“Because of this, those that speak in parables say: come to Cheshbon; it is [re-]built and established as the city of Sichon.” [21:27]
This is very unusual – I know of no other place in the Torah where we find a similar reference to a history or lesson being told by storytellers! Perhaps as a result, the Talmud interprets the verse very differently than its simple translation.
“Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan, ‘what is the meaning of [this verse]? “HaMoshlim” [which we translated “story-tellers”, also means “rulers”] – these are those who rule over their inclinations. [What do they say?] “Come to Cheshbon” [which means “calculation” in Hebrew] – come, and let us make the world’s [ultimate] calculation: the loss involved in doing a Mitzvah vs. its gain, and the gain involved in doing a transgression vs. its loss. “Built and established” [can be read as “you build and establish”] – if you do this, you will build in this world, and establish for the World to Come.'” [Bava Basra 78b]
In Jewish thought, an individual is seen as under two contradictory influences: the “good inclination” and “bad inclination”. Apparently this is not all that different from the id – super-ego – ego model, but not being a psychologist, I spent a good deal of time considering these concepts; now, they’re axiomatic. The “bad” inclination is the one always trying to get you to satisfy yourself with the “here and now”, while the “good” inclination looks for far more spiritual, long-term joys. If you want to know the difference, I heard the following general rule from Rabbi Ezriel Tauber: if you want desperately to do it beforehand, and regret (or feel nothing) afterwards, that was probably the “bad” inclination. If you had to drag yourself to do it, but feel _happy_ with yourself afterwards, that was the “good” inclination. Works every time.
Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato, in his “Path of the Just,” understands the above Talmudic explanation as not only a single guideline, but as a call for repetitive calculations about our actions – in order to see which inclination is responsible for them. Today, time-management courses all advise setting out your schedule on paper, to see how _efficiently_ you spend your time; the Path of the Just asks, “towards what ends?”
The two analyses actually work well together – if you write down your actions over the course of a day, that alone is a push to act both efficiently and responsibly. Then, at the end of the day, you can see how well you’re doing (in all ways) and how you can improve.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.