The yetzer hatov and the yetzer harah

Other than the very best and worst of us, we humans are morally, psychologically, and existentially complex and incongruous beings. But given that “the imaginings of a man’s heart are wrongful from his youth” (Genesis 8:21) along with the fact that “God created man in His image” (Genesis 1:27) and that “God the Lord (Himself)… breathed into his nostrils the soul of life” (Genesis 2:7), our complexity is understandable [1].

Our complexity could also be said to be the natural course of things, given that “God saw all that He had made,” when He created the whole of the universe, and He determined that “behold it was very good” en toto, notwithstanding — or perhaps for the reason that — the day and life itself was comprised of both “evening and… morning”, light and darkness, good and evil (Genesis 1:31).

In any event, we’re taught that our goodness is a product of the promptings of our yetzer hatov, while our wrongfulness comes from the promptings of our yetzer harah [2].  And while the yetzer harah is inborn, the yetzer hatov doesn’t take effect until one is of bar- or bat-mitzvah age and thus more mature and reflective [3]. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the yetzer harah is all wrong, though; it’s in fact a “necessary evil” for without it much good wouldn’t come about [4].

We’ll see next what Ramchal adds to that.


[1]       In fact, it’s those very best and worst of us we’d spoken of who are harder to explain, other than to depict the worst of us as aberrations and the best of us as exceptions.

[2]       See Berachot 61a.

[3]       Kohelet Rabbah 9:14.

[4]       See Breishit Rabbah 9:9.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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