Children notoriously like to test the limits. “If I try to take a cookie, will mom really punish me?” “If I draw on this wall, will dad really be upset?” The job of the parent is to stay consistent and to teach the child that rules are rules. This type of education is both necessary for the parents’ sanity and to help mold an upstanding individual who will fit in with society.
But let’s face it, most of us never truly lose that little voice that wants to push the envelope. Judaism refers to that voice as the yetzer harah, the evil inclination. It is interesting to note that, according to commentaries, the yetzer harah was an external element of humankind until Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus, in the Garden of Eden, the yetzer harah was personified by the serpent, who verbally seduced Eve into taking that first bite of the forbidden fruit. One might think that one little bite couldn’t do much harm, and yet it transformed the world!
Because of human nature and our need to test limits, it is important for every person to not only show self-discipline, but also to be honest with themselves. People often transgress laws thinking to themselves, “Well, it’s just this once.” But then the next time they face the same situation, they think back to that first time and realize that they had not been caught, no harm had been done, so what was the big deal. Suddenly, it becomes a slippery slope. And, as the rabbis warned in Yoma 86b: “If a person repeats an act which he/she knows is a sin, it soon begins to be regarded as permissible.”
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