Personal Growth & Self-Perfection
How to Beat Your Yaitzer Hora (Evil Inclination)














[This was originally written as treatise on fighting yaitzer horas (evil inclinations) in the context of marriage (e.g. arguing, hurting, disappointing, being angry, etc.). The reader can understand the principles contained here in general or in any other applicable context also.]

Anger and fighting are products of the yaitzer hora (evil inclination), so handling them effectively must include beating the yaitzer hora. Let's study how this can be accomplished.



* 1. Remember that when "one comes to purify himself, Heaven helps him (Shabos 104a)."

There are several "segulos" and "aitzos" (spirituals tools and advice) for canceling a yaitzer hora (Torah methods of assistance for canceling an evil inclination). Sefer "Segulos Yisroel," cites several ways to attack the yaitzer hora, plus there are several methods brought by Chazal and Mussar.

* 2. intensive and constant learning of mishna (on condition you understand what you learn - if you do not have access to or understanding of mishna, learn that which effects your heart for the good),

* 3. get up early in the morning and learn Torah (based on the Talmudic principle [Sanhedrin 72a], "ba lehargecha hashkaim lihargo - which in this context means: kill your yaitzer hora before it kills you"),

* 4. read chapter 131 of Tehillim ("lo govah leebi vilo ramu aynai..."), which is only three pesukim (sentences). If you don't understand the meaning of the Hebrew, learn it so that you can say it with understanding and kavana (intent concentration). In essence, King David reports how he never allowed his heart, eyes or deeds to succumb to bad things. Be careful to pronounce the "mapik heh" in the word "govah" (a "mapik heh" is when the letter heh [corresponding to "H"] is 1. the last letter in a word, 2. has a dot in it and 3. carries a vowel - in such a case, the vowel is pronounced first and the "h" consonant sound is pronounced AFTER the vowel sound).

* 5. Read, "Krias Shma" with awareness that this life is brief and fleeting, with correct pronunciation (e.g. the "mapik heh" in the word "yevulah;" making sure to separate every word - especially

1. where the end of one word has the same letter as the beginning of the next word and slurring could incorrectly sound like two words are one double-length word, such as bichol livavcha sounding like bicholivavcha or the words viavaditem mihaira sounding like viavaditemehaira; and

2. separating words which start with soft sound [e.g. a vov with a dot pronounced as "u," alef, ayin] from the previous word, also so that they don't connect together incorrectly into one long word); when a word is connected into the next word, such slurring would incorrectly make two words sound like one double-length word, and you would no longer have the words which constitute "Krias Shma;"

and with kavana (concentration - understanding of the meaning of the words and the concepts of Krias Shma e.g. acceptance of the yolk of Heaven when saying the word "shma," concentrating on G-d's kingship as being absolute and as being in all places and all directions and that He is One when saying the word "echad," understanding the second paragraph as teaching that G-d gives reward and punishment for our actions, and concentrating in the last sentence on the fact the He took us out of Egypt to be our G-d - contact a rav or check halacha seforim such Mishna Brura, Igros Moshe and Chayay Adam for more details). Also keep in mind that we say Krias Shma twice each day in the normal order of prayers. It is useful to use this as a practical reminder that we accept the yolk of Heaven, and all of its obligations...including to overcome yaitzer horas and to get along with all people in a pleasant, peaceful, loving, respectful, kind, compassionate, patient, humble, responsible, honorable, disciplined, holy and gentle way.

If we extend this into a marriage context, we see a cycle. If we work to have peace, Hashem helps us win the war against the yaitzer hora. If we effectively fight the war against the yaitzer hora, we become kailim (instruments) of peace. When we have peace, G-d blesses us with success.

However, if we succumb to the yaitzer hora, we bring fights. If we have fights, we feed the yaitzer hora/Satan, who seeks to kill us. We are kailim (vessels, instruments) of destruction.

We have the choice to engage in a vicious cycle (yaitzer hora and fighting); or in a "peace cycle" in which each fights the yaitzer hora in order to have peace, gets Heavenly help to have peace and, in the merit of doing one's part to have peace, is blessed with success over the work of Satan (who works to destroy peace and to bring guilt upon us). Realize that fighting is the work of Satan. We can choose to fight each other, or to fight the yaitzer hora and come to peace. Working to beat the yaitzer hora for fighting, and to work to have shalom, is a segula for success.

* 6. Sincerely and truthfully be humble and separate from needing or demanding more than life's basics. Train yourself to undo your drives and desires.

* 7. The Talmud (Sota 43a) recommends that one "ridicule one's yaitzer hora."

* 8. The prayer "Ana Bikoach" contains 42 words. The "roshai taivos" (first letter of each of the words) constitute a 42 letter name of Hashem. Each of the seven lines contains six words. The roshai taivos (the first letter of each word) on each line constitute kabalistic (mystical) phrase, each of two three-letter words. The line, "Kabail Rinas Amcho Sagvainu Taharainu Nora (accept the singing of Your nation; exalt us and purify us, Fearful One)" furnishes the phrase, "kra Satan (tear up Satan)." We see from this that a major part of serving G-d is our working to destroy our yaitzer hora. The phrase which means "tear up Satan," is a part of the holy name of G-d! We see that the work of destroying Satan is intrinsic to the existence of the Creation and to the purpose of mankind. Through working to beat the yaitzer hora, we can come to sing the praises of G-d, obtain exaltation and purity for ourselves, and come to true yira (appropriate fear of and reverence for G-d).

