Chazal say very clearly that the evil inclination is the foundation of great and good achievements:

-Abaye said: The greater the man, the greater his evil inclination. [Sukkah 52a]

-Nachman said, in Rav Shmuel's name: "And, behold, it was very good" [Gen 1:31] refers to the evil inclination. Can then the evil inclination be “very good”? That would be extraordinary! Yes, [because] without the evil inclination, no man would build a house, take a wife, beget a family, and engage in work. So said [King] Solomon [in Ecclesiastes]: “And I saw that all labor and all achievement in work was the result of man's envy and rivalry with his neighbor.” (Eccl. 4:4] [Genesis Rabbah 9:7]

-[Why does the Torah say:] You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart? [Deut. 6:5]. With ALL your heart means with both your inclinations, the Evil Inclination as well as the Good Inclination. [Berachot 54a]

Yet the rabbis always thunder against the evil inclination and urge us to work hard to defeat it at every turn. Why, given it can be good? You may say, "Because the result would be an absolute stampede! People would say: The rabbi said that it is OK to follow the evil inclination on occasion. “On occasion” means once a week, right? No, I think it means once every five days. No, every three days. Let’s go out and have some real fun tonight!"

I am not convinced. If you say an instinct is "good", then tell people to follow it. But, you will say, people won't know when to stop. The evil inclination is only good in very small dosage, like leaven in the dough. (Analogy in Berachot 17a) Then keep the teaching hidden. Why tell people something is good, then tell them to fight it? Don't tell them anything at all!

So: Why does Chazal tell us to fight the evil inclination tooth and nail, then tell us it is the foundation of all achievement?

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    Where do the Rabbis say that it’s good to give in to the evil inclination? In your Sukkah citation, Abaye says that the greater the person, the greater his inclination - not that he should give into it, just that he has a harder struggle! Regarding your Bereishis Rabbah and Berachos citations, I always understood those to mean that one should use his bad tendencies for the good -like Shabbos 156a, which says that one born under the influence of Mars could be a murderer, but also could be a bloodletter, slaughterer of animals, or circumciser. – DonielF Oct 7 '18 at 3:16
  • In parshat Bereshit it distinguishes between those things which are good (טוב), which lead to life and are consumed and become an actual part of you physical being and those things which are the opposite of good (רע), meaning they are only about cravings (תאוה) and carnal (חמוד) desire (as in התעררות).They (the fruit of the Tree of ‘HaDaat’ Tov v’Ra, meaning the union of Tov v’Ra) are not to be consumed. At the most, their beautiful appearance is only to be looked at. They are not to be consumed. And Moshe Rabbeinu (in the Shema) teaches us not even to look at them. – Yaacov Deane Oct 7 '18 at 6:21
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    This is insufficient for an answer post, not least because I'm not sure I remember it correctly, but IIRC Rabbi Yisroel Reisman (of Torah Vodaath) once paraphrased R. Tzadok of Lublin as saying "I would sin just because repentance brings one to such a high level — I would, but my hands are tied: God said not to". – msh210 Oct 7 '18 at 16:28
  • Almost all of us will give in to the evil inclination at some point without needing any encouragement whatsoever, how much more so would it be if our rabbis encouraged us to do so? – Josh K Oct 7 '18 at 22:18
  • When you edit and change your question, it could turn the existing answers obsolete - like you asked "do the Sages ..." and I answered "Yes and No", but you changed it to "Why" making my answer stupid. – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 11:44

This is the difference between the nefesh habahamis/animal soul and the yetzer harah/evil inclination (yetzer being related to ציור/form). The animal soul isn’t evil it’s simply animalistic, wants food, to procreate... all of these keep the world going. (As well anytime we try to improve ourselves it’s much easier to do it for human reasons rather than more lofty spiritual reasons) The evil inclination is when the basic desires take a form that is bad. So for example wanting food keeps you alive is normal and healthy and totally in line with Torah. Wanting a double bacon cheeseburger stems from the basic desire for food but takes a form which is against Torah.

My source for this idea is from Tanya the end of chapter 2 and chapter 7. However this is my understanding of what he says, he doesn’t actually say this clearly.

