The day before becoming bar mitzvah, Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin was called into his father’s study. His father, Reb Shalom Shachna Friedmann said to him: “Tomorrow my son you will receive a very special visitor, one who will not leave you for the rest of your life. Are you prepared to welcome this guest lovingly, as befits one of her stature?”
“Yes, father. This guest is the yetzer hatov, the passion for selflessness, goodness, kindness, and compassion. I began to prepare for her arrival long ago.”
“Really!” Reb Shalom Simcha said. “And when was that?”
“When her partner, the yetzer harah, the passion for selfishness, came to join me. I received her respectfully and said: ‘You know that you and the yetzer hatov are partners. You both dwell together in every heart. It would be unseemly of me to welcome one partner without the other.’
“So I convinced the yetzer harah to leave and return only with the yetzer hatov. So in this way I am prepared to welcome them both into my heart together!”
Bar mitzvah (literally, “master of the commandment”): A Jewish boy (bat mitzvah is the contemporary equivalent for girls) who has reached the age of legal maturity, age thirteen, when he is responsible for all the ritual obligations and is held accountable for all his deeds.
Yetzer hatov/Yetzer harah: People are born with two inclinations or passions: yetzer hatov, the inclination for goodness, and yetzer harah, the inclination for evil. Without these inclinations, people could not become free agents, making moral choices about the quality of life and how to live it.
The yetzer hatov, the inclination to selflessness, sets the direction of your heart. It points not to the self but through the self to the greater ground out of which the self arises. The yetzer harah, the inclination for selfishness, grounds you in the immediacy of your situation. The early Rabbis taught that without the yetzer harah you would not build a business or raise a family. Without the grounding in this world that the yetzer harah provides, you would ignore this world and get caught up in the ethereal.
Allow the yetzer harah to ground you in your situation. Respect your desires, and celebrate your gifts. Allow the yetzer hatov to direct your desires and gifts toward the greater good, the good that honors both self and other, person and planet. The goal is not to align yourself with one or the other of these inclinations but to align them with each other and to use them both.