“The rulers will say, ‘Come to [the city of] Cheshbon’ ”
(21:27)“Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani explains this pasuk differently: The word ‘rulers’ refers to those who rule their inclinations. The words “come to Cheshbon” refer to the act of calculating the reward versus the loss of every action. The evil inclination often ensnares with pleasant words. He convinces a person to perform a small mitzvah in his efforts to lure him into a larger aveirah. It’s like a hunter who tempts his prey with a small piece of food, only to trap and kill it. ( Rav Neiman, Darchei Mussar)
One hot day in early June, I suddenly found myself alone in the house. The older kids were out, and the baby was sound asleep in his crib.
Wow, I might even be able to take a nap, I thought excitedly. The idea of sinking into my comfy bed and catching up on some much-needed sleep sounded thrilling. I was exhausted from late nights of marking papers and the baby had been teething for a week straight. Terrific! Bed, here I come!
I turned to my room, when a voice inside my head said, Hang on a minute. What about that cake you promised to make for your daughter’s kindergarten party? Today’s the only afternoon you have free for it.
Cake? Now? I need sleep! I’ll whip up something small in the evening. The little kids won’t care if I bring cupcakes.
But what about the other mothers? What about the morah? I thought you wanted to make something special to show her how much you noticed her efforts this year.
So she’ll understand that I had a hard week. Cupcakes are also cake.
Oh come on, she could make cupcakes herself. Remember when she babysat extra after you had a baby? Remember when she patiently helped your daughter when she was having nightmares? That’s how you show hakaras hatov? By showing up with cupcakes?
By this point, the vision of my bed was vanishing in the distance. I did want to make a beautiful cake for this party. I wanted the morah to know how much I appreciated her. And what would the other mothers think if I brought measly cupcakes instead of a huge concoction?
I turned determinately on my heel and got out the mixer. As I measured and stirred, I actually felt holy for sacrificing that precious hour of sleep in exchange for this masterpiece. Who needs sleep? I feel so good that I took the time and effort to make a nice cake.
Yet, by the time my husband came home, I was wiped out — frustrated and snapping at anyone. He took one look at the disheveled kitchen, the exhausted kids who were still not in bed, and his wife who could barely stand on two feet.
“Why were you baking on one of the hottest days of the year?” he wondered innocently. “You must be drained!”
That was an understatement. The only one still wide awake was that gangster whose bright idea had been to bake such a complicated cake! Yes, the yetzer hara really had a great day! All the while convincing me what a tzadeikes I was.
The yetzer hara allows man to perform a mitzvah that earns him a small amount of reward but then causes him to stumble in a much larger sin. That’s his victory. His only goal is to force man to lose both his worlds — Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa. (ibid.)
The yetzer hara is no fool. His strategies are so scheming that I often find myself confused:
“Open up,” he pleads, knocking patiently on my resistance. “It’s an important mitzvah!” Such sweet words are hard to ignore. So, I open up.
Later, when all that’s left is the acrimonious taste of frustration, he’s still there. This time, he beats me with thoughts of worthlessness and despair: You’re a good-for-nothing wife and mother.
“Keep out, mister!” I want to retort. “Take all your enticing offers of ‘mitzvos’ and be gone! I don’t need your lofty ‘opportunities’!”
If we take the time to make a “cheshbon,” an accounting of the actual reward and potential loss within each action, then we are able to choose correctly between a good idea and a trap. It’s all in the cheshbon.