26 Feb Our Number One Enemy
On the morning of heinous national sin of the golden calf, the Torah testifies, “Vayashkimu mimochora – They (Klal Yisroel) arose early on the morrow.” Rashi explains that the same yeitzer hara, evil inclination, that normally makes a person lethargic in the morning caused them to feel energetic for silver and gold, yet when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Klal Yisroel to borrow silver and gold from the Egyptians to fulfill the Divine promise to Avraham that we would go out from Egypt with a rechush gadol, with great wealth, he had to say ‘Na’ as Rashi elaborates, “Please do it.” Since when do you have to implore people to take silver and gold? Answers the Alter of Kelm, zt”l, zy”a, since in this case the taking of money was a mitzvah, they needed to be cajoled to do so.
We find the same mechanism after the spies informed the Jews that Canaan was a land that consumed its inhabitants, that they were in the eyes of the Canaanites as grasshoppers, and that their cities were fortified to the very heavens. Upon hearing this, we are told that B’nei Yisroel cried the entire night. This response is very hard to understand. After all, Hashem had just drowned nine million Egyptians, “Echad mei’hem lo nosor – Not one of them had survived.” He had just slain the first born and devastated the Egypt, the super-power of the world with ten supernatural plagues. We were living on the miraculous mon, and the amazing well of Miriam, under the Divine protection of the Clouds of Glory. And yet, because Hashem said to go into Eretz Yisroel, the yeitzer hara convinced them that it was impossible. Yet, lo and behold, when Moshe Rabbeinu later told them that they were banned from going into Eretz Yisroel and Hashem was not with them, all of a sudden they did an amazing turn around, vayapilu lalos el hahor, they disobeyed Moshe Rabbeinu and attempted to climb the mountain into Eretz Yisroel, at which point they were beaten down by the Amalekites. It defies the imagination. When Yehoshua and Kaleiv told them they had nothing to worry about and Moshe Rabbeinu assured them that Hashem was with them, they refused to go. But after they were told that Hashem was no longer with them they did an about-face and all of a sudden wanted to go.
The only explanation for this mystifying behavior is that whatever Hashem wants you to do, there is a fierce yeitzer hara not to do it. This is consistent with the famous Gemora in Kiddushin, “Gedola mitzuveh osa, m’mi she’eino mitzuveh v’oseh – Greater is the reward for one who is commanded to do something than for one who is not commanded. Tosefos notes that it should be the contrary. If we are not commanded and we still do it, we should get extra credit: We did it on our own volition even though we didn’t have to do it. Tosefos explains that once one is commanded to do something then a yeitzer hara is acquired that mightily combats us not to do it.=
We can perceive the power of the evil inclination from the fact that thousands of people smoke even though it is scientifically proven beyond a doubt that smoking kills many, many people through cancer and heart disease. People drive with reckless speed and abandon although the danger is readily recognized. The scary thing is what the Gemora teaches us, “Yitzro shel adom misgaber alov b’chol yom – A person’s inclination prevails upon him every day, U’mivakeish l’hamiso – And wants to kill him.” This means that it is a fact of life that daily we are tested by the yeitzer hara. If we don’t realize this and think that we are just cruising along without any regular temptation, then we are simply clueless to our spiritual challenges.
Here are some examples to consider about daily nisyonos, tests. Do we swallow our brachos without concentration? Do we stand in front of our creator during the Shemone Esrei with our minds disrespectfully busy with other thoughts? Are we snappish and irritable or apathetic with our spouse? Do we disregard our parents? Are we neglectful of our children? Do we spend plenty on gadgets but very little on tzedaka? Do we have time for the latest Trump trivia but no time for a blatt Gemora? Does our tongue wag indiscriminately about other people? Please believe me, the arsenal of the yeitzer hara is endless. He’ll tempt one person to talk in shul and another person to disregard their obesity. He’ll lull one victim into ogling others and yet another to be disrespectful of their neighbor’s sleep. Forewarned is forearmed. We must be constantly vigilant. Chovos HaLevovos says that we all have a sonei hagodol, a great enemy and that’s the yeitzer hara.
It is to thwart this that we pray every day, “Al tashlot banu yeitzer hara – May the evil inclination not rule over us,” and it is also for this reason that we say at the end of the Shemone Esrei, “V’chol hakomim v’hachoshvim alai ra’ah, m’heirah hafeir atzasom v’kalkeil machashavtam – All those that arise and plot evil against me, may their machinations be annulled and their plans be negated.” This prayer also refers to the wiles of the yeitzer Hara who the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh calls our oiyev amiti, our true enemy. May it be the will of Hashem that we succeed in our daily battle against our yeitzer hara and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.