The yetzer hatov makes its first appearance in the Bible in the form of the serpent who tempts Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Eve is attracted to the Tree because she believes eating its fruit will make her as powerful and independent as God. It’s her competitive impulse that draws her to rebel against God’s command. In our Bible class, Shaynan Graves suggested that Eve was more likely to oppose God, because she was created to be an ezer k’negdo/a helpful oppose. That is, Adam is attracted to Eve, in part because she is different from him. She offers him a perspective on the world that he does not have. And, with that perspective, Adam is more complete.
When Abraham appears on the scene, he elevates the yetzer hara to a new level. In opposing God’s plan to destroy the wicked Sodom, Abraham accesses his independent, rebellious side. But, Abraham’s motivation for opposing God’s will is not to compete with God. Rather, Abraham is trying to hold God to God’s own highest standards. In this way, Abraham becomes God’s ezer k’negdo (helpful opposition).
It is clear that this is exactly what attracted God to Abraham in the first place. In the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God is depicted as searching for a partner, someone who will understand Him, but also, where appropriate, oppose him. God’s initial search for a human partner ends in frustration, much as Adam initially does not find a suitable mate. Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of Noah and the people of Babel are all a disappointment to God.
Along comes Abraham, and God declares ‘zot ha’paam’—this time, it’s right---as Adam declared about Eve. When God considers ‘not covering up’ what God is about to do to Sodom from Abraham, it is reminiscent of the stage in a love relationship where partners begin to share things with each other that they would share with no one else. God even uses the words ‘ki tedativ’/ for I have ‘known’ Abraham. The word ‘yada’ in Biblical Hebrew is the word for intimacy, both physical and emotional.
This aspect of love is well known to us from the Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies. The Hepburn character is attractive to the Tracy character precisely because she opposes him. Throughout the Bible, we, the Jewish people, are Katherine Hepburn to God’s Spencer Tracy. God is constantly complaining about our rebelliousness, calling us ‘a stiff necked people” and in the prophets ‘an untrained calf.’ Our disobedience often results in the severest of punishments. But, it is arguable that the same quality in us that is so problematic for God is precisely what attracted God to us in the first place.