NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE YETZER HORO
Or THE GREATEST GAME EVER PITCHED

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

1) Usually I give this Sichah at the end of the year, and I like to preface it with an interesting Gemoro in Berochos 28b that is quoted by the Lev Eliyahu (Chochmah U'musar pg. 129).

As Rav Yochonon Ben Zakai was sick and lying on his deathbed, his talmidim came to see him. When he saw them he began to cry. They asked him why he was crying, and he replied. "If I was being brought to trial to a King of flesh and blood who won't live forever, and his anger is not eternal... I would certainly cry. How much more so now that I am going to be tried by Hashem Who is eternal, and Who's anger is eternal. Furthermore, there are two roads before me, one to Gan Eden and one to Gehinnom, and I don't know on which road they will lead me".
The Lev Eliyahu asks, why was he afraid, he was still alive and able to do teshuvah?
He also quotes the question of the "Alter of Kelm" (Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv), Why did he make this calculation only when he saw the talmidim, why not before?
The Alter answers, that Rav Yochonon knew that he personally kept the Torah diligently. The change came when he saw the talmidim. Here he felt that maybe he was lax in his obligation of the chinuch of his talmidim. Perhaps he didn't rebuke them enough or maybe he should have done something else to help them, and that is why he cried.
I too have to ask mechilah from the talmidim for not rebuking enough or too much, I hope that at least those that will return next year, I will be able to be better.
We also see how much the talmidim can have an effect on the Rebbi, and the Rebbi is responsible for what the talmid does, so if for some strange reason you don't want to do it for yourself or Mom and Dad, then at least do it for your Rebbi.

2) I would like to speak a little about our "old friend" the yetzer horo. In warfare one of the strategies is not to let the enemy realize how strong you are. If they assume that you are weaker than you really are, they will not prepare properly for the battle, giving you a better chance for victory. This is called underestimating the power of the enemy.

The baalei Mussar label the yetzer horo the "Great Enemy". The Orchos Tzadikim (Sha'ar Haga'avah) brings the story of a chossid who met a victorious regiment returning from their war. He turned to them and said, "You have returned from the small war; now prepare for the big war, namely against the yetzer horo and his armies". Usually an enemy who is beaten once or twice will give up, but the yetzer horo will never give up even if you beat him a hundred times. He waits in ambush throughout your whole life waiting for that moment that you will forget about him and put your guard down. When this happens he will strike.

The yetzer horo attacks a person even as he is dying. The Lev Eliyahu (Chochmah U'musar pg. 126) brings a story about a fine, very righteous person, whose weakness was that he had lust for money. As he was lying on his deathbed the talmidim heard him whispering that he knows that soon he will be dying, but if someone were to give him money he would take it and put it under his pillow.

3) The Lev Eliyahu (Chochmah U'musar pg. 125) gives us an insight in not underestimating and preparing for the yetzer horo of immorality.

The Torah tells us (D'varim 21:10-14) about a pretty gentile woman during time of war. The Torah gives a procedure with which one would be permitted to take her as a wife. The Gemoro (Kiddushin 21) comments about this, "The Torah only spoke against the yetzer horo, it is better to eat meat the kosher way then the unkosher way". In other words, the Torah understood that if it did not give permission, the test would be too great and many people would fail. What kind of people are we dealing with? These people who would not be able to control their desires, are they sex perverts or maniacs?!

The Torah (D'vorim 20) tells us exactly what kind of people went out to fight. There were four categories that did not go out to war. The fourth category was the person who was fainthearted. Chazal (Sotah 44) explain that it means he was afraid of the sins that he did. And which sin? Not just chilul Shabbos or immorality, but even the sin of talking between the Tefillin of the hand and of the head (which would require him to make an extra brocho). These people understood that it was not their might and marksmanship that would win the war. The only way they could win is if Hashem would help them be the proper messengers to win the war. If they weren't on the proper spiritual level, they couldn't expect Hashem to join them in the war. Committing even the smallest sin could jeopardize their chances of winning the war. It was therefore that even a person who had committed the slightest sin didn't join B'nei Yisroel in the war.
We are talking of people who hadn't committed even the slightest sin, such as talking while putting on Tefillin, yet the Torah realizes that if it didn't permit them to marry a gentile women in a permitted way, they will nevertheless marry the gentile woman. This should teach us how the powerful the yetzer horo of immorality is. If the Yetzer Horo can have such a strong effect on the most righteous people, where does that leave us? We must prepare ourselves properly for the heavy battle.

