The Evil Inclination

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


What Good is the Evil Inclination?

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The word “Bereshis” means in the beginning. Parshas Bereshis is the beginning of the Torah, and in fact, the beginning of time (The Vilna Gaon explains that time is the first thing G-d created).

In this portion, the order of creation is laid out through the first “six days” (there is much discussion amongst the commentaries whether these days are twenty four hour days, or units of time).

The final aspect of creation is the creation of man—Adom and Chava (Adam and Eve).

From the way that things were created, and from the ensuing commandment given to Adom and Chava, we can understand man’s purpose in the world.

Let us take one example: “And all the herb, had not yet sprouted” (Genesis Ch.2 V.5). This would seem to be an apparent contradiction to an earlier verse: “And the earth brought forth vegetation” (Genesis Ch.1 V.12). The Talmud (Tractate Chullin 60b) explains this to mean that G-d created the vegetation under the surface, yet He was waiting for man to pray for it. This speaks of an extremely crucial idea: That  G-d desires a relationship with man, and wants man to rely on Him for his needs, much like a parent with a child.

“But of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat thereof” (Genesis Ch.2 V.17).

This was the first commandment given to Adom and Chavah. What was the purpose of this, and all subsequent commandments given to mankind?

“And G-d saw all that He had made, and He saw it was very good” (Genesis Ch.1 V.31). Why does it state “very good” on this day (the sixth day) as opposed to the word “good” alone which was used for the other days? The Midrash explains: that on this day (the sixth day), the yetzer hara—evil inclination—was created. Why is that very good? Because it now enables man to have bechira—free choice.

Man choosing good over evil is the only way in which the world can reach its true purpose, and the commandments are the vehicle through which we choose.

In the Garden of Eden, the evil inclination existed outside the body (as manifested by the snake).

Why did G-d not want them to eat from the tree? Before Adom and Chavah ate from the tree of knowledge, their perceptions of good and evil were understood on the elevated level of truth and falsehood. If, for example Adom was to see someone steal, he would not merely think it bad, he would think it false. Thus his choosing good would be easier as he would be able to perceive it more objectively. By eating from the tree, the evil inclination internalized, thus creating a bias. It then created within Adom and Chavah a relative value system. When a person sees something from the outside, he is usually able to look at it objectively. Once it becomes part of him, however, he no longer sees it as such. 

This is particularly a problem in our society, where there is no absolute scale of good and bad.

What can we do to rectify the sin of Adom and Chavah?

We must look at the commandments given to us, and attempt to not only perform them the correct way, but to also see the truth in them, i.e., to understand the ramification of our actions as far as helping or G-d forbid, hurting the world.

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