Good, Evil, and Evolution

Sunday I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at an “Artist Beit Midrash” presented by Jewish Artists Initiative in Los Angeles, CA. Traditionally, a Beit Midrash is a study group in which weekly Torah readings are mined for deeper meanings. This group was unique in that it centered on a general theme instead of a chapter of scripture. That theme was the Jewish doctrine of Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa—the good and evil inclinations in the human soul.

Are human beings fundamentally good or essentially evil? Jewish philosophy proposes we’re both, observing that we seem to possess equal potential for doing right and wrong. In classical Judaism, the Yetzer HaTov is analogous to an angel on our shoulder reminding us to obey God’s law; the Yetzer HaRa is like the devil on our other shoulder urging us to break it. Our work, classically considered, is to side with our angels.

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