Halacha for Thursday 13 Iyar 5780 May 7 2020

The True Hero is One Who Vanquishes His Desires

Our Sages teach us in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 4, Mishnah 1): “Who is a [true] hero? One who conquers his inclinations.” However, this Mishnah should have seemingly read, “Who is a hero? One who conquers his evil inclination,” for the connotation of the word “inclinations” is one’s good and evil inclinations, but one must in fact follow the advice of his good inclination. If so, what heroism can there be in one who conquers his “inclinations”; would it not have been more correct to state “evil inclination”?

We can explain this based on what Maran zt”l writes that the evil inclination uses different styles for different kinds of people; for instance, for Torah scholars who sit and toil in Torah, it convinces them to go deal with charity or acts of kindness or to become active members of the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society). It does not actually want them to be involved with performing acts of kindness; rather, its main goal is to distract them from toiling in Torah study. Regarding wealthy individuals who are able to help save downtrodden widows and orphans from the throes of poverty and hardship, it coerces them to go learn Torah or read Tehillim (Psalms) numerous times and the like. This is a possible understanding of the word “inclinations” in the Mishnah;  one may not have only one specific inclination, for sometimes the evil inclination can seemingly take the guise of the good inclination by trying to lead one on a path that is inappropriate for him and through which he will be unable to realize one’s true spiritual powers.

A story is told about a certain miser who lived in Ropshitz (a town in Galicia, Poland) and was known for his extreme stringiness. On the night of Yom Kippur following the prayer services, there was a group of paupers who remained in the synagogue to read Tehillim and this wealthy man joined their group. Harav Naftali of Ropshitz, who was still in the synagogue, sent someone to interrupt this wealthy man and to tell him that he was being summoned by the rabbi. When he came to him, the rabbi told him, “As you know, we are in a state of emergency now since the Polish government has declared war on Austria. The army consists of various forces: Foot soldiers, cavalry troops, and the Navy. What would you say about a member of the cavalry forces who by chance happens to know how to be the captain of a battleship and deserted his unit, took control of a battleship, and waged several successful campaigns against the enemy; what kind of medal should he be awarded?” The rich man answered, “Not only should he not be commended with any medals but he should be court-martialed for being a deserter, for one cannot take the law into his own hands and once he was assigned to a cavalry unit, he cannot leave his post without official orders from his superiors.” The rabbi then asked, “What would you say if the opposite occurred, if a member of the Navy who knew that he was an expert cavalryman deserted his unit, mounted a horse, and galloped away behind enemy lines and inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy; how should he be awarded?” Once again the wealthy miser answered, “I believe that this man too should be punished for being a deserter, since he acted without having been given official military orders. Excuse me, honored rabbi, but what relevance do your questions have to this holy night of Yom Kippur?” The rabbi responded, “Based on your answers, I would like to inform you that you are considered a “deserter” and you will have to give judgment for this on this holiest of days.” The rich man exclaimed, “Why should I be considered a deserter, I am not even of military age, so how can I be considered a deserter?” To which the rabbi replied, “You must know that in Heaven they have designated various forces for the ‘army’ of Hashem consisting of a force of Torah scholars, a force of Tehillim-reading paupers, and a force of wealthy philanthropists. Behold, your lot is great indeed, for they have showered you with wealth in order to be able to gladden the hearts of the poor. Instead of carrying out what is expected of you, you go and read Tehillim with the paupers. Therefore, you are considered a ‘deserter’ of the army of Hashem! You are not doing what you are supposed to; you should be going to sleep tonight on silken and embroidered pillows and tomorrow morning when the community-wide appeal for the good of the poor, Yeshivot, or other Torah scholars, you should donate generously so that other people may see you and follow your example. Now, quickly, head home to sleep and tomorrow make sure to follow my instructions!”

The next day before the reading of the Torah, the rabbi began an appeal to benefit a certain Yeshiva and he immediately turned his attention to this rich man. The man raised his voice and said, “Ten-thousand Rubles!” All of the congregants were surprised by the wealthy man’s generous donation as he was not a man usually known for his generosity. This enthused the congregation and, as a result, everyone proceeded to donate generously in support of the Torah and that year ended up being one of prosperity, salvation, and success.

We can understand that all this applies to every Jew’s main focus in serving Hashem and that one must follow the path which utilizes and harnesses all of one’s spiritual abilities. Needless to say though, every member of the Jewish nation must have set times for Torah study so that one will be fluent with the laws of the Torah and merit having a direct connection with the Torah of Israel.

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