If I set two plates before you, one filled with cookies, the other with a million dollars, which one would you choose?

Consider the benefit you and society could derive from the money. Contrast that with the short term pleasure and subsequent belly-ache that the cookies will bring. Furthermore, the cookies can't buy a million dollars, but the money can buy as many cookies as you like. Finally, there is no saturated fat or hydrogenated oil in the money, but the cookies? Yikes!

If choosing short-term pleasure over long-term gain is short-sighted then why do so many intelligent people make that very choice? Why do so many risk a loving marriage and happy family for a few moments of extra-marital pleasure? Why do so many risk their first dose of narcotics or first dose of alcohol when they are familiar with the long-term risks of addiction? Why do so many opt for grease-filled fast food when they know the benefits of a healthy diet?

The Foolish Spirit

According to our sages this is due to a "spirit of folly" that overtakes us. It distorts our vision and clouds our clarity of thought. Our sages taught that a Jew never transgresses unless overtaken by this spirit.1 This teaching is derived from an interesting passage in this week's Torah reading.

The Torah describes a spouse who engages in extramarital affairs as one who has "gone astray."2 In his commentary, Rashi, the famed eleventh century commentator, explains that such a spouse "has strayed from the path of modesty." The Hebrew used here for "going astray" (tisteh) is related to the word for "folly" (sh'tut). Following this analogy, our sages teach that there is a path of wisdom and a path of folly. Wisdom dictates modesty, restraint, devotion and reflection. Folly dictates the reverse. The wise path should be the obvious choice, but our spirit of folly propels us to stray.

Making all the Wrong Choices

Every time we perform a mitzvah we forge a real bond with the divine. The hand that distributes charity becomes a vehicle for divinity when the mitzvah-charged energy pulses through it. The mouth that recites a prayer becomes a conduit for G‑d when sacred words pour forth from it. The mind that studies Torah becomes a container filled with divinity when it is stimulated by divine thought.

When we perform a mitzvah we merge and become one with G‑d. We draw G‑d's presence into our heart, mind and soul and are transformed into G‑dly beings.

Contrast this blissful, transcendental experience with the commission of a sin. By choosing the path of sin we choose to reject G‑d and to destroy our union with him. Rather than merging, we tear away from him and form a barrier between us. On one side there is light, love, sanctity, beauty and divinity. On the other side there is darkness, distance, mundanity, materialism, and narcissism.

One side is the path of wisdom, the other is the path of folly. The former is inspiring, the latter, hedonistic. One leads towards G‑d, the other towards self. One offers eternal bliss, the other holds no hope of salvation.

Given the choice, which would you prefer? The eternal and profound or the transient and temporal? A wise person would choose the former, but we so often choose the latter.

Consider the effort that we invest to save even one dollar on our tax bill. Consider the energy that we expend to excel at whatever sport we play. The saved dollar will last but a moment, the thrill of victory even less. They are so meaningless yet we invest so much into them. Why don't we apply the same rigorous commitment and robust enthusiasm towards the truly meaningful?

Because we are overtaken and compelled by our spirit of folly.

The Base Nature

Our base nature is tactile and materialistic. It is incapable of considering, let alone appreciating, the finer nuance of higher devotion. Gross and temporal, it cannot grasp the intangible concept of spiritual gain. It is given to instant, rather than delayed gratification.

That is our base nature. That is our folly. It is the condition into which we are born. But we mustn't yield to it. We mustn't capitulate. We must combat it.

Our base nature may not understand G‑d and eternity, but our soul does. It is our duty to choose the soul. To choose wisdom over folly, eternal gain over temporal pleasure.

Our soul remains loyal to G‑d even as our hearts and minds break faith with Him. It is always there, steady and dependable. It waits for us to notice it and return.

Why Wait?

The path of return is always available to us because our soul is always available to us. Given its stubborn allegiance it can help us to overcome our folly and to restore our clarity of thought.

The soul is ready and available, but it needs to wait for us. It needs to wait till we take advantage of the freedom that G‑d gave us. The freedom of choice. The freedom to choose G‑d. Why Wait?3