Upon his return to Eretz Yisroel, Yaakov Avinu sends a peace-making message to his hostile brother, Esav. He begins the message saying, “I lived with Lavan and have lingered here until now.” Chazal elaborate on Yaakov’s words, “I lived with Lavan and nevertheless I kept the 613 mitzvos and I did not learn from his evil ways.” The commentaries ask, everything else that Yaakov says to Esav is very conciliatory, but this message seems quite antagonistic - how does it fit in with everything else that Yaakov said? The Chofetz Chaim zt”l answers by interpreting the words of Chazal in a novel fashion; when Yaakov said that he kept the mitzvos but did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways he was criticizing himself. He argued that Esav had nothing to fear from him because, although he had kept mitzvos, he did not keep them with the same zrizus with which Lavan performed his evil acts. When he said that he did not learn from Lavan’s ways, he meant that he did not push himself in his maasim tovim to the same degree that Lavan did in his maasim raaim.
We learn from here that our performance of good deeds is judged in comparison to that of reshaim in committing their aveiros. There is a big kitrug on us if they go about their evil with more zest than we show in doing good. This concept can help explain another difficult Chazal. When Bilaam Harasha set off to curse the Jewish people the Torah tells us that he got up (vayakam) early in the morning. The Medrash Tanchuma says that on seeing this, Hashem exclaimed, “Rasha! Avraham their father already superseded you’ as it says [in the story of the Akeida], “Vayashkem baboker.” The words ‘vayakam’ and ‘vayashkem’ both mean getting up from sleep, however ‘vayashkem’ implies getting up even earlier than ‘vayakam’, thus Hashem was telling Bilaam that Avraham arose earlier in the morning on the way to the Akeida than Bilaam did on the way to cursing the Jewish people. What is the significance of this Medrash? Rav Chanoch Harris Shlita explains that Bilaam was trying to portray the Jewish people in a negative light by showing that he would act with greater eagerness in his evil than they did in their Avodas Hashem. However, Hashem told him that the father of Klal Yisroel, Avraham Avinu, already demonstrated greater eagerness in doing ratson Hashem than Bilaam did in contradicting it. Consequently, Avraham’s descendants inherited his characteristic of zrizus and possessed enough merit to withstand’s Bilaam’s kitrug.
In the Shema, we say that we must love Hashem with all our hearts. The Gemara darshans from this passuk that we should love Hashem with both our yetsers - our yetser hatov and our yetser hara. One way of utilizing the power of the yetser hara is to observe our zrizus in following its temptations and try to apply that to our yetser hatov. The following true story is an excellent example of the power of the yetser hara. A number of American yeshiva bochrim studying in Eretz Yisroel missed the good food that they enjoyed in America. So they gave $50 each to one bochur and sent him back to America to buy a really good meal from one of the most expensive restaurants there and to come back immediately with the food! Their love for good food caused them to go to remarkable lengths in order to fulfill their desires. By observing this we can perhaps tap into this drive and transfer it to the realm of ruchnius.
The same applies with regard to people who devote untold hours to try to satisfy their desire for money and honor. People will often endure sleepless nights in order to meet their deadlines - what about doing the same to meet the deadline of learning that we set for ourselves? We too can look into our own lives and find areas in which we feel more excitement and zeal than in Avodas Hashem, whether it be food, work, sport, or something else. We need to try to internalize what we already know - that shemiras hamitzvos provides far more satisfaction than anything else - then we can begin to ‘learn from the evil ways of Lavan and his ilk.’