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Tests In Our Heads

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

In the Garden of Eden there was a special walking and talking snake with an even more special job. It would test people's characters and values by trying to convince them that something bad was really good for them, to see if they would be able to resist and do the right thing. Nowadays in place of that snake, we each have a voice inside of our heads that gives us the same test. This voice is called in Hebrew the 'yetzer hara' - the negative impulse - and is always with us testing and tempting us to do anything, other than what we really should. The more we learn how to recognize that voice and not fall for its tricks, the happier and more successful we will be.


In our story a kid learns that we don't have to listen to every idea that pops up in our head.


I used to think it was just me. How many times I'd just be going along trying to do something good and before I knew it I would find myself doing something completely the opposite. I never knew how or why that happened until a friend of mine clued me in on the secret that I'll share with you.

The secret is that we all have a little voice inside of our heads called the yetzer hara that is always trying to convince us to do just what we shouldn't. I know it sounds a little funny and I thought so too, until last Sunday on the way to the library when I met up with my little voice 'face to face.'

Now we were having this big midterm English test the next day. I'm what you'd call an okay student. I get good enough grades if I study, but I'm not the kind of genius who can get straight 'A's' without even cracking a book. So I knew this trip to the library to study for the test was going to either make or break my grade.

I did all the right things. I packed up my book bag with all the books I needed and even brought along a snack or two so I wouldn't have to get up from my desk. I made sure to get a nice early start. Sounds like nothing was going to stop me from putting in the full day of studying I had to do, right?


I was just half a block away from the library when I ran into my friend, Jackie. "Hey Paula," she said, "It's great I bumped into you. I'm just on my way to Fashion City. They're having their end-of-season clearance sale. Why don't you come along?"

Now of course I'm sure you are expecting that I told her right away that I can't because I've got to study, right? Well really I was about to do that. But then, out of nowhere, a thought or little voice popped up in my mind that said to me: 'You know, maybe I should go with her for just a little while. There will be plenty of time to study later.'

But don't worry. I pushed that thought away. After all this wasn't just any little test. This was my midterm test that my whole grade depended on. "Sorry Jackie. I'm off to the library. I guess I'll have to hit the sale tomorrow."

"It's up to you, but tomorrow will be too late. Today is the last day of the sale."

Now my little voice started pumping a mile a minute. 'Last day of the sale! You'll just go for half an hour. Anyway if you don't go you'll just be thinking about the sale the whole time in the library instead of studying.'

Pretty clever, that little voice in my head, huh? Well it was clever enough to convince me to turn right around and go with my friend to the store!

So we get there and sure enough the place was packed. No way would I be out in half an hour - it would take that long just to wait in line for the dressing room to try things on. This was clearly going to be a whole day affair.

I was about to walk out and go back to the library, when - guess who - that little voice in my head came back and said: 'But you're here already. Why not wait it out? Besides, getting a great new outfit to wear to school tomorrow will make you feel great. It will probably give you such a boost that you'll do as well on the test as if you had spent the day studying - maybe even better.'

I put my book bag down and was about to dive into the racks of clothes when I caught myself. 'Whoa, wait a minute!' I said. 'This is nuts. I have a midterm tomorrow. How can I possibly compare spending the day studying to spending it buying clothes? This little voice isn't trying to help me, it's trying to totally mess me up!'

Without even telling Jackie (she was already over her head in a rack of 1/2 priced turtle-necks - she'd never miss me) I grabbed my books and ran, not walked, ran, all the way to the library, before that little voice could come up with an even better reason for me to turn around.

Panting, I got to the library and sat down at an empty table. Just then Mrs. Watson, the nice librarian who I know, was just walking by. "Hi, Paula," she whispered with a smile. "Nice to see you here. I imagine you've got a big test coming up. Well, good luck. I hope you pass with flying colors!"

I just nodded and smiled back. How could I ever explain to her what a big test I had - and passed, before I even got there?


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Paula feel at first when the 'little voice inside her head' tried to convince her to go to the store instead of the library?
A. She felt like it made sense, so she did it.

Q. How did she feel at the end?
A. She realized that she shouldn't listen to it, but rather do what she knew deep down was right - to study.

Ages 6-9

Q. What do you think Paula discovered that day?
A. She experienced first hand that she had a part of her which tried to convince her to do things that really were not for her own best good. We all do. It's nothing to be afraid of, but rather to be aware of and try our best not to listen to its advice.

Q. How can we know if the ideas we get are coming from the positive part of ourselves or the 'little voice'?
A. The most important thing is that we get our values clear - that we know what are our real goals and priorities. Once we know that, anything that genuinely moves us closer to our values is coming from a good place and if not - not.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Why do you think God would do such a thing as put a voice inside our heads that tries to trip us up?
A. We are in this world to build our character and grow. The best way to grow is by overcoming challenges. God planted this voice within us as a sort of spiritual 'sparring partner' who tests our commitment to our values and goals and gives us the chance to grow each time we overcome its urgings.

Q. Would you say that a greater, more spiritually developed person would have a stronger or weaker 'little voice' inside his head trying to convince him to act destructively?
A. It might seem as if it would be weaker, but in fact it is stronger. The greater a person is, the stronger is this 'little voice' trying to knock him down. This is because the more we grow and the stronger we become, we need a greater challenge to test us to see if we'll stay true to our values or not.


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