The Spies Within Us

Mention the name of the Rogatchover Gaon, Rav Yosef Rosen, and talmidei chachomim are filled with a sense of astonishment and humility. Astonishment at the brilliance of his chiddushim and the vast breadth of his knowledge in all facets of Torah, humility at how far they are from his amazing accomplishments. This, of course, is attributed to the astonishing powers of intellect that he was endowed with by Hashem, and his superhuman hasmadah. But those who were close to him attributed it to another factor as well. He maintained a very high level of kedusha, particularly when it came to guarding his eyes from seeing anything improper.

His rebbetzin once entered his study followed by another woman with a shailah on the kashrus of a chicken. After examining it, the Rogatchover gave the chicken back to the rebbetzin and said that it was treif. Then he told the rebbetzin to give the woman a few coins to compensate her for her loss. Hearing this, the rebbetzin was duly impressed, for she realized just how careful her illustrious husband was in guarding his eyes. You see, the woman who presented the shailah was not a stranger or even a neighbor. She was their personal cook and had worked in their kitchen for years. The shailah she had presented was on their own chicken and there was no need to compensate her. But to the Rogatchover, who was meticulous in shemiras ha’einayim, this woman was a stranger whom he felt should be paid back for her loss.

The great gaon and posek, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, accomplished much during his lifetime to spread kedusha in Klal Yisroel. He invested a lot of effort in preventing the plague of modern technology from invading the boundaries of the chareidi camp. His son, Rav Mordechai Elimelech, related a story that reflects just how much his father was afraid of the eyes being exposed to something not tzniyusdik.

In the year 1969, Rav Shmuel was relaxing in the holy city of Tzefas. Throughout the day, he was immersed in limud haTorah, and for about an hour during the day, he would take a walk and enjoy the fresh air. But even during a walk, the rov brought along some seforim. In middle, he would stop for a bit and impart some divrei Torah to those who accompanied him. Sometimes, it wasn’t divrei Torah. Instead, they would sit down on a bench and say some Tehillim together. This, in and of itself, is a lesson to us. Even at a time of relaxation, this tzaddik never took his mind off of Hashem and interrupted his walk for avodas Hashem.

One day, they took a hike on one of the mountains in the Galil, Har Meron. Rav Shmuel took with him a sefer Tehillim. But this was not a regular Tehillim. It was an old print with a unique cover and it contained a commentary from a gadol of earlier generations. On the antique market, it would sell for many thousands of dollars, but to the rov, it was cherished for a lot more than merely its monetary value. After spending some time on the mountain, the rov and his entourage headed back to where they were staying in Tzefas, unknowingly having left the precious Tehillim behind on one of the tables. It was only after a few hours, when they davened Maariv, that they realized they were missing it. One could imagine their dismay and worry that they wouldn’t be able to retrieve this precious relic. In those days, there weren’t straight paved roads between Meron and Tzefas, and returning there was somewhat complicated by day and most certainly when it was dark.

One of the rov’s companions, who felt guilty that he was responsible for the Tehillim being left behind, wanted to return to Meron to bring it back. Some of the bochurim asked the driver if he would be willing to return there to help them retrieve the valuable sefer. Worried about the winding roads, especially in the dark, the driver said that if he would get the rov’s brocha, he would be willing to go. Rav Mordechai Elimelech told his father what the driver had said and asked him for permission to go along on the trip. Surprisingly, his father shook his headm, saying no. “I forbid you to go back there under any circumstances,” he said.

Rav Mordechai Elimelech thought that his father was worried about the danger involved in going back there at night, so he said that the driver was well aware of the situation and promised that he would be extra careful. But Rav Shmuel was adamant in his refusal, and when the son persisted with his request, he explained, “My son, you think that I am worried about the physical danger involved, but that is not what concerns me. I am worried about the type of tourists you might encounter at this time of night and that you will see something there that is improper. Therefore, I absolutely forbid you to go back there tonight.”

“But what will be with the precious Tehillim?” he asked.

Rav Shmuel answered, “It is worth it to lose this sefer so as to avoid seeing an impure sight.”

They went to sleep that night disappointed, but hopeful that someone would go back early the next day and return it. But their hopes were in vain. When they returned the next day, the precious Tehillim was gone.

Thirty-five years later, Rav Shmuel spent his vacation in another resort town. A wealthy resident of that area approached the rov and said, “K’vod harav, I would like to honor the rov with a gift. Just recently, I acquired an old Sefer Tehillim from an antique dealer. After buying it, I noticed that on it was engraved the name Shmuel Halevi Wosner, so I came here to give it to the rov as a gift.”

