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Home » Free Choice, Toldot

Toldot: Why Evil?

Submitted by on November 22, 2008 – 11:35 pmOne Comment | 2,462 views

A Child is Robbed

Helpless and betrayed, my brother and I stood alone in the pre dawn hours. We were children; he was a teenager and I was perhaps ten. We had set out on an exciting journey: we would take the train to the plane and the plane to our home where, after a full year of school, we would see our family again. We should have taken a taxi, we should have known better, but we were children; trusting and naive.

We set out to the train station and it didn’t take him long to find us; we were easy prey. One threat and thirty seconds later we were stripped of cash, enthusiasm and confidence. I didn’t care for the money; I was too young for that. Only one thing bothered me. “Why? What kind of evil drives a human being to steal? And from children at that?” Our hopes dashed and our hearts pounding, we learned a bitter lesson that day; life is not as innocent as children care to believe.

This is not a question about why people choose to do evil or why evil is visited on the innocent. It is a broader question. Why did G-d create evil and what purpose does it serve? I could not have answered this question on that day, but today, with the benefit of hindsight and decades of study I offer the following insights.

Perfection Does Not Come Easily

Our sages taught that G-d created the world out of sheer benevolence. He wanted to bestow goodness upon humanity. Because He is perfect He wanted to bestow perfect goodness. In other words, G-d wanted to bestow Himself.

He could have made a perfect world with people who emulate their creator perfectly. But such people would have been a poor emulation of G-d. They would not have been inherently good; their goodness would have been bestowed from above. It would have been a borrowed perfection.

Thus G-d created a world in which goodness and evil are equal options and created humanity with the freedom to choose. Our penchant for goodness is not greater than our proclivity for evil; why evil - innerstreamwe are evenly balanced. If we want to embrace goodness we choose it first and choices reflect who we are. We are not forced into goodness by a power beyond ourselves. We are moved by our choice, by an inner conviction, that goodness is right. This inner resolve reflects the goodness within our souls and comes as close to being inherently good as humanity can possibly come.

G-d did not create evil so that we could indulge it, but so that we could avoid it. If evil did not exist, choosing against it would not be possible and perfection would slip from our grasp. That evil is a viable option makes it possible for us to choose against it and affirm our inherent goodness. (1)

A Home for G-d

Our sages taught that G-d desired a dwelling place in the lower realm. In spiritual terms, that which is closer to G-d is higher, that which is further from G-d is lower. The lowest realm is where G-d is completely unknown and unseen. Where G-d is absent, as it were, evil exists. Yet it was here, in the midst of a world filled with (potential) evil that G-d wants us to build a dwelling place for Him.

A dwelling place is where a person feels at home. It reflects the interests and comforts of the person who lives there. G-d wants us to transform this lowest realm, this evil-prone and most un-G-dly place, as it were, into a dwelling place for Him; a sacred environment where goodness and morality are practiced and where His Will drives our choices.

This desire for transformation can only play out in a lower realm. By definition this means a place where sanctity is unknown, where goodness is not compelling and where evil is possible. If this were not a lower realm, G-d’s desire for an abode in a lower realm could not have had been fulfilled here.

G-d thus created evil. Not so that humanity would choose it, but so that humanity could choose it. Could, but hopefully wouldn’t. Inevitably some would fail and choose evil; a lower realm makes immoral behavior possible. But G-d also knew that not everyone would gravitate to evil. Most of humanity would be upright; they would choose ethics, morality, holiness and G-dliness. In this way the lower realm would be transformed into a dwelling place for G-d. (2)

Two Brothers

We now understand why Rebecca gave birth to twin brothers, one righteous the other evil. From the womb they were pitted against each other; their children locked in perpetual battle. The prophet foretold that “One nation will strive against the other [but in the end] the older [Esau] would serve the younger [Jacob].” (3)

Esau represents evil and Jacob represents holiness. Without Esau this world is not a lower realm. Without Jacob this world cannot become an abode for G-d. The two are evenly matched; made to struggle against each other. But in the end, Jacob will prevail and Esau will humbly seek entry into the Divine dwelling place. “The older will serve the younger.”

The day will come when humanity will transform this lower realm into a sacred dwelling place for G-d. On that day children will walk without fear. No longer will they be made to shed their innocence. No longer will they fear the thief for on that day even the thief will change his ways.

On that day humanity will be inspired by the sparkle and shine of G-d’s holy home. Evil will be eradicated and the Moshiach will finally arrive.


    1. Derech Chayim ch. 2.


    1. Tanya ch. 36-37. The Mishnah (Avos 6) teaches that everything G-d created serves to glorify its creator. How does the unholy and unkosher glorify G-d? Just as kosher food serves G-d when we eat it in a permissible manner and use its energy to study Torah so does unkosher food serve G-d when we reject it. Its role is to present a tempting option that we could overcome. When we overcome it, the unkosher food fulfills its mission and enhances the glory of G-d.
    2. Tanya ch. 22. Genesis 25: 23
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One Comment »

  • Anonymous says:

    I read your essay about good and evil and I have a theory about it.
    You write that the man who robbed the child could not have done so, that he had, in other words, a choice that was meaningful, but how can we be really sure of this? I don't think that he did; for he, I would propose, could not see the pain that it would cause. He did not see because he was blind, considering the child not as if it were his own, which would be the right thing to do, but as alien, someone to whom he owed nothing. In a world of such blindness, usually not self-imposed, evil happens not because people specifically chose to be evil but because of their flawed condition. In this sense, evil is a byproduct rather than something that G-d created.
    Why is the human being flawed? Because it loves something else other than G-d, and loving something else, it becomes blind to G-d and his truth. Upon entering the vessel of the body, a spirit can unite so closely with it that it loses most if not all perception of G-d, blinded by the illusion of the self. It feels that it alone is what is, and it feels no compassion for others, seeing them as competition for fulfillment of desires that it has. This is the source of all evil. As long as the illusion of the false self is not overcome, G-d is only an idea of the intellect rather than a presence. As long as the illusion exists, men are tempted to live with it at the center, doing anything that they can to protect it and keep it happy, often at a severe cost to others, who , tragically, are seen as alien and other.
    But a man who overcomes the illusory self and awakes to the true self can perceive the truth, which is that all life, all beings, all worlds, all life, visible to man and invisible, have been formed by G-d and reflect him in some way, and that they are to be loved and respected as G-d would be if we were in His presence.
    If such an awakening happened, evil would cease to be because it would be overcome by the truth of G-d, which is so pure and beautiful that it renders all else a mere shadow.
    Why does all this happen? Why does G-d send spirits into a place in which they can forget that he is. Why does he permit a journey where the risk is so grave as to end in lower realm of suffering? I think it is a test of what a spirit is, and it shows whether the spirit can hold G-d's divine breath that G-d infuses in it. If it can, it will awaken to this truth and begin pursuing G-d's will as he had given it. This will is different depending of who a man is. If he is gifted with knowledge of the earth and its crafts and sciences, he uses these for good. A man who receives less, uses what he has received and does not lust after what the former had been given. For awareness of G-d's will brings peace and acceptance, for a man who sees the truth knows that it must be as G-d had made it, praising G-d in his heart for having made him as he did. He finds peace in his life, even if he has little. Upon death and passing from this world, such a spirit is given more of G-d's divine life and ascends to higher realms.
    Thank you for your time.

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