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.


Dovid Chaim said...

A beautiful read, all on the Rebbe's birthday too!

Benyomin Aaron Patzik said...

Thanks Dovid, I really appreciate that. Yeah, I guess this will count as my b-day present for the Rebbe.