1) AGADAH: THE RIGHTEOUS WILL CRY OVER THE YETZER HA'RA
QUESTION: Rebbi Yehudah says that in the future, Hash-m will take the Yetzer ha'Ra and slaughter it in front of the Tzadikim and the Resha'im. Both the Tzadikim and the Resha'im will cry and mourn the "death" of the Yetzer ha'Ra. The Tzadikim will cry out of their realization that the Yetzer ha'Ra, which they overcame, was like an insurmountable mountain. They will cry, "How were we able to conquer such a great mountain like this?" The Resha'im will realize that the Yetzer ha'Ra, which they failed to overcome, was like a tiny thread of hair, and they will cry, "How were we not able to conquer such a small thread of hair?"
The immense remorse of the Resha'im when the truth is revealed to them is easy to understand. Why, though, will the Tzadikim cry? They should rejoice that they were able to conquer the Yetzer ha'Ra in their lifetimes!
(a) The MAHARSHA and others suggest that the Tzadikim indeed will rejoice. Their tears will be tears of happiness that they were able to overcome such a daunting challenge.
This explanation is difficult, however, because the Gemara here discusses the Tzadikim's reaction when the Yetzer ha'Ra is eulogized, and it implies that they will take part in the eulogy and cry in mourning and not in joy. If they will not participate in the eulogy, how does the Gemara know that they will cry and not laugh? (MAHARSHA)
(b) RASHI comments that the Tzadikim will cry because they will recall the great pain they underwent in order to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra.
It is still not clear, though, why the memory of their past pain should cause them anguish now (as the Maharsha asks). Perhaps Rashi means that the Tzadikim will realize that had they been able to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra with less effort, they would have had much more time and energy to dedicate to positive service of Hash-m.
(c) The MAHARSHA and YA'AVETZ suggest that the reason why the Tzadikim will cry at the death of the Yetzer ha'Ra is because the Yetzer ha'Ra provides them with the opportunity to earn their Olam ha'Ba by conquering it. Once the Yetzer ha'Ra is slaughtered, they will no longer be able to earn their Olam ha'Ba, and therefore they will cry. (The Maharsha adds that the fact that the Yetzer ha'Ra will appear both as a "mountain" and a "hair" is hinted to in the name of Esav's homeland, Har Se'ir. Esav, whose spiritual counterpart is the Yetzer ha'Ra (Midrash Rabah, end of Devarim), was "bequeathed Har Se'ir" (Devarim 2:5). "Har" (mountain) alludes to the way the Tzadikim will perceive the Yetzer ha'Ra, while "Se'ir" (from "Sa'ar," a thread of hair) alludes to the way the Resha'im will perceive the Yetzer ha'Ra.
(d) The RIF and ETZ YOSEF in the EIN YAKOV explain as follows. The Tzadikim will cry when the Yetzer ha'Ra is slaughtered because they will realize that the power of the Yetzer ha'Ra was so great that they did not have it within their ability to conquer it, and the only way that they succeeded was with Hash-m's help. They will realize that it was only with Hash-m's help that they were able to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra, and it was not due to their own greatness. They will cry when they realize that they are not as righteous and worthy as they thought.
In truth, though, Hash-m will give them reward as if they overcame the Yetzer ha'Ra through their own efforts. (This is what the Gemara means when it says that even Hash-m, as it were, will also be astounded. He will be astounded at the supernatural ability of the Tzadikim to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra, and He will give them reward even though they overcame the Yetzer ha'Ra only because of His help.)
(See also ARUCH LA'NER who gives another original explanation.)
2) AGADAH: HOW TO DEFEAT THE YETZER HA'RA
QUESTION: Rebbi Yitzchak states that a person's Yetzer ha'Ra grows stronger and stronger every day, as it says, "[The inclination of the thoughts of his heart] is only evil all of the days" (Bereishis 6:5). Reish Lakish adds that in addition to gaining more power over the person each day, the Yetzer ha'Ra attempts to kill the person, as it says, "The evil one (the Yetzer ha'Ra) looks towards the Tzadik and seeks to kill him" (Tehilim 37:32). Furthermore, the Gemara adds, if it were not for Hash-m's help, a person would not be able to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra, as it says, "Hash-m will not forsake him (the Tzadik) in his hand, and will not let him be condemned" (Tehilim 37:33).
The VILNA GA'ON (cited in TOLDOS ADAM and in KOL ELIYAHU #207) asks what does the Gemara intend to teach when it says that if not for Hash-m's help, a person would not be able to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra? This teaching is clearly expressed already in this verse (Tehilim 37:33) that the Gemara quotes.
Moreover, what is the Gemara's point in teaching that a person cannot defeat his Yetzer ha'Ra without Hash-m's help? What does a person gain with this knowledge?
ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON explains that the Gemara's intention is to teach that if a person does not use all of his might in his struggle against the Yetzer ha'Ra, Hash-m will not grant him assistance. Only when the person exerts all of his energy in his struggle against the Yetzer ha'Ra will Hash-m then help him. This lesson cannot be derived from a simple reading of the verse. The Gemara teaches that even though a person realizes that his own efforts will not be enough to overcome the Yetzer ha'Ra, he will receive Hash-m's help only after he first attempts, with all his might, to defeat the Yetzer ha'Ra himself.
3) AGADAH: DRAG THE YETZER HA'RA TO THE STUDY HALL
QUESTIONS: The Gemara says that if one meets the Yetzer ha'Ra, he should drag him to the Beis ha'Midrash. If he (the Yetzer ha'Ra) is stone, then he will melt; if he is iron, then he will shatter.
