Thursday, September 14, 2006

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!

6 Comments:

At September 14, 2006 at 6:57:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True story. I was walking with a friend (in my charedi days) through the tachanat hamerkazit in tel aviv on route to kfar chabad with an even charedier (if that's a word) friend. He decided that taking off his -10 prescription glasses would really fulfill the shmiras einayim idea to the fullest potential. Suffice to say that he changed his mind after bumping right into a woman almost knocking her over.......

LB

 
At September 14, 2006 at 10:33:00 AM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

That Maggid story is great! I had a friend in yeshiva who would always remove his glasses anytime he left the yeshiva building, and I could never understand it - was he really that unable to control himself? After coming back to NY and walking around Manhattan in the summertime, I can understand him a little better...

 
At September 14, 2006 at 1:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great topic.

Sometimes I'll take off my glasses when walking, but not always. At times, when speaking to someone who is not familiar with tzenius issues, no not look is just as bad as looking.

 
At January 9, 2007 at 6:17:00 AM EST, Anonymous little mordie said...

I'm surprised (at Chabakuk's opinion).

It's a well established fact that one's yetzer grows in proportion with one's efforts to tame it, especially in this inyan. Breslov teaches about this phenomenon in depth.

Regarding bumping into people/things, why not see if we can get the official rationale for this level of extremism from one of Reb Lazer Berland's group - eg., his namesake & 2nd generation talmid, Rav Lazer Brody?

 
At February 7, 2007 at 8:29:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reb Yisachor Dov of Belz told his son Reb Ahron. Why does it say "don't stray after your heart" before "don't stray after your eyes"? Rashi says on this the eyes see and the heart desires. The Rebbe said the reason is if the heart doesn't desire than even if he sees it won't efect him.

 
At February 7, 2007 at 8:32:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a kabala passed down in the name of the Vilna Gaon and also brought down in one of the sforim of Reb Ahron Roth (Shomer Emunim)that if someone sees a woman dressed immodestly and turns away then that moment is an especially auspicious time for one's prayers to be accepted.

 

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