Chassidic story & lesson for Parshas Toldos
There’s nothing wrong with emotion, lust, and pleasure. The question is, what is it for?
In Parshas Toldos we learn of the pregnancy of our matriarch Rivka and the difficulty that she had in carrying the twins, Yaakov and Eisav. As the Midrash relates to us, as brought in Rashi, each time that she would pass a house of idol worship, baby Eisav would push and kick at her stomach showing a great interest in participating in their activity of idolatry and sin. Baby Yaakov would likewise follow suit and perform kicking and stomping to his mother stomach, however by him it was only done when he passed a place of Torah learning, in expression of his desire to join the learners in the Beis Hamidrash in the study of Torah. Whatever the case, poor Rivka had no rest from her juggling insides. A simple observation of the above Midrashic tale leads us to conclude the following points: 1) Both Yaakov and Eisav had strong passions and desires since they were conceived, with one passionately desiring sinful activity and the second passionately desiring holy activity. 2) People can be born with dispositions from birth towards evil or towards good. As we will see in the following Chassidic tale, one should not erroneously conclude that it is not possible to change from one disposition to another, and that not only can one control himself from succumbing to his inclinations for the forbidden and evil, but furthermore, he could even gain a disposition in which he desires and finds pleasure in good.
The great Chassid and Oved Hashem, Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, versus the greatest sinner of the town:
The following story has been retold by elderly and venerated Mashpi’im by Chassidic gatherings: Rabbi Hillel of Paritch is known as one of the most unique Chabad Chassidim of all time, renowned for his excelled scholarliness and expertise in all realms of Jewish literature, his extraordinary piousness, being very careful and stringent in every detale of a mitzvah way beyond that required from the letter of the law or that was accustomed even amongst the righteous. Particularly he was renowned for his Avodas Hatefila, his great outpouring of the heart in his daily prayer, which was accompanied with many soulful Niggunim which he compiled and are a legend amongst Chabad Niggunim today.
With the introduction of this man, how surprised would you be to find out that the greatest sinner of his town had the audacity to approach him and tell him that there is no difference between him and Reb Hillel in the eyes of G-d. This man, a glutton by nature, did not spare any sin or lust from lacking fulfillment. He had an uncontrollable passion and desire for all that was sinful, and not only did he do nothing to control it, but actually did all that he can to pursue it. Thus, he was known in the town for being a great Baal Taavah, one who fills his days with the eating of delicacies from morning to night, whether kosher or not. One who chases after the lust of women without any seeming control becoming renowned to be the womanizer of the town. One who had no control over his vulgar mouth and obscene activities.
Yes, it is this man who approached Reb Hillel in a public forum and told him that “there is no difference between you and me in the eyes of G-d.” Reb Hillel, who was quite surprised to hear this strange accusation, asked him if he can explain. So, the man told him, that just as he is indulged in his lusts and desires and passions, so too is Reb Hillel. “What is the difference between you and me, the man exclaimed, I have my passions and desires and chase after them day and night, and you have your passions and desires and chase after them day and night. All in all, we are both filled with the fire of passion and desire to fulfill our pleasures, and do a good job at fulfilling it. You desire G-d while I desire sin. Now, explain to me why G-d should reward you any more than me? Why should you get rewarded for giving into your passions and lusts, while I get punished for giving into mine? Is it my fault that I have these lusts, and get punished for succumbing to them, while you were lucky enough to be born with lusts for G-d and will thereby get rewarded for chasing after them? I don’t think this is fair and I don’t think G-d agrees either,” concluded the man emphatically.
Reb Hillel, who patiently waited for him to conclude his remarks, responded to him with a smile as follows: “Ideally, you are correct that we are both considered Baalei Taavah, people who chase after our lusts and passions from day to night, however there is only one difference that you forgot to mention, and that is how I started off. I did not start off being born with a great lust and passion for holiness and for G-d, on the contrary I was born with the same animal soul as you, that has lusts and desires for the physical and corporal pleasures of the world. I worked on myself for years to control these passions and lusts and convert them into a passion and lust for the Divine. It is that, that I will be rewarded for by G-d. Not the fact that I now chase after my pleasures for him, but rather for the fact that I completely changed my character and nature to change it from the lust for sin to the lust for Him, and thus while now we may both look the same, as you presented, in truth there is a great difference between us even in the eyes of G-d.”
These powerful words of Reb Hillel fell onto the coarse and rebellious heart of the individual, and broke them to the point that he resolved to change. Not to stop desiring pleasure, but rather to simply change the goal of his pleasure, that his pleasure be in G-d rather than in sin.
The Divine lesson:
We are all born with different dispositions and natures of pleasures, passions, and desires. The common denominator between most people is that these dispositions and natures are pointed towards the realm of sin, or the mundane, in contrast to matters of holiness. It almost seems that we can resonate more with Eisav than with Yaakov, in terms of the nature that we are born with. While this may be true, one should never fool himself to think that he is locked into his natural dispositions of passions and desires and that they can’t be molded or changed. They absolutely can. Obviously, this takes hard work, and soul breaking self-control and discipline, necessary for breaking any bad habit. However, it then becomes possible to see new pleasures on the horizon, and enjoy a pleasure and lust for the Divine. Thus, the Ba’alei Ta’ava do not have to fear that they will need to give up their feeling of pleasure and passion forever if they decide to give themselves up for G-d, as they can simply channel it towards Him, and experience true pleasure and passion which will make their previous pleasure and passion of sin or the mundane look stale and undesirable. All in all, from the story we learn two lessons:
1. You are not limited to your natural dispositions and personality and are able to break from them.
2. Becoming observant of G-d’s will, in fulfillment of his Torah and Mitzvos, does not have to mean that one gives up pleasure and passion and enjoyment, but that simply that he transfers it for matters of the Divine.