10 May CHANGING THE DYNAMIC IN THE WAR AGAINST THE YEITZER HARA
One of the major goals of life is to achieve many victories against the Yeitzer Hara, the Evil Inclination. The thinking Jew knows that one of his or her greatest ambitions is to successfully incite the Yeitzer Tov, the good inclination against the Yeitzer Hara and to come out ahead. The first step, of course, is to be aware of the battle in the first place. If we live our life on cruise control, without being cognizant of this battle royale, then we are clueless about our mission on earth.
The Gemora tells us in Masechtas Berachos [3a], “L’olam yargiz adam yetzer tov al yeitzer hara – A person should always excite and engage the good inclination against their evil inclination.” When the Gemora says l’olam, always, it means that it’s a constant battle. Indeed the Gemora teaches us, “Yitzro shel adam misgaber alav b’kol yom – A person’s evil inclination prevails upon him every day.” It’s a perennial battle that demands constant attention. If we think that we have no spiritual challenges, then we can be assured that we’ve just missed the boat. If we are not engaged in the struggle, then sadly it means we’ve already lost. If, on the other hand, we are well aware of our daily tests, then we know how difficult these trials can be.
We succumb too often to temptations such as screaming at home, talking in shul, gossiping about our neighbor, and looking at things we shouldn’t. The great Jewish philosopher, the Chovos HaLevovos, one of the major pillars of the Mussar movement, asks a seminal question. “Why is it that we so often find our evil inclination seems to be so much stronger than our good inclination.” Thus, why is it so hard to get out of bed in the morning? Why is it so hard to pay correct attention in our prayers? Why do we so easily fall prey to the temptation to be insensitive to our neighbor or colleague? He gives the following fundamental explanation. The yeitzer tov is fueled by mitzvos and good deeds. Sadly, too often, this fuel is flawed and deficient. Our prayers are said without meaning, our good deeds are riddled with ulterior motives and pride colors many of our good practices. On the other hand, the yeitzer hara is powered by materialistic fuels, like food, which we do to perfection. As the weather gets better, many of us break out our BBQ grills. We don’t just prepare our steak medium; it has to be medium-rare. Our ribs needed to be accompanied by one of twelve different BBQ flavors. With such precision of materialism, the yeitzer hara is better fueled than the yeitzer tov and that’s why it gets the upper hand.
With this crucial knowledge, we can attempt to change the balance to our favor. We can try to do more wholesome good deeds, such as doing kindness when people aren’t watching and people won’t know that we are the benefactor. We can put on tefillin, not just like a blood pressure cup, but with a commitment to use our heads and hearts in the right way. We can learn Torah to fulfill the commandment of v’dibarta bam, and not just as an excuse to get out of the house or spend time with the boys.
So too, when we engage in the materialistic, instead of making it all about the yeitzer hara, let’s make sure than when we eat the cholent and the kugel that it is in celebration of our belief that Hashem created the world. When we have our morning coffee or latte, let’s enjoy it having in mind that we’ll daven better, or that we’ll be fairer with our spouse and more patient with our kids. In that way, from both ends, we’ll be powering our yeitzer tov more and fueling our yeitzer hara less. The end result will be that we will succeed more often in the most important battles of our life and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
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Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.