One of the things I love about Judaism is the notion that the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) is not all bad. It is, instead, a matter of equilibrium. That is why we have teshuvah (repentance), acknowledging none are so righteous as to have never had the balance wrong.
The evil inclination is not a demonic force, but it is our tendency towards overindulgence or abuse of things the physical body needs to survive, such as food, drink and sex.
However, this also includes drive and ambition, to yearn to improve what we have or are. This is perhaps best characterised by the nachash (snake) in the Garden of Eden.
The snake is traditionally perceived to have led Eve astray and challenged God’s motive in asserting they would die if she and Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Was the snake wrong to reveal God’s statement was false?
When they are in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are quasi-divine beings, subject to God’s rules. When they eat of the Tree of Knowledge’s fruit, they become mortal and now have the choice between good and evil and all points in-between.
As Richard Kalmin notes: “They acquired personalities as interesting and morally complex as that of God Himself and as that of the snake.”
Divine beings are not God-like, they merely obey and have no distinct personality. This does not sound like the complex, emotive God described in the Torah that we are created in the image of.
One cannot deny the ambiguity of the snake, containing both the yetzer ha’ra and yetzer ha’tov (good inclination). Yet like the snake, we shed skin to allow growth and remove parasites – to do teshuvah.
The primordial snake is the catalyst to humanity, providing us with the choice of good and evil and all points in between.
- Rabbi Aaron Goldstein serves Northwood & Pinner Liberal Shul