As human beings we are tempted by the lure of materialistic pleasures. How do these seemingly unholy urges fit into our spiritual worldview? Should they be decried, shunned and totally censured? Is is there perhaps room to harness them in the service of God?
Our sages expound on the requirements of the biblical verse “And you shall love the God, your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Focusing on the Hebrew word for your heart – levaveha – the sages note a seemingly superfluous double letter. Your heart is normally rendered libha, the doubling of the letter bet, our sages suggest, indicates that our love for the Almighty must be expressed with two hearts. The heart is seen as the locus of our cravings and aspirations, thus we strive for a relationship with God that stems both from inclination for good as well as from our urge to do bad (M. Berachot 9:5).
How should the evil inclination be used for the service of the Almighty? How are we to express our love for God with the urge to do evil? Various approaches have been suggested. One explanation is that by embracing the drive for good and fulfilling the divine commandments and at the same time rejecting evil urges to transgress, the Almighty is served with both inclinations (Rabbeinu Yonah Gerondi, 13th century, Spain).
Another approach suggests that love for the Almighty with the evil inclination is expressed by retaining fidelity to God even at times when we are angry or wish to rebel against the Almighty. Such a state of unrest is the product of the evil inclination and by remaining loyal to God during such moods, we serve the Almighty with both our inclinations (Maimonides, 12th century, Cairo).
A different line of thought suggests that not just the rejection of the evil inclination or ignoring its urgings, but even its employ can be considered divine service. According to this approach the good inclination refers to attributes considered to be positive such as mercy and love. The bad inclination indicates negative attributes such as cruelty and fear. While undoubtedly, mercy and love are generally preferable over cruelty and fear, there are times when even the negative attributes are called for. By employing the appropriate attribute at the right time, in the proper measure for a suitable purpose, we serve the Almighty with both inclinations (Rabbeinu Yonah Gerondi).