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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan | 5768

Different Methods of Fighting the Yetzer Hara

Ein Ayah

(based on Berachot 1:24)
Gemara: Rav Levi bar Chama said in the name of Rav Shimon ben Lakish: A person should always agitate the yetzer hatov (good inclination) against the yetzer hara (evil inclination), as it says: “Get agitated and do not sin…” (Tehillim 4:5). If it [the yetzer hatov]defeated it [the yetzer hara], good; if not, he should occupy himself with Torah study, as it says, “… say in your hearts… ” (ibid.). If it defeated it, good; if not, he should recite Kri’at Shema, as it says “… on your beds…” (ibid.). If it defeated it, good; if not, he should remind it of the day of death, as it says, “… and be silent forever” (ibid.).
Ein Ayah: The purpose of the powers within man, the good and the evil, is to use [both of] them in a positive manner. Therefore, it is not a good idea to weaken and minimize the powers of evil that come from the side of the yetzer hara because at times they will be needed for a good purpose and he will not be able to use them. Therefore, the proper advice is to keep all powers full and good, just that the yetzer hatov should rule in his soul, and the evil ones should be subservient to it. Indeed, the powers of evil are good when they are kept within their bounds.
In general, the yetzer hara is more awake and ready to act than the yetzer hatov. Therefore [the gemara says that] one should agitate the yetzer hatov to wake it up so that it should be ready to act and to take control over the yetzer hara.
All of this is possible for someone who has a healthy moral/emotional base and feels by himself that which is a positive path to take. However, one whose soul is not so pure will not sense the beauty of the good paths until he accepts it through Torah and through study. Therefore [the less pure person, says the gemara] should occupy himself with Torah study, specifically with the study of good paths that he needs to strengthen in his soul. This is not talking about regular Torah study, which he is anyway obligated in. By means of the knowledge, he will acquire the power of awakening to desire the paths of good.
However, if his soul is so polluted that the knowledge does not suffice to awaken the good powers in his soul, then he has to awaken the emotional side, which makes more of a mark on the soul than knowledge does. This point is explained elsewhere, where the gemara says, “You should know that a person recites Kri’at Shema morning and night; if one night he does not recite it, he is considered as one who never read Kri’at Shema.” This is because the special attribute of Kri’at Shema is to awaken the emotions of goodness and add power to the intellect of good.
All of these paths do their job just by strengthening that which is good but not by weakening the power of evil. However, if with all of the different systems, nothing has succeeded, then there is no choice but to use a tactic that weakens the powers of evil, which seek to violate their boundary by strengthening the deceitful imagination and creating more of an appreciation of the pleasures of this world than there should be. In such a case [says the gemara], he should remind himself of the day of death. However, this is only if he is unable to use his powers in a manner that good is strengthened, which is preferable to weakening the yetzer hara, for when a person’s power of the soul is weakened there is always going to be a loss of good things as well.
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