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The Battle of the Generation - Day 37

Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"

The yetzer hara tries to blow us away with desire so that we won’t want to see clearly or do anything that goes against our desires. If we reach this point, we won’t want to fight back. But if we strengthen ourselves not to get lost and to maintain our will to win even as our desires activate, we will remember our aspirations and prevail.

The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a-b) relates that there was a tzaddik named Plimo. Plimo had an interesting practice: Every day, he would say to himself, “Arrows in the eyes of the Soton (the yetzer hara).”

One Erev Yom Kippur, the Soton disguised himself as a pauper and begged for food at Plimo’s door. The members of Plimo’s household brought bread out to the Soton. He said to them, “On such a day, are you going to leave me outside when everyone else is inside?”

They brought the Soton into the house, sat him down in a separate room, and offered him bread. He said to them, “On such a day, are you going to make me sit alone?”

They brought the Soton into the dining room and sat him at the table with them. As he sat there, his body became full of boils and he began acting repulsively.

“Sit properly,” Plimo rebuked him.

“Give me a drink,” the Soton requested.

Upon receiving the drink, the Soton coughed and spit phlegm into the cup. The members of Plimo’s household scolded the Soton for his disgusting behavior. The Soton fell and made believe he had died because of their screaming.

Suddenly, the members of Plimo’s household heard people saying that Plimo had killed someone. Plimo ran away, hiding in a bathroom. The Soton followed him and appeared to him there. The Soton once again fell and feigned his death. Seeing that Plimo was distressed, the Soton revealed his identity to Plimo.

“Why do you say ‘Arrows in the eyes of the Soton’ every day?” the Soton asked Plimo.

“Well, what should I say?” Plimo shot back.

The Soton answered, “Say, ‘May the Merciful One (Hashem) rebuke the Soton.’”

This story is puzzling. First, why did Plimo feel the need to say daily, “Arrows in the eyes of the Soton”? It seems this was important to Plimo, as he asked the Soton what he should say instead after the Soton rebuked him. What was Plimo trying to accomplish with these words?

Rashi explains that Plimo’s question to the Soton was what he should say to drive the Soton away so he would not sin. We see that Plimo would say, “Arrows in the eyes of the Soton” because this mantra would keep him strong and stop him from sinning. But we still must clarify how this phrase would actually help Plimo avoid sin.

Second, what was wrong with Plimo chanting this phrase? Why did the Soton instruct him to stop?

To answer these questions, we must understand that although we might not realize it, we are constantly fighting against our greatest enemy, the yetzer hara. He is a mighty warrior who tries to obliterate us in this world and the next. He plots all day to trap us, and he waits in ambush for us.

What makes the yetzer hara’s tricks so effective is that we don’t see them coming. It is hard for us to be ready for what we don’t see in front of us. We tend not to think about what challenges might arise in the future; we don’t notice the danger that lurks. It is difficult for us to see the yetzer hara’s attacks coming and that makes us susceptible to his traps.

In addition, we have difficulty noticing the yetzer hara’s work because he covers his tracks by doing everything in our own inner voice. When he makes us desire, he doesn’t just use a sales pitch to persuade us to succumb, like how we try to convince a friend. Rather, he makes us feel that we want it, and we don’t realize that he made us want it. We feel, “I want it,” not “You want it.” This makes it hard to view these impulses as coming from a shady separate entity whom we should think twice before listening to.

Plimo, however, realized he was battling a mighty enemy. He alerted himself to the enticements of this enemy operating within him, and he strengthened himself to conquer those impulses by saying to himself, “Arrows in the eyes of the Soton.” This mantra fired him up to battle the yetzer hara. By expressing his determination to crush his hated enemy, he gave himself the strength to defeat it.