TITLES AT A
EIGHTEEN WAYS TO UNDERSTAND
OR BEAT THE YAITZER HORA
YOUR YAITZER IS AT WAR WITH
PRACTICAL USE OF
TECHNIQUES TO CONQUER THE YAITZER HORA
IF YOU CAN'T ELIMINATE
A YAITZER, YOU CAN LESSEN IT
WORK AGAINST THE YAITZER
MUST BE SINCERE
THERE'S NO TIME FOR THE
YAITZER IF YOU KEEP BUSY WITH TORAH AND MITZVOS
KILL THE YAITZER HORA - NOT
[This was originally written as treatise on
fighting yaitzer horas (evil inclinations) in the context of marriage (e.g. arguing,
hurting, disappointing, being angry, etc.). The reader can understand the principles
contained here in general or in any other applicable context also.]
Anger and fighting are products of the
yaitzer hora (evil inclination), so handling them effectively must include beating the
yaitzer hora. Let's study how this can be accomplished.
EIGHTEEN WAYS TO UNDERSTAND
OR BEAT THE YAITZER HORA
* 1. Remember that when "one comes to
purify himself, Heaven helps him (Shabos 104a)."
There are several "segulos" and
"aitzos" (spirituals tools and advice) for canceling a yaitzer hora (Torah
methods of assistance for canceling an evil inclination). Sefer "Segulos
Yisroel," cites several ways to attack the yaitzer hora, plus there are several
methods brought by Chazal and Mussar.
* 2. intensive and constant learning of
mishna (on condition you understand what you learn - if you do not have access to or
understanding of mishna, learn that which effects your heart for the good),
* 3. get up early in the morning and learn
Torah (based on the Talmudic principle [Sanhedrin 72a], "ba lehargecha hashkaim
lihargo - which in this context means: kill your yaitzer hora before it kills you"),
* 4. read chapter 131 of Tehillim ("lo
govah leebi vilo ramu aynai..."), which is only three pesukim (sentences). If you
don't understand the meaning of the Hebrew, learn it so that you can say it with
understanding and kavana (intent concentration). In essence, King David reports how he
never allowed his heart, eyes or deeds to succumb to bad things. Be careful to pronounce
the "mapik heh" in the word "govah" (a "mapik heh" is
when the letter heh [corresponding to "H"] is 1. the last letter in a word, 2.
has a dot in it and 3. carries a vowel - in such a case, the vowel is pronounced first and
the "h" consonant sound is pronounced AFTER the vowel sound).
* 5. Read, "Krias Shma" with
awareness that this life is brief and fleeting, with correct pronunciation (e.g. the
"mapik heh" in the word "yevulah;" making sure to separate
every word - especially
1. where the end of one word has the same
letter as the beginning of the next word and slurring could incorrectly sound like two
words are one double-length word, such as bichol livavcha sounding like
bicholivavcha or the words viavaditem mihaira sounding like viavaditemehaira; and
2. separating words which start with soft
sound [e.g. a vov with a dot pronounced as "u," alef, ayin] from the previous
word, also so that they don't connect together incorrectly into one long word); when a
word is connected into the next word, such slurring would incorrectly make two words sound
like one double-length word, and you would no longer have the words which constitute
and with kavana (concentration -
understanding of the meaning of the words and the concepts of Krias Shma e.g. acceptance
of the yolk of Heaven when saying the word "shma," concentrating on G-d's
kingship as being absolute and as being in all places and all directions and that He is
One when saying the word "echad," understanding the second paragraph as teaching
that G-d gives reward and punishment for our actions, and concentrating in the last
sentence on the fact the He took us out of Egypt to be our G-d - contact a rav or check
halacha seforim such Mishna Brura, Igros Moshe and Chayay Adam for more details). Also
keep in mind that we say Krias Shma twice each day in the normal order of prayers. It is
useful to use this as a practical reminder that we accept the yolk of Heaven, and all of
its obligations...including to overcome yaitzer horas and to get along with all people in
a pleasant, peaceful, loving, respectful, kind, compassionate, patient, humble,
responsible, honorable, disciplined, holy and gentle way.
If we extend this into a marriage context,
we see a cycle. If we work to have peace, Hashem helps us win the war against the yaitzer
hora. If we effectively fight the war against the yaitzer hora, we become kailim
(instruments) of peace. When we have peace, G-d blesses us with success.
However, if we succumb to the yaitzer hora,
we bring fights. If we have fights, we feed the yaitzer hora/Satan, who seeks to kill us.
We are kailim (vessels, instruments) of destruction.
We have the choice to engage in a vicious
cycle (yaitzer hora and fighting); or in a "peace cycle" in which each fights
the yaitzer hora in order to have peace, gets Heavenly help to have peace and, in the
merit of doing one's part to have peace, is blessed with success over the work of Satan
(who works to destroy peace and to bring guilt upon us). Realize that fighting is the work
of Satan. We can choose to fight each other, or to fight the yaitzer hora and come to
peace. Working to beat the yaitzer hora for fighting, and to work to have shalom, is a
segula for success.
* 6. Sincerely and truthfully be humble and
separate from needing or demanding more than life's basics. Train yourself to undo your
drives and desires.
* 7. The Talmud (Sota 43a) recommends that
one "ridicule one's yaitzer hora."
