7

The evil inclination gets a definite article - יצר הרע, in common usage (in my experience), and in various sources, e.g. בראתי יצר הרע of 'קידושין ל ב.

The good inclination does not get a definite article - יצר טוב, in common usage (in my experience), and in various sources, e.g. ותן בנו יצר טוב of the Friday night prayer before Kiddush

And if you'd prefer a Tannaic source, using both in one sentence, see Avos D'Rebbi Nosson 16:

יצר הרע כיצד, אמרו שלוש עשרה שנה גדול יצר הרע מיצר טוב

Why is the Yetzer Harah seemingly a more definitive entity than the Yetzer Tov?

  • Similar: (1)עין הרע vs (2) עין רעה . The first is "the evil eye" and the second is stinginess (as used in Avos in reference to Bilaam) – Yoni May 27 '14 at 2:25
4

Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman, in Marital Intimacy chapter 4, cites Rabbi Naphtali Wiesner's book, In His Own Image:

... [T]he good yetzer usually appears in the Talmudic and other Rabbinic sources as "yetzer tov," meaning absolutely [intrinsically] good, whereas the evil yetzer is "yetzer harah," which may be translated as yetzer of evil (intention)-i.e., with a tendency for evil, rather than "yetzer ra," which would mean absolutely evil.

To add my own thoughts, albeit in a similar vein, in יצר הרע, the added heh could be seen as implying more of a title than and intrinsic description. This is the inclination that is generally considered and known to be bad, though that is not its implicit nature.

2

In rabbinic literature, the Satan is depicted as having a personality, and yetzer hara is equated to Satan.

Obviously the Satan as a character is found in the beginning of Job:

1:6 וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם--וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים, לְהִתְיַצֵּב עַל-יְהוָה; וַיָּבוֹא גַם-הַשָּׂטָן, בְּתוֹכָם.

Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.

Even in rabbinic literature, he gets a personality, even if it might be interpreted metaphorically by those more rationalistically inclined. For example, see Sukkah 52b that says the Satan will testify against man in the next world, according to Rabbi Yonatan.

However, rabbinic thought sees the Yetzer Hara and Satan as the same (at the very least some see it that way), such as found in Bava Batra 16a:

אמר ר"ל הוא שטן הוא יצר הרע הוא מלאך המות הוא שטן דכתיב ויצא השטן מאת פני ה' הוא יצר הרע כתיב התם רק רע כל היום וכתיב הכא (רק את נפשו שמור) [רק אליו אל תשלח ידך] הוא מלאך המות דכתיב (רק) [אך] את נפשו שמור אלמא בדידיה קיימא א]

Resh Lakish said: Satan, the evil prompter, and the Angel of Death are all one. He is called Satan, as it is written, And Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. He is called the evil prompter: [we know this because] it is written in another place, [Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart] was only evil continually, and it is written here [in connection with Satan] 'Only upon himself put not forth thine hand. The same is also the Angel of Death, since it says, Only spare his life, which shows that Job's life belonged to him.

Perhaps the language of an actual being (indicated by the definite article) remained in the Hebrew, as a relic of a time in rabbinic history when it was an external character. However, the Yetzer Tov was never really an actual being, and never had to keep the definite article.

Also, I don't have a source for this, but it makes sense that it's simply hard to pronounce two reshes in a row, so the definite article gets put before it to separate them. Certainly, reshes get played with a lot in grammar when they are pitted against other reshes (people who know Hebrew dikduk will get this).

  • +1, but this answer really just begs the question of why one is an entity and the other is not. – Y     e     z May 27 '14 at 2:47
  • I think its true that psychologically, we like to personify evil in something, but goodness happens of its own accord. As in, goodness is the absence of bad things. Perhaps as well we like to think of ourselves as good people, and the reason why we act badly is some external force. – user5488 May 27 '14 at 2:54
  • The idea that evil is an 'external inclination' can be sourced to the sin of the Etz Hadaas- see Nefesh Hachayim 1:6; because a person is actually his 'soul' which does good, the inclination to do good is more of a part of him – הנער הזה May 27 '14 at 3:29
  • @user5488 Is good the absence of evil, or vice versa? See here, [famous Einstein story] – Shokhet May 27 '14 at 11:26
  • I have to try and find it, but I'm pretty sure I have seen the yetzer tov given a personality as well, who reprimands the person after they listen to the evil inclination. – Baby Seal May 28 '14 at 14:21

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