* 9. The Talmud (Brachos 5a) also recommends, as a potent antidote to a yaitzer hora, to remember the day of death. At that time you will be helpless and defenseless against all accusations of sin. Then, there will be no excuses, no evasions, no more repentance, no more ability to change yourself or to rectify any wrong committed (especially against another person). Similarly, it is useful to go to a cemetery and look at graves, especially an old one. Consider the finality and inescapability of death. Consider that those buried have been there for decades or centuries and will remain there. Ask yourself, "When I am here, how will I explain my life? How will I account for my deeds to the Heavenly Court?"

One time, during a Yorah Daya shiur, Rav Avrohom Asher Zimmerman, z'l, one of my greatest Torah teachers, told the following story. Moshe Montefiore was a fabulously wealthy and philanthropic Jew who lived in the mid-1800's. He realized that he could not allow his enormous wealth to go to his head or to damage his midos. He had a coffin brought in to his house. Every day, he would go into the coffin and, while inside, say to himself, "Moshe, it's one day closer to the end." This way, he used to remind himself every day that he was going to die and had no reason to be arrogant or otherwise dehumanized by wealth, fame or power. Rav Zimmerman softly said, "Ah ha," as if he were Montefiore speaking to himself, just before "Moshe, it's one day closer to the end," to personalize the message and make it real, and to emphasize to us in the shiur that the message is for all of us.

* 10. The Talmud (Kidushin 30b) says about the evil inclination, "If this repugnant entity meets you, drag him to the house of study [learn Torah, particularly in regard to the issue or temptation at hand]. If he is a rock, he will melt. If he is iron, he will shatter." Torah is stronger than a yaitzer hora.

A word of caution and warning. Never assume that Torah automatically makes one a better or elevated person. The Vilna Gaon writes (Evven Shlaima) that a person's soul needs Torah just as the earth needs moisture. Just as moisture causes that which was planted in the earth to sprout just as it naturally is, for bad or good, Torah cause what is in a person's heart to sprout naturally. If one's heart is good, he will become spiritually elevated and better. If his heart is evil or nasty, his Torah increases his evil or nastiness.

One must purify his heart, searching after and eradicating every trace of evil, sinful or mean thoughts, bad traits and habits. Torah intensifies what is naturally in his heart. Only if one actively strives to elevate himself spiritually, and to increase his fear of sin, in conjunction with his Torah learning, will his Torah elevate him. One's deeds derive from what is in the heart and, therefore, his Torah intensifies what is in his heart. This can make his sins worse or his devotion to G-d higher. One must, therefore, work to elevate and purify his heart at all times throughout life, when young and old.

This must not be construed in a discouraging fashion. The Gaon says, "It is impossible to kill the yaitzer hora (evil inclination) except with Torah." We need 1. Torah AND 2. the sincere intention and goal of elevating ourselves. Without both, one has no hope. What we must hear is that we must engage diligently in Torah, but with the specific goal and intention to elevate ourself through it.

If one tries to turn away from an evil trait or habit in a way opposite to his bad trait, he will not succeed, because the trait cannot be uprooted and conquered directly. The yaitzer hora is too entrenched. The Gaon gives the example of a compulsive eater who tries fasting. His desire intensifies and his effort breaks down. One must be very shrewd in devising strategy to beat a yaitzer hora. And, if the person is too lazy to examine, pursue and conquer his bad traits, all precautions and measures will fall away.

The Goan explains that just as a physical wound must first heal inside before the healing reaches the skin, one must heal his heart, traits and character before one's deeds are improved discernible on the surface, and before changes will be lasting. If he is lazy, he will eventually spiritually crumble. His learning can be like poison. If one works sincerely and diligently, then his Torah will change, protect and elevate him. His Torah will give him eternal life.

The Gaon refers to desire, anger and arrogance as the most evil and destructive of yaitzer horas. He says that a person who cannot control taiva and kaas (uncontrollable desire and anger,) should go live in solitude in a desert. The person who is haughty is judged by G-d with no leniency or mercy.

The Goan explains that the essential reason for life is the constant conquest of character traits. Any moment in which one is not working on midos, one is wasting his life.

* 11. The Talmud (Kidushin 40a) says to remember that the world and the individual are judged on a "majority basis." If you do one sin, you could tip the judgement of the entire world and of yourself for destruction. If you add one merit, you could tip the judgement for blessing. When a sin produces chilul Hashem (profanation of G-d, such as when a Jew is seen violating the Torah), whether intentionally or not, there is only stringency in judgement.

* 12. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) tells us to break any yaitzer hora directed against a fellow Jew. The case provides wonderful across-the-board instruction on how to undo the inclination against the other person.

There is a mitzva to help a fellow Jew who has a burden. The "classic" case is when the person is struggling to load or unload a heavy bundle onto or off of his pack animal. The gemora asks: if I see two people simultaneously with a load, and one is putting the load on his animal and the other is taking the load off, who gets precedence (i.e. who, between the two, do I have to help - since I can't do both at the same time)? The answer: help the person who is unloading because this has the added factor of relieving pain from the animal. Then the gemora asks: If a person you love is taking a load off the animal and a person who you hate is simultaneously loading, who gets precedence? The answer: help the person who you hate (because breaking your yaitzer hora comes before relieving the pain of the animal, and your acting on behalf of your enemy will break your yaitzer hora against him).