4) There is an unbelievable Gemoro (Kiddushin 81) that proves this point.

"A group of captive women were brought to the town of Neharda'a. It was decided that the person who could be trusted most to keep the women in his house was the great tzaddik Rav Amram Chasidah ("The Righteous" (if the Gemoro uses the title - "Righteous" then it means it, not like the titles that we throw around so freely today)). The women were placed in his attic, and the ladder to the attic was removed. As one of the women passed over the skylight her beauty shone through, and Rav Amram had an urge to go up to her. He single-handedly lifted a heavy ladder that normally needed ten people to lift, put it in place and started to climb up. When he was part way up, he just spread his legs and began to scream, "There is a fire in Rav Amram's house". When the talmidim came and saw him they said, "You have embarrassed us". Rav Amram replied, "Better that I should be embarrassed in This World then in The Next One." The Gemoro concludes that Rav Amram forced the yetzer horo to come out, and it appeared as a pillar of fire. Rav Amram said to the Yetzer Horo "You are fire, and I'm only flesh and blood, and I was still able to overpower you"."
There are many important lessons to be learned from this story.
Firstly, we see that in order not to do a sin a person should be prepared to humiliate himself. Sometimes a person knows that he shouldn't go with a bad crowd, because it is going to lead to things that he shouldn't be doing. He nevertheless goes with the crowd, fearing that they would mock him and/or call him names (e.g. wimp) if he didn't join. The story of Rav Amram should teach us that it is better to be terribly embarrassed then to do something wrong.

Secondly, is the point we were talking about until now. People think they know all the sichot already, and they are well prepared for the fight in the big world out there. Even if this were true, their knowledge isn't greater than that of Rav Amram's. If Rav Amram wasn't safe from the Yetzer Horo, where to we get our cocky confidence from?! Being aware of the problem is the first step to resolve it. If we realize how strong the Yetzer Horo is, we can start to look for some ways of resolving the problem.

5) The "Lev Eliyahu" Rav Eliyahu Lopian himself was a great tzaddik as we can see from the following stories.

Rav Dovid Mishkofsky, the Menahel of Yeshivas Knesses Chizkiyah, in Kfar Chasidim, had the honor of having Rav Eliyahu Lopian for the Shabbos evening seuda. Rav Mishkofsky requested to hear the following story, which Rav Lopian agreed to tell:

"When I was a young man, my wife was deathly ill, and the doctors had given up hope. The people were standing around her crying, and I was in the next room pacing with worry. Suddenly the door opened, a Jew walked in and asked me what all the crying was about. When I explained to him that my wife was dying, he inquired what illness she had and what the doctors had to say. I replied that the doctors diagnosed a certain illness, and had given up hope. The stranger than told me that there is no need for worry. "Go to a certain place and cut off the vegetable that is growing there, cook it up, and give it to your wife to drink. With G-D's help she will get better". We followed his advice and miraculously with G-d's help she got better. I'm sure that the "Jew" was Eliyahu Hanavi, who came not in my merit, but in my wife's merit."

When Rav Lopian finished, Rav Mishkofsky told him that he heard there was a continuation to the story. Rav Lopian was unwilling to relate the additional part of the story, so Rav Mishkofsky offered to relate what he heard, in anticipation of a confirmation from Rav Lopian.

"I heard that some time later you went to the Admor of Ger the "Sfas Emes" to get a Brocho. He refused saying that a young man who merited to see Eliyahu Hanavi doesn't need a Brocho from me. You told him that if so, (that the Rebbe knows that secret which Rav Lopian had not told anybody) then I especially want the Brocho from the Rebbe.
Rav Lopian said, "Yes, Yes, the Admorim had this sense of smell.
(Story found in Lev Eliyahu Chochmah U'musar p.12.)

