READY FOR WAR
Our Sages tell us that this pasuk is hinting at going to war against the Evil Inclination, our worst enemy. As the Chovot HaLavovot writes:
Know this: Your greatest enemy in the world is your Evil Inclination…he gives you advice for your every step. While you sleep, he is awake plotting against you. He appears to you as a friend, and he becomes one of your most trusted friends and advisers… His greatest weapon against you is confusion and false arguments to make you forget your true interests and doubt your confirmed goals and beliefs… (Shaar Yichud Hamaaseh).
The ways of the Evil Inclination are manifold. He always has new ideas, and he never gives up. When you thought you conquered him, you find that he has only gotten stronger. This is the general picture. The Rebbe from Pashische put it even more dramatically: You should always perceive the Evil Inclination as one who is standing over your head with an axe, waiting for the moment to chop off your head. If you cannot perceive him as such, it means that he has already chopped off your head!
We need these pictures in order to prepare properly to make war against the Evil Inclination. In addition, each person must get to know the special characteristics of his own Evil Inclination against whom he must fight.
The metaphor of battling the Evil Inclination has always been extremely apt – all the way down to our time. We can illustrate this through the example of the modern tank, which was a product of World War One. During the war, the leaders of England and France (Allied Forces) looked for a way to break through the front lines of forts established by the Germans. After much thought and research, they concluded that this could be accomplished by vehicles with thick side walls to protect them from being stopped by machine-gun fire, and ones in which soldiers could hide and shoot. They also wanted a vehicle that could climb over obstacles and pass over trenches.
At last, a vehicle was invented that met all these requirements, and a squadron of them was to be brought to the front. The leaders of the Allied Forces wanted their new weapon to surprise and startle the enemy. To conceal their true identity as weapons, they were brought to the front lines as water carriers for the Mesopotamian campaign, and referred to as tanks (as in water tank).
The Evil Inclination works very much the same way. He presents himself as innocent – a mere water tank – or even as good. And he always invents new ways of doing things.
As for the essence of the Evil Inclination, the statements of the Sages may, at first glance, seem paradoxical. Is it an external angel or an inner part of the human psyche? On the one hand, we have a Talmudic passage which tells us that the Evil Inclination, the Satan (Adversary), and the Angel of Death are one and the same. The Evil Inclination attempts to get one to sin, and when he succeeds, he goes to the Heavenly Court as a prosecuting angel. When he succeeds in his prosecution, he returns to the world as the Angel of Death, and executes the punishment (Bava Batra 16a). From this description, it seems that the Evil Inclination is external. On the other hand, the Sages tell us that ever since Adam and Chavah ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the Evil Inclination resides within us (see נפש החיים א’ פ”ו) . This also seems to be reflected in the Chumash itself: “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Bereishis 8:21); “Love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your hearts” (Devarim 6:5) – with both the good and the evil inclination (Rashi); “You should not have in you an alien god” (Psalms 91:10 ) – i.e., evil inclination (Shabbat 105b).
The resolution of this paradox lies in the observation of R’ Yisrael Salant that there are actually two Evil Inclinations – the internal and the external, or what he calls the Yetzer haTumah and Yetzer haTa’avah (see Iggeret haMussar). R’ Yisrael uses this to explain contradictions in a given person’s behavior that almost make the individual look like he has a split personality. He notes, for example, that while a person may have a desire for honor, this desire is strangely absent when it comes to honor for spiritual or ethical matters. He explains that this person’s inner desire for honor is being neutralized by an outside force (Yetzer haTumah) which influences him not to look for honor in the spiritual or ethical realm.
Although it is often difficult to figure out whether the external Adversary or the internal Evil Inclination is operating, one thing is for sure: neither one has anything to do with our “inner self.” There is an “inner self” deeper inside than the “heart,” the abode of the Evil Inclination. In other words, the Torah perspective is that our bad habits are external, something we can fight against. This is an amazingly useful self-help concept! (If the Evil Inclination had been part of our inner self, we wouldn’t have had a chance.) This may well be hinted at by the Torah when it speaks of “going out to war against your Enemy.” Even the internal Inclination is not part of the inner self. With all this in mind, we are ready for war!