The Yetzer Hora, Part 1
The original snake was the epitome of material existence. It
was the most sophisticated creature that there could be, lacking a neshama.
It was almost human, sly and walking on two legs. It represented the most
refined, tempting manifestation of pure physicality; man without his spiritual
dimension. Because it had no neshama, it couldn’t talk, according to most
reshinom (early commentators). They explain, therefore, that the words
attributed to the snake in the Torah were communicated to Chava by gestures. The
words were heard only in Chava’s mind. I picture the snake as something like the
Planter’s Peanuts emblem, except maybe for the monocle.
The Satan used the snake to entice Chava to pursue the purely
physical, even though it was empty of anything spiritual. That was her test, to
choose to elevate herself spiritually, or to be drawn down to a level of
physicality and nothing else.
How does the yetzer hora work? The first ploy was:
“Didn’t G-d tell you not to eat of any of the trees in the garden?” The first
thing a person does when he wants to do something wrong is to convince himself
that nothing is permitted. “It’s oppressive,” he tells himself. “It’s
impossible to keep all of this!” If it’s impossible to do, it follows that
there’s nothing wrong with doing it. So the claim is that G-d said you can’t eat
anything. The same tactic is employed elsewhere. It’s impossible not to
speak lashon hora, so you might as well not try. It’s impossible to keep
Shabbos (for someone who’s never kept Shabbos), so you might as well not try.
Reb Yechezkel Abramsky said that Eishes Yafas Toar is the
foundation of the entire Torah. The Torah permitted a woman in time of battle
because it is beyond the capabilities of a human being to control himself in
such a situation. It follows that when the Torah does forbid something, it must
be that it is within the person’s capabilities; otherwise, the Torah would have
In Avos d’Rabbi Noson it says that that which led Adam to do
the chet (sin) was that he added a fence onto the mitzvah: He instructed
Chava that it was prohibited to touch the tree, as well as eat its fruit. This
Midrash explains that Adam had added something that was impossible to keep. They
couldn’t walk around the garden without touching the trees. It was impossible
Then, Chava replied that it wasn’t true, since most of the
trees were permitted. Only two trees were forbidden. Only those things that are
damaging are forbidden to us. So it was necessary to persuade her that the tree
was not damaging. The snake told her that not only would she not die upon
touching the tree, but she would become like G-d. So the next thing that the
yetzer hora tries to convince you is that even if not everything is
prohibited, and it is possible to keep the mitzvah, but no harm will come to you
if you do what is forbidden, and it may even be beneficial.
The truth is that the sin is dangerous. How does a person
fantasize that the sin is not dangerous and is worthwhile? For that, you need a
good imagination. The snake opened Chava’s eyes, and made it seem like the tree
was good to eat, even though it wasn’t. But she only imagined that it was good
to eat. “V’taivah hu l’eynaim.” That fires a desire for the object. “V’teirah
haisha ki tov haetz l’ma’achel.” She saw that it was good to eat, but she
couldn’t yet taste it. “V’nechmad ha’etz lehaskil, v’taivah l’eynaim.”
These phrases represent the three kinds of desire: physical, esthetic (vateirah)
and intellectual (l’haskil). We are liable to be enticed by any one or
all of them.
What happened? She proceeded to eat, giving in to her desire.
As a result, the yetzer hora became a part of her, and of us. What happens
afterwards—when you can view things objectively again—is that you wake up and
realize what you’ve done, and feel ashamed and foolish. Then, either the
yetzer leaves you and you can do teshuva; or it continues to work on you,
and deny that you did anything wrong. Adam blamed it on his wife. She, in turn,
blamed it on the snake.
To be continued…