35 - Situations - Who Is Strong? One Who Subdues His Personal Inclination

we can best appreciate the superiority of moral strength over physical might if we realize that only the morally strong are in control of themselves.


                                         We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create

z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Listen well to learn something from someone around you, and thank them for the help.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.


Lesson #35


Who Is Strong?  One Who Subdues His Personal Inclination

איזהו גבור, הכובש את יצרו

Aizehu Gibor, HaKovaysh Es Yitzro

Perek Daled, Mishna Aleph Part 2

Story(based on a true story)

For many years, I was an undercover  ba’al ga'a'va with an insecurity complex.  I went about my days doing all the things a teenage girl and then a young wife and mother were supposed to do.  But, I didn’t just want to do them, I wanted to do them above and beyond and be noticed for that, because I felt best about myself when I was above and beyond and people knew that.

I didn’t tell anyone about this, but I knew.  Sometimes I didn’t feel great about it, and sometimes it didn’t bother me.  But, as I moved on with my life, I encountered more and more situations where I could no longer be the best or even at the top.  I would keep pushing myself to a frustrating point, always have a story of my own to go along with someone else’s story of achievement, and, when possible, completely bow out of something I wasn’t great at.  It was kind of ridiculous, but it had always been my way.  If you do it, be the best at it, and then you can be proud. 

My kids grew a little older, and I began to see the dangers of wanting to be the best, as well as now wanting my kids to be the best.  I needed to get over this tendency both for myself and for my children, who were already becoming influenced by it.  But I’d been doing things this way my whole life, and it was hard.

Getting to the root of it helped.  For me to be the best meant that I wanted others to be lower and possibly looking up to me, and that was no attitude to have toward my friends and neighbors.  HaShem created us all in His image, right?  So, as I told my kids that we each have our own talents and that it’s good to do things even if we’re not that great at them, I told myself the same.

I signed up for an exercise class that I had taken once and enjoyed but not been great at.  I had been embarrassed at my flubbing of the steps since I was used to thinking of myself as very coordinated, and had not gone back.  This time I stuck with it for a ten week session, and it really helped reduce my need to exceed.

 Next, I had my husband give me a signal each time he heard me say something that put me above others in any way.  I worked on the midda of anivus in a mussar sefer with a chavrusa.  And, I worked on building up my happiness for the achievements of others, even when it was regarding something where I didn’t feel I measured up.  As I progressed, I realized how much I separated myself from others by needing to be admired, and how much more I could truly care for and be connected to others when I let the need for comparisons fall away.

I’ve gotten to a point where I think I’m in decent shape.  I feel less pressure to achieve above others and to have others acknowledge what I’ve done.  As a result of all my efforts, I have more and better friendships and my decisions are more rational and less likely to be clouded by the need for recognition.  I do have a new issue of balance.  In the course of the pursuit of my goal, I have reduced my ambition, which I really miss.  My drive to do and achieve was one of the best things about me, and I need to figure out how to channel it properly.   

The opinion of others and my hierarchy among those around me are not the only valid reasons to grow.  My work is for HaShem and for myself.  If I can take the same drive to impress others and instead use it to do HaShem’s will with proper guidance and self-esteem, I’m golden.  That’s my next project, and I think I’m strong enough to handle it.

Pirkay Avos:


"בן זומא אומר:  ...איזהו גבור, הכובש את יצרו..."

"Ben Zoma omer:  ...Aizehu gibor, hakovaysh es yitzro... ."

"Ben Zoma says:  ...Who is strong?  One who subdues his personal inclination..." (Perek Daled, Mishna Alef).

The Maggid of Koznitz emphasized the uniqueness of each individual’s yetzer hora.  As the mishna says, “hakovayesh es yitzro”, he who conquers his evil inclination.  Once we become aware of our own personal temptations, we are uniquely positioned to take corrective measures to curb this impulse to sin. 

Perhaps we can best appreciate the superiority of moral strength over physical might if we realize that only the morally strong are in control of themselves.  While the mighty often act impulsively--and often later regret what they have done--the morally strong individual is in complete control of his actions.  What greater manifestation of strength is there than the ability to control one’s behavior!

The mishna goes on to quote the pasuk from Mishlai, “Tov erech apayim mi’gibor, u’moshel rucho milkod ir,” “He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and a master of his passions is better than the conqueror of a city.”  In contrast to those individuals who are blessed with a patient personality, but whose patience sometimes suffers during difficult times, someone who attains the virtue of patience by taming his yetzer hora will remain patient, even when his natural inclinations dictate otherwise.  Whereas the hero conquers a city, the spiritual giant who tames his yetzer hora has conquered an entire world:  himself. 

The mishna speaks about conquering one’s inclination.  But, would it not be better to eliminate it altogether?  By using the expression kovaysh, to subordinate, rather than docheh, to push away, the mishna is hinting at the most effective method of dealing with the yetzer hora-not destroying it, but rather subordinating it, to serve our better impulses. 

The evil inclination, which comprises our physical drives, is an essential part of life.  The word for inclination, yetzer, is related to y'tzira, “creation”.  A person’s inclination compels him to plan, create and advance himself.  Clearly then, our role is not to eliminate this inclination but to control it and utilize it positively. 

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

How does the strength gained from working on ourselves and our personal relationships serve us in life?

What are some strategies we can use to battle ingrained negative traits?

What are some examples of negative inclinations that can be channeled into positive ones?

Stretch of the Week:

Identify a deficit in your Ahavas Yisrael and plan one doable way to address it.



Stretch Of The Week