“Is this the way you pay Hashem back, foolish nation and unwise…” [Deut. 32:6].
The Talmud teaches (Tamid 32b) “Who is Wise? The one who sees the future.” This is not a reference to prophecy, but to the ability to perceive the logical consequences of our actions. One who can perceive these consequences will not be foolish, and thus calling the nation “foolish” and “unwise” are interdependent.
The Talmud also says (Sukkah 52a) that at the end of days, G-d will present us with the Yetzer Hara, the Evil Incliination, and destroy it in front of the righteous and the wicked. And, says the Talmud, to the righteous the Evil Inclination will look like a mountain, but to the wicked it will look like a hair’s breadth, a tiny thing. But how can it be both? How can it appear so different to two groups of people, yet be one and the same?
Rav Y.Y. Horwitz, the “Alter [Elder] of Novardok,” said that it is indeed a mountain, built of tiny hair’s breadths!
Think of a spider’s web. A single thread is very fine, and easy to brush aside or break. But when a fly gets stuck in a spider’s web, the spider surrounds it with layer upon layer of silken thread, until it is impossible to break free or even move.
The first time a person does a bad thing, he feels it intensely, and it is easy to stop. But if it becomes habit, then it becomes much harder to break. [From VeHigadtah, collected teachings of Rav Yaakov Galinsky.]
We see this with addictions, like smoking: the first time a person smokes, he or she coughs, doesn’t enjoy it, and can easily stop. But once they master it and feel the nicotine, it is much, much harder to give it up.
The truth is that doing something bad can give its own mental rush. Initially the person will feel alarm, but can become inured to it, and have it become habit. The key is to see the future, and not get caught from the outset.
Yom Kippur, however, is when Hashem is “closest” to us, when we have a special power to break free of our bad habits and to approach Him. If we are wise, we will see and seize this opportunity, to free ourselves of those bad habits for the new year.
May Hashem help us to take full advantage of this opportunity, and may all be sealed in the Book of Life for a blessed year.