The yeytser horeh, the evil inclination, is still alive and well among our children. My thirteen year-old daughter just informed me that a friend of hers has been grounded after coming home from what was supposed to have been a Yom Ha’Atzma’ut party with “a hickey the size of a matzoh ball.”
It’s probably a good thing. According to the medresh, “Were it not for the yeytser horeh, no one would build a house, get married, have children, or do any business;” it drives people to satisfy their urges and gratify their egos. Someone who has been seized by the yeytser has fallen into a passionate desire––for an ice cream, a new house, or finding a cure for cancer––anything that can be desired or even lusted after. It’s Inclination with a capital I, immune to cold showers or thoughts of Santa.
There’s only one way to resist, especially when the yeytser starts to talk about sex: “Shlep it into the bes-medresh [study house]. If it’s made of rock, it’ll be crushed; of iron, it’ll be smashed to pieces (Sukko, 52b).”
Rock, iron–the only thing that’s supposed to be hard in a bes-medresh is the book you’re trying to read: yeytser-horeh-bleterl, “a small blotch of the evil inclination,” is what Yiddish calls a hickey. “She got such a yetster-hore-bleterl at the Teaneck drive-in that she wore turtlenecks for the next three weeks.”
May she wear them in good health––as long as she isn’t my daughter.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.
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