A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Mindless Activity and Distractions are the Yetzer Hara’s Tactics to Prevent us from Serving Hashem
In states in this week’s Parashah, “A new king, who did not know of Yosef, came into power over Egypt. He announced to his people, “The Israelites are becoming too numerous and strong for us. We must deal wisely with them. Otherwise, they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving [us] from the land.’ [The Egyptians] appointed conscription officers over [the Israelites] to crush their spirits with hard labour. The Israelites were to build up the cities of Pitom and Ra’amses as supply centres for Paro” (Bereishit 1:8-11).
Our chachamim (Sotah 11a) ask what were “the supply centres - Pitom and Ra’amses”? They explain, “Pitom” - they built it on an abyss, on land that was muddy and a sinkhole, and the buildings would collapse and be swallowed into the ground. “Ra’amses” - because the bricks and building would be blown to pieces.
The Egyptian’s primary motive in enslaving the Bnei Yisrael was that the Bnei Yisrael wouldn’t come to their senses and rebel against them. Therefore they were constantly vigilant to ensure that they were seeped in slavery, even if it had no purpose. Even when the Egyptians didn’t require these buildings, nevertheless, they didn’t want the Bnei Yisrael to be left to their own devices and they enslaved them with back breaking work with no purpose, to build buildings which collapsed after they were built!
Indeed Paro said about the Bnei Yisrael, “Make the work heavier for the men, and make sure they do it. Then they will stop paying attention to false ideas” (ibid. 5:9), from the burden of work they won’t have time to get busy or even think any idea.
This is what Rabbeinu the Ramchal z”l (Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto 1707-1746) in his classic work Mesilat Yesharim explains, “Paro intended not to give them any space [mental bandwidth], so that they wouldn’t consider or devise a plan against him. Rather he intended to distract their hearts from any form of contemplation through the persistent slavery which never stopped”.
Here the Ramchal teaches us an important principle, “This is literally the device of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) against people. For he is a seasoned warrior and experienced in trickery. It is impossible to evade him, only with great wisdom and a broad perspective”. Meaning, just like the wicked Paro behaved, to constantly drain Am Yisrael with harsh work, so that they won’t come to their senses and consider their dire predicament, likewise the yetzer hara behaves, he incites people to be constantly busy with different ideas, to the extent that they don’t consider what is really important, namely, to continually serve Hashem!
In America, they are accustomed in many places, that the Jewish people who live in New York and the suburbs, go out in the Summer to other houses located in the mountains around New York, or in the city of Deal. Since the stay is a long one, even during that time the ba’alei batim travel daily to work, generally to Manhattan, although the journey takes a long time.
It once happened that the Gaon Ba’al HaSehfa Chaim, the Admor of Sanz-Klausenburg zt”l (1905-1990) heard that a group of his chassidim were talking amongst themselves about their future holidays. This was during the middle of the winter and the chassidim planned together, where they will stay, what they will eat and what activities they will arrange for their children for the duration of the break. So they continued in this vein, programmes upon programmes, many and varied, which also cost a lot of money.
The Admor responded and said, “Behold this is the tactic of the yetzer, he currently convinces you to waste your time for complete days for the programme of the great holiday. In your hearts you say oh, let’s just finish the programme and we will immediately return to our service of Hashem! After you will finish the programme, the days of Pesach shall draw near and then you will be busy with the Chag. After the Chag, then the holidays will draw near and then you well say to yourselves, if only the holidays would arrive and we would learn each evening a number of hours with a clear mind!
“Eventually the holidays arrive, and you travel every day to Manhattan and return tired and ragged to your homes, and don’t succeed to study anything. Then you will say, if so, at least on Shabbat we will be busy with serving Hashem! But alas! Shabbat arrives and great fatigue engulfs you, because the whole week you worked so hard, you commuted everyday many hours, and what is the point of having a holiday if not to rest a little? What a waste of time!
“This is the way of the yetzer, he distracts you your whole lives, and you do not pay attention to the passing days that never return!”
The Admor continued and said, “When we were in the concentration camps, under the Nazis, may their names be obliterated, sometimes they didn’t have work for us, and they would order us to gather stones and build a mound from the stones. Afterwards they would then order that the mound be carried to another place, and so they would constantly mock us, so that we would have no time to stop, to think, to contemplate, perhaps even to rebel!”
The Admor concluded, “This is literally the way of the yetzer hara, all life passes by, a person always has something to keep themselves busy, and they don’t realise that time passes, after they finish one thing, another matter arrives. They must stop for just one moment! To align themselves onto straight paths, through which they will be able to focus on the main objective, to serve Hashem, through Torah, prayer, acts of kindness and fulfilling all of the mitzvot!”
The Maggid Meisharim, the Gaon the Tzaddik Rebbi Yaakov Galinski zt”l (1920-2014) relates that the Ponevezher Gaon, Rebbi Yosef Kahaneman zt”l (1886-1969), once said to him, “I’ll ask you a question. A person dreams that they enter a forest, and lions and leopards attack him intending to kill him, how may they be helped?”
Rebbi Yaakov looked at him unable to answer, how can one answer such a question?
The Ponevezher Rav answered himself, “To wake him, and the dream will disappear!”
In the words of the Rambam, “Awaken those sleeping from your sleep, and rouse those slumbering from your sleep” [Laws of Teshuvah 3:4].
Essentially a person is absorbed their whole life in dreams, matters that have no substance. They must awaken, to focus on the main, to hear words of mussar (instruction) and to invest all their energies in serving their Creator!