This series, of which installments will be”H be posted twice weekly, is adapted from an English translation of Rav Itche Meir Morgenstern shlita’s sefer Yam HaChochmah. This foundational pamphlet, “Sod HaTaanug”, presents a deep perspective on our desire for pleasure and the intense battle with the yetzer hara our generation is fighting before the coming of Moshiach. We hope you enjoy these essays, and please remember to share with family and friends!
They End in Bitterness
Even though you know all of what we have learned until this point, the yetzer hora doesn’t give up. With no shame at all, it continues to entice you and tell you to sin, even though you know that this little act of pleasure will end with disappointment, pain and sadness afterwards.
The yetzer hora knows that it is convincing you to go after a false and pseudo form of pleasure, and it knows all the damage that will happen to you afterwards. Ultimately, the yetzer hora wants nothing other than to destroy your neshamah, because it knows that if you will do the aveirah, you will be blocked from connecting with Hashem. It knows that your neshamah’s only satisfaction is to have a genuine connection with the Creator, and it knows that doing an aveirah will ensure that the neshamah is blocked from becoming connected to Hashem. This is why the yetzer hora tries very hard to convince you to do the aveirah.
The Creator, Who loves us and wants the best for us, warns us very well in the Torah to stay away from committing aveiros. This is not because He wants to withhold pleasure from us, and it’s not because He wants us to suffer and be deprived. It is just the opposite: Hashem wants to prevent us from all of the sickness and pain that comes to us from giving in to pleasures that are evil, false, and imaginary.“Do not desire his dishes, it is bread of falsity.”
Any of the taavos that the yetzer hora wants us to do are not real forms of pleasure.
Aside from aveiros and forbidden acts of taavah failing to provide us with true pleasure, they end in bitterness, and even a person’s physical existence in This World becomes full of pain and misery as a result. We must always remind ourselves that the yetzer hora’s pleasures are nothing but a fantasy. If we would clearly see the lies of the yetzer hora’s arguments to us and how much it cons us into thinking that we are going to gain pleasure and enjoyment from acts that do nothing but damage us afterwards, we would hate the yetzer hora and recognize it as our bitter enemy. We would not even listen to it for a moment.
As we learned, we get genuine pleasure only from the Creator’s light [which we gain through keeping the mitzvos and developing a relationship with Him].
We need to think about this truth and internalize it into our being: The Creator’s light is the only source of vitality on this world, and therefore any pleasure that we can get on this world will only come from tasting the Creator’s light. There is no chance of us ever getting any real pleasure from something that’s forbidden by the Torah.
In addition to being the Source of everything that was created, Hashem is the source that continues to sustain everything in the present moment as well. Everything in our world is only able to keep existing because of the G-dly light that Hashem is using to empowering each creation. Therefore, it is not possible to get real pleasure from something that the Creator has forbidden from us. Every aveirah, everything that Hashem forbade us to do, is essentially the presence of evil, called the kelipos (lit. “shells”) which are so thick that Hashem’s light doesn’t penetrate them. And since they are empty from Hashem’s light, it not possible to get real pleasure from them, because real pleasure only comes from experiencing Hashem’s light. Although everything in creation is sustained by the G-dly spark within it, Hashem’s light and the feeling of true pleasure is never gained from a forbidden act, only through permissible acts. Therefore, there is no gain in any forbidden act, because it does not give a person the G-dly spark, and hence there can be no real pleasure in the forbidden act. The only way to gain pleasure is by retrieving the G-dly spark in something, and the only way to retrieve a G-dly spark from a forbidden act is by overcoming the lust for it, as explained above.
The Creator is asking of us: “I have given before you that which is life and good, and that which is death and evil, and you shall choose life.” The Creator knows infinitely that true pleasure and satisfaction for us human beings is only when we connect to Him [when we are doing His will and building a conscious relationship with Him]. As Dovid HaMelech said, “And as for me, closeness to Hashem is good to me.”
The Imaginary Pleasure In Aveiros
Therefore, when the yetzer hora comes to you and tries to convince you to do an aveirah, it puts forth very convincing arguments, as we all know. We need to let our intellect take over and decide for ourselves: “I’m not listening to my yetzer hora, that lying con artist! All of the pleasures that it presents to me are nothing but falsehood.”
