Novelty and the Evil Inclination
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #12b: Novelty and the Evil Inclination
By Rav Yitzchak Blau
Rabbi Yitzchak said: A person's evil inclination tries to renew itself against him daily, as it says 'And all the inclinations of the thoughts of his heart are only evil all day' (Bereishit 6:5). Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: A person's inclination tries to overpower him daily and tries to kill him, as it says 'The wicked waits for the righteous and seeks to slay him' (Tehillim 37:32). And would it not be for God's help, a person could not succeed against it, as it says 'And God does not abandon him in his hand.'(Ibid. 37:33) (Sukka 52a-b, Kiddushin 30b)
Once pleasure had but to beckon me and I rose, light of foot, sound and unafraid. When I rode slowly through the woods, it was as if I flew; now when the horse is covered with lather and ready to drop, it seems to me that I do not move. I am solitary as always; forsaken, not by men, which could not hurt me, but by the happy fairies of joy, who used to encircle me in countless multitude My soul has lost its potentiality. If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.This interpretation might suggest to us a strategy towards educating the hedonistically inclined. We might point out that the freshness and visceral delight that currently appear attractive will ultimately not last. While I would not deny that observant Jews can also find themselves bored with religion, I still feel confident asserting that the ongoing opportunity for spiritual growth and deeper understanding of Torah provides the continuing sense of the potential and the possible spoken of by Kierkegaard. One last insight on this gemara appears in the Shem Mishmuel (Parashat Nitzavim) of the Sochachover Rebbe. He argues that there exists a power of novelty and innovation in this world. If we do not employ this power in a religious setting, it will find expression in more problematic contexts. In other words, innovation and freshness is a basic aspect of being human and should not be rejected or ignored. If we do so, the need for novelty will emerge in a more ugly fashion. Without downplaying the strong sense of tradition and structure in Orthodox Judaism, we should feel challenged to provide our students with a sense of potential freshness. This may involve encouraging new Torah insights, adding a personal supplication to the fixed text of prayer, or other such strategies. Resisting the evil inclination depends upon fostering a strong sense of vitality and potentiality within the boundaries of traditional Judaism.