To Strike and to Heal
Lessons from the Egyptian Exodus on Destruction and
Passover, which is quickly approaching, is in essence the
story of the classic battle between good and evil, and how
good prevails. In truth, almost all enduring narratives
contain this theme in one way or another.
The confrontation between good and evil is immediately
recognizable to every one of us; it resonates in the struggles
we each face in our own lives. At the same time, good and
evil provide us with a stark contrast of opposites, a crystallized
perspective – even if it may seem simplistic –
on the nature of things, which, as strange as it sounds,
is refreshing and even offers a measure of relief amidst
the din of confusion that consumes much of our lives. The
clarity of knowing your enemy is far more empowering than
the doubts of not knowing who your adversary may be and
when they may strike. That is why the analysis of a problem
– and the identification of its root caused (as opposed
to its symptoms) is the key to any solution. Awareness,
our sages tell us, is half the cure of a disease.
But the problem is far more complex than it may initially
seem: Is there such a thing as absolute evil? Can we always
identify good from evil? Especially when we know that “there
is not good without bad, and no bad without good.”
When evil is intertwined with good, how do we go about eliminating
the evil without also hurting the good?
One of the darkest phenomena bemoaned by mystics is, what
they call, “taaruvot tov v’ra,” a disturbing
concoction, which snowballs good and evil into one witches’
brew. This confusing “cholent” can be far more
lethal than plain evil. When good and evil are two distinct
entities, you can at least identify the enemy and deal with
it accordingly. But when the enemy is hiding amidst your
friends, when the evil is buried within the good, where
do you begin? The lack of clarity allows the evil to grow,
besides for demoralizing us and sapping our resolve to fight
an invisible enemy. Some of the worst diseases known to
mankind are the ones in which parasites or malignant cells
intertwine themselves and “hide” between healthy
cells. Once they embed themselves, the only way to eliminate
them is by killing, G-d forbid, good cells together with
the bad ones.
An interesting Passover related verse can teach us much
a about the distinction between good and evil, and the complication
involved in extricating the good while eradicating the evil.
And the L-rd shall strike (plague) Egypt, striking and
healing, and they shall return to the L-rd, and He shall
accept their prayer and heal them (Isaiah 19:22).
Two opinions are posited about the meaning of this verse:
Rashi and the Talmud interpret that the verse refers to
the first nine plagues, in which the “striking and
healing” both happened to the Egyptians: first they
were struck by the plagues (which were brought on by Aaron),
then they were healed (by Moses’ prayer). The Zohar
(II 36a), however, explains that the verse is referring
to the tenth plague, when the Egyptians were “struck”
and the Israelites “healed,” and both things
happened at once (not in two stages).
We see from this that even when the evil was being struck
it was also being healed. Until the last and final plague,
which came to utterly destroy the evil. But even then, it
was not about total destruction; “healing” took
place for the good that remained.
Chassidic literature elaborates on the midnight before
the great Exodus from Egypt. On that dark and mysterious
night, at the moment when the clock struck midnight, the
oppressors were struck and the oppressed were healed (“nogof
l’mitzrayim v’ rofoh l’yisroel”),
evil was vanquished and good prevailed. How can one distinguish
between good and evil when they are all mixed together?
This requires a unique Divine power, revealed at midnight,
when love (chesed) meets discipline (gevurah) and opposites
come together – a force that can separate between
the good and the bad, and simultaneously address each accordingly
(see Passover discourses of 5705).
* * *
One comment on my last article, Service
or Slavery? was particular pointed and deserves a response.
Here is the comment:
I don’t think anyone would disagree that these raw and
heart wrenching words demand a reply. Just for the record:
I asked Kathi permission to print her comment and she absolutely
agreed, and to do so with her name.
What I now write is directed both to Kathi and to anyone
else who may have a similar "serious problem"
with what I wrote, and above all – to all those that
have suffered in any way.
Before waxing philosophical (which is inappropriate regardless),
allow me to begin on a personal note.
A great Rebbe once told his distressed student: “I
don’t have answers for you. But I can cry with you.”
My heart goes out to you, Kathi, and to every one who has
in any way been abused and hurt, in any fashion, especially
by parents and close ones. I will never be able to imagine
the depth of anguish, pain and the long-term impact that
abuse has on every aspect of a person’s entire life.
It is plain folly and foolish arrogance – if not
worse – to even make an attempt “explaining”
to a tortured soul how there is “good” in the
evil they experienced. That is not the way of the wise.
That is not the way of Torah, That is not the way of love.
A mind, no matter how brilliant, cannot speak to a bleeding
heart. Intellect and emotions speak different languages.
Silence – and only awesome silence – remains
the ultimate response in the face of atrocity. “Vayidom
Aaron”, Aaron was silent when his two sons were ripped
away from him in their prime. “Shetok” –
be silent! Is what G-d declares when He was challenged how
He can allow good people to suffer; “is this Torah
and is this it’s reward?!”…
And yet. Despite the inexplicable nature of cruelty and
evil, humans were given the power to console each other.
We can cry together, and we can – and must –
storm the heavens in outrage against the suffering innocent.
We do not attempt to justify G-d or find merit in abuse.
Evil is evil. Period.