In other words, the way to fight our yetzer hora is not by thinking that we simply have an obligation to overcome the yetzer hora, but by understanding that there is no substance in the yetzer hora’s argument! The yetzer hora is nothing but a professional con artist who is trying to scam us again and again with his false claims. He’s offering us something that isn’t good, that will additionally result in only pain and misery to follow. Any pleasure one thinks he might get out of doing an aveirah is nothing but imagination. Therefore, one’s mindset has to be: “It is only when I overcome this struggle that I will experience real pleasure!”
To the degree that we internalize this, we will be able to minimize our struggle with the yetzer hora. The perspective described here gives us an amazing amount of energy and empowers us, because by internalizing it, we feel that it is worth overcoming the struggle. We will remember that it is only when we do not give in to it, that we will truly find pleasure – the true pleasure and inner satisfaction that our neshamos crave.
Besides for trying to convince us into doing aveiros, the yetzer hora also convinces us to be lazy and not fulfill mitzvos or halachos. We need to be aware that it’s worth it to push ourselves a little bit, because through pushing ourselves to do what Hashem wants, that is how we succeed in connecting to Him, and that will afford us the true pleasure to which nothing else compares.
Purifying the Heart
It must be mentioned that in order to succeed at feeling the pleasure and Hashem’s light which is found only when we serve Him, we need to protect the cleanliness and purity of our soul. When a person regularly indulges in physical pleasures – even if these pleasures are not forbidden, and certainly if he is doing aveiros, chas v’shalom – his soul becomes covered over by kelipos (the presence of evil). The bigger and stronger the kelipos on his soul are, the less he will be able to feel the pleasure of serving Hashem. He becomes like a sick person who loses his taste buds – the sweetest foods will taste bitter and disgusting to him, preventing him from enjoying any food. The result of indulging in physical pleasures (and all the more so when a person indulges in acts of aveiros) causes kelipos to cover over a person’s soul, and they prevent a person from enjoying the Creator’s light. This is because ruchniyus (the spiritual) and aveiros (sins) cannot co-exist with each other. When a person falls into aveiros, the greater the fall, the less he can enjoy the feeling of Hashem’s Presence. The more he tasted evil, the more he loses his taste in ruchniyus. It can get to the point where he has no desire at all in Torah, davening, and mitzvos, and it all becomes bitter to him. He won’t even be able to enjoy Shabbos. This is the devastating effect that doing aveiros has on a person – they turn the sweet pleasure of ruchniyus into bitterness, and he loses his feeling of pleasure in sensing Hashem’s Presence.
This is also why the yetzer hora tries extra hard to bring people down in areas of kedushah (personal holiness) and tzniyus (modesty). Besides for how important these areas are in terms of our obligations to Hashem, these areas also have a tremendous effect on all of our avodas Hashem. If a person doesn’t try to sanctify his permissible acts of pleasure, his soul becomes dirtied and he will be unable to feel the Creator or feel pleasure in His Presence. He will have no pleasure in serving Hashem, which will cause him to look elsewhere for pleasure, turning to all kinds of unsavory sources of pleasure by indulging in physical pleasures and in forbidden acts that only strengthen the barriers around his soul, which fool him into thinking that he is getting pleasure from these acts. The further he falls into this vicious cycle, he ‘snowballs’, becoming more and more covered over with negative forces – “One sin leads to another sin.”
In order to experience true and proper pleasure which is a legitimate necessity for our soul, we need to put in effort to cleaning off our soul from the kelipos that are covering it. Each person needs to do this on his own level, keeping himself away from anything that brings down his kedushah. That is why it is so important for a person to be careful at maintaining his kedushah, which includes going to the mikveh in the morning, consuming foods that have a proper kosher symbol, and, primarily, by carefully guarding his eyes . To the extent that a person cleanses his soul from evil, that is how much he will experience Hashem’s light and to taste true pleasure in the spiritual. Then he will become entirely elevated, and he will experience success in avodas Hashem. Besides for making sure to purify one’s deeds (as explained until now), one also needs to purify the heart, and this is mainly done through Torah study, davening, and personal hisbodedus: talking to Hashem in one’s own language and pouring out one’s heart to Him, telling Hashem how much we want to feel Him and begging Him to purify us and open our hearts to feel Him. We need to remove ourselves from evil, cleaning off our souls from any evil acts that have dirtied our souls. After we have cleansed ourselves, our neshamah can then be revealed in all of its light, where it will sparkle like the beautiful gemstones worn on the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol.
To be continued…