Also there are plenty of instances where desire for self glorification led to lasting benefits for society. For example Bava Basra 10b says

וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת: וחסד לאומים חטאת כל צדקה וחסד שאומות עובדי כוכבים עושין חטא הוא להן שאינם עושין אלא להתגדל בו

"all the acts of charity and kindness that the nations of the world perform is counted as a sin for them since they perform them only to elevate themselves in prestige"

(I think there is a Gemara that explicitly says that the Roman’s desire to be the best led them to build great infrastructure but I can’t find it) And I’m sure there are many modern examples of people’s desire for fame or money led them to create great things.

So now based on this: sukkah 52a: I think could be read as the greater one becomes, the greater the challenges Hashem gives. Genesis rabbah 9:7 is referring to the basic animal but allowed desires or referring to the evil inclination but that it led to good things for society. Berachos 54a refers to the animal soul that only does things out of pleasure but can be taught to love Hashem, because he is the most pleasurable/gives all good things.

  • " he doesn’t actually say this clearly.". Who? – Maurice Mizrahi Oct 8 '18 at 2:18
  • @MauriceMizrahi edited it in. – mroll Oct 8 '18 at 2:52
  • I couldn't find an answer to the question in your writing. Please when you cite - bring the exact source and explain why you think it answers the question. – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 11:42

I will outline the answer according to the Lurianic tradition. The answer is Yes and No.

  1. As you surely know, we distinguish between two ways of Avodat Hashem - Yirah (fear) and Ahavah (love). They are both necessary in overall Jewish tradition, but there's a huge dispute which one is better or more desirable to Hashem (see Berochos 34).

  2. The Yirah approach is all about "minimizing the loss from sins", and leads to staying away from sin as possible and gives rise to what we call a "Tzadik" - one who didn't sin in his life. This way was adopted by Yaakov (before he took the Berochos - איש תם יושב אהלים) or the Issachar's tribe (חמור גרם רובץ בין המשפתיים) or Ben Azzay and many more who stayed away from situations where one can slip into a sin (we call it Derech Eretz - marrying and working).

  3. The Ahavah approach is about "maximizing the profit from Mitzvos", and leads to a possible transgression in order to earn a greater Mitzvah (see the concepts of "אתי עשה ודחי ללא תעשה" - Yevomos 21a and "זדונות הופכים לזכויות" - Yumah 86b). For example, Yaakov after getting the Brochos went out to marry and to work. This level is called "Kadosh" - one who faced the Yetzer and overcame it. As I mentioned Berochos 34 say "מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים וכו'"

NB: The difference between the two approaches as stems from the Gemmorah is basically the essence of the Machloket between the Litvaks and Hassidishers (HaGr"A and Baash"T) approach to Avodat Hashem, where the former prefer the way of Tzaddikim and the later of the Kedoshim. That's, btw, exactly how they refer to their Gdoylim.

To summarize the answer - there is an authentic Jewish approach of actively facing the Yetzer Harah by going out of the "convenience zone" to places where one is close to sinning (like one who works is much more prone to numerous transgressions, like Loshon Horoh, monetary misdeeds, anger, lust, etc than one who sits in the Yeshivah whole day) and further fighting the challenges and overcoming them and getting to the level of Kadosh.

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    This is an extremely risky approach, though. Someone who is strong enough, maybe. The average person I think the Arizal would recommend against this approach. – DonielF Oct 7 '18 at 17:17
  • I always thought that there was an obligation to keep away from temptation. See Gemoro Bovo Basro 57b: It is written: [The righteous one is] he that shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil,10 and [commenting on this] R. Hiyya b. Abba said: This refers to a man who does not look at the women when they are washing [clothes]. How are we to understand this? **If there is another road, then if [he does not take it] he is wicked.11 ** 10. Isa. XXXIII, 15. 11. Because it is a duty to keep away from temptation. – Avrohom Yitzchok Oct 8 '18 at 11:30
  • @AvrohomYitzchok As I said, the obligation you mentioned is #2 in my answer. There are other approaches as I mentioned in #3 that was practiced by the Baasht Hassidim and their followers. – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 11:32
  • -1 I see no mention of either Ahavah or Yirah anywhere on Berachos 34. If you can't prove your base, everything else is worthless. – Salmononius2 Oct 8 '18 at 12:50
  • @Salmononius2 If you WANT to know, we can discuss it. Not many people understand those concepts. As I mentioned, this is the Lurianic interpretation of the Berochos 34b: דאמר רבי אבהו מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין" according to Yoma 86b "איני, והאמר ריש לקיש, גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כזכיות, ... לא קשיא, כאן מאהבה כאן מיראה " – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 13:08

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