Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
“If a man makes a harness for his beast, how much the more should he fashion a harness for his impulses, which may prompt him to lead a good or evil life” (Y. Sanhedrin 10, 1). The task of harnessing an ox is critical to a farmer’s successful crop. The ox must walk in a straight path to enable the farmer to plant seeds in a consistent and efficient manner. Though an experienced farmer knows how to harness his ox with ease, it’s also experience that enables him to use the reins to drive it forward, successfully.
“How much the more should he fashion a harness for his impulses.” Putting a physical harness on an ox that responds to a skillful farmer might be easier than bearing an internal harness we have to put on our innate impulses. The farmer’s crop, which feeds and nourishes his family, is a tremendous example of how important it is for us to walk a straight path during our lifetime, too.
“[It] may prompt him to lead a good or evil life.” How we manage to harness our impulses may lead us to experience a good or evil life. Talmudists weren’t unaware of the partnership we have with God. They also taught, “All is foreseen and freewill is given” and, “The work is long, day is short, and the Master is waiting” (Mishnah). Though one might pray, the deeds we do depend on how we choose to use the innate resources God has granted us to do good or evil.
By definition, Judaism defines good as all the obvious mitzvot and acts of lovingkindness. But, Judaism defines evil, in addition to the list of obvious sins and transgressions, as building a career, a home and a family. They aren’t inherently evil, but they can be if we build a career to serve only ourselves, or a home that is an eye-sore in the neighborhood or a source of danger to passers-by, or a family that produces children who are menaces to society. The only way to manage good and evil is to harness personal impulses. In our lifetime, we have to sow proverbial rows of seeds in a straight and efficient manner in order to enjoy the fruits of our labors in the future.
It wasn’t always easy for a farmer to harness a stubborn ox, just as it isn’t always easy for us to harness our stubborn impulses. Today, we label our stubborn impulses with medical terms, including addictions of various sorts, plus OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. Whatever they might be, they can affect the outcomes we desire. If we can’t sow a straight row to reach our goals, then we might be emotionally unsatisfied, spiritually unnourished and economically challenged. No doubt, a wise farmer would have had help in the fields to guide a stubborn ox. We would do well, too, not only to bear all the responsibility for the rows we must sow, but to ask for help and assistance when the way is difficult to manage, alone. Here are places for assistance in our community:
Congregation Beth Israel: 713-771-6221 www.beth-israel.org
Jewish Family Service: 713-667-9336 www.jfshouston.org
United Way Help Line: Dial 211
Braes Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry (supported by Beth Israel): 713-723-2671 www.braesinterfaithministries.com
Thankfully, we don’t have to harness oxen to make a living, but we do have to harness our impulses. To reach greater personal satisfaction, consider how a helping hand and caring heart might make a difference for you or someone you care about. And, let’s plants seeds of well-being, together.