Confronting the Inner Adversary

Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, known as the Vilna Ga’on:
The yetzer ha’ra does not try to seduce you to do something that is outright sinful because in that case, you’d never take the bait. Rather, the yetzer ha’ra tries to get you to take only one small step down a wrong road, which it can do by convincing you that this first step is actually a good and righteous thing.

For example, the yetzer ha’ra won’t try to entice a person who keeps kosher to outright eat pork, because that is not likely a point of vulnerability. Instead, it would try to entice that person to eat roasted kosher meat on Passover, which is not to be done, and it would whisper convincingly, “You ll really enjoy the festive meal so much more.”

Once the yetzer ha’m has succeeded in that small measure, it will continue enticing the person farther and farther down the path of transgression. (Everyday Holiness, p. 26)


(ז) רבי נחמן בר שמואל בר נחמן בשם רב שמואל בר נחמן אמר:

הנה טוב, זה יצר טוב.

והנה טוב מאד, זה יצר רע.

God created both good and evil

citing from Genesis, the Midrash expounds:

'Behold, it was good' refers to the Good Desire (Yetzer haTov)

'And behold, it was very good' refers to the Evil Desire. (Yetzer haRa)


Nature AND Nurture

Maimonides: Hilchot Deot 1:2

With regard to all character traits: a person has some from the beginning of conception, in accordance with that person's nature... Some traits are not from birth. They may have been learned them from other people... or may have come as a result of one's own thoughts, or because one heard that this was a proper trait.


We once had the opportunity to kill off the Evil inclination:

The 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 haRa] was surrendered to them...

but 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 [instead of killing him] they blinded him and let him go; (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 69b)


"[These stories] are pointing to the inner drives that arise from our lower selves. The drives themselves are certainly not appraised as bad; in fact, they are necessary and useful for human life. But whenever you try to control or overrule those drives because of an intention of your higher nature, or when one of those drives becomes exaggerated, you will have a struggle on your hands. The yetzer ha’ra will do everything in its power to subvert your higher self and to influence you to indulge your desires. Hence the goal is not to try to destroy the yetzer ha’ra but to control it and apply it for good.” (Everyday Holiness, p. 24)


“Just as your spiritual curriculum is distinctive to you, so is your inner adversary. It comes at you with challenges that are uniquely tailored just for you. You're only going to be tempted or pushed in regard to traits and choices that are personally challenging for you... It is inevitable companion on the way of the soul. You are well advised to get to know yours.” (EH)


"Some Mussar teachers talk about overcoming the yetzer ha'ra.. Others speak of befriending it or redirecting its energy. However it is approached, the task of taming the adversary is not to be underestimated. The foe is wily, unruly, deceptive. It doesn't play by our rules." (EH)


Rambam's Four Steps of Repentance
Teshuva, “repentance / to return”, can be achieved in four steps!
1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.
2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.
3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others and make restitution where necessary.
4. Determine never to repeat the action.


טבע האדם תלוי במנהג והמנהג יוקבע בטבע

A person's character depends on their habits, and integrating those habits as a part of the person. - Iggerot HaRambam 12:26


(א) הוֹאִיל וֶהֱיוֹת הַגּוּף בָּרִיא וְשָׁלֵם מִדַּרְכֵי הַשֵּׁם הוּא. שֶׁהֲרֵי אִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיָּבִין אוֹ יֵדַע דָּבָר מִידִיעַת הַבּוֹרֵא וְהוּא חוֹלֶה. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ לְהַרְחִיק אָדָם עַצְמוֹ מִדְּבָרִים הַמְאַבְּדִין אֶת הַגּוּף. וּלְהַנְהִיג עַצְמוֹ בִּדְבָרִים הַמַּבְרִין וְהַמַּחֲלִימִים. וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: לְעוֹלָם לֹא יֹאכַל אָדָם אֶלָּא כְּשֶׁהוּא רָעֵב. וְלֹא יִשְׁתֶּה אֶלָּא כְּשֶׁהוּא צָמֵא. וְאַל יַשְׁהֵא נְקָבָיו אֲפִלּוּ רֶגַע אֶחָד. אֶלָּא כָּל זְמַן שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהַשְׁתִּין אוֹ לְהָסֵךְ אֶת רַגְלָיו יַעֲמֹד מִיָּד:

(1) Seeing that the maintenance of the body in a healthy and sound condition is a God-chosen way, for, lo, it is impossible that one should understand or know aught of the divine knowledge concerning the Creator when he is sick, it is necessary for people to distance themselves from things which destroy the body, and accustom in things (create habits) which are healthful and life-imparting. These are:

- never partake food save when hungry, nor drink save when thirsty;

- don't defer elimination even one minute,

- shall not eat to stomach-full, but should reduce about one fourth of the quantity which would sate

- don't drink water during the meal, save a little mixed with wine...

- don't eat without warming the body either by walking before mealtime, by some manual labor, or by some other form of exercise,

- exercise the body and tire it every day during the morning

- sleep 8 hours...


Try Tiny Habits (google it) instead of a massive overhaul

"Habits are not created out of motivation. Motivation is always temporary. We’re looking for a way to do our habits whether we are motivated or not. Dr. Fogg has found that way. To make a habit stick, start small and slowly increase your habits until you’re where you want to be. Start with a tiny habit."

  1. A behavior you do at least once a day
  2. A behavior that takes you less than 30 seconds
  3. A behavior that requires little effort

Three primary parts: cue, routine and reward. You need something that cues you to start the habit (the trigger), then you do the habit, then you have to experiment with some type of reward. Since a tiny habit is…tiny, the reward should be tiny as well - Blog linked here


Tiny Habits (cont.)

Here are some examples of tiny habits, combined with existing behaviors:

“After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.”
“After I pour my morning coffee, I will text my mom.”
“After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.”
“After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.”


Try the Behavior Wizard:

14 יד

A Cautionary Word about Perfection:

Should we despair of our being unable to attain perfect purity? We should, if perfection were our goal. However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again and again beyond the level of the self. - Abraham Joshua Heschel