Shabbos Parashas Balak

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect)
Chapter 3
A habit is not a force that operates within a person from birth, and is not a pattern of behavior that his natural drives impose on him. Rather, Hashem placed within a person the power to habituate himself to a certain pattern of behavior or thought, even if it runs counter to his inborn tendencies, to the point where it becomes second nature to him. Habit makes it easy for a person to perform specific physical actions or engage in specific mental pursuits. A person can use habit to instill within his body or mind an inclination toward any activity he wishes. By repeated practice, a person can train himself in certain modes of behavior or thought until they become ingrained within him. For example, a person can train himself to avoid eating nonkosher food, or to shoot at a hair without missing. Nothing is beyond the influence of habit. Through habituation, a person can convert an activity for which he initially felt a natural distaste into an activity he enjoys engaging in. And it is within a person’s power, through repetition, to convert an activity that was initially beyond the pale for him into an activity that he performs easily. In this vein, the Sages say that if a person engages in a certain forbidden activity and then repeats it, he comes to regard the activity as permitted (Yoma 86b).
Habit is a powerful force, with the capacity to control all of a person’s tendencies. For example, a person may initially find it difficult to feel fear or love of Hashem, or exhibit certain other good character traits, but he can accustom himself to these traits until he finds them easy. In addition, a person may initially feel a strong attraction toward a certain food or item, and value it highly, but after he becomes accustomed to it, the attraction wanes, in the way that a fragrance fades. Eventually it becomes commonplace to him. A person may initially cherish a certain item and constantly take it out to use or handle, but over time he becomes less enamored with it, and takes it out only when he has guests.
Natural drives and ingrained habits are two important forces that strongly influence a person’s thinking and behavior in many areas. But an even more important force is the intellect, which we will focus on in the present section of this book.
Chapter 4 (beginning)
The intellect is an eminent attribute, with which man, the premier creation, has been crowned. It is what sets man apart from the animals and make him superior to them. Animals are not mentally aware of their existence. They have no intellectual understanding of their composition and nature, nor of their advantages and disadvantages relative to other creatures. Their behavior is completely dictated by natural drives. They are prompted by hunger to eat, by thirst to drink, and by fatigue to rest. They have no awareness of the fact that they were created from nothingness, or of the purpose for which they were created, or of the results of their actions. And it goes without saying that they do not know the difference between the upright and the crooked, or between the seemly and the contemptible, for these distinctions are exclusively in the realm of the intellect. There is no difference between the animals and the plants and inanimate objects, except for the capacity to move and feel physical sensations.
Man, however, by virtue of his intellect, can understand what his eyes see and his ears hear, and can recognize the features of what he perceives. He is aware that he exists and of how he came to exist. He has the capacity to intellectually examine all of his potential actions and assess whether they are upright and seemly, or crooked and contemptible. He can distinguish between the true and the false, the good and the bad, and the possible and the impossible. He can determine how he should act in every situation.
The seat of the intellect is the heart. Just as the heart is the hub of the body, providing sustenance to all its organs, so, too, the intellect that resides within it is the control center that governs a person’s behavior. The intellect sets a person’s path, directs his actions, and dictates his attitudes. What the intellect judges as good, the person loves, desires, and seeks. What the intellect judges as nice, the person enjoys adorning himself with. If a person’s intellect tells him that a certain individual is granting him benefit, he will love him, submit to him, and follow his directives. What the intellect judges as bad, the person will avoid and disdain.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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