The World Within
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
How can I alone carry your contentiousness,
your burdens, and your quarrels?
We are in the final phase of the Three
Weeks, ending with Tisha B’Av next week,
b”H. And, to get us in the proper frame of
mind for what’s coming up (in case the
prohibitions of the last two weeks didn’t do
it sufficiently), we read the above verse,
which begins with the word “eichah,” to
the tune of Eichah, which we intone the
night of Tisha B’Av.
Just as a picture can be worth a thousand words, sometimes one word
can be worth many as well. Eichah is one such word. It is kind of a mantra,
one that we should be meditating on throughout history. In general, it
means, how did things ever get this bad? However, once you start asking
that question, you might as well go back and ask “how” about each step
along the path to destruction: How did we do that? How did it lead to that?
How did this cause that? Etc., etc., etc., until the final one: How did it
in divorce, or bankruptcy, or the exile of the entire nation?
It is no coincidence that the same word was used to address Adam
HaRishon after He violated the commandment to not eat from the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bereishis 3:9). Comprised of the same letters,
in the same order — Aleph-Yud-Chof-Heh — though vocalized differently
and translated as “Where are you?” it means, essentially, the same thing:
You had it good. All you had to do was maintain the good. But, instead
the destroyed the good. How?
The better question, or at least, the more accurate one, is: why do people
do that which is forbidden, or do not do that which is commanded of them?
When a situation is bad, then, understandably, change is in order. But,
when a situation is good, why upset the balance? Why take the risk, and
invite trouble? Why not guard and protect the status quo, if it is
rather than change it and create uncertainity and potentially, cause
The answer is simple: people perceive a need for change where it
doesn’t exist. They seek improvement where there is nothing to improve.
They imagine there is lack when there really isn’t. In other words, the
problem is not with the world around them, but with the world within them.
If anything is missing, if there is any lack of balance, it is inside, not
and not understanding this, or not accepting this can result in a malicious
manipulation of the world in which they live.
The rabbis summed it up with a very simple, but time-honored,
Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his portion, as it says: “When
you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you”
(Tehillim 128:2). (Pirkei Avos 4:1)
This is the secret to a meaningful and fulfilling life. For, life is about
Everything goes well when people are satisfied, because feeling satiated,
people are inspired to be good.
But, as the joke goes, “I will be happy with my portion as soon as I get
it!” However, that is not what the rabbis meant when they gave their
advice. Obviously, they meant, the wealthy person is the one who is happy
portion each minute of the day, no matter how big or small it becomes in
the process. Compared to what one could have, there is lack, and a sense of
poverty, … even for a very rich person. However, compared to what you
have already, there is no more to be had.
Do the rabbis state the obvious? On paper yes, but in everyday practical
life, not at all. The amount of discontentment in the world is epic. In
dare say that the main driving force that fuels the economy and drags
out of bed each morning is a sense of, “Today, I will get more!” With
of people sharing the same mantra each day, it can get awfully competitive
out there, tense, and eventually, distorted, as frustrated people start
looking for shortcuts to get what they feel is coming to them, one way or
Depending upon one’s level of integrity, life becomes a test. To cheat, or
not to cheat, that is the question for many people. Or, perhaps, cheat a
which, according to some, is not really cheating at all, because everyone
cheats a little at some time, or so the thinking goes. Then again, some
don’t cheat at all, but they have no one to blame for that except
The trouble with cheating, though, is like bacteria, once it starts, it
keeps on growing, and growing, until it becomes all-consuming. Big cheaters
rarely began that way, just as black lies didn’t begin as black lies. They
began, at first, as white lies, and left unchecked, they became gray lies,
they finally grew into black lies. Some people lie so much that eventually
they cannot tell the difference anymore between reality and falsehood, and
readily believe their own lies even while others do not.
It’s no different with business relationships, and even marriages. Anyone
looking at “before” and “after” pictures of a couple about to get divorced,
especially after many years of being together, can’t help but wonder,
“How?” After all, the wedding pictures project love and affection,
a sense of eternal hope. “This is a couple truly meant to live together,”
And yet, years later, the divorce “portrait” paints a different picture,
of anger and eternal rejection. What a complete turnabout. Even the couple
themselves often find themselves asking, “Where did it start, and how did
ever become so bad?” Business partners who were friends for decades, who
go their separate ways, often ask themselves the same questions.
