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Who are you, my brother?

In parshat Re-eh, there are more than fifty positive and negative commandments.

The following is one of those commandments:

“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter or the wife of your intimacy or your close friend comes to entice you in secret, saying, ’Let’s go and serve other gods that neither you nor your forefathers knew, gods of the surrounding nations, those that are close or as far from you as the extremities of the world - do not desire it and do not listen to him, and do not allow your eye to view him with compassion and do not have mercy upon him and do not shield [“cover up” for him] him.  You are to surely kill him; your hand will be the first to put him to death, and the hand of the entire nation is to follow”  (D’varim 13, 7-12).

Literally, these verses deal with a Jew who engages in incitement of another Jew, encouraging him to serve strange gods.  We notice that the Torah specifically underlines those with the closest ties to a person - blood relations, those in marital ties and bonds of friendship - and stresses the weightiness and considerable power of their influence on a person’s heart.  It is for this very reason that the Torah requests that we promise our faithfulness to G-d, even when faced with challenges posed by such strong and justifiably close sources.

The Ohr Hachayim studies these verses on the level of “remez”, concepts that are hinted at, and he explains that they refer to matters pertaining to the greatest inciter  of all: the inner voice, concealed within every person, the Evil Inclination.  The prime, sole desire of the Inclination is to make a person veer away from the straight path - “In this parshah, G-d hints at the method of incitement that approaches a person from within himself, to steer him away from the straight and good road.”

Incitement that comes within is divided into four different types:

The first type - incitement that accompanies a person from the moment of his birth.  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91, side 2) writes, on the verse “Sin crouches at the entrance”  (Bereishit 4, 7), that when a person is still on the threshold of the world, in the first moment of his life, sin is at his side, already prepared to spring out, poised for action, in an attempt to incite and ensure his failure in every possible way  (Sanhedrin 92, side 2).

This “inciter” accompanies the person until he takes his very last breath.

The second type - when a person transgresses, he procures a prosecutor for himself  - “A person who performs a mitzvah purchases for himself a defense lawyer, and one who is guilty of a sin purchases a prosecutor”  (Ethics of the Fathers, 4, 11).  An angel is created by each commandment that a person performs.  It is this angel’s duty to advocate on the person’s behalf and to “remind” the Creator of his merit, in the hour of accusation.  On the other side of the coin, each sin creates an angel whose duty it is to accuse a person who transgresses and to mention his sins at a time of judgment.

That same argument for prosecution attempts to pull the person to additional transgression, such that aside from the “usual” Evil Inclination at work in a person from the minute of his birth, a “new” spiritual force is born in his soul, one that wants to make him bad, and, as the Mishnah records, “One transgression leads to another”  (Ethics of the Fathers 4, 2).

The third type - it is man’s nature to be accustomed to his deeds.  When a person tends to go along a bad road in his actions, he becomes used to his negative actions.  So, aside from the “regular” Evil Inclination and aside from the spiritual force that was born of his deeds, he has to deal with the force of habit, that has accustomed his body and soul to negative behaviors.  The more he repeats his sin, the harder it is for him to leave the crooked path and return to the straight one.

The fourth type, the one that is the most serious of all, is that in which sin has made itself a place in his soul in such a way that it has become an integral part of his makeup - “that his soul connects with and partners with the evil component and equates it to nature, and that is the final decision that a man’s soul makes to embrace heresy and take up idol worship”  (Ohr Hachayim).  The person and his sin have become one entity.

The Torah addresses these four categories:

“If your brother entices you” - “your brother”, in Hebrew “achicha”, from the root “ichui”, consolidation and bonding together - “this is the component of evil that consolidates with a person from his very beginning, even before he enters the world”.  That is to say, the Torah says that  “the brother” who incites him is that Evil Inclination that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in man’s nature.  That’s the first type that we mentioned.

The Torah calls this force “your brother, your mother’s son”, because the Torah tells us where that brother came from, from “your mother’s son” - from Eve, who is “the mother of all living things”  (Bereishit 3, 20).  Eve, through her sin (the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge), brought about the mixing together and combination of Good and Evil.