* 8. The prayer "Ana Bikoach"
contains 42 words. The "roshai taivos" (first letter of each of the words)
constitute a 42 letter name of Hashem. Each of the seven lines contains six words. The
roshai taivos (the first letter of each word) on each line constitute kabalistic
(mystical) phrase, each of two three-letter words. The line, "Kabail Rinas Amcho
Sagvainu Taharainu Nora (accept the singing of Your nation; exalt us and purify us,
Fearful One)" furnishes the phrase, "kra Satan (tear up Satan)." We see
from this that a major part of serving G-d is our working to destroy our yaitzer hora. The
phrase which means "tear up Satan," is a part of the holy name of G-d! We see
that the work of destroying Satan is intrinsic to the existence of the Creation and to the
purpose of mankind. Through working to beat the yaitzer hora, we can come to sing the
praises of G-d, obtain exaltation and purity for ourselves, and come to true yira
(appropriate fear of and reverence for G-d).
* 9. The Talmud (Brachos 5a) also
recommends, as a potent antidote to a yaitzer hora, to remember the day of death. At that
time you will be helpless and defenseless against all accusations of sin. Then, there will
be no excuses, no evasions, no more repentance, no more ability to change yourself or to
rectify any wrong committed (especially against another person). Similarly, it is useful
to go to a cemetery and look at graves, especially an old one. Consider the finality and
inescapability of death. Consider that those buried have been there for decades or
centuries and will remain there. Ask yourself, "When I am here, how will I explain my
life? How will I account for my deeds to the Heavenly Court?"
One time, during a Yorah Daya shiur, Rav
Avrohom Asher Zimmerman, z'l, one of my greatest Torah teachers, told the following story.
Moshe Montefiore was a fabulously wealthy and philanthropic Jew who lived in the
mid-1800's. He realized that he could not allow his enormous wealth to go to his head or
to damage his midos. He had a coffin brought in to his house. Every day, he would go into
the coffin and, while inside, say to himself, "Moshe, it's one day closer to the
end." This way, he used to remind himself every day that he was going to die and had
no reason to be arrogant or otherwise dehumanized by wealth, fame or power. Rav Zimmerman
softly said, "Ah ha," as if he were Montefiore speaking to himself, just before
"Moshe, it's one day closer to the end," to personalize the message and make it
real, and to emphasize to us in the shiur that the message is for all of us.
* 10. The Talmud (Kidushin 30b) says about
the evil inclination, "If this repugnant entity meets you, drag him to the house of
study [learn Torah, particularly in regard to the issue or temptation at hand]. If he is a
rock, he will melt. If he is iron, he will shatter." Torah is stronger than a yaitzer
A word of caution and warning. Never assume
that Torah automatically makes one a better or elevated person. The Vilna Gaon writes
(Evven Shlaima) that a person's soul needs Torah just as the earth needs moisture. Just as
moisture causes that which was planted in the earth to sprout just as it naturally is, for
bad or good, Torah cause what is in a person's heart to sprout naturally. If one's heart
is good, he will become spiritually elevated and better. If his heart is evil or nasty,
his Torah increases his evil or nastiness.
One must purify his heart, searching after
and eradicating every trace of evil, sinful or mean thoughts, bad traits and habits. Torah
intensifies what is naturally in his heart. Only if one actively strives to elevate
himself spiritually, and to increase his fear of sin, in conjunction with his Torah
learning, will his Torah elevate him. One's deeds derive from what is in the heart and,
therefore, his Torah intensifies what is in his heart. This can make his sins worse or his
devotion to G-d higher. One must, therefore, work to elevate and purify his heart at all
times throughout life, when young and old.
This must not be construed in a
discouraging fashion. The Gaon says, "It is impossible to kill the yaitzer hora (evil
inclination) except with Torah." We need 1. Torah AND 2. the sincere intention and
goal of elevating ourselves. Without both, one has no hope. What we must hear is that we
must engage diligently in Torah, but with the specific goal and intention to elevate
ourself through it.
If one tries to turn away from an evil
trait or habit in a way opposite to his bad trait, he will not succeed, because the trait
cannot be uprooted and conquered directly. The yaitzer hora is too entrenched. The Gaon
gives the example of a compulsive eater who tries fasting. His desire intensifies and his
effort breaks down. One must be very shrewd in devising strategy to beat a yaitzer hora.
And, if the person is too lazy to examine, pursue and conquer his bad traits, all
precautions and measures will fall away.
The Goan explains that just as a physical
wound must first heal inside before the healing reaches the skin, one must heal his heart,
traits and character before one's deeds are improved discernible on the surface, and
before changes will be lasting. If he is lazy, he will eventually spiritually crumble. His
learning can be like poison. If one works sincerely and diligently, then his Torah will
change, protect and elevate him. His Torah will give him eternal life.
The Gaon refers to desire, anger and
arrogance as the most evil and destructive of yaitzer horas. He says that a person who
cannot control taiva and kaas (uncontrollable desire and anger,) should go live in
solitude in a desert. The person who is haughty is judged by G-d with no leniency or
The Goan explains that the essential reason
for life is the constant conquest of character traits. Any moment in which one is not
working on midos, one is wasting his life.
* 11. The Talmud (Kidushin 40a) says to
remember that the world and the individual are judged on a "majority basis." If
you do one sin, you could tip the judgement of the entire world and of yourself for
destruction. If you add one merit, you could tip the judgement for blessing. When a sin
produces chilul Hashem (profanation of G-d, such as when a Jew is seen violating the
Torah), whether intentionally or not, there is only stringency in judgement.
* 12. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) tells us
to break any yaitzer hora directed against a fellow Jew. The case provides wonderful
across-the-board instruction on how to undo the inclination against the other person.