Another interesting story can be found in Lev Eliyahu (B'reishis p. 42)
On a hot day many mosquitoes were flying around and pestering everybody. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Noach Shimanovitz was giving a shiur, while Rav Lopian was sitting in the back of the room. In the middle Rav Shimanovitz lowered his voice (so Rav Lopian shouldn't hear) and told the talmidim the following in reference to Rav Lopian. "Look at this G-DLY and Holy Man. While we are scratching ourselves from the thousands of mosquitoes that bite us, not one mosquito can be found in his vicinity". (He was referring to the Gemoro Brachos 10 that brings an opinion that the woman knew that Elisha was a G-dly Man because not one fly came near his table.) All of the talmidim naturally turned around to see this miraculous sight, but Rav Lopian didn't do anything. The following afternoon, he carried around a towel waving it back and forth and complained about the mosquitoes, pretending that they were bothering him."
Despite being such a big Tzaddik when it came to immorality he was extremely apprehensive. This is illustrated in the following story (Lev Eliyahu B'reishis p. 13).
A talmid asked permission to go to a wedding. Rav Lopian asked him if there would be any immoral scenes (he didn't mean a bellydancer but whether or not the women would be dressed modestly). The talmid, knowing that there would be a problem, started to rationalize by saying that he would be seated at a special table with his parents…. He concluded by saying, "It won't have an effect on me. "This last statement disturbed Rav Lopian very much. He turned to the talmid and he said, "Listen, I'm already over eighty years old, and blind in one eye, yet despite this when I walk in the street I'm full of fear lest I stumble into seeing immorality. You! a young boy with two good eyes, how can you tell me that it won't have an effect on you?"
He then added a few sharp words which the author refused to print. I was told in the name of Rav Shalom Shwadron Shlit"a that he asked him for his mother's name and saying, "You must be sick, I'm going to make a "Mi Shebeirach" (prayer for a sick person) for you."

L'havdil Shakespeare said, "Only fools jump in where angels fear to tread." The great tzaddikim - the angels, one would figure, they have nothing to worry about, nevertheless tremble with fear when walking the streets. In contrast, we fools think we know it all and have nothing to fear.

Ya'akov Avinu was afraid to go to Lavan until he prepared himself by learning in the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever for fourteen years.

6) So what should we do? The first thing is not to underestimate the enemy, and realize how strong he is, which by now, I hope we realize.

7) Secondly, we should not fight him head on (where possible). We should try to avoid the problem and conflict or at least minimize it. Don't go looking for trouble. To be specific, avoid movies, TV, magazines, even the Reader's Digest. True, some of the articles may be good, but there may be immodest advertisements. Even if you do not want to look at them, the eye nevertheless sees it anyway, having a terrible effect. I'm not saying that we are going to change our lifestyle overnight, but at least if we have outlook to change in the future, we can start little by little. Even if we unfortunately have these things in our parents home (as I did), we should make up our minds that when we get married and make a home, we won't let these things in. Obviously, when you are looking to get married you will search for a woman with views similar to those of yours. Stay away from the test, don't look for it.

8) Coming back for another year is another good piece of advice. Now that we know what a big war is waiting for us, it's not enough just to hear the sichot once or twice, but we have to keep on preparing as much as we can, and incorporate the sichot into ourselves. Sometimes a guy has a chance to leave all this garbage behind, but instead chooses to brings the yetzer horo with him. An example of this is hanging immodest posters on the walls. It's because they don't realize what they are doing - they are bringing the test to them.

9) Sometimes a person rationalizes going to improper places saying he wishes to see if he absorbed the lessons of the sichot he heard. Is he now strong enough to withstand the temptation? This is unfortunately a terrible mistake as clearly evident from the following Gemoro (Bava Basra 57b).

