Since childhood, I’ve been taught that the Yetzer haRa (evil inclination, evil creation) is not me; the push not to be controlled, not to listen, but rather to act to feed my more base desires actually comes from a separate entity which is there to challenge my pure neshamah (soul).
This paints the yetzer hara sort of like the cartoon image of the devil, complete with bad sunburn, pitchfork and trident, perched astride your shoulder and whispering in your ear, “Take it. Go ahead, take it!”
This also fits any number of talmudic passages, such as the gemara (end of Succah) about the death of the yetzer hara, and the several passages that identify the Yetzer haRa with the angel of death and the Satan (whatever that is). It also fits the gemara’s contention (Berachos) that a person has both yetzer hara and yetzer hatov (good inclination, good creation) inserted into him at different stages of maturity.
The image is also consistent with biblical language, from the consumption/internalization of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil (more on this later), to Zecharyah’s description of a רוח הטומאה, a spirit of impurity, which will ultimately be banished from the land.
But I’ve had to wonder over the years about the accuracy of this description:
True, we say that our souls are pure נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא, but couldn’t there be some other aspect of our being, if only our bodies/brains, that might be working at having us fulfill illicit fantasies? Something that doesn’t possess its own intelligence, but is a natural part of our systems?
Further, don’t I possess an id that wants to be fed? Don’t my appetites have something to do with me, personally?
Is this exernalization just meant to be a helpful image, or is there something concrete in identifying the yetzer hara as an external entity?
And then I read an interesting article here (got there through this wonderful blog) about externalizing alcoholism, and possibly depression, identifying them as independent entities which lay siege to our psyches.
As Dr. Isabella Mori notes in that article, “there is research that shows that people who attribute their misfortune to outside sources tend to be happier. viewed from a certain perspective, that makes intuitive sense, too: the opposite of attributing misfortune to an outside source is often a guilt-infused attribution (“it’s all my fault”).”
Speaking from my own subjective experience, it’s certainly true that I can feel better about myself, and about my chances for future improvement, if I externalize the sin – whether the sin really comes about because “I” want it, or because I am “talked into it” by an outside yetzer hara.
More creatively, I also see externalization as a rollback of the Adam/Chavah consumption of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.
As some explain, the change that occurs when Adam/Chavah eat from the fruit is that humanity internalizes the desire to veer from Divine direction. Instead of seeing treif, for example, as something objectively attractive, we now see it as tasty, something we want for ourselves. The desire becomes much harder to defeat, because it is pitched as our desire.
By externalizing the yetzer hara, then, I succeed in identifying it as something outside myself, and separating it from any personal desire of mine. I reverse the effects of that Edenic fruit. (Of course, one must then ask whether, to be honest, we ought to do the same with the yetzer hatov…?)
An interesting proposition.