Chabakuk Elisha's Comment On His Comment
After commenting here on Rabbi Lazer Brody's answer dealing with the subject of shmiras einayim, Chabakuk Elisha writes:
"The story about Rabbi Elya Lopian represents a certain philosophy - that of the Litvishe baalei Mussar.
I have a lot of respect for them, and the approach has legitimacy. I posted the story because I wanted to emphasize the seriousness of the issue, and this is certainly a matter that is often not given the proper attention. We all must avoid putting ourselves in situations that will lead to sin - and illicit thoughts are included in that category.
However, it is not at all practical or realistic to live life in seclusion - thus, we must go about our business as normal people do. In addition, we must have respect for others - so, special care must be taken not to offend women. Many women in today's society will take offence and assume that you are looking down at them if they are not treated as equals; we must be sure that women are respected and treated with dignity.
Rabbi Manis Friedman often laments at how sad it is that intimacy has been so cheapened that the modern man or woman doesn't think that there is anything wrong with men or women -- who aren't married to each other -- seeing each other as friends, or improperly dressed -- sad as it is, these realties exist, and we must function under these conditions. I don't think that seeing a women dressed improperly on the subway is likely to have the same impact one's mind as it would have 60 years ago - but surely we are not immune.
There are a couple historical & philosophical points to make here:
The Litvishe derech - especially Mussar - is primarily coming out of the Perushim. They would often wrap blindfolds around their eyes when walking in the street, and in many ways they would try not to involve themselves in matters of the world or the body. To be sure, shmiras einayim was a big deal to them.
Chassidim did not look at things the same way, and instead of employing "abstinence" as the proper approach - which often led to ego - Chassidism tries to refine the individual from within. Kedusha is very important to the Chossid, but it is not applied the same way.
The son of a certain Rebbe that I was close to, once read in Noam Elimelech (by Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk) that one is forbidden to look out of his 4 amos (one's immediate radius). After that, this young man started walking with his head bent down, so that he could be sure not to look out of his immediate space.
His father, the Rebbe, saw this, and asked him what he was doing.
When the son explained how he was following the directive of the Noam Elimelech, his father was visibly upset and explained:
"Chassidus does not want you to walk into trees. The meaning of this directive is to teach us that we should never judge or look askance at another individual! Rebbe Elimelech means that you should be busy with your own 4 amos - your own space - not worrying about someone else's shortcomings. If you have a problem with what you see, work on yourself - tricks are not for chassidim."
The previous Viznitzer Rebbe - R' Chaim Meir Hagar z"l - was told by his doctor that he should take a walk every day on the beach for his health. So, every day he would walk with a few of his inner circle along the waters, and his son (the current Viznitzer Rebbe in Israel) would walk next to him.
As it happened, the walk started to come close to where people were swimming, and obviously, were not fully clothed. The Rebbe noticed that his son was gone, and asked where he had disappeared. When they told him that he was afraid to see scantily-clad women, he asked that they go get him - so they did.
There they were, the Rebbe and his son, walking closer to the crowded beach, and continued right into the middle of the crowd. Suddenly, the Rebbe said that he wanted to rest, so he was given the chair that they had brought along - but facing the street and away from the water.
The Rebbe asked, "Why am I facing the street? I want to look out at the water, and witness G-d's wonderful sea!" The embarrassed attendant turned the chair around, and there the Rebbe sat looking out at the sea, in the midst of a crowded beach. The Rebbe turned to his son, and noticed that his eyes were closed - to which, the Rebbe said:
"Moshe, Moshe, G-d created a beautiful world - how sad it is that you can't see beyond..."
Obviously, he was a Rebbe - a Tzaddik - and most of us are not. It is Halachicly problematic (to say the least) for us to go to a beach, or look at improperly dressed women. Unfortunately we are inundated with the stuff everywhere we go, in catalogs, magazines, newspapers, billboards, signs, posters, etc - and we must to our best to avoid looking at the stuff... without a doubt, TV, movies, etc. are to be avoided for a religious person."