אַאַמוּ"ר כּוֹתֵב בְּאֶחָד מִמַּאֲמָרָיו: חֲסִידִים הַקּוֹדְמִים עָשׂוּ הֶסְכֵּם בְּנַפְשָׁם שֶׁכָּל דָּבָר הַמּוּתָּר, אַךְ שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ אֵיזֶה רָצוֹן וְחֶמְדַת הַלֵּב לָזֶה לֹא יַעֲשֶׂנּוּ, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נַעֲשֶׂה שְׁבִירַת הַתַּאֲוָה.

My revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], writes in one of his maamarim:1 “The chassidim of earlier generations made a firm resolve in their souls that whenever they encountered something that was halachically permitted but they desired and craved for it, they would refrain. Such a habit breaks physical desires.”2

A Chassid to Remember

A classic chassidic story:3

Once, while R. Shmuel Munkes and several other chassidim of the Alter Rebbe were sharing a farbrengen, a delicacy was brought to the table — a roasted lung. R. Shmuel took hold of the dish, held it aloft, and began dancing around with it. At first the other chassidim were amused by his antics, but with time they lost patience and reached for it. R. Shmuel ignored them and then suddenly threw the whole delicacy into the garbage.

The other chassidim were upset and determined that R. Shmuel deserved to be punished. He willingly accepted their verdict and lay down on the table. Some of the younger men volunteered to mete him out a fair measure of slaps, and he then went out quietly to find some alternative dish.

Minutes later, the butchercame running in and cried out, “Don’t eat the lung! It’s not kosher!” He explained that a non-kosher lung had been sent to the house by mistake.

When R. Shmuel returned, his fellow chassidim admonished him even more forcefully: “What business do you have showing off your ruach hakodesh (prophetic inspiration) in public?”

R. Shmuel denied that his action had come from a spirit of prophecy.

They were puzzled: “So how did you know?”

He then related that before his first yechidus with the Alter Rebbe, he resolved to no longer have any desire for material things.

“But,” he said, “when the lung was brought in, I felt a powerful desire for it, the strongest desire I had ever felt since that yechidus. And I saw that others around me had a similar desire. It occurred to me that such strong cravings could not be aroused by a permitted object. That’s how I understood that that delicacy must be treif. So I dumped it in the garbage.”

*

What is the key to understanding this teaching and this story? That self-control — the ability to face oneself squarely and say, “I will not be a mindless slave to my natural drives and instincts” — is at first a very challenging task. Afterwards, however, as one continues to wage and win battle after battle, this ability becomes second nature and gradually less difficult.