Brief Encounters With the Yetzer Hara and Purim

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19 Mar 2024

Quite unexpectedly, the Gemara in Kiddushin seems to depict a temporary type of yetzer hara, as a “menuval she paga ba – an evil entity that pierced you.” Yet on the same page it’s described as a more permanent type of figure, an entity knocking on your door twenty-four hours a day, relentless and continual. How is this seeming contradiction overcome?

Investigating Purim

The megillah begins with a seemingly neutral event – the party of Achashverosh. All the food was kosher and there didn’t seem to be any concrete violation of Jewish law.

If you dig a little bit deeper, however, there was quite a profound aura that surrounded this celebration. Achashverosh was celebrating the fact that the Beis HaMikdash would not be rebuilt and that the Jews would be bound to galus. This party was a celebration of the negation of the Mikdash, showcasing its opulent keilim.

Was this the party that the Jews belonged at? And how did it lead to such an extreme descent?

Happenstance Meetings

In Kiddushin, we are told of the story of Rabbi Akiva where he is walking along and the yetzer hara appears to him as a beautiful woman. He chases after “her” only to be saved by the fact – as the yetzer hara itself declares – of the great mass of his accumulated Torah. This encounter is just that. A split-second appearance to an unprepared great sage. Rabbi Akiva’s Torah had to retroactively save him, for the chances of him getting to a beis medrash in time to quell his passions would take too long.

This doesn’t contradict the Gemara, however, that says when this menuval pierces you, take him to the beis hamidrash. Rabbi Akiva’s yetzer hara was likely enormous in tandem to his level, whereas others can still save themselves by taking the time to reach a study hall.

We know of another story of a great sage that’s brought down in Kiddushin as well. Upon the light of his attic revealing a scene of a non-tznius image, he yells that there was a fire in his house. His students arrived and were perplexed as there was no real fire. They asked their rebbe how he could he state a lie? Their rebbe said that it’s better to be shamed in this world than the next. In truth, there was no real lie here. There was a fire burning, the fire of the yetzer hara that was there to purge his soul. Just as many equate embarrassing someone to killing them even if there wasn’t actual murder, claiming a fire of a raging evil entity is no less than a fire of reality.

Original Sin

The snake brought death to the world in innocent fashion. Using some loose logic of the tongue, it brought down humanity. This already gives a powerful insight into its ways: it’s casual, looks for an opening and then strikes. If you picture the modern-day snake, you also see these tendencies. It’s very patient in its approach. It picks out its prey, remains quiet and unassuming and then goes in for a quick kill. The yetzer hara is the snake and he too looks for the opening and strikes with deathly-like blows.

Built into the creation of the world was a seven-day cycle. It may very well be that this is the explanation of the notion that a tzaddik falls seven times and gets up. Why seven? Perhaps it represents the idea of the yetzer hara. It’s ever-present, every second of every day for all seven days of the week, waiting to strike a blow.

A Winning Mindset

The casualness of attending a party that signified Jewish decline is not where one wants to be. It can affect the soul to fall into a decline and this is exactly what happened on Purim. The yetzer hara intervened innocently but with precision, ultimately causing a potential knockout blow.

The Mesillas Yesharim echoes the idea of Pirkei Avos, that the only way to defeat the yetzer hara is through a full-fledged war. It’s not easy to block off seemingly happenstance occurrences that don’t seem so damaging. But that’s exactly where the yetzer hara begins his path of destruction. He knows every person’s weakness and throws endless “casual” blows in that direction. He’s patient, methodical and never rests. The fence needed to offset his strikes must be sturdy and impenetrable.

We’re now in a physical war where we need a quick and sweeping victory. Victories in the spiritual realm will only enhance our battlefield victories. With more merits, we can counter the ministering angel of our enemy and see the Beis HaMikdash that was rebuilt twice, be rebuilt again.