Shmiras Einayim Forum
Rabbi Velvel Cheshin once said, "The yetzer hara is not allowed to enter a person except through the eyes." Indeed, shmiras einayim remains one of the greatest daily challenges since a person is literally surrounded on any given day with sights that he is forbidden from gazing at. I have posted on this topic in the past on several occasions and in this posting have collected responses from others on their thoughts and struggles in this area:
The first step in shmiras einayim is to be “holding somewhere”. To be learning, davening and trying to shteig in yiras shamayim. If one is doing that, there is hope. If not, he is like putty in the hands of the yetzer. That is my experience after enumerable periods of both shteiging and yerida. So the question is, how do we guard our eyes when we are in a period of growth.
Again, we need to make a distinction. In the workplace there is often an extreme lack of modesty. But for someone that is in a period of growth, the yetzer for low, blatant untzinusness is fairly weak. It is more revolting and depressing than it is enticing. That doesn’t mean that we don’t’ have to avoid gazing but I don’t feel this is the real battlefield. I assume that we all have had the same experience.
However, the real place of milchama is, b’avonoseinu harabim, in our frum communities where helige bnos Yisroel, try to walk the line between proper, unapologetic tzinus, and “being fashionable”. I was told by my Rav, an adam gadol, that the correct approach is that which is advocated by Rav Chaim Volozhiner. To not walk with one’s head down trying to entirely avoid seeing anything untzinus. My Rav explained that when one does that, unavoidably he will eventually slip and raise his eyes at the wrong time. This has an effect of magnifying the yetzer, and making it burn more strongly and with a sudden force. This can have a very bad, long term effect. Better to walk with one’s head up and a smile on one’s face and ask the Ribbono Shel Olam for siyata d’shmaya to be an ehliche Yid and to not gaze directly. Maybe he will be zoche. And when he does see something, he won’t come to focus on it overly and the image will hopefully pass quickly. I have found his advice to be on the mark.
All that applies when one has to go to mixed areas. When one can avoid the issue entirely, by going out the back door of shul or by taking less walked roads, mah tov u’mah na’im. I don’t remember the exact lashon but Chazal say that one who goes through the marketplace instead of taking an available alternate route, is called a “rasha” even though he didn’t look at anything immodest.
The One Above should help us all to succeed in this area. And we should all have the strength of character to make sure that our own wives and daughters are not creating michsholim.
These measures have not been totally successful, but I think they have helped:
1. No TV set at home
2. Cut back reading of daily local newspaper
3. Cut back reading of material at news-oriented and politically-oriented websites
4. Watch, at most, Weather Channel at hotels
It also helps that I commute by car, although mass transit in my area is so poor that it was never an real option anyway.
One major obstacle lately is all the magazines displayed at supermarket checkout lines, which are hard to avoid seeing. Lately, nearly all the magazines displayed are built around sex and promiscuity.
Rebbe Nachman said that one's neshama is always seeing supernal visions. If one guards his eyes, he can grasp them. If not, he won't experience them at all. Sounds so inspiring, but how do I do it? A constant theme in Rav Nosson of Breslov's writing is that every little movement towards spirituality is inestimably precious. It is worth coming down to the world even for the sake of once in my lifetime avoiding an illicit thought. Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender would say: this is the key to shemiras einayim in our times, since there is a marked lack of tznius and very often the going is rough. The only way is to internalize the preciousness of every time that I do manage to guard my eyes. The biggest problem in this area is giving up after a slip. "Since I already saw something that affected me so negatively, there's no point continuing the struggle any more." The truth is just the opposite. If I failed earlier and need to repent, why does this have any bearing on trying again right now?
Shmiras einayim is difficult for everyone, but especially for those whose work or location brings them in constant contact with the crass culture that surrounds us. The surroundings erode even the natural, inbred modesty that crowns those who were fortunate to grow up in communities in which holiness is the default of everyday living. The eyes promise an immediate reward and most conventional methods do not necessarily work well. Proscriptions, guilt, routines do not compete on the even ground with the immediate pleasure of "looking".
What works better is rising to a spiritual level at which every misstep results in an immediate visceral sense of reduction in holiness (how to rise to such a level before achieving shmiras einayim is a topic for another time). Those who reached the level of sensitivity that enables them to feel spirituality, also to sense its ebbs and flows. Such people know the damage that lack of shmiras einayim causes. The pain of dropping levels is the only true antidote to illicit pleasure.
I find it hard not to be in situations when I am tempted with looking at things/images that might cause hirhurim that are not benificial to my neshama. I am constantly bombarded by images. In my office, people often dress in manner that is rather revealing. My supervisor also is quite fond of wearing low cut clothing, which make me uncomfortable when I am speaking with her. I often (especially in the summer) will walk around my office without my glasses on, to avoid looking at people. Even when I am out at the shopping mall or walking around downtown in the summer, I'll take off my glasses. My wife just chalks it up to be slipping into 'wacky BT mode", but she understands. Also if I am watching something on TV or a DVD with another couple I'll often take off my glasses, while other males will just look at a particular scene or image and make inappropriate comments. We all do what we can do. I'm often refered to as not being 'one of the guys' because I have never bought the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue. I stand my ground, none the less.
I find it, at times, to even go online to check email or the news because there are so many questionable images even on site like msn.com or cnn.com. The temptations opened up by the internet are very dangerous, IMHO. After attending an internet safety seminar, I installed watchdog software that tracks all site that are visited on my computer. I've explained to our children that mommy checks where abba goes on the internet, just like everyone else who goes online in our home. Starting at a young age with this idea of accountability for web use, I hope will reduce temptation for all of us.
As difficult as shmiras einayim might be, the lasting effect on the imagination is just as challenging. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter's Iggres HaMussar deals with this issue and the constant struggle with the many forms of the yeter hora.
I think the most difficult part of shmiras einayim is with modestly dressed women. As frum Jews we know that looking at immodestly dressed women is forbidden and hopefully will turn away when we see that. When I do see this I say to myself "Velo sosuru acharei levavichem veacharei eineichem" as suggested in Tzetel Koton. However, the guard is down when seeing a woman who is properly dressed, because there is nothing exposed that is forbidden, but it is still forbidden to look at even the small finger of a woman for pleasure. I try to constantly work on this by reading the seforim hakedoshim on this topic and asking for Hashem help in observing shmiras einayim properly. If one has a problem with shmiras einayim this is probably the best thing to do. I definitely understand those who walk through the streets looking down, as suggested in Tzetel Koton.
Lately, I try to recognize that we have the whole world through which to relate to HaShem. From horizon to horizon we have a huge hemisphere full of stimulus. When something comes up that I'm not supposed to see, I remind myself that I don't want my relationship with HaShem to come solely through that source, I don't want to lose the whole world around me. That is what essentially happens when we choose to look at something forbidden. We transition from a direct panim el panim relationship with HaShem to receiving just the merest trickle, the achoraim, of divine revelation that shines through that forbidden view.
To conclude on a word of chizuk, this excerpt comes from A Talmid's posting on shmiras einayim:
There is a kabalah passed down from the Vilna Gaon, which is also said by Reb Ahron Roth. If one comes across a forbidden sight, and conquers his yetzer hara and doesn't look, it is a shaas rachamim, a time of mercy from Heaven, and whatever one davens for at that time is mesugal to be accepted.