“Enough is enough!” you proudly declare as you commit to a steady and well-balanced diet. A few days pass, and you are feeling very accomplished—you only consume the healthiest foods, and you have just implemented a daily cardiac workout regimen.
A couple more days pass, and you find yourself at work. After a long day spent at the office, you conveniently locate the chocolate doughnuts in the pantry. You feel a deep urge to indulge in one of your favorite treats.
In another scenario, you overhear some brand new gossip. You have a burning desire to share this “valuable” information with everyone in sight.
What is the common theme between these two daily occurrences? Self-control.
In this week’s Parashah, the Jewish people are charged with the lofty and inspiring task of becoming holy. In VaYikra 19:2, the Torah states “Dabeir El Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael VeAmarta Aleihem, ‘Kedoshim Tiheyu Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem,’” "Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, your God, am holy.’”
How do we attempt to reach such an exalted level? The Ramban, in his commentary on the above Pasuk, explains that although the Torah permits mankind to consume meat and wine and engage in marital relations, one may still come to perform these actions excessively and inappropriately. He can become a degenerate and vile individual, even when acting completely within the permissible realm of the Torah—a Naval BeReshut HaTorah. Ramban explains that the aforementioned Pasuk teaches Klal Yisrael that in order to lead a life of holiness, it is necessary to live with self-control and balance.
This lesson is also apparent within the Midrash HaGadol’s description of the snake’s conniving ploy to tempt Chavah to indulge in the Eitz HaDa’at (BeReishit Rabbah 3:1). The snake provides Chavah with the following rationalization: “Why would Hashem create these trees if He did not want you to partake in them?” The argument of the snake is the very backbone of today’s hedonistic and self-indulging culture. In order to lead a life of holiness, we must always strive to live with self-restraint and moderation.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (4:1) states, “Eizehu Gibor? HaKoveish Et Yitzro,” “Who is the strong one? One who subdues his inclination.” Leading a life of self-control and moderation certainly demands courage and great inner strength. Unfortunately, certain people fall prey to strife and provocations. Tempers often flare, and the results can be disastrous. The Gemara (Chulin 69a) explains that “the world exists only on account of one who muzzles himself at a time of provocation and refrains from reacting.” We must always attempt to use self-control and squash any provocations before damaging outcomes come to fruition.
Throughout the day, it can be very tempting to engage in the current gossip. However, by utilizing the power of self-control, a person has the ability to internalize the terribly damaging effects of slander and gossip. This power can protect the reputation and dignity of another human being.
The trait of self-control is also tested numerous times each and every day in ways that are intimately familiar to all of us. When engaging in a conversation with another person, we often find ourselves feeling the buzzing of our phones. At that moment, we have the choice whether to exercise our power of self-control and ignore the ring, thereby continuing to treat the other person with respect. By refusing to glance at the phone, we can send a clear and strong message of the true importance of the conversation and the other person.
Hashem has commanded us to be a holy nation. Through leading a life of self-control and moderation, we can hopefully aspire to attain such lofty and dignified heights.