9 Kislev 5781 / Wednesday, November 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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Where Do We Begin?    

Where Do We Begin?

What mitzvah should we take upon ourselves to improve as a New Year's resolution? Don't say, "There's so much to do, we don't know where to start..."


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody

When people approach me around Rosh Hashana, many of them ask me what mitzvah they should take upon themselves to improve as a New Year's resolution. "Where do we begin the New Year?" they ask. "There's so much to do, we don't know where to start..."

The best place to start is by guarding our eyes. This is the gateway-mitzva to success in Torah, to effective prayer, to emuna, to holiness and to proximity to Hashem.

Whenever we think that we need to open our eyes, we must first ask ourselves a few basic questions:

If I open my eyes, what am I likely to see?

Will I risk severing my connection with Hashem, Heaven forbid?

Does Hashem want me to open my eyes here and now?

Will seeing what I'm about to see bring me closer to Hashem or push me further away?

Our entire Judaism and emuna depends on the daily half-hour that we should devote in asking Hashem to help us guard our eyes and enhance personal holiness. This is the only way to protect ourselves from the dangers of the evil inclination, countless transgressions, lust, horrible character traits and negative desires. On the good side, this is the way to fill our lives with mitzvoth, positivity and the light of Hashem.
Nearly two hundred years ago, Rebbe Natan wrote (Likutei Halachot, Shluchin, 3): "There are no troubles greater than the troubles of this generation, for because of our sins, truth is concealed and greatly hidden, and this all stems from the sexual lust that has become so rampant in the world. Even those who seek piety are not untouched by this lust, for they don't monitor themselves, to fall on their faces and prostrate themselves before Hashem, and beg to Him that He rescue each one of us daily, as we each know our weaknesses."
If Rebbe Natan alluded to "the sexual lust that has become so rampant in the world" from 200 years ago, what can we say about the world today, with every imaginable filth available to people of all ages at the touch of a finger, via internet and smartphones? One shudders to contemplate the dangers of contemporary times. Without extensive prayer, one won't be able to guard his eyes.
Why does the Torah warn us against straying after our heart and eyes, mentioning the heart first (see Numbers 15:39)? The eyes see and the heart lusts, so we'd think that the Torah should have mentioned the eyes first, especially since free choice begins with the eyes. The answer is that the eyes are the messenger of the heart: if the heart chooses the material world, then it will send the eyes to provide it with fodder to feed its desires. If the heart wants lust and lies, it will send the eyes to seek the proper fuel. But, if the heart desires Hashem, then the eyes will have a much easier time in staying closed where they should be. Again, we see the critical importance of seeking Hashem's help daily in guarding our eyes.
So where do we begin? A person can't begin to purify his heart until he guards his eyes. How can a heart be pure if it's repeatedly and systematically contaminated? Once we guard our eyes, we can cleanse our hearts, instill them with wholesome content and yearn for Hashem. As long as our eyes remain open, we won't be able to purify our hearts, and they'll remain full of egotism, negative character traits and lewd desires. Even if such a person learns Torah, his learning will only add to his arrogance and lust, for as long as he fails to guard his eyes, his Torah learning enters a contaminated mind and heart. Even more, King Solomon says that a person who harbors sexual lust is heartless (Proverbs 6:32). He'll be an insensitive, inconsiderate and egotistical husband who'll trample his wife's feeling right and left. He'll constantly be angry at her and he'll lack marital peace, to say the least.
It's your choice - be a slave to the evil inclination and suffer constantly, or live a life of tranquility and inner peace while connected to Hashem. This is simply the outcome of guarding our eyes or not. True freedom is freedom from lust, for lust forces a person to do senseless things that first of all harm himself. The solution is to guard our eyes and the first step in guarding our eyes is to ask for Hashem's help - daily and profusely in our personal prayers. Nothing like guarding our eyes can insure a true connection with Hashem. L'Shana Tova Tikatevu - may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year!

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