When a boy reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah he has two guests who take up residency within him for the rest of his life. They are the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — who moved in at birth and the Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — who has now completed his moving in and has become a full fledged resident (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 4:2).

These two residents are not easy going tenants. They fervishly wrangle among themselves, and each one of them endeavors to take control of their host. The Yeitzer Tov tries to draw the host to live a Torah lifestyle. On the other hand, the Yeitzer Hara wants him to transgress Torah and follow the ways of the secular world.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are young and lack experience in how to deal with this phenomenon. Fortunately for you, in the Torah reading of your Bar Mitzvah, our forefather Yaakov gives a succinct instruction in overcoming the Yeitzer Hara and not falling for his arguments and rationalizations. If you heed Yaakov Avinu’s advice carefully, your efforts to be a Torah-true Jew will succeed.

Your two boarders are represented in the persons of Yaakov and Eisav. The Torah describes Yaakov as the “sincere person who dwelt in the Tents [of Torah]” and conducted his way of life accordingly. Regarding Eisav the Torah says that his occupation was hunting (25:27). In addition to hunting for sport and for food, he also set out to capture the minds of people and win them over to join the renegades.

His father Yitzchak and brother Yaakov were not afraid of being influenced by him. However, Yaakov was concerned that his offspring (and future generations) might fall prey. In this parshah, Yaakov prepares his children for an encounter with Eisav — the Yeitzer Hara. He warns them that when they meet Eisav he may ask them questions and teaches them how to respond.

Yaakov begins “Ki yifgashecha Eisav achi” — “When my brother Eisav meets you...” (32:18). Yaakov’s words raise an immediate question. The word “achi” — “my brother” — is seemingly superfluous. Isn’t it common knowledge that Yaakov and Eisav were brothers?

My dear Bar Mitzvah, here, in my opinion, was Yaakov’s message to his children and in fact to all future generations, including you and your friends.

Eisav, the Yeitzer Hara — is very sly and tricky. He will use every possible stratagem to catch an unsuspecting Jewish boy or girl into his net. Once he lures them in, he endeavors to have them obey his directives.

Now a smart Jewish boy and girl know that the Yeitzer Hara is a determined adversary, and an intelligent person knows to keep a distance from an enemy. This makes it difficult for the Yeitzer Hara to accomplish his mission. So he changes his tactics and tries to appear as a “friend,” hoping that his intended victim will fall for the ploy and be entrapped. The Yeitzer Hara comes with a smile and tries to convince a Jew that he is seeking his benefit, and moreover what he wants of him is really a mitzvah etc.

Yaakov therefore issued a warning to his progeny: “When you meet Eisav my brother — i.e. when he approaches you in a brotherly fashion and as your good friend, beware! Be assured that he is your enemy, not your friend, and do not fall into his trap.”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad Chassidut, known as the Alter Rebbe in his Sefer Likkutei Amarim — Tanya (see ch. 13) writes that the battle between the Yeitzer Tov and Yeitzer Hara is constant. May Hashem help you succeed in your battle not to fall prey to the Yeitzer Hara.

May you grow to be a Chassid, yirei ShamayimG‑d fearing Jew — and a lamdan — Torah scholar — and at all times follow only the directives of your Yeitzer Tov.


My dear Bar Mitzvah, in the Rebbe’s letter to you in honor of your Bar Mitzvah, he blesses you that “from the age of ben sholosh esrei l’mitzvot — 13 years old — when you become obligated in mitzvah observance — you should merit to continue on to the stages of maturity, as ruled in the Mishnah in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot.” How did the Mishnah know that 13 years old is the time when one becomes obligated to observe the mitzvot of the Torah?

According to Mishnaic commentaries it is derived from an episode related in this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Vayishlach.

After twenty years of trials and difficulties that Yaakov endured in the house of Lavan, Yaakov decided to return to Eretz Yisrael. Following two years of temporary sojourn he finally settled in Shechem. He hoped that now he would find tranquility, but suddenly he faced an unexpected crisis. His daughter Dinah was abducted and violated by the Shechem the son of the prince of the region.

