The Evil Inclination, Yetzer HaRa

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By: William Jackson

Some call it “the original sin”, that’s when Adam eats of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). From this was supposedly born “man’s sin nature” (1) . But wait a minute. If Adam didn’t have a “sin nature” before he ate of the fruit how was he tempted? Also, some credit the serpent as being Satan. Why, because he tempted Eve? For that matter it was Eve who tempted Adam. Does that make her Satan? No, it doesn’t. The reason our first couple ever sinned was because they had “free will”. What is free will ? It’s the ability people have to choose which impulse to follow: good or bad (2). In Hebrew this is called “Yetzer HaRa” (the bad inclination) and “Yetzer HaTov (the good inclination).

When we embrace this concept we realize that we are responsible for changing our behavior and for every choice that we make. I mean seriously, nobody gets away with “the devil made me do it”. And, although our relationship is crucial with HaShem in removing sin from our lives, we cannot hand over our responsibilities to a Messiah. This is where we forge our relationship with YHVH.

One of the best depictions of our yetzer hara (evil inclination), being our responsibility is Genesis 4:7. Here, Abel has given an acceptable offering to YHVH, whereas his brother Cain did not. Cain, being disappointed, was counseled by HaShem. YHVH said: “…if you don’t do what is good, sin is crouching at the door — it wants you, but you can rule over it.” The concern here was Cain’s anger towards his brother. Cain did not heed HaShem’s warning and he ended up killing his brother Abel ( Genesis 4:8). I believe that one of the most important lessons here, is that Cain was clearly accountable to control his yetzer hara (evil inclinations); as HaShem told Cain that he was responsible to master or rule over it. It is also true that we look toward Hashem for strength to overcome our sin or yetzer hara (Exodus 15:2, Joshua 1:9-11, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 119:23). But, we cannot blame the devil or someone else when we don’t choose correctly, and we can’t give this responsibility to a deity, as it‘s our responsibility.

Ironically, the yetzer hara is not completely bad. It is not this demonic force that pushes a person to do evil. Rather it drives towards pleasure or property or security, which if left unlimited, can lead to evil (3). The yetzer hara can motive people to be productive as long as it remains in perspective. Once it is in excess or out of moral context it becomes sinful. Here’s a simple equation that proves our point:

Motivator > Good Moral Context > Bad Moral Context:

Hunger > Nourishment > Gluttony

Pride > Dignity > Arrogance

Money > Responsibilities > Greed

Work > Provision > Distraction from God and Family

Rest > Restores > Slothfulness

Sex > Intimacy with Spouse > Deviance

Etc.. (What cravings can you add, and what are their good and bad moral contexts?)

Simply said, God has commanded us to turn from the yetzer hara (Isaiah 1:16, 2 Kings 17:13, Jonah 3:8 ). If we do this, He will give us blessings (Jeremiah 7:3, Isaiah 30:15, Jonah 3:10, Psalm 85:9). If we don’t turn from the yetzer hara there are certainly curses (Jeremiah 26:3, 36:7, Zechariah 1:4-6, 2 Kings 17:22-23, Psalm 7:13-17, 68:22). If there is an antidote for the yetzer hara then it is the Torah; (4) but that still requires work on our behalf. Living righteously and Torah will lead to “Yetzer HaTov” which is “the good inclination”. We will talk about this on Wednesday, March 24, 2015.

References

(1) What is original sin?, Gotquestions.org

(2) Human Nature, Level Advanced, Judaism 101

(3) By Jeffrey Spitzer, The Birth of the Good Inclination, My JewishLearning

(4) Evil, Is Man Intrinsically, Ask a Rabbi, Ohr Somayach International