Here’s a question that requires understanding. If you ever get to a point where you’re really serious about working on yourself, really serious about conquering desire, you’ll start noticing some funny things. It’s almost like there are forces working against you. And the reality is that that is 100 percent accurate and correct. Hashem created the Soton (Satan). The Soton is a malach (angel) whose job it is to be on your case 24/7/364. And one of the questions a thinking person should ask is: Who needs him? Why did Hashem create him?
When you understand the human being, you could understand why Hashem created the Soton. As the Chovos Halevavos explains, Hashem made us out of two very diverse parts. There’s a part of me, a pure neshamah (soul), that only wants to do what’s right, good, and proper. Within me there’s a nefesh habahami (animalistic soul) that only desires what it was created to desire. Those two are in constant battle, constantly fighting for primacy, constantly fighting for control over me. One or the other is always becoming more powerful. One or the other is vanquishing the opposite side. And life always is a battle. Either the seichel (intellect), the neshamah, becomes stronger or the nefesh habahami becomes stronger; the human being is ever in flux.
That, if it could be, presents one of the greatest dilemmas. What happens if? What if a person from the time he comes to some level of understanding listens to his neshamah, listens to that voice inside that tells him what’s right and good and proper? He’ll grow and grow and grow, his neshamah will become more and more powerful, the nefesh habahami will become weaker and weaker. He might have started at 50/50, but after a while it becomes a 60/40, 70/30, 80/20, 90/10, and at a certain point after not many years there will be no reason for him to be on this planet.
You see, if the human being isn’t tempted, there is no reason for life. Life is supposed to be a battle. We’re given reward for resistance, for growing, for accomplishing. But if a person ever got to the point where his seichel was so powerful, his neshamah came so to the fore that the nefesh habahami had no sway, there would be no purpose in life. At 15, at 16, he’d check out of life; he’s done his job.
The Rishonim (early commentators) explain that what Hashem did was create another force to be something to even out the playing fields. The Soton is a malach who is given very little control normally. He’s not the chepper (bothersome), and if we’re 50/50 he’s allowed a little bit of sway, a little bit of power. But if a person grows and he becomes 60/40, then the Soton is allowed more control, he’s allowed to fill in that gap. And if a person gets to 70/30 the Soton is allowed even more control. The Soton is always there to keep an even playing field. And the greater a person the greater his yetzer hara (evil inclination).
The Gemara (Talmud) tells us “mi shegadol michaveiro yitzro gadol michaveiro,” one who is greater than his friend his yetzer hara is greater. Does that mean Tana’im (sages of the Talmud) had uncontrollable nefesh habahami? Certainly not. They were malachim, they were angels in the form of men. But because they were so great their Soton was allowed to operate at tremendous capacities. And if we were ever faced with that we’d be crushed. But understanding that his job is to keep an even playing field, to always keep the challenge going, allows me to understand what he’s doing, to understand why Hashem created him, and understand who I’m fighting against.