Shabbos Parashas Korach

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 1
There are three causes that lead a living being to act in a certain way and pursue a certain object until it is attained: (a) instinct, (b) habit, and (c) intellect. We begin with a discussion of instinct. Hashem implanted in the creatures of the world a number of drives that are common to them all: hunger, which serves as a signal to eat; thirst, which serves as a signal to drink; fatigue, which serves as a signal to rest and sleep; and so on. These various drives stand ready to prompt every living being to avail itself of the means that Hashem placed within the world to enable it to remain in existence. In addition, man is implanted with drives for enjoyments that, while not necessarily extravagant luxuries, go beyond what is needed for basic existence. For example, people have a drive to adorn themselves and a drive to stroll outdoors to take in fresh air and see the sights of nature. Man is the only living being implanted with such drives for indulgences Animals do not have them. On the other hand, the absence of such drives within the animals themselves is compensated for by the drives man has to adorn and pamper the animals he possesses, and to pride himself on the care he shows them. All the drives just described are included within the general heading of “natural instinct,” although they come in many different forms and vary from one creature to another, according to the way that Hashem, in His wisdom, dictated that the world should operate.
As a rule, it is beneficial to cater to these drives to a certain degree, but harmful to cater to them in excess. It is good for to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, and rest when tired, and meeting physical needs through such activities provides much pleasure. Now, as Rambam points out in Moreh Nevuchim, people are generally unware of the effects these activities have within the body. For example, in regard to eating, we have little awareness of the processes whereby the body propagates food through the digestive tract, holds it within the stomach, digests it, and eliminates the waste. It is similar with other activities we engage in to meet our bodily needs. Our system of drives is unaware of the purpose underlying these activities; it knows only that it is supposed to prompt us to engage in them.
In this respect our system of drives is like a servant who follows his master’s orders without knowing what he is accomplishing by doing so. Now, a servant who is doing an assigned task will not set an appropriate limit by himself on how much he does. If the master does not specify a limit, the servant will continue working on and on, even if the added work ruins the product. The servant cannot determine on his own how much he should work, because he does not know the goal behind what he is doing.
Thus it is with the bodily drives: They prompt us to eat and drink, but do not specify rules on what to eat or how much. We can actually harm ourselves by inappropriate eating, either by eating foods that are intrinsically harmful, or by overeating, or by eating at the wrong time or in the wrong place. The instinctual element within us is oblivious to how the food affects our body. We can feel a craving even for something as injurious as a knife in the back. In this respect, man differs from the animals; thus our Sages tell us (Avos D’Rabbi Noson 16:3): “Go and watch how a kid or a lamb turns back when it sees a pit, for there is no evil inclination in an animal.” But regarding human drives it is written (Mishlei 9:13): “The woman of foolishness clamors; she is an imbecile and knows nothing.” Each of our drives draws us incessantly toward the activity it is appointed to promote; it badgers us on and on without limit, and if we continue listening to it up to the very end, our ultimate fate will be bitter. As Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 5:3): “For the lips of the wanton woman drip honey, her palate is smoother than as oil, but in the end she is as bitter as wormwood and sharp as a double-edged sword.”
We must guard our drives with the utmost vigilance; we must weigh their demands and set proper limits on them according to our physical constitution and according to the times and circumstances. When one of our drives prods us too far, we must rail against it even though the urge is yet strong. If we do not do so – if, for example, if we keep eating or drinking until the urge to do so dies down – we do away with ourselves.
It is important to realize that, while our instinctual impulses are part of our inborn nature and initially operate upon us in a manner we do not pursue or control, in the long run it is in our power to decide whether or not to continue following them. As beings with free will, we can modify our impulses and modulate them as we choose, implanting within ourselves a new configuration of natural habits. We will elaborate on this matter in the coming chapters.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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