The True Origins of Evil
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © July 24, 2017

Recorded Live on Facebook
(The first hour is this piece, the next two are discussions)

Since G-d created the material manifestation, and everything else, and declared it all "good," where does "evil" come from? We know that evil exists, and yet we have complete emunah or active faith and trust that HaShem is completely "Good." Knowing this, we declare that of His work are "very good." So, whence come evil? The Baal Shem Tov and his righteous talmidim answer this important question: In truth everything is "very good." In truth, there is nothing but the Holy One Who Alone is Blessed. We reference Him as the "Good One" or "G-d."

Consider, if we only experienced His goodness we would quickly become so absorbed in His Divine Presence that we would fail to appreciate His Goodness. We would come to take His Presence for granted, knowing nothing else, G-d forbid. Through the appearance of evil and fear we are reminded of His Goodness by contrast. We perceive evil and respond by attachment (or deveikut) to the Good.

On the other hand perceiving this darkness within ourselves we come to fear approaching the Holy One, realizing our complete unworthiness and the vast gulf that exists between us. Breeching this gulf is purpose of Torah, the mitzvot (divine commandments), and our ability to perform hitbodedut (personal secluded communion with the Holy One).

At 130 in the Tzava'at Harivash this seeming contradiction is explained. In Bereshit (Genesis) several times we read following the descriptions of the creative acts, that "It was good." This Divine declaration is followed up with the phrase that "it was very good" at 1:31 (in Bereshit). We would therefore assume that everything placed before us is "good," if not "very good," but this contradicts our experiences and the Torah. The Torah says:

"For this Torah [commandment] which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"
Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"
Rather,[this Torah] is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.
Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,
inasmuch as I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, to walk in His ways, and to observe His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, so that you will live and increase, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land to which you are coming to take possession of it.
But if your heart deviates and you do not listen, and you will be drawn astray, and you will prostrate yourself to other deities and serve them... Devarim (Deuteronomy) 30:11-17.

And so it is only logical that we ask, if everything was "very good" where did this "evil" come from? We are well acquainted with the myths of the various world religions. Each has its answer to this fundamental question of life and death. But what does the Torah teach us? What have our Holy Rabbis and Tzadikim taught us about this important subject? More importantly, how can we use their wisdom for our own needed soul corrections?

First we must appreciate the limitations of human speech. This "evil" that the Besht (i.e. the Baal Shem Tov) refers to here is not like the objective evils we reference in our daily lives. This "evil" is what underlies those objective evils, what makes the evils of our daily experience possible. In truth, these evils that so easily lead us astray have no objective existence within themselves. They are all powerless! They rise and they fall like waves of dark sea.

In truth, since all of existence is "very good" according to no less an authority than HaShem Himself, as revealed through Moshe Rabbeinu, we understand that "evil" itself must also be "good." How can this be? How can evil be good? We must understand that material existence is merely a reflection of the higher Truth. The Zohar refers to this as mile'eil umile'ra, which is to say, "from above and from below" or "as above so below."

All of G-d's creation is qualitatively good because the Holy One is Good. All of the creation is drawn to communion with the Holy One our Source and Destination. We all seek for Him in innumerable ways. Some of these ways are more effective than others! The drug addict and the alcoholic, the Pagan and the Jew, the poor and the rich, the infirmed and the healthy... we are all seeking Shalom, peace and balance, with the Eternal One. All of our attempts however would be doomed to fail due to the vast differences between His "Goodness" and our "goodness" without His intervention. For this reason the Holy One "dims down" as it were His vast Countenance so that our finite minds can perceive Him and commune with Him directly, just as a child does with his or her loving father. This "contraction" of the Divine Self is known to our sages as tzimtzum. It is not that the Holy One limits the Divine Self of course, The eternal is unchangeable, rather, out of Limitless Compassion the Holy One provides a means whereby we might know and experience tastes of Divinity, even though on our own we are incapable of this.

This spiritual "devolution" of the Divine Self occurs in stages or levels and we perceive the Eternal according to these stages "from below as above." Our world is only possible due to the presence of the Divine "Spark" and this Spark exists, in our case, within the lower levels of our shared experiences. Progressively from "Above downward" the Divine Spark or Light of existence is concealed or darkened rung by rung, as though the Holy One were descending a ladder into our realms. This analogy is the secret of Jacob's Ladder.

Without the Divine Spark, which exists within all beings and without which none of the beings could survive for even an instance, all is darkness and void. In our realm or level of existence the Divine Spark or Light of G-d is so concealed that it sometimes appears to be darkness itself. From this darkness what we call evil emerges.

