The Good Inclination, Yetzer HaTov (Pt. 1 of 2)
By: William J Jackson
Because of free will, men and women have the right to follow our good or bad inclinations. In Hebrew, this is “Yetzer HaTov” (good inclination) and “Yetzer HaRa” (bad inclination). This article is dedicated to the explanation of our good inclination, and how we can feed it to offset our bad inclination. In short, how do we strengthen ourselves to battle against sin? For a better understanding of the bad inclination, please refer to the previous article “The Evil Inclination, Yetzer HaRa” (1)
The general understanding is that the yetzer hara (bad inclination) is older than the yetzer hatov (good inclination) (2). The reason why is because we are born with the yetzer hara ( Genesis 8:21, Job 15:14, 25:4, Psalm 51:7). But, we do not gain the yetzer hatov (good inclination) until we reach the age of accountability. The age of accountability is when a young adult can make moral decisions that are not self focused. In Judaism, the “age of accountability” is traditionally 13 years plus one day for boys, 12 plus a day for girls(3). As far as the Torah is concerned the age of accountability appears to be 20 (Exodus 30:14, Leviticus 27:1-3, Numbers 1:3, 18).
From a scientific standpoint, the human brain has a growth spurt in the frontal cortex, just before puberty. This is at the age 11 in girls, and 12 in boys. So, between the ages of 13 and 18 the brain is maturing (4). In theory the Jewish ages of 12 and 13 would be the earliest stages of mental adulthood, whereas Tanakh’s age of 20 years would be a safer bet, taking into account late bloomers. We also know that the moral reasoning in adolescence follows us into adulthood (5). This would be the yetzer hara (bad inclination). Much of our adult life is fighting these negative impulses or adopting a yetzer hatov (good inclination) .
When viewing our biblical ancestors (the Patriarchs) we can see this pattern. Jacob exhibit’s a lot of the yetzer hara (bad inclination) while he was in his fathers home. In Genesis 25:29-32 Jacob manipulates his brother Esau’s birthright for a bowl of food. Later, Jacob lies to his father for the same birthright Genesis 27:5-29. All this conniving causes Jacob to flee. In Genesis 28:12-14 Jacob is introduced to HaShem. From this point over the course of 22 years Jacob matures. In Genesis 32:29 Jacob is now named Israel “because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed.” The same thing with Abram. He got the call to serve Adonai in Genesis 12:1-3, but it took 24 years for his name change to Abraham, “…because I have made you the father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5). Through these accounts, adopting the yetzer hatov (good inclination) , appears to be more of a process then an immediate change. Some like David appear to start out strong in in the yetzer hatov. But unguarded and not maintained the yetzer hara (bad inclination) cane overtake it. This is evident as we see with King David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). InPsalms 51 King David is trying to regain his yetzer hatov (good inclination) . He is repentant with prayer to YHVH for the sin he committed.
One of our best poster boys for the yetzer hatov (good inclination) is Joshua and Caleb. We see in Numbers 14:22, 26-27 Adonai had it with the Israelites complaining, testing Him and their contempt. As punishment he would not let them come into the promise land (Numbers 14:23, 28-30). The exceptions were Caleb “…because he had a different Spirit with him and has fully followed me…” (Numbers 14:24), and Joshua (Numbers 14:30). Interestingly, the Israelites under the age of 20 were allowed into the promise land (Numbers 14:29). This supports the argument for the age of accountability.
The answer here is to have a circumcised heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Leviticus 26:41, Jeremiah 4:4, 14) So what does this mean? Looking at these verses it means to love Adonai, clean sin out of your heart and don’t resist. Another way of saying it is to return to the Lord, YHVH, through the fulfillment of Torah, and its commandments (6). Repentance is a crucial part in this process (Isaiah 6:10, Jeremiah 31:18, 34:15, Ezekiel 14:6, 18:21, 28, Ezekiel 33:11, Proverbs 1:23, Job 42:6).
Proverbs 9:9 –
Give to a wise man, and he grows still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will learn still more.