| Parshah |

Shelter in Place

Having a yetzer hara isn’t a disgrace; it’s a sign that Hashem wants our efforts in our avodas Hashem

“And afterward, his brother came out, and his hand was holding the heel of Eisav, and He [Hashem] called him Yaakov….” (Bereishis 25:26)


WEoften misunderstand our confrontations with the yetzer hara. We assume that “real tzaddikim” are free from these challenges, so if we’re facing such a yetzer hara, we must be on a very low level. Yet these thoughts are mistaken (Rav Elimelech Biderman, Torah Wellsprings).

I make a lot of brachos every day: shehakol, borei nefashos, asher yatzer…. Yet they somehow all end up as the brachah of Tefillas Haderech. As soon as I start the words, I find myself zooming off. There are so many urgent things to take care of… places to go… people to see….

For years I’ve tried a myriad of ideas, kabbalos, tricks, and incentives to get myself to stay in one place and concentrate. But my feet have a mind of their own and simply refuse to obey.

It’s been frustrating and, yeah, demoralizing to realize that I have no control over myself for even 20 seconds.

I want to stand still and have kavanah! Why, oh why, can’t I pull this off? (Maybe Hashem wants me to understand my boys who can’t stand still for a second either?)

Consider Yaakov and Eisav. The Yismach Moshe says that before their birth, Yaakov was perfectly good and Eisav was completely bad. At the moment of the birth, a momentous change occurred: When Yaakov held Eisav’s heel, they transferred aspects of their nature to each other. Yaakov received a dose of Eisav’s badness, and Eisav got a portion of Yaakov’s goodness. Now that Eisav has some goodness, he has bechirah and can be held responsible for his deeds. And at this time, Yaakov received his yetzer hara.
Rashi explains that Hashem named Yaakov based on this moment when he grabbed Eisav’s eikev, his heel. Obviously, this transfer wasn’t a negative thing. Without the yetzer hara, life wouldn’t have a purpose. Hashem has innumerous angels in Heaven who serve Him far better than humans do, but they aren’t the purpose of creation. Hashem created the world for humans to be challenged, and then give Hashem pleasure when they overcome their yetzer hara to serve Him.

This year, as Rosh Hashanah approached, I once again revisited this concept. I so badly wanted to conquer the yetzer hara, to capitalize on these small, but very significant opportunities. But I was stymied. I’d been down this road so many times, and could not figure out how to change things successfully. Then I had an epiphany.

Using precious saved Amazon points, I ordered a beautiful, padded wooden settee — a narrow curved bench — the type that graces hotel corridors.

It arrived the second day of the war. We were all home, scared and confused. So we decided to make a huge Chanukas HaBench party and set the settee in its place of honor, in a small niche off our living room.

Voilà! It matched perfectly, took up almost no room (important, as my boys’ speedy foot traffic needs space), and couldn’t be moved easily (ditto to those boys who often need “ladders” to reach important stuff). Besides, said boys were thrilled that they, too, could sit on the bench to make brachos.

This also explains why at first Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav. He assumed Yaakov was a tzaddik and therefore didn’t need an extra brachah to combat the yetzer hara. But with wisdom, Yaakov said to Yitzchak, “I am Eisav, your firstborn.”
The Yismach Moshe explains that Yaakov was saying, “I also have an aspect of Eisav in me. Avodas Hashem isn’t as easy for me as you think it is. I, too, struggle with the yetzer hara, and therefore I also need your brachos.”
Yitzchak acknowledged Yaakov’s words, saying, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav.” Yaakov has the zechus of learning Torah and praying with his mouth, but when his hand grabbed Eisav’s heel, that transferred Eisav’s yetzer hara into him. Thus, he needed Yitzchak’s blessings.
Therefore, one shouldn’t despair when confronted by the yetzer hara, because everyone struggles. Having a yetzer hara isn’t a disgrace; it’s a sign that Hashem wants our efforts in our avodas Hashem.

It’s been a few weeks, and, chasdei Hashem, so far, this idea is working. It’s tangible. It’s visible. It’s right there. And sitting still, we take an extra moment to have kavanah and ask Hashem for shemirah for all Am Yisrael.

Zol zein g’benched!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 868)

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