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YETZER HARA LEMONADE
One of the greatest gifts G-d gave you in life is your Yetzer Hara. The Midrash teaches us, :”וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד”- And G-d saw all that He made, and it was very good. ‘וְהִנֵּה טוֹב’- זה ‘היצר הטוב’. ‘וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד’- זה ‘היצר הרע It was good– refers to the Yetzer Hatov. And it was very good– this is the Yetzer Hara (Breshit Rabbah). What does this mean? How could the Evil Inclination be very good?
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ And you shall love your G-d with all of your heart, both the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara that reside in the heart.(Rashi; Berachot 54a) How does one serve G-d with his Yetzer Hara??
On Yom Kippur, we ask for forgiveness על חטא שחטאנו לפניך ביצר-הרע For the sin that we sinned before You with our Yetzer Hara. What? Aren’t all sins committed with our Yetzer Hara?
כך הקב”ה אמר להם לישראל בני בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין ואם אתם עוסקים בתורה אין אתם נמסרים בידו G-d told the Jewish People, My sons! I created the Yetzer Hara, and I created the Torah to be its spice. And if you study Torah, you will not be in his hands… )Kiddushin 30b). The Maggid of Mezritch pointed out the precision of the words used here. Generally, we understand that the Yetzer Hara is like a sickness, and the only cure is the Torah. But the word used is not תרופה, which would mean cure. Rather, the word that is used is the word תבלין, which means spice. It does not say that the Torah can annul the Yetzer Hara. No. The Torah does not undo the Yetzer Hara, for that would not be a good thing. We need our Yetzer Hara, in order to serve G-d with extra oomph.
Before we explain how to serve G-d with your Yetzer Hara, we need to realize that serving G-d with our Yetzer Hara is the pinnacle of the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the only day of the year we are to bring a korban of bread, of wheat flour and yeast, in the Beit Hamikdash. The rest of the year, yeast is not allowed. כׇּל־הַמִּנְחָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר תַּקְרִ֙יבוּ֙ לַיהֹוָ֔ה לֹ֥א תֵעָשֶׂ֖ה חָמֵ֑ץ כִּ֤י כׇל־שְׂאֹר֙ וְכׇל־דְּבַ֔שׁ לֹֽא־תַקְטִ֧ירוּ מִמֶּ֛נּוּ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַֽה’׃ (Vayikra 2;11) The Talmud teaches us that yeast and Chametz are symbolic of the Yetzer Hara. (Berachot 17a) The reason for this is because of the parallels in their natures: yeast rises, symbolic of haughtiness. Haughtiness is the root of all anger. Laziness is linked to dough, for dough needs to sit in order for it to rise, and laziness is what holds us back from keeping the positive commandments in the way they are supposed to be kept. Therefore, G-d does not want any bread offerings in His Temple. G-d wants us to rid ourselves of Chametz on Pesach, so that we can free ourselves of our Yetzer Hara. But on Shavuot, when we are accepting the Torah, we want to bring the Yetzer Hara in to this holiday, for we have just the right spice for it. Torah.
