Shabbos Parashas Pinchas

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 4 (end)
There are two major differences between the system of natural drives and the intellect. First, the drives develop before the intellect. The drives begin developing and operating right after a person is born, whereas the intellect, although it is the key element that Hashem had in mind when He created man, develops only later. As the saying goes, סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה – it is the end product that was first in mind. We can draw an analogy to growing grain. Growing grain requires plowing, planting, and working the ground. It is on account of the grain that the farmer undertakes this long process. But the grain emerges only in the end, when the stalk is fully developed. Similarly, the intellect emerges only in the end, when a person’s soul-system is fully developed.
Second, the drives operate on a person by coercion. For example, a person might not want to eat at a particular moment, and might not be thinking about eating, but the drive of hunger prods him to eat. By contrast, an exercise of the intellect is an action that is possible for a person to carry out, but he is not compelled to do so. A person can choose to focus on a certain matter to understand it. But he can also choose to turn his mind aside from it, and then he will have no better grasp of it than an animal. This principle applies to everything a person sees, hears, or encounters. A person can see something a hundred times, but if he does not pay attention and endeavor to undertand it, he will not grasp it. The same is true of what a person hears.
The principle can even apply to a person’s own speech. A person can utter certain sentences solely out of habit, with the lips moving on their own while his mind is elsewhere. For example, most people mention with some frequency that they have been brought into existence by the Creator for a set period, and they do not know whether they will be alive at the same time tomorrow, but their hearts are oblivious to this fact. For if their words came from the depths of their hearts, and they had a true awareness of their mortality, they would immediately be filled with worry over their fate and they would give up their attachment to the myriads of trivial worldly pleasures. It is clear that when most people speak of death they do not really register what they are saying. Regarding this unattentiveness, it is written (Tehillim 49:14): “With their mouths [alone] they accept their destiny.” In a lament before Hashem, Yirmiyahu speaks in a similar vein, saying (verse 12:2): “You are close in their mouths, but distant from their thoughts.”
The Gemara in Shabbos 31b states: “Not only do the wicked not tremble and worry over the day of death, their hearts are as firm as an edifice.” We can bring out the idea with an analogy. There are three approaches a merchant can take in deciding how much money to take on a business trip. The first type of merchant takes more than he expects to need, bearing in mind than unexpected expenses may arise. The second type takes exactly the amount he expects to need. And the third type does not even take with him enough for normal hotel bills. Similarly, there are three approaches a person can take in relating to his mortality. The first type of person takes a cautious approach, choosing the secure path and following Shlomo HaMelech’s advice (Koheles 9:8): “Always make sure your clothes are white.” Even in his early years he bears in mind that death can come unexpectedly at any moment. The second type assumes that the length of his life will be as expected; it is only in his old age that he prepares himself for the next world and mends his behavior. And the third type takes a super-confident approach and acts as if he will never die. The Gemara is saying that the wicked not only reject the cautious approach, but they go to the other extreme and adopt the super-confident approach.
The reason people talk without paying attention to what they are saying is that the ability to speak does not depend on the ability to understand. A baby starts making speaking sounds before he understands what he is saying. He simply mimics what he hears, like a parrot that has been trained to say words. The parrot’s ability to say the words does not imply that it has the ability to understand what it is saying; after all, it is only a parrot, and it has no intellect.
The evil inclincation casts a cloak over a person’s mind, leading him into a state of being unaware of the import of his actions. It heaps a thick layer of mud even over very commonplace considerations, thereby keeping the person from properly recognizing them. Thus, a person fails to pay attention to his existence, how he came into being, his essence and his qualities, and his purpose. He does what he does only because this way of life was passed down to him by his parents. He saw what they did, and he does the same. But he acts without discernment and understanding, and he does not take care to carry out these actions in the correct manner with adherence to all the details.

David Zucker, Site Administrator

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