Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Absolute Evil? – To Strike and to Heal

March 26, 2010 5:04 pm 1 comment

Share this Article

Lessons from the Egyptian Exodus on Destruction and Redemption

Passover, which is quickly approaching, is in essence the story of the classic battle between good and evil, and how good prevails. In truth, almost all enduring narratives contain this theme in one way or another.

The confrontation between good and evil is immediately recognizable to every one of us; it resonates in the struggles we each face in our own lives. At the same time, good and evil provide us with a stark contrast of opposites, a crystallized perspective – even if it may seem simplistic – on the nature of things, which, as strange as it sounds, is refreshing and even offers a measure of relief amidst the din of confusion that consumes much of our lives. The clarity of knowing your enemy is far more empowering than the doubts of not knowing who your adversary may be and when they may strike. That is why the analysis of a problem – and the identification of its root caused (as opposed to its symptoms) is the key to any solution. Awareness, our sages tell us, is half the cure of a disease.

But the problem is far more complex than it may initially seem: Is there such a thing as absolute evil? Can we always identify good from evil? Especially when we know that “there is not good without bad, and no bad without good.” When evil is intertwined with good, how do we go about eliminating the evil without also hurting the good?

One of the darkest phenomena bemoaned by mystics is, what they call, “taaruvot tov v’ra,” a disturbing concoction, which snowballs good and evil into one witches’ brew. This confusing “cholent” can be far more lethal than plain evil. When good and evil are two distinct entities, you can at least identify the enemy and deal with it accordingly. But when the enemy is hiding amidst your friends, when the evil is buried within the good, where do you begin? The lack of clarity allows the evil to grow, besides for demoralizing us and sapping our resolve to fight an invisible enemy.

Some of the worst diseases known to mankind are the ones in which parasites or malignant cells intertwine themselves and “hide” between healthy cells. Once they embed themselves, the only way to eliminate them is by killing, G-d forbid, good cells together with the bad ones.

An interesting Passover related verse can teach us much a about the distinction between good and evil, and the complication involved in extricating the good while eradicating the evil. And the L-rd shall strike (plague) Egypt, striking and healing, and they shall return to the L-rd, and He shall accept their prayer and heal them (Isaiah 19:22).
Two opinions are posited about the meaning of this verse: Rashi and the Talmud interpret that the verse refers to the first nine plagues, in which the “striking and healing” both happened to the Egyptians: first they were struck by the plagues (which were brought on by Aaron), then they were healed (by Moses’ prayer). The Zohar (II 36a), however, explains that the verse is referring to the tenth plague, when the Egyptians were “struck” and the Israelites “healed,” and both things happened at once (not in two stages).

We see from this that even when the evil was being struck it was also being healed. Until the last and final plague, which came to utterly destroy the evil. But even then, it was not about total destruction; “healing” took place for the good that remained.

Chassidic literature elaborates on the midnight before the great Exodus from Egypt. On that dark and mysterious night, at the moment when the clock struck midnight, the oppressors were struck and the oppressed were healed (“nogof l’mitzrayim v’ rofoh l’yisroel”), evil was vanquished and good prevailed. How can one distinguish between good and evil when they are all mixed together? This requires a unique Divine power, revealed at midnight, when love (chesed) meets discipline (gevurah) and opposites come together – a force that can separate between the good and the bad, and simultaneously address each accordingly (see Passover discourses of 5705).

1 Comment

  • Thank you so much for this article. It is timely and very thought provoking. My opinion is that Is 19 is still yet to be. It is a prophetic statement about when the Lord ‘re-claims’ Egypt (as well as the rest of the nations) as His very own. That time may not be as far away as we think. Utter goodness (as well as the depths of depravity) in human beings is a spiritual concept that we should consider deeply before dismissing it. It is at the root of our eternal existence and purpose. Shalom.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Perspectives on the Middle East and Islam (BOOK REVIEW)

    Perspectives on the Middle East and Islam (BOOK REVIEW)

    Nothing Abides: Perspectives on the Middle East and Islam, by Daniel Pipes. Transaction Publishers, 2015. More doggedly than any other expert on Middle East affairs Daniel Pipes has riveted his attention upon the threat that radical Islam poses to civilized life in nearly every corner of the globe. The Boston Globe was not indulging in hyperbole when it stated, “If Pipes’ admonitions had been heeded, there might never have been a 9/11.” He is the polar opposite to the willfully […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    JNS.org – Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews — in particular, Israeli Jews — are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita. Freudians may find a psychoanalytic motive for the local appeal of the Israeli eateries popping up in the Austrian capital. Walk […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    The two bullet casings are already beginning to rust. Sheikh Nasser Pasha plucks them from the ground. “Look, one is from an AK-47, one from an American M-4.” The casings are strewn on the ground atop a long mound of dirt with a few bits of white sticks on it. It would appear unremarkable if one were walking by it. A closer look, however, reveals the white objects are pieces of human bone: arms, legs, and a single human skull. […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →