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Monday, 18 January 2016

Calm down and act rationally

Daf Yomi Gittin 34


When our matriarch Rachel died, the family generally expected that her maidservant, Bilha, would assume her role.  And so, naturally, Rachel’s special place in Yaakov’s tent became Bilha’s special place. 

‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Reuven thought to himself.  As the oldest son and the offspring of Leah, it didn’t make any sense to him to see Bilha become the favoured wife.  After all, his mother was the free woman, an original full wife of Yaakov.  If anyone was to take Rachel’s place, it should be Leah!  And so he sneaked into Yaakov’s tent, removed Bilha’s bed and replaced it with his mother’s.

When Yaakov heard, he was not pleased.  ‘Who gave you the right to control my marriage?’  Reuven realized the error of his ways and spent the remainder of his life in contrite repentance for his impetuousness.

Giddel O’Reilly sent divorce papers to his wife. The messenger went and found her knitting.  
He said to her, ‘Here is your gett.’
She said to him, ‘Go away now and come back tomorrow.’  
He went back to Giddel and informed him, whereupon he exclaimed, ‘Blessed be He who is good and does good!’
Rashi explains: Giddel was happy that the agent had not successfully delivered the gett.

The yetzer hara, our inner bad angel, has a way of leading us astray in the heat of the moment.  Suddenly, there’s a trigger situation in our lives and we feel that we must respond immediately.  We know that we’re probably acting impetuously, but we just have to do it right now.

In Giddel’s case, no doubt, he’d had some kind of dust up with Mrs. O’Reilly.  He was so angry that he decided to sit down immediately and write the gett.  But by the time the messenger came back to him, he’d gotten it off his chest, calmed down, and was abundantly pleased that his wife had refused to go along with his impetuous gesture.  Maybe she realized he was acting irrationally.  Or maybe she had worked on herself and developed a personal policy of never taking a bold step in life without first sleeping on it.   

At any rate, Mrs. O’Reilly’s deliberation saved their marriage.  After all, did Giddel really want to get divorced?  Nobody wants to get divorced.  Sometimes divorce cannot be helped, you simply have no choice.  But in Giddel’s case, he chose divorce.  He chose to listen to his yetzer hara, instead of acting rationally and reasonably.

Often when you’re caught up in the moment, you know that you’re acting irresponsibly.  But the yetzer hara is so powerful that he convinces you to continue down the path of self-destruction.  You could sleep on it.  You could pray it away.  But you’re angry.  Or you’re full of improper desire.  And you don’t want that feeling to dissipate.  Why should you? 

That’s the trick of the yetzer hara.  He keeps you caught up in the moment of irrationality, even when you know you’re going to regret your actions later.  When you find yourself at his mercy, what you need to do is stop dead in your tracks and focus on something else altogether.  The more you think about what the yetzer hara wants you to dwell on, the more power he has.  He is so good at his job that he manages to convince you that you really want to hang on to this terrible feeling and you would be doing yourself an injustice if you were to let it go! 

That’s why Mrs. O’Reilly picked up her yarn and began to knit.  For a brief instant, she could take herself out of the clutches of the yetzer hara and concentrate on a completely different activity.  All you need is a little time away from his wicked influence and he gives up.  You’ve cooled down and he’s lost the battle.


Whether it’s a conflict situation or an improper sinful activity, the yetzer hara is at the top of his game when you are acting impetuously.  The best way to beat him is to find some other activity to occupy your mind until you cool down.  May you merit making all your decisions in life completely rationally and never impetuously!