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Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-18 (Physical Desire)
Since sinful behavior and sinful thoughts are driven by unrestrained physical desire, it is important for a person to be able maintain control over such desire at all times. A wise person feels a sense of gratification when he has succeeded in overcoming desire. He is relieved at having avoided temptation.
However, a fool cherishes desire because of the temporary pleasure that it gives him. Therefore, he hates the idea of suppressing desire because he does not want to forego the gratification he thinks it will bring him.
Physical desire is a powerful force which is associated with the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Despite its negative aspects, this force is necessary for human existence and is present in each person from the day of his birth. The yetzer hatov (good inclination) is associated with intelligence and appears only after the child attains maturity. From that point on the individual should actively manage physical desire and try to restrict it to those situations in life when it serves a valid purpose. This is not easy and requires a great deal of focused effort because of the inherent sweetness of the exerience of physical pleasure.
(יט) תַּאֲוָה נִהְיָה תֶּעֱרַב לְנָפֶשׁ וְתוֹעֲבַת כְּסִילִים סוּר מֵרָע:
Suppressing a desire is sweet to the soul but for fools it is an abomination to turn away from an evil [desire].
This proverb speaks of how a person’s spiritual self is gratified through suppression of physical desire. This is contrasted with the attitude of the fool who is disappointed when his desire is weakened. He thinks of his loss of desire as a hateful phenomenon because he forgets the pain it can cause him.
(יט) תַּאֲוָה נִהְיָה תֶּעֱרַב לְנָפֶשׁ
וְתוֹעֲבַת כְּסִילִים סוּר מֵרָע:
Suppressing a desire — תַּאֲוָה נִהְיָה is sweet and gratifying to the soul — תֶּעֱרַב לְנָפֶשׁ because desire tempts a person to evil behavior, but for fools it would be an abomination — וְתוֹעֲבַת כְּסִילִים to turn away from an evil desire — סוּר מֵרָע and resist it.
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
Wisdom in Words
(1) The word נִהְיָה is a unique construction of the root “to be.” It refers to the idea of suppressing a feeling as it comes into being. Thus, as a person senses the onset of an unwelcome physical desire he may choose to suppress it by focusing his attention elsewhere.
(2) The word נִהְיָה may also refer to the idea of experience in the present, as opposed to the past. In this interpretation, it suggests the sweetness of desire as being limited to the here and now. But once the desire has been satisfied, its pleasure is gone and the person must face the consequences. According to that interpretation, the word לְנָפֶשׁ refers to the soul of physical life rather than the spiritual soul. The text then reads, “[Experiencing] desire is [temporarily] sweet to the soul.”
(3) The word כְּסִילִ , fool, refers to someone who has intelligence, but is not motivated by skepticism or an evil character. However, he is foolish because he allows himself to be carried away by momentary desire.
(4) The fool hates restrictions on his desire because he is carried away by the experience of physical desire and suppresses thoughts of an negative consequences.
(5) Because the soul of physical life experience physical desire as having great sweetness, the restraint of this force is a very great challenge.
(6) A person who eats foods that he knows will make him sick is a fool. That is why Mishlei describes the person who gives in to his evil inclination because of physical desire as a fool.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רבינו בחיי, רלב”ג, המאירי , מצודות, רשר”ה,
(2) – רש”י, רבינו יונה, המאירי, מלבי”ם
(3) – מלבי”ם
(4) – רבינו יונה, מלבי”ם
(5) – המאירי
(6) -שבט מיהודה