Defeating False Philosophies
The lesson of Chanukah is the rejection of non-Jewish values and norms. How can we take that lesson with us throughout the year? The Kalever Rebbe gives important advice...
Today’s Greek Philosophy
Since the spread of the internet throughout the world, the temptation to look at inappropriate images has become increasingly challenging. Someone can sit in the privacy of their home and, by using unfiltered technological devices, look at immodest and immoral images.
This challenge has only become more difficult with the help of some professionals in the mental health field, who, unknowingly are serving as the messengers of the Yetzer Harah, advising people that they need to satisfy some of their desires to control their worst lustful impulses. Basically, do a little so you don’t feel the need to do more. So, they wrongfully espouse that by looking at these images, you will be satisfied enough not to act on your more deviant desires.
Therefore, it is imperative to constantly remind ourselves, that the exact opposite is true. As Chazal taught (Succah 52b) that if someone starves those desires he will be satiated; however, if he satiates his impulses, that he will desire even more. When someone tries to satisfy those desires, they will inevitably fuel a greater sense of hunger and an uncontrollable craving for more, and this is the main cause to the increasing numbers of depression and other mental health issues in our days. On the other hand, when someone overcomes their desires, when they learn to control their impulses, they will feel “satiated”; they will merit a happy life and gain peace of mind.
The idea being promoted by some in the mental health space, that it is healthy to satisfy your desires and impulses, is not a completely new concept. The Greeks had the same philosophy. They built large stadiums where they would drink and celebrate until they were completely uninhibited. They would indulge in their desires. They would watch promiscuous shows believing that it was healthy to satisfy their impulsive desires.
The Trickery of Psychologists
Chazal relate a story in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 75a) that took place during the times when the Greeks were ruling:
There was a man who was dominated by his desires. He yearned for one woman so intensely that he actually became sick from his longing. He sought medical help and all his doctors and psychologists claimed that he could only be cured by succumbing to this desire. But, the Torah scholars told him that they simply could not allow him to violate the laws of illicit relations, even at the cost of his own life, because it is one of the three severest sins that you cannot violate even if your life is at risk.
When the doctors heard that the Sages would not allow the man to sin, they changed their advice, and came back with another idea. They said, “You can be cured and save your life if you indulge in your desires slightly.” They suggested that he look at this woman while she was undressed.
However, the Sages saw through this trickery and recognized instantly that this was the advice from the Yetzer Harah’s messengers. And they warned the man, “You are forbidden to violate the safeguards of holiness simply to fulfill your desires! In fact, you will only be cured when you overcome your Yetzer Harah!”
What happened to this individual? The Midrash relates (quoted by Rashi on Sanhedrin 31b) that the Sages spoke with him at great length and urged him to consider what was at risk: his Olam Habah, his World to Come, in exchange for fulfilling a fleeting desire in this world whose pleasure was merely temporary. The man thought about it and decided that he would overcome this desire. In the end, he was cured and became a Baal Teshuva. He eventually became one of the leading Torah scholars of his generation. He was the Amorah known in the Gemara as “Mar Ukba”.
A Teenager in Egypt
The strength to withstand these temptations and tricks of the Yetzer Harah, are an inheritance from Yosef who, while in Egypt, developed the fortitude and wherewithal to protect himself from seeing anything inappropriate.
The Torah refers to Egypt as the “Land in its Nakedness (ערות הארץ)” because of its culture’s promiscuity. Therefore, they were atheists, denying Hashem’s existence. As Pharaoh said (Shemot 5:2), ” I don’t know Hashem.” They allowed themselves to follow blindly after the passions and desires of their hearts, completely neglecting and denying the Seven Noahide Laws that Hashem commanded them so that they too could fulfill their purpose in the world.
Therefore, before the yidden would settle in Egypt, Hashem orchestrated that Yosef HaTzaddik should arrive there first. He would teach the yidden that it was possible to maintain their holiness even while surrounded by such impurities and depravity.
Yosef HaTzaddik was 17 years old, an age when hormones and desires are boiling. As a slave, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. She would dress and behave promiscuously trying to tempt Yosef HaTzaddik. However, he never even looked at her.
The Midrash relates that Yosef HaTzaddik’s resistance angered Potiphar’s wife. She would threaten him and even try to physically force him to look at her. But he was not frightened by her threats. He said, ” I am at peace because I believe in Hashem Who gives sight to the blind and straightens the bent.”
This fortitude was how he was able to maintain his spirituality while walking the streets of Egypt. As it says (Bereishit 49:22), “A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him”. Chazal taught as Yosef HaTzaddik would walk the streets, women would throw precious jewelry at him hoping to catch his attention. However, he never even looked at them.
Through overcoming and withstanding these temptations, Yosef HaTzaddik gained peace of mind and his wisdom was able to expand. In this merit, he became the vicar over all of Egypt at such a young age, which, at that time, was unprecedented. He was serving as an example for the Jewish people, teaching them, they can only gain by protecting and preserving their sanctity, and not lose.
When I started seeing the widespread use of the internet in different communities, I began to focus on the story of Yosef HaTzaddik in my speeches to high-school students around the world. And, I saw that the lessons of Yosef HaTzaddik were having a positive impact on these young students.
Defeat the Darkness of Unfiltered Devices
Perhaps this is the reason that the Greeks decreed that the Jews should write, specifically on the horn of a bull, the words “We have no portion in the God of Israel”. The bull symbolizes Yosef HaTzaddik, as it says of him (Devarim 33:17), “To his firstborn ox is [given] glory”. Yosef HaTzaddik did not bend or comprise a single iota in his kedusha, just like a bull whose neck does not bend under the burden of his yoke. The Greeks who wanted to spread their culture of impurity, wanted the Jews to deface the symbol of Yosef HaTzaddik. And they wanted the Jews to inscribe words that denied Hashem’s existence, hoping to remove them from the holiness that is described in the Torah.
However, the Jews were able to protect themselves and their families from the impurity being celebrated throughout Greek culture. Therefore, they merited that the few pure ones were able to defeat the multitudes of impure, and to light the Menorah for everyone to see the holy light. They defeated the attempts of the Greeks to darken their eyes, to limit the light, by succumbing to the lustful desires of their hearts without recognizing the bad results.
Now, during our times, especially during Chanukah, you need to do everything you can to protect yourself and your family from seeing things that are inappropriate, and only utilize technological devices that have filters. You need to look at holy things, use your sight to pursue Torah and mitzvot. And, in that merit you should find contentment and happiness.
The Kalever Rebbe is the seventh Rebbe of the Kaalov Chasidic dynasty, begun by his ancestor who was born to his previously childless parents after receiving a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov zy”a, and later learned under the Maggid of Mezeritch zt”l. The Rebbe has been involved in outreach for more than 30 years, and writes weekly emails on understanding current issues through the Torah. You can sign up at www.kaalov.org.