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HomeFoundations of JudaismHoliness for Men and WomenA Peanut for the Elephant
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A Peanut for the Elephant    

A Peanut for the Elephant

A candid and amazing account of a beautiful young woman’s battle with her evil inclination, and the connection between her aliya and her growth in personal modesty.


In the book, ‘Cheshbon Hanefesh’, the author gives an analogy equating the yetzerhara – the evil inclination - with an elephant. In that analogy, he explains that the yetzer hara has to be dealt with sensibly, and its power harnessed for the good. If you give it everything that it wants, then you have a wild, uncontrollable, destructive force that’s never satiated. If you do as the best elephant trainers do, and give it its minimal needs, then you will be able to guide it’s power in the way you want, and you will be able to ‘train’ it do your will – and Hashem’s will.

But if you starve it, push it too hard too fast or expect too much, it’ll will turn around and crush you.
I’ve found this analogy very useful over the past few months, as I’ve been struggling to try and get my yetzer hara under control in a number of different areas. The more I learn, the more I realise just how much I have to try and work on and fix. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m doing an hour of hitbodedut every day, I may even have given up by now, as I’ve been crushed by the elephant more times than I can count.
For example, I’ve been working on trying to dress and act more modestly for the last few years, but I’m fighting myself every step of the way. I didn’t cover my hair for the first eight years I was married, until I got to Eretz Yisrael. It’s not that I thought I didn’t have to – I knew I did, but it was simply too hard for me. I didn’t have the self-confidence required to stand out from the crowd in that way, and I never even considered wearing a wig, as it never seemed to be ‘right’, at least for me.
I only started to cover my hair when we made aliya, because Hashem backed me into a corner. I realised that if I didn’t at least start trying to make some effort to do the mitzvahs incumbent on me, as a Jewish woman, I didn’t have a leg to stand on when it came to asking Hashem to help us out of the enormous financial hole we found ourselves in.
So I threw away my jeans, bought a few more skirts and a bandana, and started covering some of my hair, whenever I went outside of my house.
But in my house, I would still lounge around in pyjamas, and have my hair uncovered, even when we had male guests. As the process continued, and I started to learn more and more about the importance of dressing modestly, I started trying to make more effort.
I started covering all of my hair when I went out, but still had it uncovered in my house, even when we had Shabbat guests. This continued for a few months, until I opened the door to an unexpected caller one night – and realised that they were looking at me in a way that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
I suddenly realised, that this married male visitor found me attractive – and from that moment on, I decided that I wasn’t going to open the door to anyone, unless I had something on my head and was properly dressed.
The elephant kicked in again at this point. It moaned. It snorted. It made me go through a ton of old pictures where I looked so glamorous, with my hoop earrings and my short sleeves (I never really did cleavage, thank G-d) and my hair blowing in the wind like a Pantene advert.
It told me how nice I looked in those pictures. How young. How carefree. Then I remembered how horrible that time in my life was. It wasn’t obvious from the pictures – they were taken on holiday, just as our money really started to run out – but my life was a mess at that point, and was getting more stressful and miserable by the day. My shalom bayit was rubbish. My finances were rubbish. My career was rubbish. But boy, did I look successful!
It took a good few weeks of being regularly kicked by the elephant (and a lot of praying) until I got over this new ‘limitation’ that I’d imposed on myself, and I started to feel much better about it.
I continued to read, continued to learn, and more and more started to realise how tznuis (modesty) was a package deal. If I dressed modestly, then Hashem would help us to have good shalom bayit; well-behaved kids that stayed on the path; better income, and a whole bunch of other blessings.
I stopped wearing my short sleeves, even in the hot Israeli Summer – and the elephant started up again. “You’re suffocating!” It trumpeted. “You’re boiling to death!” “You’re being such an extremist, and for what? You’ll faint, if you keep wearing such hot clothes!” And so on and so on and so on. Again, it took a few weeks for it to settle down, and get used to this new ‘limitation’.
The next thing was when I decided to stop showing my toes, and to only wear shoes with socks. No hardship when it’s cold – but it’s only cold in Israel about three months of the year. Again, the elephant started up, and again I had to wait for it to cool off.
So it is, that my skirts and sleeves have got longer; I’ve bought a super-duper swimming costume that I could wear to shul in Israel and not be out of place; I started taking the girls swimming in the ‘women only’ hours at the local pool; I went to the women only beach in the summer – and I thought that give or take a few minor slip-ups, I could happily tick the ‘tznius’ box.
But I was wrong. Recently, I learnt that it’s not enough to only be tznius outside; because Hashem’s ‘Shechina’ also dwells in a kosher, modest home – and Hashem keeps His own Torah – I also needed to dress modestly at home, even when there is not another living soul in my house.
At this news, the elephant went crazy. “Whhhhaaat? What extremist rubbish are you learning?" "Next, you’ll be living in Meah Shearim and only wearing black…" "Next, you’ll be avoiding showers, because they aren’t ‘tznius’…" "Next, you’ll be shaving all of your hair off…" "You’re going to get headaches from wearing something on your head the whole time, even in the house." "You’re going to hate it…" "You’re going to resent it…”
On and on and on. For a whole week, it trampled me every opportunity it got. Luckily, I’d just been reading the ‘Garden of Wisdom’, and I was just at the point in the book where Rav Arush explained that often, people learn the truth, and they know it’s true, but it’s too hard for them to implement it - and that’s when they start looking for ‘clever’ ways to disparage or discredit the truth. It’s a very slippery path, that usually leads to untold misery and confusion.
I had learned I had to be tznius in my home, and cover all my hair all the time from an impeccable source; I knew it was true. But the elephant was crushing me. What was I to do?
Hashem had mercy on me, and I realised that I couldn’t push the elephant too far too fast. I started wearing a knit hat at home, and decided that if I got a headache, I would either take it off for a few minutes, or put my hair into a more relaxed pony tail outside of the hat.
So far so good. That took care of a lot of the elephant’s points. But going to sleep in a hat was simply too much. I got into a terrible mood even thinking about it. Until Hashem enlightened me once again, and I realised that even a small, token step in the right direction was better than nothing.
I went and bought a soft hair band, and yesterday, I wore it to bed. I know it’s barely covering anything – but it’s an acknowledgement of the direction that G-d wants me to take.
It could be it will take me another eight years to get ‘there’ wholeheartedly. But in the meantime, I’m being reminded again of how it’s all a package deal. Since I started covering my hair in the house, the loving atmosphere in my home has gone up a whole other level. My kids are kissing and cuddling me all the time, and my husband seems to be even happier than usual. It’s strange. If anything, I’ve been yelling more than normal, because it’s quite painful being trampled by an elephant.
But it’s a package deal. I see that if I do my best to do what Hashem wants – even though it’s imperfect, and often not so easy – Hashem, in His mercy, sends me the sort of blessings money simply can’t buy. The more I put my own desires aside and nullify, the more He steps in, and makes my life sweet.
Is it worth it? Of course it is. Is it difficult to do? Of course it is. But in the meantime, I’ll keep feeding the elephant the odd peanut, and keep praying that with Hashem’s help, it’s only a matter of time until I really get the elephant under control, and doing useful things.

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  1 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  finally I see my experience in print
yehudit levy4/26/2010 9:08:22 PM

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