Lazer Gurkow
Lazer Gurkow

Personal Integrity

We are like a city; our limbs are the citizens, our portals–eyes, ears, nose, and mouth–are the gates and our selfish foolish proclivities are the enemies that threaten the city’s integrity.

The best way to protect ourselves is to post guardians at the gates of our city. There are four portals through which our mindset is impacted, eyes, ears, nose and mouth. If we post guardians at each of these entrances we ensure that what comes in and what comes out is kosher.

We have complete control over what enters our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We need only assert it by remaining constantly alert to our surroundings and guarding against trespass.

What we see imprints on our psyche and arises when we least expect it. We might have thought that we had long forgotten an old painful or inappropriate image, but when we least expect it, it crops back up.

We need go no further than the influence of our youth. Children who saw their parents respond to domestic pressure with anger and abuse, resort to it themselves when they face pressure. Growing up, they are cognizant of all the mistakes their parents made, and yet, when they are in similar circumstances, they revert to what they saw in their youth. What we see leaves a deep-seated impact.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we don’t look where we shouldn’t, we won’t see the images that can hurt us. On the other hand, if we look where we should, we imprint positive healthy images on our psych, which will come to our aid when we need them most.

Another rule about sight is not to commit visual trespass. When we happen to catch another in what should have been a private moment, we should feel an instinctive sense of shame at having violated a boundary inadvertently. We must know that what belongs to others is sacred, and that we cannot gaze at it without permission. When we make light of visual trespass and gaze at others freely, we increase our selfishness. When we look away after inadvertently violating a boundary, we decrease our selfishness.

By giving us two eyelids, an upper and a lower, G-d made it easy for us to close our eyes, whenever it becomes necessary.

If sight imprints on our psyche, sound is more obvious; it imprints directly on our conscious minds. What we hear, we contemplate and what we contemplate affects our mood and our thoughts. When we hear gossip, our minds fill with negativity. When we listen to music or stories filled with violence, lust or self absorption, it impacts the way we think; it taints our mental process. On the other hand, when we listen to good things like words of Torah and prayer, we sanctify the mind and cleanse them mental process.

The gate with the least intuitive impact on our integrity is fragrance. On the surface, aroma does little to affect our moral compass and spiritual integrity. Yet fragrance has the deepest impact on us. Fragrance can trigger emotions buried so deep in our subconscious that we can hardly identify them. Sight triggers memories, but fragrance triggers something much deeper. A mood, a feeling, an aura.

Certain aromas can help us regress to infancy and relive those experiences on a subliminal level. Aromas can trigger a compelling sense of Deja vu without us being able to identify its source. It can also bring back powerful memories and leave us feeling as if we were back inside them.

If fragrance is so powerful and reaches so deeply then it goes without saying that we must be discerning about the aromas that we allow ourselves to smell. Non-kosher aromas embed within our subconscious and erode our spiritual integrity from within.

Speech is critical not so much for what comes in, but for what comes out. Sights, sounds and smells, only impact us. But speech impacts the world; once we let it loose on the world, we can never take it back. Whether it is slander or hate speech, incitement or debauchery, our speech affects others.

This is especially poignant when we realize that G-d created the world through speech. The divine words of creation are channeled through the words that we say. When we speak well of others and retain the integrity of our words, the world is positively impacted. Speech is also the medium through which we relate to G-d in prayer and Torah study. If we retain the sacred integrity of our words, our mouths will be proper mediums through which to channel the words of Torah and prayer that bind us to G-d.

As this year draws to a close, may we succeed in controlling the traffic that passes through our portals. This way, the upload and download links between us and society, will only carry healthy information.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at