Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Rope for the Oxen

"א"ר אסי יצה"ר בתחילה דומה לחוט של בוכיא ולבסוף דומה כעבותות העגלה."

On Sukkah 52 we find a number of descriptions relating to the evil inclination. Rav Asi says, “The evil inclination first appears as fragile as a gossamer thread, but in the end it is like a rope used to harness oxen.” Rav Shalom Shwardron, zt”l, illustrated this statement with his own experience:

“Once, on my way to Eretz Yisrael via ship, we passed the famous port of Venice. I had heard reports of the Italian city’s breathtaking beauty and apparently so had my fellow passengers, because as soon as we were in sight of the port everyone congregated on the deck so they could get the best view. I also slowly made my way to the deck to see if there was truth to what people say, but when I got a clear view of the city it did not appear beautiful at all. Quite the contrary, it was full of steeples with crucifixes and this disgusted me to no end.

“On another journey, we once again passed Venice and a similar thing occurred. But this second time I found the vision of the port tolerable, although not especially lovely. But on a third such occasion, I was so dazzled that I begged to borrow a telescope from a fellow passenger so that I could get a better view. Just then, I caught myself and remembered a teaching I had heard from the Rebbe Rav Leib, zt”l, and the Brisker Rov, zt”l. They said that if we succumb to the temptations of the yetzer hara, we gradually relinquish control over ourselves. Ultimately, the yetzer hara becomes the master of the house.

Rav Shalom concluded, “This is the meaning of our gemara. The tzaddikim are well aware that the evil inclination starts small, with challenges as tenuous as a spider’s web. Succumbing may not seem serious in the short term, but ultimately the yetzer takes over and binds a person to be its beast of burden, like an ox under the harness. Then what used to seem repulsive will appear to be beguilingly beautiful!”

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