There are numerous texts about the
Yetzer HaRa (the Evil Inclination, aka "Satan") in the
Jewish Talmud. The Jewish sages were in no way monolithic in their
understanding of the source of our human capacity to do evil. They all
agreed that humans are born with it. Here are a number of selections
which present proof texts for this:
R. Nachman b. R. Hisda expounded: What is meant by the text, Then the
Lord God formed [va-yitzer] man?
[The word va-yitzer] is written with two yods, to show that God
created two inclinations, one good and the other evil.
R. Nachman b. Isaac demurred to this. According to this, he said,
animals, of which it is not written va-yitzer (with two yods), should
have no evil inclination yet we see that they injure and bite and
In truth [the point of the two yods] is as stated by R. Simeon b.
Pazzi; for R. Simeon b. Pazzi said: Woe is me because of my Creator [yotzri];
woe is me because of my evil inclination [yitzri]!
Or again as explained by R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar; for R. Jeremiah b.
Eleazar said: God created two countenances in the first man, as it
says, Behind and before have You formed me....
Antoninus asked Rabbi, "At what time does the impulse to evil
gain mastery over man: at the time of his conception or at the time he
Rabbi: "At the time of his conception."
Antoninus: "If so, he would have kicked his way out of his
mother's womb. Accordingly, the impulse to evil must gain mastery at
the time of birth."
Subsequently, Rabbi used to say: This is one thing that Antoninus
taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is said, "At the
door [through which the newborn child issues], sin crouches"
Avot D'Rabbi Natan 16:
Come and observe: a kid or a lamb, when it sees a pit, turns back,
since in an animal there is no impulse to evil [to lead it to harm].
But an infant: the impulse to evil drives him headlong [to
destruction], so that the infant places his hand on a serpent or a
scorpion and is stung by it, or he places his hand on glowing coals
and is burned....
The following text from Avot D'Rabbi Natan 16 is the most
depressing statement about the Evil Inclination that I've read; it
provides such a sense of futility about a child's development!
The sages said: The impulse to evil is [at least] thirteen years older
than the impulse to good.
It begins growing with a child in the mother's womb and comes out with
him. If the child is about to profane the Sabbath, it does not deter
if the child is about to take a life, it does not deter him;
if the child is about to commit an act of unchastity, it does not
Only at the age of thirteen is the impulse to good born in a child.
If then he is about to profane the Sabbath, it warns him: "You
fool! Scripture states, 'Everyone that profanes it shall surely be put
to death.' " (Exodus 31:14)
If he is about to take a life, it warns him: "You fool! Scripture
says, 'Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.'
" (Genesis 9:6)
If he is about to commit an act of unchastity, it warns him: "You
fool! Scripture states, 'Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall
surely be put to death.' " (Leviticus 20:10)
When a man stirs up his passion and is about to commit an act of
lewdness, all parts of his body are ready to obey him. On the other
hand, when a man is about to perform an act of piety, all his parts
become laggard, because the impulse to evil in his innards is ruler of
the two hundred and forty-eight parts of his body, whereas the impulse
to good is like a man confined in a prison.
The following selections all try to
describe the site and basic "nature" of the evil inclination
Rav said: The evil inclination resembles a fly and dwells between the
two entrances of the heart, as it says, Dead flies make the ointment
of the perfumers fetid and putrid.
Samuel said: It is a like a kind of wheat [chittah], as it says, Sin [chattat]
couches at the door.
Our Rabbis taught: Man has two kidneys, one of which prompts him to
good, the other to evil; and it is natural to suppose that the good
one is on his right side and the bad one on his left, as it is
written, A wise man's understanding is at his right hand, but a fool's
understanding is at his left. (Ecclesiastes 10:2)
R. Assi stated, The Evil Inclination is at first like the thread of a
spider, but ultimately becomes like cart ropes, as it is said, Woe to
them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with
R. Yochanan remarked, There is a small organ in man which satisfies
him when in hunger and makes him hunger when he's satisfied, as it is
said, When they were starved they became full. (Hosea 13:6)
R. Isaac said: A man's impulse to evil renews itself [in allure] every
day, as is said, "Every impulse wrought by his mind was sheer
evil every day" (Gen. 6:5).
R. Simeon ben Lakish said: A man's impulse to evil grows in strength
from day to day and seeks to slay him, as is said, "The wicked
watch the righteous, and seek to slay him." (Psalm 37:32)
And but for the Holy One who is his help, he could not withstand it,
as is said, "The Lord will not leave him in his hand."
"There shall no strange god be in you." (Psalm 81:10). What
is the strange god within a man's body? It is none other than the
impulse to evil.
Rava said: We have a tradition that the impulse to evil dominates only
what its eyes see.
Our masters taught: The impulse to evil is hard to bear, since even
its Creator called it evil, for He said, "From his youth the
impulse in man's heart is evil." (Gen. 8:21)
Rav stated: ‘A man who wilfully causes erection should be placed
under the ban.'
But why did he not say, ‘This is forbidden?'
Because the man merely incites his evil inclination against himself.
R. Ammi, however, stated: He is called a renegade, because such is the
art of the evil inclination: Today it incites man to do one wrong
thing, and tomorrow it incites him to worship idols and he proceeds to
In the time to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil
Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the
To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill,
and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread.
Both the former and the latter will weep;
the righteous will weep saying, ‘How were we able to overcome such a
The wicked also will weep saying, ‘How is it that we were unable to
conquer this hair thread!'
And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them,
as it is said, Thus says the Lord of Hosts, If it be marvelous in the
eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be
marvelous in My eyes.
R. ‘Avira or, as some say, R. Joshua b. Levi, made the following
exposition: The Evil Inclination has seven names.
The Holy One, blessed be He, called it Evil, as it is said, For the
imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.
Moses called it the Uncircumcised, as it is said, Circumcise therefore
the foreskin of your heart.
David called it Unclean, as it is said, Create me a clean heart, O
Lord, which implies that there is an unclean one.
Solomon called it the Enemy, as it is said, If your enemy be hungry,
give him bread to eat and if he be thirsty give him water to drink.
For you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will
read not, ‘will reward you' but ‘will cause it to be at peace with
Isaiah called it the Stumbling-Block, as it is said, Cast you up, Cast
you up, clear the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of
Ezekiel called it Stone, as it is said, And I will take away the heart
of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.
Joel called it the Hidden One, as it is said, But I will remove far
off from you the hidden one.