On the sixth day of Creation, after G-d created man, the Torah records that “G-d saw
everything that He made – vehinei tov meod – and behold it was very good.” G-d saw the
completeness, the harmony that united everything that He had created. The Midrash interprets
this verse to mean that both the yeitzer hatov, man’s good inclination, and the yeitzer hara,
man’s evil inclination, are part of the complete goodness of this world. How can this be? How
can the evil inclination be included in the statement, “vehinei tov meod”? After all G-d does not
foist evil upon man.
In explaining the Midrash, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”/, taught that everything G-d created
was good, not evil. When man makes use of the gifts G-d set forth on the earth in their proper
manner, they are good. But when we take those gifts to the extreme, when we aren’t satisfied
with good and try to make them very good, they can become evil.
Man’s physical desire to eat is good and necessary; but when he goes to one extreme or the
other, either gorging himself or fasting, he plays into the hands of the yeitzer hara. In all
avenues of life, when we overdo or overeat or overreact, when we turn tov into tov meod, we
turn ourselves over to the yeitzer hara.
Man, said Aristotle, should not feel or express great joy or great sorrow, since neither extreme
is beneficial for him. In contrast to Aristotle’s golden mean, which leaves man devoid of
emotion, the Rambam understood that man needs to express great joy and great mourning in
their proper times. Nevertheless, man must always be in control of his emotions.
When we view emotions from the Torah’s viewpoint, explains Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l,
we cannot allow our emotions to run rampant. To sanction such behavior is to sanction
excessive hate and self-abuse. The Torah requires us to control our emotions, not to squelch
them. In mourning, we express sadness, but when Shabbos or the holidays arrive, we are
required to limit our expressions of grief. The Torah commands us to regulate feelings of love,
hate and sorrow. Emotions are only noble when controlled.
The Rambam, in describing the eitz hadaas tov vara – The Tree of Knowledge that knew good
and evil, explains that the knowledge the tree offered was the gamut of human emotion and
drive, giving man the potential to either do the will of G-d or to go against His will. If we use
this potential wisely, we will learn when to say when, practicing moderation in all areas of life
and ensuring that we settle for tov and do not chase after tov meod.
Rabbi Emanuel Holzer
Rabbinical Council of America