A person must see himself and the world as equally balanced on two ends of the scale; by doing one good deed, he tips the scale and brings for himself and the entire world redemption and salvation — Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 3:4
Evil is simply the absence of good; it has no real existence of its own, and is dispelled in the light of goodness — the Rebbe
Why do Good and Evil Exist?
To answer this, we must take one step back and ask a far more basic question: Why did G-d create life? For without life, there would be no evil and no pain.
G-d created our material world because He wanted us to refine it and make it His home. In order to achieve this, we must first perceive ourselves as an independent reality. So each of us was granted free will, the ability to choose between selflessness and selfishness, and between good and evil. This freedom is the greatest gift G-d gave us; without it, there would be no point to life.
G-d does not want evil; He wants us to do only good. Nor does G-d ever commit evil; only man commits evil. But in order for man to be a true partner in life, he must have the autonomy to choose. Even though G-d cannot bear the pain when one man causes another to suffer, it would be even more painful to take back the free will He has given us.
A writer who once visited the Rebbe asked a question that many visitors would often ask: How can G-d permit evil to exist?
The Rebbe explained that evil has no real existence, that it is only a potential state of being that appears to have a real existence so that man might have free choice. The Rebbe suggested that the writer think about a knife. “On its own, a knife is surely not evil, although there are occasions on which it could be used for an evil purpose,” the Rebbe said. “When a doctor uses the same knife for surgery, though, it serves a good purpose. G-d allows us to choose how we will use the knife. To believe that evil has its own, positive existence is to believe that there are two divine powers rather than one.”
Are We Naturally Inclined Toward Good Or Evil?
The Bible teaches us that this is unequivocally wrong. There is only one G-d and G-d is good; therefore, all of G-d’s creations, including man and our world, are essentially good. In our hearts, we all have a natural propensity for justice and virtue, and are repulsed by injustice and abuse. We maintain a deep hope and faith that things will be better than they are.
The fact that we live in a world where, often, “the wicked prosper” and where selfishness prevails, is a result of our giving priority to the material world and disregarding the spiritual. After Adam and Eve sinned, a dichotomy was created between matter and spirit. Instead of being seen as a “container” for spiritual divine “light” within, the world began to be seen as an independent, self-contained reality. This distortion allows room for evil; but whereas goodness is a real and tangible virtue, evil has no power on its own.
The fact that the wicked prosper, then, is not a reality on its own, but a result of limiting our vision to the one-dimensional material world, or our failure to recognize the container as concealed light for us to reveal. Rather than battling evil, we should concentrate on cultivating the goodness within ourselves and others. After all, since evil has no independent existence, focusing on it only gives it more opportunity to grow.
The best and most effective response and solution to evil is to attack not only its symptoms, but its cause: through selfless acts of goodness, we destroy evil at its root.
We have the ability to counter the forces of evil by shining the light of goodness on them. And we have the certitude that good will prevail. This confidence goes beyond common optimism. Because goodness is the natural state of the world and humankind, its effect is eternal and cumulative. All of man’s good works throughout the ages are building blocks, leading up to a final triumph of goodness in the world. Moral relapses are not flaws, but by-products of this process: It is to be expected that when the forces of goodness show strength, the forces of evil will endeavor to retaliate, and that they will make their final stand just on the verge of their total collapse.
This is an excerpt from “Toward a Meaningful Life – The Wisdom of the Rebbe” by Rabbi Simon Jacobson.