The Case for Restrictions – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



In our last issue, we began our discussion of the importance and impact of Hashem’s restrictions in our daily lives and presented a poignant anecdote which demonstrated that importance. We will begin our discussion in this issue with a second story which illustrates how Hashem’s restrictions are expressions of our being half angel in addition to being half animal.

A Second Story

A rabbi who was raised as a non-observant Jew explained that the following incident convinced him to live a life of Torah observance: He had decided to experiment and experience one Shabbat during his visit to Israel. He stayed at a Ba’al Teshuvah Yeshivah where he very much enjoyed the Friday night Tefillah, Se’udah and discussions. He then proceeded to his room where he was faced with a dilemma: the main light was not turned off before Shabbat.

The young man was unsure as to what to do. On the one hand, he was not observant, so why not turn off the light in order for him to get a proper night’s rest? One the other hand, he promised he would give Shabbat a try, and so he decided to refrain from turning the light off.

The next morning he woke up tired from lack of proper sleep but exhilarated over his ability to control himself. Never before had he experienced such a profound sense of satisfaction. The angel side of his personality was finally satisfied. This experience was his prime motivation to become a Torah observant Jew.

This type of exhilaration can be experienced when one refrains from eating that which he should not eat, listening to or speaking Lashon HaRa, or engaging in inappropriate sensuality. Elation emerges from the empowerment of being able to master one’s physical urges. One who observes the Torah experiences the joy of being the one who controls himself and not being enslaved to his passions. Indeed, Chazal teach (Avot 6:2) “Ein Lecha Ben Chorin Ela Mi SheOseik BeTalmud Torah,” the only truly free individual is the one who is immersed in a Torah lifestyle.”[1]

Rav Soloveitchik’s “Catharsis”

Rav Soloveitchik’s dramatic essay entitled “Catharthis” expands upon Chazal’s teaching that "The commandments were given to purge mankind" (BeReishit Rabbah 44). The implication of this teaching is that man is born in an unrefined state and requires improvement. The Mitzvot facilitate the indispensable refinement of the human being. Without such refinement, explains Rav Soloveitchik, the individual is unredeemed.

Rav Soloveitchik identifies four areas of human life that are in need of redemption: carnal drives, emotional life, intellectual life, and religious life. Essential to redemption, argues Rav Soloveitchik, is the ability to retreat and withdraw from situations. For example, a hungry individual who resists eating delectable food due to Kashrut regulations or refrains from a business dealing due to its incompatibility with Torah laws and values has redeemed an aspect of his personality. Rav Soloveitchik also explains that Halachah challenges us to engage or be prepared to engage in such redemptive and heroic actions on a regular basis[2].

Without such withdrawal, one remains an incomplete and unredeemed individual. Thus, the wealthy businessman who could not control his urge to eat in the story we presented in our previous issue is living a pitiful and unredeemed life[3]. The profound sense of satisfaction experienced by the young man who refrained from extinguishing the light in his room on Shabbat emerged from the sense of sorely needed redemption of the human personality.

Rav Soloveitchik’s observations do not merely highlight the deficiencies of living a life absent of Torah observance. They also constitute a challenge to Torah observant Jews as to whether their Mitzvah observance truly redeems and uplifts their personalities. Chazal’s teaching that the Torah was given only to refine our character is a sobering reminder of the important goal of Torah observance. Every Jew must engage in serious introspection and determine if he is successfully meeting this goal[4].

Argument #3 – God’s Restrictions Are in Our Best Interest

Sefer Devarim, the compilation of Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell speeches to Am Yisrael, stresses that observance of the Torah is “Lema’an Yitav Lach,” for our benefit (Devarim 4:40, 5:15, 6:18 and 6:24 are examples). A classic illustration of this principle is articulated by Rabi Meir (Niddah 31b), who explains that the Torah restricts marital relations during the time a wife is a Niddah “because if the husband would become accustomed to his wife, he would loathe her; therefore, the Torah made her impure for a certain amount of time so that she would be as beloved to her husband as at the moment she entered the Chuppah.”

Moreover, the time spent abstaining from their physical relationship allows a couple to develop their personal relationship as they did during their courtship. Refraining from physical relations before marriage allows the personal relationship to grow and be nurtured before the physical relationship begins. The dramatically lower incidence of divorce among fully committed Jews constitutes dramatic evidence of the efficacy of the Torah’s laws regarding male-female relationships. Couples who observe Niddah laws are eager to be intimate during permitted times since they know that their opportunity is limited. This explains reports from therapists with whom I have consulted that in the long term, observant couples engage in marital relations more often (which, in turn, strengthens and reinforces the marital bond) than non-observant couples.

I read of a non-observant Jew who related that he began engaging in intimate relations with his future wife on their second date and did not observe Hilchot Niddah during the marriage. He observed that he and his wife began to develop a personal relationship only when working together to raise their children after their divorce. Only after their divorce did this couple refrain from intimacy and develop a personal relationship. What a profound tragedy! When one conducts his or her life in accordance with the rules set down by our Creator for our benefit, he or she is poised to succeed. Failure to adhere to the divine guidance leads to disaster, as set forth by Hoshei’a: “Shuvah Yisrael Ad Hashem Elokecha Ki Chashalta BaAvonecha,” “Return Yisrael to Hashem your God since you have failed in your sins[5]” (14:2).

The benefit of observing Torah law is apparent not only regarding Hilchot Niddah. Shabbat observance brings the priceless treasure of a forced vacation and a day to unplug from electronics. Kashrut, in addition to Shabbat, helps Jews build and create cohesive communities. The Halachic prohibition to drive a vehicle on Shabbat and Yom Tov compels us to reside within walking distance of a synagogue, which leads to the creation of clusters of observant Jews living within a concentrated area. Kashrut requires us to live in an area where kosher food is readily available. When traveling, Kashrut and Shabbat regulations motivate us to meet the local observant Jews for lodging and dining.

