G-d Saves us from the Evil Inclination
Commenting on the verse that states, “Moses erected the Sanctuary; he put down its sockets” (Exodus 40:18), the Midrash teaches: “When they finished building the Sanctuary, they waited for the revelation of the Divine Presence … They went to those who were skilled and said, ‘What are you doing here? You yourselves should erect the Sanctuary!’ The latter tried to erect it, but they could not; each time they thought that they were successful, it collapsed. They went to Betzalel and Oholiab and said to them, ‘Erect the Sanctuary that you yourselves built. Perhaps you will succeed.’ They immediately began to work on it, but failed in their efforts. All the Children of Israel then went to Moses, and the Holy One, blessed be He, finished by telling him, ‘They must understand that if you, personally, cannot erect it, it will never be erected.’ ‘Master of the universe, I am not capable!’ Moses replied to the Holy One, blessed be He. ‘Touch it with your hands,’ said Hashem. ‘Pretend to erect it, and it will erect itself. I will then write that you erected it.’ Thus it is written, ‘It was in the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, that the Sanctuary was erected’ [Exodus 40:17]. And by who was it erected? By Moses, as it is written: ‘Moses erected the Sanctuary’ [v.18]” (Tanhuma, Pekudei 11).
Citing the Admor of Betz, the author of Midbar Kadesh is of the opinion that the erection of the Sanctuary by Moses constituted a true miracle, for the Sanctuary consisted of 48 beams, each measuring ten cubits longs, one and a half cubits in width, and a cubit in breadth. There were, in addition, sockets that each weighed a kikar [or “talent” – roughly 70 pounds] of silver and measured one cubit high. The work was exhausting, and it was beyond Moses’ strength. Yet the beams erected themselves, for it was a true miracle!
Now as we know, it is forbidden to rely on miracles (Pesachim 64b). Why then did Moses not ask for outside help?
Commenting on the verse that states, “When you will go out to war against your enemies…” (Deuteronomy 21:10), most saintly writings explain that the verse is referring to the evil inclination, man’s permanent enemy, which is born with him (Genesis 8:21; Bereshith Rabba 34:12), and which pursues him throughout life. However Hashem promises man that He will “deliver him from its hands,” meaning that He will help him to fight and conquer the evil inclination (see Sukkah 52a,b). If the evil inclination is, as we already saw, an old and foolish king (Ecclesiastes 4:13), it nevertheless persists in lying in wait for a man, continuously trying to make him fall into its trap. It finishes him off by stripping him of his life, both materially and spiritually.
The evil inclination works in the following ways:
· Its occupation is to tell a man, “Do this today, and that tomorrow.” It finishes by having him worship idols (Shabbat 105b).
· It intensifies its attack on a man every day as it tries to completely destroy him. Without G-d’s help, a man cannot defeat it (Kiddushin 30b).
· It is so hard that even its Creator calls it “wicked” (ibid.).
· It intensifies its fight against a man even when he is in mourning (ibid. 80b).
· It has seven names: Wicked, uncircumcised, unclean, enemy, stumbling block, rock, and hidden (Sukkah 52a).
· At first, the evil inclination resembles a spider web, but in the end it is like a thick chariot rope. A man becomes solidly attached to it (Sanhedrin 99b; Sukkah 52a).
· It harms a man in this world and testifies against him in the World to Come. It first appears as a guest, then later as the master of the house (Sukkah 52b).
Happy are the Children of Israel, who defeat the evil inclination by engaging in Torah study and by helping their fellow, the Talmud finally teaches (Avodah Zarah 5b).
We see from here just how fierce the battle against the evil inclination is, for it tries by all possible means to make a man transgress, and it often changes its name [i.e., its tactics] to make him fall to the lowest depths of hell. It even attacks him when he is suffering, and finally it settles down within him.
However, by the grace of His kindness, the Holy One, blessed be He, has lavished us with sound advice that allows us to completely destroy the evil inclination: “If that scoundrel comes upon you, drag him to the house of study. If he is as hard as rock, he will shatter; if he is as strong as iron, he will melt” (Sukkah 52b). Only the diligent and in-depth study of Torah will destroy it, as it is written: “The one who slaughters his evil inclination [Rashi: Kills it and repents after it had incited him to sin] and confesses his sins is as if he ‘sacrificed’ himself to the Holy One, blessed be He, and he will honor Him in this world and the World to Come” (Sanhedrin 43b).
As we have seen, the evil inclination constantly works against a man as it tries to kill him. Now the Talmud teaches that it ascends to Heaven, testifies against a man, and then comes back down to take his soul (Bava Batra 16a). How is it that the evil inclination tries to kill him if it only receives permission to harass and make him sin?
The reason is that the wicked are called “dead” even while they are still alive (Berachot 18b), for the sinner resembles an invalid, an unkosher animal (Chullin 42a). His heart becomes dulled following the sins he commits. Concerning this the Talmud teaches: “Do not read venitmeitem [and you become impure], read venitamtem [and you became dull-hearted]” (Yoma 39a). Because of the hardship that the evil inclination makes a man suffer, he is considered as being dead, even while alive. The evil inclination kills a man by means of the sins that it makes him commit.
To defend himself against this mortal attack, a man needs solid divine help and tremendous miracles. Let us therefore purify ourselves; let us study Torah diligently; let us continuously grow and acquire good character traits. The Holy One, blessed be He, will then help us with His miracles to completely triumph over the evil inclination.
By erecting the Sanctuary by himself, Moses wanted us to understand that G-d considers each of us to be a miniature Sanctuary. By spiritually building ourselves, we must realize that we have to fight the evil inclination on a daily basis, and that we need G-d’s urgent help to triumph over it. Even if we have attained all 48 virtues by which the Torah is acquired, we must not fool ourselves by relying on our own strength.
The 48 beams of the Sanctuary that Moses erected allude to these 48 virtues, and he refused any help from the Children of Israel in order to teach us that all help should come primarily from G-d. It is that help which allows a man to conquer his evil inclination. Without it, all accomplishments are in vain; all attempts to erect the sanctuary will result in a collapse.
The beams were erected by themselves, which alludes to the fact that man’s victory over the evil inclination is always temporary: He can conquer it today, yet be conquered tomorrow. Divine help is therefore indispensable in maintaining the sanctuary that we have erected. We lay the foundations – the 48 beams/virtues – yet we still need G-d’s help, not that of an intermediary (“the middle bar inside the beams shall extend from end to end” [Exodus 26:28]). For this, let us undertake to study Torah and even devote our lives to it. It will thus become ours and help us to become pure.
Moses did not rely on miracles, but he had to rely on G-d’s help. A man should strengthen himself each day against his evil inclination and grow in his devotion to and study of Torah, which is the only way to fight the evil inclination. With regards to this, the Midrash teaches: “Rabbi Chiya bar Yosef says, ‘During the seven days of miluim [inauguration ceremony of the Sanctuary], Moses set up and took down the Sanctuary twice each day.’ Rabbi Chanina says three times a day” (Tanhuma, Pekudei 11). Moses wanted the Children of Israel to understand that at every hour of the day or night, the evil inclination strives to demolish the personal sanctuary that they erected, and so they must constantly fight against it (twice each day, morning and night; or three times by means of their daily prayers) to prevent this from happening. Let us therefore intensify our study of Torah, strengthen our fear of G-d, and devote ourselves completely to Him. We will then experience joy in this world and in the World to Come.