Strategies for Combating the Evil Inclination in Rabbinic Literature

The rabbinic literature, Talmud and Midrash¹, are not single books but a result of a creative process that took place over several centuries. The process of creating Talmud began in 100 CE and ended with its redaction in around 500 CE. The Talmud consists of sixty-three volumes of the discussions, debates and discourses in Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic academies. Over the span of these four centuries, scribes took notes of the discussions, then organized the notes topically and edited them into the sixty-three volumes. In the Talmud text the rabbis discuss every imaginable life issue and concern, among them the inclination humans have to transgress God’s commandments. They called this inclination the yetzer hara, or evil inclination...

It would be cruel and unmerciful for God to create people with the battling inclinations and then not to provide any tools and devices for waging that battle. What sense could a person make of a God who left people abandoned, only inevitably to succumb to the evil inclination and sin against the divine commands? The rabbis of Talmud and Midrash put forth a vision of a God who implanted the inclinations within humans, knowing people would struggle throughout their lives to follow the urges of the good inclination, and likely to succumb at times to the evil. Their vision included a God Who also provides people with the tools to wage this lifelong and demanding struggle. It is up to each person whether and how successfully to use the tools at his or her disposal, whether to engage the struggle to manage and rule over the evil inclination or to succumb and sin.

People generally do not do enough, according to the rabbis, to control their evil inclination, as one can see from the results in human sinfulness. People use all kinds of tools in their lives to accomplish tasks but ignore the tools God has provided to control the evil inclination. In a discussion of the goads one may use to control a heifer, or cow, the point is made regarding the use of tools to manage the evil inclination:

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Author: Rabbi Michael Mayersohn

Keywords: Adversary, Angel of darkness, Body of death, Christ tempted, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Deliver us from evil, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Good angel, Good nature, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Intentional misspelling, Intentionally misspelled, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Jot, Jot and tittle, Jots, Man's sinful nature, Mispelled word, Mispelling, Misspelling, Misspelled word, Origin of sin, Personification of evil, Personification, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sexual temptation, Sin, Sin in the flesh, Sin personified, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Tittle, Two jots, Two yodhs, Two yods, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Wretched man, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Yod, Yodh

Bible reference(s): Genesis 1:31, Genesis 2:7, Genesis 8:21, Deuteronomy 10:16, Psalms 51:10, Proverbs 25:21, Isaiah 5:18, Isaiah 57:14, Ezekiel 36:26, Joel 2:20, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 6:13, Mark 1:13, Luke 11:4, Luke 4:2-13, John 8:44, Acts 5:3, Romans 7:17-24, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Corinthians 11:14, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:6-7, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 John 2:13-14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18-19

Source: Are We Sinners? (Bloomington: iUniverse, 2009), pp. xiii, 57-66.

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