Before the makah (disease), Hashem prepares the r’fuah (cure). Within last week’s haftarah, warning us about the impending doom, we find a message of hope and salvation.
“The ox knows its owner; the donkey the stall of its master; Yisrael doesn’t know, My nation doesn’t contemplate.” (Yeshaya 1:3)
Yeshaya HaNavi began the rebuke of his nation with these words.
Rashi explains what he was saying. The ox doesn’t change its nature. It doesn’t say, “I will no longer plow.” The donkey doesn’t say, “I will no longer haul loads.” Each animal follows its nature, unquestioningly doing what it was created to do. Klal Yisrael, however, is different. You, klal Yisrael, have veered off course and changed your ways. And so, you are lower than the animals created to serve you.
A Horse and Rider
This Rashi is difficult to understand. When a man mounts a horse, the man might weigh 150 pounds; the horse might weigh over 2,000 pounds. Yet, the man commands the horse to ride, gallop, turn, and stop. And the horse obeys. Why does the huge, powerful horse submit to the will of the little, weak man?
The reason is because that is the nature of a horse. Its instinct is to obey. It doesn’t think about it. It doesn’t decide to yield. Built into the very being of the horse is a temperament of subservience to its master.
Man, however, wasn’t constructed that way. Man has conflicting wishes and desires. Man has forces pulling him in competing directions. So how can Rashi compare the nature of a beast, which was created to comply, to that of man, which is so different?
The Nature of Man
The answer to this question is based on a more focused understanding of human nature:
The Chovos HaL’vavos (Shaar Avodas Elokim) explains that Hashem created man out of two distinct parts: the nefesh ha’sichli (soul) and the nefesh ha’bahami (animal instincts). The nefesh ha’sichli comes from the upper worlds, and so, it only wants to do that which is right and proper. It only wants to serve Hashem and accomplish great things. Its very nature is to strive for perfection.
The nefesh ha’bahami, on the other hand, is shaped by base instincts and desires. Much like any animal in the wild kingdom, man was preprogrammed with all of the impulses and drives needed for his survival. This part of man hungers for things. It doesn’t think about consequences or results. It can’t see into the future. It is made up of hungers and appetites.
Man is a synthesis – a perfect balance between two competing forces. If he chooses to listen to his pure nefesh, he grows and accomplishes, reaching his potential and purpose in Creation. If he chooses to listen to his animal instincts, then he destroys his grandeur and majesty, becoming lower than even the b’heimah. What we know as free will is this ability to choose which of his natures he will listen to.
Man Is Preprogrammed for Greatness
This seems to be the answer to this Rashi. Man is preprogrammed for greatness. Half of man’s personality is screaming out for meaning, purpose, and greatness. There is a powerful instinct within him that only desires that which is proper. If man follows that side of his inner nature, he is pulled towards perfection. But that is the point: The need for perfection is built into his very nature. Deep within him is a hunger to grow, to accomplish, to do that which is noble and great. This isn’t something that he needs to learn, and it isn’t something that he needs training in; it is part and parcel of his very being.
For a person to reach anything short of perfection, he must make a conscious choice: He must choose not to listen to the pulling of his soul.
And so, Yeshaya rebuked his nation, “Being good isn’t foreign to your nature. Following the Torah’s ways isn’t something that is imposed upon you; it is built into your essence. If you have veered off, then you have rebelled against your very nature. You have subverted the pull to greatness that dwells within your heart. And in that sense, you are lower than the animal kingdom, because animals obey the nature that Hashem put into them.
May we learn to recognize the mercy of Hashem, even while he warns us of what will be, he prepares us for the return.
May we learn to listen to that voice inside, and quickly end this long exile, once again taking our place as the Exalted Nation – Hashem’s Chosen People.
Born and bred in Kew Gardens Hills, R’ Ben Tzion Shafier joined the Choftez Chaim Yeshiva after high school. Shortly thereafter he got married and moved with his new family to Rochester, where he remained in for 12 years. R’ Shafier then moved to Monsey, NY, where he was a Rebbe in the new Chofetz Chaim branch there for three years. Upon the Rosh Yeshiva’s request, he stopped teaching to devote his time to running Tiferes Bnei Torah. R” Shafier, a happily married father of six children, currently resides in Monsey.