by Rabbi Dovid Hochberg
Just Say No. You see it on the subway. You hear it on the radio. You can find it on posters all over the city. Just Say No.
The city uses that slogan to try to prevent drug use. I have another idea. I want to use it in a more powerful way.
Just Say No. Forget drugs…I'm talking about life in general. Particularly a Jewish lifestyle. There are many things that the Torah does not want us to do. Did you know that in Judaism, there are 365 negative commandments, and only 248 positive commandments? Why did Hashem set up the Torah that way? We are human beings with emotions, feelings, and desires. Why did He create us this way, only to tell us, "Just Say No?"
Let’s look at it this way. Pretend for a moment that there are no boundaries. No rules. No rewards. No punishments. You can do whatever you want to do. There are no consequences. Play around with that idea for a while. Let your imagination go.
It feels great, doesn’t it? Imagine! A world where you can do whatever you want.
But it doesn’t last. As the excitement dies down, you are going to start to feel restless. You will feel like you are looking for something that you can’t find. You will find yourself feeling, well, I guess the best way to describe the feeling is empty. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Act out the fantasy in your mind as long as you can and tell me what you feel.
You see, what you have just created was a world without boundaries. You, as a person, have just opened up your personal boundaries and let everything and anything in. There are no “walls” that surround you. For all intents and purposes, you don’t exist anymore. Why? There is nothing to define who you are. There are no boundaries, no lines that you can draw and say, “this is what I will do and this is what I won’t do.” If you allow yourself to do and experience everything, what defines you? Where is your private, personal space that you carve out for yourself and control what comes in or goes out? You have broken down the boundaries, the walls that created that space. You have left yourself open, exposed to everything.
Now, what happens when you create that private place for yourself? What happens when you build walls, boundaries, around yourself and you begin to control what goes in and what comes out? When you start to set limits about what you will do and what you won’t do?
You create something that is uniquely yours. You design a private, personal space that belongs only to you…that IS you…that you control. You decide what comes in or out. You decide what actions, music, feelings, desires, education, recreation, hobbies, sports, relationships, friends, etc., etc. will be allowed into that space.
Now, let’s get back to our original question. Why does Hashem create us with desires and emotions and tell us, “No, you can’t do that?”
Simple. If everything was permitted, how do we set limits to create our personal space? In order to say “no,” we have to have temptations and desires for things that we can and cannot do. Saying “no” to this and “yes” to that creates those borders.
Actually, we have it a lot easier than people who do not have a Torah. Hashem has already drawn many of the boundaries for us. We have flexibility within those boundaries, but for the most part, Hashem is telling us, “Look, I am going to help you. Follow My Torah and you will not feel empty. You will never have to worry if a limit that you set is helpful or not. Follow the limits I provide and you will feel fulfilled. You can go to sleep each night, knowing that you did the right thing.”
You and I both know that feeling good about yourself and what you did that day is an incredible feeling.
There is another aspect to boundaries. It keeps you safe. It protects you from vulnerable moments.
If you have no boundaries, no point at which you can say, ?stop, I am controlling myself and will not cross this line, " then the line keeps moving. You keep pushing and pushing and the game gets more and more dangerous. The risks get greater. Initially, you may have ?lived on the edge? by racing a bicycle down a steep hill. Now you need to climb a mountain to give you that same thrill. Tomorrow, who knows what you will need to do to feel that rush?
In general, life is a lot less stressful when you have boundaries. And when you know that your boundaries are G-d given, you feel a whole lot better about following them.
Questions or comments? Rabbi Hochberg’s email address is mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Dovid Hochberg is Principal of Derech Chaim Academy of Baltimore.