Taming The Beast: The Yetzer Ha Ra and the Yetzer HaTov
(ז) רבי נחמן בר שמואל בר נחמן בשם רב שמואל בר נחמן אמר: הנה טוב מאד, זה יצר טוב. והנה טוב מאד, זה יצר רע. וכי יצר הרע טוב מאד אתמהא?! אלא שאלולי יצר הרע, לא בנה אדם בית, ולא נשא אשה, ולא הוליד, ולא נשא ונתן. וכן שלמה אומר: (קהלת ד): כי היא קנאת איש מרעהו:
(7) Rabbi Nahman said in Rabbi Samuel's name: 'Behold, it was good' refers to the Good Desire; 'And behold, it was very good' refers to the Evil Desire. (It only says 'very good' after man was created with both the good and bad inclinations, in all other cases it only says 'and God saw that it was good') Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But without the Evil Desire, however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children; and thus said Solomon: 'Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man's rivalry with his neighbour.' (Ecclesiastes 4:4).

The ancient Sages decided that they were going to capture and imprison the Yetzer HaRa. So they ordered a complete fast of three day….whereupon he [the Yetzer] was surrendered to them. He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a fiery lion…. He [the Yetzer] said to them, “Realize that if you kill me, the world is finished.” They held him for three days, then they looked in the whole land of Israel and not an egg could be found. So they asked, “What shall we do now?”…So they put out his eyes and let him go; (Yoma 69b).

אותיבו בתעניתא תלתא יומין ותלתא לילואתא מסרוהו ניהליהו נפק אתא כי גוריא דנורא מבית קדשי הקדשים ... אמר להו חזו דאי קטליתו ליה לההוא כליא עלמא חבשוהו תלתא יומי ובעו ביעתא בת יומא בכל ארץ ישראל ולא אשתכח אמרי היכי נעביד נקטליה כליא עלמא ניבעי רחמי אפלגא פלגא ברקיעא לא יהבי כחלינהו לעיניה ושבקוהו ואהני דלא מיגרי ביה לאיניש בקריבתה

They (The Ancient Sages) ordered a fast of three days and three nights, whereupon he (The Yetzer HaRa) was surrendered to them. He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a young fiery lion. He (one of the rabbis) said to them: Realize that if you kill him, the world goes down. They imprisoned him for three days, then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it. Thereupon they said: What shall we do now? Shall we kill him? The world would then go down. Shall we beg for half-mercy? They do not grant ‘halves’ in heaven. They put out his eyes and let him go. It helped inasmuch as he no more entices men to commit incest.

The yetzer hara is 13 years older than the yetzer hatov. While still in the mother's womb, the yetzer hara begins to develop in a person. If he begins to violate the Sabbath, nothing stops him. If he commits murder, nothing stops him. If he goes off to another sin, nothing stops him.

But 13 years later, the yetzer hatov is born. When he violates the Sabbath, it rebukes him, "Airhead [literally: "empty one"]! Don't you know it says 'Everyone who violates it will surely be put to death' (Exodus 31:14)?" If he is about to commit murder, it rebukes him, "Airhead! Don't you know it says 'Whoever sheds a man's blood, by man will his blood be shed' (Genesis 9:6)?" If he is about to engage in a sexual sin, it rebukes him, "Airhead! Don't you know it says 'Both the adulterer and the adulteress will surely be put to death' (Leviticus 20:10)?" (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 16).

R. Isaac Arama, the 15th-century Spanish philosopher and commentator, connected the changes around bar mitzvah to the well-known beginning of the Mishnaic tractate on Passover:

For the first 13 years of life, one rebels, but in the 14th year, the light of intelligence appears in him, and then he becomes bar mitzvah and subject to the punishment of a human court. Similarly, our sages, of blessed memory, hinted at this when they said, "On the evening of the 14th we search forhametz [leaven] by the light of a candle" (Mishnah Pesachim 1:1) (Sefer Akedat Yitzhak, 61).

For Arama, the philosopher, the change that signals maturation is intellectual development, and the candle is a symbol of the adolescent's greater ability to perceive the significant legal distinctions, which also makes him liable for punishment in court. The early 19th-century Hasidic leader, R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta, Poland, restated Arama's insight in terms of the birth of the yetzer hatov:

On the night of the 14th we check for hametz with a candle, for in Nisan, renewal comes to the world. Israel becomes like a child whose yetzer hatov does not enter him until after 13 years. Similarly, we check for hametz after the 13th night by the light of a candle, on the model of a child who becomes bar mitzvah after 13 years. And then we must remove [literally destroy, l'va'er] all of the bad characteristics [of childhood] (Sefer Ohev Yisrael--Parashat Vayetze).