Daf Yomi Gittin 45
The Great Flood was over. After twelve long months in the ark, Noah steps out to see the world. Nature appears to be blooming, but the society Noah once knew has long disappeared. And so he plants a vineyard and partakes of its fruit. He has a drink. And another. And another. Until before he knows it, he is lying face-down on the ground in a drunken stupor.
At that point, his youngest son, Cham, sees him and takes advantage of him. When Noah awakens, he is angry. He realizes what he has done to himself and how low he has sunk. He immediately enrols in a local 12-step program. Indeed, that is the last time the Torah reports of him taking a drink!
The daughters of Rav Nachman used to stir a cauldron with their hands while it was boiling hot. Rav Ellis was puzzled about it. It is written, “One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all those have I not found,” and here are the daughters of Rav Nachman! A misfortune happened to them and they were carried away captive, and he also with them.
One day a man was sitting next to him who understood the language of birds. A raven came and called to him, and Rav Ellis said to him, “What does it say?”
“It says,” he replied, “Ellis, run away, Ellis, run away.”
He said, “The raven is a false bird, and I do not trust it.”
Then a dove came and called. He again asked, “What does it say?”
“It says,” the man replied, “Ellis, run away, Ellis run, away.”
Said Ellis, “The community of Israel is likened to a dove; this shows that a miracle will be performed for me.”
He continued, “I will go and see the daughters of Rav Nachman; if they have retained their virtue, I will bring them back.” He continued, “Women talk over their business in the privy. He overheard them saying: These captors are our husbands just as the Nehardeans were our husbands. Let us tell our captors to remove us to a distance from here, so that our original husbands may not come and hear where we are and ransom us.” Rav Ellis then rose and fled, along with the other man. A miracle was performed for him, and he got across the river, but the other man was caught and killed.
When the daughters of Rav Nachman came back, he said, “They stirred the cauldron by witchcraft.”
In this tale, Rav Ellis is sharing a powerful lesson about the power of the yetzer hara and addiction. While he tells his story in the first person, it is clear that he is a conveying a message that is relevant to each and every one of us. He merely employs a first-person narrative to increase the emotive power of the story. So in explaining the meaning of the parable, let us look at what can happen to any of us in our own lives as we struggle with the dark side.
When you are ensnared by the yetzer hara, it begins with an infatuation. The person in the story saw the daughters of Rav Nachman and was mesmerized by not just what they cooked, but how they cooked. It was magical the way they stirred that pot. It was almost angelic! So the first message Rav Ellis conveys is that we must be careful where we allow our eyes to wander and become fixated. When we do find ourselves irrationally being swept off our feet, we should concentrate on other matters and not allow the yetzer hara to implant in our mind all sorts of wondrous imaginations. Don’t let him convince you that the object of your desire is anything out of the ordinary – bring yourself back to reality!
Because the yetzer hara has a way of taking us captive along with the object of our desire. And so in the parable, the man is captured along with the beautiful women. Whilst in captivity, he encounters a fellow who understands the language of birds. He first tells him that the raven tells him to escape; but he doesn’t trust the raven. He then hears the message from a dove and with that, he is convinced, because Israel is compared to a dove. Not only that, he believes that a miracle will happen to him.
The message of the bird-man is that sometimes when we are trapped by the yetzer hara, we must not be afraid to seek help. Help might come in the form of your rabbi or a psychologist or counselor, depending on the nature of the addiction. Addiction sounds like a strong word, a word we associate with substance abuse. But in reality, every time the yetzer hara captures us, his net takes the form of an addiction. You might be addicted to the internet. You might be addicted to TV. Or you might be addicted to making snide remarks to your spouse. You’ve been doing it so long that you don’t know how to get out of the yetzer hara’s prison.
Rav Ellis warns that you need to be selective regarding whom you turn to. There are ravens who appear to show you an escape route, but they are false. You should only turn to and listen to someone who is truly trustworthy – as symbolized by the dove. When you tune in to and learn from the right guides, miracles will happen in your life. That’s how you can tell that you’re getting good advice – when the Almighty steps in and lends His helping hand to pull you out of your challenges.
At that point, the man must deal with his addiction. Until now, he had objectified these women, idolizing them until he imagined that they were flawless. Once he was able to step away and view his desires in a less than perfect light, he was able to run away from the prison of the yetzer hara. Sure enough, a miracle happens and he makes it across the proverbial river. At that point, he can take leave of his bird-man – even when you turn to a professional for help, eventually you should be able to continue on your own, if he has been successful in helping you escape your demons.
Finally, he is home and he realizes that he had been infatuated with forbidden fruit. Once he could see that for himself, he recognized that it was nothing more than the witchcraft of the yetzer hara that had trapped him. Sometimes when you’re in the moment, you can’t see it. But when you get help and release yourself from your addictions, you wonder how you were ever trapped in the first place!
At various times in life, we all suffer from addictions. The problem is that when we’re in the yetzer hara’s prison, we don’t realize that we’re addicted. It may be an addiction to lashon hara, to jealousy, to looking at immodest images, to infatuation with forbidden fruit. The key to escaping is to find someone you can trust to help you find an escape route. The right person will teach you how to escape without forever needing to rely upon their guidance. May you merit the strength to acknowledge your addictions and break out of the yetzer hara’s prison!