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 stop you!”
“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 Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.