To Pass Through the Evil- Seemingly
By Ron Weber
Translated by Moshe Neveloff
In our journey to the depth of good, to the endless point of complete good which is found in the deepest place inside of us, the point which is actually our nucleus, we need to go through all of the masks which hide this point from us. The only goal of these masks and distractions is to allow us the free choice to choose our good.
It is said that it only happened once that there was religious coercion for the Jewish people, and that was at Mount Sinai. Why coercion? When Hashem tore open all of the heavens and revealed that there is nothing except for Him with no doubt or possibility to dispute it, there was no other choice. It was a nullification of free choice and it was religious coercion.
In parenthesis it needs to be asked: if the Jewish people heard the sounds and saw the lightning at Mount Sinai and experienced the presence of God- how did they sin afterwards? This is a question which has many answers, but even without studying it in depth- we see that free choice returned. A moment after it was taken from them at Mount Sinai, it returned, and the Jewish people chose to sin. In our personal work we need to always remember: even if I’ve reached a good place, I shouldn’t become trapped in complacency, rather I need to go back and check again and again where am I and where am I going.
The Ramchal describes two ways in which Hashem runs the world. For example, if a person walks in the street and falls into a hole, it seems that only one thing has happened here: he walked and fell into a hole. However there are two ways to perceive the incident. One is connected to reward and punishment, where good and evil are opposing each other so to speak. He sinned, and therefore he was punished by falling into a pit. The second way is called “Singular Leadership”- the deep understanding that everything which happens, whether or not I define it as bad or good, serves the supreme good. Maybe falling into the pit saved him from a car which was travelling at a dangerous speed on the road a moment afterwards?
Hashem’s leadership depends on our perspective, how we see things. We don’t know the hidden intentions, all that we know is what we are able to understand according to our perception. If a father doesn’t give his son a candy, they boy doesn’t understand why he is not giving it to him, and he assumes it’s connected to his actions. Abba didn’t give me a piece of chocolate because he’s mad that I broke the cup. However, the reality is that the father is not giving his son a chocolate because he’s concerned for his health. As we mentioned before, there are two ways that the world is run- reward and punishment (good and bad), and the singular leadership (everything serves the good, everything is one). In reality, they both exist at the same time. We are mainly aware of the leadership of good and evil, however in the depth of the matter, the Ramchal explains, also the evil serves the good, and in the end this will be revealed to us.
The perception of evil helps us because it allows us the possibility to choose. “I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life.” (Devarim, Chapter 30, Verse 19) Without bad we would not be able to choose good. However, at the depth of the matter, every time we think that something inside of us is bad this is a mistake. A holy mistake, which was created just so that we could choose to separate ourselves from it, and to believe in good, choose good and connect to it.
The Sages tells us in the Talmud (Tractate Chullin, 91a) that after Ya’akov brought his family across the Jabbok crossing, he went back in order to gather small earthenware pitchers. He finds himself alone on the other side of the river and in front of him is a man who struggles with him. This person, as described in the midrash Bereshit Raba (Chapter 77), is not a man but rather an angel, a spiritual creation, the angel of Esav, Ya’akov’s brother who hates him. After a difficult struggle which lasted all night, Ya’akov defeated the angel at dawn. The Midrash tells that afterwards the angel asked Ya’akov to let him go back up to Heaven to sing. Seemingly it’s a strange request: about what exactly did he want to sing? Behold he lost the battle. Why was he so satisfied? Actually, the role of the angel was to be defeated in the struggle with Ya’akov. The moment that Ya’akov defeated him, he fulfilled his purpose in the world and now wants to go back to Heaven to sign a song of gratitude to his Creator.
The forces which pull us outside with diverse and strange promises, those which increase evil and difficulty in the world, have a purpose, and that is to show us that it isn’t the truth. Their purpose is to awaken us from the dream, in order to understand that all of the good is hidden inside us, and externality is just a vessel to serve spirituality (and not the opposite).
The evil inclination is also called “very good” (Bereshit Raba, Chapter 9, Paragraph 9). Why very good? Firstly, the midrash explains that the same things which can cause a person to fall to the direction of the evil inclination, they also build the world- the power which is imprinted inside of us which pulls us towards improper physical relationships or amassing wealth and honor is also the power that drives a person on the side of holiness to marry a spouse and build a home. Furthermore, from an internal aspect it’s possible to understand that if we defeat him (the evil inclination), if we see the lie and choose good, he serves holiness no less than something which is normally good. It’s understood that we are not trying to tempt or to add tests for ourselves, but if we’ll find the wisdom to connect to our good and not to give in to dejection, to being a victim and to other mistaken internal perspectives, the trials which we go through will strengthen us and bring us closer to our desired goal.
The perspective which we are used to and which we use to hit ourselves, “I’m not good”, is mistaken. It’s important to understand this, and then to remember it, and forget it, and remember again.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, tells of a prince who distanced himself from the palace and from the king. When he decided to return to the palace, he came close to it and saw that it was surrounded many large walls, and he had no way of breaking through them. He tried from below, he tried from above, from the inside and from the outside, and he couldn’t enter. He observed again the impossible maze of walls and thought to himself- it simply can’t be! It can’t be that my father is distancing me. It can’t be that all of these walls are actually standing here. I’m not ready to believe whatsoever that my father doesn’t want me to enter the palace.
The moment that the prince understood that it can’t be that he’s so distant, the moment he had clear recognition that this is the case, the walls disappeared, and he succeeded in returning to the palace. Through the power of understanding that the hurdles were not real, they dissolved.
