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Posted on January 3, 2007 By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman | Series: | Level:

Not only are we to be admired for resisting temptation, but we’re taught that the Talmud deems someone who wants to sin but somehow manages not to, as being even loftier and of a *higher* spiritual caliber than someone who doesn’t struggle with the temptation.

That’s to say, for example, that if I were to somehow be tempted to bite into a piece of cake on Yom Kippur, really dallied with the idea of doing that, knew I certainly shouldn’t, then resolved right there and then not to take that bite, that I’d be more admirable for my victory than someone who didn’t eat that Yom Kippur simply because he didn’t care to or wouldn’t think to.

“In fact,” Rambam points out, our sages even said that “the greater and more perfect a person is, the *stronger* his craving for sins, and the greater his suffering for having to deny himself them”! As they put it, “The greater the person, the greater the yetzer harah”(Sukkah 52A). That’s to say that not only is our yetzer harah native to our humanity, but it also acts as a barometer of our inner standing (though that’s certainly not to imply that we’re then allowed to act out on it!)

And not only that, but they also said that “the more the person who subdues his yetzer harah suffers in the process” — the harder his struggle — ” the greater his reward”, since “one’s reward is commensurate with his suffering” (Pirke Avot 5:19).

Further yet, he adds, “they even commanded us to subdue our yetzer harah” rather than deny its power over us, “and warned us never to say (something like), ‘I personally wouldn’t want to commit that sin even if the Torah didn’t forbid it'”. That’s to say that the sages wanted us to acknowledge the difficulty of certain things required of us that simply don’t come easily to us, to buck up in the face of the challenge, and to emerge triumphant.

In fact, “Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, Never say, ‘I just couldn’t eat meat and milk, … wear shatnez, … or marry someone forbidden to me'” since that would truly be wrong. Instead he would have us acknowledge the travails and constraints, and to say instead, “I can (do those things, and am even inclined to doing them despite how wrong they are), but what can I do — my Father in Heaven forbids me to!'” (Sifra, Kedoshim).

We’re to own-up to the lure and temptation of the forbidden, to admit that we want to give in to it, but to resist it at bottom because G-d wants us to. For we’re human indeed and open to untoward suggestion, but that we want deep down to draw close to the Almighty most of all.

But then again, wouldn’t it be rather noble of us to never even *consider* sinning and to just naturally be drawn toward goodness? Aren’t people who are inherently repelled by sin very lofty indeed? So, there must be something to be said for what those early philosophers held.


Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org




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