The next time Rav Mordechai Elimelech spoke to his father, the rov said with great emotion, “Do you remember the Tehillim that we left behind on Har Meron? This week, it returned to us after 35 years!”

The son was very moved by this news and said, “I understood that about this it is written, ‘There will not befall a tzaddik any iniquity’ (Mishlei 12:21). My father did not want to retrieve the sefer because of his strictness in purity of the eyes, and min haShomayim the relic was returned to him” (Likras Shabbos Malkesa).

In this week’s sedrah, we learn a posuk that we say twice daily in Krias Shema, a warning that we must internalize: “Velo sasuru acharei livavchem v’acharei eineichem – And do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray” (Bamidbar 15:39). Rashi explains: The heart and eyes are like the body’s spies, brokers of aveiros. The eyes seek out, the heart desires, and the body sins. The physical inclinations of our bodies are major forces in our lives and must be taken very seriously. If we aren’t careful about what we look at and what we think about, we can easily go astray and sink to levels we never imagined were possible.

Rav Shalom Schwadron quoted an adam gadol who made a kal vachomer. Earlier in the sedrah, Hashem said to Moshe, “Shelac lecha anoshim veyasuru es Eretz Canaan – Send forth men, if you please, and let them explore the Land of Canaan” (Bamidbar 13:2). If you want to, Hashem said, you may spy out the land. If in a situation where Hashem gave them permission to explore, they brought such calamity on themselves and on Klal Yisroel, then surely when Hashem explicitly admonishes us not to explore with our hearts and our eyes, how much more trouble we can bring.

How great is the power of one who sanctifies his eyes. We know that kodshim kalim, a korban shelomim or todah, may only be eaten within the walls of Yerushalayim, whereas kodshei kodshim, a chatos or an asham, must be consumed within the enclosure of the Har Habayis. In both categories, if the meat of the korban was taken out of its proper boundaries, it is posul and forbidden to eat. In Mishkan Shilo, we find a unique halacha. It had no walls surrounding it, so until where may one eat the meat of kodshim kalim? It can be eaten any place from which one can view Mishkan Shilo.

The Gemara asks: What is the reason for this? Because Yosef was meticulous in guarding his eyes and seeing things that he shouldn’t have. When he was coroneted as ruler over Mitzrayim, he was seated in a gold wagon and taken throughout Mitzrayim, where crowds of both men and women were vying for the honor of his gazing upon them. The women threw all sorts of valuables at him, hoping that he would look at them and perhaps marry one of them. But they were disappointed. Yosef would not look. Shilo is the portion of Yosef in Eretz Yisroel. His maintaining of kedushas ha’einayim was the cause of the consecration of all land around Mishkan Shilo as far as the eye can see. The entire area has the same halacha as the holy city of Yerushalayim (Zevachim 118b).

The eyes are the windows of the heart and mind. What we allow to enter these windows has a major impact on our neshamos. Just how worried the tzaddikim were about what their eyes see is illustrated by an amazing fact brought down by the Ran in Maseches Kiddushin (31a). The great Amora Rav Yosef willingly blinded himself because he could not refrain from looking out of his four amos. Think about this. According to the Tanna Rabi Yehuda, a blind person is potur from all mitzvos in the Torah. Rav Yosef, fearing the repercussions of wandering eyes, was willingly giving up the obligations of the Torah and its immense reward for fear of what his vision may lead him to (see also Seder Hadoros, Rav Yosef).

We daven to Hashem every day, “Veha’er eineinu beSorasecha… Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your name.” Our thoughts for this request are not only for ourselves, but for our children as well. If we ask this of Hashem, then it would behoove us to do our utmost in keeping our eyes and hearts pure, for if we ourselves are lax in this and don’t make the hishtadlus, how can we ask of Hashem to enrich our eyes and hearts for His avodah?

Our generation is witness to open miracles every day. Jewish communities are growing, bli ayin hara, by leaps and bounds, and Torah and chesed are being spread far and wide. But with every advance in matters of kedusha, there is the zeh le’umas zeh, the spread of tumah to counter the kedusha. We would be hardpressed to find a period where the nisyonos have been as great as in our times. Most of this can be blamed on spiritual plagues brought about by modern technology. It is incumbent upon us to be aware of the dangers and not to take them lightly, but to be proactive in combating them.

We are soon entering the season of vacation, when people travel and leave their insular communities. It is a time when people relax, but at the same time, it poses a great danger for our ruchniyus and that of our children. Mechanchim can tell you clearly that a summer spent by a talmid in an atmosphere not conducive for Torah can undo all of the progress and all of the efforts invested in him by his rabbeim throughout the entire year. This is something to be mindful and vigilant about. The dividends are well worth our efforts.