After ten failed attempts to stop smoking due to a very clever Yetzer Hara, a rabbi finally came up with a workable solution. The first morning after his new resolution, he announced to ten friends the good news: he was now a non-smoker! Each subsequent time his desire to smoke grew out of control, it was not his positive inclination to do good or even his doctor's orders that stopped him. Rather it was his own pride, not wishing to appear as feeble and weak to his friends. Everyone is familiar with this technique of neutralizing negative (but permissible) desires with our negative traits to accomplish positive goals. (This is unlike a desire for something forbidden by Jewish tradition, which much be rid of immediately, at its onset.) The Baal Shem Tov used to say, "We have to learn from our negative inclination. Just as it is always alert to seduce us, so we have to always be alert to do G‑d's will by refusing to fall for the trap." (Keter Shem Tov, 124) Your divine soul has a legitimate spiritual need to eat meat…

On this week's Torah portion, the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us how to deal with these same negative desires. The verse says, "When G‑d will widen your borders, and you will say, we will eat meat, because your soul desires that you eat meat." (Deut. 12:20) Whether it is meat, money or a nice home, what is the spiritual source that drives a person to desire something physical? The verse explains, "…because your soul desires"! Know that the true reason is that your divine soul has a legitimate spiritual need to eat meat. The reason it was created was in order to extract and elevate the divine spark that is contained within that physical thing.

This is the reason that this verse is mentioned in connection with the Jewish People entering the Land. The entire time that they were in the desert, they were disconnected from the physical. Food came from the heaven, water from a traveling well. No one was ever ill, clothes did not need mending. It was only upon entering the Land that the concept of extracting and elevating sparks to create a dwelling place in the world for holiness became crucial. It was only then that they were given the power and the understanding of what it means to desire. May we merit to act…in a refined and modest way…

When we think of our physical desires as a function of the soul even though they originate from the body, they not only will not bring us down, but we will succeed in transforming the physical darkness and confusion into a place of light. It will truly become a dwelling place for the Almighty.

Related to this is an interesting teaching from Chasidut: We find in the Torah two women consumed by a desire. One was Tamar, who wished to have children from Judah, and the other was the wife of Potifar, Joseph's master, who wanted to have children with Joseph. Torah says that both women were justified in their desire, but consider how differently they acted. When Tamar was discovered to be pregnant, rather than openly embarrass Judah, all she did was send him some items which he had left with her as a deposit. It was as if she was saying, "Whoever these belong to, he is the father". When the wife of Potifar's desire was frustrated (although eventually it was realized through her daughter marrying Joseph), she falsely accused Joseph and had him thrown into prison.

It is our job to fight our desires and turn them to good. Still, in this battle, when it broadens to include other people, rather than emulating the wife of Potifar, may we merit to act like Tamar in a refined and modest way!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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