There are those that preoccupy themselves with trying to
reconcile a good G-d with the evil in the universe. They
call it theodicy: how do we explain an omnibenevolent and
omnipotent G-d allowing for evil. Theodicy comes from the
Greek theós ("G-d") and díkē ("justice"),
meaning "the justice of G-d," or "to justify
G-d" or "the justification of G-d". But though
Jewish mysticism does discuss the paradox of evil in face
of a good G-d, interestingly, it never tries to justify
G-d. Indeed, when one religious leader suggested reasons
that justified the Holocaust, a great Rebbe silenced him
saying: “G-d does not need an advocate…”
Because after all is said and done, analyzing and pontificating
why terrible things happen is perhaps an exercise that bystanders
can indulge in (and pat their backs for having the courage
to address such a thorny subject). But it is not a luxury
that someone who has experienced – actually experienced
– loss and pain can allow themselves to have. No one should
ever know of tragedy, but when it strikes the mind and all
its philosophies is left ineffective, to put it mildly.
And oddly, when one allows the silence and humility in
face of suffering to take hold, it has a mysterious healing
power. Once you don’t attempt to dismiss away or justify
the pain, once you acknowledge its fierce and brutal power,
and you see that it has not destroyed you and your spirit
– in a strange way that which doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger.
I have witnessed the extraordinary refinement of people
who have suffered, a refinement that you do not see regularly.
It’s like a unique light that shines from their countenance;
a glow that is both concealing as it is revealing. Like
those deep-furrowed wrinkles of a war-torn veteran –
both painful yet knowing.
And yet. Despite the silence and acceptance. Despite the
lack of explanation and understanding of evil, once you
“let go” of trying to rationalize and control
it, a deeper wisdom settles in. Not one that understands
evil or its meaning; not one that even tries to explain
the purpose of evil. But one that begins to sense that the
darkest crevices of human experience reveal a deeper truth,
a bigger picture – an unfathomable mystery to the
very nature and purpose of life.
The question becomes not how or why can evil exist in the
presence of a benevolent G-d, but what allowed for it to
emerge in the first place, and above all: What are we to
do about it? We don’t ask why, but what we can do.
Because, you see, it is simply unacceptable that we remain
“victims” to the abuse and evil we may have
endured. There must be a way to redeem the experience –
a way to grow from it.
This is a far cry from trying to explain or justify the
abuse – something that we can never do. The perpetrator
is always responsible for his actions and will always remain
accountable. Any type of justification would be as obscene,
if not worse, than the initial abuse. In the same vein,
it would be even more terrible to say that the abuse is
the end of the road for the “recipient” –
the survivor. Nothing can be more horrible than to argue
that the criminal has control over the destiny of the survivor
forever!… No one (even one who has been victimized)
can be forced to remain a victim. That would be the
devastating equivalent of saying that someone can irreversibly
murder another person’s soul, with no hope for revival.
Enter the mystics, and explain that even the deepest evil
has a speck of good. No – not that there is any good
or justification in the evil perpetrated; but there is good
hidden somewhere in the broad scheme of things, especially
in how it affects the survivor’s life, that can be
Firstly, nothing can exist without a Divine force energizing
it. Second, as mentioned, if evil and all its consequences
control everything that it comes in contact with or crosses
its path, we, innocent victims would never have the possibility
of healing and rebuilding our lives.
So how then do we explain absolute evil? Where is the Divine
spark in this evil? Explain the Chassidic masters, that
“the Divine spark in evil has become so distant and
dark that it is considered as if it itself evil.”
When an entity perpetrates evil the Divine spark that gives
life to the entity becomes completely trapped and overwhelmed
by the surrounding darkness. Think of it like a black hole,
where the gravitational pull is so strong that it does not
allow any light to be released.
The only way to release the Divine spark is by destroying
the evil. “Their destruction is their repair.”
And when the evil is destroyed we have the power to transform
the remaining spark (which once was trapped to the point
that it took the shape of evil) into a force for good, the
“transgressions become like virtues.”
The crimes themselves (like murder, rape and child abuse,
mentioned by Kathi) are completely evil. Their only fate
and redemption is total and complete eradication. Yet those
that have endured the crime have the ability to not remain
“victims” and feel “forever damaged.”
They have beautiful souls, which have the power to transcend
and grow through the process.
G-d indeed destroyed the world when it “was filled
with corruption and violence,” man's “wickedness
was great" and "every product of the thoughts
of his heart was but evil always.” “Their destruction
was their repair.” But G-d did not destroy everything;
He only destroyed the evil forces, leaving the Earth intact
– including the waters, fish, and of course Adam and
his family, and representatives of every animal species,
pure or impure. We see from this that 1) evil is redeemed
through its eradication. 2) there always remain elements
of good that emerge once the dominant evil is diminished
This is a very delicate and abstract subject, which requires
much contemplation and emotional investment to appreciate.
And I risk misrepresenting the full magnitude of the issue.
Yet, in an attempt to help us all find some redemption in
our suffering, it is well worth the effort to try conveying
some of the idea in these lines.
So yes, “Nothing on Earth is completely evil. Even the
worst situations have some spark of the Divine.”
In our dark and difficult world good and evil are intertwined
and the true secret is to learn the balance of “striking
and healing,” how to crush the evil while redeeming
the good. When evil has violated the good, it is relatively
easier to resort to one of the two extremes: Destroy everything,
bad and good. Or tolerate the evil so that the good can
survive. Passover teaches us the third path: Striking and
healing – destroy the evil (which is its true repair)
and release the good.
For this we absolutely are in need of Divine power –
the same power that emerged the midnight before Passover
– a force that allows us to achieve the ultimate paradox:
Vanquish the oppressors while freeing the oppressed.