To cite from this source,
- the ARUCH LA'NER suggests a novel approach to explain the Gemara (Sanhedrin 22a). The Yerushalmi explains that in order for David ha'Melech to repent fully from his actions with Bas Sheva, David ha'Melech constantly tried to place himself in the same situation as he was in when the incident with Bas Sheva occurred, and then, in that situation, to act with the utmost righteousness and control. (This is the highest form of Teshuvah, as the RAMBAM states in Hilchos Teshuvah 2:1.) For this purpose, David ha'Melech had beautiful Pilagshim brought to him. For the same reason, David ha'Melech wanted an attendant to be found who would be the most beautiful woman in all of Israel. When Avishag saw that David ha'Melech was already very old, she said, "You no longer have the same desire you had in your youth, and therefore having a beautiful woman around will not serve the purpose for which you intend." This is what she meant by saying that even a thief eventually loses his ability to steal and then claims that he has repented, not out of true repentance but merely out of the inability to steal. David ha'Melech showed her that he was still youthful and thus could still accomplish complete Teshuvah.
In school we were taught that King David slew his evil inclination, the interpretation being that he had no desire for Avishag at all. To me, this seemed peculiar. Wouldn't it have been much harder for King David to have desired Avishag but nonetheless deny her to himself in order to atone for what happened with Bat-Sheva? It seemed to me that this is what it should mean to conquer the yetzer hara.
Thus, to me it seemed as though there were two approaches:
1. Eradication (to slay the yetzer hara so that it no longer exists within a person- one only has one's yetzer hatov)
2. Redirection (to take the yetzer hara and redirect one's passions and desires into a more appropriate forum or channel in order to serve God- see Shabbat 156a.)
My best friend and I discussed this and he told me there is a machlokes as to which of these two approaches is better. He also suggested that complete redirection may lead to a form of eradication, in that if someone has truly redirected one's yetzer hara to kill into being a butcher, perhaps he no longer has any desire to kill a human being, so that desire was eradicated. I, in contrast, thought there was a possibility that the man still wanted to murder but slaked his thirst by killing cows rather than humans. However, this would never be totally satisfying to him. (Unfortunately, since in the Gemara it merely says the thirst is to 'shed blood' but never stipulates that it is specifically to murder or to shed human blood, I can't really prove my point.) Leaving that discussion aside, I thought it would be nice to offer some sources for both points of view per the simple understanding.
In Maalos HaTorah, Avraham ben Shlomo Zalman seems to prefer the eradication approach. He cites the Vilna Gaon as saying:
- When you are not able to withstand him [the Evil Inclination] because he overpowers you, then, "draw him to the study hall." Tell him that in the study hall you will do his will by learning for selfish motives in order to gain honor. This will put his mind at ease, and he will acquiesce. Thus, "doing not for its own sake leads to doing for its own sake" (Pesachim 50b). In this manner you shall be freed from the Evil Inclination completely. And so we understand the verse, "If your enemy is hungry"- and he desires to make you sin, "feed him the bread of Torah"- fulfill his will by learning for selfish motives, "for you will be heaping coals of fire upon his head" - when you subsequently reach the level of learning for its own sake.
- "The rabbis also explain (Kiddushin 30b n Bereishis 4:7. The verse recounts God's response to Cain's anger that his inferior offering was not accepted) "If you do good you will prevail." If you are busy in Torah, which is called 'good,' 'you will prevail'- the Evil Inclination shall be removed from you. But if not, you will be given into its hands, as it says, 'Sin crouches at the door' (Bereishis 4:7).
The Besht states that one who breaks and shatters the Yetzer Hara does not practice true gevurah, strength. But to conquer the evil inclination and raise it up so that one uses it for holy things is a much higher and more difficult level. That is what is truly intended when one speaks of kevisha with regard to the evil inclination. This is in line with what he states regarding the adage, "Who is wise? One who learns from every man." Every man, explains the Besht, refers to the Yetzer Hara as well!
He even explains that there are two types of tzadikim, those who kill the evil inclination within themselves and those who use it and simply channel it appropriately. He gives an interesting mashal regarding this. But the part I liked best was when he explained how one answers the yetzer hara in conversation:
- Once upon a time there was a king who desired to test his servants. He sent two men in his employ to speak words of evil and rebellion against him to see whether his servants would join them in their scheme or oppose them. The servants fell into camps: those who answered in kind and spoke words of opposition against the king and those who protested and claimed they loved and supported the king. There was amongst these servants one wise man who realized this was all a test and that the men who were speaking evil of the king were actually in his employ! Thus he rejoined, when they came to persuade him, "Fools! You yourselves are occupied in following the word of the king and you desire me to oppose his word?" The king heard the answer of the wise man and was most pleased by it; he brought him close and loved him and made him the head of his officers.
The answer of this wise man holds the key to how one may rule his evil inclination when it desires him to sin. All he must do is turn to his Evil Inclination and say, "You yourself are simply doing the word of your Owner (i.e. God), and why should man transgress the commandments of his Owner?!"
In any case, I am of the camp who is curious about all things and thus must find a way to uplift them and use them for the service of God. There are others who might be better served in truly slaying their yetzer hara, but when it comes to me, I prefer the Besht's approach.