Thursday, March 25, 2010

How can ‘evil’ exist if G-d is Omnipotent? A Chassidic Perspective.

One of the fundamental difficulties in theology is the question of how evil can exist if G-d is all powerful. Seemingly, if G-d is the boss, there shouldn’t be anyone that could go against His will. And yet the Torah tells us that many have succeeded in doing just that: defying the will of G-d! How is it possible for anything to go against the will of G-d… isn’t G-d the one who is actually creating everything? Why would G-d create something that He doesn’t even want. And if G-d doesn’t want evil, why does it exist?
The main problem is that we need to find a way to show that everything in the world is, somehow, in line with G-d’s will, even when it seems to be going against his will on the surface. To address this riddle, we must first make a distinction between two different ways you can want something. The first way is straightforward: you want something for the thing itself. The second way is that, while you don’t want the thing itself, you do want it for the sake of something else. A common example of this distinction is money. When you think about it, people do not desire money for money’s sake. They desire what money can get them: food, cars, and clothing, for instance. The food you want for the food itself. You actually want to eat the food. But if we were stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean all alone, what good would a sack full of dollars do you? It would be worthless in that situation, because the money itself has no intrinsic value.
So too with the ‘evil’ in the world. G-d does not desire evil for the evil itself. Rather, he desires that evil exist only for the sake of something else. What is that something else, you ask? The sages state that ‘G-d desires a dwelling place in the lower worlds.’ Let us just take it as a given that, for reasons unknown to us, G-d derives great pleasure from the righteous abstaining from doing evil. Thus, while it is true that G-d does not desire there to be evil in the world for evil’s sake, He does want evil in the world in order to bring out the true greatness of the righteous. In chassidic lexicon, the desire you have for the things you want for their own sake is called ‘pnimiyus haratzon,’ or the internal will, while the desire for the things you want for the sake of something else is called ‘chitzonious haratzon,’ or the external will.
With the above distinction in mind, we can understand how evil exists in the world even though G-d doesn’t really want it to exist. G-d wants to test the righteous in order to give them reward, thus He wants evil to exist even though he does not want evil itself. In other words, what G-d really wants is for the righteous to abstain from committing evil acts and to generally destroy evil forces in the world through good deeds. In the meanwhile, however, evil does exist. But G-d does not continually create the evil in the same fashion that he creates good things in the world. Rather, the way He enlivens the bad can be compared to how one would nourish an enemy he keeps in prison. You would never give food to your enemy face to face; rather, you throw the food over your back to your enemy, because you don’t really want to feed him. G-d enlivens evil things in the world in the same fashion.

Monday, March 15, 2010

G-d’s hiding place: 'Yedias HaMetzius'

In my last article, we discussed the idea that G-d has hid himself from us using the divine power known as Tzimtzum. The Doctrine of Tzimtzum is invoked by the Jewish Sages to resolve many theological riddles, such as the mystery of simultaneous human free choice and G-d’s omnipotence. Today I would like to address, to the best of my knowledge, exactly where G-d is hidden.
To address this question, let us first make a distinction between two general ways we can have knowledge of a thing’s existence. These two manners of knowledge are known in Chassidic terminology as ‘yedias hamehus,’ or essential knowledge, and ‘yedias hametzius,’ or existential knowledge. Yedias hamehus means that we can observe an entity directly with one of our five senses. For instance, we know that, say, an apple exists because we can see it, touch it, taste it, and smell it. This category of knowledge is very basic, and therefore some theorists believe that young children only believe in the existence of things that they can see. That is why children are so entertained by the ‘pick-a-boo’ game, because it plays with their sense of existence: one moment, you see your parent’s face, the next you do not, and the next you see it again. To a child’s young mind, it is as though your parent is jumping in and out of existence right before their very eyes. The second, more subtle type, of knowledge, ‘yedias hamehus,’ means that we know a thing exists only because we see the effects of the thing but not the thing itself. An example of this is gravity: no one has ever seen ‘gravity’ directly; we only see its effect upon objects: namely, the tendency of things to fall to the earth. Even though we have no direct evidence of gravity, in the sense that we cannot touch or see ‘gravity,’ nevertheless, we know that something must be causing things to fall to the Earth. If one accepts that all things have a cause, then one is forced to accept that gravity does indeed exist, in spite of the fact that we cannot see it. Though these two manners of knowledge are quite different from each other, they both enable us to know that something exists. Furthermore, yedias hamehus is a more advanced level of knowledge than yedias hamehus.
With this distinction in mind we can begin to unravel the mystery of where G-d is hiding from us. Though we do not have direct knowledge, yedias hamehus, of G-d’s existence, we do have yedias hametzius that He exists. In other words, we cannot sense G-d’s existence directly with one of our five senses. We do not see G-d with our eyes, nor can we touch him with our hands. Nevertheless, we can still ascertain G-d’s existence on account of His effects on the world. And because it is more intellectually challenging to understand something’s existence without direct, sensual knowledge, this is referred to as G-d’s self ‘concealment.’ Perhaps this is why we have been commanded to pray so often: it is difficult to know something when you cannot see it, and to fully appreciate the effects of G-d in the world may take a lifetime of intense prayer and meditation. Nevertheless, we shall attempt to cover the basics.
Firstly, all things must have a cause. Just as we reason that gravity must exist because things fall, so too must there be a Creator and ‘Master of this house.’ This argument applies not only to living things, but even to inanimate matter, such as dirt and rocks. Chassidus teaches that even a simple rock is dependent upon the Creator for its moment to moment existence. Were it not for this ever-present life force, the rock would revert back to the naught and nothingness as it was before it was created. Nothing is to be taken for granted. In my next article, I will showcase how life itself provides even more evidence for the existence of Hashem.
Finally, in the days of Moshiach, we will actually perceive G-d with our very senses! As the verse says, ‘all flesh shall see that the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ Our very flesh will be able to sense Godliness directly. May we merit to Moshiach now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yesh Din V-Yesh Dayan Music Video

This song has a catchy tune. Hopefully it will help to wake us up that Eretz Yisroel belongs to the Jewish People because God Almighty gave it to the Jewish People. Every bit of it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The UN Watch Video exposing the UN's Anti Israel Bias.

