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Re’ai: Overcoming the Yetzer Hara

כי ירחק ממך המקום אשר יבחר ה' אלקיך לשון שמו שם וזבחת מבקרך ומצאנך אשר נתן ה' לך כאשר צויתך ואכלת בשעריך בכל אות נפשך.

“If it will be distant from you the Place that Hashem your G-d has chosen to place His Name there; and you will slaughter from your cattle and your sheep that Hashem your G-d gave you, according to His command, and you will eat in your gates according to the desire of your soul.” (Devarim 12:21)

As long as the Jewish people were in the wilderness, the only way they could eat meat was by bringing an offering in the Mishkan. Now as they are about to enter Eretz Yisroel, The Torah is giving permission for Jews to eat meat that has not been offered as a korban, if it is slaughtered according to Jewish law. This is because when living in Eretz Yisroel it would be too difficult to travel all the way to the Bais Hamikdosh every time a person desires to eat meat.

Although the Bais Hamikdash may have been far away for some people who lived in the more distant regions of Eretz Yisroel, Hashem is never far from anyone. Hashem is always close to us, and we can always turn to Him in prayer, no matter where we are. If so, why does the verse emphasize that the Place where Hashem chose to place His Name is distant?

This verse can be interpreted as a message regarding the importance of waking up early in the morning to serve Hashem. Many tzaddikim have written about the greatness one can achieve by waking up in the early hours of the morning to learn Torah. In fact, although eating and sleeping are considered to be earthly endeavors which often draw a person away from Hashem, if a person overcomes his yetzer hara by waking up early, then even the sleep that he does get and the food he eats become elevated. This is because when he wakes up early, it is as if he “slaughters” his yetzer hara. Normally, the body pulls a person down, but once a person overcomes his evil inclination he gains the upper hand in his struggle to serve Hashem. Therefore, even mundane things such as eating and sleeping do not pull him down anymore. Instead, his neshama will elevate even such deeds.

This is the meaning of the verse: Sometimes a person feels “distant from the place that Hashem has chosen to place His Name there.” He may feel as if he is distanced from Hashem, and even his learning and davening do not bring him closer. What should he do to improve the situation? “You shall sacrifice from your cattle and your sheep.” The word bakar – cattle, can also be read boker – morning, and the word tzon – sheep, can also mean to go out and leave behind (as in tzena ur’ena). The verse can now be understood to mean: You should slaughter the early-morning yetzer hara that urges you to sleep in late. You should leave behind your earthly desire to sleep longer. If you will do this, then “you will eat in your gates according to the desire of your soul.” You will become so elevated that even when you will eat you will be doing so in an elevated manner, for the sake of serving Hashem with your soul. Even your mundane activities will become acts of serving Hashem.

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