abundant water came forth. Hashem admonished Moshe and Aharon, “Because you weren’t focused on Me, לא האמנתי בי to sanctify Me… They were punished, the Torah relates that the בני ישראל who quarreled with Him; “Why did you bring us to a place of desolation”, caused Moshe Rabbeinu to be angered. Was his mistake becoming angry or was it a ‘lack of faith’ in Hashem? The מהר”ל, Maharal in גור אריה explains that if a person is in a mental state of unequivocal אמונה, which infuses one with ecstasy, enthusiasm, and serenity, one’s self-preoccupied emotions are completely superseded and negated. The fact that the moment of miraculous intervention by Hashem, Moshe became indignant, was an indication that his connection to Hashem was ‘only 99%’ at that moment. Absolute clarity precludes self-regarding emotional activity such as anger.

This lesson is emphasized in the Purim story; Esther, Ch, 5:9-14. After attending, at Queen Esther’s invitation, a private lavish feast with her and the king, Haman is ‘exuberant and enthusiastic.’ But when he sees that once again, Mordechai doesn’t show respect to him, he is infuriated! Nevertheless, he restrained himself (from harming him) and convenes a conference with his friends and his wife, Zeresh. Haman glowingly boasts of his immense wealth, huge and politically powerful family and the preeminent esteem the king has for him- and now he was just invited to the inner chambers of the palace. But what do we do with this villain, Mordechai? It seems very strange that a person who achieved such power, wealth, dominance, fame and glory should be bothered by one Jew. He should be gloating with jubilation! And what was the solution to hang him on a gallows that was approximately nine stories high?

Haman was a person whose self-worth was all in comparison to others, robbing himself of true inner self-worth, which can only be obtained when one recognizes that all is a gift from the Creator. He, therefore, is incensed that a person could violate his sense of fame and acclaim. But he decides not to harm Mordechai, for if people will disparage him that he focuses on one person out of millions, who do bow down to him. His wife advises him to hang Mordechai on a gallows that the whole city of Shushan will see, due to its extreme height, and announce that this was done to teach that if one doesn’t follow the king’s directive to bow to Haman (3,2) one is considered rebellious and is hanged. In this manner, Haman’s emotional pain will be satisfied, all while he still will be regarded with admiration. We are being taught the power of emotion, and how it can completely direct one’s thought in the wrong manner.

The reason we drink wine on Purim, the קיצור שלחן ערוך explains, is due to the miracle of Purim took place with the assistance of wine. How was it possible for King Ahasuerus to kill his beloved queen without true contemplation? The מגילה says, “he was very incensed and anger burned in his heart,” he had lost all intellectual reason due to his ‘heart being merry with wine.’ The Megillah emphasized that the feast of Esther was one of wine drinking. When his closest advisor, Haman irritated him and his anger was flaming- he gets rid of him… again, due to impulsive action due to being inebriated!

Harav Mendel Kaplan זצ”ל, whose perception of human psychology was sagacious taught that in today’s world (1970) it’s impossible for a parent to discipline, for if one is angry, it is all emotion, and if one is not angry they won’t take the time and effort to intelligently assess the particular emotional, intellectual, and societal makeup and needs of the child. He taught us that in 1970; what would he say today?!

The idea of תפלה, prayer is in place of sacrifices. When one enters a synagogue in awe and love of Hashem, when one truly and honestly transcends all of self-centeredness and places oneself on His stage, one can truly begin to control emotions and focus intellectually, In this manner, one could protect oneself from ruining friendships, marriages, children and to act in a positive, logical manner.

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