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Sunday, 2 February 2014

First Nature vs. Second Nature

Yoma 86

"But it's my nature.  I can't change my nature!"

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so does a fool repeat his indiscretions,” writes King Solomon in Proverbs.  Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov interprets this verse according to the teaching of Rav Huna.   Rav Huna says that when an individual commits a sin repeatedly, it becomes permissible to him.  In other words, this dog that returns to its vomit to consume it, even though it knows that its body has rejected it, craves the material so much that it is no longer disgusted by it.   Similarly, one who repeats his indiscretions craves the sin so badly, that he is no longer disgusted by it.

We all have bad habits.  For some of us it may be outright sin, for others it might be smoking or excessive eating, for others it might be chronic tardiness or procrastination.   If we can think back to when we began our indiscretion, we were probably quite bothered with our actions.  Over time, however, we began to justify our behaviour to ourselves. 

The first time we do something we shouldn’t, we feel terrible.  The second time, we still feel bad, but nowhere near as disconcerted.  By the third time, I can live with myself and by the fourth time it becomes a mitzvah!  The Talmud comments on the verse in Amos “So says Hashem, for the three sins of Israel [I can bear], but for the fourth, I shall not return him,” that G-d can forgive us for sinning once, twice, three times.  But after sinning four times, He can no longer pardon us.

Why can He not pardon us for sinning a fourth time?  Is He not an all-forgiving G-d?  The answer is that He certainly could forgive us, but after an indiscretion has become so habitual that we have committed it four times, are we prepared to break our bad habit and recognize that this is unacceptable behaviour?  As long as we are comfortable with our bad habits, how can we expect G-d to look the other way?


Today, let me take a good look at what I’m doing and ask myself: Have I become so used to some of the things that I do that while I might once have felt my behaviour inappropriate, I now justify my bad habits?  It’s time to reconsider what I’m doing and break free from some of my unnatural, but naturalized second nature.