The Rabbis of the Talmud were troubled by the evil and cruelty they saw in the world. So they tracked down the Evil Inclination, and locked it in a cage. And the world was peaceful for a while.

After a few months, people started to come to the Rabbis with complaints. Hens had stopped laying eggs. No children were being conceived. No new houses were built. No new fields were planted. So the Rabbis opened the cage, blinded the Evil Inclination in one eye, and let it free.

8 thoughts on “Motivation”

  1. Oh my!
    This opening salvo is classicaly used to open a philosophical debate into any number of areas. I’m curious which one you were striving for, but then perhaps you’re simply allowing anyone to take it where they want.
    In that case… let’s see what this says about the Rabbis themselves. No, not the ones who locked the Evil Inclination in a cage and later blinded it in one eye and then released it, but rather the ones that wrote the story about it.
    They implicate themselves by so decisively identifying the Evil Inclination with children being conceived; with houses being built; with fields being planted. There is no shame, no evil, in personal desire, in striving for personal attainment. Western capitalist societies, for example, thrive on it.
    It is unfortunate that they, and by logical extention today’s religous leaders, refused and continue to refuse to deal with human foibles and desires but prefer trying to supress them instead.

  2. Mark,
    You got my point. Though it wasn’t so much a critique of religious leaders, as a comment on the fact that people’s motivations are a mixture of selfish and unselfish motives.
    – Adina

  3. That’s always been one of my favorite stories.
    “It is unfortunate that they, and by logical extention today’s religous leaders, refused and continue to refuse to deal with human foibles and desires but prefer trying to supress them instead.”
    I don’t see how you get that from the story. If you acknowledge that the Id (our modern name for the Evil Inclination) is amoral, but necessary for life to happen at all, then you are dealing with human foibles instead of suppressing them, seems to me.

  4. I don’t know if “the Id (our modern name for the Evil Inclination) is amoral” or even if “it’s necessary for life to happen at all” but I do know that the originators of the story equated simple human wants and needs to something evil.
    I prefer to say live and let live and have a Hag Shavuot Sameach (Happy Holiday).

  5. I love the story. Watching my kids soak up several layered traditions of Indian parables and storytelling has given me a new appreciation how other traditions are and aren’t similar to the various Indian ones. I especially love the wisdom combined with fallibility, even foolishness, of the rabbis. I don’t notice that streak in the sages, rushis and swamis of Hindu tales. There’s a bit of it in the stories of Bribal, the somewhat tricksterish advisor to Emperor Akbar. (Birbal is a completely faithful servant to Akbar, but not afraid to appear foolish himself in order to make bigger fools of other members of the court. My favorite Birbal story, a not particularly well-written version of which is available at , illustrates this.)
    All of which is a preamble to saying: yes, I too bristled at the equation of sexuality with “evil” in Adina’s story, but contrary to Mark I see the story as explicitly affirming the positive side of human foibles. It’s less sex-negative than Eve and the apple or a lot of other Old Testament material (at least from the limited understanding of such things my secular atheist upbringing left me with).

  6. Mark, my take on the story is that the Rabbis aren’t just talking about basic wants and needs for food and sex and shelter. People build houses, plant fields, and start companies, for a mixture of motivations including pride and greed and envy.
    I think the Rabbis were saying that you can’t neatly separate altruistic motivations, practical motivations, selfish motivations, and antisocial motivations. People’s motives are always mixed. If you take away selfish motivations, the world grinds to a halt.

  7. Prentiss, thanks for the link.
    Also, the “evil inclination” isn’t just sexual temptation — it is pride, greed, envy, anger, etc.

  8. Adina: isn’t it “desire” the name?
    as in (
    1. The natural longing that is excited by the enjoyment or
    the thought of any good, and impels to action or effort
    its continuance or possession; an eager wish to obtain or
    I mean pride, greed, envy, anger, sexual temptation, and even etc. 😉 is driven by desire.
    It is in the boundary between our desires and other people’s (the “live and let live” from Mark’s comment), where the “Evil Inclination” thrives or dies.

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