Shlomo Ezagui

Is it the good or is it the evil inclination?

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson (1880-1950) once spoke about the craftiness and guile of the evil inclination.

Inside every person, there are two complete and independent forces of life: the Godly soul and the animalistic and evil soul. The mandate of the Godly soul is to infuse our consciousness with a connection to Godly pursuits.

The goal of the animal soul is just the opposite; to excite us with immediate gratification and keep us engaged with superficiality at the expense of discipline, personal improvement, and progress toward Godly awareness.

The deepest desire of all people is to be in contact with the divine soul. The goal of the Godly soul is to elevate the body and soul from a life of materialism to one of value and meaning. Only then does a person find fulfillment, purpose, and true happiness.

The problem is that the animal soul tempts us so convincingly and tantalizingly that we think it is right to pursue its crude goals.

The evil inclination will even try to disguise itself as a religious or righteous argument, but its real goal is to trick the person and keep him from fulfilling his God-given mission. Its goal is to keep him stuck in the present at the expense of the bigger rewards he is due in the future.

One of the students who was listening to all this asked, “So, Rabbi, if it is true that the evil inclination disguises its arguments in piety, how is it possible to know when it is the good voice or the bad voice speaking inside of our heads?”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok responded, “Keep the following general rule in mind.” “When a person is contemplating an act of service to God, a good deed, but is then visited by a thought that would prevent or delay the performance of that good deed, the thought, however pious it appears, is nothing more than the evil inclination disguised.”

Let me share another true story that will shed light on this guidance.

Once, Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl was given a large sum of money — let us say it was 1,000 golden coins — to distribute to charity. About a week later, the Rabbi was receiving people in his chamber for private audiences, and one of the poor fellows poured his heart out to the Rabbi.

“Rabbi, I was about to have my daughter married next week when we discovered all of our money for the wedding had been lost. The groom’s side has threatened to cancel the wedding if we do not come up with the cash by next week. Rabbi, how will I come up with the 1,000 gold coins by next week?”

Immediately, the Rabbi thought of the 1,000 gold coins in his possession to be given as charity. But then, another thought came to his mind. “Why should I give all the money to one cause when, even according to the Torah, it is considered more meritorious to give the same amount of money to multiple causes than to one cause?”

But then he thought to himself, “Before the poor soul came into my room and the money was waiting to be distributed, I still had not decided to whom or how I would distribute it. It was only after the pressing need came to my attention, and I was considering helping this fellow, that the thought to forgo an immediate need came to mind.

This thought — to defer the giving of charity and reject this poor soul whose needs are immediate — can only be the evil inclination trying his best to keep me from doing what is proper and necessary now.” With these last thoughts, the Rabbi opened his safe and handed the 1,000 gold coins to the poor soul.

“Here is your money; God is great,” said the Rabbi. “God already prepared the cure to your ‘sickness’ in advance through the money that was given to me.”

We all face similar dilemmas sometimes. Do we give up on praying in the synagogue and sleep a little longer “because I will be better rested”? “Let me just this once veer off my healthy pattern of behavior because, after all, I deserve to bend the rules once in a while.”

The internal self-centered animal, the evil inclination, is anything that causes a weakness or impediment on a path in progress for the good.

Chapter 268

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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