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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Avoiding first-degree sin

Daf Yomi Kesubos 54


Sadie calls Jill: What are you doing tomorrow morning?
Jill: Not much.  Why?
Sadie: I have some epic goss to share about the Goldbergs.  Let’s do coffee.
Jill: Sounds awesome!  Starbucks, 10am?
Sadie: See you there!

The Mishnah states: One of the court-imposed stipulations of the ketubah is ‘You shall dwell in my house and be sustained from my possessions all the days of the duration of your widowhood in my house.’

Rabbi Nachman quoted Shmuel: If they proposed a shidduch to the widow and she was interested in the proposal, she is no longer entitled to sustenance from the estate by the heirs.   Rashi explains that once she is ready to date other men, she is no longer in the category of “the duration of widowhood.”

Rabbi Hisda taught: Likewise, if she had an illicit relationship, she no longer entitled to sustenance.  Rabbi Joseph taught: If she began to put on makeup and braid her hair, she is no longer entitled to sustenance.
The Gemara notes: The one who says ‘she had an illicit relationship’ agrees that ‘makeup and braiding’ would exclude her from further sustenance.  But the one who says ‘makeup and braiding’ holds the view that an illicit relationship would not end her entitlement to sustenance.  What is the reason?  Her yetzer (evil inclination) made her do it.

Sometimes people sin ‘in the heat of the moment.’  Certainly, in terms of the act itself, her illicit behaviour was far worse than merely applying makeup!  But putting on makeup and going out to meet people takes time and effort.  In contrast, her illicit behaviour was not premeditated; she was simply overcome by desire and that’s why she is not held to task to the same extent of the law.

Planned sin is always worse than sin in the heat of the moment.   Sometimes you’re chatting with your friend and a piece of lashon hara (gossip) slips out.  It’s not okay, but things happen.  But when you decide to schedule a lashon hara session, like Jill and Sadie who made the Starbucks appointment, that’s inexcusable!  That is planned sin. 

Occasionally, you might order a soy latte at a coffee shop without checking the hechsher (kosher symbol) on the soymilk.  That’s sin in the heat of the moment – you needed a coffee, now!  But when you decide to make a reservation at a vegan restaurant that doesn’t have a hechsher, it’s a totally different ballgame.  That’s premeditated, first degree.  You planned to act illegitimately – thought and effort went into your behaviour – which is unacceptable.

That’s not to say, G-d forbid, that ‘the devil made me do it’ is a valid excuse.  On the contrary, knowing that your yetzer could make you sin at any moment should place you on guard and extra vigilant to protect yourself against such an attack.  Back in the day, if you wanted to sin with illicit images, you had to go out to the store and buy an indecent magazine.  That was first-degree, premeditated sin.  Nowadays, illicit images are as close as the wrong click of your mouse.   At any moment, the yetzer could overcome you and cause you to sin.  Knowing how easily that might happen means that you must go to great lengths to ensure your soul’s safety and security.  One helpful method is offered by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, who teaches that whenever one experiences the urge to sin, one should recite the verse, “The eternal fire shall burn upon the altar, it shall not be extinguished.”  This verse reminds us that our bodies and souls are altars to serve the Almighty.  When we sin, we extinguish the eternal flame inside of us. 


You deserve to be connected constantly to Heaven!  Sinning severs your relationship with the Divine flow of energy.  Premeditated sin is never excusable, but even sinning in the heat of the moment is avoidable if you take the right measures.  May you merit being eternally connected to Heaven and cleaving to your spiritual source, never falling to the illicit desires of this world!