(Courtesy: Rabbi Label Lam – Torah.org)
When you go out to war against your enemy and HASHEM your G-d will give him into you your hand…” (Devarim 21:10)
The Torah is only speaking against the negative inclination. (Rashi) “Wage war with strategies.” (Mishlei 20:18)
There are seven names for the negative inclination… King Salomon called him “enemy” (Sukkah 52A). How does one do battle against his real enemy, his own negative inclination? There are too many strategies to name all but let us consider at least one practical approach. Recorded in Meorot HaGedolim is the following observation from Nathan Tzvi Finkel ztl., the Alter from Slobodka, one of the truly great teachers of all time: In my youth in Vilna I saw a vendor standing in the market place selling beans. For some reason she got angry at her competitor and began to abuse her loudly. Her wrath increased until she foamed at the mouth and became drenched with sweat. At the peak of her rage, a customer approached her table and asked for a penny’s worth of beans. In an instant, the vendor underwent an amazing transformation. Her face beamed. Her lips curled into a smile, and she graciously turned to wait on her customer. “This teaches us a great secret of the human personality. A mere penny has the power has the power to change a person from one extreme to another and to make him control his stormiest emotions. This is something no amount of wisdom can accomplish. If a penny can do it, so can praise, a compliment, even a smile, or a polite word, win people’s hearts and dispel their wickedness. This is not the end of the story…”
After the customer had paid the penny for the beans, she started to thank him for his kindness and to heap blessings on him, his wife, children, and grandchildren. “From here, we see that not only can a penny cause a person to control his bad midot-traits, it can transform him into a fountain of love and kindness.”
How can the tool of a few pennies or dollars be employed to conquer our selves?
I believe the story is attributed to Reb Levi Yitzchak from Berditchov tzl. He had been working on himself in a private setting trying to overcome some issue on whatever high level he was struggling when he resigned to accept that it was not possible to change. Immediately afterward he stepped out
into the street where he witnessed an argument between a wagon driver and a store owner. The store owner wanted the wagon driver to unload the goods into his store. The driver insisted, “I can’t!” The store owner barked back. “It’s not that you can’t! It’s that you don’t want to!” The fight went on just like but with ever increasing intensity and volume. “I can’t!” “It’s not that you can’t! It’s that you don’t want to!” Then something happened. The store owner quietly reached into his pocket and waved a few bills and said, “What if I offered you 50 zlotas? Would you be able to?” The wagon driver answered soberly, “I’ll give it try.” Reb Levi Yitzchak marveled that the wagon driver was indeed then quite capable of doing the job. It was not that he was not able it really was because he did not really want to. He also understood that that incident played out before his eyes, was to instruct him about his own circumstance. If he could only meditate on and deeply realize the true value of the accomplishment at hand then he could gain enough power leverage himself to do the impossible.