The Vilna Gaon explains that one cannot change one’s mazal, one’s negative nature, one’s Yetzer Hara. That would be going against one’s grain. The only choice one has is what one does with that nature. The Talmud teaches us that one who is born with the nature of Maadim will be one who spills blood. R’ Ashi teaches, this means either as a Mohel, a butcher or a murderer (Shabbat 156a). Spilling blood is inevitable; the choice, though, is still available where to direct this nature. Tzaddik – Mohel. Beinoni- Butcher. Rasha- Murderer. When Shmuel Hanavi was sent by G-d to appoint the young David to be King of the Jewish People, Shmuel jumped back. He saw that David was Admoni, that he was redheaded, that David was from the Mazal of Maadim. Shmuel feared that this might mean that David has the nature, the Yetzer Hara, to become a killer… Admoni hinting that he has the nature of a bloodthirsty person. Esav was also Admoni… and look how Esav turned out! G-d told Shmuel not to worry – But he has nice eyes…)See Shmuel A 16;12 ) The Midrash explains G-d’s comment as follows: Esav killed on his own prerogative. But this (David) will kill from the verdict of the Sanhedrin (Breshit Rabba Toldot 63; 8). Even a good nature can be used for bad. Shaul was born with the Mazal that had in it the nature of humility. Shaul used his humility in a negative way – he did not stand up against the Nation when they went against the Will of G-d. (See Biur HaGra Mishlei 22; 6) (See Rabbenu Yonah Berachot 54a(
הֱוֵי עַז כַּנָּמֵר, וְקַל כַּנֶּשֶׁר, וְרָץ כַּצְּבִי, וְגִבּוֹר כָּאֲרִי לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹן אָבִיךָ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם (Avot 5;20) If you have chutzpa in your nature , if you are brazen, like a leopard… If you have a nature that you are light, like an eagle, and you don’t get stuck on things, if you are as swift as a dear to run after your desires, if you are strong, like a lion, to get what you want… “be who you are, be as G-d created you, and use that nature to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” The Chazon Ish was quoted as saying that kids who are the wildest, (just like the wild animals mentioned in the Mishnah -) only they have the potential to become the Gedolei Hador, the leaders of the next generation.
Our strengths and weaknesses are like a seesaw, “package deals”, that you can’t have one without the other. Torah is the solution to that balance. G-d does not want us to uproot the seesaw, to throw out the whole package because there are some parts that we don’t like. אל תהי בז לכל אדם ואל תהי מפליג לכל דבר שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה ואין לך דבר שאין לו מקום. Do not hold any person in contempt, and do not consider anything worthless. For there is no person who does not have his hour. And there is no thing that does not have its place (Avot 4;3). If not for the Yetzer Hara, people would not get married, have children, build homes, businesses, etc. (See Yoma 69b; Midrash Tehillim 37a).
On Shavuot, we bring the korban of the two breads, to thank G-d for giving us the spice to make our lives the best lives possible. We just need to give the Yetzer Hara the right flavor. The Torah is what makes the Yetzer Hara something we can do great things with. This is why we need to say Viduy, if we do not serve G-d with our Yetzer Hara, because there is a special way to serve G-d, that can be done only with your Yetzer Hara, something that G-d calls Tov Meod, very good.
Here are the Selfie Steps. These Self-Help steps teach you how to take the lemons that G-d gave you in life… and make them into lemonade.
- Your Personal Strengths/Weaknesses ID Card. List all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses. This will be your personal ID card, a card to identify your negative behaviors and tendencies, not as your identity, but as a part of a whole picture. It is just another animal to tame in your zoo of tendencies.
- Connect the Dots. Try to see if there are any connections between your strengths and your weaknesses. Once you realize that your weaknesses and strengths are connected, thank G-d for the inseparable package of strengths and weaknesses. It is easier to appreciate G-d when you realize how the most interesting part of your life is the delicious lemonade you made out of the lemons.
- Embrace your weaknesses. Accept what you cannot change… and take that creation that G-d made, and uplift it. I.e., If you have fear, bring that fear as a metaphor to your fear of G-d. If you love something, and you can’t hold yourself back from it, take this love to be a metaphor for your love of G-d. If you feel that you are angry, take that anger as a metaphor of how G-d can get angry at you, for your inappropriate behaviors… and He does not. (See Rambam on Mishna Berachot 9;5)
- Work in Progress. Set aside time in your life, on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to add the proper spice to these weaknesses. Put it on to your To-do list by actually taking out time to find the right spice that you need to transform your weaknesses into strengths. Your weaknesses are a work in progress over a span of a lifetime, they are not a devaluation of one’s self.
- Fresh perspective. G-d does not create anything bad. Find how your natural strengths can complement your natural weaknesses. Think out of the box. When you look at your weaknesses, find how those weaknesses can be your greatest assets.