Shabbos Parashas Chukas

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 2
A person’s natural drives relate only to matters connected with the body, and not to matters connected with the soul. If a person refrains from studying Torah or praying to Hashem even for many years, he does not experience any natural feeling of hunger, thirst, or weakness. This is so even if he has in fact totally ravaged his soul. An injury to the body a tenth in magnitude would cause him great pain. But when a person suffers injury to his soul, he does not feel any pain. In this vein, Yirmiyahu declares (verse 17:9): “The heart is the most deceitful of all, and it is frail – who can know it?”
Now, although I just said that a person’s natural drives do not relate to matters connected with the soul, I meant only that these drives do not benefit the soul. But they can cause the soul great damage, to the point of destroying it. For if a person indiscriminately follows his drives, they can lead him to develop an affinity for all kinds of abominations that Hashem hates – to the point where he feels the greatest hankering for the worst abominations. Regarding affinity for illicit pursuits, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 9:17): “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread [eaten] in hiding is pleasing.” Leading a person to develop such an affinity is one aspect of the evil inclination’s conniving – it assaults him with sharp arrows and pelts him with hot coals, and claims that it was just playing. A person can come to believe that his evil inclination loves him and seeks his good, and allow his evil inclination to goad him to focus earnestly on sinful endeavors – until, in Shlomo HaMelech’s words (ibid. 7:23), the arrow slices his liver. Suddenly his day of downfall comes upon him. If a person is wise, however, he looks ahead and carefully weighs every action. He will say to himself: “Perhaps it is the evil inclination coaxing me with smooth words, in order to pursue me and swallow me.”
The Mishnah states (Avos 5:20): “Yehudah ben Teima says, ‘Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven.’” Let us relate one of the ways this teaching has been interpreted. The Midrash tells us that it is a deer’s nature, as it runs, to keep looking back to see if it is being chased. Similarly, a person must examine and contemplate his ways, and constantly look back to see whether the evil inclination is chasing after him to fluster him and destroy him.
I believe this idea is reflected in Shlomo HaMelech declaration in Koheles 2:13-14: “I saw that the advantage of wisdom over foolishness is like the advantage of light over darkness. A wise man’s eyes are in his head, while the fool walks in darkness.” Just as a person can see only where there is light, so, too, it is only by employing a certain wise stratagem that a person can keep himself on the proper path. What is this stratagem? “A man’s eyes are in his head.” A wise man ponders why his eyes are in his head rather than in some other part of his body. Through this pondering, he comes to recognize that Hashem, in His wisdom, deliberately created him this way, so that, as he proceeds along, he can turn his head around and look back to see if he is being chased. And then he realizes that, similarly, he must be constantly on guard against the wiles of the evil inclination. The fool, by contrast, walks in darkness – even the hazards that are right in front of him he is unable to see.
Let us now bring out another facet of Shlomo’s statement that “a wise man’s eyes are in his head.” We start with an analogy. Consider a merchant who is traveling for business, with his son tagging along just for the enjoyment of travel. The merchant gains satisfaction from noting how far he has traveled, for this represents his progress toward his destination. The son, on the other hand, gains satisfaction from noting how much further there is to go, for this represents how much further opportunity he has to experience the enjoyment of travel. Similarly, a righteous man gains satisfaction from reviewing his past, while a fool gains satisfaction by fantasizing about his future.
Specifically, a righteous man gains satisfaction by noting how long he has lived so far and reflecting on how much Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds he has amassed during this time. And he is apprehensive about the time he has left in this world, for he recognizes that he cannot know what the future will bring (see Koheles 8:7) and he is aware of the Sages’ teaching that a person should not believe in himself until the day of his death (Avos 2:5). Moreover, even regarding the past he makes a strict accounting, and if he finds his accomplishments in Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds inadequate, he becomes greatly pained, and makes a diligent effort to rectify his deficiencies.
It is different with the fool who spends his time reveling in temporary worldly enjoyments. The days of his past are of no value to him, for the enjoyments he indulged in during this period have faded and are no more. He gains no further satisfaction from them. He gains satisfaction only from noting how much time he has left to indulge in further enjoyments. As Yeshayah puts it (verses 56:11-12): “And the dogs are greedy; they do not know satiety. These are the shepherds who cannot understand; they have all gone off on their own way, each to his own corner, for his own gain. ‘Come, I will fetch wine, and we will guzzle liquor, and tomorrow will also be like this, and even much greater.’”
The contrast described above is reflected in Shlomo’s statement that “a wise man’s eyes are in his head, while the fool walks in darkness.” The wise man realizes that Hashem put his eyes in his head so that he could turn back and take a look at his past life, to see whether it provides him satisfaction. He thus learns to use his time productively. But regarding the foolish and wicked, Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 12:7, homiletically): “The wicked turn back and are no more.” When the wicked man turns back to look at his past, he finds that there is no longer anything left. Accordingly, he is led to focus all his attention on the future. But since he cannot know what the future will bring, he is like a man walking in the dark.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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