Monday, June 7, 2010
There is a Yiddish saying whose origin I do not know (and so I’m also not sure that I’m getting the order right, but the meaning is the same): “Klug is an apikores, shein is a noief, frum is a galach”—“A heretic is clever, an adulterer is pleasant, and a galach (Christian priest) is religious.”
One of the major paradigm shifts one makes throughlearning Chassidus is the realization that good and evil and right and wrong are not as straightforward as one might think.
It is human nature to intuitively associate certain emotions and actions with goodness and virtue, and others with evil and vice. We think of kindness and giving as good and desirable, and anger and violence as evil and objectionable. Joy and happiness are good, depression and sadness are bad. Love is good, fear is bad.
Chassidus rejects this model, and teaches that no emotion or attitude is inherently good or bad; it all depends upon its origin.
The ultimate origin of the human emotions is the Sefiros, the divine attributes, which contain the divine emotions. These then filter down into our world, and are reflected in the makeup of the human personality, in the person’s kochos (soul-powers).
Now, there are two cosmic forces in the world: Kedushah, holiness and Kelipah, unholiness. Each person consists of two inner selves that stem from these forces—the good inclination, or divine soul, which stems from Kedushah, and the evil inclination, or bestial soul, which stems from Kelipah.
These two forces, although opposite and conflicting, exist in a parallel manner, for “G–d created this one”—Kedushah—“opposite this one”—Kelipah (Zohar 1:27:2). So every character trait in Kedushah, and in the divine soul that stems from it, has its counterpart in Kelipah, and in the animal soul that stems from it. There is a kindness of Kelipah, and a kindness of Kedushah; a severity of Kelipah, and of Kedushah, and so on. The entire gamut of emotions exists in both Kedushah and Kelipah.
So, in light of this, let’s explain the above Yiddish saying:
Religiosity in the service of Hashem is good; in the service of a false deity it is evil. Pleasantness and romance towards one’s own wife is good; towards someone else’s wife it is evil. Cleverness in Torah study is good; cleverness to deny Hashem it is evil.
And the same goes for every character trait: Fear of Hashem is good (Devarim 10:20). Fear of an enemy in war is bad (see ibid. 20:1-3). Love of Hashem is good (ibid. 6:5). Love of materialism is bad. Compassion towards victims is good, but compassion toward cruel people is bad (cf. Yalkut Shimoni, I Shmuel, ch. 121). Conversely, violence towards an innocent person is bad, but violence in self-defense is good. Hatred of good is bad, but hatred of evil is good. And so on.
So whenever you are faced with a situation that requires discerning right from wrong, ask yourself not whether it feels pleasant or painful, but whether that pleasure or pain is good or bad from Hashem’s perspective. Hashem may be testing you to see whether you will look deeper than your immediate reaction, and reject a bad type of pleasure, or accept a good type of pain.
And the only way to truly know whether the course of action or expression of emotion one is considering is appropriate or inappropriate is by studying Torah in general and Chassidus in particular, for the Torah is called “Torah ohr,” a Torah of light (Mishlei 6:23), and Chassidus is called the ma’or of Torah, the luminary within Torah (see Eicha Rabba 1:1 and Shabbos end 31a).