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Just This One Time...

05/19/2017 01:42:15 PM


I began an experiment in human behavior a few weeks ago, and I’m proud to say that its failure was a great success! As a disclaimer, I only observed one participant, but I’m quite confident that the data and results are conclusive. 

Many of us are challenged with keeping our spaces tidy. From our car, to our office-desk, study, purse etc.

It is famously quoted that John Wesley, an Anglican cleric and theologian of the 18th century, once remarked in one of his sermons, “Cleanliness is indeed next to G-dliness.” I’m sure the audience were very impressed with his teaching, but I wish I could have been there to tell them that he didn’t originate the idea. In the 2nd century, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, a renowned Talmudic sage, delivered a masterful teaching which in fact served as the foundation for many subsequent Jewish ethical and spiritual teachings.

He taught as follows: “Torah-study leads to being cautious, being cautious leads to diligence, diligence leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to restraint, restraint leads to purity, purity leads to holiness, holiness leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to humility, humility leads to piety, and piety is the supreme human achievement.”

So cleanliness is on the list of the top-10 Jewish values, and is the catalyst for even greater self-mastery!

Which leads me to my experiment. Before Pesach I had my car professionally cleaned. Yes, it took them some time to get it done. Upon entering my newly cleaned, shiny and fragrant car, I hereby decided to make every effort to keep it that way. The next time I entered my car I had an important document in my hand, which I placed on the passenger’s seat. I needed to have access to that paper for the next few weeks, so I decided it was okay to leave it there. But what about my resolution? Well, “that’s an easy one,” I told myself. “Of course I’m going to keep my car perfectly clean. Just this one exception. After all, it’s only a piece of paper, and it really doesn’t disturb the clean look.”

If you are smiling as you read this, then you are now another participant in my experiment.

We’ve all been down that road. “Just this one time,” we tell ourselves. For some it might occur after beginning a strict diet, and then encountering a strong temptation. For another, after making a commitment to perform a daily or weekly task, and then on one tired morning we desperately want to sleep in.

But you know like I do, that “just this one time” is the beginning of the end. It reminds me of when we were young, and we used to play a game of holding the door shut not to let a younger sibling enter the room. As much as they pushed, we’d use our age and size advantage to pressure the door shut with all our might. After a while, to make the game even more exciting, we’d offer a teaser by just slightly opening the door. The new open crack was intended to offer the person on the other side a false-hope of getting in, but we planned to keep holding the door firmly shut. Well, we learned quickly that that never works. Once we let go even a tiny bit, we’d lose control of our dominance and the door would come slamming open.

This is perhaps the most important rule of our battle between our yetzer-tov and yetzer-hara, our inner impulses for good and evil, idealism and selfishness, commitment and laziness. Even if we are the stronger one, and even if our resolve is steadfast, if we lower our guard and show even a tiny weakness, we will lose. We will only win when we refuse to give in, no matter how difficult it seems, not even “just this one time.”

So now I’m going to go clean my car!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782