Parashas Bereishis

In his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:1, the Maggid analyzes the struggle with the evil inclination. As part of this discourse, he discusses the interchange between Hashem and Kayin (Cain) in this week’s parashah. Hashem tells Kayin (Bereishis 4:7): “Behold, if you improve your ways, you will gain favor. But if you do not improve your ways, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is cast toward you, but you can rule over it.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 22:6, end):
R. Chanina bar Pappa explained: “If your evil inclination comes to play tricks on you, push it away with words of Torah. … And if you say that it is not subject to your dominion, … I have already written down for you in the Torah, ‘its desire is cast toward you, but you can rule over it.’” R. Siemon explained: “If your evil inclination comes to play tricks on you, gladden it with words of Torah. … And if you say that it is not subject to your dominion, I have already written down in the Torah, ‘its desire is cast toward you,’ etc.”
The Maggid explains this discussion as follows. R. Chanina bar Pappa teaches that a person has the capacity, by instilling the fear of Hashem in his heart, to subdue his evil inclination and direct himself to serving Hashem. A person may be confronted from within by waves of desire that tempt him to sin, but he can halt them through fear of Divine punishment. R. Siemon goes a step further. He teaches that a person can redirect his inner drive from evil to good; he can essentially wipe out all his physical lusts, and reach the point where his sole desire is to cling to Torah and serve Hashem. Both Sages build on the same verse, but from different viewpoints. R. Chanina bar Pappa interprets the verse according to its simple meaning. He regards the phrase “you can rule over it” as teaching that a person can place his evil inclination under the rule of his intellect, and break the force of desire that lures him toward illusory pleasures. R. Siemon, on the other hand, builds on a homiletical reading of the phrase “its desire is cast toward you.” He interprets this phrase as teaching that a person’s force of desire is cast into his own hands, enabling him to redirect it toward advancing his own will. Thus, a person can train his inner spirit to long for Torah and mitzvos, to love justice, and to hate evil and crookedness.
We can elaborate on the Maggid’s explanation and say that the two views represent two succesive stages in the process of taming the evil inclination. In parallel, in line with the Mesillas Yesharim, we can identify two successive stages in dealing with the material world. The first stage is prishus – abstaining as much as possible from material benefits. The second stage, after several intermediate steps of character development, is kedushah – making free use of material benefits, but infusing this use with holiness by directing it entirely toward the purpose of serving Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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