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Every one of us is in the middle of a tug-of-war. There's one voice inside of us that's always telling us to act properly and do good ... and another voice that's telling us to do just the opposite. We feel being pulled in opposite directions because God built within each of us two conflicting urges: the yetzer ha-tov (the urge to do good), and the yetzer ha-ra (the urge to do bad).
It is up to us to decide which of these two voices we're going to listen to. In this week's portion, we learn about a set of twins, Jacob and Esau, who turned out to be very different from each other. Jacob chose to listen to the voice to do good, while Esau listened to the other voice. From the very beginning of their lives, they struggled against each other. Their struggle also represents the tug-of-war we feel inside of us. When we feel this struggle, we shouldn't feel bad or confused since that is how we are made. We need to remember that God wants us to choose good, but He also knows it isn't always going to be easy.
In our story, a boy becomes acquainted with the opposing voices within himself.
Andrew Gold adjusted his desk lamp, sharpened three new pencils, poured himself a cold glass of orange juice and sat down to study for his math test. It was an important test, and Andrew knew that if he would study hard he would have nothing to worry about.
Just then, the phone rang. He was going to let the answering machine pick it up, not wanting to be disturbed from his studies, when a little voice popped into his head. It sounded sort of like his voice, but a bit higher pitched, and more excited. 'Maybe it's an emergency call?' said the voice urgently.
Though Andrew had no reason to expect an emergency, he pushed his notebook away, and sprang for the phone. It was an emergency all right, but not the kind he expected.
"Andy you've just gotta come!" pleaded his friend Rob on the other end of the line. "How can we play a game of three on three basketball with only five guys?"
Andrew was about to tell his friend he had to study and couldn't play, when the little voice chirped in reassuringly, 'How long can one game of basketball take? You'll have plenty of time to study.'
Before Andrew knew what had happened, he was telling Rob that he was on his way.
As he was walking out the door he thought he heard another, calmer, softer voice saying 'Hey, what about the test?' but it was easily drowned out by the sound of the ball he was bouncing and the smell of the crisp fall air.
Well, this 'one game' turned out to be a best-of-five tournament which lasted until sundown. Andy finally got home, ate a quick supper, showered, and settled in to study. Things were going great, that is until the little voice spoke up again, 'Aren't you tired after all that ball today?'
Andy just ignored it; after all he had to study.
'No, really! Would it be so bad to just put your head down for a few minutes?' the voice said, this time sounding really concerned. 'You'll have more energy to study!' it added as a clincher.
Andrew yawned. It had been a long day. Maybe just a few minutes...
'Hey, what about the test?!' the other voice managed to kick in at the last minute. But it was soon muffled by the boy's snores.
Andrew woke up with a start three hours later. It was already late, and way past his bedtime. "Oh no, what did I do?!" he said aloud, just as his older brother, Jeremy walked in, himself heading for bed.
"What's the matter?" Jeremy asked.
Andy poured out the whole story, including the part about the pesky little voice that wouldn't let him study. Jeremy nodded knowingly. "I know all about that little voice," he said.
"You do?" asked a surprised Andrew.
"Yup, because I have one too. We all do. We also have another voice trying to keep us on track, but that voice is easier to miss because a lot of times we just don't wanna hear it. It's too late to study now. I suggest you get up an hour early and study then while your mind's fresh."
Andrew liked the idea, but ... "Jeremy, how am I ever going to be able to get up? If that 'little voice' is trying to stop me now, imagine how tough it's going to be in the morning!"
His brother scratched his head, thought a bit, and smiled. "I've got a plan!"
THE NEXT MORNING...
BRRRING!! went the alarm clock at 6:00 the next morning. Andrew turned over from his deep sleep and hit the button. He started stretching when he heard the by now familiar little voice. 'What do you have to get up for? It's cold and your blanket is so warm. You can study before class anyway.'
Jeremy pulled his blanket tighter. It really was cold ... maybe ... maybe ... but the test?
'Yeah, sleep just a bit more, it's soo early...' cooed the voice like a lullaby.
Andrew was about to roll over and go back to sleep, when suddenly he remembered Jeremy's secret plan. The boy flung off his quilt and jumped out of bed, as he repeated the words his brother told him to say: "Well, little voice, if it's not too early for you to be up, then it's certainly not too early for me!"
Q. How did Andrew feel when the little voice first tried to convince him to stay in bed?
A. He felt like listening since he was tired.
Q. How did he feel when he remembered his brother's plan?
A. He felt like he had the power to get out of bed and study, and wasn't stuck listening to a voice that wanted him to fail.
Q. Do you think the 'little voice' had Andrew's best interest in mind?
A. It tried very hard to make Andrew think it was his best friend, but really it was his worst enemy. It used clever arguments to convince him that doing what was wrong was really somehow right. That's how the yetzer ha-ra works, and we have to try to be on guard not to fall for its tricks.
Q. Why do you think Andrew's brother's plan worked?
A. To fight head on against the yetzer ha-ra voice is almost sure to be a losing battle. It will always have what sounds like a good answer. Jeremy's plan was good, because it involved Andrew's acting quickly and decisively once he knew what he wanted to do. Also it turned the voice's own arguments against it, which gave Andrew enough time to do the right thing.
Q. Can you think of a constant struggle you often have between the two voices inside your head?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If we have one voice inside telling us to do good and another telling us to do bad, where does that leave us?
A. Right in the middle, and that's where we should be. What is unique and elevated about a human being is his ability of 'free choice'. But free choice isn't what many people think it is. It specifically applies to ethical choices, wherein the two competing 'voices' present their cases, and we act human and freely choose between two equally compelling options.
Q. Our sages teach that having the yetzer ha-ra voice inside of us is ultimately for our benefit. How can that be?
A. While it might seem that the yetzer ha-ra wants us to listen to it and thereby fail, really it wants us not to listen. God planted it inside of us to be a sort of spiritual 'sparring partner' whose job it is to train and strengthen our ability to do good, by providing some resistance to our doing so.
Q. What's a constant struggle you often have between the two voices inside your head?