When a Jew heard biting loshon hora (defamation, slander) against a local rabbi (and found himself believing it), he intentionally started to go to that rabbi's shul to pray and to call that rabbi for shaalos (Jewish law questions), until he conquered that yaitzer hora to believe the loshon hora (and to hold it against that rabbi). He visited to the home of his other rabbi about twice each week to say "hello" and make clear that he had no problem with his customary rabbi (whose shul he temporarily left). He said Tehillim 131 [saying just before, "bitul yaitzer hora li'kabalas lashon hora/nullify the evil inclination to accept defaming speech"] once or twice each day for about two weeks. He conquered the temptation to accept the nasty slander about the rabbi or to think less of this rabbi because of the slander.

When a Jew had an angry blow-up with his wife over a trivial cause, he immediately took full responsibility, apologized, took his wife out for dinner (staying "all smiles" the entire time) and brought home a present a day, until all tension and animosity were purified out of his heart - and relationship.

Whenever something happens that causes a yaitzer hora, fight, hate, tension, explosion, resentment, suspicion, indifference, break in communication, criticism, malcontent, anger, nastiness, bitterness, condescension, hostility or the like, IMMEDIATELY AND FULLY reverse "gears" to break and to reverse the situation. Be practical, firm and constant in this.

* 13. In a relationship or marriage, if you have to fight for basics, you have no relationship. Let me put this another way, to fit it into our "yaitzer hora" context. You have to fight to not have to fight in a relationship. In other words, one must fight within him or herself against the forces, shortcomings and emotions that enable a person to be a fighter. "This is the craft of the yaitzer hora (evil inclination). Today he says to the person, 'Do this.' Tomorrow he says to the person, 'Do something a step worse.' Eventually he says to the person, 'Worship idols' [Shabos 108b]." Gradually, the evil inclination seduces a person, a step at a time, to the worst of acts. At the start, one could not even think of serious, cruel or violent sin. The evil inclination gets a person to the worst levels by inducing one to go just one step down. It is subtle, perhaps barely detectable. I know one fellow who started going to the movies on shabos with non-Jewish friends who paid for him. Then he went alone, prepaying at the theater before shabos. He argued, "What am I doing wrong? I carry no money. I'm just sitting there." After a while, he was totally unreligious.

Each person must fight the milchemmess hayaitzer, the war against the evil inclination within. One must specifically study and practice mussar (Torah self-elevation) and, when emotional/psychological matters are involved, get professional counseling. One must overcome subjectivity, self-indulgence, blind lack of empathy for another, self-serving rationalization, laziness, impatience, rigidity and a whole host of issues that remove obstacles to personal growth and gradual human perfection. Or, to put it a little differently, fight with the faults in the person within that would cause one to fight with someone outside him/herself. And win that fight! This way, fights with another person gradually disappear.

* 14. When one gives of himself for the good of another person he increases love for that person (Derech Eretz Zuta, chapter 2). When one extends himself for another, he breaks hate in his heart towards the person and distance between them (Bava Metzia 32b, cited above). Let's extend this to a positive aspect of the previous reference to the "milchemmess hayaitzer." One of my main Torah teachers, Rav Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l (may he be remembered for blessing), pointed out that the Torah (Deuteronomy 21:10) says, "When you go out to war against your enemies..." using the singular form for the word "you," as if talking to an individual. Hebrew has a different form of word to express "you" for plural. If the Torah were talking to armies or generals, it would use the plural form of "you." By using the singular term for "you," Hashem is telling us each to fight the "milchemmess hayaitzer (the individual's war with his yaitzer hora)." Rav Zimmerman associated with this the midrash (Beraishis Raba) which says that "The greatest thing is peace, for even if Israel worshipped idols, if they have peace among them, Hashem would not allow Satan to prosecute the Jews." From this, Rav Zimmerman taught that by having shalom and ahava (peace and love) between Jews, to the exclusion of sinah and machlokess (hatred or fighting), Hashem would give us success in our worldly affairs. Having peace and unity is a segula (Heavenly assist) for success. Remember, for our marriage context, that it is impossible to have marital peace without love and respect.

* 15. Constantly keep in mind that many, many sources describe in various ways that interpersonal obligations are among the most stringent in the Torah. Heaven's response to a person for how he behaves to any fellow Jew is "measure for measure" and Heavenly retribution is serious. For example, Yalkut Shimoni to Tehillim 32 says that Hashem does not overlook sins bain adam lechavairo (against another person), Maharal (Nesivos Olam, based on Proverbs 21:21) writes that Heaven considers one a thief if he holds back any possible good from another Jew, Avos deRebi Noson says "Love your neighbor" must be fulfilled with the understanding that the other person is the creation of Hashem, the Chasam Sofer says that the mitzva to be holy can only be accomplished when you can interact with people in a holy manner and Rabainu Yonah says that interpersonal matters are the most stringently judged in all the Torah. This all must be constantly applied in practical life. And, please note that the closer, the more dependent or the more vulnerable a person is, the higher the priority established by the Torah and the more demanding the requirements demanded by the Torah.

* 16. On a very practical, simple level: life is so much more pleasant, smooth and comfortable when you are calm and tranquil.

