Monday, June 14, 2010

Challenges are good or to be avoided?

One of the major changes that I have seen in our society is the increased structuring of the community to minimize spiritual and intellectual challenges and threats. The following gemora seems to indicate that avoiding or going after challenges is a dispute amongst Amoraim.

Avoda Zara(17a): R. Hanina and R. Jonathan were walking on the road and came to a parting of ways, one of which led by the door of a place of idol-worship and the other led by a harlots’ place. Said the one to the other: Let us go [through the one leading] by the place of idolatry he inclination for which has been abolished.1 The other however said: Let us go [through that leading] by the harlots’ place and defy our inclination and have our reward. As they approached the place they saw the harlots withdraw2 at their presence. Said the one to the other: Whence didst thou know this?3 The other, in reply, quoted, She shall watch over thee, mezimmah [against lewdness], discernment shall guard thee.4

On the other hand the following gemora seems to be saying no one should seek out challenges.

 Sanhedrnin (107a):      Rab Judah said in Rab's name: One should never [intentionally] bring himself to the test, since David king of Israel did so, and fell. He said unto Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why do we say [in prayer] "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," but not the God of David?’ He replied, ‘They were tried by me, but thou wast not.’ Then, replied he, ‘Sovereign of the Universe, examine and try me’ — as it is written, Examine me, O Lord, and try me.2 He answered ‘I will test thee, and yet grant thee a special privilege;3 for I did not inform them [of the nature of their trial beforehand], yet, I inform thee that I will try thee in a matter of adultery.’ Straightway, And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed etc.4 R. Johanan said: He changed his night couch to a day couch,5 but he forgot the halachah: there is a small organ in man which satisfies him in his hunger but makes him hunger when satisfied.

Any sources which discuss this issue would be appreciated.


  1. It would seem that challenges should not be sought out but confronted firmly when present.

  2. Gemara in begining of brachos darshening the pasuk of rigzu ve'al te'chetayu

  3. Off topic:

    It seems Rav Sternbuch was hit by teargas at a peaceful rally.

  4. >On the other hand the following gemora seems to be saying no one should not seek out challenges.<

    'not' seems to be an error.

  5. I seem to recall a Gemara that says where there are two paths to take, one more circuitous & inconvenient but deserted while the other, more direct & convenient path passes in view of women, the one who takes the latter path on the presumption that he'll keep his eyes down, thus purposely testing himself, is called a rasha. I forget the source, but it can be found referenced in any halakhic compendium of shemiras aynaim sources.

  6. One should seek out challenges only with others, not by oneself.

  7. Off topic:

    Those kinds of rallies are never peaceful.

  8. A strange Gemara somewhat related to the topic of avoiding sin; What Rav and Rav Nachman would do to avoid sinful thoughts.
    Yevamos 37b, Rashi
    Yoma 18b, Tosfos

    Also Chagiga 16a about wearing black garments, etc.

  9. If they were blocking traffic, the issue would be would they peacefully let themselves be carried away.

  10. I have seen one explanation of Adam's sin (quoted by R Nebenzahl in his sichot on Bereshit)
    that the sin was that Adam put himself in a situation that would challenge his yezer hara- so that he could say he overcame the yezer hara and become closer to Hashem. This turned out to be the wrong thing to.....

    I don't think this explanation means avoid challenging situations, but to seek them out is not a good idea.

  11. Rav Avigdor Miller said that the way to deal with the yetzer hara was to avoid temptation.


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