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Is there a difference between the "evil inclination" and the "animal soul"?

Is there a difference between the "evil inclination" and the "animal soul"?

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Question:

I would like to know whether the "yetzer hara" or "evil inclination" is an equivalent term to "animal soul." I've seen these two terms used (seemingly interchangeably) in Jewish and chassidic literature to describe man's base desires.

If they're not the same, what is the relation between the two?

Answer:

That's an interesting question. Although the two terms sound similar and are often interchangeable, they refer to two different things.

Your animal soul, the nefesh habehamit, is the source of all your self serving – but not necessarily evil – drives. In one word, the animal soul is self-centered passion. That doesn't mean it is bad. It can be neutral, or even good.

The yetzer hara is one's evil inclination. Think about what that means: your inclination to do evil. For example, the desire to eat non-kosher food, steal money, or do anything forbidden by the Torah. Those are all products of the yetzer hara.

The word yetzer is related to the Hebrew word tziyur, "form." In other words, the yetzer hara takes the raw material of the animal soul's benign passion and provides it form by channeling it towards immoral ends.

Thus the yetzer hara – the form of the animal passion – must be destroyed or at least ignored, since it is intrinsically evil. The animal soul, on the other hand – that raw passion – needs only to be re-formed and re-channeled. Generally, this needs to go step by step: Once the bad form of the yetzer hara is destroyed or weakened, then it becomes possible to provide the animal passion with a new, positive form.

The animal soul naturally gravitates towards that which it perceives as pleasurable and gratifying. As physical beings, our default pleasures are physical, and often of the forbidden variety. It is our task to reprogram the animal soul, to teach it that while it is fine to satisfy its selfish cravings—it should crave that which is infinitely better and sweeter than anything this world can offer—namely, a connection with G‑d.

If the animal soul can be successfully programmed to desire the divine, the practical benefit is great. For the force of the animal soul's fiery passion is far greater than the G‑dly soul's. Think for a moment about your excitement over a fine steak, as opposed to your "excitement" about doing a mitzvah. Can you imagine channeling that excitement and enthusiasm towards praying or giving charity?

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org


Sources:
Likuttei Torah, Chukat 56c ff.; Hemshech 5672 vol. 1 p. 46. See also Torah Ohr, Miketz 38b ff. for an alternate (but similar) explanation as to the difference between the animal soul and the yetzer hara.
Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Gary Portland, Oregon August 5, 2017

You must reconcile your comments with "As a well-known Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 9: 7) puts it, were it not for the ‘evil inclination’ no one would build a house or have children or engage in commerce. This is why, according to the Midrash, Scripture says: ‘And God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good’ (Genesis 1: 31). ‘Good’ refers to the ‘good inclination’, ‘very good’ to the ‘evil inclination’." Thank you. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn October 27, 2016

Please write a follow up on this. Thank you for your explanation. Q. Based on this that the yetzer horo and animal soul are not one and the smae, what is the difference between the yetzer tov and G-dly soul? Is the yetzer an angel? What's the conscious part of the person, the animal soul? How does the animal soul hear or interact with the animal soul? How does the yetzer tov interact and hear the G-dly soul? Are they both sub-conscious? Perhaps this can explain what it means to love Hashem with 'both' souls. How is that done practically? Does the yetzer tov and G-dly soul have an active role in it or are they just silent sub-conscious players, what are the dynamics and what is the interaction? Reply

Corny Schwarz Hamburg, Germany January 7, 2016

Please excuse me, for being so straightforward. But there is an article on this site, which seems MUCH better in explaining the topic.

click here to read it.

According to that article, there is no need to attempt to "destroy" yetzer harah, which would be impossible anyway. Nor is it "intrinsically evil", a term from catholic theology by the way. Reply

Ben October 18, 2013

What about chapter 29 tanya?
In Tanya Chapter 29 the Alter Rebbe seems to say that the evil inclination/impulse and the animal soul are one and the same,
please explain!!! Reply

Anonymous June 17, 2009

Nehim. Dear Mr Freeman,
I heard, usIng kabbalistic terminology, that the Yetzer Hara is the bottom part of the animal soul- the netzech, hod, yesod, and malchut of the animal soul. What does that mean?

What I do know, is that the drive for personal meaningless pleasure is corrupted more and more by associating pleasure with prohibited things-from ego boosts like honor and disparaging statements to eating food. Even the original drive though must be chanelled and the animal soul wants us to do this work so we can be more effective in the world. IT's G-d that is challenging us to be fully human. He tempts us and wants us to overcome the temptation. Reply

Tzvi Freeman Thornhill, Ontario June 14, 2009

Re: Yetzer Harah for permissible Yes, the indigenous yetzer hara has no interest in the forbidden. It's just a lust for meaningless personal pleasure. The desire for the forbidden must be learned. Reply

Ari Edson thornhill, On. June 12, 2009

This looks like Jewish morality put in a mystical format. Reply

Sholom E. Bellevue, WA June 12, 2009

Yetzer Harah for permissible in Tanya chapter 8 the Alter Rebbe Talks about two types of Yetzer hara, one that desires the prohibited and one that desires the permissible. Reply

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