* 17. We have no right to be unpleasant to any other person. Pirkei Avos (chapter one) requires us to maintain a saiver ponim yafos (pleasant countenance; to remain smiling, warm and cheerful to all other people); and (in chapter three) to receive people with simcha (joy). The Torah's ways are pleasant and all of its paths are peace (Proverbs 3:17). Abiding by the Torah is worth the effort, even when it entails struggle. "According to the effort is the reward" (Pirkei Avos chapter five). "Lengthy life is in [the Torah's] right hand and in its left hand are wealth and honor" (Proverbs 3:16). But, "the reward for the righteous is in the future world (Pirkei Avos chapter two)."

* 18. Remember that "The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] starts as thin as a spider web strand and [if one does not conquer it] it grows thicker than a cart rope...The bigger that one spiritually is, the bigger his yaitzer hora is (Suka 52a)." The Torah says, "Choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19)." In everything one does, in every circumstance that G-d brings to one, in every single moment of one's life, each person is put into a choice between life and death. Every moment is a test that we are given in order that we withstand it (Mesilas Yesharim). G-d only gives tests that a person can withstand, albeit with exertion and struggle. In each test, the power of good that one has at that time is just enough to overcome the power of sin, should the Jew choose to beat the evil inclination. The prophet Yechezkel tells us that G-d has no pleasure from His killing the sinner but, rather, G-d wants us to repent and to live (Ezekiel 18). The Torah urges us to "choose life and live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).



One is always in a "milchemess hayaitzer (internal war with one's inclinations and urges)" and at every moment the Jew is required and encouraged to win. G-d only gives a test that one can handle and gives the test in order for there to always be conquest.

However, with each conquest there is a growth to a next level. At each subsequent level, one's good inclination has grown. For there to an "even" battle, G-d commensurately increases the evil inclination, so that there always is an "internal level of battle" that matches one's spiritual level at every moment. As one grows, the force, cunning, seductiveness and sophistication of his yaitzer hora grows.

When the great Vilna Gaon was on his deathbed, one of his disciples naively said, "Rebbe, I wish I had your yaitzer hora." The Gaon answered, "You couldn't handle my yaitzer hora." When the famous Kotzker Rebbe was on his deathbed, his disciples asked him if he killed his yaitzer hora. He answered, "Even now he wants me to say my dying 'Shma Yisroel' loudly so that you will admire me, rather than saying it for its proper purpose: to accept the yolk of the Kingdom of Heaven." The Talmudic sage Abaye overheard a young man say to a young woman, "Let's go for a walk off into the distance." Abaye expected that they intended to sin so he followed them quietly, in case he would have to save them. All they did was converse. At the end, the young man said that the girl's company was pleasant, and then they parted. Abaye started to cry. "Had it been me, the end would not have been innocent like this." An old sage said to him, "The greater one is, the greater his yaitzer hora is (Suka 52a)."

One must be careful not to misuse the Torah for a fight. This is one of the tricks of the yaitzer hora, especially in people who have a measure of learning in them. A difference for the sake of Heaven never violates the will of Heaven, it is entirely an exploration of what G-d's truth is, in order to be able to fulfill the will of G-d (Pirkei Avos, chapter 5, with Kahati commentary). If a difference ever leads to personal animosity, leads to making oneself big or victorious at the expense of another, leads to any sinful action(s) - it is a personal fight, not service of the Torah. "Who is wise to understand and who is understanding to know: that the ways of G-d are straight, the righteous will go in them and the evil will stumble in them (Hoshea 14:10)."

When you have practical case-by-case questions, ask your rabbi how to work for peace. In questions involving fights, anger and the like, people can grow very emotional, unreasonable and subjective. It is therefore vital to "fine-tune" your understanding of your motivations and be brutally aware and honest of the true entire picture and your interest or involvement in it. Your motivations must be for the sake of Heaven. Your motivations must not bring you to any action or course which is against Jewish law or values.

One can justify his inclinations and sins with sublime sources, generally twisting the meaning self-servingly. One woman called me in my role as a matchmaker, saying she is divorced and was married to a Rosh Yeshiva, who was cold, insensitive and made her miserable. Even though he had "all the answers," he gave his wife unbearable pain. She now is looking for his replacement.

In the evening prayer, we beseech Hashem to "remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us." A tempting evil inclination can come in a direct manner ("do this alluring sin") or can come in a sublime-sounding deceptive subterfuge ("cheat in business so you can give more charity"). The Jew does not want the yaitzer hora to snare him in either plain or tricky "divine" sounding terms. We pray to Hashem every night to save us from either version of trap. Another meaning of removing "Satan from in front of us and from behind us" is not to sin on account of things we have done in our past ("I regret doing tshuva for XYZ") or things we will do in the future ("for doing that to me I will make you suffer").

At every moment, one must guide all of his decisions and actions by the will of G-d, on the merit of the circumstance before him at each moment. "And now Israel, what does Hashem ask of you but that you fear Hashem, to go in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve Him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 10:12)." Now, at every single moment, the only thing of concern to Israel, to the Jew, is exercising fear of G-d. To go in G-d's ways, to love and serve Him fully, one must fear all violation of and failure to fulfill His will. Fear allows us to use free choice to refrain from failing to fulfill his will and failing to satisfy what He wants from us. This is the one time when the Torah says, "What does G-d want from you?" This is the central premise that will allow all behavior to be or to not be in His service. Use of fear (of doing wrong) will allow us to develop as beneficent, peaceful, holy and G-dly entities and follow in G-d's ways, to love and serve Him fully, through our own voluntary free choice.

Whenever you suspect your yaitzer hora is conniving or driving you, especially in the name of a "divine" cause, call competent daas Torah for objective and knowledgeable input. If you suspect your spouse's yaitzer hora is "putting on a yarmelka" and harassing you in the name of good ol' religion, call a rabbinical authority likewise for objective and knowledgeable input. King Solomon (Proverbs 3:17) tells us, "The Torah's ways are sweet and all of its paths are peace." If it's not sweet and peaceful, you have to suspect that it probably isn't Torah.

Another way to look at this is: in order to serve G-d, the Jew has to work to kill his will and replace it with the will of G-d.

If a person is a gazlan (a thief who steals in the open, e.g. a purse snatcher), he only has to pay back what he stole. If a person is a ganav (thief who steal sneakily, e.g. a late-night burglar), he has to pay back double the amount he stole. "The students of Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakai asked him, 'Why is the Torah more stringent on a ganav than on a gazlan?' He answered them, 'The gazlan equates the honor of the servant with the honor of its owner while the ganav puts the honor of the slave higher than the honor of the owner. He acts, so to speak, as if G-d's eye does not see and as if G-d's ear does not hear, as it says "Woe to them who attempt to bury their idea from the L-rd and do their works in the dark and say, 'Who will see and who will know?' This is backwards, as the clay will not have more significance than the potter. Shall the clay say 'he did not make me?' Will the artifact say 'the artisan does not understand?' [Isaiah 29:15-16]." And [Rabbi Yochanon continued] as it says, "And people say, 'The L-rd will not see and the G-d of Jacob will not understand' [Psalm 94:7]." And [Rabbi Yochanon continued] as it says, "For people say, 'G-d has left the earth and G-d does not see [Ezekiel 9:9]' [Bava Kama 79b]."

"Guard yourself from ever forgetting Hashem your G-d (Deuteronomy 8:11)." "In all your ways, know Him (Proverbs 3:6)." Always keep Hashem on your thoughts wherever you go and in everything that you do. Remember that Hashem is always there; seeing, hearing, knowing and recording everything that we think, feel, say and do.

If one's efforts at self-elevation produce gradual results, never despair nor feel discouraged, for that too is the yaitzer hora trying to "get in through a side door when you don't let him in the front." When he can't get at you directly, he will use subtle or indirect maneuvers. He is very crafty. Be craftier than he is!

Should a person ever tear his clothes, smash property or scatter money in his anger, he is as one who worships idolatry (Shabos 105b). The craft of the yaitzer hora (evil inclination) is to get a person to do the likes of this. Today it compels you to act rashly, foolishly and destructively as a stepping stone to compelling you to serve idols tomorrow. Besides this, the angry person is overpowered by his emotions. Since the emotional drive determines what he does, it assumes the role which a deity ought to. G-d determines what a person must do or not do. His is the will which aught to govern a person's behavior. When one allows his angry emotions to possess him, his emotions tell him what to do, his anger governs him and his behavior. His emotions have assumed the role of his deity. His anger, then, is the idol which he worships and obeys. The angry person cannot serve G-d.

The Torah (Leviticus 22:31-32) says, "And you will keep My commandments, and do them, I am G-d. You will not profane my Holy Name, rather, I will sanctified by the children of Israel, I am G-d who makes you holy." It is a mitzva to be a kidush Hashem (sanctification of G-d) and a mitzva to NOT be a chillul Hashem (profanation of G-d). When one fulfills the will of G-d, especially when others see, one sanctifies G-d and achieves the mitzva of kidush Hashem. When one violates the will of Hashem (chillul Hashem), especially when others see, one cancels the mitzva of kidush Hashem and achieves the sin of chillul Hashem. Everything one says and does - even HOW one says or does it - even the attitude, feeling and intention that one brings to each thing we say and do - can either be a kidush Hashem or chillul Hashem. The effect of this is amplified by whether others see us, especially if an action is seen in public. Remember in a marriage that every act, every word, every second, every example of how you treat each other can either be a kidush Hashem or a chillul Hashem - a mitzva or sin every single moment. Every sin is a piece of death. Every mitzva is a piece of life. Over the years you will stack up a million sins or mitzvos. It's up to you. Uvacharta BiChayim - choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).



I know of cases in which such techniques were successfully used, with perseverance and dedication to the will of G-d.

In one case, a person had a certain powerful, overwhelming yaitzer hora which came several days every week - sometimes more than once a day. The person, who originally had no hope of conquering this yaitzer hora, said chapter 131 of Tehillim 3 to 8 times every day for two years and two months (and vigilantly worked to stay away from situations which evoked this yaitzer hora). One day, this person noticed that this yaitzer hora had come only twice and very mildly in the past month and that it, essentially, was never there anymore.

I know another case in which a person read this chapter of Tehillim once or twice a day for several months and it mollified the yaitzer hora. Use it more or less (perhaps more in the beginning, as needed), depending on the intensity of the yaitzer hora in each case.

In another case, a person had a powerful yaitzer hora come upon him. He said "Krias Shma," slowly and with intense concentration, like he was in a "life and death" situation, with the appropriate kavanos ("Shma" is understanding of acceptance of Hashem's kingship, in "echad" is acknowledgement of the kingship of Hashem on earth and in the seven Heavens and in all four directions on earth, the second paragraph assures reward and punishment, etc.). Throughout, he kept in mind the day of death, motionlessness and helplessness during Heavenly judgement. He concentrated so fully and effectively, that when he finished the entire "Shma," the powerful yaitzer was forgotten.

In another case, a person had powerful, driving and intrusive yaitzer hora. He used the technique of agreeing with himself to commit the sin AFTER a delay which would allow him to forget about it. He became very creative at "brainwashing" himself and he avoided sinning repeatedly. He told himself, "OK, I'll give in to myself BUT now it's almost time to doven. How can I pray to my Creator with my prayer stained with sin. Let me pray first, and then I'll [do the sin] after the minyan." "Today is: Monday/Thursday, a day of extra Heavenly mercy; Rosh Chodesh, a day of kapara; Shabos/Yom Tov, a day of holiness - how can I do this on such a special day?" "OK, I'll do the sin BUT today has been such a good day for me. Why should I ruin it? I'll do it tomorrow." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT I'm tired now. Let me rest for a while and I'll do it when I wake up." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT I first have to [speak to (so and so), do (a chore), make a phone call]. I'll do it afterwards." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT now I'm with [my wife, business associates, neighbors, children]. How could I be a chillul Hashem? I'll do it later when I'm in a different place." "OK, I'll do the sin BUT I didn't ask my rabbi yet if the halacha permits this [explosion, abuse, sin]. Before I do something, I always have to ask a shaalo anyway. I'll wait until I ask my rav and hear what he says to do first." "OK, I'll do the sin but I need exercise for my health. I'll go for a walk first and do the sin later." He used this technique effectively and perseveringly and just about never fell into the sin.

Remember always: Hashem is there with you wherever you are! You are never alone. Remember that Pirkei Avos (chapter two) tells us that Hashem's eye always sees, His ear always hears, His hand always writes everything that you do in a book which records your entire life. Pirkei Avos also says (chapter three) that you will save yourself from sin by remembering three things: that you come from a putrid drop; that you are going to die and be in a place of dust, decay and worms; and that you are going to have to give accounting for every moment of your life before the ultimate King.

When calm, consider your behavior. Ask yourself, "Do I want to act like a [tyrant, beast, warrior, whatever]?" When an impulse to blow up, abuse, lose control or go into a rage comes, remember how you answered, "No, I don't want to act like a...". You don't want to see yourself in a negative way. You don't want to treat anyone in a negative way. You want to do what is right. You are "Tzelem Elokim (the Image of G-d)" and so is every other Jew. You want to see yourself, your behavior and your spouse in a positive, consistently favorable way. You want to see yourself and your spouse as G-dly.

One man felt a powerful impulse to become angry and abusive at his wife. Motivated by the gemara which says to ridicule a yaitzer hora, he saw in "his mind's eye" a picture of a big, dumb gorilla holding a banana, but with this man's face. Instead of blowing up at his wife, he giggled at the silly thought of his acting like a monkey, and the impulse was over.

In a case where a partner is about to explode or get vicious, imagine that the Chafetz Chayim (or your rebbe, or your posaik, or any tzadik for whom you have awe and respect, or your boss at work, or your next door neighbor who you always try to impress) is there in the room seeing every move you make. When Yosef HaTzadik was approached by aishess Potifar [his employer's wife], he ran away (Genesis 39:12). He saved himself from sin by seeing the image of his holy father, Yaakov (Midrash Tanchuma). By seeing his father's image in his mind as if his father was there, Yosef came under control immediately, and effectively saved himself from sin. It is in the merit of this that he came to be called "Yosef Hatzadik."

The Chafetz Chayim was once traveling. When the coach passed a farm, the driver said, "I'm going to steal some hay for my horse to eat. Tell me if anyone is coming." As the driver was about to steal the hay, the Chafetz Chayim yelled, "He's seeing!" The driver ran to the coach and sped off. When they approached another farm, the driver asked the Chafetz Chayim to look out again. "He's seeing!" This second time the driver sped off. When they approached another farm, the driver asked the Chafetz Chayim to look out for him a third time. "He's seeing!" This time, the coach driver looked around and there was no one in sight throughout the countryside. He came back and asked the Chafetz Chayim who saw him stealing. The Chafetz Chayim pointed with his finger upwards and said, "The One Above always sees what we do."

Raishis Chochma says to set aside an amount of money. If you get angry, you will have to give it away. It has to be enough so that it will force you to control yourself. I say, half joking and half serious, to give the money to the person you get angry at, and tell the person in advance that you're going to. This way they will smile from ear to ear when you lose your temper, instead of getting hurt or upset! (If they aggravate you on purpose to get the money, that won't count.) Or, you can give it to charity. Raishis Chochma also says to look a person in the eyes when you are on the verge of getting angry. This makes it much harder to follow through with anger.

You may have to pray and/or use the segulos repeatedly, over a period of time, in order to gradually chip away at powerful inclinations and emotions.

You also have to concentrate your heart when you do these. For example, before reading Psalm 131, it can be helpful to say, "bitul yaitzer hora li..." ["nullify the evil inclination for..." fill in the item you want to cancel from your personality]. For example, say, "bitul yaitzer hora lika'as, [cancel my evil inclination for anger]". Of course, you'll say whatever is applicable after "li."

You may say this chapter of Tehillim each day for several things - on all forms of yaitzer hora. Just as some examples:

* machlokess (strife, fighting)

* sinas chinam (subjective, unfounded hate)

* hirhorim ra'im (sinful thoughts)

* atzluss (laziness)

* gaiva (arrogance, haughtiness)

* dibur bishaas tefila (prohibited talking in shul)

* bitul zman (wasting time)

* ona'as devarim (hurting or shaming anyone with words)

* genaiva bi'aisek (cheating/stealing in business dealings)

* pechisas limud (not learning Torah often/regularly enough)

* chilul Hashem (any behavior which is profanation of G-d)

* any and all others.

Set up a regular daily program saying this psalm for the yitzray hora which apply. "Bitul yaitzer hora li X" [read the chapter]. "Bitul yaitzer hora li Y" [read the chapter]. If a given yaitzer is strong, you may say the chapter several times a day, as needed. You might say this chapter 5, 10 or 20 times a day - whether because you 1. say it for several things, 2. say it repeatedly for a given problem thing or 3. both (say several things several times). Going through the whole daily list will only take a couple of minutes or so a day and will be time well invested.

After saying Psalm 131 for one or more specific yaitzer hora(s), I recommend that one not leave the session without adding one more reading as follows. Say, "Bitul yaitzer hora bichlall (nullify the evil inclination overall)" and then read the chapter one more time. This can help cover any oversight, whether not addressing some yaitzer hora that you may not be aware the Torah deems to be bad or whether you may have had a lapse in kavana (concentration) during one of the specific readings or whether there is a yaitzer hora that you are not yet ready to directly face. This helps to "cover all the bases." You address the specifics and strive to avoid oversights or omissions.

Be eager and open to learning and to growing. The person who isn't, will not hear - or may even scorn - correction. The person who is, will find knowledge, progress and growth in all places. Also, find several Torah role models to follow, and Torah law authorities to ask questions and to get guidance from.

The Chida (Rabbi Chayim Dovid Azulai) explains a biblical verse in a way that serves our present point exquisitely. "And he set up the pillars in the entry hall of the Temple chamber, and he set up the right pillar and he called its name 'Yochin [he will prepare]' and he set up the left pillar and he called its name 'Boaz [strength is in him]' (1 Kings 7:21)."

The Chida writes as follows. "Our sages said, 'The evil inclination of man renews itself every day and were it not that the Holy One blessed be He helps him, he would not be able to conquer it.' However, when does Heaven help man? Exclusively when he PREPARES himself to conduct a struggle himself against the evil inclination. Through this alone [the words of our sages apply:] 'Heaven helps the one who comes to perfect himself.' If he himself will not do anything, he can have no expectation of any help from Heaven above. From the time when HE WILL PREPARE HIMSELF, when the person himself will prepare himself, from his own will and his own initiative to conquer the evil forces that are within him, then STRENGTH IS IN HIM. Heaven gives IN HIM the STRENGTH, the power to conduct this struggle unto victory."



If you lessen any yaitzer hora, that is a great mitzva. Let's say, for example, that Harry (or Harriet!) has a certain yaitzer hora (fault, emotion, shortcoming, inclination, etc.), which presents itself, on average, once a day. Harry decides to do tshuva. He is working to grow, exerting himself to change for the better, struggling to gain control over himself. In time he comes to have that yaitzer hora three times a week. Should he be depressed that he "losses himself" three times a week? He should, of course, be cognizant of the fact that his work is not yet done. But, he has reduced his "sin ratio" consistently and that is a great accomplishment! He (and his wife) should appreciate that.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the father of the "Mussar Movement," said that if one exerts himself to delay a sin or to make a recurrent sin occur less frequently, there is great Heavenly reward for this. Of course, the goal must always be: no sin. However, Heaven is aware of the effort and, accordingly, counts

* all of the pain invested in conquering,

* all of the struggle with and

* all of the reduction of

the negative thing, as a great merit for the person. Remember the statement in Pirkei Avos (chapter five), "According to the pain is the reward."

The important thing is that one's efforts to grow, to elevate and to achieve self-mastery must be sincere and persevering. One will come to progressively succeed more and more. Harry may still be overwhelmed by his shortcoming three time a week. But, he has conquered it four times a week. This degree of conquest is a steppingstone to forthcoming complete success. He will keep working.



I must stress sincerity. On Yom Tov, one is permitted to cook for the needs of that same day. On shabos, one is not allowed to cook at all. If a person wants to cook on Yom Tov for a shabos which falls on the next day, he must make an "eruv tavshilin" before Yom Tov starts. The Talmud [Baitza 17b] takes up the question of: what is the law in the case where one does not have an eruv tavshilin - shall he not have what to eat on shabos? Some of the discussion there revolves around a person who cooks on Yom Tov for shabos without an eruv. Two of the cases, both being cases in which the party fully knows he is wrong, addressed are 1) "maizid," the person who intentionally cooks food on Yom Tov for shabos, even though he has no eruv permitting him to and 2) "ha'arama," the case in which a person makes a deceitful trick [saying, "Perhaps an unexpected inundation of guests will come, so I had better cook excess food"]. The law is: the maizid may eat his food [even though the cooking was prohibited] and the one who made a swindle may not eat the food [Orech Chayim 527:23-24].

