Most people perceive the avoidance of a forbidden act as passive—wimpy, even.
Rather than sinning, you simply refrain.
It FEELS passive. It feels limp.
Even when a person experiences tremendous strain & angst while refraining, the lack of visible result muddles the true picture.
The Truth about the Gevurah of Restraint
Yet he refrains.
Inside, he boils & feels terrible frustration.
He may find himself obsessing for hours about what he could've said and what will be in the future.
Maybe he thanks Hashem for the suffering, maybe not.
Regardless, no bells or whistles go off, no stunning angels appear, no bat kol booms out from Heaven declaring, "Ploni ben Ploni overcame his natural instincts — such an amazing gibbur who overcame his yetzer hara!!!"
Some people feel a sense of satisfaction when overcoming their yetzer hara...but others don't!
Such people may even feel just frustrated or empty inside.
However, the Torah Truth of the matter is: This person who restrains himself actually creates a tremendous impression in the unseen spiritual worlds.
He also makes a positive imprint on his soul in an extremely powerful way.
Furthermore, he creates an amazing angel, which will be waiting to greet him & stand as his merit & defense when his soul comes before the Heavenly Tribunal in Shamayim.
The spiritual impression & angelic representative created by this act of restraint can NEVER be erased, no matter how many other transgressions he falls into—including transgressions in the same area in which he managed to restrain himself that time.
Sure, that act of restraint can be outnumbered or overwhelmed by transgressions.
But it can NEVER be ERASED.
It will ALWAYS EXIST—no matter what.
Honors & Stories You Will Never Witness
For example, society hosts fancy dinners to honor people who give lots of tzedakah to their community.
No one hosts fancy dinners to honor someone who craved to spend money on forbidden activities & products, but refrained.
You will never walk past a fancy hall with a sign proclaiming:
ANNUAL DINNER TRIBUTE HONORING OUTSTANDING MISGABER HERSHY GOLDBLUM, WHO FACED THE NISAYON OF DESIRING BACON DOUBLE-CHEESE BURGERS & LOOKING AT UNWHOLESOME IMAGES 10,798 TIMES THIS YEAR, YET RESTRAINED HIMSELF A WHOPPING 10,708 TIMES!!!
(In addition to acts of gevurah/restraint remaining unknown to others, they also tend to be embarrassing, which is another reason why no one receives public honor for them. Hershy Goldblum really does not want his yetzer hara for treif food & unwholesome images to be publicized, especially if he's married with children.)
While engaging speakers captivate us with stories of first responders, devoted teachers who made a difference, and generous acts of kindness & charity, no one tells a story of the girl who resisted the magnetic pull of contributing juicy gossip to a particularly juicy conversation.
For example, no speaker ever says:
"What if I told you that Malky Kaufman was this week's hero in Shamayim? Malky found herself in a discussion of particularly delicious lashon hara—and boy, did she have something extremely juicy to contribute! AND she even justified it to herself as true, plus the story was well-known among many others, so that makes it not-so-bad, right? In addition, she craved lapping up the attention sure to be riveted on her as she spoke.
"And not ONLY did Malky restrain herself from speaking...she even quietly walked away, unnoticed by the others riveted on the forbidden topic!
"And why did Malky restrain herself? Because she knew that despite her justifications, there was no useful purpose in listening to or sharing this lashon hara. So that made it forbidden. Hashem doesn't like it. So Malky kept silent and walked away.
"But it's not only that.
"Malky didn't even feel good about it! She experienced NO sense of victory or satisfaction in her gevurah! She felt tormented by her desire to share in the deliciously juicy gossip, and found it difficult to stop imagining the gratifying scenario had she indulged her overwhelming desire to listen to & speak lashon hara.
"That's right. Malky suffers from a HUGE yetzer hara for kavod and lashon hara...I mean, her yetzer hara for kavod and lashon hara is absolutely MASSIVE—over-powering, overwhelming, RELENTLESS...
"Yet Malky overcame that horrific yetzer hara that time.
"And without ever knowing about it, Malky's act of restraint created UNFATHOMABLE light in the Upper Worlds! Her powerful act of gevurah actually tipped the Heavenly Scales to the side of merit, sweetening the judgement over her community, and making the world a better place. In addition, the angels created from Malky's act of gevurah? Their beauty and grandeur rival that of the Swiss Alps at sunset—and remain on Malky's cheshbon for eternity.
"And doesn't that show us the infinite opportunities for our own acts of gevurah?"
Again, we feel embarrassed by our unholy desires, so we don't want them publicized.
A "Malky" would never want anyone to know just how much she craves attention—even such unholy attention—and indulging in lashon hara.
But also, these acts remain unseen & unheard in this world...and likewise, their stunning results remain unseen & unheard.
Yet they definitely exist.
Torah Sources Reveal the Unimaginable Glory of Self-Restraint
For example, the Zohar (don't know where) says:
"Each and every time you succeed in warding off the yetzer hara—even in the smallest measure—you reveal God in the world."
"And every moment a man does not say a word, he is entitled to the hidden light that no angel or other creature can imagine. "
There's also this from the Vilna Gaon:
"But the main way to merit Olam Haba is by guarding one's tongue. That is worth more than all the Torah and good deeds."
2 Reasons Why Incomplete Accomplishments Actually Complete You
Perhaps it's similar to climbing a mountain.
Even if you slide back 500 times...by the end of life, you might find yourself half way up the mountain, rather than hanging out eating, drinking, surfing, texting, and shmoozing at rock bottom.
Why is half a mountain still an accomplishment?
(1) As discussed by Rav Dessler, the good acts you merely begin in This World create roots in the World to Come. These roots continuously elevate you in the World to Come.
However, the roots won't exist at all unless you create them first.
So just creating those roots provides you with indescribable benefits.
Please see here for more on that idea:
(2) You can never know the exact parameters of your Heavenly account.
Perhaps in a previous lifetime, you scaled half a mountain.
Therefore, in this lifetime, you were meant to scale only another half (because 2 halves make 1 whole).
So what looks like a job only half-done...is really a complete job.
And because there's no way to know all the details, so you might as well give it your best shot.
You never know what you're actually accomplishing.
The All-Encompassing Importance of the "Mere" Struggle
Meaning, just the struggle itself reaps powerful—albeit often imperceptible—results.
That's why it's so vitally significant to keep trying even when you fail more than you succeed in ANY spiritual act—whether the act occurs within:
- shemirat halashon
- shemirat habrit
- shemirat ayanim
- refraining from anger
- refraining from material indulgences that indulge luxury or kavod more than necessity (this varies from individual to individual)
- refraining from wearing clothes, make-up, or a hair-covering that express the values of the secular world as opposed to the Torah world
- refraining from sending a text or comment containing hurtful or mocking or meaningless words
...and many more!
Again, it's a massive challenge to internalize this concept, but the more you internalize the power of restraint (along with its invincible results), the better you'll feel in general and the more likely you are to succeed.