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Thought for the Day: Yetzer HaRa -- Spiritual Force of Tuma vs Physical Ta'avos

In any project planning, there are two basic approaches: top down and bottom up.  Top down starts with describing what you want done at the highest level that seems reasonable.  You then break that down into a list of things that are smaller in scope (they only accomplish part of the job) and are therefore easier to actually accomplish.  That process can is then repeated with each sub-project.  Each iteration produces a new set of smaller projects.  For any of the projects, the level above provides the "why" for the project of interest, and the projects below provide the "how" for the current project.  Bottom up starts, as it's name suggests, from the lowest level -- here is stuff I know I can do, and proceeds by asking "what can I do by putting this stuff together?"

For example, I have a project to slake my thirst.  Top down would start by a requirement to get a cool drink into a container from which I can drink.  That breaks down into: (1) find a cool drink reservoir, (2) find a glass, (3) transfer the cool drink into the glass.  (1) could break down into: (1.1) open fridge, (1.2) select cool drink of choice.  Seems straightforward, but maybe there are no cool drinks in the fridge, then you have to back track.  Or maybe there is only water in the fridge and you really wanted orange juice; you got what you said you wanted, but it's very unsatisfying.  That's the problem with top down; you didn't really know all the possibilities when you started, so you end up with something that works, but not what you really wanted.

Bottom up would say: I have water in the fridge, I know I can borrow orange juice from my neighbor, I can find all sorts of drinks at the store.  Much better, right?  Well... suppose you agree on the store choice, you have just generated a new requirement to have a ready supply of cash.  That's the problem with bottom up; you can end up with a plan that can't be implemented because you didn't know all the constraints.

Any real project, therefore, needs to keep its eyes open and constantly be ready to revise the marching orders.  You need the top down view to be sure you are constantly moving toward the goal.  You need the bottom up view to be sure you are using all the resources at your disposal.  You need to go back and forth to add in appropriate

R' Yisrael Salant, in Ohr Yisrael, notes that there seem to be two contradictory descriptions of the yeitzer hara in s'farim.  On the one hand you find the yeitzer hara being described as a dark, foreboding spiritual force whose entire reason for being is predicated on leading you away from HaShem and into the eternal abyss of suffering.  On the other hand, you'll find every ta'ava described as a yeitzer hara.  That is, your animal desires; entirely physical.  Which is it?

It's both.  The top down view is that yeitzer hara is an entirely spiritual force of tuma.  How does he get his job done?  By using your ta'avos.  The bottom up view is that a human being has ta'avos -- built in by the creator; not a choice, simply the way you were made.  In other words, the Yeitzer Hara is a spiritual force of tuma that gets it's job done by marketing your very real and physical desires.

An animal has no choice but to follow its physical desires; basically just like a computer running a program.  The yeitzer hara is therefore irrelevant to the animals.  An angel has to ta'avos, is it basically just a computer running a program.  The yeitzer hara is therefore irrelevant to the angels.  Only the human being, and especially a Jew, is filled with ta'vos, but can choose to do what he wants or to do what HaShem wants.  That's why any decision to follow one's ta'avos needs to be critically examined to see if the decision was based on doing Ratzon HaShem or is an excuse to "scratch an itch".  Each and every choice one makes is either Ratzon HaShem and leading toward k'dusha, or scratching an itch and leading to the pit.

There is no forcing; it's all up to you.  If you ask me, that's the scariest thing in the world.


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