Parashas Emor

In this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Vayikra 22:27): “When an ox or sheep or goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days, and from the eighth day and onward it is acceptable as a fire-offering to Hashem.” The Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 27:6):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to the Jewish People: “I gave over to you ten species of animals [as permitted for food] (Devarim 14:4-5): the ox, the sheep, the goat, the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the pygarg, the antelope, and the mountain-sheep. The first three are domesticated, while the other seven are not. And I did not trouble you by telling you to weary yourselves on the mountains to catch the undomesticated animals to bring them as offerings before Me. Rather, I told you to bring Me domesticated animals as offerings.
The Midrash links this statement with the following verse (Michah 6:3): O My people, what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer Me.”
In regard to this Midrash, the Maggid asks a striking question: If Hashem wishes to avoid wearing us, why did He impose on us the task of overcoming our evil inclination, to struggle with powerful passions that are as staggering as death?
He answers as follows. The soul operates through intellect and speech, and is aided by the Torah and the teachings of Torah scholars. The evil inclination, on the other hand, operates through drives such as passion, jealousy, and pride, which push illusory goals that have no real substance. These drives do not have at their disposal the faculty of speech to offer arguments to persuade the person to follow them. If a person subjects their suggestions to a cold analysis, considering, for example, the costs and benefits of mitzvos and sins (Avos 2:1), the lure of these suggestions will dissipate like smoke – he will push aside all the fantasies that his drives conjured up within him, and expunge them from his heart without a trace. And then it will be very easy to do what is right.
What gives the evil inclination its power? The Maggid answers with an analogy. If a person engaged in battle is armed with a sword, he can beat his enemy. But if he lets his enemy grab his sword, he puts the enemy in control. Similarly, in the battle against the evil inclination, a person is armed with his intellect and speech. If he uses these weapons, as explained just above, he will prevail. But if he lets the evil inclination grab his weapons – if he starts talking himself into following the evil inclination’s suggestions and develops intellectual arguments in support of doing so – then he is in deep trouble. In this vein, Dovid HaMelech declares (Tehillim 36:2-5):
Sin’s word to the wicked is in my heart, that there should be no fear of God before his eyes. For it made a slick presentation before his eyes …. The words of his mouth are inquity and deceit, he has ceased to apply his wisdom to do good. As he lies in bed he devises iniquity; he has stationed himself of a path of no good, he does not disdain evil.
If a person fuels his passion to the point where the passion co-opts his faculty of speech, and proceeds to hold forth on why he should do certain evil acts, then he loses his fear of God. The evil inclination starts with a slick presentation. A wise person simply shuts his eyes to the show, and he then can easily subdue the evil inclination. But if a person lets the evil inclination take control of his mouth and fill it with inquity and deceit, he will cease to apply his wisdom to do good. Instead, he will be riveted to the path of no good.
Hashem told Kayin (Bereishis 4:7): “Sin crouches at the door, and its desire is cast upon you, but you can rule over it.” The sainted Vilna Gaon explains that the evil inclination can exercise power over a person only if he leaves it an opening. The evil inclination crouches at the door. If a person opens the door, it can come in; if he keeps the door closed, it stays out.
How do we know that Hashem does not seek to make life hard for us? The proof that there are a number of important mitzvos over which the evil inclination holds almost no sway. We feel little inner drive to violate the prohibition against eating insects, mice, and other disgusting creatures, or the laws specifying how offerings (korbanos) to be prepared. If Hashem wanted to make life hard for us, he would have instilled within us equal resistance to all mitzvos. But in fact Hashem did not, far be it, create the evil inclination in order to cause us distress. Rather, He created it simply a mechanism to prompt us to tend to our individual needs and to the needs of the world at large.
Further on in the psalm we quoted above, Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 36:7): “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the great deep. You save both man and beast, O Hashem.” This verse is quoted in the Midrash on our parashah, to make the point that just as a man is not eligible for circumcsion until his eighth day of life, so, too, an animal is not eligible as an offering until its eighth day of life. Having quoted the verse, the Midrash expounds on it further, as follows (Vayikra Rabbah 27:1): “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains. Just as the mountains are fit for planting and yield fruit, so, too, the righteous yield fruit and bring benefit to themselves and to others.” The reason the righteous bring such benefit, the Maggid says, is that they take from this world only what they need to sustain themselves, and leave the rest to others.
Fools believe that the more they indulge in worldly pleasures, the more satisfaction they will gain from life. But our Sages teach just the opposite (Avos 6:4): “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the ground; live a life of deprivation, and toil in the Torah. If you do so, then ‘you are fortunate and have it good’ (Tehillim 128:2) – you will be fortunate in this world and have it good in the World to Come.” A wise person adopts this approach to the physical world and thereby easily avoids being gripped by worldly drives. Hashem does not seek to weary us. If we take the proper approach to the physical world, we can handle the evil inclination with a minimum of struggle.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Haftaras Balak:

    […] Me.” We presented one of the Maggid’s thoughts on this verse in an earlier piece, on parashas Emor. Here we present another. Hashem’s question seems puzzling, for our own experience tells us […]

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.