Positive Vision - Day 30
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 29 - What You See Is NOT What You Get - Materialism
When Yaakov Avinu blessed Yosef HaTzaddik, he praised him for refraining from looking at the Egyptian girls who stood atop the walls vying for his attention. And because he did so he was rewarded with his own passage in the Torah.
The famed maggid, R’ Sholom Shwadron, asks: Why was this seemingly insignificant nisayon so celebrated by Yaakov and deserving of such reward, whereas the greater nisayon involving Potiphar’s wife was not mentioned and seemingly was not rewarded to this extent? Wasn’t the latter a much greater nisayon?
A well-known Gemara tells of a particularly handsome individual with long flowing hair who appeared before Shimon HaTzaddik the Kohen Gadol, and asked him to offer his nazir offering. Shimon asked the man what had moved him to become a nazir - a process that at the beginning requires one to leave his hair untrimmed and wild, and culminates with an obligation to totally remove every hair. Why did he decide to undermine his natural beauty? The man answered that while leaning over to fill his bucket from a lake, he noticed his reflection in the water. He was surprised to see how handsome he was, and immediately felt waves of vanity wash over him. He resolved to stop this feeling in its tracks and declared, “Rasha! Why are you being conceited about a world that is not even yours, over a body that will be consumed by worms and maggots?!” and he declared himself a nazir. When Shimon heard his story, he kissed him on his head and said, “May there be many more nezirim like you!”
Why, asks R’ Sholom, was it not enough for the nazir to merely reinforce his resolve not to do what is prohibited? What precisely was gained by declaring himself a nazir? Also, what did he mean by speaking of “a world that was not his own”?
R’ Sholom answers with a story.
There was once a young man with a studious nature. He was scholastic and cerebral and not the practical, hands-on type. He married, realized that it was time to earn a living, and decided to go into business. He scraped together his life sayings, rented a storefront, purchased merchandise, announced his Grand Opening and ... nothing. Barely anyone showed up and the venture was a spectacular failure. After a year or so he decided to shut the business down for a month to reassess his business model and see how he could correct his mistakes. He decided to step up advertising, repaint the store, and change the displays. Toward the end of this month, he met an old friend and asked him for his advice.
The friend looked at him sadly and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Well if you’re asking me, I’ll tell you. You know me. I’m not one to beat around the bush. I tell it like it is. My friend, you are barking up the wrong tree. Displays, advertising, paint - all these are Band-Aids. Your problem is deeper. Not everyone is cut out for business. You should be doing something with your brain. Become a doctor, lawyer, accountant. Business is just not your thing.”
Says R’ Shwadron: The genius of the nazir was that he addressed the root cause. He decided to reinforce in his consciousness that this world is transient. Every last one of us will eventually die. This world is never ours. The World to Come, however, can be ours if we use this world for the service of Hashem.
The nazir was in effect telling himself, “How can I be conceited about something as fleeting as physical beauty? How can I view that as reality? It is nothing. Here today, gone tomorrow! [Or in a nazir’s case, ‘Hair today, gone tomorrow.’]” He addressed the root cause of defiled eyes. Tumah is a celebration of everything physical. By becoming a nazir he dismissed this misconception.
Of course, in the moment, Yosef’s nisayon with Potiphar’s wife was the greater test. At that time, Yosef’s response was, as it should be, “No No! This is not allowed!” But the consistent conduct that he reinforced every time he left the palace, by looking down and refusing to acknowledge the distractions on the walls, was a statement that this world is nothing.
As the Gemara states: “Alei Ayin: These eyes that refused the nourishment and enjoyment from that which did not belong to them, will merit to be filled) in Olam Haba( with all that they can see.”