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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
A spiritual budget
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Religious economics and being a ruler
The Torah (Bible) relates the wars between Moab and the Amorites, and says,
Regarding this the poets would say:
Come to Cheshbon let it be built and established as the city of Sihon''.
The word that the Torah uses for ''poet,'' moshel, also means ''ruler.'' The
word "cheshbon" is the Hebrew word for ''accounting.'' The Talmud, therefore,
offers this interpretation of the above verse: ''Those who rule over
themselves can make an accounting, calculating the gains and losses in
life: the gain of a mitzvah [religious duty] as opposed to its cost, and the cost of a sin as opposed to
its gain'' (Bava Basra 78b).
Much of western civilization lives under the influence of ''seizing the pleasure of
the moment.'' The American economy is built upon credit, with people being
urged to ''buy now, pay later.'' If people would calculate the ultimate cost of credit
purchases which may be outrageous, they might delay buying things until they can
afford to pay for them. But persistent and impressive advertising seduces people to
get what they want, and to get it now. Blinded by their desires, people do not
How many people who know the long term danger of smoking render themselves
oblivious to it because the desire for the immediate effects of smoking
overwhelms their rational thought?
The Talmud's statement is correct. Only ''those
who rule over themselves,'' who are not enslaved by their physical desires, can be
objective and make an accurate accounting of the positives and negatives in life
Animals do not ''choose.'' They follow their instincts and do whatever is most
drives which they cannot resist. Human beings should take pride in being rulers.
Allowing oneself to be governed by physical drives is essentially an abdication of
Once a person can be a ''ruler'' one can calculate ''the gain of a mitzvah as
opposed to its cost, and the cost of a sin as opposed to its gain.'' I would like to
share an example of this with you.
Due to my extensive work in treating alcoholism and drug addiction I have been
immersed among people whose entire life is focused on getting a momentary thrill
for which they must pay dearly in the long run. Their addiction to chemicals has
taken every vestige of self-rule from them.
Avi is one such person. His pursuit of the ''high'' of drugs
led him to a career of crime. His convictions for burglary resulted in eight
imprisonments for a total of sixteen of his thirty-four years. This was
certainly a long term loss for a momentary ''high,'' but Avi had no self-rule.
He lived under the tyranny of drug addiction.
After Avi underwent a successful rehabilitation, he once found an
envelope with a very large sum of money. This was ostensibly ownerless
money, which the finder has a right to keep. It just so happened that Avi
knew to whom it belonged, and he returned it. What a turnaround, from
burglarizing homes to returning lost money to its owner! Avi had attained
I learned about this incident and congratulated Avi on his great progress.
Avi said, ''In the days when I used drugs, I would get a high that lasted for
perhaps 20 minutes. When it wore off, I felt worse than ever. The incident
when I returned the money happened six months ago. Whenever I think of
it, I still get a good feeling.''
When he was enslaved by his addiction, Avi could not calculate the long term
cost he would have to pay for a fleeting pleasure. As a ''ruler,'' Avi was able to
make an accounting, to calculate the loss of money, which he could have
kept, as opposed to the good feeling of doing a mitzvah, which persisted for six
months and would be with him forever.
We should become rulers over ourselves. Only then can we make an honest
calculation, gaining the most out of life and avoiding severe losses.
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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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