Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sukkot: Don't Fall for the Fakeout!

The Pauper and the Joker

A practical joker was looking for a victim to make fun of, when he noticed a poor man entering town.

He greeted the pauper warmly, "How are you, my friend?"

The weary visitor replied, "What do you mean, how am I doing? I haven't eaten at all today nor yesterday, and I have no place to rest after my long journey!"

The prankster promised to take care of the man, to bring him to his home and provide him with food and lodging. He then lead the traveler - not to his own home, but to a large inn. There the prankster told the manger that the guest be provided everything he needs - food, drink,  and a comfortable room.

After a few days, the poor man gathered his things and prepared to leave. But as he started to exit the inn, the proprietor grabbed a hold of him. "Hey, where do you think you are going? You have a big bill to pay!"

Only then did the poor man realize that he was the victim of a hoax. His 'benefactor' had arranged a place for him to eat and sleep, but had not paid for his stay!

Seeing that the visitor had no money to pay his bills, the innkeeper confiscated the suitcase containing all of the poor man's possessions.

Without his clothes and possessions, the upset traveler went outside to plan his next step. He sat down on a bench. What should he do? How to get his possessions back?

Who should happen to pass by the bench - the prankster who had fooled him! The prankster, however, had changed his clothes and appearance, and the pauper failed to recognize him.

The poor man related his sorrows, and the joker was quick to give advice.

"You really have acted irresponsibly. How could you be so gullible as to listen to a stranger who was out to make a fool of you?"

"But if you want to know what I think - anyway your suitcase has been confiscated. You'll never see it again. You might as well enjoy yourself for a few more days at the inn!"

The Advice of the Yetzer Hara

שְׂמַח בָּחוּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶיךָ... וְהַלֵּךְ בְּדַרְכֵי לִבְּךָ וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ.
וְדָע כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֵלֶּה יְבִיאֲךָ הָאֱלֹקים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט.
(קוהלת י"א)
"Rejoice young man in your youth... and go in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes.
But know that for all these God will bring you to judgment
." (Kohelet 11:9)

Is King Solomon suggesting that the youth should blindly follow their emotions and youthful desires?

Rav Huna in Shabbat 63 explained: "Until here, the evil inclination is speaking. After this, this is the good inclination speaking."

The evil inclination operates like the prankster in this story. When a person is young, he convinces him to enjoy the pleasures of this world, without thinking of the consequences. And afterwards, when one reaches old age and becomes aware that everything has a price, the evil inclination starts taking a different line, speaking as if he is the good inclination. He warns how difficult it is to do proper teshuvah and how severe God's judgment is.

"To repair the damage you have caused," the evil inclination explains, "that is beyond your abilities. You've already messed things up. Your case is lost; it is too late to fix things. My advice is to enjoy whatever you can from your remaining days in this world."

Enjoy a few more days at the inn...

That is what Rav Huna meant with his statement, "until here, the evil inclination is speaking." Rav Huna meant that even the end of the verse - "but know that for all these God will bring you to judgment" - this is also the evil impulse speaking. His intention is convince a person to despair of ever being forgiven, and to keep on living a life of emptiness and - to use Kohelet's favorite expression - hevel havalim.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 374-375)