When his sons returned home from work and found out what had occurred, they were outraged and decided to carry out a death sentence against all the males of the city. (By what right they did so halachically is discussed and justified by major commentaries, but this is not the place and time to elaborate on this.)

The Torah relates that “Vayikchu shenei b’nei Yaakov Shimon v’Levi achei Dinah ish charbo vayavo’u al ha’ir betach vayargu kol zachor— “Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers each man took his sword and they came upon the city confidentially and killed every male” (34:25).

Commentaries note that the word “ish” — [each] man — seems superfluous? At the time when the episode took place, Shimon and Levi were just thirteen years old, and thus, the Torah teaches us that at the age of thirteen one becomes an ish — man — and a full fledged member of Klal Yisrael. Up to that age he was considered a katan — minor — but from that age on he is ish — a mature man and is obligated to observe all the mitzvot of the Torah (see Avot 5:22, Bartenura and Rashi to Nazir 29b).

Accordingly, the age of 13 is the time that Torah establishes when one reaches the stage of maturity. He is now considered a gadol — adult — who has developed seichel and da’at — the intelligence that distinguishes an adult from a minor.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, permit me to share with you a difficulty I have with the story of the Bar Mitzvah boys Shimon and Levi.

Nowadays, it is a practice in many circles for a Bar Mitzvah boy to perform an act of kindness. Many even give away their Bar Mitzvah gifts to a charitable cause to help someone less fortunate. In lieu of telling us of the Bar Mitzvah boys’ rash and daring act, would it not have been more fitting for the Torah to relate some benevolent act of Shimon and Levi?

According to the Rebbe, the Torah is conveying an important lesson for all, and particularly for a young Jew like yourself, who is just entering manhood and accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvot.

In truth, the brothers’ act was not a negative one at all. They acted passionately to defend the cause of righteousness, putting rational considerations aside.

The lesson for every Jewish boy who reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah is that the observance of mitzvot should not be governed by logic and sound reasoning. Rather, it should be carried out with every fiber of one’s being — with total mesirut nefesh — self sacrifice.

Moreover, as soon as one becomes thirteen, one is expected to have mesirut nefesh — i.e., the highest degree of dedication and sacrifice — to defend and protect the integrity and sanctify of Torah, Klal Yisrael as well as each and every Jew.


Throughout the Torah, the term ish — man — is used in connection with many of the positive and negative commandments. This implies that it is an obligation of an adult and not a katan — minor. It is commonly accepted that until age 13 one is considered a katan — minor — and upon becoming 13 years old one has achieved the level of ish — man (adult).

The source for this demarcation is not clearly delineated in the Torah and thus, it has become a subject of conversation between commentaries.

According to Rashi (Nazir 29b) a source for this is derived from an episode recorded in this week’s parshah of Vayishlach.

After suffering many trials and tribulations for twenty years in the house of Lavan, Yaakov decided that enough is enough, and fled. Yaakov arrived back in Eretz Yisrael after an absence of nearly twenty-two years. He purchased a plot of land in Shechem hoping that at last he would find tranquility. Suddenly, he faced an unexpected crisis. His daughter, Dinah, was abducted and violated by Shechem the son of Chamor, the prince of the region.

When Yaakov’s sons found out what had occurred, they were incensed by the disgraceful conduct of their neighbor. The Torah relates “Vayikchu shenei b’nei Yaakov, Shimon v’Levi achei Dinah ish charbo, …vayahargu kol zachar” — “Two of Yaakov’s sons, Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each man took his sword, and they came upon the city confidently, and killed every male” (34:25). At that time Shimon and Levi were 13 years old. The Torah refers to them with the extra word ish — man — to imply that wherever the Torah used the term ish — man — it refers to a male of at least thirteen years of age.

