In the Talmud Rabbi Yehuda said:
“In the Time-to-Come, The Holy One, Blessed is He (G-d) will bring the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and slaughter him before the righteous and the evil. To the righteous it will appear like a high mountain, and to the evil it will appear like a thread of hair. Both will cry; the righteous will cry and say, “How were we able to overcome this high mountain?” The evil will cry and say, “How were we not be able to overcome this thread of hair?” (Succah 52a)
So is it big or small? How can it be both? Whose perception is correct?
Actually, both. It’s like this (and I am examining this from the view of working on diet and exercise, but you can take this to any bad habit you need to work on…):
People who are severely overweight tend to believe that their overeating is beyond control. I remember at one diet group that I attended years ago (which was not successful for me), one woman moaned “But this is a full-life ‘prison sentence’!”
The presenter said no, that after one loses weight, they will not need to strictly diet. But in reality she missed the point completely. (No wonder her group didn’t work….)
Any changes in lifestyle needed to lose weight will need to be continued, at least in a milder form, for one’s entire life (if you want to keep that weight off). BUT THAT IS NOT PRISON!!! Prison is the enslavement we endure to food, the feeling that we can not break free from overeating, and the limitations that overweight places on us! And even more importantly, the presenter needed to inform her clients that if the work on making correct choices, they will acclimate to the new way of life. Gradually they will come to ENJOY their healthier lifestyle, even with the new limitations which seem so constricting at first glance. Even if you are used to eating a huge plateful of pasta for lunch, and a regular-sized serving seems miniscule, it will not appear that way forever. Each correct choice you make strengthens your resolve, creates new habits and expectations. Your psyche and body become accustomed to the new reality. There comes a day when you really prefer a nice salad (most days, at least) to an overly sweet cream cake that is simply too rich for your newly developed taste buds.
So let’s return to that Gemorah (Talmud passage) quoted above. The person who did not conquer his desires thinks that he has an insurmountable urge. But in reality, it is not so. The “dieter” needs to take things day-by-day, one moment at a time. He will find that each single instance of resisting his desires is not that hard, as long as he is determined to change his past patterns. (For example, fasting on Yom Kipper is not harder for the overweight person than the thin, as he understands with certainty that he can not eat.) One becomes habituated to being able to (generally) resist. He discovers that being in control of what he does is empowering. Liberating.
And when all is said and done, G-d will show him that bit by bit, moment by moment (hair-by-hair), he climbed a full mountain!
[Hmmm... maybe I should apply this to my habit of under-sleeping as well as overeating,..........]
(Thanks to Susan Barnes, whose post “How to Slaughter a Demon” prompted me to go ahead and write a post I have been toying around with for a while…. But if you follow the link, read the whole thing, don’t stop after just reading how to slaughter the demon….)