The VILNA GA'ON (Mishlei 2:16, 21:25, Iyov 2:5, and elsewhere) asks several questions on the Gemara's statement. He infers from the answers to his questions basic qualities of the Yetzer ha'Ra and the tactics which it uses, as well as how to protect oneself from those tactics.
(a) Why does the Gemara say that one should drag the Yetzer ha'Ra to the Beis ha'Midrash? One should leave the Yetzer ha'Ra alone and run away from it to the Beis ha'Midrash!
(b) What does the Gemara mean when it says, "If he is stone... if he is iron"? Is the Gemara in doubt about the nature of the Yetzer ha'Ra, such that it does not know whether the Yetzer ha'Ra is like stone or like iron?
(c) Why does the Gemara use two different descriptions for the Yetzer ha'Ra's demise? The Gemara first says that the Yetzer ha'Ra, if he is like stone, will "melt," and then it says that the Yetzer ha'Ra, if he is like iron, will "shatter"? (If a stone can "melt," then certainly iron can.)
ANSWERS: Based on these questions, the VILNA GA'ON explains the Gemara as follows.
(a) In his commentary to Mishlei (7:13-14), the Vilna Ga'on writes that the Yetzer ha'Ra does not attempt to conquer a person by seducing him to do an outright sin. The Yetzer ha'Ra knows that his victim would not succumb to such tactics. Rather, the Yetzer ha'Ra attempts to convince a person to do a Mitzvah with impure intentions (she'Lo Lishmah). For example, the Yetzer ha'Ra entices a person to eat the meat of a Korban (which is a Mitzvah) in order to enjoy the meat, and not in order to do the Mitzvah. Once the Yetzer ha'Ra succeeds in that small measure, it is able to entice the person to do more severe acts of sin.
The way to defend oneself against this tactic is as follows. When a person feels the Yetzer ha'Ra attempting to persuade him to do a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah, he should learn Torah. The Gemara (Pesachim 50b) encourages one to learn Torah even she'Lo Lishmah, because learning she'Lo Lishmah will lead to Lishmah. (Although the Gemara there refers to all Mitzvos as well, the she'Lo Lishmah act of learning Torah provides spiritual pleasure, and not physical pleasure, and therefore it tends to draw the person to learn Torah Lishmah.) This is what the Gemara here means when it says that one should "drag" the Yetzer ha'Ra itself into the Beis ha'Midrash. One should use the Yetzer ha'Ra's strategy of enticing a person to do a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah to learn Torah she'Lo Lishmah.
(b) There are two categories of Yetzer ha'Ra. The first is the Yetzer ha'Ra that persuades a person to fall into the trap of arrogance. Arrogance leads to anger and destruction ("Ka'as"). The other Yetzer ha'Ra is the lust for physical pleasures and the desire for honor and wealth ("Ta'avah").
(The Vilna Ga'on's source seems to be the Gemara in Chulin (4a) and in Horayos (11a) which describes two types of apostates, one who rejects the Mitzvos out of arrogance, with intent to anger Hash-m ("l'Hach'is"), and one who rejects the Mitzvos due to his lusts ("l'Te'avon").)
The Yetzer ha'Ra of arrogance and anger (Ka'as) has a masculine element, in that it takes hold of a person's unbridled creativity and misguides it. The Yetzer ha'Ra of lust (Ta'avah), in contrast, has a feminine element, in that it works passively as it quietly prods a person to be drawn after temptations. (These two elements correspond to the two prohibitions of "Lo Sirtzach" (Ka'as) and "Lo Sin'af" (Ta'avah), as well as to the qualities of the two antagonists of the Jewish people, Yishmael and Esav.)
The Yetzer ha'Ra of arrogance and anger is referred to as iron. Iron represents the sword and knife that cause lethal damage. The Yetzer ha'Ra of lust is referred to as a stone. Like a stone, the Yetzer ha'Ra of lust is passive, while at the same time it is difficult to conquer. Moreover, the Yetzer ha'Ra of lust makes a person's soul like a stone; it stops up and obstructs a person's heart (Metamtem ha'Lev) and makes the heart dull as stone, such that the person becomes unable to absorb holiness or Torah wisdom (see TOSFOS to Kesuvos 104a, DH Lo).
(c) The Gemara says that if one encounters the Yetzer ha'Ra that is "stone" -- that is, the Yetzer ha'Ra of lust -- in order to conquer it he must learn the parts of Torah which are compared to water, as the verse cited by the Gemara here says, "All who thirst, go to the water" (Yeshayah 55:1). These parts of Torah are the sections of Agadah and Musar which draw one's heart like water (Chagigah 14a). Since it takes a long time for a person to conquer that Yetzer ha'Ra, the Gemara refers to the process as "melting," which is a slow process.
If one finds himself in a battle with the Yetzer ha'Ra of arrogance and anger, he should fight it with the parts of Torah that are compared to fire, as described by the verse cited by the Gemara, "Behold, My word is like fire, the word of Hash-m, and like a hammer that shatters rock" (Yirmeyahu 23:29). He should direct his creative energy to the fiery exchange of Talmudic discourse between Talmidei Chachamim in the Halachic aspects of Torah. (The Gemara in Ta'anis (4a) associates the creative energy that produces anger with the creative energy that is used in Talmudic discourse: "If a Talmid Chacham explodes in anger, it is the power of Torah that is burning within him.")
The Yetzer ha'Ra of arrogance and anger does not attempt to convince a person that the sin he should do is necessary and uncontrollable, as the Yetzer ha'Ra of lust attempts to do, and thus this Yetzer ha'Ra is easier to overcome. When one focuses his creative energies on positive endeavors (Torah learning), the Yetzer ha'Ra "shatters" and leaves him immediately.