(The accounting to derive their age is the following: After seven years of work Yaakov married Leah. During the first two years after their marriage she gave birth to Reuven, Shimon and Levi in seven month pregnancies. Thirteen years after their marriage Yaakov left Lavan. Shimon and Levi were eleven at the time. Add to this approximately two years of travel, [including a sojourn at Sukkot for 18 months] and thus Shimon was already 13 and Levi had just become 13 years old.)

Though the Torah contains many stories, Torah is not, G‑d forbid, a story book! The word Torah etymologically is related to the word hora’ah — which means teaching and guidance (see Radak to Psalms 19:7). Thus, the purpose of every biblical story is the lesson it conveys. This particular story of the two young boys Shimon and Levi is somewhat problematic. The story tells of their strength at the young age of 13. However, in lieu of describing how at a young age they used this great strength for an act of kindness, it is demonstrated by their violent behavior, where they took the law into their hands and meted out murderous punishment.

The book of Bereishit is know as “Sefer Hayashar” — “Book of the Upright” — because it discusses the lives of the Patriarchs — Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Avodah Zara 25a). Hence, the crux of Bereishit is to teach us the righteous ways of life we should emulate. The Gemara (Sotah 14a) says that the Torah begins with relating an act of kindness — Hashem made garments for Adam and Chavah, and concludes with an act of kindness — Hashem buried Moshe. The idea of the Gemara is to emphasis that Torah favors acts of benevolence and kindness. This episode seems to accentuate the opposite?

Perhaps it could be explained in the following way:

From birth on, man has a Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination. At Bar Mitzvah the Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — makes its full entry (see Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 4:2). From then on and throughout the entire life one then is confronted with the constant battle of these two forces.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad Chassidut, known as the Alter Rebbe, in Likkutei Amarim–Tanya, ch. 13, explains the saying of Gemara (Berachot 61b) “Intermediate people are judged by both [the Good and Evil Inclinations — the two impulses that motivate man’s actions] to mean the following: Each one is no more than a magistrate that gives his opinion. Similarly, the Evil Inclination states its opinion in the left part of the heart [the seat of passions] which then ascends to the brain for contemplation. Immediately it is challenged by the second judge (the Good Inclination) the Divine soul in the brain extending into the right part of the heart, the abode of good nature.”

To allude to the battle one is confronted with and must wage upon becoming Bar Mitzvah, the Torah relates of a war Shimon and Levi engaged in when they became Bar Mitzvah.

Utilizing a homiletical approach, permit me to go a step further. The entire episode of Dinah, who was violated by Shechem the son of Chamor, and the killing of the inhabitants of Shechem may be interpreted as an allegory to the battle of the Yeitzer Tov and Yeitzer Hara and the ultimate victory of the Yeitzer Tov.

The word Shechem (שכם) has the numerical value of 360 which is equivalent to the numerical value of Satan — שטן — im hakolel counting the word as one (Satan = 359 + 1 = 360). Satan represents the Yeitzer Hara as the Gemara (Bava Batra 16a) says, Satan, the Yeitzer Hara, and angel of death are one.

The word chamor is of the same root as the word chomer — “materiality” — which represents the mundane and gross cravings of the Yeitzer Hara after all bodily and earthly pleasures of this world.

Thus, when Shechem ben Chamor (the Yeitzer Hara — Satan — who pursues materiality) had a negative influence on Dinah, her brothers Shimon and Levi — who represented the Yeitzer Tov went to battle to wipe out all traces of the evil forces.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, regarding this battle, the Alter Rebbe writes that Hashem helps the Yeitzer Tov by means of a glow radiated by the Divine light, which illuminates the Divine soul that it may gain the upper hand and mastery over the folly of the fool — the Yeitzer Hara — by dedication to Torah and mitzvot.

May you merit the prediction of our sages (Kiddushin 30b) that when one battles his Yeitzer Hara, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu ozro” — Hashem helps him to succeed.