Yesha'ayahu Hanavi (33:15) lists the exceptional behavior of a tzaddik. Among the deeds mentioned is: "he closes his eyes from seeing evil". The Gemoro states that this is referring to a person who closes his eyes when passing by the river, where the women are washing clothing. (At this point the women are slightly immodest since they have to lift their dresses when entering the water). The Gemoro questions: "If there is an alternative route to get to where this person wants to go, thus he could have avoided passing by the river, this person is no tzaddik. He is a Rosho for choosing this route."
Why should he be a rosho - he closed his eyes? The Rashbam (ibid.) explains, that even if you close your eyes, your job is to avoid the problem, not fight it head on. Consequently, we can apply this to mixed beaches chas v'shalom. Some people claim they are not going for the scenery, and they even close their eyes. Firstly, he's probably lying. Secondly, even if his story were true, this Gemoro teaches us that this thought is wrong. We should look for separate beaches thus avoiding the test . Unfortunately, there will be plenty of tests coming our way. There is no need to look for one. You want to go to town, go eat somewhere, fine. Don't go walking down "Ben Yehuda" just to see if you can pass the test. Especially, based on what we learned before, we'll probably fail the test.

10) Now that we understand how much we have to prepare, we realize how much we need to listen to and go over the sichot. We also understand how preparation of one year is really not enough, and as much as possible we should try to come back for another year. Of course we should also not forget the list that the Mash usually prepares. It is called, "How Not To Lose It", simple advice on how not to lose whatever over the summer you gained in Yeshiva. It reminds me, during the Gulf War, when gas masks were being distributed, those people who didn't get one, panicked. They feared the consequences of facing a gas attack G-d forbid, while lacking the proper protection. The yetzer horo is a bigger danger; he goes within, and a gas mask won't help; we had better get all the protection that we can get.

11) The following is a common problem people face. Sometimes you're doing well, going to minyan, keeping a seder, etc., then all of a sudden you miss one time. At this point your entire world collapses. The yetzer horo tells you, that's it, you broke your streak, and then it's all over and downhill from then on.

This is a terrible mistake as can be seen in the following article (The Sporting News, May 26, 1959), about a pitcher from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It says in short:

"Harvey Haddix...achieved baseball immortality on the night of May 26, in Milwaukee, when he turned in the greatest pitching performance in the long history of the game. Haddix pitched perfect ball for 12 innings, retiring the first 36 batters, before the Braves broke through on an error, a sacrifice, an intentional walk, and a home run, that later was ruled a double, to down the Pirates 1 to 0 in the 13th inning on just one solitary hit..."
He also has a special mention in the "Guinness Book of World Records, and I even remember seeing that he got a special trophy of 12 silver cups.
The question is, how can this be the "greatest pitching performance," and why is in the record books, he lost the game?
The answer is, he may have lost the game, but you can't take away the achievement that he did up to that point. Pitching 12 perfect innings is great, regardless what happens after that.
This is the attitude we must have. After doing well for a while even if we mess up once, it doesn't take away what you did till then. Start again, as Rabeinu Yonah advises a person who wishes to do t'shuvah, but is bogged down with all of his sins.
"On this day he should throw away all of his iniquities that he has done. He should consider himself as if he was just born on that day, thus having no merit or guilt. He should have the attitude that today is the beginning of his deeds."
Rav Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l (quoted by his son Rav Noson) says "Put it in a locker and get back to it later". Lehavdil, the commercial says, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." My Rebbi always quotes Rabbi Zeidel Epstein who says, "We think the difference between a tzaddik and a rosho is that the tzaddik doesn't do sins while the rosho does. Shlomo Hamelech however says (Mishlei 24:16) "A tzaddik falls seven times, and rises again". A tzaddik falls many times too, the difference is that he picks himself up and starts again as opposed to the rosho who stays down".

[There is another important lesson that this story teaches us. The war is never over. A person should never have that false confidence that he is a tzaddik and has nothing to worry about. Chazal say, "Never believe in yourself till the day of your death". In this case the pitcher already threw nearly twelve complete innings of perfect ball, but in the end a small mistake cost him the game. Y.L.]

