J & R

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Matos
J & R

The first two topics of our Parsha deal with making vows (Nu. 30:3-17) and with waging war against our enemies (Nu. 31:2-8). Perhaps there is a connection between them.

In the topic of vows, the Torah states that one is not allowed to profane his word (Nu. 30:3). This means that one must be truthful with his words and say what he means and mean what he says. Once a person commits to doing something, there is no going back.

It is regarding this honesty that I would like to share a fascinating perspective on how far reaching truth goes. We will begin by relating a prophetic Talmudic passage that discusses what will happen in the future.

At the End of Days, HaShem will take the angel called the Evil Inclination and slaughter it in front of the righteous and in front of the wicked. Upon seeing this angel, both groups will cry. The righteous will cry tears of joy because, to them, the Evil Inclination will appear as a huge mountain. This is because one's evil inclination grows stronger as the person grows spiritually. The enormous angel that they witness is a reflection of the high spiritual level that they have obtained.

On the other hand, the wicked will cry bitter tears because, to them, the Evil Inclination will appear as thin as a hairsbreadth. Since the wicked are spiritually weak, their Evil Inclination mirrors this by being pathetically feeble (Succah, chap. 5, "Hachalil", pg. 52a).

One question that various commentaries grapple with is why God will destroy the Evil Inclination at The End of Days. It cannot be because the angel caused people to sin, for was it not God Himself who appointed him to do that job. It would not be fair to punish an angel for carrying out the Divine will.

Neither can we say that at The End of Days there will no longer be any need for that angel and therefore God will just kill it. This too does not seem reasonable because instead of terminating the angel, God could reward it by promoting it to a higher position.

It is the Ba'al Shem Tov (Ba'al Shem Tov Al HaTorah, Parshas Bereishis, #147) that offers a novel explanation to this difficulty. He says that when God appointed this angel to cause mankind to stumble, He instructed the angel with specific orders to only tempt people to transgress that which they recognize to be wrong. In other words, God commanded the angel to lure people into sinning in areas that are obviously immoral.

Had the angle obeyed, he would have been rewarded. However, the angel went above and beyond the call of duty. He doesn't only entice people to transgress sins that are clearly wrong. The Evil Inclination innovatively gets people to sin by painting a picture where a sin appears to be a good deed.

It is this form of trickery that gets people to justify and rationalize that what they are doing is actually a Mitzvah. There is a huge difference between these two methods of the Evil Inclination.

After we knowingly sin, we begin to feel dirty and we start to have remorse. Since we do not want to feel filthy, we make up our minds that we will never transgress that sin ever again. We may even beg God to forgive us. This is beautiful because these are the steps of repentance.

However, if we sin thinking that it was a Mitzvah, we will never come to repent because nobody repents on doing something right. This is a tragedy because a person can wind up living their whole life as a lie. It is because of the Evil Inclination's creativity that he implemented which serves as the cause of his demise at The End of Days.

May I add that according to this approach of the Ba'al Shem Tov, angels do have free will. We see this from the fact that the Evil Inclination, an angel, chose to seduce mankind in a very cunning way that God never told him to do. The proofs to support this position are beyond the scope of this article.

This dimension of being truthful with oneself is connected to the topic of vows in our portion where we are told not to profane our words. The very next subject matter of Matos is the war that was waged against our enemies. Since we often find that wars in the Torah have a double meaning, an actual war on a battlefield and the inner battle with our evil inclinations, we could suggest that this war carries the same idea. Therefore, the adjacency between these two topics teaches us that we must concentrate on fighting the battle for truth.

This means that we have to be honest with ourselves. If we struggle with something, we must recognize that we have a problem. The first step to recovery is admittance. If we deny that there is a problem, we will never be motivated to work on it. It's OK to have faults. We are all human. All we need to do is be honest with ourselves.

There are a few ways to combat this trickery of J & R (justification and rationalization). One is to pray to God for assistance. Another way is to ask ourselves some serious questions. Before engaging in any activity, we should ask ourselves if we think God will be proud of us or disappointed in us by doing that action.

Ask, "If my parents, mentors, friends, or children could see me now, would they be proud of me or ashamed?" These types of questions often have the power to dispel the smoke screen that the Evil Inclination produces. If we are still in the dark even after asking ourselves these questions, then we need to ask a spiritual leader for advice.

We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Remember, it is far better acknowledging our mistakes than sticking our heads in the sand making believe that they do not exist. When we recognize that there are problems, then we can do something about them.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to admit the truth and tackle our issues with diligence and thus merit that God reveals His true light in this world which will destroy our enemies, but heal our righteous people.