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Delaying the Yetzer Hara

We have been learning this month about the yetzer hara’s tricks – how he gets us to indulge in temptations that are harmful to our spiritual or physical wellbeing.

To begin, we explained that the yetzer hara tricks us with lies. For example, he might try to convince us that eating “just this one little cookie” wont make any difference. But he is hiding from us the truth that if we keep eating unhealthy things, they will likely add up over time, and affect our health in the long term. In order to defeat this yetzer hara, we must learn how to expose his lies and strengthen the voice of truth.

Next, we saw how the yetzer hara tricks us with illusions. He makes it seem as if he is huge and powerful and we are unable to resist his temptations. But we must remember that the yetzer hara is not real. He is just an illusion, like a big scary shadow on a wall. He is not our master, and we are not his slave. We do not need to follow his commands.

Finally, we saw how the yetzer hara is really supposed to exist outside of us, as was the case before Adam HaRishon sinned. Whenever we hear the voice of “I don’t care,” we can remember that it’s not our own voice speaking to us – rather it’s the voice of the yetzer hara. Our neshamos (souls) do care very much about doing the right thing; it’s only the yetzer hara who is saying that he doesn’t care.

Delaying the Yetzer Hara

Aside from recognizing these lies, tricks, and illusions – there is another, more practical technique that we can use when we feel tempted by the yetzer hara. 

When you’re trying to resist your yetzer hara, and you feel like it’s just too hard, a great technique is to simply pracrsinate: Delay your yetzer hara.

Delay your yetzer hara.

Did it ever happen that you were passing by the freezer, and the ice cream started beckoning to you from inside? “I know I shouldn’t have the ice cream,” you think to yourself. “But I just can’t help it! I need to have it!”

You start opening a drawer to find a spoon. Suddenly, the phone rings. It’s your best friend. Immediately you close the drawer and start chattering away on the phone. “Hello!!!” you say.  “So tell me what happened with your big test today!…” By the time the phone call is over, you have totally forgotten about the ice cream in the freezer.

What happened? Didn’t you say that you “needed” the ice cream?

The answer is that the yetzer hara often tries to convince us that we are lacking and we desperately “need” to give in to our temptations.1 Sometimes, we can reason with the yetzer hara logically, and we can prove his words to be untrue. But other times, he just sounds so convincing that it’s hard to resist.

Whenever this happens, we can try to simply delay the yetzer hara for several minutes. After several minutes have passed, there is a good chance that we will become distracted by something else, or simply forget about the temptation. Or even if you still remember about it, at least the urge will feel weaker than it did when it first entered your mind.

This truth is reflected in the Gemara which says: “A person’s yetzer hara is renewed every day.”2 Why must the yetzer hara be renewed? I had a yetzer hara yesterday, and the day before that, and last week, too! Isn’t it the same yetzer hara all along?

But the Gemara is teaching us that it’s not true. The yetzer hara does not exist in a real, solid way. Rather, he is very flimsy – like a soap bubble floating through the air. He might appear at first as a powerful urge to eat, see, or say something you shouldn’t – but if you just wait long enough, he will eventually “pop” and disappear into nothingness. That’s why the yetzer hara must be renewed every day – because he doesn’t have any real, solid, lasting existence of his own.3

But if you just wait long enough, he will eventually “pop” and disappear into nothingness.

As we move on to learn about a different middah next month, let’s keep this simple tactic in mind. The more that we practice delaying the yetzer hara and resisting his temptations for even a few minutes, the more we will reinforce to ourselves that we are stronger than the yetzer hara, and we are not his slave. 

Sources: [1] See Michtav Mei’Eliyahu Vol I. pg 100; [2] Kiddushin 30b; [3] See “The Six Constant Mitzvos” by Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz and Rabbi Shai Markowitz, pg. 136-137

Your Challenge

When you feel tempted by your yetzer hara – or tempted to indulge in physical pleasures – wait 5 minutes first.

(Optional: While you do this, think to yourself: “I am bigger and stronger than my yetzer hara. It has no power over me.”)

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