Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

You should not turn after your hearts and eyes, which you zonim / stray after

Be’er Mayim Chaim: The temptress/ yetzer hora in Mishlei2 speaks with a beguiling tongue: “Come and partake of my food.” Even a person who has been minimally touched by true yir’as Hashem knows it. The conclusion is inescapable. No one can make significant progress in serving Hashem with ahavah and yir’ah unless he escapes the snare of coarser wants and desires. These competing desires alter our judgment and subtly involve us in actual aveiros. Even when they don’t, we find our minds coming back to thoughts of those desires, deflecting from what should be loftier pursuits. Alas, this is true even at times that we should be concentrating on davening and learning.

We might conclude, therefore, that we should become near ascetics, living as simply as possible. We might convince ourselves that in the pursuit of loftier levels of ruchniyus, we should purge our homes of any food other than what we need to sustain ourselves, and eat sparsely at long intervals. We might spurn any clothing other than what we need to cover and protect our bodies, using rags and tatters. We might eschew anything beyond what is prescribed by a minimalist approach to benefiting from this world.

Know, my brothers, that Hashem did not create His world to remain desolate, but to be inhabited. 3 Whatever He created has a purpose, and can be used to serve Him. These are meant to be enjoyed. How do we resolve the tension between rejecting pleasures that deflect from growth, while enjoying others?

Here is the solution. Whatever pleasures are unrelated to our avodas Hashem – that cannot be pursued for His sake – are indeed excessive, and must be avoided by the person seeking significant spiritual progress. Our attitude towards actions and items that are necessary for our avodah, however, should be much different. We should cherish and long for the ohr Hashem that He placed in these items. We should delight in the opportunity to take hold of them and elevate them towards their Divine source, through proper kavanah. When we honor Him by donning dignified clothing on Shabbos and Yom Tov as we serve Him in the mitzvos of those days, we can take pride in them.

Thus, our pasuk conveys as additional meaning beyond the literal. The mitzvah of tzitzis demands that we attach them to the four corners of an article of clothing, reminding us to “remember” – that is, to be forever cognizant of Hashem wherever we turn, and “do them,” meaning mitzvos , to the exclusion of all else. But lest we think that we are to reject the world of the bodily and material, the Torah adds that we should not turn after our hearts and eyes in that which we are zonim. This word can be taken in the sense of “providing nourishment.” In areas that our essential, and hence part of our avodas Hashem, He wishes us to enjoy the pleasures associated with them. What we should avoid in them is seeking those pleasures purely for the purpose of self-gratification, which will mean enlarging and extending our desires. The yetzer hora we cited above said, “Come and partake of my food,” food that is unrelated to our essential avodah. When we eat what we are supposed to eat, Hashem says, 4 “You will eat, and you will be satisfied, and you will bless Hashem,” i.e. you will not distance yourself from Him in the process.

Hashem showed great love for the spies sent by Yehoshua, about whom it is written, “they came to the house of a zonah woman, whose name was Rachav, and vayishkavu / they lay down there.” He saved them from the mistake of their predecessors, who in our parshah argued that the fruit of the land was dangerous. Those fruits were so rich and fat, they claimed, that the land had to be considered as devouring its inhabitants. Alternatively, the reasoned that people would be destroyed through consuming them, because they would be drawn into a spiral of desire and lust.

Yehoshua’s meraglim knew this not to be true. “The land is very good!” If those were the fruits that Hashem provided there, than those who consumed them responsibly would be harmed neither physically nor spiritually. Vayishkavu can be reconstructed to as based on v’yesh c”v, or “there is 22.” Even in the house of Rachav the zonah, they did not act inappropriately. In the arena of justified nourishment and provision for avodas Hashem, even where the fear existed of rachav, or enlarging their dependence upon them, they were not harmed. To the contrary, they provided a tikun for all the 22 letters of the Torah, by elevating all the sparks of holiness in what they used.