The Northerner and the Evil Inclination

The verse narrates God’s promise to cast away the locusts destroying the land. However the symbolic name of the enemy (’Northener’, i.e. one who comes from the north) and the intense imagery of the verse, led the homilist to seek for another, less trivial, enemy in the verse, one which might also be relevant for his own experience. The ‘northener’ (tzfoni) is thus read as the yetzer [hara], hidden (tzafun) in every person’s heart.

Our Rabbis taught: But I will remove far off from you the hidden one (Joel 2:20)—This is the evil yetzer [the evil inclination] which is hidden in man’s heart; and will drive him into a land barren and desolate means—to a place where there are no men for him to attack; with his face toward the eastern sea—[implies] that he set his eyes against the first Temple and destroyed it; and his hinder part toward the western sea—[implies] that he set his eyes against the last Temple and destroyed it, and killed the sages therein. That his foulness may come up and his ill-savour may come up—[implies] that he leaves the other nations and attacks only Israel. Because he hath done great things—[Rabbi] Abaye explained, [the yetzer acts] against sages more than against anyone;

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Author: Rabbi Michael Mayersohn

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Bible reference(s): Joel 2:20, Matthew 4:1-11

Source: Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “Sexualising the Evil Inclination: Rabbinic ‘Yetzer’ and Modern Scholarship,” Journal of Jewish Studies, v. LX, no. 2, Autumn 2009, pp. 270-271.

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