13 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pinchas
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The Overzealous Yetzer    

The Overzealous Yetzer

The evil inclination is hard wired in from birth, with a big head start on your logical thought processes, your inclination for good and the development of your higher soul...


I just started reading Rav Arush's latest book in Hebrew, called Etz Ha Daat (The Tree of Knowledge.) I just started, but I can already tell you a key theme of the book: we all beat ourselves up far too much, and don't really like ourselves anywhere near as much as we should do.
Rav Arush has written about 'beating ourselves up disease' before, most notably in Womens' Wisdom, where he devoted a whole chapter to the topic. But now, he's devoting a whole book to the subject, and I for one couldn't be happier.
The more I'm learning about people, about human nature, about how our body just reflects the deepest beliefs we hold about ourselves (and others), the more I'm starting to understand just how crafty the evil inclination actually is.
You should know something about your evil inclination: biologically, it's hard wired in from birth, and it's had many years' head start on your logical thought processes, your inclination for good and the development of your higher soul.
This shouldn't be a shock to anyone who's familiar with Jewish thought, and in particular the idea that a person only gets their yetzer tov (inclination for good) once they've reached the age of bar or bat mitzvah. Yiddishkeit also teaches that until the age of 20, a person isn't considered fully accountable for their actions, spiritually (although physically, they are.) Biologically, all this makes perfect sense, because the more advanced part of the human brain where logical, rational thought takes place only fully develops around this age. Before then, the brain is still physically immature, and many of the synapses and mental processes required for deep, principled, logical thought, behaviour and speech simply haven't appeared yet.
So far so good, but what does all this have to do with liking ourselves more and being kinder to ourselves, and others?
Great question!
So many people today are walking around beating themselves up because they are in the grip of their yetzer haras (evil inclinations). This one's yetzer tells them to eat a whole chocolate cake as a bedtime snack every evening; that one's yetzer tells them that if they don't spend 18 hours at the office, financial disaster is only a second away; this one's yetzer is telling them that they have to use unbridled anger to communicate with their children, as that's the only way they listen; that's one's yetzer has them panicking every time the kids are two minutes late home, or there's a bad news headline - and so on and so forth.
The yetzer is only doing it's job, and as our Sages teach us, it's job is to try and kill us.
There's no doubt that the yetzer is waging a spiritual war against us. But there's also no doubt, at least in my mind, that it's using our biology to do so.
Let me explain what I mean: according to Chinese Medicine, the body's energy runs through 14 main energy pathways or meridians. Two of these meridians, called spleen and triple warmer, are tasked with maintaining the body's immune response.
They go about it in very different ways: where the spleen tries to keep a person healthy by keeping them happy, nourished and cared for, triple warmer is the body's in-house vigilante.
It's tasked with protecting the body from 'danger' - but in most people, it's over-reacting most of the time, causing all sorts of auto-immune illnesses, negative knee-jerk emotional reactions, and a bunch of other issues, besides.
Jewishly, you could think of the triple warmer meridian as the home of the yetzer hara.
When people are yelling at their kids, it's usually because triple warmer has conned them into mounting an aggressive 'defence' of some principle or other; when they are panicking, hysterical, worried - it's triple warmer emotional over-kill. When they're sad and depressed, it's usually because triple warmer has pulled so much energy away from the spleen meridian, that's responsible for keeping us happy, that we crash.
Again, these are spiritual issues with a physical dimension, and also physical issues with a spiritual dimension.
For people who live mostly in the spiritual dimension, praying on these issues is enough to resolve them. For everyone else caught up in the more physical aspects of this world, more help might be needed.
It's an article for another time, but there are many things that can be done to start dealing with the yetzer hara from the more physical side of things, and they definitely work. Tapping is one of them. Visualisations is another. Exercise and good eating is another, to mention but a few (and Rebbe Nachman talks extensively about a lot of these 'alternative' therapies in his writings.)
But the point is that if people realized how much of their yetzer is biological; they'd go much easier on themselves when they slip up and eat the icecream; or melt-down; or freak out. It doesn't excuse the behaviour, but it does point to a whole different way of dealing with the problem: deal with it body AND soul together.
That's how G-d created us. That's how He relates to us. That's how we need to relate to ourselves. And the more we do that, the more compassion we'll have for ourselves and others, the more we'll start to like ourselves, and the more we'll get our triple warmers and evil inclinations to calm down and take a back seat in our lives.
* * *
You're welcome to visit Rivka Levy's personal website at www.emunaroma.com

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