Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha- Observation On Shmiras Einayim
A Simple Jew asks:
Have you noticed that if a person is strict with himself in shmiras einayim, his sensitivity increases, and ironically if he accidently glances at something, he derives more pleasure from that thing that he is not permitted to look at?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
I know that people say this, but I don't know if it is all that true. Honestly, I don't think that there is a significant difference between the shmiras einayim practitioner and the non-shmiras einayim practioner accidentally seeing something improper. If anything, the "desensitized" non-practitioner is more likely to continue staring while our friend who guards his eyes does not.
#1. Let's first address the concept of shmiras einayim. Shmiras einayim is not about what you see; it's about HOW you see. If someone stares at even the most modestly dressed woman in an improper way, he has violated the shmiras einayim concept. However, if someone was to happen to accidentally see a woman walking on main street in a tank top, but doesn't stare at her improper state of undress, he has not. It is also not about avoidance of "deriving pleasure"– shmiras einayim is practice that sensitizes us; it is about keeping out thoughts holy or pure.
#2. Then there is tznius. Tznius, in general, is a guideline with the stated goal to avoid attracting attention of the opposite sex. I'm not getting into any spiritual or Chassidic interpretations here – tznius in general helps us practice shmiras einayim. Immodest dress can be compared to neon advertisers screaming to be noticed, which is most certainly an obstacle to shmiras einayim. But that doesn't mean that tznius is simply about clothing or elbows or knees; tzinius is really an entire attitude or way of life...
The issue at hand: Chazal say that "The eye sees and the heart desires." I think that this is a simple fact of life - and applies even to someone who is, let's say, used to / cold towards / desensitized to seeing women in various states of undress. Perhaps one could argue that it may not have the same exact effect, I can't really say, but it will always have SOME effect. Moreover, I don't think that there is an advantage to the "desensitized man" – I think his desires only grow. But let's put it this way: I ask you – if one indulges in food, or abstains from such gluttony, how do you think it would affect him? I'd say that the indulger just wants more of his desire fulfilled, not less…
The Maggid of Mezritch was once visited by a local nobleman and his wife, as was common in those days. The Maggid came out to greet the noble couple, and the woman was wearing a gown which revealed more of her body that we would consider tzniusdik, causing the Maggid to immediately vomit upon seeing her. (This was not any avodah – he vomited because he was so spiritually fine tuned that anything improper disgusted him.) His shmiras einayim was fully in place – although his reaction may have been different than ours would be. Shmiras einayim is a method to assist us in becoming less animalistic, and thus, more holy – that's never a disadvantage!
Also, for those who are interested, we touched on this about a year ago, and I would once again refer interested readers to an article on the matter by Rabbi Manis Friedman where I think he puts it very well!