Don’t Let Him Get Started

People sometimes have the feeling that even if the rabbis had to make fences around the
Torah, they went too far. For example, I used to have an old uncle who lived
here in Eretz Yisrael for the last two or three months of his life. He used to
come every year to spend about a month with us between Pesach and Shavuos.

I have a study in a separate house which
has two bedrooms. My two teenage daughters used to stay there, which pleased
them very much because they had their own rooms. When my uncle came, he stayed
in the study, which meant, because of yichud,
that they had to move out of their rooms and move in with their little brothers
and sisters. Needless to say, this was not an entirely desirable arrangement
from their point of view. I remember one year they came to me and said to me,
“Tatti, do you really think that our old sick uncle who baby-sat for us when
we were babies is going to molest us? In this situation does yichud
really require us to move out of our rooms just because he is staying
in one of the rooms of the house? He’s our uncle-a grand uncle. He’s a sick
old man! The whole idea of yichud doesn’t

This is the answer I gave them:

If a person feels that the halachos
which create a fence around the issurei
are excessively restrictive, then he doesn’t really understand the workings of a human being.
The teivah for arios
is the strongest impulse we have, second only to our desire to exist.
Why is that? Not because G-d wanted to test us and make life difficult for us,
but because G-d wants the world to exist. He wants the world to be filled with
people, and the drives to exist and to propagate are the impulses that serve
that end most directly. G-d instilled drives between the sexes that are very
strong because reproduction is necessary to continued human existence and
because a married couple can achieve a high level of kedushah.

Of course, that end could have been
achieved by a desire that is selective, that respects restrictions that the
Torah places upon it. But the world doesn’t work like that. G-d made the world
in a way that balances the impulses toward good and evil, so that wherever there
is a strong desire for the good there is a corresponding desire for the bad.

The Gemora says that the Men of the Great
Assembly considered negating the yetzer hora
of arios and they actually did for
a short time. But what happened is that no once got married and the chickens
even stopped laying eggs. The reproductive instinct is like any other natural
force. It is not good or bad. Is atomic power good or bad? It depends how we use
it. If our natural drives were intrinsically obedient to the prohibitions of the
Torah, we would have no free choice and there would be no merit in our

There is a famous story about an old rosh
yeshiva sitting in his office. An old, sick woman came in to ask for a brocho.
As she walked in, she locked the door behind her by mistake. As soon as he saw
that, the rosh yeshiva opened the window and climbed out. (The window opened
over the terrace.) His students saw what had happened and figured out what had
happened. They said to him, “Rebbe, you’re an old man. She’s a sick woman.
What could have happened if you had walked out the door instead jumping out the
window?” He said, “The yetzer hora could
have made me young and her well.”

The reproductive drive is very strong. To underestimate its
force is naive. Everyone knows that radioactivity can be very dangerous. If
scientists determine that six inches of lead are required to avoid excessive
radiation, would any fool say, why six inches? Maybe four inches is enough. The
fences that Chazal established to keep us just so far away from the negative
influence of averos is
substantially the same thing. They knew the danger and they knew how far we had
to stay to avoid getting hurt. A person could only regard the measures they took
as excessive if he doesn’t recognize the power of the forces that exist within
us-the power of the yetzer hora.
The yetzer hora is not essentially
destructive, but it can be very destructive when we don’t take the precautions
the Chochomim prescribed with their “fences.”

The destructive potential of the yetzer
can be hard to recognize because it does not show itself over
night. One avero leads to another. What was terrible to you before, no
longer seems so terrible. Little by little nothing seems so terrible anymore and
a person sinks down to the worst levels. Once you start rolling you just pick up
momentum. The main thing is to stop the rolling. The yetzer
is compared to a fly. If you have a whole apple, a fly can’t
do anything to it. Take a bite and a fly can eat up the rest of it. If you
don’t let the yetzer hora have a
foothold, if you don’t let him start, you’re okay. But he’ll bite you in
the heel-he’ll get you in the end-if you let him get started.

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