No announcement available or all announcement expired.

The Idolater and the Torah Scholar. Or both?

The Idolater and the Torah Scholar. Or both?

Rav Jonathan Gilbert


What does the Yetzer Haraa (the Evil Inclination) look like? Or, more precisely, what would be the most accurate representation of it. Would it be human or animal? Frightening or charming? Would we even recognize it? Popular culture seems is satisfied with an unsophisticated, one-layered depiction of it. Up until recently, it was portrayed as a horrible demon, but lately as a seductive young man. Judaism, however, has a much more complex understanding.

The Gemara teaches that the Yetzer Haraa has seven different names: Hashem called it “evil”, Moshe called it “uncircumcised”, David called it “impure”, Shlomocalled it “the enemy”, Yeshayahu called it “a stumbling block”, Yechezkel called it “a stone” and Yoel called it “the hidden one”.  Each of these names reveals different nuances and tactics of the Yetzer Haraa, presenting a multifaceted, strikingly complex picture of it. And in this week’s parsha, we have the first encounter face to face with it. 

It all happened the night of the legendary wrestle with the angel. Yaakov left his family in order to retrieve some artifacts he left behind. There, alone, he fought a mysterious character, the one who ended up calling him by his new name, Israel.

There are several suggestions about the identity of this character. The Shl”a Hakadosh held it was a representation of the Yetzer Haraa. But what did he look like? The Talmud relates a disagreement between the Sages. According to Rabbi Shmuel b ar Naḥmani he looked like an idolater. But Rav Shmuel bar Aḥa said he presented himself as a Talmid Chacham.

Whether the yetzer hara discloses itself in a revealed or concealed manner, it is very difficult to overcome. Concerning the revealed representation, the Gemararelates several stories about great men who, if not for heavens mercy, would have sinned with forbidden women. Rav Amram the Pious was so close from sinning with a captive woman that he had to yell “fire” in order to attract bystanders who could prevent him from carrying out his plan. Rabbi Meir tried to cross the river using a rope in order to sin with a woman, who was actually the Satan in disguise. Even the Holy Rabbi Akiva began climbing a palm tree in order to reach what he thought was a beautiful woman. Although they were all eventually spared from sin, it does help us understand the vigor of even the most exposed of the Yetzer Haraa’s configurations. Yet the more concealed one, seems to be even harder to repeal. When the Yetzer Haraa dresses up as a Talmid Chacham, we put down our defenses and swallow whatever evil counsel it has prepared for us. This is true even historically. No army or decree was able to achieve the success of those who fought us by persuasion. Intermarriage, for example, under the disguise of ecumenism and tolerance, is a far more formidable enemy than any antisemitic ideology. 

The same is true in our personal lives. We are particularly vulnerable to the Yetzer Haraa when we don’t perceive it as such. Families are destroyed under the argument of “justice”. Lives are wasted seeking “fair retribution”. Dreams are buried under a heavy load of unrealistic expectations.

So how are we supposed to fight back? Our sages tell us that “if this crook, (the evil inclination) accosts you, drag it to the Beit Hamidrash. If it is like a stone, it will be dissolved. If it is like iron, it will be shattered”. Stone and iron relate closely to what was just said. 

 We all know how dangerous it is to face the open version of the Yetzer Haraa. The Torah dedicates a whole portion to this point. Parashat Ki Tetze teaches us the laws of the beautiful captive and Rashi explains that the Torah was only speaking against the evil inclination. It is obvious that taking by force a gentile captive is not a desirable thing, but the revealed Yetzer Haraa should not be challenged by force but with astuteness. That is, dissolve it like a stone, slowly but surely. 

In contrast, the unrevealed version of the Yetzer Haraa is better repelled when shattered like iron. That is why Yaakov refused to move with Eisav and why he had to escape from Lavan. They were both master deceivers, suave versions of evil.

The Beit Midrash gives us the astuteness to outsmart the Yetzer Hara when necessary, and the strength to fight back when it must be done. It is our war room, the only place we can prepare ourselves and our families for such formidable enemy. May we all merit to live lives of Torah and freedom from our evil inclination.

On behalf of The Selwyn and Ros Smith & Family, MANHIGUT TORANIT PROGRAM

2020 Sandton Shul Batmitzvah Ceremony