So You Have a Yetzer HaRa! A Training Guide for Primitive Breeds

by Jessica Jacobs

When writing about the yetzer hara, the “evil inclination,” rabbis have grappled with the exalted algebra that if God created everything, then God must have also created this inclination. Thus, even this “evil” part of us must have some essence of the divine. Through Midrash and Mishnah (the oral tradition of Jewish law and commentaries on Jewish foundational texts), rabbis traded advice on the best techniques for dealing with the yetzer hara, which have been boiled down to this convenient training guide—because who doesn’t need a little help when attempting to housebreak this pesky propensity?

Your yetzer hara is both the seed of your physical needs and desires—those urges that drive you toward pleasure and productivity—and the MiracleGro that can get those urges sprouting like kudzu, climbing, coiling, and overtaking every other part of your life, smothering everything it covers.

But as it says in the Talmud (that training guide of all training guides), how you respond to your yetzer hara is up to you: “At first, the yetzer hara—the evil inclination—is called a ‘wayfarer’, then a ‘guest’, then finally ‘master’.” Though your yetzer hara may be cute as a puppy when young, you must assert yourself early on as pack leader. A puppy who knows it can win against its human will become a dangerous dog, an owner of its owner.