Sin Begets Worse Sin

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

God first mentions His blessings for those following Torah. Then He mentions His curses for violaton: “And if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant” (Lev. 26:15). Notice the verse describes a sinful “progression,” upon which Rashi elaborates:

Thus you have here seven sins the first of which brings the second in its train and so on to the seventh. And these are: he has not studied and therefore has not practiced the commandments; consequently he despises others who do practice them, he then hates the Sages, prevents others from practicing, denies the Divine origin of the commandments, and finally denies the existence of God. (Ibid.).

What is this progression? And if the sinner ultimately denies God, why does he have to go through six previous stages? Just skip the six previous stages and deny God immediately!

What is the state of mind of a sinner?

What causes sin? 

It is one's preference to follow his emotions, upon which Torah imposes restraints, which is uncomfortable at first. We start life with only emotions, with no intelligent capacity to appreciate what is good. So many refuse to learn Torah, and thereby, fail to practice. Why does such a sinner then despise practicing Jews? They have not harmed the sinner. Why do they become the sinner’s target? 

This is because a person operates with a self image. As Rabbi Israel Chait taught, there is a phenomena called the “Reality Principle,” which means that a person cannot knowingly harm himself. Even when a crook robs, he must justify it: “My family is hungry.” He cannot perpetrate an act knowing it is truly wrong. Man distorts wrongdoing to make it acceptable. The sinner too must justify his failure to uphold Torah. But there is a phenomena that makes it impossible for this justification: he sees others upholding Torah. Now, the sinner’s self image is threatened: “Torah can be followed by others, and I am failing” he thinks to himself. 

Throughout the day, a typical person strives to maintain a pristine self image. Our egos can go unchecked, and we can blindly follow only that which paints a perfect picture of ourselves. Pity the person who cuts us off in traffic, or says a slightly off-color word to us. Of course, a righteous person does not follow the ego at all. But a person who has not worked on his perfection, is led by his ego. 

Now, when a sinner sees others upholding Torah and he is threatened by the self image of failure, what are his choices? He can either repent, perfect himself and follow Torah…or he despises Torah followers to remove the threat to the sinner. It's his way of saying, “They are wrong and I am right; they are the despicable ones.” While still ignorant of Torah, Rabbi Akiva would say, “Give me a talmud chocham (wise Torah student), and I'll bite him like a donkey” (Pesachim 49b).

At each stage of the sinner’s corruption, he is confronted with a new reality, and he responds emotionally. As his reality changes, so must his response change. 

At first, his reality is to follow emotions, so he doesn’t learn Torah, and sins. He then despises Torah followers to maintain his ego. Next, why does despising Torah followers spiral down to hating the sages? This is because he realizes that Torah followers are merely “followers;” there are yet leaders directing the common Jews’ Torah adherence. The sages’ personalities then threaten the sinner. The sinner only confronts Torah followers in his day-to-day life, explaining why he doesn’t hate the sages at the outset; he doesn’t cross paths with them as he is not in their circles. Furthermore, Torah followers don’t make the laws, the sages do. They are an authority that must be dealt with. So the sinner hates them as well. Hating the Torah follower alone insufficiently “shoots only the messenger.”

This is all well and good to resolve conflict in the sinner’s mind. But then he still witnesses Torah followers performing commands in actuality. His fantasy of them being despicable can’t obliterate real actions of mitzvah he witnesses. He is then driven to stop their performance. But he can’t, there are too many good Jews doing to many mitzvahs. Since he can't prevent their mitzvahs, he must deny their mitzvahs as inauthentic, and not divine in origin. But this causes a new conflict: he knows God exists and gave the mitzvahs. He finally must deny God’s existence to maintain an acceptable self image. This is the progression.