“The children agitated within her, and she said, ‘If so, why am I like this?’ She went to inquire of Hashem who said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your inside will be separated’” (Bereishis 25:22-23).
The Degel Machane Ephraim comments that the Torah is teaching a profound life lesson with these pesukim. We know that every individual has two inclinations – the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara. Man’s mission is to exert maximum effort to convert his yetzer hara into a yetzer tov, transforming negative energy into energy utilized to serve Hashem.
If a person does not effectively redirect his yetzer hara, G-d forbid, it may conquer his yetzer tov. If that happens, a person may rue his presence in the world as his spiritual growth has plummeted.
A person can only overcome his yetzer hara by following the advice of Tehillim (34:15): “Turn away from evil and do good.” A person’s yetzer tov can be crushed if he capitulates to his yetzer hara, but he also can defeat his yetzer hara by concentrating on doing good.
The Degel Machane Ephraim explains the pesukim above as follows:
“The children agitated within her” – There is a struggle within man between his yetzer hara and yetzer tov. Man’s goal is to make sure his yetzer tov is victorious.
“Why am I like this?” – When a person feels he is losing his battle, he thinks to himself: “I came into the world to serve Hashem, but how can I do so when this is happening within me?”
“She went to inquire of Hashem” – A person must seek the proper road that will bring him closer to Hashem once again.
“Two nations are in your womb” – A person has a yetzer hara and yetzer tov; that’s why there’s an upheaval in him.
“Two regimes…will be separated” – Man spends his life trying to separate the two forces. Man must distinguish between good and bad, between mitzvos and aveiros, and between right and wrong in matters of ethics and morals.
Our sages tell us (Kiddushin 30b) that the yetzer hara renews itself and tries to overpower man every day. In other words, the challenges presented by the yetzer hara differ every day. Today the yetzer hara may be dormant; tomorrow it may wage war. But the yetzer hara is persistent and uses various arguments why the individual can or should commit a transgression or stray from the directives of the Torah.
The Talmud (Shabbos 105b) states that the yetzer hara is actually very crafty. Today it tells the person to do one thing and tomorrow it tells him do another until eventually it convinces him to worship idols.
The Satmar Rav notes that initially the yetzer hara seems harmless. It knows that every Jew truly wants to do mitzvos, so to discourage resistance, the yetzer hara assures the individual that the deed it presents before him isn’t a sin. We must, therefore, be extremely vigilant to avoid the smallest breach in halacha that could, chas v’shalom, culminate in doing the most severe aveiros.
The yetzer hara is relentless, and man must battle it his entire lifetime, as Pirkei Avos (2:5) says, “Don’t be sure about yourself until the day of your death.” The Talmud (Berachos 29a) notes that Yochanan served as kohen gadol for 80 years but then became a member of the Sadducee sect, which denied the authority of the Torah Sheb’al Peh.
Many who lived in Poland in the 1800s were poverty-stricken, surviving on the barest minimum. In order to drum up business, merchants would display a table of wares outside their store to lure in customers.
A thief, seeing a relatively easy mark, walked up and down a block, calculating how he could grab the products of one of these merchants. But the particular merchant he was eyeing remained seated the entire time next to the table, keeping watch over his products. There was no way the thief would gain access to them.
Finally, he had a brilliant idea. Seeing some teenagers roaming the streets, he offered to pay any one of them who would steal a small item from the table. One of the boys agreed. He ran over to the table and stole a few cubes of sugar. He then quickly took off and ran for his life.
The agitated storeowner immediately began to pursue him. That was when the thief, who had been waiting patiently on the corner, rushed over to the table and swept all the contents of the table into his sack.
The great R’ Yechezkel of Kuzmir compared this thief’s thinking to the strategy of the yetzer hara. It distracts the individual from its true intentions by convincing him that he merely wants him to do a very small misdeed, like stealing one or two sugar cubes. Then the yetzer hara comes in for the kill – revealing his true motives – and the person commits a major transgression.