Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought

By Martin Sicker | Go to book overview

9

The Good and Evil Impulses

With the ethical imperative of imitatio Dei as his moral compass, man is expected to set out on an appropriate self-correcting and ennobling lifetime course of human conduct. However, his smooth progress in traveling this road is impeded by the consequences of his having both a human and an animal nature. He is confronted by the conflicting demands of opposing impulses or inclinations struggling for ascendancy within him, motive forces that reflect the fundamentally different aspects of his dual nature. The perennial challenge for man becomes that of striking and maintaining an appropriate balance between the demands of his human nature and those of his essentially animal nature. The first reflects the divine gift of personality imbued with the attributes of reason and will. The second is manifested by man’s propensity to respond to the instinctive drives that derive from his biological and physical needs.

This dual nature of man, each component of which appears to be constantly struggling for self-expression and domination over the other, was epitomized in moral terms by the sage R. Nahman b. Hisda, who taught that “God created two inclinations, one good and the other evil.” 1 Presumably, the “good” inclination refers to that which is associated with man’s divine-like attributes of intellect and will, whereas the “evil” one relates to man’s instinctive animal urges, passions, and appetites.

The Hebrew noun, “yetzer,” that we translate here as “inclination” or “impulse,” derives from a root with the meaning “to form” or “to fashion.” The word therefore also means “form” or “frame.” However, when used with reference to the mind, it may mean “imagination,” “device,” “purpose,” or “drive.” The significant point, as observed by Erich Fromm, is that, “the Hebrew word indicates the important fact that evil (or good) impulses are possible only on

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Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • 1 - The Judaic Conception of God 1
  • 2 - The Temporal or Prophetic Paradigm 21
  • 3 - The Experience of the Divine 41
  • 4 - Man, the Universe, and the Creator 57
  • 5 - The Meaning of Human Existence 75
  • 6 - Man in the Image 89
  • 7 - Man and Providence 97
  • 8 - Man’s Moral Autonomy 109
  • 9 - The Good and Evil Impulses 129
  • 10 - Divine Omniscience and Moral Autonomy 149
  • 11 - Resolving Rabbi Akiba’s Paradox 165
  • 12 - The Question of Divine Justice 189
  • 13 - Theodicy in Judaic Thought 201
  • 14 - Divine Justice and Human Justice 229
  • Bibliography 239
  • Index 255
  • About the Author 261
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