Check it out: in so many cases, it begins with discontentment. Someone
in the relationship, at some point in time, feels entitled to more. If
being cheated, then they are right, and breaking up the relationship is a
good thing. But, if, objectively-speaking, they are not being cheated, and
their sense of lack is coming from them, and not the relationship, then
can only do damage by taking more, and it can only result, eventually, in
the destruction of good things.
If this is true of relationships between people, how much more so is this
true about one’s relationship with God. For, people, no matter how
and trustworthy they are, make mistakes and fall short of our
expectations sometimes. To err is human, to forgive is Divine: the
of good people must be taken in stride.
However, when it comes to the Master of the Universe, it is a different
story. He has no shortcomings and can deliver anything He chooses. He can
make the impossible come true, bringing a person from rags to riches in
time, or vice-versa. There is nothing He cannot do, so if He has not
done something we have asked for, or has done something that we prayed
to avoid, it was not an accident, and we must understand why. To cheat
God is to cheat oneself.
That’s the answer to “eichah.” Everyone feels a sense of lack at some
point in time. Even great righteous people have their moments of weakness,
and find themselves desiring something they don’t yet have. But that’s all
is: a MOMENT of weakness, not because they despise physical pleasures or
give up trying to have more. But, because their sense of lack reflects
them, forcing them to question what it is they lack on the inside that has
in what they lack on the outside.
Indeed, they understand, God Himself creates the situation that stimulates
our sense of lack. He arranges our lives such that we walk by just at the
right moment to see or hear something, while we’re in a certain state of
mind and mood, to agitate us into feeling our lack, not to tease us, but to
use it as a way to inspire introspection. Where we go from there is truly
own free-will choice.
We have only to go back to the beginning of history to see just how true
God favored Hevel and his meal-offering, but not Kayin and his
mealoffering. Kayin became very angry and dejected. God said to Kayin,
“Why are you angry, and why are you dejected? If you did the right
thing would I not accept it? But, by not doing the right thing, sin
crouches at the doorstep. He desires you, but you can rule over him.”
That is, with a little introspection, you can figure out what it is you
right, to get what you wanted. Then you can fix it, and we can all happily
However, that is not the path that Kayin chose in the end. Rather than
take responsibility for what he lacked inside, he instead tried to change
world on the outside. The result:
[One day,] Kayin engaged his brother Hevel in conversation, and when
they were in the field, Kayin attacked his brother Hevel and killed him.
And, what did it get him in the end? Anywhere closer to where he really
wanted to be? Not even a little:
[God] said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood
shouts out to Me from the ground. Therefore you are cursed by the land
that has opened its mouth, taking your brother’s blood from your hand.
You will work the land, but it will no longer give to you of its bounty.
will be a nomad in the land.” Kayin said to God, “My sin is too great a
burden …” (Bereishis 4:10-13)
What a fitting word to use: burden. We don’t normally think of sins as
burdens, but, in fact, that is what they really are: heavy weights on our
moral backs. For, even though we like to have things and feel satiated, and
might even be willing to cheat and steal, and in some extreme cases, kill
it, God forbid, at the end of the day, what was once sweet becomes
This is because, what some people call our “moral compass” is really the
spark of God that makes us human, which must, ultimately, be satisfied if
we, ultimately, are to be satisfied. To err is human, but to do teshuvah is
truly Divine, for it reveals our sense of right and wrong, and our
to the former and our rejection of the latter. Amazingly, we can feel
very satisfied just by doing the right thing, even if we do not get the
pleasure we seek.
Hence, it is no coincidence that each year, Tisha B’Av falls on the same
day of the week that the Pesach Seder does, for they represent two sides of
the same coin. As the word “seder” implies, Creation is orderly, and our
as a light unto nations is to respect that Divine order, work with it, work
within it. It is not to manipulate the world to our liking, to make life as
comfortable as possible for ourselves.
Tisha B’Av is the result of failing at that mission, personally, and
As Moshe Rabbeinu will point out during these weekly readings, all
that went wrong in the desert, all that has ever gone wrong and will go
wrong in history, is the resulting of trying to cheat the system. It
work in business, it does not work in marriages, and it certainly does not
work between us and God.
If we’re going to mourn anything at this time, it is the fact that we have
yet to take such responsibility for ourselves and our world, and the
it has brought about. If we are to be consoled at all, it will be because
we can still turn over a new leaf, and make good what has yet to be made
good, before God imposes such changes on mankind.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.