In reference to the second type, the Torah writes:  “...or your son or daughter”.  “Your son or daughter - these words refer to the outcome, the “offspring”, of a person’s evil deeds, and as the prophet writes, referring to sin, “Foreign sons”  (Hosea 5, 7).  Those are the prosecutors [prosecuting angels] that we mentioned.

(The Ohr Hachayim adds that the Torah mentions “your son” and “your daughter”, masculine and feminine, because there are more serious sins that bring upn a person a strong prosecution - “your son” - and there are sins that create a weaker accusation - “your daughter”).

Referring to the third type, the Torah writes “your close friend”.  This is an allusion to a person who became intimately associated with a foreign force, power, or a negative trait.  That is to say, just as the closest thing to a man is his wife, but nevertheless, she is an independent entity, in her own right, and a man can separate from her through divorce, so is it also with the kinds of transgressions to which a person has become accustomed, and which have become a part of his daily routine; however, if the person makes an effort, he can receive strength from heaven to detach himself from them.

In addressing the fourth type, the Torah writes “your intimate friend” [literally, your friend who is like your own self].  That is, that the evil trait has become an integral, inseparable part of his soul.  “Your intimate soul-partner” - one that has become an inseparable part of you.

These are the four types of incitement that challenge a person.

The Torah continues, “ secret, saying…”   All these forms of incitement come to you in secret.

The words “in secret” have great significance.  We notice that all of the inciters present themselves as “family members” - your brother, your mother’s son, your son, your daughter, the wife of your intimacy and the internal instigator - none does its work openly; none approaches you as an avowed enemy.  Each comes clandestinely.  On the surface, each presents itself as a dear friend; however, deep within, each is a bitter enemy.  It hides behind a veil of friendship and persuades you that its only goal is your good, and it can sometimes even make the claim that what it is doing is for “the sake of heaven”.  The Torah requests of a person that he examine closely all of those “good friends”, and that he discover the poison hiding behind the friendship screen.

What does the Evil Inclination tell a person?  “Let’s go and serve other gods, that neither you nor your forefathers knew”.  Try something new, something that neither you nor your forefathers have ever heard of”.   This time, it’s worth your while to sin; this is something special.  If your forefathers had had a taste of what I am offering you, I am sure that they would not have taken upon themselves to observe G-d’s mitzvot.

The Torah warns us, saying:  “Do not desire it and ... do not allow your eye to view him with compassion…”  Do not accept his words and have no mercy upon him.

“Do not shield [cover up for] him” - here lies an important principle.   

If you feel that you are not capable of meeting this challenge alone - don’t cover up your struggles; rather, tell those truly close to you and seek their advice as to how you can succeed in your battle.  When a person takes counsel with his true friends, it can make it much easier for him to be victorious over the Evil Inclination, because he does not want to appear “weak” to them, and that gives him additional strength to overcome the Inclination.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 81, side 1) tells about one of the greatest luminaries of the generation, Rabbi Amram Chassidah, who almost committed a grave sin, and when he felt unable to overcome his Inclination, he began screaming:  “Nura bei Amram!  Nura bei Amram!”  [Fire!  Fire!]  People immediately ran to his house and thus, he was saved - rescued from transgressing.  Rabbi Amram used the fear of shame to avoid transgressing.

Of course, it is preferable that a person succeed in dealing with his challenges on his own, without enlisting assistance from his friends, as as the Torah continues:  “Your hand will be the first to put him to death”.  You have it in your power to “kill” that inciter, and only if you are not successful in doing so alone, only then - “the hand of the entire nation is to follow” - turn to your friends for help.

Parshat Re-eh is usually read on the Shabbat when the month of Elul in blessed - “Shabbat Mevorachim” -  Elul, the month of purity, of compassion and forgiveness.  In welcoming in the month of Elul, we must identify the “instigators”, the “inciters” within us, doing our part in an effort to “turn away from evil”, and busy ourselves with performing as many mitzvot as possible, creating a defense that will advocate for us on the coming Rosh Hashannah, may it bring with it only good things.