The director of UN Watch speaks out against the UN's anti Israel bias. This video is a few years old already but it's very relevant and it's also very widely watched. The UN was established in order to uphold human rights but it has not lived up to its mission thus far. The world has to come together to make sure that the UN does what it was meant to do, to insure real peace in the world by protecting justice and righteousness and rooting out evil and injustice.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Where is G-d? The doctrine of Tzimtzum.

Most people contemplate, at one time or another in life, why things are they way they are? In particular, many ask, ‘If G-d truly does exist, then why don’t we see him openly? Why don’t we see miracles all the time, for instance?’ Seemingly, the real force behind this line of questioning comes from a simple idea: if G-d is all-powerful, then how can there be any space for us and our free will? In other words, if G-d is in control, then how can we have free choice? In order to answer such questions the famous Kabbalist, the Ari Zal, introduced a concept known as the Doctrine of Tzimtzum.
Tzimtzum means concealment. The Kabbalists explain that in addition to G-d’s divine power to create from naught, he also has the power to conceal Himself from the created. As G-d says in the verse, ‘On that day I shall surely conceal Myself.’ Think of it as a kind of Divine self-restraint. G-d ‘holds himself back’ from revealing his presence, thus giving us space to have our own sense of self. This should answer the questions mentioned above. Even though G-d exists, it does not immediately follow that His existence should be readily apparent to us, since He concealed himself using the power of the Tzimtzum. Upon closer inspection, however, it seems that the essence of the question still remains. The question now becomes, ‘Why did G-d conceal Himself?’ To answer this one, we shall need to resort to analogy.
The Rebbe Rashab gave a famous tale to illustrate G-d’s concealment: There once was a father and a son. The father wanted to arouse the son’s inherit love for his father, but so long as the father was around and openly close to the son, the son could not fully appreciate his father. So the father decided to conceal himself from his son. At first the son was bewildered: ‘Where is my father?’ The son set out in search of his father. He traversed down all the paths his father used to frequent in order to find him. All the time, the son’s certainty that his father loved him never wavered. This certainty helped him to search more, and though he could not see his father, he knew that he was right on his trail, as though his father had just disappeared beyond the horizon.
The father is G-d, and his son is us, his creations. At first, the father openly loves his son, which signifies how our souls stood besides G-d in heaven before the creation of the universe. G-d concealed himself in order that we should love him that much more when He finally reveals himself to us. Thus the Jewish sages state that, ‘One is required to say, ‘for my benefit and pleasure did G-d conceal himself from us.’’ The paths that the son travels in his search are the Torah and Commandments, which are called ‘the paths of G-d.’ Just as the son was certain that his father loved him, so to we must be absolutely certain that all things come from G-d and everything is for the good. We may not yet comprehend the good, but good it is. In Chassidic circles, serving G-d with joy is of utmost importance. Finally, though G-d is concealed from direct observation by our five senses, we can arrive at knowledge of his existence though careful contemplation. Thus it is as though our ‘father’ has just disappeared beyond the horizion; though we cannot see him directly, we are certain he is there.
One more thing: the above quoted verse, ‘On that day I shall surely conceal Myself,’ is citied by the sages as proof that the story of Ester has a source in the written law. They draw this conclusion from the fact that the name ‘Ester’ and the word for conceal, ‘Aster,’ share the same root letters. The Purim story of Ester has great relevance for our time. It is unique in that, of all the books of the Torah, G-d’s name is never mentioned in Ester. In fact, there are no revealed miracles in the entire story. This represents the great concealment that G-d has wrought in Ester’s time and ours. Yet it is known that, of all the books of the prophets and writings, only the book of Ester will not be annulled after the Moshiach comes. This is because it is specifically through the concealment, or Tzimtzum, that we come to experience the ultimate revelation: G-d’s Essence. Happy searching!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Has America Lost its Soul?

There are more and more stories coming out each day that The Great American Empire has reached its' peak and is now all of a sudden on the verge of collapse. How did we get to this point one may ask? Well, with the advent of new technologies and a much faster world, the country has lost its' sense of morality and the values that it was built on. In the eighties, nineties and the early zeros we jumped from making money - and lots of it - to forgetting right from wrong and left from right altogether. Lying lawyers. Cheating businessmen became the status quo. We went from internet bubbles to mortgage bubbles. Now we realize that there is no more cheating and lying that can save us. We have a huge debt on the books and people want to know, "how does one go about making an honest living like people used to?" How do we build a country with wholesome family values. Where children are taught right from wrong? We have to rebuild this nation anew. Who will show us the way? I think Sarah Palin had one good idea. Lets use this countries' great G-d given natural resources. We will make energy, hire many people with different types of jobs. We will not send out jobs to China and India; we will hire people who live here in America. Let's go back to making things that last and not things which are cheap, made in other countries and are worth little and break fast. There are many things to work on. The world is ready to live a G-dly life. We just need young people and old to realize that the world is ready to live a Moshiach reality.