"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The paradoxical mission of evil

The Paradoxical Mission of Evil

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Hashem loves us dearly, and therefore He wants our bond with Him to be real. As long as we remain in a pure, sheltered environment, although our bond with Him may be very strongly felt, it is lacking, because it may be superficial—if put to the test, it could well fall apart.

So although He is pained, so to speak, to do so, for our own benefit, Hashem tests us. He wants to grant us the opportunity to reveal how deep our connection with Him is. How does he test us? With evil, and the evil inclination.

The Zohar[1] compares this to a king who raised his son to follow high standards of ethical behavior, and then hired a prostitute to do everything in her power to seduce the son. Only when the prince rebuffs her completely and stubbornly refuses to sin does the king know for certain that all his efforts to raise the prince to a life of virtue were effective.

Although the king urges the prostitute to do her utmost to ensnare the prince, he only does so in order that the test be formidable and not easily passed. However, the king’s entire reason for sending her is his wish that the prince will ignore all her wiles and live up to his refined upbringing.

Thus, paradoxically, if the prince remains loyal, the prostitute will be rewarded, while if she succeeds, the king will be upset at the prostitute, and will punish her. (Along these lines, the Torah says that if one sinned with an animal, the animal must be put to death, “since disgrace came through it.”[2])

Likewise, Hashem dispatches the evil inclination to test our loyalty to Him. Each person is sent his or her own “prostitute” equipped with the powers to test him in a way that will be truly difficult for him or her personally to overcome, according to his or her personality and weaknesses. What is a difficult test for one person is easily overcome for another, and vice versa.

Yet despite all the evil inclination’s efforts, it knows that if it fails, it will be richly rewarded, but if it succeeds, it will be harshly punished, and so it secretly prays for its would-be victim to ignore it. And when we do reject the temptation, the evil inclination thanks us for enabling it to accomplish its true mission.[3]

This very awareness imbues with us the strength not to succumb to the evil inclination, for if the evil inclination itself wants us to disregard it, sinning is surely very foolish.

It should be noted that as tremendous as the benefits are of being tested, it would be foolhardy and arrogant for one to ask for a test, or initiate one, for the very simple reason that one might fail. Thus, the Gemara warns that “One should never bring oneself to be tested, because David, King of Yisrael, brought himself to be tested, and failed.”[4] Likewise, in the morning Berachos we ask of Hashem, “Do not bring us to a test”[5]; thus, we should surely not initiate such a situation ourselves.[6]

To carry the above analogy further: If the king chooses to arrange that the prince be tested, that is his choice; however, if the prince knowingly enters such a situation, the king will be most displeased, and the prince would be much more likely to fail.

In summary, Hashem seeks to reveal our loyalty to Him by testing us, and this awareness infuses us with the strength to overcome temptation; nevertheless, we should not test ourselves.

[1] Zohar 2:163a. Cf. Kesser Shem Tov #115.
[2] Vayikra 20:15, Rashi.

[3] Sicha of 20 Tishrei 5744.
[4] Sanhedrin 107b.
[5] Berachos 60b.
[6] Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 15, p. 44.

Based on Tanya, chs. 29, 9;
Sicha of Yud Shevat, 5718 (Toras Menachem, Vol. 22, p. 43).

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

On removing sadness and maintaining joy

Strength is not only physical; it is also emotional. And defeating an opponent requires both kinds of strength. In fact, sometimes the key to victory is not physical prowess, but motivation and enthusiasm. A warrior who is physically mighty, but feeling weak and sluggish, will lose when fighting against an opponent who is physically weak, but feeling energetic and confident.

In our inner world as Jews, a titanic struggle is taking place between two implacable opponents: the evil inclination, also known as the bestial soul, and the good inclination, also known as the divine soul. Each side craves total control of the Jew
’s thought, speech, and action, and will stop at nothing to accomplish its goal.

However, before discussing how to go about waging this war most effectively, let us come to terms with the most basic fact of this situation: In order to defeat the evil inclination, a Jew must fight, and he must fight enthusiastically and courageously. This is war.

(This is the reason that armies use anthems and march songsin order to infuse morale and confidence in their forces. Similarly, football teams hire professional coaches to egg on their players .)

The Jew must believe that he can emerge victorious in his inner struggle, and that despite the odds against him, he will win. Then, with the help of Hashem, he stands a good chance of winning. If, however, he doubts his abilities; if he is feeling weak, depressed, and low, then he is bound to lose.

This is not only true of a person who suffers from depression for no apparent reason.[1] Even if one
’s sadness is totally legitimate and understandable, and no one will have any complaints against him for feeling that way, he must know that it must be overcome. The sadness is poison for his Neshamah, for it will weigh him down and sap him of the inner strength that he needs in order to defeat his evil inclination. And the more depressed he feels, the more easily the evil inclination will be able to entice him to sin.

In general, there are two legitimate reasons for sadness: Sadness from the awareness of one
’s sins and the tremendous damage that they have wrought, and sadness from suffering that one has undergone.

In order to eliminate such sadness it is not sufficient to smile and clap one’s hands (although such external methods are recommended, as they may well significantly diminish the sadness, or at least help one cope with it). Each of these kinds of sadness can be eliminated by contemplating certain thoughts:

If one is sad about one’s sins, one should allocate a specific time (usually while reciting the Shema before going to sleep) in which to do Teshuvah. One should then consider one’s behavior, identify what one had done wrong, reflect upon the severity of the sins, regret them sincerely, and genuinely commit to changing in the future.

After this accounting and process of inner change is complete, one should believe wholeheartedly that Hashem has forgiven him, and be joyful.

Until then, when thoughts of past sins arise, one should simply make a mental note of them, and postpone further reflection on them to that designated time, knowing that the sadness at an inappropriate time is in fact a sneaky ploy of the evil inclination to weaken the Jew so that he falls prey to the enticements of the evil inclination.

If, however, the sadness has come from painful events in one’s life, G–d forbid, know and contemplate that in reality, these events are an expression of Hashem’s love. He is revealing to you a level of G–dliness that is so sublime that from your perspective, it is painful, because you lack the spiritual vessels to contain it. Work to refine yourself, and evoke love of Hashem within yourself, to the extent that knowing that you are experiencing a sublime level of divine revelation will lead you to joy, despite the difficulties of the external reality. As a reward for this joy,
when Moshiach comes, you will be privileged to perceive this very divine revelation in all its glory, without experiencing any negative repercussions.

In summary, joy is vital for a Jew to serve Hashem well and overcome the evil inclination
; conversely, sadness severely endangers one’s spiritual safety and must therefore be eliminated. Even legitimate sadness can and must be removed by using certain specific meditations, enabling the Jew to maintain an emotional state of joy, and thus have the upper hand in his war against the evil inclination.

[1] Cf. Tanya ch. 31: “בשעה שהוא עצב בלא"ה ממילי דעלמא או כך בלי שום סבה.”
[2] The Previous Rebbe said: “A soldier ... even though he enters a situation of danger, he goes forth with a joyful song ... he goes with joy, and this makes him the victor” (Sefer HaMa’amarim 5710, p. 191; quoted in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 3, p. 799).

Adapted from Tanya, chs. 26, 9.