Koheles (4:13), (as explained by the Midrash Rabba) describes the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) as "A king, old, and a fool".

It explains:

"...ולמה קורא אותו כסיל? שהוא מלמד לאדם דרך רעה...".

[…] and why is he called a fool? Because he teaches man an evil way"

But how does that make him foolish? If he was a human with free choice, perhaps it would make sense, since he is foolish to do something for which he will surely be punished. But the Evil Inclination is an agent of G-d and does as G-d wishes, so that explanation doesn't work.

So how does teaching an evil way make the Yetzer Hara a fool?

  • But the Evil Inclination is an agent of G-d and does as G-d wishes, so how is he a king? But the Evil Inclination is an agent of G-d and does as G-d wishes, so how is he old? Aren't we just using anthropomorphic imagery here? (Disclaimer: I haven't looked it up inside yet.)
    – Double AA
    Dec 25, 2012 at 22:38
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    He's been around since at least day 6, that's pretty old! ;) The Midrash says: "ולמה קורא אותו מלך? שהכל שומעין לו. ולמה קורא אותו זקן? שמזדווג לו מילדותו ועד זקנתו.". he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%99%D7%A6%D7%A8_%D7%94%D7%A8%D7%A2
    – HodofHod
    Dec 25, 2012 at 22:47
  • @msh210 Is the evil inclination an angel?
    – Double AA
    Dec 25, 2012 at 23:42
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    @DoubleAA judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1251/…
    – HodofHod
    Dec 26, 2012 at 1:23
  • HodofHod But if that is to be taken literally, then the single Angel of Death is sitting in everyone's hearts at the same time always. (That's already weird, but ok...) How then do you understand all the midrashim about his searching for people, and moving around generally? Furthermore, is the same being also at the same time as the above in Heaven advocating against Iyov and standing to the side of Yehoshua Kohein Gadol? I knew Eliyahu gets around on Seder night, but this is quite impressive.
    – Double AA
    Dec 26, 2012 at 5:56

3 Answers 3


1) We do find examples of the foolishness of the Yetzer Hora. (This does not answer your philosophic point.)

One example is in his confusion with our blowing of the shofar in Elul, not on Erev Rosh HaShonoh and on Rosh HaShonoh itself as this essay shows, page 10 by Rabbi David Myer

“However, our Rabbis teach us that on Erev Rosh Hashanah one is not allowed to blow the shofar. It seems very strange that at the end of the month, one day before the peak of our shofar blowing, we suddenly stop.

Stranger still is the reason given, as we are taught that the intention is to confuse the satan (our evil inclination). We are taught that the satan hears the shofar each morning and prepares for battle on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement. However, on Erev Rosh Hashanah he notices that we have not blown the shofar and thinks that he has missed Rosh Hashanah. So the following day, Rosh Hashanah, we hear the shofar and embark on the Ten Days of Repentance, and the satan is caught unawares.

We have to wonder, how stupid is the satan? I can understand his making this mistake the first year, and being caught unawares on Rosh Hashanah; but surely after a few years he has figured out the trick, made a note in his diary and knows that we don’t blow shofar on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Is it really that difficult to figure out? It is perhaps this very aspect that our Rabbis wanted to highlight. The satan is indeed stupid and can be overcome with such a simple and straightforward trick.”

In The Enemy Within: Confronting Your Challenges in the 21st Century Rabbi Twerski quotes Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin who explained the foolishness of the yetzer hora voluntarily accompanying Reb Yisroel when he was forced into prison.

2) On the other hand, Rashi on Koheles 4 (13) understands foolish in the sense that he makes fools (of us).

and foolish: for it misleads him in the way of evil. In this manner, it is interpreted in the Midrash.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern in his book “From a Pure Fire: A Series of Shmuessen”, p207, quotes the Chofetz Chaim (similar intent to Rashi) to say that every craftsman is called by the name of his product. So the Yetzer Hora who makes fools of us is called a fool. (!)

3) Similar to (1), I remember but cannot source the idea that the Yetzer Hora can be pushed aside with quite unsubstantial arguments to avoid doing a sin. For example, one can say “Yes. It would be pleasurable to do it. Let’s do it later.” This would be without a clear definition of when "later" is.

We may be able to infer this from the encounter of Yaakov with Esov Braishis 33 (14) where Yaakov tells Esov that he will meet with him in Seir but in fact delays until the time of Moshiach under very different circumstances.

  • 1
    See here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/10213/…. The way the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains it, it's not really the Satan falling for a trick that we play on him every year but rather realizing that his accusation will not work.
    – Michoel
    Dec 26, 2012 at 13:18
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    1) Bereishis 3:1 "Now the serpent was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field" 2) That Rashi quotes the very Midrash that I quoted and asked the question on. I don't see how Rashi implies that. Rabbi Stern's answer is deserving of an upvote +1!
    – HodofHod
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:09
  • Shouldn't it then be כוסל not כסיל?
    – Double AA
    Dec 27, 2012 at 7:02

An explanation from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, according to Chassidus/Kabbalah:

נפש הבהמית עיקרו מדות , ואין לו שייכות לשכל (ולכן נקרא...
...(בשם "מלך זקן וכסיל", כיון שאין לו שייכות לשכל אמיתי

The animal soul's [the Evil Inclination] essence is emotions, and it has no connection to intellect. (Therefore it is called by the name "king, old, and a fool" since it has no connection to true intellect.)

  • 1
    Kings and old people don't have intellect? I don't understand.
    – Double AA
    Dec 28, 2012 at 6:18
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    Mistama the two other words were so that people might know where he's referencing it from.
    – HodofHod
    Dec 28, 2012 at 6:20

The Alter Rebbe Rabbi Shneur Zalman zt'l explains in ch. 12 of Likuttei Amarim that http://www.chabad.org/dailystudy/tanya.htm that

The brain rules over the heart (as it is written in Ra‘aya Mehemna, Parshat Pinchas1) by virtue of its innately created nature.

And that is why is it also writting in Koheles(2:13)

“Then I saw that wisdom surpasses folly as light surpasses darkness.”

So it is considered a fool in relation to the good inclination which has the ability to rule over it.

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