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The Talmud in Kidushin 30b states that Torah study is essential activity for gaining control of the evil inclination.

"... so too the Holy One blessed be He said: 'I have created the evil inclination and I have created the Torah as its tavlin (spice). If you toil in the Torah, you will not be delivered in his hand. but if you do not, you will be delivered in his hand."

Similarly, the Mesilas Yesharim (ch.5) says:

For the Creator, blessed be He, who created the evil inclination also created the torah as its antidote as our sages of blessed memory have stated: "I have created the evil inclination, and I have created the torah as its antidote" (Kidushin 30b). Behold, it is obvious that if the Creator created for this affliction only this remedy, then it is impossible under any circumstances for a man to heal himself from this affliction without employing this treatment. One who thinks to save himself without Torah study is only mistaken, and will see his error only in the end, when he dies in sin.

How does this work? Is it due to aligning a person's mind with the torah way of thinking (i.e. the truth), or perhaps by reporting to him the reward and punishment incurred by others, or perhaps some other reason.

  • Perhaps it means tat the Torah teaches us the proper lifestyle designed to reign in our passions. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 16:53
  • It should be noted that other passages speak of other activities besides for Torah to combat the Evil Inclination such as Berachot 5a which says that the ultimate tool to combat the yetser hara is thinking if the day of death. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 17:00
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    Actually, the Alter of Slabodka said that Torah allows you to use your yh"r constructively, by parallel to the way spices make a bad food taste good. You aren't curing your yh"r as much as harnessing it. Second, there does the gemara say "only"? The Ramchal says this, and therefore the idea must have merit, but one cannot site the gemara as proof, "only" the Mesilas Yesharim. And then the MY gives you all these tips on middah work other than Torah study... – Micha Berger May 25 '16 at 18:13
  • @MichaBerger the MY is citing that gemora. these tips as the book says work conditionally on someone who is learning torah. – ray May 25 '16 at 18:15
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    IIRC Nestiv writes in his commentary to Shir HaShirim that this is due to a mysterious characteristic of Torah that we cannot understand. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 19:13
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A very central question. I want to quote an other Gemara concerning dealing with evil inclination (Berachot 5a):

א''ר לוי בר חמא אמר ר''ש בן לקיש לעולם ירגיז אדם יצר טוב על יצר הרע שנא' {תהילים ד-ה} רגזו ואל תחטאו. אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יעסוק בתורה שנאמר אמרו בלבבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יקרא קריאת שמע שנאמר על משכבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יזכור לו יום המיתה שנאמר ודומו סלה.‏

Rabbi Levi Bar Hama says in the name of Rabbi Simeon Ben Lakish: A man should always incite the good impulse [in his soul] to fight against the evil impulse. For it is written: Tremble and sin not. If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him study the Torah. For it is written: 'Commune with your own heart'. If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him recite the Shema'. For it is written: 'Upon your bed'. If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him remind himself of the day of death. For it is written: 'And be still, Selah'.

We see the last one of all this means is to remember a simple reallity. There is an opposition between imagination and awareness to real world. Torah with the Halachic corpus per example, help a man to be aware of his evil inclination and to enter into a dialogue with this inclination. The danger of evil inclination is that a man can identify it.

In his famous letter Rav Israel Salanter said that there is an other power that transcend the subject of the study itself.

  1. He explains that to study about a specific Mitsva lead the student to be more compliant with the mitsva.
  2. But he adds that there is an additional property of the "Torah spice", which transcends the human intelligence, mentioned in Gemara Sotah 21a: "As for [study of] Torah, whether while one is engaged upon it or not, it protects and rescues.". Regardless of the topic, Torah occupation can saving the student from sin.E.g. If he will learning "an ox has gored a cow", it will be saved from lashon Hara (calumny). This is a consequence of the spirituality of Torah. I think that Rav Israel Salanter use a mystical language.
  3. In the OP, reference is made to an habit to deal with truth. May be very near for the words of RIS, with an other language's constellation.
  4. So the direction to understand is that a man will be close to real world and to truth. Sin need preliminarily to take the man away from them.
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The Meiri there explains:

