From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Heart Determines Our Perspective on Life - Is the Cup Half Full or Half Empty? – A Powerful Holocaust Story About Self-Sacrifice in Order to Observe Mitzvot
At the end of the Parasha we read the about the mitzvah of tzitzit, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak to the Bnei Yisrael and have them make tzitzit on the corners of their garments for all generations. They shall include a twist of sky-blue wool in the corner tzitzit. These shall be your tzitzit, and when you see them, you shall remember all of Hashem’s commandments so as to keep them. You will then not stray after your heart and eyes. Which [in the past] have led you to immorality.” (Bamidbar 15:37-9).
Why does the passuk first state “your hearts” and only afterwards “your eyes”. Since first the eyes see and only afterwards the heart desires. Therefore, the Torah should have written “do not stray after your eyes and heart”?
To answer this, we shall preface a story that happened in America about a Holocaust survivor who stopped observing Torah and mitzvot. After some time, the Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk met him and asked him, “You grew up as someone observant of the Torah and mitzvot, why did you stop observing?” The man cried and said, Because of something that he saw in the camp during the Holocaust he stopped observing Torah and mitzvot. He told the rav that “In the camp there were thousands of people who lived in great starvation and were forced to do back breaking work from dawn until night. After some time, a new Jewish person arrived at the camp, and he had a small siddur. Immediately there formed a huge que from all of those in the camp to see the siddur and read some prayers from it. However, to my surprise he requested from each of them that they give him half of their meagre daily bread rations. And so, each person that came to pray gave half of his daily bread rations and only afterwards was he allowed to pray from the siddur. I saw this and shuddered.”
This man told the Brisker Rav, “From that day onwards I decided to cease observing the mitzvot, for how could a person take advantage of impoverished people lacking all hope of being saved and take from them from the little bread that they had so that they may pray from a siddur? And then I told myself, if this is the religion, I have no interest in it!”
The Brisker Rav heard this and said to the man, “Why do you only see with your eyes that individual who behaved in this appalling way and from him you made long term decisions, and you don’t see in that very same event the hundreds of people who stood in line and were prepared to give from their meagre bread to pray from that old siddur? You should have seen this, and from here you should deduced the self-sacrifice they had for Torah and prayer in every situation and all ages acting so!”
The man heard this and burst into tears and made teshuva.
From this story we may learn how two people may witness the same event, but each has a different perspective based on how his heart leads him. As the well known saying of people, it is possible that there is water filling only half of the cup, one will see it half full and another half empty. It all depends on his character and the way his heart is inclined.
Considering this we may now understand the passuk, “You will then not stray after your heart” and only afterwards “after your eyes”, for as we have explained, the way the heart is inclined influences a person to decide how he views things, whether in a good or bad light. About this the Torah cautions us, don’t be inclined to bad, since then whatever you see you will view in a negative light. Rather learn mussar, work on your character, distance yourself from bad friends, be the tail of lions and not the head of foxes (Avot 4:15), fix time for Torah-study, fulfil the mitzvot of Hashem. Then we will merit to the passuk, “So you will remember and observe all My mitzvot, and be holy to your G-d” (Bamidbar 15:40). And so, with every visual perspective, may we will merit to a mandatory perspective of holiness and good deeds. Amen.