The Very First Frenemy


I sometimes think about how much younger I would be if I could regain all the time I spent thinking certain thoughts, thoughts I assumed were truly mine, thoughts I now understand I should have ignored.  But, that’s along the same lines as contemplating which college I would have gotten into had I only known the piece of test-taking advice that says, when in doubt you should go with your first answer. Oh well. Too much thinking was always a problem for me–too much thinking combined with bad advice. Before GPS days, when I wasn’t sure which way to go, something inside me told me to go the way I thought was wrong so I would know not to do it again.

Where does all that bad advice come from?

As a young person, I assumed that my thoughts were what I really believed. The only problem was that some of these thoughts were so unflattering that I could only talk to myself about them. Which is what I did. Endlessly. And I felt like a fairly awful person with a side of myself that I didn’t want anybody to know.

When I became observant and starting learning about the complexities of my Jewish soul, it helped to learn that something inside me was, well, evil. It was so evil that it was called the Evil Inclination, the yaitzer hara, in Hebrew.

It’s the source of all bad advice, stemming from, you guessed it, Adam and Chava and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Since then, everything and everyone has gotten confused — right, wrong, feelings, desires — you name it, it’s complicated.

It was quite the revelation to learn that it wasn’t just me, that it’s actually normal to get bad advice. The whole purpose of the yaitzer ha ra‘s existence is so I can reject it, even a little, and try to do what G-d wants. (The antidote to clarifying whether it’s good or bad advice is to learn Torah and do mitzvos, but even this requires vigilance and guidance.) Still, it felt better to have a name for the origin of these thoughts, to know that an inner struggle was a healthy component of a meaningful life.

I thought the struggle would go on like that forever, but by keeping my eye on the goal — to imitate G-d’s ways — and sticking to the regimen of cure –Torah and mitzvos — I’ve made definite progress. This is still surprising — and thrilling — to me.

Then again, as I was finishing this post, a voice inside me said, “don’t worry, you’ve got time,”  and I listened to it, only to experience the all too familiar feeling of being late for a meeting.

I laughed, reassured to know I still have some fight left in me.

About the Author
Lieba Rudolph, her husband, Zev, and their young family returned to observant Jewish life when they were both over thirty. Now, after spending equal time in both worlds, she shares the joys and challenges of her journey, answering everyone's unasked question: why would anyone normal want to become religious?
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