He rhetorically asks what shall a "son" do if he personifies the following:
- his middot are bad
- the thought patterns of his very mind (dei'ot) are warped
- he strays from the way of good sense (seichel)
- he says to bad: "Good" and to good, he says "Bad"...
...and to compound things, the above dynamics are perfectly "straight in his eyes."
"This is a sick evil with no cure," Rav Papo pronounces.
That sounds pretty hopeless.
Also, notice he doesn't just say it's bad. Rav Papo calls such a situation a ra'ah cholah — the ra'ah, the evil is not only evil, it's cholah — it's sick.
And it's apparently 100% incurable.
So what's a "son" to do?
(It's also interesting that he uses the word ben, "son" or "child," rather than "person" or "man." I don't know why he uses that term.)
How to Stop being Awful & Start Living
- He must pour out his soul 3 times a day during Shemoneh Esrei (apparently, Rav Papo also composed a special prayer for the sickly evil person to say at the appropriate point in Shemoneh Esrei)
- He must request that Hashem rectify him with good counsel to be made whole in his middot, his mind, and in all aspects of spiritual wholeness. (In other words, he needs to complete whatever he's missing, even though it's admittedly a lot.)
- He must do what is good & upright in the eyes of God & man.
- He must constantly learn mussar books.
- He must submit himself to Torah scholars.
- He must learn from the behavior of Torah scholars.
- He must not deviate from anything they say, no matter how it sounds to him.
- He must not rely on his own understanding.
- He must nullify his opinion before that of others.
- He must nullify his desire before that of others.
- He must utilize every last bit of strength to go against his nature.
- He must utilize every last bit of strength to go against his way of thinking.
Finally, he must strive to actualize all of the above until he it's ingrained within him and Hashem opens his eyes to allow him to see with his eyes & understand with his heart which is the straight path.
Then he'll repent and heal.
It's important to note that Rav Papo makes no promises; he prefaces the above by saying ulai — perhaps he will be saved. Maybe.
At the same time, a person who commits to the above program is fairly certain to succeed, Rav Papo reassures us.
He reminds us that any person who comes to purify him- or herself merits assistance directly from Heaven.
Also, l'fum tza'ara agra — according to the effort you invest, that's what you'll reap.
(It's also illuminating to learn how Shemoneh Esrei plays such a powerful role in transforming an awful person. It's clear from the Pele Yoetz that Shemoneh Esrei said with kavanah, plus the inclusion of heartfelt personal pleading at the appropriate point, is a type of segulah for one imbued with "sick evil.")
Life is Not a Monopoly Game
There is no Get Out of Gehinnom Free! card.
It does not exempt him on the Day of Judgment by saying: "That's how my character was, that's what my mind grasped, and I couldn't resist and go beyond my character and my way of thinking."
...because anything that a man desires — he can do everything by means of toil and exertion..."man was born to toil."
- toil in Torah
- provide contentment (nachat ruach) to Hashem
How does this apply to us today?
The Road to Hell is Paved with Popeyes
Long before that, you had Popeye the Sailorman inculcating generations of small children by singing "I yam what yam and that's all that I yam!" (I am what I am and that's all that I am.)
In the Seventies & Eighties, blaming negative experiences & faulty upbringings excused a lot of poor behavior — including in the courtroom.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned frum people (in a desire to give the benefit of the doubt) embraced this way of thinking and inadvertently justify unjustifiable behavior.
(Doing so is a form of chanifah, by the way; a severe Torah prohibition.)
Then came labels and that's still in vogue: narcissist, personality disorder, psychopath, sociopath, hyperactive, and so on.
(I use these terms too, by the way, because I find them a good short-cut to conveying a certain idea. But modern pop psychology uses them to support a different agenda.)
Tremendous amounts of literature exist on whether psychopaths are born or made (some say psychopaths are born while sociopaths are made), whether narcissist personality disorder is an inherited disorder, genetic determination, and so on.
And also, there is so much discussion as to whether any of the above can be cured. (Science says it can't...although the field epigenetics is fighting against the idea of genetic determination. Epigenetics basically means that your thoughts & behavior can activate or deactivate various genes.)
But the answers were laid out in this short chapter nearly 2 centuries ago.
In other words, a person who is a narcissist or a psychopath will not be excused for their abusive behavior when standing before the Heavenly Court.
And they're not totally hopeless either.
Either way, the "Popeye defense" will not be admissible in Court.
There is Still Room for Patience & Compassion. However...
I think we've all encountered people who behave like a person crying & thrashing out in pain, like the emotional version of a person with a foot caught crushed in an animal trap.
That's their emotional state.
And probably we've all behaved in that way at least once ourselves.
If so, we probably remember with gratitude any people who showed us compassion while we were trapped in that state. Maybe they even helped us out of it (i.e., managed to extract our mangled foot from the crushing trap).
So if someone is going through a difficult time or if they are really struggling to work on themselves, but fail at times, then why not give them a break?
Why not give them the benefit of the doubt, along with some patience, compassion, and encouragement?
After all, no one is perfect!
However, people who consistently behave badly with little or no remorse — and have done so for most of their lives?
And furthermore, they don't even seem to know that their behavior is hurtful or wrong?
Their trail of transgressions isn't going to be swept clean.
And please note that the description of personality disorders and psycho/sociopathy is completely encompassed by Rav Papo's description of a person imbued with "sick evil."
Evil looks good to such a person. That's what he says. Think about that for a minute.
Think about what that means & everything that implies.
And even more strangely, goodness looks BAD.
His or her very way of thinking (de'ot) is ugly; it's all warped.
And all the wrong, warped, crazy thoughts & attitudes seem perfectly upright (yashar) in the eyes of such a person.
They're the normal person (in their own mind).
They're the superior person (in their own mind).
Yet ultimately, they don't have any excuse.
Somewhere inside of them, implies the Pele Yoetz, is some type of awareness they can access and then utilize for self-improvement.
In other words, they are still expected to try.
Toil can Make a Bitter Fate Turn Sweet
If it's forbidden, then it's forbidden.
And if a person habitually indulges in such behavior, and thinks it's perfectly right while being convinced that the opposite behavior (a mitzvah) is wrong, then we certainly cannot minimize or whitewash it with platitudes like, "Oh, that's just the way she is" or "He was abused as a child." And so on.
And tough luck to any of us born with any bad middot or da'ot that make good behavior feel all wrong.
We're just going to have to work even harder and suffer more discomfort than others.
But in the end, all that exertion & discomfort turns into something wonderful (Eternal Life) if we keep on pushing.