The War against one’s evil inclination is a war no different than any other. There are striking similarities between this war and others, but there are also significant differences. One striking difference between a person’s spiritual war with his evil inclination and other kinds of wars that break out in our world, is persistence.
Physical wars have their limits and do not last for long. In contrast, a person’s battle against his evil inclination goes on as long as he breathes.
The first rule of how to wage one’s war against the evil inclination can be learned from the way that physical wars are fought. In a physical war, one must gird himself with courage and not be overwhelmed with fear or cowardice. The Torah commands us not to let feelings of fear overcome us when we stand opposite our foes.
The Torah does not mean that a person should exude overconfidence. This is not the Torah’s way, and this is not the way to achieve victory. To overcome the vicissitudes of the war, one must feel he relies entirely on the help of the Almighty, because nothing is beyond Him. Even when we fight our evil inclination, we have to throw our burden on God and know He will send help from above.
When conducting the war against one’s evil inclination, one should learn from the enemy’s strategies. We should adopt the evil inclination’s strategies and methods and use them against it, as we pray: “Give me wisdom from my enemies.” One of the main strategies that we can learn from the evil inclination is not to minimize minor victories.
Sometimes we are taken by surprise when we realize what efforts the evil inclination is willing to expend to trap a person into one sin. The primal serpent was cursed (Genesis 3:15): “he shall bite your heel.” The serpent is the symbol of the evil inclination. He tricks a person by “aiming at his heel”, which means focusing on the trivial things which a person usually ignores.
The evil inclination is not dismissive of seemingly minor things. It knows that if it will get in one little bite, he will have succeeded in infecting the entire body. So one’s counter-response must be the same. One should not underestimate even one little sin. Besides the severity of the sin itself, dismissing it as minor is likely to be an opening to fall into many other sins, as our sages say “one sin leads to another.” This deterioration from one sin to another is a very real and great danger.
On the other hand, even if a person sinned, and even if he did terrible sins, that should not keep him from fulfilling whatever commandments he can, even if they are minor ones. Some people are of the view “All or nothing”. This attitude is also one of the evil inclination’s tricks.
The Torah avers that each act, whether good or bad, is a world unto itself. Therefore, a person shouldn’t relate to each commandment or sin as a package deal, and deny the importance of this or that detail. Every detail is extremely important and holds the potential of determining a person’s spiritual future for the good or for the bad.