Netivot Olam I: Starving The Yetzer Hara #5

12 12 2011
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Netivot Olam  The seven names of the yetzar hara (evil inclination) share a common factor in that they all connote lack. Humans are created imperfect We are drawn towards evil because it resonates with us. The more whole a person is, the less the yetzer hara can dominate him.

The Gemara says that the yetzer hara didn’t rule over the Avot because they reached perfection. No doubt they worked very hard to reach greatness, but they had to be guided by Hashem in this direction because each one of them contained, like a hologram, the total of their future descendants. Because of this, their definition of self had to be complete. They couldn not be defined by chisaron (lack).

The yetzer hara appeals to a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) more than anyone else because his self-definition is his sichliut (intellect). Truth isn’t transient. Therefore, there is a certain sheleimut (perfection) in sichliut . However, the person learning has to apply the truth to a world full of flaws. Sichliut can be reduced to being defined by the imperfections of the world.

The verse states, “The righteous walk with it (the Toarh) while the wicked stumble.” It is compared to a potion that gives a person energy. Where a person goes with it is up to him. It could take him to his death or to higher levels of elevation. Sichliut is enormously powerful. It could lead a person to holiness or to ruin. Great intellectuals veered off the path not just because they were ignorant of Torah but because they used their mind to serve their emotional agendas. Their devoted their intellect to chisaron rather than to elevating it.

The nefesh is divided in two: the animal, instinctive soul and the spiritual soul. The nefesh habahamit of the Jewish people is made from the earth of Eretz Yisrael, while the soul of the non-Jews is made from the earth of other countries. Eretz Yisrael is about elevating the physical. Other countries cannot be uplifted. Our mitzvot force us to interact with the world. In contrast, the non-Jewish perspective views anything physical as an enemy to spirituality. Because Yisrael has to interact with the world, the challenge of being drawn into it is very real. Sin drives away the intellect. The righteous rule their hearts while the wicked are ruled by their hearts. The heart has to draw its energy from chochmah, but ultimately chochmah must control the heart.

Our deveikut (connection) to Hashem is imperfect as we continue to search for Him. Other nations don’t feel the gaping lack as much because they have less potential. Virtually every mistake we have made as a people was ideological. We were aiming towards perfection and somehow veered off. The symbolism of the golden calf and the symbolism of the mishkan both reflected the desire to draw closer to Hashem. However, the difference was that one was an act of self-nullification on Hashem’s terms, while the other was ultimate egotism on human terms.

Although a person may seem more whole and complete if he fulfils his desires, it’s really an illusion. The more a person feeds his evil inclination, the hungrier it gets, because desire is a chisaron. If it is contained and controlled it diminishes. Filling your desires accentuates the part of yourself that is lacking. Starving the yetzer hara eliminates it. A person can sublimate his desires by elevating it, not giving in to it.

The yetzer hara first appears as a guest and then becomes a host. The non-Jews see the yetzer hara as external but in actuality it can easily become a part of our essence. When we make wrong, it becomes habit, which creates desensitization. At the beginning the yetzer hara doesn’t have much force because there is an inner mechanism that is shocked by sin. Once desensitization happens, the drive to sin is so strong it becomes almost inescapable. Because of this, the first step, which may not even be a sin, but just filling our inner void with something that isn’t holy, could be the decisive step that could lead a person off the right path.

Lashon Hara In The Workplace #2

8 09 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg   

Lashon Hara in the Workplace

There’s no difference whether you speak lashon hara (slanderous talk) on your own or whether someone pressures you to do so. Even if it’s someone you respect, like a parent or Rebbe, you may not speak what is forbidden. The Chofetz Chaim brings proof from the story of Doeg and King Shaul. The Torah considers Doeg a rochel (a gossiper) for informing King Shaul about David and the city of Nov that protected him.

Of course a person shouldn’t cause disagreements or ill will unnecessarily. Therefore if someone close to you is compelling you to speak lashon hara, think about the right way to say no. Very often deflecting tension and discomfort depends on your tone of voice and the way you say it.

There is a famous question in the Igros Moshe whether a teacher can ask his class to disclose which student perpetrated an offense, so that the teacher can rebuke him? Rav Moshe is against doing so because it trains students to speak lashon hara. The Rebbe may have the right intentions, but the students won’t. The Nesivas Chaim quotes Rav Hominer who takes a different approach. If the teacher asks the students to speak ill about someone for a toelet (benefit) so he can deal with the mistake properly, it’s permitted. The Rebbe must clearly state that in this context it is not lashon hara as he is doing it for the boy’s benefit.  The Nesivos Chaim concludes, that the teacher must weigh very carefully what the students will think. Will they say, “Our Rebbe is making us speak lashon hara,” or will they understand, “Yes, this is for a toelet.”

