The Battle of the Generation - Day 6
Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"
By default, some of us approach life with the perspective that our goal is to not mess up, as if we were created perfect and have to stay that way. We think, “If I ever mess up, especially with sins of desire, it will show that I am a failure who will always bear the scars of what I have done. A person who ever slips up in this area is not a successful Jew, and probably cannot even be considered religious.” Of course, at some point most people mess up in some way, and if that happens to us and we conclude that we are inferior and flawed forever, we know what happens next. Life becomes miserable, and we fall deeper into sin. This is the trap of the yetzer hara.
It’s bad enough that feeling like a failure makes us act in ways consistent with that image. But there is an even more disastrous outcome: we lose our excitement for life. This starts us on a dangerous downward spiral. Because we feel we are constantly struggling and failing, we begin to develop negative feelings towards being Jewish. As we continue to focus only on how we have sinned without appreciating all our effort, we become depressed and eventually give up. We feel that we are in a hopeless situation because we will not do everything right, and even if we somehow could, our past transgressions have permanently tainted us anyway. To top it off, we assume that even if we would do the right thing every time, it would be nothing special because we were only doing what we were supposed to do.
This depressing attitude drains our energy to fight. We try to survive by pressuring ourselves to stay in line, but the attempt is neither effective nor lasting. We end up fighting a losing battle and enduring an endless cycle of depression and failure.
Fortunately, this perspective is wrong. We were born with various drives that we must overcome, and they are perfectly normal. Hashem created us this way because our goal in life is to overcome them and reach greatness. We must take the attitude that we are growing and gaining by doing the right thing. Life is our opportunity to transform ourselves into people we can be proud of, rather than an obligation to stay perfect with nothing to gain and only the ability to lose.
Each victory over the yetzer hara is priceless. Our obligation to avoid sin doesn’t take away from the significance of our accomplishments; in fact, it even adds to their greatness (Kiddushin 31a). It also doesn’t matter that we will not be perfect — though of course we must do whatever we can not to sin — because our goal is to accomplish and reach great heights, not to just avoid messing up. Taking this attitude changes our entire lives!