We see from this law that the Torah is very concerned with sincerity. One's motivations must be pure and honest. The Torah is very strict against deceit, manipulation, rationalization and trickery. In our human relations and self-development context, one's activities must be exercised entirely with the utmost integrity and sincerity. The Torah will tolerate a sincere mistake but will be harsh against game-playing, excuses, dishonesty and nonsense. We will see the same principle again later when we discuss praying for Shalom Bayis [domestic peace] and Siyata DiShamaya [help from Heaven]. Hashem is receptive to sincere, truthful and substantial prayer from an honest heart. He will not want any empty, sneaky or manipulative "prayer." The more you are willing to do your part, backing your prayer up with actions committed to the goals of the prayer and fulfillment of His will, the more He will consider "partnering" with you in the fulfillment of the prayer.

Similarly, when working on faults or a marriage, one must back up the quest for growth, peace, happiness and success with substantial, honest and practical actions consistent with and committed to the goal. Hashem will help your sincere, full effort. He will not do the job for you. When you show Hashem that "you mean it" and are prepared to do your job, He will respect, help and reward your efforts.

One whose spouse is working on him or herself must also work to be a close ally, encouraging and supportive. Be pleased and appreciative of every bit of the other's effort and progress.

Rabbi Aryeh Levine used to deliver sermons in a Jerusalem synagogue. The wife of a member of the synagogue came to him with the complaint that her husband wasn't treating her properly. She asked him to devote an entire sermon to the way a husband should behave toward his wife. She begged him to be careful not to hint to her husband that she prompted the sermon.

In his very next sermon, Rabbi Levine spoke about a husband's obligation to honor and respect his wife. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Hayeshiva of Aitz Chayim, was in the synagogue and listened to every word with keen interest. Rabbi Meltzer was one of his generation's leading Torah scholars and a sincerely humble and pious man. After the lecture, he approached Rabbi Levine and thanked him.

"Reb Aryeh," Rabbi Meltzer said, "I know you were directing your remarks to me. You are right, I really must treat my wife with more respect" (Marbitzai Torah Umussar, Vol. 3).

Each of you: consider it a responsibility to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof, fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, good-natured, implementable and effective answers. WANT to make the marriage good, respectful, peaceful and pleasant; to do everything with a nice attitude; and to make your partner happy.



The Talmud (Avoda Zora 5b) teaches that when Jews occupy themselves with Torah and with gemilus chasodim (acts of lovingkindness), the yaitzer hora is given over to them and they are not given over to the yaitzer hora. We see, therefore, that we should engage ongoingly in the combination of learning Torah and actively doing kindness. Besides bringing merit, the combination causes one to defeat his evil inclination.

In a related vein, Rabbi Chaim MiVelozhin writes (Ruach Chaim) that the best safeguard against sin is to keep busy with mitzvos. This basically puts up a shield that keeps sin from intruding. Similarly in our marriage context, if you are always busy building a good relationship and being nice to each other, giving presents and praise, being supportive to each other, there won't be time for fights, anger and trouble.

Igerress HaRamban says to conduct yourself at ALL times in a calm, gentle, anger-free, intellect-governed and humble manner, with fear of sin. Introspect twice a day, morning and night and do tshuva (all steps of repentance) for all wrongs done during the previous half day. In order to do all this properly, one must constantly work and prepare so that if something angering comes about, it won't take you by surprise and cause you blow up because your guard is down. Practice and be prepared. The test is consistency, whether you are comfortable or provoked.

In marriage, find ways to add common and constructive projects to do together, or to assist each other in. This will establish common values and purposes, shared goals and build an overall sense of bondedness. This brings a couple closer together. If you find it difficult to inaugurate major campaigns and changes, start with smaller things. Do lots of smaller things that you can handle. Build up. Get momentum. Once you get used to occupying yourself with smaller things (that get you used to being nicer to each other and getting along better), take on progressively bigger strategies and projects (to be nice and to be peaceful), on higher levels.

Never fall into the trap of getting self-righteously angry, wherein you abuse someone for an allegedly noble purpose. Make sure that ALL aspects of your mitzva performance ARE NOT DRIVEN BY A "FRUM YAITZER HORA!" This is especially true if your religious devotion hurts or neglects another person in any way. The Talmud (Suka 30a) tells us that there is no mitzva if it comes through a sin. The act remains total sin.

In human relations in general and in mussar in general, whenever you are mad at someone, do something good for the person right away. Force yourself. Give a blessing, do a favor or kindness, make a peace overture. Do something right away and make strong, good natured moves to work to break the yaitzer hora, emotion or bad mida. The gemora says that doing acts of love will break hate for a person and it is a mitzva to do so (Bava Metzia 32b). Don't stop yourself by saying, "The other person isn't doing as much. The other person isn't being big about it." You've got your job to do and he has his. Your job is to be Torah-loyal, peaceful, pleasant and a kidush Hashem.

This is an area which requires considerable judgement, mutual good faith, a good attitude, sensitivity and reasonable adaptation to the individual personalities and situations involved. The "acid tests" are:

* optimal practical and healthy functioning of the family and

* promotion of greatest, fullest peace in the marriage.

For contexts other than marriage, corresponding criteria would apply, e.g. does that aspect of life (or interpersonal relationship) function normally, effectively and in accordance with Hashem's Torah?