25 Jul The Incredible Powers of the Yeitzer Hara
In Chumash Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the sad story of the meraglim, spies, which led to the tragic death of an entire generation and was the catalyst for all the ensuing tragedies of Tisha B’Av. He relates that when the spies came back with the report that Eretz Yisroel had cities which were fortified to the sky, filled with mighty warriors and even giants, and that it was a land which consumed its inhabitants, it struck terror in the hearts of the Jewish people. Moshe Rabbeinu then tells that we rebelled against the word of Hashem and didn’t want to proceed into Eretz Yisroel. He urged us that we shouldn’t be broken or afraid. He told us, “Didn’t Hashem just save you from nine million Egyptians who were pursuing you out of Egypt? Isn’t Hashem cloaking you with the miraculous clouds of glory? Doesn’t He illuminate the way for you with the incredible pillar of fire? You have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.” But the Bnei Yisroel stubbornly refused to listen. So Hashem got very angry and He swore that this generation would not merit entering the Promised Land.
Then Moshe Rabbeinu continues the woeful tale and says that we had a change of heart. We said to Hashem we sinned and then proceeded to gird ourselves with weaponry and got ready to approach Eretz Yisroel. Hashem warned Moshe Rabbeinu, “Tell them not to do it, for I am no longer with them.” But once again, they didn’t listen and proceeded to attempt to enter the land. The Emorites promptly attacked and gave them a crushing defeat all the way until Cherma. This is a very sad story. But besides being tragic, it’s also mystifying. The first part of the story is readily understandable. The Bnei Yisroel were afraid of the giants who made them look like grass hoppers. They were frightened by the reports of a land which had many funerals. But the second part of the story is puzzling to the extreme. After Hashem told them not to go, why did they have a change of heart? It was still a land of giants and now they didn’t even have Divine assistance on their side. How can we explain that even so they decided to go? The answer to this puzzle is a very fundamental principle of life.
The Yeitzer Hara, the evil inclination, gets people to do the opposite of the will of Hashem. When Hashem wanted us to go to Eretz Yisroel, the Yeitzer Hara worked over-time to scare us into not going. As soon as Hashem decreed that we shouldn’t go, the Yeitzer Hara worked on them and told them, “Do you want to die in the desert? Don’t you know the land was promised to Avrohom, Yitzhak and Yakov? You better take the bull by the horns and go now before it’s too late.”
The great novelty of this example is that the Yeitzer Hara can succeed in the very same activity to cause us to do a flip flop in order that either way, we defy the will of Hashem. This happens all the time in our daily lives. When our spouse wants to go out for the day, the Yeitzer Hara coaxes us that it’s a good day to stay home and read a good book. On the other hand, when our mate wants to sit by the fireplace and curl up with a good book, we all of a sudden have cabin fever. Such is the wiles of the Yeitzer Hara.
Once,one of my disciples brought his daughter to me on the day of her Bas Mitzvah. He wanted me to explain to her the importance of this special day. One of the things that I told her was that the Gemora in Mesechtas Kiddushin says, “Gadol metzuva v’oseh m’mi she’eino metzuveh v’oseh – Greater is one who is commanded to do than one who is not commanded and does it anyway.” Thus, on the day of her Bas Mitzvah, when she is now commanded to do, she gets more reward. I asked however, shouldn’t it be that if you do it voluntarily, you get more reward since it would seem to be extra credit? Tosafos explains that when we are commanded to do something, it is only then that we have to deal with the Yeitzer Hara who tries to dissuade us from doing it and since we have to combat the Yeitzer Hara, it is for this reason that we get more reward.
So let us take this concept further. Let me share with you a story told me HaRav Reuven Feinstein, Shlit”a. The Rosh Yeshiva related that a newly married boy knocked on his office door the morning after his wedding. At first, the Rosh Yeshiva was alarmed, but the young man quickly put him at ease with his smile and told him that nothing was wrong and he just wanted to tell him an interesting story. Several months before, the Rosh Yeshiva gave a chosson schmooze, a talk to the bridegrooms, and told the boys that they shouldn’t allow themselves to become upset with their wives over trivialities. He gave as an example that if a wife squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the toothpaste tube, don’t be upset with her. The young man told the Rosh Yeshiva that when he heard this, he got upset. Does the Rosh Yeshiva think he is talking to simpletons who would get angry with the wives they are supposed to love over such a thing? The newly married man then concluded his story to the Rosh Yeshiva by saying that this very morning when he went into the bathroom and saw the toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle, he was about to get upset and then started laughing.
Now, let me tell you what I think is the explanation behind this story. Why was it that when the young man heard the lecture, he thought that it would be foolish to get angry over something so trivial, yet on the morning after his wedding, if he hadn’t been forewarned, he might have indeed gotten upset? The explanation is that when he heard it in the lecture it was only theoretical and, as such, there was no Yeitzer Hara. But on the morning of his wedding, Shalom Bayis, marital harmony, was at stake. Then, there was a great Yeitzer Hara and that’s why he was challenged.
The Gemora in Mesechtas Shabbos [9b] relates that one should not start eating in the late afternoon before davening Mincha. However, the Gemora continues if you already started eating, you don’t have to stop. The Gemora then asks, “What is the definition of –already – starting to eat?” The Gemora answers, “If he undid his belt (a custom in Talmudic times before eating).” The Gemora then asks two questions. First, is it so hard to put back on the belt and daven? Secondly, let him daven without the belt. The Gemora answers the second question that it wouldn’t be proper to daven without the belt for the pasuk says, “Hikun likras Elokecha, Yisroel – Prepare to greet Hashem, O Yisroel (when davening).” Tosfos asks why the Gemora doesn’t answer the first question? Namely, is it so hard to put back on the belt? Rabbi Bakst, Shlit”a, from Detroit, said over in the name of the Alter from Kelm, Zt”l, Zy”a, the following fascinating answer which is consistent with our theme. Once the Gemora says that putting on the belt is considered a mitzvah of preparing for davening, it is no longer a question of why is it difficult. Once it’s a mitzvah, the Yeitzer Hara makes even easy things seem difficult.
In the merit of our Torah study, may we succeed in our battles with the Yeitzer Hara and may Hashem bless us with long life, good health and everything wonderful.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.
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