12) There is another very powerful weapon against the yetzer horo, Tefillah. Pray to Hashem that we should not fall into the hands of the yetzer horo. In Parshas Shlach we find that two of the m'raglim (spies), Yehoshua and Calev, didn't buckle under the peer pressure they faced. They refused to participate with their counterparts, who brought back a bad report about Eretz Yisroel. The question is, what gave then the courage to do this? How weren't the two of them convinced by the other ten? Chazal tell us that it was the power of Tefillah that saved them. Moshe Rabeinu prayed for Yehoshua, while Calev traveled to Me'aras Hamachpeilah and prayed for himself.

From the Gemoro in Yoma (53b) we can discern the power of a sincere Tefillah, (even for the wrong thing). The Kohen Gadol (high Priest), had a yearly opportunity, on Yom Kippur, to pray right in front of the Holy of Holies. His tefillah is very short, so understandably only the most important things were included. Yet we find that part of the prayer is that, "Hashem shouldn't listen to the prayers of the wayfarers". The wayfarers used to pray that it should not rain, (lest the roads get muddy and travel on the dirt roads would be impossible.) while we need the rain. The question is, why is this topic so important that it merits being included in this exclusive prayer? Couldn't this prayer be said at any other time?

This teaches us the power of a sincere tefillah. In Tehillim, (in Ashrei) it says, "Hashem is close to all those that pray to him, provided that it is with sincerity". Imagine the wayfarer going on the road with his family in a wagon with horses. He sincerely asks Hashem that it shouldn't rain, fearing what might happen to his family on the muddy roads. Should it begin to rain, he starts crying and beseeching Hashem with all sincerity that it should stop. (I once heard from Rav Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz Shlit"a about the power of tears. The Gemoro in B'rachos says "All the gates [of prayer] are closed [at some point] except the gates of tears. "Rav Kalmanowitz explained that there are two ways to open a gate, either with a key or with an ax. Tears are just like an ax that bust down the gate and lets your prayer through.) Now since Hashem listens to a sincere Tefillah, He should really listen to this one, despite the fact that it is bad for the general populace who needs the rain. The only possible way to try to counteract this sincere Tefillah, is by including it in that exclusive Tefillah on Yom Kippur. (This idea can be found in Yalkut Lekach Tov - Bamidbar pg. 181 in the name of the Alter of Kelm-Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv.)

If this is the power of a sincere tefillah for the wrong thing, it surely is a very strong force when it's for the right thing.

13) The problem is as usual, that it's not easy to do a lot of these things. I therefore refer you to the sicha "The Importance Of Tefillah", for a lesson on how not to be lazy.

I will also tell you over a Moshol that I heard over from my Rebbi in the name of Rav Zeidel Epstein Shlit"a, (also can be found in my sicha "How To Listen To A Sicha").

A person had to make a 2,000 mile trip in his car, but the road was pitch dark with no lights. Fearful to drive in the dark, his friend advised him to first put on his headlights, thus lighting up the way. The driver was still reluctant. "How could the beam of the headlights which reach only a few hundred feet, light up a 2000 mile road"? He Asked. The friend responded "Let it first shine just a few hundred feet, after traveling those first few hundred feet, the headlights will light up the next few hundred feet. In this manner you'll be able to complete the journey safely".

The same idea can be used for all these concepts. Nobody changes completely overnight. Don't look at it as all or nothing. Take it step by step, a little at a time.

14) I will conclude with a true story that I heard from my Rebbi. When he first came to establish Neveh at a Moshav called Beit Yehoshua there was an existing one story building. He desired to add another story to it, but was advised against it. "The building might collapse", he was told by the Moshav people. "The foundation is strong enough to hold only one story, not two". This statement taught my Rebbe an important lesson for life. When building a good Jewish family, all depends on the strength of the foundation that we build at a young age. It's very hard to strengthen the foundation after the building has begun.

In summation, we must do the following; listen to all these things, minimize the tests, listen to the sichot, (especially on how not to lose it) daven with sincerity, know the enemy and not underestimate him. With these, we can beat him and live a happier life in this world and the next.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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