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Thought for the Day: Managing the Yeitzer HaRa

Chava is taking a stroll through Gan Eden, when the snake comes up and says, "So... you're not allowed to eat from all of the trees in the garden?"  (true)  Chava answers, "From the fruit of the trees in the garden eat, but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden G-d told us not to eat from it nor even touch it, lest we die."  (G-d certainly did not tell her not to touch it.  And what's with "lest"?  HaShem said straight out it would make them mortal.)  Snake: "You aren't going to die immediately from eating, but G-d know that on day you eat from it your minds will be opened up and you will know even how something bad can look good and good can look bad; that is you will understand even the riddle of free will."  (which is exactly what happened.  Compare what the snake said in 3:5 and what actually happened in 3:7.)  Then the woman saw that tree produced wonderful food that was a pleasure to behold, a precious thing to expand her mind.  She took from it's fruit and ate.  Tragic end to this dramatic encounter.

What went wrong?  The snake never suggested that Chava should eat, simply pointed out the obvious benefits of eating from the tree.  Even so, Chazal understood that such a ploy is called enticement and we do not even try to help the enticer (by looking for extenuating circumstances, for example); he is punished to the full extent of the law.

The yeitzer hara is an expert at this ploy.  For every argument she presented, he had an answer.  Every exchange, therefore, is a lessening in her resistance (having had one of her fences knocked down) and and increase in her desire (as the yeitzer hara is pressing only on that nerve).  As clear and logical as the "cost/benefit calculation"  was before the discussion, things only get muddied as the discussion continues.  Once the discussion began, it was essentially a foregone conclusion how it would end.  You can't outwit the yeitzer hara, but you can refuse to play.  That, in fact, is your one and only real weapon against the yeitzer hara; just refuse to play.

But suppose you do play and (of course) lose; what now?  If it proved too much for you once, isn't just going to just keep knocking you down?  Look what happened here: the snake/yeitzer hara, because if what it did (namely, successfully entice Chava to sin) had it's arms and legs removed.  Chazal tell us "gadol mei'chaveiro, gadol yeitzer heimenu" -- the bigger the person, the bigger his yeitzer hara.  But it also works the other way.  If a person fails withstand the challenge of his yeitzer hara, then his yeitzer hara is cut down.   With every decision, we either strengthen or weaken our yeitzer hara (see R' Dessler on the "free will point").

All is kept in a balance for our ultimate success.  You just need to keep at it.

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