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Home » Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa: Grappling with Evil

Submitted by on March 8, 2009 – 3:10 amNo Comment | 2,805 views

Durban II

The United States has announced that it will not attend the United Nation’s second conference on Anti Racism dubbed Durban II. You might recall that the United States and Israel walked out of the first Anti Racism conference in 2001 when it turned into an evil hate fest of anti-Semitism. Exploring the possibility of attending the upcoming conference President Obama declared his hope of bringing change and transparency to its mission. Last month a US delegation took part in negotiations on the final document of the conference, but has since determined that the planned agenda is “not salvageable.”
Despite Obama’s declared intention to bring change, Jewish groups, upset by Obama’s initial willingness to attend the conference, argued that mere recognition of Durban II would lend legitimacy to its policy of rabid anti Semitism. Discrimination is evil, they argued, and must be completely eschewed. Obama’s subsequent decision to boycott the conference has triggered criticism from liberal groups evil - innerstreamwho argued that evil can only be changed from within.

 The question we ask in this essay is what is the Jewish response to evil? Do we reject it or seek to change it?


I don’t mean to sound simplistic, but the plain truth is that problems of mega proportions are easier to solve when they are reduced to smaller dimensions. Grappling with racism on a global scale is an overwhelming task, but dealing with tension on a personal scale is somewhat more manageable.

Let us explore our attitude toward conflict in marriage. Conflict is a source of tension in a marriage, not unlike the tension wrought on society by racism. Conflict weakens a marriage, which is why we all work to avoid it. On the other hand conflict also presents an opportunity to strengthen a marriage. When couples work to overcome their bickering and to resolve their differences, the bond between them is strengthened. But only a fool engages in conflict deliberately to manufacture the deeper bond that emerges from its resolution. The proper path is to avoid conflict. It is only in retrospect, once a couple has actually engaged in conflict, improper as such behaviour is, that it can be viewed it as an opportunity to improve their relationship.

The same is true of our relationship with G-d. Our sages taught that sin forms a barrier between ourselves and G-d. Just the same, once we have actually transgressed, our sin creates an opportunity to strengthen our connection with G-d. Regret and bitter disappointment form an incentive that catapults our bond with G-d to an entirely new level; one that even the righteous cannot attain.

This does not mean that the righteous should sin deliberately in order to acquire the bond of the penitent. Take for example the incident with the Golden Calf. After our ancestors repented for their sin G-d granted them a stronger relationship than the one He had offered the first time. (1) Yet no one would suggest that it was good for our ancestors to commit idolatry because their connection with G-d was intensified after they repented. Just as we would not draw away from our loved ones in the hope that it will bring us closer together in the future so should we not turn from G-d in the hope that it will generate a closer bond with G-d in the future.

This leaves us with a question. If sin is evil and should be avoided at all costs, how can it trigger a stronger bond with G-d?

Body and Soul

The Jewish mystics taught that every object, action and event in the physical world is composed of a body and a soul. The body is the tangible object or the literal event and the soul is the Divine creative power that creates the object, animates the action or vivifies the event. The body of an action might be evil but its soul is G-dly. And G-dliness can never be evil.

Our sages taught that everything in our world was created to glorify G-d, including that which is forbidden. G-d created sin so that we could do everything in our power to avoid it. When we eschew evil, the evil fulfills the purpose for which it was created and thus brings glory to G-d. When we commit a sin and transgress G-d’s will the sin fails its purpose. Not only does it fail to serve G-d, it works against the cause of holiness, which is why sin must be avoided at all costs.

This is only true of the body of the sin. The soul of the sin, the Divine spark that animates us while we commit the sin, is not unholy. It is a part of G-d and can serve a holy purpose even after the sin has been committed. Its purpose is served when we emerge from the sin with deep remorse and resolve to commit ourselves anew to G-d with ever greater intensity. The spark of G-d that animated us during our sin turns around and inspires us to repent and forge a stronger bond with G-d.

What emerges is a dual perception of sin. The body of sin is evil and serves its purpose only when we eschew it, which is why we are duty bound to avoid sin as studiously as we can. The soul of the sin is a part of G-d that remains holy even after the sin is committed. It serves G-d by sparking deep sentiments of remorse which generates a stronger bond with G-d. This is why the sin can post facto serve to strengthen our bond with G-d despite the unholy and impure nature of its body. (2)

Obama’s Choice

There is no question that the Anti Racism Conference is an abominable body that spews hatred and evil. One does not engage with evil even in the hope of transforming it into goodness. Former President Bush was correct in avoiding all contact with this evil body and Obama should have done the same.

However, once a delegation was sent, inappropriate as it was to engage the body of evil, an opportunity was created to engage its soul and to transform it into goodness. Obama correctly did all he could to change the tone and tenor of the conference. When his bid proved unsuccessful he showed moral courage and walked out rather than compromise his moral standards to fit in. We hail Obama for making the right choice.


  1. Shemos Rabbah: 46:1. The second set of Luchos contained more than the first set including Midrash, Halacha and Aggada.
  2. To further explore this concept see Likutei Sichos XVI, p. 413.
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