כל ששוקד על דרכי התורה אפילו היו בידו עברות מצד תוקף יצרו ונתגדל על תכונות מדות רעות התורה מגינה עליו ר"ל שאי אפשר שלא תדריכהו תורתו לשוב מהם שלא ישתקע בהם דרך הערה אמרו משל לאדם שהכה את בנו הכאה גדולה והניח לו רטייה על מכתו ואמר לו כל זמן שרטייה זו על גבי מכתך אכול מה שהנאתך ושתה מה שהנאתך ואי אתה מתירא ואם אתה מעבירה הרי מכתך מעלה נמי ר"ל צמחים ובועות כך ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא יצר הרע ברא לו תורה תבלין כל שעוסק בתורה אינו נמסר בידו

"That is to say, is is impossible that one's Torah will not lead him to abandon his negative ways that he not become mired in them..."

This implies that it is not the act of study which is liberating, but rather the content of those teachings. The Meiri implies that being exposed to the Torah's teachings on proper behavior will lead one to reform.

Rav Yitschak Yosef writes in Yalkut Yosef:

ילקוט יוסף קריאת התורה ובית הכנסת הערות סימן קנה - לילך לבית המדרש כבר פירשו המפרשים, שמאמר חז"ל בראתי יצר הרע בראתי לו תורה תבלין, היינו על לימוד המוסר. וכן מה שאמרו אם פגע בך מנוול זה מושכהו לבית המדרש, אם אבן הוא נמוח, אם ברזל הוא מתפוצץ הכל הוא על לימוד המוסר, כמובא בפלא יועץ (אות מ),

That this statement in the Talmud refers to the study of mussar; ethics. He references the Pele Yoets for this Accordingly, the connection to proper conduct is obvious.

  • what is תדריכהו ? could also mean some sort of spiritual power, no? – ray May 25 '16 at 20:26
  • @ray It comes from the word דרך meaning path, and is related to מדריך; one who directs you on a path. It means that the Torah directs our behavior. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 20:28
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    Interestingly, Rav Yosef continues to say: ילקוט יוסף קריאת התורה ובית הכנסת וכתב שם, ועל הרוב מי שאינו מתמיד ללמוד מוסר לא טעם טעם יראת חטא, ודרכו ישר בעיניו ולבבו יבין אשר הוא יהודי כשר. ואף אם ישמע או ילמוד פעם ביובל או ישמע דברי מוסר, אינו פועל לו ואינו מתעורר כל, ואין בשר המת מרגיש באיזמל, כי טפש כחלב לבם, וכו'. That is one who does not study mussar will generally not have fear of sin. Given that they understood mussar to be the topic of the gemara kiddushin, they evidently understood that Torah is not the only way to achieve fear of sin. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 20:32
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    @ray First of all your statement is internally contradictory; you claim that Mussar is Torah study, then claim that it is ineffective without being supplemented with Torah study. Second of, your assumption that it is Torah study is certainly questionable. Rav Ovadya Yosef, for example, writes in Halicot Olam Hilchot Talmud Torah that mere study of mussar does not fulfill the mitsvah of talmud torah. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 20:36
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    @ray i believe that besides for being something he Meiri would never say, that is also a totally forced reading. If so, the Torah would be influencing; not directing. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 20:38
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Evil is moving away from your inner self which is always effected by words. I.e. unnatural words cause people to behave unnaturally.

The words of the Torah contain the hidden light from which your soul was created in the first place, therefore these words can reassemble the soul space removed by words of unnaturalness.

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    How do you know this? – Double AA May 26 '16 at 1:11
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AA...

Heard from Rb Mordechai Miller from Rb Dessler in explanation of the passuk

Ve'atah pen yishlach yado... gam me'etz ha'chaim

The Etz ha'Chaim is Torah, shlichut yad (mention in the passuk) means an external tephisa of the Torah as oppposed to an internal connection (which as Rav Hutner (sefer zikaron) points out is what the mussar movement was created to combat).

The purpose of Torah is to connect you to yourself, so that the kruvim and the lahat ha'cherev ha'mishapeches (taavah and gaavah) (see also Michtav me'Eliyahu on this passuk) are impediments to a person reconnecting with themselves but not insuperable ones.

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