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Staying Clear Is Staying Clean

When our inner world is foggy, all the aveiros can come in. When our inner world is clear, they stay out


Prepared for print by Rabbi Eran Feintuch


can’t fathom the tragedy of the Churban. We lost a world in which Hashem’s presence was manifest. We lost the place that had the power to wipe away our aveiros. One went to the Beis Hamikdash with a bundle of aveiros and came home clean.

On Yom Kippur, the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash was so powerful that one didn’t even need to go there to achieve atonement. When the scarlet wool turned white, the wrongdoings of the entire nation were washed away.

The kedushah of the Beis Hamikdash was stronger than aveiros. We no longer have a physical place like that. But our spiritual avodah still has the strength to push our aveiros away.

It seems to us that our aveiros are always stronger. Stronger than our willpower, stronger than our yiras Shamayim. But we all have a koach that can keep the yetzer hara at bay. That koach is clarity.

It was the power of clarity that turned the scarlet wool white on Yom Kippur. The mefarshim explain that the Seir Hamishtalei’ach wiped away our aveiros by creating a clear world. It expelled all the external influences that had infiltrated the Jewish nation, revealing Klal Yisrael’s unadulterated spiritual essence. That clarity atoned for our aveiros.

The source of aveiros is a state of bilbul, confusion. The yetzer hara’s strength stems from our lack of clarity. We can’t differentiate between the callings of our yetzer hatov and our yetzer hara, between our seichel and our selfish middos. When our inner world is foggy, all the aveiros can come in. When our inner world is clear, they stay out. Clarity is stronger than aveiros.


This concept seems lofty, but it’s extremely practical. When you’re engaged in a mitzvah, if your objective is clearly defined, aveiros can’t infiltrate. Your intent to accomplish the endeavor is stronger than the pull toward aveiros. The clarity of your endeavor leaves no room for the yetzer hara to creep in.

I’ll give a simple illustration. Have you ever seen a worker using a jackhammer? He’s a holy man! No evil thoughts, no frivolous distractions enter his mind. We might say he is “fully present.” He’s 100 percent focused on the task at hand. Not because it’s difficult. Simply because he has an extremely clear objective. He thinks of nothing else until he’s done.

The problem is that in our spiritual lives, our endeavors aren’t as clear as using a jackhammer. Our approach to avodah is very foggy. We don’t know what we’re trying to do. We go to daven. What are we trying to do when we say Pesukei D’zimra, or when we stand for Shemoneh Esreh? To praise Hashem, to implore for Klal Yisrael’s needs, or to humble ourselves before our Maker?

What are we trying to accomplish when we go visit a sick friend? To comfort him, to lighten his mood, or to attend to his needs? What are we trying to do when we open the Gemara? Which points are we trying to clarify?

If we don’t have a clearly defined endeavor, anything can creep in. Even if the yetzer hara doesn’t get us to do an outright aveirah, it will distract us from performing the mitzvah properly. Last Friday my chavrusa couldn’t come, and I was glad to have the opportunity to work on projects I usually don’t have time for. But I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. That lack of clarity destroyed the day. The smallest distraction took me away from my work, and I accomplished nothing.

The Gemara says that if a person attains dei’ah, it’s as if the Beis Hamikdash were built in his lifetime. On a very simple level, we can understand this to mean that when you have a clear understanding of your avodah, aveiros can’t come in, and your world of avodah is pure. As with the Beis Hamikdash, the clarity we achieve by defining our endeavor is stronger than the aveiros.


It’s important to define our terms here. Having a clear understanding of our endeavor doesn’t mean having a goal. A goal is a distant destination we hope to reach. It doesn’t clearly define our immediate objective in the task at hand. A person might dream of mastering the whole masechta he’s learning.

That’s an admirable goal. But it won’t keep his mind focused, because when he opens the Gemara, he still won’t have a clear picture of what he’s trying to accomplish in the moment. A jackhammer operator, on the other hand, doesn’t have a goal. He simply has a clear understanding of the immediate task at hand. That’s the clarity that keeps the yetzer hara from steering us off track.

We’re not used to this idea. We’re accustomed to thinking that motivation is the key to success in avodas Hashem. That’s why we’re always looking for inspiration. Everyone needs chizuk. But excitement and inspiration alone aren’t enough to stop the yetzer hara from stealing our mitzvos. Clarity is. A jackhammer operator isn’t necessarily excited about what he’s doing, but the clarity of his task keeps him focused.

Everyone marveled at the hasmadah of Rav Chaim Kanievsky ztz”l. How can a person never stop learning for 80 years straight? I don’t think constant inspiration was the secret of his success. Rather, it was extremely clear to him what he wanted to do, all the time, every moment. He lived in a very clear world.

Only great tzaddikim can live like that 24 hours a day. But why can’t we at least do this when we set out to do a mitzvah? We’re about to begin Shemoneh Esreh, open the Gemara, or visit a sick friend. What exactly are we trying to accomplish?

Clarity fulfills a basic human need. A person has an inner need to advance, to push further. If you have a clear endeavor, that drive takes on clear parameters. You stick to your endeavor, and progress further and further. There’s so much room to grow in tefillah, chesed, and learning. But when you don’t have a clear endeavor, you can’t progress in the world of avodah. So you start to explore areas that don’t exactly strengthen your avodas Hashem.


People say the way to stay on the right path is to insulate yourself from exposure to all the negative influences around us. You definitely need to do so. Foreign influences have never been so enticing and so accessible. But that’s not enough. You need an inner koach that’s stronger than those influences. Clarity is just such a koach. Just having a clear picture of our avodah takes away 80 percent of their lure.

This is especially crucial for bein hazmanim: it can be a time of tremendous aliyah, or tremendous yeridah. Clearly defining the areas we want to work on is the key to success.

Every morning in Uva L’Tzion we say, “Baruch shehivdilanu min hato’im.” Blessed is He who separated us from the wanderers. The non-Jewish world has no shortage of brilliant people. Yet their top intellectuals and philosophers fail to rise to personal greatness. That’s because they wander about. They don’t have clarity on their direction. Maybe we should take this approach, maybe that one.

But the gift of Torah grants us the ability to live a focused life. Great tzaddikim are able to maintain their focus all the time. But on our level, with a bit of thought, we can at least achieve clear focus in the mitzvos we do every day.

Before we daven, learn, or do chesed, let’s make an effort to think about what we’re trying to accomplish. If we make this small investment, with Hashem’s help, we’ll succeed in our avodah with newfound ease, and keep outside influences from luring us off track. We’ll discover the koach within us that, like the Beis Hamikdash, is stronger than aveiros.


 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 922)

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