April 9, 2024
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The yetzer hara has many tactics up his sleeve, and we find a fundamental one in this week’s parsha with the nachash.

When it comes to materialistic/physical pleasures, we can differentiate between two aspects—the actual attainment and practical experience of it, and the anticipation and desire for it.

Actual material/physical pleasure has its bounds. Its experience is limited, finite and offers exactly what it is. No more, no less. It is what it is. However, the anticipation for it may be vastly different. Anticipatory pleasure, desire, can have no bounds, as the figment of imagination can spiral the desire to levels that far outweigh the level of the actual pleasure itself. It’s unquantifiable and can far surpass reality. Why is that?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (“Bet Halevi”) explains that once upon a time, such a discrepancy did not exist. Before Adam and Chava ate from the etz ha da’at, the desire for physical pleasure was exactly commensurate to the actual physical/materialistic pleasure. But then, the nachash came along and began to add a completely false desire for the tree. He hyped it up: “You’re gonna be like God!” (3:5) he enticed Chava. And like the Midrash says, the nachash was essentially saying “You’re gonna be able to create worlds!” (Bereishit Rabbah, 19:4). It’s gonna be amazing! Unreal! Nothing like it! Obviously, this was fake news, but once Chava caved in and she and Adam ate from it, the pull towards physical/materialistic pleasure thereon can now contain a false exaggerated desire for the actual pleasure.

We see from here that the yetzer hara can get rather “rah-rah” about gashmiyut and falsely hype things up, when in reality there’s no truth to his fanciful, unrealistic descriptions and imaginative dreams about the pleasure.

The yetzer hara can also come from a different angle while still using this strategy of blowing things out of proportion.

The nachash approaches Chava and begins his persuasion by saying to her “Did perhaps God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” What is the nachash trying to say? Rav Yerucham Levovitz (“Daas Torah”) explains by way of personal analogy: Once when he was suffering from a certain medical condition, he went to the doctor who told him that he can no longer consume eggs. He reflected that at that moment when he heard this report he became worried and thought to himself “What will I now eat? I have nothing left to eat!” However, once he got used to this new lifestyle, he realized that he had more than enough varieties of foods to eat and he could live just fine without eggs. Rav Levovitz said, a person may see the restrictions of the Torah and think “I can’t do this, I can’t eat this; Everything is forbidden!” This is the scheme of the yetzer hara, and this is what the nachash intended with Chava: “Did God perhaps say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden,” meaning “everything is forbidden for you; all of the trees—you can’t have any of them!” The nachash was dramatizing and highly exaggerating the reality to make it seem like Chava is restricted from everything.

We see from this example, this prime tactic of the yetzer hara of exaggerating situations. The Torah has restrictions and boundaries, which we’re capable of abiding by, but the yetzer hara wants to blow things out of proportion and impact our quest for self control by making it seem like everything is off limits and we can’t partake of anything. We must resist the yetzer hara’s falsely hyped-up perspective and not let his approach succeed.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work

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