Monday, July 04, 2005

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."

Another story...

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."


At July 5, 2005 at 3:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Halevai that everyone should have the sechel plus common sense (AKA "Fifth Shulchan Aruch") that Chavakuk Elisha has!

At September 11, 2005 at 3:47:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Reb Chabakuk,

A few thoughts and a question or two ...

So much of the "restraint system" put in place by Jewish practice is-it seems to me-a concession, an honest admission that the yetzer hara-which dwells within each of us individually-certainly has the upper hand ... that most of us-and by no means am I excluding myself-are given over to worldly temptation. Men in particular are more prone to succumb in these matters than are women-thus the male gender is commanded to don tzitzis as a REMINDER of the taryag mitzvos. Is not the mechitzah in place largely due to our fear that men cannot and/or are not typically possessed of enough kavanahs during tefilos-that a restraint upon their inclination to glance at an attractive woman becomes a necessity? Why is it that we cannot shake the hand of a woman in an introductory social situation-lest the very act of touching her hand arouse lewd thoughts? Is it just a matter of the male gender being so much weaker in this respect that he/we must be restrained by halachos? How is it that men can become genuinely and spiritually stronger without having to avert one's eyes or becoming a recluse-the latter certainly not being the Jewish way and therefore forbidden!

The way to answer all of these questions, I believe, starts with taking a very serious look at the person in the mirror!Is it not he and he alone (yes! of course with God's help!) who can tip the balance in favor of his own yetzer tov? Though it varies from one to the next, each of us is possessed of the means to actualize our potential, to rise to a higher plane, to become ... in effect more Godly! I am ...

Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

p.s. Thank you for your kind words in response to my story about the baby monitor that ASJ was kind enough to post!

At September 11, 2005 at 10:11:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure exactly if I understand, but I think you are agreeing with me - correct?

By the way, this is a link to a very interesting article on the subject by R' Manis Friedman (that I mention in the post):

It is also interesting that this week we read the Parsha Ki-Seitze. The parsha starts right off with this theme, and "concessions" are the issue:

When you go to war and see among the captives a beautiful woman, you can take her as a wife. Then, the Torah goes on to list how one is to go about it and what proceedures must be used.
Rashi tells us that this was because the Torah understands human nature, and this is a concession to man, who will be unable to control himself. Procedures are set in place to work as a method of slowing things down, so that ultimately this can happen without resorting to more animalistic methods, etc.

This bothered me very much, because if it's wrong -- then forbid it. Why does G-d make concessions here?? There are lots of "hard" to keep Mitzvos - why is this one different? And since concessions are made - are concessions perhaps a good thing?

The Ohr haChaim addresses this point, and among the questions & answers he states:

Why would G-d make a person who is fighting a war for G-d, on the side of holiness & purity, become overtaken with lust for a, perhaps married, wife of enemy forces?

Part of his answer is (summarized and paraphrased here - his full answer(s) is a bit too lengthy for this format, and I encourage everyone to look it up) that there is holiness out there that his soul recognizes. That holiness is attractive to him, because he can perhaps elevate it! To be sure, the physical elements of his body have interpreted the holy attraction into terms that they understand (physical desire), which is why the Torah created various procedures for him to through -- to ascertain the validity of the pursuit.
Thus, these "concessions" are not really "concessions," and the techniques are just there to establish validity.

My post above was about the Chasidic goal of personal refinement, which in essence is to elevate someone beyond their base animalistic desires, to the point that they sense the spiritual longings of their soul, as opposed to the physical cravings of the body.

As the Baal HaTanya told his grandson (towards the end of his life) - when I look up at the rafters above my head, believe me when I tell you, I know longer see wooden beams -- rather, I see the G-dly energy that is contained within them.

At September 14, 2005 at 10:39:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OOPS! I meant to say:
"I NO longer see wooden beams -- rather, I see the G-dly energy that is contained within them."

At January 18, 2006 at 11:57:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with all your quotes from manis friedman, i'm surprised you don't even have his blog ( link on your page. He writes amazingly well. He has a few new posts on sexuality and intimacy too. enjoy.

At January 19, 2006 at 6:25:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for the tip, Guy.

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