There is a mitzva to help a fellow Jew who
has a burden. The "classic" case is when the person is struggling to load or
unload a heavy bundle onto or off of his pack animal. The gemora asks: if I see two people
simultaneously with a load, and one is putting the load on his animal and the other is
taking the load off, who gets precedence (i.e. who, between the two, do I have to help -
since I can't do both at the same time)? The answer: help the person who is unloading
because this has the added factor of relieving pain from the animal. Then the gemora asks:
If a person you love is taking a load off the animal and a person who you hate is
simultaneously loading, who gets precedence? The answer: help the person who you hate
(because breaking your yaitzer hora comes before relieving the pain of the animal, and
your acting on behalf of your enemy will break your yaitzer hora against him).
When a Jew heard biting loshon hora
(defamation, slander) against a local rabbi (and found himself believing it), he
intentionally started to go to that rabbi's shul to pray and to call that rabbi for
shaalos (Jewish law questions), until he conquered that yaitzer hora to believe the loshon
hora (and to hold it against that rabbi). He visited to the home of his other rabbi about
twice each week to say "hello" and make clear that he had no problem with his
customary rabbi (whose shul he temporarily left). He said Tehillim 131 [saying just
before, "bitul yaitzer hora li'kabalas lashon hora/nullify the evil inclination to
accept defaming speech"] once or twice each day for about two weeks. He conquered the
temptation to accept the nasty slander about the rabbi or to think less of this rabbi
because of the slander.
When a Jew had an angry blow-up with his
wife over a trivial cause, he immediately took full responsibility, apologized, took his
wife out for dinner (staying "all smiles" the entire time) and brought home a
present a day, until all tension and animosity were purified out of his heart - and
Whenever something happens that causes a
yaitzer hora, fight, hate, tension, explosion, resentment, suspicion, indifference, break
in communication, criticism, malcontent, anger, nastiness, bitterness, condescension,
hostility or the like, IMMEDIATELY AND FULLY reverse "gears" to break and to
reverse the situation. Be practical, firm and constant in this.
* 13. In a relationship or marriage, if you
have to fight for basics, you have no relationship. Let me put this another way, to fit it
into our "yaitzer hora" context. You have to fight to not have to fight in a
relationship. In other words, one must fight within him or herself against the forces,
shortcomings and emotions that enable a person to be a fighter. "This is the craft of
the yaitzer hora (evil inclination). Today he says to the person, 'Do this.' Tomorrow he
says to the person, 'Do something a step worse.' Eventually he says to the person,
'Worship idols' [Shabos 108b]." Gradually, the evil inclination seduces a person, a
step at a time, to the worst of acts. At the start, one could not even think of serious,
cruel or violent sin. The evil inclination gets a person to the worst levels by inducing
one to go just one step down. It is subtle, perhaps barely detectable. I know one fellow
who started going to the movies on shabos with non-Jewish friends who paid for him. Then
he went alone, prepaying at the theater before shabos. He argued, "What am I doing
wrong? I carry no money. I'm just sitting there." After a while, he was totally
Each person must fight the milchemmess
hayaitzer, the war against the evil inclination within. One must specifically study and
practice mussar (Torah self-elevation) and, when emotional/psychological matters are
involved, get professional counseling. One must overcome subjectivity, self-indulgence,
blind lack of empathy for another, self-serving rationalization, laziness, impatience,
rigidity and a whole host of issues that remove obstacles to personal growth and gradual
human perfection. Or, to put it a little differently, fight with the faults in the person
within that would cause one to fight with someone outside him/herself. And win that fight!
This way, fights with another person gradually disappear.
* 14. When one gives of himself for the
good of another person he increases love for that person (Derech Eretz Zuta, chapter 2).
When one extends himself for another, he breaks hate in his heart towards the person and
distance between them (Bava Metzia 32b, cited above). Let's extend this to a positive
aspect of the previous reference to the "milchemmess hayaitzer." One of my main
Torah teachers, Rav Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l (may he be remembered for blessing),
pointed out that the Torah (Deuteronomy 21:10) says, "When you go out to war against
your enemies..." using the singular form for the word "you," as if talking
to an individual. Hebrew has a different form of word to express "you" for
plural. If the Torah were talking to armies or generals, it would use the plural form of
"you." By using the singular term for "you," Hashem is telling us each
to fight the "milchemmess hayaitzer (the individual's war with his yaitzer
hora)." Rav Zimmerman associated with this the midrash (Beraishis Raba) which says
that "The greatest thing is peace, for even if Israel worshipped idols, if they have
peace among them, Hashem would not allow Satan to prosecute the Jews." From this, Rav
Zimmerman taught that by having shalom and ahava (peace and love) between Jews, to the
exclusion of sinah and machlokess (hatred or fighting), Hashem would give us success in
our worldly affairs. Having peace and unity is a segula (Heavenly assist) for success.
Remember, for our marriage context, that it is impossible to have marital peace without
love and respect.
* 15. Constantly keep in mind that many,
many sources describe in various ways that interpersonal obligations are among the most
stringent in the Torah. Heaven's response to a person for how he behaves to any fellow Jew
is "measure for measure" and Heavenly retribution is serious. For example,
Yalkut Shimoni to Tehillim 32 says that Hashem does not overlook sins bain adam lechavairo
(against another person), Maharal (Nesivos Olam, based on Proverbs 21:21) writes that
Heaven considers one a thief if he holds back any possible good from another Jew, Avos
deRebi Noson says "Love your neighbor" must be fulfilled with the understanding
that the other person is the creation of Hashem, the Chasam Sofer says that the mitzva to
be holy can only be accomplished when you can interact with people in a holy manner and
Rabainu Yonah says that interpersonal matters are the most stringently judged in all the
Torah. This all must be constantly applied in practical life. And, please note that the
closer, the more dependent or the more vulnerable a person is, the higher the priority
established by the Torah and the more demanding the requirements demanded by the Torah.
