All of the sudden, they'll become consumed with the desire to do something they'd left behind, something they completely rejected and even forgotten about...until it suddenly hits them again with a vengeance.
It's like you're innocently strolling down the street in a good neighborhood, and all of the sudden you're ambushed by a lunging mugger, chas v'shalom.
I've heard people express all different desires, like yearning to hear old pop music, to smoke illicit substances, watch certain TV programs, go out to the dance club at night, and so on.
So I had this thing where I desperately wanted to go to a movie theater.
(I know. It's so embarrassing, isn't it? What a stupid inane thing.)
Initially, I stopped going to movie theaters without any inner struggle. I simply didn't want to.
I stopped watching movies and did not miss movie theaters or TV.
Then around 15 years later, I suddenly found myself yearning for the experience of picking out my favorite seat, and sitting there with a ginormous bucket of buttery popcorn and root beer, and then that sensation of anticipation when the lights go dim and the ginormous screen comes to life.
And I spent an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about this. You know, like planning to go to one of those cheap-o sheitel gemachs and get a very realistic-looking sheitel and get clothes that secular people would wear, but that still cover everything that needs to be covered, and so on.
But fortunately, I never did it.
The question is why?
Because I'm sooooo pious and pumped with gevurah!
(No, just kidding. Gosh, I wish that had been the reason. But that wasn't the reason, unfortunately.)
It's Also Okay If Your Yetzer Hara is Stopped By Mere Inconvenience, And Not By Holier Reasons
First of all, I was living in Eretz Yisrael when this hankering hit me.
If you've ever been to movie theaters in Eretz Yisrael (may they all turn into batei midrash), then you know you must endure the distasteful experience of assigned seating. In a movie theater.
That right there ruins the entire experience.
That's right: When you go to pay for your tickets, you get tickets with seat numbers on them, just like on an airplane.
So before you even get inside the theater, your delicious experience is already marred by the tension of possibly receiving seats in a location that might at least somewhat diminish your enjoyment for the next 90 minutes.
(I know, I know. This is such an American problem, isn't it? "Slightly diminished pleasure for 90 minutes? – Aack! Help! SOS! I must have the full pleasure-experience or else I feel severely deprived! Aack!")
The next problem is that Israeli movie theaters impose a forced intermission precisely at the mid-point mark. So for a 90-minute movie, everything suddenly disappears and the lights go on at exactly the 45-minute mark, regardless of what's happening on screen.
Who needs intermission after only 45 minutes? In America, if you need to replenish candy bars at any point in the movie, you do it on your own time & cheshbon.
Enforced intermission totally ruins the movie-going experience.
For example, way back in my first year in Eretz Yisrael as a 19-year-old going on 20, I remember watching Last of the Mohicans in a movie theater, and just as the Mohican was straddling the white guy with a mighty rock raised in the Mohican's hands about to come smashing down on the white guy's head, the screen faded and the lights went on.
So the diminished pleasure of the Israeli movie-going experience combined with the difficulty of indulging myself without causing a chilul Hashem or being discovered, plus the fact that if you are a remotely decent person, there are no truly enjoyable movies to enjoy anyway...all that combined stopped me from doing it.
And the severe yearning eventually dissipated.
Now I don't feel like I need or want to relive the American movie theater experience, and I'm certainly grateful that I couldn't do so when I did feel that yearning.
(This is also yet another example of how material goals are not as easily facilitated in Eretz Yisrael, while spiritual goals are much more within grasp – in fact, you're even even forced into the ruchnius aspect, whether you want it or not and whether you realize it or not.)
The Less Poison, The Better!
It's true that Jews on the level of Rav Miller or Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus don't even WANT to go to a movie theater. Just the idea is like suggesting that they to go sit in a sewage tank.
No appeal, just revulsion.
But there is still virtue in not doing something, even for the flimsiest of reasons.
There is still benefit.
It's like ingesting more poison or less poison.
Even if you avoid certain poisons for silly reasons, like simply because they taste bad or even because you can't due to lack of availability, you still benefit because the less poison in life, the better!
Yes, self-restraint from the heart is ideal.
But, for example, all the food you didn't eat prevents obesity – even if the only reason you didn't overeat is simply because you could not access the overabundance of food.
All the illicit drugs you didn't take means you never overdosed into an early death.
All the "poison" you didn't ingest – for whatever the reason – means less damage to inner organs & quality of life.
You still benefit, despite your not-terribly-noble-nor-pure reasons for not committing the act.
What Should You Do When Those Old Longings Hit?
She said that if these old taavot you thought you'd overcome and even forgotten about come slinging back at you, the solution is:
- Just sit down with Hashem and talk about why.
Part of the reason is Hashem making sure you get it all out of your system for the right reasons, and extract it at its root.
But it's also good to look at what these old taavot mean to you and what that's telling you now.
Meaning, if the old songs make you feel a certain way and that's the root of what you're longing for, then there's a spiritual longing under all that, which needs to be addressed and nurtured.
It's the same idea with illicit drugs, illicit relationships, discotheque dancing, or anything else.
What is really going on beneath it all? What is the message?
That's one way of doing it.
- You can also do sur m'ra v'aseh tov (Turn from evil and do good): Try not to think about it at all while simultaneously filling your mind and your life with spiritually delicious kosher thoughts & activities.
This is also the classic idea of taking your yetzer hara to the study hall – meaning that Torah is the antidote to your treif hankerings.
Eventually, it passes & you move on to the next level.
Beware the Snooty Yetzer Hara!
For example, some people (even some frum people) think that if you need a solid filter on your Internet or to live in an entirely frum area to hold yourself together, or any other kind of "fence," then you are a hypocrite. You're not being "real." And so on.
The "purity of intentions" ideal is a particularly snooty holier-than-thou yetzer hara.
Yes, our goal is l'shem Shamayim and to act out purely of love for Hashem.
But avoiding sin for lesser reasons is also beneficial!
If you are being honest about your yetzer hara and what you need to resist it, then YOU ARE BEING REAL.
This also includes not adding more bad to the bad stuff you've already done.
Let's say that you gave in to the yearning to listen to, say, particularly angry rap music. But you still haven't given in to the yearning to smoke.
Don't think that you might as well smoke too just because you've already slid into angry rap music sung by gutter rats who are rolling in millions of dollars and STILL feel angry and resentful about life, and want to encourage everyone else to feel that way too (because that's how they are getting filthy rich).
Nope. Don't give in to that.
Remember: The less the poison the better!