If not for Hashem’s help, he would not be able to defeat him
וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת-הָעָם֒ וְלֹא-נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹקים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י | אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹקים פֶּֽן-יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה: וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹהִ֧ים | אֶת-הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם-ס֑וּף וגו' (שמות י"ג יז-יח). ועוד ש (יחד ג') ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבוכים הם בארץ וגו'. ועוד שם (י"ד ח') ויחזק ה את לה פרעה מלך מצרים וירדוף אחרי בני ישראל וגו'.
“It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt. So God led the people around [by] way of the desert [to] the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were armed when they went up out of Egypt… And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel, They are trapped in the land. The desert has closed in upon them... And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and he chased after the children of Israel, and the children of Israel were marching out triumphantly.”
When we contemplate these psukim, they are difficult to understand. I will explain them one by one.
These two psukim appear contradictory. From the first pasuk, it seems that Hashem doesn't want to make Bnei Yisrael go through the Land of Plishtim because they will face war, and they will want to return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem makes them go through the desert. However, from the second pasuk, it appears that the reason for Bnei Yisrael’s going through the desert is so that Paroh will think they are trapped in the desert. As the result, Hashem will harden Paroh’s heart, he will give chase after the Jews, and he and his army will perish.
Furthermore, according to either reason, Hashem did not have to bring them towards the Land of Plishtim, because He could have brought them to the Dead Sea right away in order to strengthen Paroh’s heart to chase them, for the whole purpose was to take revenge over the Egyptians. If so, Hashem could have brought them to the Dead Sea without saying that He did not want to make Bnei Yisrael pass through Eretz Plishtim.
Another difficulty is in what the Chazal say (Shmos Raba 20:1 and Yalkut Shimoni. רישBeshalach): “Vayehi Beshalach Paroh” (when Paroh sent…) can be read as “Paroh said ‘Vay’ (‘woe is me’)” because he sent them away. Paroh regretted sending Bnei Yisrael from his land, and he would certainly want to chase them and bring them back. Additionally, Yalkut Shimoni brings down that Paroh personally escorted the Jews out. This surely added to his shame and regret, and pushed him to chase after Bnei Yisrael. So why did Hashem have to harden Paroh’s heart to chase them?
It is known that when a person fights against his evil inclination and overcomes him, he brings upon the Yetzer incurable blows. Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis קס”א) tell us about Rebbi Matya ben Charash that the evil inclination appeared to him as a beautiful woman to make him stumble and sin. When Rebbi Matya ben Charash stuck nails into his eyes, he forced the evil inclination to surrender. And the evil inclination - Chazal tell us - was shaken by this experience. But, despite the evil inclination getting heavy blows, he didn't learn a lesson and continued to try to make R’ Matya stumble. This is his way, this is his purpose, to test the man in order to make him fail, and he continuously waits for opportunities to make people stumble.
Moreover, when a person strengthens himself in his fight against the evil inclination, the evil inclination garners strength accordingly, as Chazal say: “the evil inclination of a person tries to overcome him every day and wants to kill him” (Kidushin 30b, Bava Basra 75a). The yetzer hara comes with incredible powers to make people fail. Nevertheless, a person can also elevate himself and, therefore, a person should never stop his Avodas Hashem, because the evil inclination will overcome him and give him an opportunity to sin. And this is the evil inclination’s preoccupation: today the evil inclination tells him to do this, tomorrow to do that, until eventually he tells him to worship idols.
However, Hashem gives the evil inclination the power to fight against a person only according to this person’s abilities, and not beyond his or her abilities. Hashem doesn't test or afflict a person, if he or she cannot withstand the test. Because of this, Hashem gives powers to the evil inclination in order to notify a person that he many not cease Torah learning or Avodas Hashem. Thus, a person should not say, “I am tired and I already reached lofty madreigos and, therefore, I will rest a bit,” because this is the act of the evil inclination, done in order to overcome a person and make him sin.
The Klausenberger Rebbe said: “We find (Shabbos 10a) that Raba saw Rav Hamnuna davening for a long time. He told him “people need to put aside eternal life and deal with momentary life (sometimes you need to be involved in Olam Hazeh.)” Davening is a way to connect to Hashem (from the words (Bereshis 30:8): “I have twisted with turnings to Hashem…” i.e. I davened).” Through prayer comes Divine inspiration; however, eternal life comes only through toil in Torah, finding chidushim and clarifying Halacha according to the truth. Through this, a person can attain higher levels than through prayer.
In the bracha Asher Bachar Banu Mikol Ha’amim Venosan Lanu Es Toraso (He chose us from all nations and gave us His torah), the bracha mentions His Torah because it refers to the Torah that Hashem learns (as if Hashem learns).
עה”פ כי אם בתורת ה חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה (But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in his Torah he toils day and night) - that is the second pasuk in all of Tehillim: first, it's called Hashem's Torah and, once a person learned it, it's called ‘his Torah.’ From here we see, that the only way to truly overcome the evil inclination and to break this materialistic body is with Torah.” (end of the Rebbe’s words).
With this, we can answer R ’ Yisrael Salanter’s Ztz”l question: in Succah 52b and Kidushin 30b it says, “a person's evil inclination tries to overcome him every day, and if Hashem would not help the person, he would not be able to overcome the evil inclination.” It is known that the evil inclination was created to benefit man so that people will overcome their evil inclinations and receive rewards, but if man fails, he will be punished (the reason for its creation is to make a person worthy of reward). If so, what is the reason for the creation of man if a person cannot defeat the evil inclination without help from Hashem? And why did Hashem give such tremendous strength to the evil inclination that man cannot defeat him without Hashem's help?
[והנראה להסביר לפענ"ד, ]
Hashem purposefully made man incapable of overcoming the evil inclination without His help so that a person will realize that everyday Hashem gives the evil inclination enormous abilities to make man fail. And when a person defeats the evil inclination, Hashem gives it the power to fight against a person again and, again, the man overcomes it and goes from strength to strength (Tehillim 84:8) without resting. This is what R’ Shimon said (Pirkei Avos 3:7): “One who walks on his way and stops his learning and says, ‘how beautiful is this tree,’ deserves to die.” The explanation is because one may not stop. And this is a kindness from Hashem, because through closeness to Him, a person can reach more levels and acquire good character traits and ultimately be rewarded for it.
Since the evil inclination’s powers are limited, when it is defeated, Hashem has to re-strengthen it so that it can battle against a person, ultimately giving the person the possibility of getting a reward for his victory in the battle.