This week we are introduced to a formidable foe who greets us upon our
entry into this world and attempts to accompany our every action throughout
our mortal existence. He is known as the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination.
After Kayin has an inferior offering rejected, he is very upset. G-d talks
to him frankly about the nature of his act and the hidden beast that
undermines our good intentions, the Yetzer Harah. "Surely, if you improve
yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin
crouches at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it."
(Genesis 4:7). Though the imagery of sin crouching in wait seems quite
ominous, the allegorical allusion to an evil force blocking a doorway lends
a simile to a story I recently heard that may be quite applicable to the
lessons of the finale of any sport season. It may even be a lesson to those
of us who have our ears glued to the rumblings of the subway, shuttling
high-flying frivolity from the Bronx to Queens.
Rabbi Sholom Schwadron had noticed that one of the students at the yeshiva
was missing on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday morning he approached him,
inquiring to the reason he missed those two days.
"I know you for two years. You never missed a day of yeshiva. I am sure
that something important is happening. Please tell me what's going on."
The boy did not want to say, but after prodding, the boy finally blurted
out. "I would tell, but, Rebbe, you just wouldn't understand."
"Try me," begged Reb Sholom, "I promise I will try my hardest to appreciate
what you tell me."
"Here goes," responded the student, conceding to himself that whatever
explanation he would give would surely be incomprehensible to the Rabbi,
who had probably had never seen a soccer ball in his life.
"I missed yeshiva because I was at the Maccabi Tel Aviv football (soccer)
finals. In fact," the boy added in embarrassment, "I probably won't be in
yeshiva tomorrow as well. It's the final day of the championship."
Rabbi Schwadron was not at all condescending. Instead, he furred his brow
in interest. "I am sure that this game of football must be quite exciting.
Tell me," he asked, " How do you play this game of football? What is the
object? How do you win?"
"Well," began the student filled with enthusiasm, "there are eleven
players, and the object is to kick a ball into the large goal. No one but
the goalkeeper can move the ball with his hands or arms!"
Rabbi Schwadron's face brightened! He knew this young boy was a good
student and wanted to accommodate him. "Oh! Is that all? So just go there,
kick the ball in the goal, and come back to yeshiva!"
The boy laughed. "Rebbe, you don't understand! The opposing team also has
eleven men and a goalkeeper, and their job is to stop our team from getting
the ball into their goal!"
"Tell me," Rabbi Schwadron whispered. These other men the other team. Are
they there all day and night?"
"Of course not!" laughed the student. "They go home at night!"
What was the Rabbi driving at? He wondered.
Rabbi Schwadron huddled close and in all earnest continued with his
brilliant plan. "Why don't you sneak into the stadium in the evening and
kick the ball into the goal when they are not looking! Then you can win and
return to yeshiva!"
The boy threw his hands up in frustration. "Oy! Rebbe! You don't
understand. You don't score if the other team is not trying to stop you! It
is no kuntz to kick a ball into an empty net if there is no one trying to
"Ah!" cried Reb Sholom in absolute victory. Now think a moment! Listen to
what you just said! It is no kuntz to come to the yeshiva when nothing is
trying to hold you back! It is when the urge to skip class is there, when
the Yetzer Harah is crouching in the goal, that it is most difficult to
score. That is when you really score points. Come tomorrow, and you can't
imagine how much that is worth in Hashem's scorecard!"
Needless to say, the boy understood the message and was there the next day
the first in class!
The Torah tells us not only about the nature of the Yetzer Harah as an
adversary, but rather as our ultimate challenger. He stands crouched in
the door, ready to block any shot and spring on a near hit. Our job is to
realize that we must overcome him when the urge is the greatest. Because
when it is most difficult to do the right thing, that is the time we really
meet, and even score, the goal!
Dedicated in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of our son, Benzion Raphael, by Karen
and David Portal and family
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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