As our identity becomes entwined with the evil inclination, the yetzer hara becomes progressively stronger. A person must gird himself to fight against it. Rav Yitzchak said, “The yetzer hara renews itself every day.” It makes sin seem new, when in fact there’s nothing new about it. The good seems old, because good is part of the human essence, while evil is superimposed upon it. Good resonates in the deepest part of our self, which is ageless and eternal, while evil appears new because it doesn’t exist inside ourselves. Evil by definition doesn’t have existence. It conceals it and creates an illusion of darkness.
One of the best ways to fight the yetzer hara is by using its own method, by presenting the good inclination in new ways. The two most successful movements during the age of the Enlightenment were Chassidut and Mussar. Both took existent reality and dressed it up in new ways of discovering Hashem in the world and in ourselves.
The Chatam Sofer fought the Enlightenment with his motto, “Chadash assur min haTorah.” He forbade innovative changes to Jewish practice. He made battle against those who had veered off the path innovative. In this way, he was able to rally his troops around him. Bais Yaakov too in its early days sold newness. It propagated the feeling of sisterhood and of discovering oneself in a Torah framework. This is our challenge today. We must find new and novel ways in our own personal battles against the yetzer hara.
The yetzer hara is also called the satan and the malach hamavet (angel of death). We may mistakenly think that the yetzer hara is physical because it uses physicality as a tool. In reality the yetzer hara is spiritual. The tool of the yetzer hara is chisaron, lack. There are always lacks within ourselves and society. The satan points them out and gives us a new way to contend with it. We must be careful.
The feeling of chisaron is a real feeling, but its essence isn’t real. The desire to fill the empty spaces is normal. The question is with what will we fill it. When we turn towards evil for a solution to our imperfections we create even deeper deficiencies.
The function of the malach hamavet is to take a person out of his body because his soul has no more purpose on this world. Our missions were fragmentized after the sin of the eitz hadaat (tree of knowledge). We do things that put us in a place where there’s no more reason to continue the battle. In this frame, our task is completed. Death is tumah, a blockage. It’s not being able to interact with the world any longer. The malach hamavet, which creates the heaviest concealment and ends bechira (free choice) most completely, is a spiritual force generated by the yetzer hara’s reality.
Within us, there’s an internal and external aspect. The internal is the soul and the external is the desires of the body, which feel very basic and real to us. Often our boundaries are so shaky and our awareness of what’s going on in our choice processes is so subtle that we have two voices that both sound like the real self. The part that wants dignity and tzniut (modesty) resonates as true, but the part that wants newness and attention feels true too because the self that desires is also there, although it’s not the most essential aspect of who we are. It’s a tough call and most of us don’t succeed all of the time.
Bringing upon oneself thoughts of desire is more severe than actually sinning. As long as the thought process isn’t involved, the essential self isn’t involved. Our contact with our soul comes through thought. A person who makes the wrong choice may say, “I have to be me.” Which side of who you are is really you? How deep are you willing to go to find yourself?
We’ve lost our sense of self. A person who brings evil of the mind upon himself won’t dwell with Hashem because he’s driven Hashem out of his consciousness. You can’t be identified with good and evil at the same time.
The yetzer hara can drive a person out of both worlds. It cuts a person’s reality off from this world and cuts him off from Hashem, who is the eternal and ultimate source of good.