I hope this message finds you well and in good health.
There is a time-honored custom amongst the Jewish people to study Pirkei Avot during the summer months. Accordingly, as we enter the month of July together, I would like to take a look at a Mishna that appears in the fourth chapter of Avot.
In the beginning of that chapter of Pirkei Avot, the sage Ben Zoma asks rhetorically, "Who is truly strong?", and he answers his question thus: "He who is able to conquer his yetzer, his desire."
We live in a society that is accustomed to believing that a strong individual is someone who is able to lift a certain amount of weights, or to win MMA championships. But our tradition is telling us something quite different. True strength is not determined by muscle mass, but rather by mental fortitude and determination; the ability to conquer negative desires. To conquer what is referred to in the original Hebrew as the "yetzer."
An individual's yetzer is the voice within your head telling you to take shortcuts, to take the easy way out. It is the voice that says, "why should you work hard saving up money to buy a flashy new sports car when you can just steal one?"
This is obviously not the right way.
Life is full of choices, the essence of being human is our possession of free will and the ability to make choices. Ultimately, life can be defined as a journey replete with an infinite number of choices to be made. And the Mishna is telling us that the truly strong individual is the person who will make the right choices and conquer their yetzer. These people are our society's true heroes.
As we enter the summer months and warmer weather, we are beginning to experiment with the idea of holding safe social-distancing Shabbat minyanim in community member's backyards. A number of health and distancing precautions will be put in place to ensure the safety of all attendees. As such, attendance at these minyanim will of necessity be limited. As much as we would love to open the davening to any and all who would like to attend, that is unfortunately not an opportunity in the current reality.
If you are interested in registering to attend one of these Shabbat backyard minyanim, or for any further information, please be in touch with me.
All the Best,
Rabbi Peretz Robinson