Don’t Just Choose Good. Sift the Evil Away From the Good

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 “But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

 “Avram came to her [Hagar], and she conceived; and when she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress with contempt. Sarai said unto Avram …Now that she sees herself pregnant she regards me with condescension.  Let Elokim judge between me and you.’”.

– Bereshis 16: 4, 5

Every other  בֶּינֶיך – between me and you, in Scripture is spelled lacking the second yud, but this one is spelled plene. As such it may also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine, as though Sarai is threatening Hagar rather than Avram), for Sarai cast an Ayin Hara-evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus. 

– Rashi Ibid

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. This is why comprehending the workings of the original sin is a prerequisite to better understanding the family dynamics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

In   Nefesh HaChaim the Magiha –author of the glosses, explains that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit Adams Yetzer HaRa-inclination to evil was clarified and external to his being (personified in the Nachash HaKadmoni-the primordial snake). The qualitative paradigm shift resulting from the first sin was that the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. He and Chava became what they ate, entities in which good and evil are joined together. This had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the original sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good, even in the soul of the most saintly, nor any unmitigated evil, even in the deeds of the wickedest.

The Pasuk (Koheles 7:14) “In the day of Good…in the day of Evil…; Elokim made one corresponding to the other,..” teaches that everything in Kedusha-holiness and good has its parallel in impurity and evil. After Adams original sin these parallel entities become linked and blended together.

Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, the trait of giving to, and pouring out upon, others. The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism.  As a patriarch of Klal Yisrael and a rectifier of Adam’s sin Avraham Avinu’s life’s-work was not merely to choose to actualize Chesed and avoid stinginess and callousness at every opportunity but to clarify and purify his Chesed, to thresh away its Znus dark underside.

Avraham Avinu’s progeny prior to Yitzchok were the incarnations of the dark underside of his midah. He needed to get them out of his system, as it were, before being able to reproduce a soul as free of evil admixtures as Yitzchaks.  Whereas Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed his son Yishmael would be defined by his midah of Znus. When HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak, shopped the Torah to other nations of the world our sages recount the following exchange:  “‘He shined forth from mount Paran’ (Devarim 33:2) HaShem asked the Ishmaelites ‘Would you like my Torah?’ they replied ‘What is written within it?’ HaShem said ‘You shall not commit adultery ‘‘If so’ they responded ‘we do not want it’.”  In a similar vein the Talmud (Kidushin 49B) tells us that “ten measures of infidelity/licentiousness descended to the world. Arabia took nine measures and the remaining measure was divided among the balance of the nations”.

Progressing from these principles Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers insight into the apparent “domestic squabbles” in Avrahams home.

During Hagar’s first pregnancy the refinement process of Avrahams Midah began. The embryo then being formed embodied a blend of good and evil that was being filtered out. Yet in the mix that was being filtered out there was still a greater relative amount of Chesed vs. Znus. Feeling the gravity of the good growing within her Hagar “lightly esteemed” i.e. grew self-important and became condescending towards her mistress. By the second pregnancy unadulterated Znus was distilled from Avrahams Chesed in the person of Yishmael.

Just as Chava, Adams mate, was the one who induced him to internalize evil and to comingle evil with good it would be Sara, Avraham Avinus wife, who would prompt him to extract and externalize his evil. Just as Chava began her work of ruination-through-adulteration with her eyes “The woman (Chava) saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Bereshis 3:6), Sara would begin her work of repairing- through-sifting-out with her eyes, casting an Ayin Hara-evil eye. Just as Chavas work of ruination-through-adulteration would conclude with the conflicted, ambivalent  humans, whose goodness had been contaminated with evil, being driven out of Eden (Bereshis 3:23,24), Sara would complete her work of repairing- through-sifting-out by banishing the unambiguous human, whose soul completely extracted and distilled the evil midah of Znus, from the house of Avraham. (Bereshis 21:10-14),

 Adapted from Kometz HaMincha Inyan 38 (pages 3940)

and Nefesh HaChaim chapter 5 Hagaha D”H v’zeh, v’hainyan (pages 22-25)  



4 comments on “Don’t Just Choose Good. Sift the Evil Away From the Good

  1. One question on this understanding of the Etz Ha’daat. If it reflects the idea that evil was mixed into, or internalized into man, how do we understand the verse where God says “now man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Can we say God somehow mixes good and evil too? Doesnt seem right….

  2. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Vayikra 20:17 in explaining chesed hu introduces another explanation of how the word chesed can be applied to a negative value. “As the character of one’s own behaviour, [chesed] is, accordingly, the highest selfless devotion to the well-being of another…But where it refers, not to the person himself, but to another…causing somebody else to be devoted, it becomes the complete opposite, the ruthless abandonment of the well-being of another.” If one chooses to act with chesed, one is accepting to go beyond the call of duty. If one, though, forces another to act with chesed, forcing the other to go beyond the call of duty, one is grossly imposing upon the other for the over-extended benefit of self. Inherently, though, these two forces within Rabbi Hirsch’s definition of chesed necessarily apply in every situation where one acts beyond the call of duty. As one acts beyond his/her obligation, another necessarily benefits beyond his/her right ; and as one benefits beyond his/her right, another necessarily is called upon to act beyond his/her obligation. Duty actually represents the perfect balance within existence. Deviation from this duty, inherently upsets this balance.

  3. Yasher Koach Doc. Halevai that these sublime insights were mine.

    For me it is enough to learn them and be the pipeline delivering the still-Waters of Shiloah that run deep to the English speaking public. Please send warm regards to the family, to Dr. Eisenman and to Reb Avrem’l Brodt.

  4. Thank you for the opportunity to learn. I look forward each week to Rabbi Schwartz’s comments and insight. I share them each Shabbos at Chabad (Stockton, California) with other members of our small Jewish community.

Comments are closed.