THE EVIL INCLINATION

Where does the evil inclination come from?

בראשית א׳:ל״א

וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי׃

Genesis 1:31

And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

בראשית רבה ט׳:ז׳

רבי נחמן בר שמואל בר נחמן בשם רב שמואל בר נחמן אמר: הנה טוב מאד, זה יצר טוב. והנה טוב מאד, זה יצר רע. וכי יצר הרע טוב מאד אתמהא?! אלא שאלולי יצר הרע, לא בנה אדם בית, ולא נשא אשה, ולא הוליד, ולא נשא ונתן. וכן שלמה אומר: (קהלת ד): כי היא קנאת איש מרעהו:

Bereishit Rabbah 9:7

Rabbi Nahman said in Rabbi Samuel's name: 'Behold, it was good' refers to the Good Desire; 'And behold, it was very good' refers to the Evil Desire. (It only says 'very good' after Adam was created with both the good and bad inclinations, in all other cases it only says 'and God saw that it was good') Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But without the Evil Desire, however, no person would build a house, get married and beget children; and thus said Solomon: 'Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a person’s rivalry with his neighbour.' (Ecclesiastes 4:4).

ראשית ב׳:ז׳

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יי אֱלֹקִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

Genesis 2:7

HASHEM God formed Adam from the dust of the earth. God blew into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being.

 

How does the evil inclination work?

 

Avot d'Rabbi Natan 16

The yetzer hara is 13 years older than the yetzer hatov. While still in the mother's womb, the yetzer hara begins to develop in a person. If s/he begins to violate the Sabbath, nothing stops him/her. If s/he commits murder, nothing stops him/her. If s/he goes off to another sin, nothing stops him/her.

 

But 13 years later, the yetzer hatov is born. When s/he violates the Sabbath, it rebukes him/her, "Airhead [literally: "empty one"]! Don't you know it says 'Everyone who violates it will surely be put to death' (Exodus 31:14)?" If s/he is about to commit murder, it rebukes him/her, "Airhead! Don't you know it says 'Whoever sheds a man's blood, by man will his blood be shed' (Genesis 9:6)?" If s/he is about to engage in a sexual sin, it rebukes him/her, "Airhead! Don't you know it says 'Both the adulterer and the adulteress will surely be put to death' (Leviticus 20:10)?"

 

Reb Nachman’s Wisdom #6

The evil urge is similar to a prankster running through a crowd showing his tightly closed hand. No one knows what it is he is holding. He goes up to each person and asks, “What do you suppose I have in my hand?” Each person imagines that the closed hand has in it just what he desires most. They all hurry and run after the prankster. Then, when he has tricked them enough, that they are following him, he opens his hand. It is completely empty! 
 

Is the evil inclination a necessary evil?

יומא ס״ט ב:ו׳

(נחמיה ט, ד) ויצעקו אל יי אלקים בקול גדול מאי אמור אמר רב ואיתימא ר' יוחנן בייא בייא היינו האי דאחרביה למקדשא וקליה להיכליה וקטלינהו לכולהו צדיקי ואגלינהו לישראל מארעהון ועדיין מרקד בינן כלום יהבתיה לן אלא לקבולי ביה אגרא לא איהו בעינן ולא אגריה בעינן

Yoma 69b:6

The Gemara recounts the event described in the verses: The verse states: And they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God (Nehemiah 9:4). What was said? Rav said, and some say it was Rabbi Yoḥanan who said: Woe, woe. It is this, i.e., the evil inclination for idol worship, that destroyed the Temple, and burned its Sanctuary, and murdered all the righteous ones, and caused the Jewish people to be exiled from their land. And it still dances among us, i.e., it still affects us. Didn’t You gave it to us for solely for the purpose of our receiving reward for overcoming it. We do not want it, and we do not want its reward. We are prepared to forgo the potential rewards for overcoming the evil inclination as long as it departs from us.

 

יומא ס״ט ב:ז׳

נפל להו פיתקא מרקיעא דהוה כתב בה אמת

Yoma 69b:7

In response to their prayer a note fell to them from the heavens upon which was written: Truth, indicating that God accepted their request.

יומא ס״ט ב:י״א

אמרו הואיל ועת רצון הוא נבעי רחמי איצרא דעבירה בעו רחמי ואמסר בידייהו

Yoma 69b:11

When they saw that the evil inclination for idol worship was delivered into their hands as they requested, the Sages said: Since it is an auspicious time, let us pray also concerning the evil inclination for sin in the area of sexual relationships. They prayed, and it was also delivered into their hands.

יומא ס״ט ב:י״ב

אמר להו חזו דאי קטליתו ליה לההוא כליא עלמא חבשוהו תלתא יומי ובעו ביעתא בת יומא בכל ארץ ישראל ולא אשתכח אמרי היכי נעביד נקטליה כליא עלמא ניבעי רחמי אפלגא פלגא ברקיעא לא יהבי כחלינהו לעיניה ושבקוהו ואהני דלא מיגרי ביה לאיניש בקריבתה

Yoma 69b:12

Zechariah the prophet said to them: See and understand that if you kill this evil inclination the world will be destroyed because as a result there will also no longer be any desire to procreate. They followed his warning, and instead of killing the evil inclination they imprisoned it for three days. At that time, people searched for a fresh egg throughout all of Eretz Yisrael and could not find one. Since the inclination to reproduce was quashed, the chickens stopped laying eggs. They said: What should we do? If we kill it, the world will be destroyed. If we pray for half, i.e., that only half its power be annulled, nothing will be achieved because Heaven does not grant half gifts, only whole gifts. What did they do? They gouged out its eyes, effectively limiting its power, and set it free. And this was effective to the extent that a person is no longer aroused to commit incest with his close relatives.

Can we control our evil inclination?

 

בראשית ד׳:ז׳

(ז) הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ׃

Genesis 4:7

Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin crouches at the door; It's urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master.”

 

Tanchuma Bereishit 7

Perhaps you will say: Why did God create the yetzer ha-ra, about which it is written, for the yetzer of a person’s heart is evil from his/her youth” (Bereishit 8:21)? You say that it is evil; who can make it good? Said the Holy One Blessed Be God: You make it evil! Why is it that a child of five or six or seven or eight or nine does not sin, but only from age ten and on – and then s/he cultivates the yetzer ha-ra? Perhaps you will say: No one can safeguard him or herself [from being corrupted]! Said the Holy One Blessed be God: You made it evil! Why is it that, when you were a child, you did not sin and, when you grew up, you sinned? And [furthermore] there are so many things in the world that are more refractory than the yetzer ha-ra and more bitter than the lupine, and you diligently seethe it and sweeten it in water seven times until it becomes palatable – and likewise mustard and capers and many [other] things. And if you sweeten for your use [intrinsically] bitter things that I created, how much more so [could you sweeten] the yetzer ha-ra, which is delivered into your hands!

 

קידושין ל׳ ב:ד׳

כך הקב"ה אמר להם לישראל בני בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין ואם אתם עוסקים בתורה אין אתם נמסרים בידו שנאמר (בראשית ד, ז) הלא אם תטיב שאת

Kiddushin 30b:4

So too the Holy One, Blessed be God, said to Israel: My children, I created an evil inclination, which is the wound, and I created Torah as its antidote. If you are engaged in Torah study you will not be given over into the hand of the evil inclination, as it is stated: “If you do well, shall it not be lifted up?” (Genesis 4:7). One who engages in Torah study lifts himself above the evil inclination.

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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