The Rambam writes that the word tov (good) implies three things: pleasure, efficiency, and spiritually good things. Hashem created pleasure and efficiency so that we might pierce the external layer of physicality and focus on its core. The fragrant aroma, taste, and texture of iced coffee arouse a person to wonder who created it. The speed and efficiency of a shiny new car sensitizes its owner to the harmony and beauty inherent in this world. This is called berurim, making selections. Chitzoniyut (external) is supposed to lead us to penimiyut (the internal).
Torah gives us the key to joining chitzoniyut with penimiyut. The word tov is first mentioned in the Torah in the story of creation, “Vayar Elokim et ha’or ki tov.Hashem saw that the light was good.” The ability to perceive things with spiritual vision, with the light of the first day, is what goodness is about. This is what is meant by the midrashic statement, “Ein tov ela Torah. There is no good other than Torah.” The entire creation was good, but its light could only shine forth through Torah.
The Torah mentions “ki tov” six times. The letter vav, the numerical value of six, symbolizes a hook, which connects two separate items. Torah connects this world, chitzoniyut, with its source above. Six times tov equals the numerical value of emunah, faith. The prophet Chavakuk encapsulated the Torah in one point, “Tzaddik b’emunato yichye.” The tzaddik lives by his faith. All of the Torah and all of creation depend on this mitzvah. Emunah is looking at the finished product and seeing the hand of the craftsman.
The opposite of Torah is falsehood. A recurrent phrase in Mishlei is isha zarah, the disloyal wife, which symbolizes external wisdom. External wisdom symbolizes an approach to wisdom rather than a particular body of knowledge. It means looking at the world and seeing its beauty and intricacy without going further to its source. Chochma chitzonit (external wisdom) is false because Hashem is not in the picture. A lie is something that is incomplete. The chochmah (wisdom) of Torah, which by definition connects separate items, is the strongest aspect of emunah. Emunah endures forever.
So should we avoid chochma chitzonit completely? The Gemara gives us an enormous amount of information about the world’s physical reality. Our own personal observations give us more. The first approach says find out what you need in order to navigate the world but don’t dig further because it can corrupt your inner process of searching. Hence, the Baal Hatanya teaches that external wisdom causes a person’s inner search for knowledge to become impure. It doesn’t take a person to Hashem, it takes him further away. The second view questions how one can see the inside of something if one doesn’t study the outside. The proponents of this view say, the more you study the world, the more you can discern its Master. Both views can be reconciled, provided that we view the external as a means to reaching the internal, not as an end in itself.
Torah is the tavlin (spice) of the evil inclination. Why is it called a spice and not an opponent? The function of a spice is to enhance the flavor of a dish. We have the capacity to extract the good from within the yetzer hara by conquering it. The act of saying no to something forbidden is an act of vanquishing evil. Another way to engage the yetzer hara is by turning evil into good. There are people with tendencies that can potentially take them away from Hashem, but if used correctly can help them grow. Here too, evil becomes good. If not for the evil inclination, people would be like angels, they’d behave properly because their nature forced them to do so.
Torah and mitzvot teach us how to elevate our evil inclination for a higher purpose. Therefore, it is a spice and not an opponent, because it sweetens that which is bitter. The light of the Torah takes a person back to Hashem. It’s a hook that reveals His holy presence.
The yetzer hara is like a lion in ambush. It seduces us by convincing us that our sins are permitted. In the beginning, the yetzer hara tastes sweet but it ultimately leads to spiritual death. The yetzer hara cannot work on a person unless he’s empty of Torah. It is called a lion because its source comes from gevurah, power. It tells us that we’re lacking unless we follow its dictates. To overcome this, give yourself permission to feel just like a lion. Tell yourself, “I’m a person who does what I want, I’m not someone doomed to react and I’ve made the decision to overcome the evil within me.” Fight the yetzer hara with its own weapon. Gird yourself like a lion and arm yourself with Torah. With Hashem’s help you’ll emerge the victor.