Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Slaughtering the Yetzer Hara

What will be the fate of the yetzer hara [evil inclination] in the future? The Talmud [Sukah 52a] explains:

"Rabbi Yehuda lectured: In the future, Hashem will take the yetzer hara and slaughter him in the presence of both the tzaddikim and the reshaim [wicked ones]. To the tzaddikim he will appear like a high mountain and to the reshaim he will appear like a thin hair. Both, however, will cry. The tzaddikim will cry "How could we have overpowered such a high mountain?" and the reshaim will cry: "How could we not have subdued such a thin hair?"

Rashi says that the tzaddikim will cry because they will see the yetzer hara and remember the difficult battles they had with him.

The Maharsha suggests that they will cry because in the past they received great merit for overpowering their yetzer hara, but now that he had been slaughtered, they will no longer get this reward.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe coments:

In the time of Moshiach the truth will be unveiled for everyone to see clearly. Then the tzaddikim as well as the reshaim will be able to see the yetzer hara as he really is. However, we need to understand:

1. Why will the tzaddikim and the reshaim see the yetzer hara differently? And what is the meaning of the hair/mountain metaphor?

2. Why was it necessary to say that Hashem will shecht [ritually kill] the yetzer hara? Why was it not enough to simply say that Hashem will destroy it?

The Talmud informs us how the yetzer hara operates. First, he entices a person to do a small sin [comparable to the thin hair], arguing that if the person indulges a tiny bit he will still remain as Jewish as before. A while later, the yetzer hara entices him to do another sin, and so on, until finally he leads him to avoda zara [idolatry]. To prevent this descent, the Jew had to hold firm from the very beginning, to stay connected to Hashem by not even crossing the first "thin hair".

"To the tzaddikim, the yetzer hara will appear like a mountain" - the greater a person is, the bigger is his yetzer hara. So the tzaddik's yetzer hara is symbolized by a mountain. Chazal say that a king has the power to uproot a mountain. Tzaddikim are called "kings" [Gittin 62a]. Therefore they have the power to uproot their yetzer hara even if it is as high as a mountain. This answers the first question.

To answer the second question, we have to understand what "shechting" an animal entails. When we ritually slaughter a live animal, we are elevating it to the level of a human by making it fit to be eaten by man. Another aspect of shechita is meshicha - drawing foward. According to halacha [Rambam Hilchot Mechira], the action of drawing is a means of acquisition. When an animal is purchased, the buyer acquires it through the action of drawing it towards him.

Hence, to shecht our yetzer hara means that we should acquire him and bring him into our domain. We should use the yetzer hara as our own property for the purpose of our service of Hashem. As it is written [Berachot 54a] "You shall love Hashem with your whole heart - with both of your inclinations" [see Igros Kodesh Vol.20 p.6]

We have the ability to shecht our yetzer hara. To do so, we have to apply the five main laws regarding the shechting of an animal to our own yetzer hara:

1. Shehiyah
We are not allowed to pause in the course of shechting an animal. Similarly, we cannot take a break while in the process of neutralizing our yetzer hara. We must be consistent. If on occasion we yield to our yetzer hara, the shechita is not proper and we have to start all over.

2. Chaladah
We are not allowed to cut the animal's neck without seeing what we're cutting. We cannot hide the knife. Similarly, we cannot hide our task of shechting the yetzer hara. We should not do mitzvos in hiding [in private], afraid to practice in public, nor should we be ashamed of performing the mitzvos "behidur" - with splendor - for fear of being sneered at. Furthermore, claiming to be so humble that one has to perform mitzvos secretly is false humility and can lead a person to sin.

3. Hagramah
We are not allowed to cut the animal's neck in the wrong places; we have to shecht the animal only in the right place [middle of the neck]. Similarly, it is not to our benefit to cut the yetzer hara where we are not supposed to. Depriving ourselves of necessities [such as food and sleep] in order to weaken the yetzer hara will only weaken our effectiveness in serving Hashem. By doing so we only fool ourselves into thinking that we are getting rid of our yetzer hara, when in fact it is still very much alive.

4. Derassa
We are not supposed to crush the animal's neck. We have to cut it gently. Analogously, we don't want to destroy our yetzer hara. Rather, we want to transform it and bring it to the service of our yetzer tov. We can use the yetzer hara's energy in the service of Hashem.

5. Ikur
We are not supposed to pull out the simanim [the esophagus and trachea]. Similarly, we can't just throw out our yetzer hara, but rather we have to turn it into a yetzer tov, as explained above.

If we shecht our yetzer hara properly, we elevate him to us and transform him into an ally. We should start this process now in order to prepare ourselves for the final shechting of the yetzer hara, which will be done by Hashem with the coming of Moshiach.

Source: Adapted from Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by the Students of Seminary Bais Menachem, Montreal Canada


Leah said...

Very timely article. Nice choice, Devorah. Seems it's a constant battle for me in even little ways...judging favorably is just one example, anavah (humility) ...so many more....

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, thank you so much for your teaching.