* 16. On a very practical, simple level:
life is so much more pleasant, smooth and comfortable when you are calm and tranquil.
* 17. We have no right to be unpleasant to
any other person. Pirkei Avos (chapter one) requires us to maintain a saiver ponim yafos
(pleasant countenance; to remain smiling, warm and cheerful to all other people); and (in
chapter three) to receive people with simcha (joy). The Torah's ways are pleasant and all
of its paths are peace (Proverbs 3:17). Abiding by the Torah is worth the effort, even
when it entails struggle. "According to the effort is the reward" (Pirkei Avos
chapter five). "Lengthy life is in [the Torah's] right hand and in its left hand are
wealth and honor" (Proverbs 3:16). But, "the reward for the righteous is in the
future world (Pirkei Avos chapter two)."
* 18. Remember that "The yaitzer hora
[evil inclination] starts as thin as a spider web strand and [if one does not conquer it]
it grows thicker than a cart rope...The bigger that one spiritually is, the bigger his
yaitzer hora is (Suka 52a)." The Torah says, "Choose life (Deuteronomy
30:19)." In everything one does, in every circumstance that G-d brings to one, in
every single moment of one's life, each person is put into a choice between life and
death. Every moment is a test that we are given in order that we withstand it (Mesilas
Yesharim). G-d only gives tests that a person can withstand, albeit with exertion and
struggle. In each test, the power of good that one has at that time is just enough to
overcome the power of sin, should the Jew choose to beat the evil inclination. The prophet
Yechezkel tells us that G-d has no pleasure from His killing the sinner but, rather, G-d
wants us to repent and to live (Ezekiel 18). The Torah urges us to "choose life and
live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).
YOUR YAITZER IS AT WAR WITH
One is always in a "milchemess
hayaitzer (internal war with one's inclinations and urges)" and at every moment the
Jew is required and encouraged to win. G-d only gives a test that one can handle and gives
the test in order for there to always be conquest.
However, with each conquest there is a
growth to a next level. At each subsequent level, one's good inclination has grown. For
there to an "even" battle, G-d commensurately increases the evil inclination, so
that there always is an "internal level of battle" that matches one's spiritual
level at every moment. As one grows, the force, cunning, seductiveness and sophistication
of his yaitzer hora grows.
When the great Vilna Gaon was on his
deathbed, one of his disciples naively said, "Rebbe, I wish I had your yaitzer
hora." The Gaon answered, "You couldn't handle my yaitzer hora." When the
famous Kotzker Rebbe was on his deathbed, his disciples asked him if he killed his yaitzer
hora. He answered, "Even now he wants me to say my dying 'Shma Yisroel' loudly so
that you will admire me, rather than saying it for its proper purpose: to accept the yolk
of the Kingdom of Heaven." The Talmudic sage Abaye overheard a young man say to a
young woman, "Let's go for a walk off into the distance." Abaye expected that
they intended to sin so he followed them quietly, in case he would have to save them. All
they did was converse. At the end, the young man said that the girl's company was
pleasant, and then they parted. Abaye started to cry. "Had it been me, the end would
not have been innocent like this." An old sage said to him, "The greater one is,
the greater his yaitzer hora is (Suka 52a)."
One must be careful not to misuse the Torah
for a fight. This is one of the tricks of the yaitzer hora, especially in people who have
a measure of learning in them. A difference for the sake of Heaven never violates the will
of Heaven, it is entirely an exploration of what G-d's truth is, in order to be able to
fulfill the will of G-d (Pirkei Avos, chapter 5, with Kahati commentary). If a difference
ever leads to personal animosity, leads to making oneself big or victorious at the expense
of another, leads to any sinful action(s) - it is a personal fight, not service of the
Torah. "Who is wise to understand and who is understanding to know: that the ways of
G-d are straight, the righteous will go in them and the evil will stumble in them (Hoshea
When you have practical case-by-case
questions, ask your rabbi how to work for peace. In questions involving fights, anger and
the like, people can grow very emotional, unreasonable and subjective. It is therefore
vital to "fine-tune" your understanding of your motivations and be brutally
aware and honest of the true entire picture and your interest or involvement in it. Your
motivations must be for the sake of Heaven. Your motivations must not bring you to any
action or course which is against Jewish law or values.
One can justify his inclinations and sins
with sublime sources, generally twisting the meaning self-servingly. One woman called me
in my role as a matchmaker, saying she is divorced and was married to a Rosh Yeshiva, who
was cold, insensitive and made her miserable. Even though he had "all the
answers," he gave his wife unbearable pain. She now is looking for his replacement.
In the evening prayer, we beseech Hashem to
"remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us." A tempting evil
inclination can come in a direct manner ("do this alluring sin") or can come in
a sublime-sounding deceptive subterfuge ("cheat in business so you can give more
charity"). The Jew does not want the yaitzer hora to snare him in either plain or
tricky "divine" sounding terms. We pray to Hashem every night to save us from
either version of trap. Another meaning of removing "Satan from in front of us and
from behind us" is not to sin on account of things we have done in our past ("I
regret doing tshuva for XYZ") or things we will do in the future ("for doing
that to me I will make you suffer").
At every moment, one must guide all of his
decisions and actions by the will of G-d, on the merit of the circumstance before him at
each moment. "And now Israel, what does Hashem ask of you but that you fear Hashem,
to go in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve Him with all your heart and soul
(Deuteronomy 10:12)." Now, at every single moment, the only thing of concern to
Israel, to the Jew, is exercising fear of G-d. To go in G-d's ways, to love and serve Him
fully, one must fear all violation of and failure to fulfill His will. Fear allows us to
use free choice to refrain from failing to fulfill his will and failing to satisfy what He
wants from us. This is the one time when the Torah says, "What does G-d want from
you?" This is the central premise that will allow all behavior to be or to not be in
His service. Use of fear (of doing wrong) will allow us to develop as beneficent,
peaceful, holy and G-dly entities and follow in G-d's ways, to love and serve Him fully,
through our own voluntary free choice.
Whenever you suspect your yaitzer hora is
conniving or driving you, especially in the name of a "divine" cause, call
competent daas Torah for objective and knowledgeable input. If you suspect your spouse's
yaitzer hora is "putting on a yarmelka" and harassing you in the name of good
ol' religion, call a rabbinical authority likewise for objective and knowledgeable input.
King Solomon (Proverbs 3:17) tells us, "The Torah's ways are sweet and all of its
paths are peace." If it's not sweet and peaceful, you have to suspect that it
probably isn't Torah.
Another way to look at this is: in order to
serve G-d, the Jew has to work to kill his will and replace it with the will of G-d.
If a person is a gazlan (a thief who steals
in the open, e.g. a purse snatcher), he only has to pay back what he stole. If a person is
a ganav (thief who steal sneakily, e.g. a late-night burglar), he has to pay back double
the amount he stole. "The students of Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakai asked him, 'Why is the
Torah more stringent on a ganav than on a gazlan?' He answered them, 'The gazlan equates
the honor of the servant with the honor of its owner while the ganav puts the honor of the
slave higher than the honor of the owner. He acts, so to speak, as if G-d's eye does not
see and as if G-d's ear does not hear, as it says "Woe to them who attempt to bury
their idea from the L-rd and do their works in the dark and say, 'Who will see and who
will know?' This is backwards, as the clay will not have more significance than the
potter. Shall the clay say 'he did not make me?' Will the artifact say 'the artisan does
not understand?' [Isaiah 29:15-16]." And [Rabbi Yochanon continued] as it says,
"And people say, 'The L-rd will not see and the G-d of Jacob will not understand'
[Psalm 94:7]." And [Rabbi Yochanon continued] as it says, "For people say, 'G-d
has left the earth and G-d does not see [Ezekiel 9:9]' [Bava Kama 79b]."
"Guard yourself from ever forgetting
Hashem your G-d (Deuteronomy 8:11)." "In all your ways, know Him (Proverbs
3:6)." Always keep Hashem on your thoughts wherever you go and in everything that you
do. Remember that Hashem is always there; seeing, hearing, knowing and recording
everything that we think, feel, say and do.
If one's efforts at self-elevation produce
gradual results, never despair nor feel discouraged, for that too is the yaitzer hora
trying to "get in through a side door when you don't let him in the front." When
he can't get at you directly, he will use subtle or indirect maneuvers. He is very crafty.
Be craftier than he is!
Should a person ever tear his clothes,
smash property or scatter money in his anger, he is as one who worships idolatry (Shabos
105b). The craft of the yaitzer hora (evil inclination) is to get a person to do the likes
of this. Today it compels you to act rashly, foolishly and destructively as a stepping
stone to compelling you to serve idols tomorrow. Besides this, the angry person is
overpowered by his emotions. Since the emotional drive determines what he does, it assumes
the role which a deity ought to. G-d determines what a person must do or not do. His is
the will which aught to govern a person's behavior. When one allows his angry emotions to
possess him, his emotions tell him what to do, his anger governs him and his behavior. His
emotions have assumed the role of his deity. His anger, then, is the idol which he
worships and obeys. The angry person cannot serve G-d.
The Torah (Leviticus 22:31-32) says,
"And you will keep My commandments, and do them, I am G-d. You will not profane my
Holy Name, rather, I will sanctified by the children of Israel, I am G-d who makes you
holy." It is a mitzva to be a kidush Hashem (sanctification of G-d) and a mitzva to
NOT be a chillul Hashem (profanation of G-d). When one fulfills the will of G-d,
especially when others see, one sanctifies G-d and achieves the mitzva of kidush Hashem.
When one violates the will of Hashem (chillul Hashem), especially when others see, one
cancels the mitzva of kidush Hashem and achieves the sin of chillul Hashem. Everything one
says and does - even HOW one says or does it - even the attitude, feeling and intention
that one brings to each thing we say and do - can either be a kidush Hashem or chillul
Hashem. The effect of this is amplified by whether others see us, especially if an action
is seen in public. Remember in a marriage that every act, every word, every second, every
example of how you treat each other can either be a kidush Hashem or a chillul Hashem - a
mitzva or sin every single moment. Every sin is a piece of death. Every mitzva is a piece
of life. Over the years you will stack up a million sins or mitzvos. It's up to you.
Uvacharta BiChayim - choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).
PRACTICAL USE OF
TECHNIQUES TO CONQUER THE YAITZER HORA
I know of cases in which such techniques
were successfully used, with perseverance and dedication to the will of G-d.
In one case, a person had a certain
powerful, overwhelming yaitzer hora which came several days every week - sometimes more
than once a day. The person, who originally had no hope of conquering this yaitzer hora,
said chapter 131 of Tehillim 3 to 8 times every day for two years and two months (and
vigilantly worked to stay away from situations which evoked this yaitzer hora). One day,
this person noticed that this yaitzer hora had come only twice and very mildly in the past
month and that it, essentially, was never there anymore.
I know another case in which a person read
this chapter of Tehillim once or twice a day for several months and it mollified the
yaitzer hora. Use it more or less (perhaps more in the beginning, as needed), depending on
the intensity of the yaitzer hora in each case.
In another case, a person had a powerful
yaitzer hora come upon him. He said "Krias Shma," slowly and with intense
concentration, like he was in a "life and death" situation, with the appropriate
kavanos ("Shma" is understanding of acceptance of Hashem's kingship, in
"echad" is acknowledgement of the kingship of Hashem on earth and in the seven
Heavens and in all four directions on earth, the second paragraph assures reward and
punishment, etc.). Throughout, he kept in mind the day of death, motionlessness and
helplessness during Heavenly judgement. He concentrated so fully and effectively, that
when he finished the entire "Shma," the powerful yaitzer was forgotten.
In another case, a person had powerful,
driving and intrusive yaitzer hora. He used the technique of agreeing with himself to
commit the sin AFTER a delay which would allow him to forget about it. He became very
creative at "brainwashing" himself and he avoided sinning repeatedly. He told
himself, "OK, I'll give in to myself BUT now it's almost time to doven. How can I
pray to my Creator with my prayer stained with sin. Let me pray first, and then I'll [do
the sin] after the minyan." "Today is: Monday/Thursday, a day of extra Heavenly
mercy; Rosh Chodesh, a day of kapara; Shabos/Yom Tov, a day of holiness - how can I do
this on such a special day?" "OK, I'll do the sin BUT today has been such a good
day for me. Why should I ruin it? I'll do it tomorrow." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT
I'm tired now. Let me rest for a while and I'll do it when I wake up." "OK, I'll
do the sin BUT I first have to [speak to (so and so), do (a chore), make a phone call].
I'll do it afterwards." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT now I'm with [my wife, business
associates, neighbors, children]. How could I be a chillul Hashem? I'll do it later when
I'm in a different place." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT I didn't ask my rabbi yet if
the halacha permits this [explosion, abuse, sin]. Before I do something, I always have to
ask a shaalo anyway. I'll wait until I ask my rav and hear what he says to do first."
"OK, I'll do the sin but I need exercise for my health. I'll go for a walk first and
do the sin later." He used this technique effectively and perseveringly and just
about never fell into the sin.
Remember always: Hashem is there with you
wherever you are! You are never alone. Remember that Pirkei Avos (chapter two) tells us
that Hashem's eye always sees, His ear always hears, His hand always writes everything
that you do in a book which records your entire life. Pirkei Avos also says (chapter
three) that you will save yourself from sin by remembering three things: that you come
from a putrid drop; that you are going to die and be in a place of dust, decay and worms;
and that you are going to have to give accounting for every moment of your life before the
When calm, consider your behavior. Ask
yourself, "Do I want to act like a [tyrant, beast, warrior, whatever]?" When an
impulse to blow up, abuse, lose control or go into a rage comes, remember how you
answered, "No, I don't want to act like a...". You don't want to see yourself in
a negative way. You don't want to treat anyone in a negative way. You want to do what is
right. You are "Tzelem Elokim (the Image of G-d)" and so is every other Jew. You
want to see yourself, your behavior and your spouse in a positive, consistently favorable
way. You want to see yourself and your spouse as G-dly.
One man felt a powerful impulse to become
angry and abusive at his wife. Motivated by the gemara which says to ridicule a yaitzer
hora, he saw in "his mind's eye" a picture of a big, dumb gorilla holding a
banana, but with this man's face. Instead of blowing up at his wife, he giggled at the
silly thought of his acting like a monkey, and the impulse was over.
In a case where a partner is about to
explode or get vicious, imagine that the Chafetz Chayim (or your rebbe, or your posaik, or
any tzadik for whom you have awe and respect, or your boss at work, or your next door
neighbor who you always try to impress) is there in the room seeing every move you make.
When Yosef HaTzadik was approached by aishess Potifar [his employer's wife], he ran away
(Genesis 39:12). He saved himself from sin by seeing the image of his holy father, Yaakov
(Midrash Tanchuma). By seeing his father's image in his mind as if his father was there,
Yosef came under control immediately, and effectively saved himself from sin. It is in the
merit of this that he came to be called "Yosef Hatzadik."
The Chafetz Chayim was once traveling. When
the coach passed a farm, the driver said, "I'm going to steal some hay for my horse
to eat. Tell me if anyone is coming." As the driver was about to steal the hay, the
Chafetz Chayim yelled, "He's seeing!" The driver ran to the coach and sped off.
When they approached another farm, the driver asked the Chafetz Chayim to look out again.
"He's seeing!" This second time the driver sped off. When they approached
another farm, the driver asked the Chafetz Chayim to look out for him a third time.
"He's seeing!" This time, the coach driver looked around and there was no one in
sight throughout the countryside. He came back and asked the Chafetz Chayim who saw him
stealing. The Chafetz Chayim pointed with his finger upwards and said, "The One Above
always sees what we do."
Raishis Chochma says to set aside an amount
of money. If you get angry, you will have to give it away. It has to be enough so that it
will force you to control yourself. I say, half joking and half serious, to give the money
to the person you get angry at, and tell the person in advance that you're going to. This
way they will smile from ear to ear when you lose your temper, instead of getting hurt or
upset! (If they aggravate you on purpose to get the money, that won't count.) Or, you can
give it to charity. Raishis Chochma also says to look a person in the eyes when you are on
the verge of getting angry. This makes it much harder to follow through with anger.
You may have to pray and/or use the segulos
repeatedly, over a period of time, in order to gradually chip away at powerful
inclinations and emotions.
You also have to concentrate your heart
when you do these. For example, before reading Psalm 131, it can be helpful to say,
"bitul yaitzer hora li..." ["nullify the evil inclination for..." fill
in the item you want to cancel from your personality]. For example, say, "bitul
yaitzer hora lika'as, [cancel my evil inclination for anger]". Of course, you'll say
whatever is applicable after "li."
You may say this chapter of Tehillim each
day for several things - on all forms of yaitzer hora. Just as some examples:
* machlokess (strife, fighting)
* sinas chinam (subjective, unfounded hate)
* hirhorim ra'im (sinful thoughts)
* atzluss (laziness)
* gaiva (arrogance, haughtiness)
* dibur bishaas tefila (prohibited talking
* bitul zman (wasting time)
* ona'as devarim (hurting or shaming anyone
* genaiva bi'aisek (cheating/stealing in
* pechisas limud (not learning Torah
* chilul Hashem (any behavior which is
profanation of G-d)
* any and all others.
Set up a regular daily program saying this
psalm for the yitzray hora which apply. "Bitul yaitzer hora li X" [read the
chapter]. "Bitul yaitzer hora li Y" [read the chapter]. If a given yaitzer is
strong, you may say the chapter several times a day, as needed. You might say this chapter
5, 10 or 20 times a day - whether because you 1. say it for several things, 2. say it
repeatedly for a given problem thing or 3. both (say several things several times). Going
through the whole daily list will only take a couple of minutes or so a day and will be
time well invested.
After saying Psalm 131 for one or more
specific yaitzer hora(s), I recommend that one not leave the session without adding one
more reading as follows. Say, "Bitul yaitzer hora bichlall (nullify the evil
inclination overall)" and then read the chapter one more time. This can help cover
any oversight, whether not addressing some yaitzer hora that you may not be aware the
Torah deems to be bad or whether you may have had a lapse in kavana (concentration) during
one of the specific readings or whether there is a yaitzer hora that you are not yet ready
to directly face. This helps to "cover all the bases." You address the specifics
and strive to avoid oversights or omissions.
Be eager and open to learning and to
growing. The person who isn't, will not hear - or may even scorn - correction. The person
who is, will find knowledge, progress and growth in all places. Also, find several Torah
role models to follow, and Torah law authorities to ask questions and to get guidance
The Chida (Rabbi Chayim Dovid Azulai)
explains a biblical verse in a way that serves our present point exquisitely. "And he
set up the pillars in the entry hall of the Temple chamber, and he set up the right pillar
and he called its name 'Yochin [he will prepare]' and he set up the left pillar and he
called its name 'Boaz [strength is in him]' (1 Kings 7:21)."
The Chida writes as follows. "Our
sages said, 'The evil inclination of man renews itself every day and were it not that the
Holy One blessed be He helps him, he would not be able to conquer it.' However, when does
Heaven help man? Exclusively when he PREPARES himself to conduct a struggle himself
against the evil inclination. Through this alone [the words of our sages apply:] 'Heaven
helps the one who comes to perfect himself.' If he himself will not do anything, he can
have no expectation of any help from Heaven above. From the time when HE WILL PREPARE
HIMSELF, when the person himself will prepare himself, from his own will and his own
initiative to conquer the evil forces that are within him, then STRENGTH IS IN HIM. Heaven
gives IN HIM the STRENGTH, the power to conduct this struggle unto victory."
IF YOU CAN'T ELIMINATE
A YAITZER, YOU CAN LESSEN IT
If you lessen any yaitzer hora, that is a
great mitzva. Let's say, for example, that Harry (or Harriet!) has a certain yaitzer hora
(fault, emotion, shortcoming, inclination, etc.), which presents itself, on average, once
a day. Harry decides to do tshuva. He is working to grow, exerting himself to change for
the better, struggling to gain control over himself. In time he comes to have that yaitzer
hora three times a week. Should he be depressed that he "losses himself" three
times a week? He should, of course, be cognizant of the fact that his work is not yet
done. But, he has reduced his "sin ratio" consistently and that is a great
accomplishment! He (and his wife) should appreciate that.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the father of the
"Mussar Movement," said that if one exerts himself to delay a sin or to make a
recurrent sin occur less frequently, there is great Heavenly reward for this. Of course,
the goal must always be: no sin. However, Heaven is aware of the effort and, accordingly,
* all of the pain invested in conquering,
* all of the struggle with and
* all of the reduction of
the negative thing, as a great merit for
the person. Remember the statement in Pirkei Avos (chapter five), "According to the
pain is the reward."
The important thing is that one's efforts
to grow, to elevate and to achieve self-mastery must be sincere and persevering. One will
come to progressively succeed more and more. Harry may still be overwhelmed by his
shortcoming three time a week. But, he has conquered it four times a week. This degree of
conquest is a steppingstone to forthcoming complete success. He will keep working.
WORK AGAINST THE YAITZER
MUST BE SINCERE
I must stress sincerity. On Yom Tov, one is
permitted to cook for the needs of that same day. On shabos, one is not allowed to cook at
all. If a person wants to cook on Yom Tov for a shabos which falls on the next day, he
must make an "eruv tavshilin" before Yom Tov starts. The Talmud [Baitza 17b]
takes up the question of: what is the law in the case where one does not have an eruv
tavshilin - shall he not have what to eat on shabos? Some of the discussion there revolves
around a person who cooks on Yom Tov for shabos without an eruv. Two of the cases, both
being cases in which the party fully knows he is wrong, addressed are 1)
"maizid," the person who intentionally cooks food on Yom Tov for shabos, even
though he has no eruv permitting him to and 2) "ha'arama," the case in which a
person makes a deceitful trick [saying, "Perhaps an unexpected inundation of guests
will come, so I had better cook excess food"]. The law is: the maizid may eat his
food [even though the cooking was prohibited] and the one who made a swindle may not eat
the food [Orech Chayim 527:23-24].
We see from this law that the Torah is very
concerned with sincerity. One's motivations must be pure and honest. The Torah is very
strict against deceit, manipulation, rationalization and trickery. In our human relations
and self-development context, one's activities must be exercised entirely with the utmost
integrity and sincerity. The Torah will tolerate a sincere mistake but will be harsh
against game-playing, excuses, dishonesty and nonsense. We will see the same principle
again later when we discuss praying for Shalom Bayis [domestic peace] and Siyata DiShamaya
[help from Heaven]. Hashem is receptive to sincere, truthful and substantial prayer from
an honest heart. He will not want any empty, sneaky or manipulative "prayer."
The more you are willing to do your part, backing your prayer up with actions committed to
the goals of the prayer and fulfillment of His will, the more He will consider
"partnering" with you in the fulfillment of the prayer.
Similarly, when working on faults or a
marriage, one must back up the quest for growth, peace, happiness and success with
substantial, honest and practical actions consistent with and committed to the goal.
Hashem will help your sincere, full effort. He will not do the job for you. When you show
Hashem that "you mean it" and are prepared to do your job, He will respect, help
and reward your efforts.
One whose spouse is working on him or
herself must also work to be a close ally, encouraging and supportive. Be pleased and
appreciative of every bit of the other's effort and progress.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine used to deliver sermons
in a Jerusalem synagogue. The wife of a member of the synagogue came to him with the
complaint that her husband wasn't treating her properly. She asked him to devote an entire
sermon to the way a husband should behave toward his wife. She begged him to be careful
not to hint to her husband that she prompted the sermon.
In his very next sermon, Rabbi Levine spoke
about a husband's obligation to honor and respect his wife. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer,
Rosh Hayeshiva of Aitz Chayim, was in the synagogue and listened to every word with keen
interest. Rabbi Meltzer was one of his generation's leading Torah scholars and a sincerely
humble and pious man. After the lecture, he approached Rabbi Levine and thanked him.
"Reb Aryeh," Rabbi Meltzer said,
"I know you were directing your remarks to me. You are right, I really must treat my
wife with more respect" (Marbitzai Torah Umussar, Vol. 3).
Each of you: consider it a responsibility
to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof,
fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, good-natured, implementable
and effective answers. WANT to make the marriage good, respectful, peaceful and pleasant;
to do everything with a nice attitude; and to make your partner happy.
THERE'S NO TIME FOR THE
YAITZER IF YOU KEEP BUSY WITH TORAH AND MITZVOS
The Talmud (Avoda Zora 5b) teaches that
when Jews occupy themselves with Torah and with gemilus chasodim (acts of lovingkindness),
the yaitzer hora is given over to them and they are not given over to the yaitzer hora. We
see, therefore, that we should engage ongoingly in the combination of learning Torah and
actively doing kindness. Besides bringing merit, the combination causes one to defeat his
In a related vein, Rabbi Chaim MiVelozhin
writes (Ruach Chaim) that the best safeguard against sin is to keep busy with mitzvos.
This basically puts up a shield that keeps sin from intruding. Similarly in our marriage
context, if you are always busy building a good relationship and being nice to each other,
giving presents and praise, being supportive to each other, there won't be time for
fights, anger and trouble.
Igerress HaRamban says to conduct yourself
at ALL times in a calm, gentle, anger-free, intellect-governed and humble manner, with
fear of sin. Introspect twice a day, morning and night and do tshuva (all steps of
repentance) for all wrongs done during the previous half day. In order to do all this
properly, one must constantly work and prepare so that if something angering comes about,
it won't take you by surprise and cause you blow up because your guard is down. Practice
and be prepared. The test is consistency, whether you are comfortable or provoked.
In marriage, find ways to add common and
constructive projects to do together, or to assist each other in. This will establish
common values and purposes, shared goals and build an overall sense of bondedness. This
brings a couple closer together. If you find it difficult to inaugurate major campaigns
and changes, start with smaller things. Do lots of smaller things that you can handle.
Build up. Get momentum. Once you get used to occupying yourself with smaller things (that
get you used to being nicer to each other and getting along better), take on progressively
bigger strategies and projects (to be nice and to be peaceful), on higher levels.
Never fall into the trap of getting
self-righteously angry, wherein you abuse someone for an allegedly noble purpose. Make
sure that ALL aspects of your mitzva performance ARE NOT DRIVEN BY A "FRUM YAITZER
HORA!" This is especially true if your religious devotion hurts or neglects another
person in any way. The Talmud (Suka 30a) tells us that there is no mitzva if it comes
through a sin. The act remains total sin.
In human relations in general and in mussar
in general, whenever you are mad at someone, do something good for the person right away.
Force yourself. Give a blessing, do a favor or kindness, make a peace overture. Do
something right away and make strong, good natured moves to work to break the yaitzer
hora, emotion or bad mida. The gemora says that doing acts of love will break hate for a
person and it is a mitzva to do so (Bava Metzia 32b). Don't stop yourself by saying,
"The other person isn't doing as much. The other person isn't being big about
it." You've got your job to do and he has his. Your job is to be Torah-loyal,
peaceful, pleasant and a kidush Hashem.
This is an area which requires considerable
judgement, mutual good faith, a good attitude, sensitivity and reasonable adaptation to
the individual personalities and situations involved. The "acid tests" are:
* optimal practical and healthy functioning
of the family and
* promotion of greatest, fullest peace in
For contexts other than marriage, corresponding criteria
would apply, e.g. does that aspect of life (or interpersonal relationship) function
normally, effectively and in accordance with Hashem's Torah?