There are Conservative rabbis (as recounted by Rav Shmuel Goldin) who bemoan their leadership’s decision in 1950 to permit driving an automobile to Shabbat prayers. They note that this decision irreparably disrupted the creation of Conservative Jewish communities, since it led to the destruction of its members’ requirement to live within walking distance of their synagogues[6]. This, tragically, proves correct Moshe Rabbeinu’s warning “Why are you violating God’s command? It will not succeed” (BeMidbar 14:41).

A root of all sin is one’s thinking that he will benefit from the sin, as did Chavah when she partook in the forbidden fruit of the Eitz HaDa’at (Tree of Knowledge). Chavah thought that by eating from the Eitz HaDa’at, she would become as great as Hashem (BeReishit 3:5). She regarded the forbidden fruit as “Good for eating, pleasing to the eye and desirable as a means to wisdom” (BeReishit 3:6), when in reality, it lead only to exile and death.

It is tempting for one to erroneously believe that “It is my life and I will do what I want.” However, Moshe Rabbeinu cautions us against these attitudes by telling us, “You should know in your heart that just as a father will discipline his child so too Hashem discipline us” (Devarim 8:5). How sad it was for my wife and I to hear an elderly relative articulate his regretting that he objected to his wife’s pleas to give their children a Jewish day school education. He admitted that the reason he had no Jewish grandchildren was his stubborn insistence on his children attending public school, against the advice of his rabbi and his wife. Failure to abide by the Torah way leads only to disaster, as repeatedly taught in Tanach[7].

From an early age, we must realize that all which Hashem has commanded us to do is in our best interest, and compliance to those commandments gives us long-term pleasure. Hashem (BeReishit 12:1) instructs Avraham Avinu, “Lech Lecha,” “move for you” to the Land of Kena’an. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the seemingly unnecessary word “Lecha” conveys that the journey was intended for Avraham’s benefit and pleasure. Indeed, all of Hashem’s commandments are for our benefit and pleasure[8].


As we have demonstrated, Hashem’s commandments and prohibitions are aimed to make our lives more meaningful and enriched. In our next issue, we will, God willing, continue our attempt to reveal the benefits of Hashem’s restrictions.

[1] The ideas presented in the following section are presented most elegantly, eloquently and profoundly by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his seminal article entitled “Catharsis,” published in Tradition Spring 1978. This brief essay is one of Rav Soloveitchik’s most important essays and is an essential read for every thinking Jew. An excellent and extensive analysis is presented by Rav Ronnie Ziegler in essays archived on the website of Yeshivat Har Etzion,

[2] Rav Yehuda Amital (in an informal talk with overseas students at Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1982) explained the difference in Mitzvah requirements between men and women by telling of an interaction he had with his granddaughter who asked why she does not wear a Kippah and Tzitzit: He asked her, “Are girls as wild as boys?” The granddaughter responded “no.” Rav Amital told her that boys are wilder and need to wear a Kippah and Tzitzit to remind them to control their behavior. We can express this idea in Rav Soloveitchik’s terms. Hashem bestows a more refined character upon women than he does upon men, and thus women require fewer Mitzvot to refine their personalities.

[3] The businessman’s behavior, which was related in our last issue, is reminiscent of Eisav’s selling his birthright for lentil soap. Regrettably, Western society has become a culture of Eisav, glorifying immediate gratification. In the words of Rav Efrem Goldberg, “In the area of the battle between the animal and the Godly soul, the temptations of the physical world versus the quest for spirituality, we not only have not progressed, but a survey of advertisements, websites, themes of movies and TV, and behavior of politicians and celebrities shows that we have regressed. The world of marketing seeks to exploit the animal impulse inside us all with messages like ‘Obey your thirst’ and ‘Just do it.’ Look at the infidelity rates and the obesity statistics and you cannot help but conclude that for many modern people, the animal instinct is defeating the Godly, disciplined soul.”

[4] Interestingly, before Rachel married Rabi Akiva, she realized his great potential to develop into a great Torah scholar from the fact that he had refined character traits (Ketubot 62b).

[5] I read an apt comparison of Hilchot Niddah to parents who restrict the amount of cake and candy their children eat. Parents are not trying to reduce the children’s pleasure but rather instruct the children to limit their intake in order that they enjoy the cake while not becoming sick.

[6] I have heard non-Jewish clergy praise the beauty of Jewish families walking back and forth from synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath. A Catholic priest commented half-jokingly that he should raise with his colleagues the idea to prohibit driving to their houses of worship on Sunday to induce families to walk together to worship.

[7] In the Viduy (confessional), we state that “Sarnu MiMitzvotecha UMiMitzvotecha HaTovim VeLo Shavah Lanu,” “We have turned away from your wonderful Mitzvot and it has not been worthwhile.”

[8] For an explanation of the Torah’s ban on homosexual behavior, see an enlightening and courageous essay authored by psychiatrist Dr. Nathaniel S. Lehrman entitled “Homosexuality: A Political Mask for Promiscuity: A Psychiatrist Reviews the Data,” published in Tradition, vol. 34, no. 1 (2000) pp. 44-62. Dr. Lehrman demonstrates at length that homosexual behavior runs contrary to the best interests of those who choose to engage in such activity. He also bemoans much of Western society’s myopic approach to homosexuality which has halted any significant research in helping those who wish to eliminate homosexual attraction

Chanah the Revolutionary and Our New Year by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

The Case for Restrictions – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter