One of the key ways the Jewish people maintain their holiness is by observing the laws governing moral behavior. As the morality of the culture around us plummets and temptations reach new peaks, our mission to live elevated lives is more difficult than ever. God knows this and does not expect perfection. All He asks is that we do the best we can.
King Solomon taught (Proverbs 4:23), “More than you guard anything, guard your heart…” When we guard our moral purity, we are guarding our heart.
We recite daily in the morning prayers, “My God, the soul you placed within me is pure.” We have to do whatever we can to safeguard the holy of holies within, our Creator’s priceless gift. Then, we can say to Him with satisfaction and pride, “I have done my best to keep the soul you placed within me pure.”
Answering Moses’ call
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw people worshiping the Golden Calf, he wanted those who had shielded themselves from sin to pledge total allegiance to God. He cried out, (Exodus 32:26), “…Mi Lashem Elai!” “Whoever is for God, join me!” This was not a onetime plea; he is speaking to each one of us, every day of our lives. He is urging us to flee from sin and cling tenaciously to God.
The Vilna Gaon, the renowned eighteenth century scholar, discussed the period before the Messiah (as quoted by Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman in his book, The Ishmaelite Exile). The Vilna Gaon wrote that the number of people who are of average conduct will slowly decrease, until society becomes polarized: One group following the elevated path toward greater closeness to God, with the other group breaking away and sinking to the depths of evil.
Be brutally honest with yourself and ask, “Which group am I in? Am I growing spiritually and striving to live an elevated life, or am I declining and worshiping the golden calves of Western society (one of which is immorality)?”
In the face of indecency, we have a choice: We can either let ourselves be enticed and pulled down by it or we can set firm redlines and say, “No! I will not be a part of this.” We must flee from sin as if running from a fire. When we make sacrifices to observe the Torah, we do our part to ensure the survival of our people as His holy nation.
Here are four steps you can take to preserve or restore your moral purity:
1. Learn the laws. For example, laws of forbidden seclusion – yichud – and forbidden contact – negiah – keep those who uphold them far away from forbidden relations. Author Gila Manolson addresses some of these areas in her books and articles available at http://www.gila-manolson.com. For further details on these laws, ask your rabbi and/or study Nidchei Yisrael by the Chofetz Chaim. (It is available in English for free by clicking on the title. Some of the sections are strongly worded; if that approach does not work for you, speak to your mentor for alternatives.)
Also study chapter 11 of The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. In it is an eye-opening discussion on commandments which many are not fully aware of, including those relating to morality. This work is available in English by either Feldheim or Artscroll (the latter edition includes a commentary and is entitled, Mesillas Yesharim: Way of the Upright).
Living a life of moral purity is not all or nothing. At one end of the spectrum is complete moral purity – where one guards what they look at and think about. At the other end of the spectrum is extreme sinful behavior, avoiding which one is obligated to give up one’s life, such as committing adultery. The behavior of each one of us exists somewhere on this spectrum. Set redlines you will not cross, so your behavior will not slide toward the side of immorality, and make a commitment to move your behavior one notch toward the side of purity.
Decide in advance how you will deal with challenging situations, so you are not caught off guard and give in to pressure or temptation. Preferably, speak to your rabbi, rebbetzin, or spiritual mentor for advice.
Do not become disheartened if you struggle with some forms of prohibited behavior. Do the best you can, fill your mind with purifying Torah thoughts, avoid temptations whenever possible, ask God for help, and when you lapse, immediately repent and get back on track. No matter how many times you fall, pick yourself up, repent, and begin again with a fresh start.
2. Use the internet with caution. The internet is perhaps the greatest source of spiritual pollution in our generation. Like fire, the internet can accomplish great good, or can become an inferno causing great harm. Even if by the grace of God you are not among those caught in a web of contamination, protect yourself and your family. Allowing access to an unfiltered internet on your computer or smart-phone is like leaving a loaded gun lying around your house. It is possible no one will get hurt, but do you want to take the chance?
Many mistakenly think that the websites they visit are private. But there are a number of companies who track the sites you visit, such as your browser and internet service provider among others. One can easily imagine someone illicitly accessing that information and posting people’s browsing habits online for all to see. It brings a new perspective to the words of the Sages, “An eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1).”
There are a number of options for internet filters for phones, tablets and computers; some are more comprehensive than others. In addition to filtering software, one can also get separate reporting software, which has the capability of emailing to a third-party a log of websites visited.
A general internet tip: Be careful when clicking on search results or links to other sites. Many are to so-called news or health sites, which can be filled with inappropriate articles and images. Best to stick to sites you know are OK. Also, keeping a picture of a revered ancestor or rabbi by your computer, can be helpful.
A website devoted to this topic and recommended by Rabbi Dr. Avraham J. Twerski, MD is http://www.guardyoureyes.org.
3. Engage in spiritual spring cleaning. The Torah warns us (Deuteronomy 7: 26), “Do not bring an abomination into your house since you will become accursed like it; you should utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.”
To whatever extent you’re ready, go through your books, magazines, music and videos, and get rid of those which are filled with profanity, lewdness or vulgarity. Be more discerning what websites and videos you expose your soul to. If you wouldn’t show it to a teenager, you probably shouldn’t be watching it either. Go through your wardrobe and donate to charity clothing that is unbecoming for you. Staying away from temptation and impurity will enable you to have a closer relationship with the ultimate source of holiness and purity – God Himself.
4. Talk to your kids. Children can be exposed to spiritual pollution in many different venues. We have to do our best to shield them and beseech God to protect them. Our children should join in this effort and not feel it is us against them. Talk to your children, perhaps read this chapter with them and go through the above steps. Work together to keep them out of harm’s way. Explain that this is a struggle we are all engaged in; while as an adult we are responsible to protect ourselves, as parents we are responsible to help our children protect themselves.
We have to be role models for our children and let them know what we do to safeguard ourselves; we cannot expect them to be more vigilant than we are.
Protecting our moral purity will entail making sacrifices. When we remind ourselves that we are safeguarding our eternal soul, we will realize that it is well worth the sacrifice. What could be more important than our soul – our very essence?
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