So what are we saying- just ignore the concealments? That’s all? Yes and no.
Why not? Because these concealed places are imprinted deep inside me. I carry them inside. Therefore, in order to nullify them, in order to “undue the magic”, I need to first of all recognize that I’m imprisoned in the illusion that they create.
We need to see the masks, to observe our negative beliefs, and not try to jump ahead and ignore our inner state. This should be done quietly and calmly, with a lot of good will. To agree to dive in and see how much we believe in all this bad, how much we think that it’s real- and only then to come out the other side of the illusion and to recognize the true and eternal good inside of us.
The first stage in the secret of the good point is to see where I believe that I am right now. What do I feel inside about myself, and what do I feel about other people? Without judging myself, without trying to justify these thoughts- just simply allow them to float to the surface of your consciousness.
If we mentioned in previous chapters the problem of disconnection, here especially you need to pay attention to it. The disconnection from what I truly feel prevents me from seeing what’s going on inside myself, like in a room where they disconnected the electrical cord from the light which is supposed to light up the room. Now it’s impossible to organize the room and sort things and to really see what’s going on there.
In personal development, I meet the place inside which is afraid to meet fear, afraid to feel pain, afraid of “what will I discover inside.” A place inside which prefers to escape from seeing the distorted outlooks I have, from seeing the dark places which are still there from childhood. It’s a struggle. I wish that I could say that I’ve won it. Sometimes I’m successful in overcoming and sometimes I forget and repress and only reveal what’s happened afterwards.
Nevertheless, during the moments when I am able to give a place to pain, when I’m not afraid to face the fear, frequently amazing things happen. I remember once, during an hour of personal prayer, I felt a huge wave of anxiety washing over me. It was during a period when I simply met the place inside myself which was full of anxiety and fears. An internal voice said to me: “That’s dangerous. Dangerous to feel so much anxiety. Maybe you’ll faint? Maybe you’ll die?!” I smiled to myself with forgiveness and said to myself: What could happen? I’ll faint from too much anxiety? If so- I’m here in the city of Modi’in, there are nice people here, and someone will surely find me and use my phone to call my home number for them to come take me home. It will be okay. I agreed to feel the fear at all its strength. Something inside opened up, a hurdle which seemed to be endless disappeared from my recognition.
I didn’t faint and I didn’t die, instead I was filled with vitality and good desires, I continued praying and I thought about each of my children- what does each one need and how can I help them? Instead of feeling anxiety I felt good desires and closeness to Hashem, and I broke out in a personal prayer for each of them that they should reach the place which is good for them, and that we as parents should merit to serve as faithful messengers to raise them and educate them. Like in the story of the Baal Shem Tov: what seemed like the shape of a wall dissolved into a screen of smoke which was just helping me practice my power of choice.
We need to take a deep breath and dive inside, see what we feel, without excuses. Further on we’ll discuss personal prayer, an incredible space to allow things to come up to the surface, to see them come and go, without judging them. Without opinions. Just seeing truthfully what’s happening inside of me.
“And even when a person begins to look at himself and sees that he has no good, and he’s full of sins, and the evil inclination wants to knock him down through this into sadness and depression, G-d forbid, nevertheless it’s forbidden for him to fall because of this.” (Likutei Moharan, Part 1, Torah 282)
Many of those who try to be happy skip this stage in the secret of the good point and try to immediately feel good and ignore the bad. However, Rebbe Nachman doesn’t forego this stage of seeing what’s going on inside, the stage where we examine what we really believe inside. Indeed he warns: don’t let your spirit fall, don’t believe that it’s your deeper reality. But he also teaches: don’t ignore the fact that when you look inside, right now at least, this is what’s revealed before your eyes.
Rebbe Natan states: “When a person begins to search for himself and sees that he’s very far from Hashem, and he’s full of sins and blemishes, and it seems to him that he’s far from good…” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Daily Living, Laws of Arising in the Morning, 1st teaching)
Rebbe Natan is exact in his words: “it seems to him that he’s far from good.” He doesn’t say that a person is truly far, rather it seems to him that he’s far. He’s not speaking about facts, rather he’s speaking about imagination. He also says: “he begins to search for himself and sees that he’s far.” This man doesn’t ignore, rather he begins to search for himself. He’s not satisfied with the fact that others told him that he’s good, rather he tries to look inside himself, what do I feel? Do I really feel that I’m good like they say or maybe deep inside I believe that I’m not good? Of course, it needs to be mentioned again and again that this belief is false. The internal feeling that you’re not good is not the truth, however it’s what you currently feel deep inside. Without seeing this, it will be hard to change it. In order to heal an infection, you need to let the pus out, disinfect the area and bandage it. If we skip over stages and bandage the infected wound, the situation in the medium to long term will only get worse.
It’s important to be reminded again: it’s forbidden to fall from this!
Rebbe Nachman says this explicitly in ‘Azamra’: “And even when a person begins to look at himself and he sees that he has no good, and he’s full of sins, and the evil inclination wants to knock him down because of this into sadness and depression, G-d forbid, nevertheless it’s forbidden for him to fall because of this, he just needs to search and find inside himself a little bit of good, because how is it possible that he didn’t do a mitzvah or good deed in his life.”
I need to see the masks, to observe my negative beliefs, and not try to skip ahead. Rather quietly and calmly, with a lot of good will- to agree to dive in and see how much I believe in all this bad, how much I think that it’s real.
 Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, 1707-1746, a prominent Rabbi and Kabbalist from Italy