We must forfeit one fifth of our wealth for the sake of a positive commandment and all of our wealth for a negative commandment. Therefore, even if it means forfeiting ones job, one may not violate the negative prohibition of lashon hara. In the long run, if a person is careful with forbidden speech, he will gain the respect of his co-workers. He can be a walking Kiddush Hashem by living up to the image of how a Jew should speak and behave.

A person should get in the habit of asking sheilot (questions) about lashon hara just as he does for Shabbat or kashrut. If you’re sitting with a group of people who are speaking lashon hara and you can’t leave or change the subject, you must keep quiet and not join in, even if they will think you’re strange. Our Sages say, “Better to be considered a fool for ones entire life rather than to be a fool for one hour before Hashem.” If you’re riding in a van and you can’t stop the lashon hara, plug into your ipod.

The prohibition of loshon hara includes writing. Slandering in a veiled way is also forbidden. The Torah says, “Lo selech rochel b’amecha-Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people. Unkelos translates rochel as korzim-to wink with one’s eye. Using body language to convey lashon hara is a Torah prohibition. This seems to contradict a later halacha where the Chofetz Chaim mentions avak lashon hara-the dust of lashon hara.  Hinting to something uncomplimentary such as, “I don’t want to talk about this person,” is a Rabbinic prohibition. The difference is that in the first halacha, the person communicates the actual lashon hara in a roundabout way so that others shouldn’t understand. In the second case, the person doesn’t say anything negative, he just hints to it.


Rebbetzin’s Perspective I Class #2

3 07 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin Perspective


How do I balance listening to lashon hora with developing a deep and meaningful relationship with my teenage daughter?  Are there different rules when dealing with teenagers who need to be able to talk freely in order to understand themselves and their circle of friends?  




If you care about someone, you want to give them what’s best for them. If you had a brilliant child who wanted to become a doctor, you’d do whatever you could to get him through medical school. If you had a special needs child who required extra intervention, you’d surmount all obstacles to help him progress. Your daughter desperately needs to learn how to differentiate between actual lashon hara and  lashon hara l’toelet, and how to developing a positive eye. As her mother, you are responsible to guide her.


Some people have the illusion that if they confide in their spouse they are drawing closer. In fact they are doing quite the opposite, notes the Chofetz Chaim, because their relationship is based on the common desire to tear people down. If you don’t set your daughter straight now and she continues analyzing and discussing people endlessly, the day may come when you’ll be the bull’s eye. She’ll be talking about you in a way she’s been talking with you all along about others.


The first step would be to gently get her to focus on what is unique, special, and precious, in every person. The next step would be to steer her to look for constructive solutions to her social problems. The final stage would be to have her come to these conclusions on her own. This will change your relationship with her in a very pivotal way. It will now be based on the common goal of finding resolutions and developing positivity rather than constantly putting others down.

Chofetz Chaim -Laws of Proper Speech- Avak Lashon Hara

6 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsburg


Avak lashon hara is not actual lashon hara but involves anything that is associated with lashon hara and that can lead to it. While lashon hara is a Torah prohibition, avak lashon hara is a Rabbinic prohibition. The first category of avak lashon hara would be insinuating something negative.  “Who would’ve thought Shimon would turn out the way he did,” or “I don’t want to speak any lashon hara about Reuven,” are examples of avak lashon hara where nothing negative is actually said but there is a veiled hint.

The second category of avak lashon hara is praising someone excessively in public. The Gemara writes, “Al yisaper shivcho shel chavero…”- A person should not praise his friend for he will end up discussing his faults as well.  This does not mean that one should refrain from praise completely as we see many instances in Chazal where people were praised. Rather according to Rashi this means that one should not praise excessively and according to the Rambam it means that one should not praise a person in front of his enemies. This includes praising someone in public as there is bound to be someone who will say something negative. The one exception is a great tzaddik who may be praised publicly as even if something evil is mentioned, everyone will dismiss it as false.

In light of this halacha, how do we understand the custom of excessively praising a chassan and a kallah or a bar mitzvah in public? Normally, at a simcha, people expect the chassan and kallah to be praised. Therefore there is no concern that people will get excited about excessive praise or that it will lead to negative comments. Similarly, the Maharsha notes that one is allowed to praise ones Rebbe because every student knows to praise his Rebbe so it will not lead to jealousy or lashon hara.

May we merit to purify and elevate our speech and may this helps us attain spiritual perfection for the coming year.