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The Keys to Life

Guarding the Eyes, Guarding the Mind

A person who escapes temptation by avoiding immodest images and heretical thoughts and ideas is a calm individual, content and happy with his lot

04.11.15 | 15:35
Guarding the Eyes, Guarding the Mind

A human being is curious by nature. He gravitates toward unusual thoughts and images—especially those that are corporeal and enticing. When a person thinks about the consequences of inappropriate staring, he will understand that he will be harmed by it in the long run, as certain thoughts and images lure a person into doing things that may be undesirable to him. Even though he’s aware of all this, the urge to know is so great that it’s capable of blinding the rational mind. Therefore, we were commanded in the Torah, “Do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you may stray.”[1] When a Divine commandment is enforced, it’s easier for a person to withhold himself from looking and thinking about things that will ultimately hurt him.

Regarding this special mitzvah, the Sefer HaChinuch writes:

We should not stray after the thinking of the heart and the sight of the eyes. The substance of this injunction is that we were restricted not to devote our thoughts to entertain views that are opposed to the system of thought on which the Torah is constructed, since it is possible, as a result, to arrive at heresy. Rather, if a whim arises in one’s heart to entertain those evil views, let him cut short his thinking about them and change course to ponder on the true, good ways of the Torah.

So too, a man should not chase after the sight of his eyes, which includes not pursuing the cravings of this world, for their end is evil, with enough disgrace and wrath. In this respect our sages have said, “And you shall not go about after your own heart”[2]—this means heresy; “and after your own eyes”—this means immorality, as it is stated, “And Shimshon said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she is right good in my eyes.’”[3]

The root purpose of this precept is evident, for by it a man will be guarded from sinning to G-d all his days. This precept is truly a great foundation of the religion, since evil thoughts are the “fathers” of defilement and uncleanness, and the resulting actions are their “children”; and if a man shall die before begetting any progeny, there will be no remembrance of children. Consequently, this restriction is a root from which all good things can sprout.

Then know, my son, and pray let it be a precious adage in your mouth, what the sages have said, “A transgression brings a transgression in its wake, and a mitzvah brings a mitzvah in its wake,”[4] for if you set your mind to fulfill your evil craving once, it will pull many other times after it. But if you succeed in being “mighty in the land,” to overcome your inclination and shut your eyes from looking on evil but once, it will seem easy for you to do so many times. For desire draws the flesh as wine draws its drinkers, since the spirit of guzzlers is never satisfied with wine, so that they ever desire it with a great craving; and as they habituate their spirit to it, their craving grows the stronger. Yet if they were only to drink a cup of water instead, the burning of desire for wine would cool, and life would be sweet to them.

So in this matter, as any man becomes accustomed to desires and persists in them, his evil inclination will overpower him day by day. But if he refrains from them, he will be happy with his lot constantly, all his days.[5]

It so happens that a person who escapes temptation by avoiding immodest images and heretical thoughts and ideas is a calm individual, content and happy with his lot. However, if he does not guard the sanctity of his eyes and thoughts, he will continuously be stimulated. It is well-known that when the body is stimulated, there is no limit to the grave mistakes it can make. This is according to the simple level. However, aside from the obvious significance this has on a person’s daily life (either for good or for bad, depending on whether or not he guards his eyes), this important matter has an additional implication that is spiritual and profound.

According to the mystics, a person is likened to a small world;[6] he is also a small Temple, as everything that exists in the Temple exists also in man. The eyes possess the quality of the menorah, which illuminates and facilitates vision. The stomach is the altar that processes the meat; the nose corresponds to the altar of the incense, and so on. The structure of the body also mirrors the chambers and sanctuary of the Temple.

If so, then what does the Holy of Holies correspond to in the body? It corresponds to the brain—this is the dwelling place of the soul; it possesses the quality of the Holy Ark where the two tablets are situated. A person who allows an immodest image to enter his brain is compared to someone who places a forbidden image in the sanctuary; it’s as if he had placed an idol in the Holy of Holies inside the Temple. As we previously mentioned, the act of staring has an aspect of contact and utilization—and who would allow himself to touch and use something without the permission of the Creator of the world?

It would now be appropriate to mention the obligation a man has in marrying a woman as soon as he can, provided that he has reached marriageable age and has the ability to acquiesce and provide his wife with her basic needs. We know that a man without a woman is like a man without a protective wall…as it says in the holy Zohar, “Only after a man marries a woman is he called a servant of G-d, as his heart is tranquil when he avoids other women, forbidden images, and straying after his heart and eyes,”[7] as it says, “Do not stray after your heart and your eyes.” The Ramak writes in Tomer Devorah, “It is clear that the Divine Presence does not rest upon a man who has not yet married a woman, as most of the Divine Presence comes from the woman.”[8]

For those who believe that if they delay marriage they will be able to save money—they are simply wrong. In our generation, most single men never end up saving money for various reasons, and in the meantime they stumble upon many prohibitions. Instead, they should hasten to marry a woman and give her respect. That is the surest way to secure their financial success.

Notes and Sources

[1] Bamidbar 16:39.

[2] Sifrei, Bamidbar, piska 115.

[3] Shoftim 14:3.

[4] Avot 4:5.

[5] Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 387. The translation is from Sefer haHinnuch: Student Edition (New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1992).

[6] Refer to the full topic in HaTzofen, p. 11.

[7] Zohar Chadash, Bereishit 9a.

[8] Tomer Devorah, ch. 9.

Adapted from "The Keys to Life" by Rabbi Zamir Cohen