Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid: Ruach Shtus

(Painting by Yosl Bergner)

A Simple Jew observes:

There are occasions when a person does an aveira and is completely cognizant that it is wrong. Simultaneously, he believes that his action is not a brazen act of defiance against Hashem. The Gemara (Sotah 3a) states that a person does not commit an aveira unless a momentary ruach shtus (spirit of insanity) enters him. It appears to me that perhaps the convoluted mental process and cognitive dissonance described in the above scenario is an example of this. Time after time, this scenario repeats itself and we stumble once again. Sometimes it seems that even though we may attach ourselves to tzaddikim, we still remain turkey princes.

Dixie Yid comments:

Three observations:

The Baal HaTanya explains in the 14th perek of Tanya an explanation of the Ruach Shtus very similar to yours. He says that the ruach shtus is that it appears to a person that in this aveira, he is still in his Yiddishkeit, and that his soul is not separated from the G-d of Israel. This sounds a little like that "double-think" you're describing.

I feel that in a way both sides are true. On one hand, if I'm "only" doing some aveira because of a ta'ava, and not because I deny Hashem's existence or some other Ikar Ha'emunah, then I'm not really rebelling against Hashem. I'm just weak. On the other hand, it's clear that to do an aveira in any circumstances means that I'm denying the existence of Hashem at that moment, for if Hashem's immediate presence were real to me (Leis asar panui minei), I would not do the aveira. So in that sense, even a "slight" aveira is not just weakness, but kefira. Though on the other hand, ("there are no other hands!" as Tevya would say) Hashem made the choice to conceal His presence from us in order to give us free will and in order for us to exist, which is why we have the ability to forgot His presence, so He understands that I'm not consciously rebelling.

Second observation/thought: You mentioned that you feel like a Turkey prince, which is so true. I was thinking also that I feel like the Navi Yona. Sefer Yona is so apropos to me. When I don't do what I should, my main desire is also to run away from Hashem, like Yona did. The reason is the shame. In my insanity at those times I want to stick my head in the ground and pretend that if I hide from Hashem, and He can't see me and then I can avoid the shame and embarrassment of knowing that I'm standing in His presence, and I let Him down.

And just like Yona went to sleep under the boat to escape from reality and it's constant reminders about the avodas Hashem he should have been doing, I also desire to simply go to sleep. Recently, that's not shiach on a literal level for me. But there are many ways to go to sleep. Some do it by eating a tub of ice cream while sitting in front of a TV set. Others immerse themselves in their work. Still others fritter away their hours on the Internet by wasting time or worse. Having removed TV and movies from our home and lives, that's not an option for me. When those distractions that I used to use to put myself to sleep are gone, it's harder to stay asleep and I'm forced to come back to reality sooner that I might have in years past. (Which is a good thing!)

Third thought: I don't know who said it, but I heard that one Litvak asked one of the early rebbes, "You Chassidim and we misnagdim both learn Torah. We're makpid in halacha and you're makpid in halacha. So sof kol sof, at the end of the day, what did chassidus really add?" The rebbe answered him that everything he said is true, but that there's one difference; After Chassidus, when one does an aveira, it just isn't as geshmak as it used to be." I think about that often.

In my previous gilgul I was crazy for Broadway musicals (make fun of me if you want, it's okay, I can take it). In high school I did community and high school theatre. I listened to Broadway soundtracks all the time. As I became shomer shabbos, negia, kol isha, etc. in high school, I was slowly forced to give up all of that. A few years ago, in a moment of weakness, I went with my wife to a Broadway play for our anniversary. It was something that I should've/would've loved many years earlier, but with a greater level of Da'as, I was simply unable to get any enjoyment from it anymore. And I couldn't help but think back to that story. With greater da'as, aveiros really are less enjoyable. So that's something at least!

These thoughts certainly don't cover everything or even all of my thoughts about the psychology of aveira, but it's a start. Hopefully people can add to the discussion with more insights into what's going on inside during that time that allows them to do something they shouldn't. The main point, however, shouldn't be for us to demonstrate our bekius or our insightfulness, but rather to give each other chizuk on how to avoid falling into those mistaken ways of thinking/feeling to begin with. May the discussion be l'toeles!


At June 6, 2007 at 11:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I really liked the story Dixie Yid!


keep in mind that when you see an instance of this occurring, it (sadly) is probably not the first time someone's doing this, in which case, it's a case of na'aseh lo k'heter. (Someone who has performed the same sin a second time, to him it seems as if it is permitted.)

I wonder if what the Gemara mentions only applies to the first time someone sins a particular sin, or to every time.

(I don't know whether I should even write this in light of wanting to be matzdik the rabbim. But in the light of wanting to share Torah I decided to share it in the hope that perhaps someone else can correct my mistaken ideas or show me a way to see this in a light which is clearly matzdik the rabbim.)


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