The following is an edited excerpt from the new book by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and Sara Yoheved Rigler: Battle Plans: How to Fight the Yetzer Hara.
Two Tuesdays a month, the Israel Defense Forces conducts induction ceremonies in the Kotel Plaza. The novice soldiers, outfitted in their spanking new uniforms, stand in line as their proud parents look on. Each one is issued a Bible and a gun.
Birth into this world is actually an induction as a soldier. As the great sage Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato stated: "In truth a person is put into the middle of a raging war." The uniform is the human body, the Bible is the wisdom of Torah, and the gun is the inner weapons needed to fight this war.
Some of us are born warriors; others prefer to pursue peace. Whatever our disposition, however, we must recognize that life in this world is an ongoing battle, and the enemy is the force of darkness, negativity, and selfishness, called in Hebrew the "yetzer hara." Our battle assignment is to scale the mountain of lofty thoughts, words, and actions. The yetzer hara's job, assigned by God, is to pull us down into the ravines of depressed thoughts, condemning words, and depraved actions. The very name "Yisrael" was conferred on our forefather Yaakov by the angel of darkness after a night-long battle. That struggle against evil is the prototype of the life of every Jew. In this world, our choice is not between war and peace, but only between victory and defeat.
THE YETZER HARA'S SECRET CODE
Defeating the enemy requires more than superior strength and strategy. For example, everyone knows the military strategy by which Israel won the Six Day War. Israeli fighter jets, flying below the tracking altitude of Egyptian radar, attacked and destroyed Egypt's entire air force on the ground in the first hour of the war. Few people know that Egypt could have totally avoided defeat had one bungling sergeant known how to decode an incoming message.
That morning Egyptian intelligence at a radar station in northern Jordan did indeed pick up the scrambling Israeli aircraft. They sent a red alert message to the bunker of the Egyptian Supreme Command in Cairo. At that point, Egypt would have had enough time to get its planes off the ground and into the air and thus save them, but the sergeant on duty in the decoding room attempted to decipher the red alert using the previous day's code. His failure to properly decode the message led to catastrophe for his country.
Army intelligence is as important to the Israel Defense Forces as its elite combat units. Intelligence includes, among other things, intercepting the enemy's communications and then properly decoding them. The most crack combat unit in the world cannot win a battle if intelligence fails to appraise it of the enemy's plans and strategies.
The message of the yetzer hara is always: "You don't have what you need."
In the same way, we cannot hope to defeat the yetzer hara without intelligence: becoming aware of the enemy's strategy and properly decoding its messages. The Maharal of Prague [1520-1609] starts his treatise on "The Power of the Yetzer Hara" by breaking the code of the yetzer hara's messages to us. This enemy is always characterized by hunger and thirst, that is, by lack. It is the voice inside each of us that carps on lack.
The message of the yetzer hara is always: "You don't have what you need." This encoded message has a thousand different versions:
- I don't have a spouse, so of course I'm depressed.
- I have a husband, but he's not emotionally sensitive to me.
- I have a wife, but she doesn't keep the house neat enough.
- I don't have children, so I can't get on with my life.
- I have children, but they have learning disabilities.
- My child won't be accepted to a good college.
- My daughter desperately needs to get married.
- I don't have enough money to buy a house.
- I have a house, but it's too small.
- The house is big enough, but I desperately need a new kitchen.
- The house is too big for me to clean by myself; I need household help.
- I don't have a job that pays enough.
- I have a lucrative job, but I don't have the kind of boss I need.
The Maharal reveals the secret that statements of lack are a code and the dispatcher is always the yetzer hara.
BATTLE PLAN #1: IDENTIFY THE VOICE OF THE YETZER HARA
Whenever you hear your inner voice complaining about what you lack, go on high alert and assume battle position. You are under the attack of the yetzer hara.
This does not mean that you can't have legitimate wants: to get married, to have children, to own a home, to work at a good job. In fact, most of the blessings of the daily Amidah prayer are requests -- for healing, livelihood, redemption, etc. These blessings must be accompanied by genuine yearning.
You cross the line and start working for the enemy, however, when you heed the yetzer's commands instead of God's. For example, if you find yourself complaining about or leveling hurtful criticisms at your spouse, or speaking badly about your children, boss, or coworkers, you have fallen into the hands of the enemy. The feeling, "I don't have what I need," leads to many sins, as the yetzer hara offers you more and more blandishments to satisfy your needs by means that violate the Torah.
"Everything I need, I have (because God provided everything)."
Once you have cracked the code, and you are aware that your laments about what you lack are messages sent by the yetzer hara, you switch from intelligence to combat. You take out of your arsenal two effective weapons developed especially to liquidate this form of the yetzer hara.
BATTLE PLAN #2: "EVERYTHING I NEED I HAVE"
The best armor to protect yourself from the yetzer's attack is the attitude, "Everything I need, I have (because God provided everything)." Indeed, this is the meaning of the blessing we say every morning thanking God "Who provided me my every need." At the time you recite this blessing and throughout the day, you should feel that, at this moment, you have everything you need. This does not preclude wanting things in the future, but a bedrock belief in God's goodness and kindness to you at this very moment is the best battle stance against the yetzer hara.
You achieve this attitude by shifting your focus from what you don't have to what you do have. We are familiar with the automatic rifle carried at all times by Israeli soldiers: the M16. To fight the yetzer hara of lack we must carry one of two weapons: the G(Gratitude)16 and the G17. To use the G16, stop obsessing on what you don't have and refocus your thoughts on the details of what you do have:
- You may not yet be married, but you do have many of the components necessary to live a life of meaning, such as good friends and an interesting job. Take time to think about and be grateful for each one of your friends and the specific plusses of your job.
- You may need knee replacement surgery, but your eyes and ears work just fine. Take time to think about and be grateful for all the complex gifts of vision and hearing, which allow you to achieve the most significant goals that you have set for yourself.
- You may not have a large enough house for your family, but you are blessed with children. Take time to think about and be grateful for the special qualities of each one of your children. Each one is an entire universe.
- You may not have a pleasant job with amiable coworkers and a reasonable boss, but you do get a paycheck every week. Take time to think about and to be grateful for everything your paycheck pays for, and how your job and your paycheck enable you to be a giver, as God is a giver.
The weapon G17 works like the precision missiles the Israeli air force uses to target particular terrorist leaders in the Gaza Strip. It can destroy a third floor apartment without damaging anything on the fourth and second floors. The G17 is a very sophisticated weapon. While the G16 involves shifting your focus from what you don't have to what you do have, the G17 ferrets out the blessing hidden within the lack itself.
- You may not have a spouse, but your single status allows you its own unique avenues for your spiritual expression. In fact, because you are not yet married, you have the time to nurture yourself and others spiritually and materially in ways you won't have time to do later when you have a family.
- You may not be healthy, but your illness may engender what you most want: a closer relationship with God and with the people you love the most. Illness can bring about positive changes in your character and spiritual growth. Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen avers that the years since he was stricken with Lou Gehrig's Disease and became completely paralyzed have been the best years of his life from the standpoint of inner growth.
- You may not have children, but you do have a spouse and the time to devote yourself to your marriage and to that area that may in fact be your true mission in life. Witness the accomplishments of Rabbi Yaakov Moshe and Chaya Sara Kramer as described in Holy Woman.
Focusing on what you have rather than what you don't have is a foolproof weapon against the yetzer hara. Utter the formula, "Everything I need, I have (because God provided everything)," feel joy and gratitude to God, and you've won the battle.
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