After Hashem destroyed the world with the flood, the waters receded, and the survivors left the ark. “And Noah built an altar to Hashem, and he took of all the pure animals and of all the pure fowl and brought up burnt offerings on the altar. And Hashem smelled the pleasant aroma, and Hashem said to Himself, ‘I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done’” (Breishis 8:20, 21). The Ramban explains this pasuk as an excuse not to immediately and utterly punish every wrongdoing, “FOR THE INCLANATION OF MAN’s HEART IS EVIL FROM HIS YOUTH. He (G-D) ascribes merit to men because by their very creation they have an evil nature in their youthful days but not in their mature years. If so, for these two reasons, (First, that by his very creation, man’s heart is evil, and second, that this evil persists only when he is young but not when he matures. Therefore, for these two reasons it is not proper that every living thing be smitten on account of man.) it is not proper to smite every living thing.”
However, the Medrish Tanchuma blames man for developing his yetzer hara from his youth and not keeping it in check, which is not in contradiction with this Ramban, or the Medrish Rabba that states, “Rebbe Chiya Rabba said, pathetic is the dough which the baker admits is bad, ‘for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’” The Yefeh Toar explains that even though it sounds from this medrish that one is naturally born with an evil inclination, that is a reason to not act with strict judgement every time man sins, but it is still within man’s power to overcome his nature. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
For this reason, the Medrish Tanchuma says after Adam sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, “Hashem the G-D said, ‘This is The Man’” (Breishis 3:22), this is what the pasuk in Koheles means when it says, ‘See, only this one have I found, for G-D made man straight’ (Koheles 7:29). Hashem only created man to be called righteous and upright in His image, in order so that he will be righteous and upright like Him. If that’s the case then why did He create a yetzer hara, evil inclination, which it says about it, ‘for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth’? If You say it is bad who then can do good? Hashem said back, ‘actually you make him evil! Why? A child 5, 6, 7, 8 ,9 years old does not sin, but from 10 onward he develops the evil inclination.’ If that’s the case then no person can protect himself!? Hashem responds, ‘you make him bad.’ Why? Because you were a baby, and you didn’t sin, now you grew up and sinned. There are many worse things than the yetzer hara, they are more bitter and you sweeten them. There is nothing more bitter than a type of bean called a turmos, and you strive to boil and ultimately sweeten it in water 7 times, so to mustard, capers, and many other things. So just as something bitter which I created in that fashion, you sweeten them for your own needs, all the more so the evil inclination which is given into your hands.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Anaf Yosef actually asks: isn’t the evil inclination bad by itself? He answers by quoting an Alshich based on a Zohar, that Hashem gave the yetzer hara to a person as a good thing, in order to give a person reward for not listening to the yetzer hara. If a person would not have a yetzer hara he would not be able to earn his reward, but a person seduced by his yetzer hara switches it to be corrupt with one bad decision.
Practically, how can we save ourselves from the seduction of the yetzer hara? It is not easy to use the yetzer hara for good and not fall into his trap. The Mesillas Yesharim says in the first chapter, “The Holy One, blessed be He, has put man in a place where the factors which distance him from the blessed G-D are numerous. These are the physical lusts which if he is drawn after them, behold, he draws away and goes ever further from the true good. Thus, we see that man is truly placed in the midst of a raging battlefield. For all matters of this world, whether for the good or for the bad, are trials for a man. Poverty from one side versus wealth from the other. This is as Shlomo said: “Lest I be satiated, and deny You, and say, Who is G-d? or lest I be poor, and steal…” (Prov.30:9). Tranquility on one hand versus suffering on the other, until the battle is waged against him from the front and from the rear.” Where is the light at the end of the tunnel; is there truly any hope in winning the war against our evil inclination? How can the medrish say that dulling, or even sweetening, the yetzer hara is easier than making mustard seeds and the like edible?
However, the Nesiv HaYam, a commentary on the Medrish Tanchuma, gives some practical insight on how to tackle the yetzer hara. He explains the medrish with it’s kal vachomer (fortiori), “Hashem tells the angels that man is like one of us, righteous and straightforward, but man can make himself bad, for the yetzer hara was created for the good of man, in order so that we can earn a lot of reward, if we don’t listen to it. So only man makes it bad. The intention of creation was for man to be righteous and straightforward just like the One G-D of the world, and only he would know good from bad, but then it becomes possible to enlarge the yetzer hara. But just like a turmos, which is a very bitter bean, when boiled 7 times, then becomes sweet and good to the point that it is a tasty side dish at mealtime, and just as all these bitter substances that Hashem created bitter, and didn’t command anyone to sweeten them, all the more so the evil inclination that Hashem created and gave into the hands of man to sweeten, is in truth very good.”
A person is faced with a lifetime of challenges, and when there is a will there is a way. People over the centuries have discovered different foods, have taken raw materials from the earth and figured out how to use them for there own good. But they do it not only to use them but to make them better, to perfect the substance, for example the chocolate (cacao) or coffee bean. There are always innovators who try to make them taste better, look and smell more appealing, and become more useful. If people can create such progress with something they were not commanded to do, which they had to search for, harvest, and develop on their own, then all the more so the yetzer hara, which is literally given to us in our hands, and G-D commands us to work with it and use it for the good, all the more so all the potential bitterness and side effects can be cut out and put aside and one can develop sweet scrumptious and tremendous reward when using the yetzer hara in the proper manner.
By having the attitude that the evil inclination is a product that might look, taste, feel, smell, and sound ugly but it’s a challenge that can be worked on and developed into something of value, scraping away all the dark sides and revealing all the positive and constructiveness that can come out of using the yetzer hara for the good, and knowing that Hashem gave us this product in our hands, it is in our control to sculpt it for the good, to bring out its sweetness and positivity, then one can reap the fruits, which might take much labor but is exciting and worthwhile to discover and perfect. With this approach, it will make it harder for the yetzer hara to entice a person into a murky, bitter path which a person is not supposed to walk though, that is the evil inclination which one is trying not to listen to. In that way an abundance of reward and a well meaningful life will be well earned.