With heart and mind

As we pointed out above, though, Ramchal was of the opinion here that it’s the intellect that enables one to overcome the yetzer harah [1]. As he put it elsewhere as well, “realizing the truth (of things by means of your intellect) strengthens the soul and distances it from the yetzer harah, as there is nothing that makes the soul more susceptible to the yetzer (harah) than lack of knowledge” (Derech Eitz Chaim). In fact, he goes on to offer there that “if one’s knowledge was broad enough and stood (firmly enough) upon his heart, he’d never sin”. Thus Ramchal seems to hold that it’s the mind alone that resists the yetzer harah.

He does acknowledge elsewhere, though, the role that the emotions play in that process. He pointed out that “the more one reflects upon the exalted nature of God, the infinite nature of His perfection, and the great and unfathomable difference between His greatness and our lowliness, the more will he be filled with trembling and reverence before Him”. And that “when one reflects as well upon the great goodness He has provided us with … an intense and powerful love will arise within you, and you will want nothing but to attach yourself to Him” and to avoid sin (Messilat Yesharim Ch. 21).

So he seems to be of the opinion that one can best resist the enticements of the yetzer harah when both heart and mind are focused upon God and one’s goal in life [2].

Notes:

[1]       Also see Derech Hashem 1:4:6 which while cited earlier in explanation of the yetzer harah also makes the point that man was “placed in this world to overcome his yetzer (harah) … by means of his intellect”.

[2]       Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (19th Century), the founder of the modern Mussar movement, stressed other phenomena including the chanting of pertinent verses and teachings about a particular sin one is tempted by in order to avoid it, or in order to foster a particular trait one is pursuing. His theory was that one thus “mesmerizes” himself that way and bolsters his fortitude from within (much the way reciting a national anthem reinforces one’s love of country, reciting poetry and the like affirms one’s emotions and convictions, and the like).

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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