Please do not misunderstand this vital point. Unlike the beliefs of some other religions, this darkness is not the opposite of light. Judaism rejects such dualism as it denies the absolute Oneness of G-d upon which we stand (Adonai echad). This seeming darkness is but the reflection of the Divine Light Above, so concealed that its light is difficult to perceive. It is not that the dark opposes or stands against the light therefore. The darkness is but a spectrum of the light. The Light of the Eternal One surrounds us.

"Man is the only being in the world who possesses a characteristic which no other being has in common with him.
What is this characteristic
It is that by and of himself man can distinguish between good and evil and do that which he pleases with absolutely no restraint" -- Rambam, Shemonah Perakim, chapter 8).

We humans are both blessed and cursed with free will. Never say "I will try," either you will choose to do or you will not. The choice is always ours. This uniqueness of freedom is manifested as yetzer ha-tov and yetzer ha-ra, the twin impulses of positive and negative.

Farther up the "ladder" where the Light is of greater intensity and less concealed there is no question of choice and free will. When everything is clear who will choose to follow a negative path? But here the balance is close to even, although it is tipping ever more towards the darkness due to the collective choices of humanity.

A popular parable seeks to clarify this matter:

Once a certain king had a son whom he loved very much. He provided everything the prince might ever need to grow up successfully. As he watch him become a man the king thought, "My has been given everything. Has he really learned what it means to be a good prince and future ruler? I will place a test before him and see. If he passes I will reward him, but if he fails both he and I will where more development is needed.
So the king called for a beautiful and wise woman from among his court to come before him. He instructed her to seduce his son and seek to lead him in the ways of fallen. The woman did as she was instructed. She used all of her charms and skills to entice the prince but he denied himself and her and maintain his integrity.
When the test was completed the summoned both his son and the woman. He praised his son for overcoming tests and maintaining his integrity. He lavished gifts and awards upon him. Next the king turned to the woman. Although in testing the prince she had performed many wrongs, she had done this out of obedience to the king's command. He therefore bestowed riches upon her and gave his thanks, acknowledging that because of her service the king now had full confidence in his son.

The woman in this story is Ha Shaitan, more commonly known as the Satan. Who or what is HaShaitan? HaShaitan is simply the manifestation of Yetzer Ha-Ra, the negative impulse. It gives us the freedom to choose our paths.

To help us comprehend the Scriptures HaShem uses many metaphors and similes The "king" is this parable is G-d and the "prince" is the hearer of the tale, you or I. As in this parable, HaShaitan is not the enemy of the prince nor of the king. HaShaitan is one of the innumerable servants of HaShem that make free will possible. Living here is the dawning light of the Kingdom of G-d we must choose the paths we will take. Will we seek the great Light of HaShem or will we choose to roam the paths of darkness as exemplified in the yetzer ha-ra. Like the prince, the choice is yours and mine to make.

That which we call "evil" therefore has no power, no existence, of its own. Nonetheless, as princes and princesses of the King we too have power and authority! Although that authority is ultimately dependant on the Will of the King. When people join together with an evil intention the dark sparks of their combined wills can and do create the objective evils that we see manifested all around us. These "evils" are real, even though within themselves they have no true existence. Likewise when the children of G-d gather together in pursuit of righteousness, blessings of light and shalom are poured out on the earth. How are we, the Children of Light, to respond to these evils?

The answer to this is well known. It is less commonly enacted however:

"All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

First we must stand firm for the truth and not waver, like the prince in our parable. One who does this is called a tzaddik. Of course there are levels here as well and not all Tzadkim are equal in their realizations and levels of service; "so be zahir" or careful to maintain your righteous consciousness before HaShem. There are two types of tzadikim and both are counted as righteous before HaShem. There is the type who focuses on himself alone, carefully maintaining his or her deveikut or attachment to G-d. This person is scrupulous with his/her level of observance and typically avoids everyone not on that same level of spiritual holiness. The second type of Tzadik is the one who lives among the people and is committed to tikun olam, to repairing, within his/her possibilities, those things that are broken. This type of tzadikim would prefer to sacrifice advancement if that means assisting other in their advancement. Of the two, this later type is said to be on higher level although both deserve respect.

To those who seek to be tzadikim of either sort the Sifra (Shemini) offers this:

Remove the yetzer hara from your heart... As [G-d] is singularly in the word, so, too, your service must be singularly [devoted] to Him.

Hitbodedut: Meditation and Secluded Prayer

Set aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to God. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with God to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut.

You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one's native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one's innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language.

You should tell God everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his level.

Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day!

Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to God, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of God, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell God everything and ask Him for all that you need.

If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need.

Many great and famous Tzadikim have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it.

It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask God when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson.

A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by God in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedut and offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade God to bring him to true service.

Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above.

Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan II, 25

With firm deveikut (attachment to the Holy One), emunah (active faith and trust in HaShem), and kavanah (intention) you will attain all success. Of this is no doubt.
Sources used in this piece: in Exile

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