More than twenty years ago, I read the essays of Emmanuel Levinas, collected in a volume titled in my native language as “Difficult Freedom.” I do not remember most of what I read then, but I love this expression – “difficult freedom” whether it is freedom of choice, which, to distinguish it from freedom coming from submitting our lives to G-d’s Torah, I call “liberty,” or whether it is this submission that comes with great effort of taking control of our physicality. To make it easer to understand: liberty = freedom of choice. Freedom = state which we live free of slavery to the transgression of the Torah’s commandments.
Whoever decides to live a life of Torah knows what struggles we go through during our lives. It is even more difficult that every time we climb to another level of righteousness, around the corner new challenges await us — challenges more complex than previous ones. It is difficult.
But even more difficult is this awareness that it is in our human hands to create Evil, to do something against will of our Creator. Most of us don’t think on a daily basis that Evil is something that is against the very character of the Giver of life. Still, all of humanity has some definitions of good and evil.
Most of us are not aware that the only evil is that created by us, humans.
What about such thing like “acts of G-d,” some may ask me at this moment?
Do not tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes kill masses of people? Doesn’t fire or floods take the lives of innocent people? Who should be “blamed,” man or G-d?
First of all, we don’t know the reality behind what we see. Our ability to comprehend and understand what happens is limited by the physical character of our world. We cannot ascend higher and see our inner dimensions while being out of them. We cannot see all of the consequences of our actions, as most of us are not even aware that these actions are only in the lowest part of our three-dimensional reality. Even here on the earth, above our actions (Maaseh) are worlds of word (Dibur) and thought (Machshuva). Then there are higher realms that we can just touch with our intellect; these realms we call “spirituality.” Above spirituality is infinity.
When we pull the thread hanging somewhere from our shirt, we sometimes don’t know that we just ripped off the collar of the shirt. We just see the single thread, which we think doesn’t belong hanging from the shirt. One thread pulled out of our shirt can ruin the piece of fabric. So it is the case with the fabric of Creation. We don’t know what our actions or lack of actions are causing in other end of the world. We have no idea what damage it cause in higher spiritual spheres. G-d, in His infinite love, does not cause anything that is Evil, as Evil is something that doesn’t exist in Him, in His realm. It is we who create Evil; it is we who bring the harm and pain to ourselves and others like us. It costs us our liberty/bechirah and our freedom to have this possibility to cause — directly and indirectly — pain, suffering, violence, war, cruelty, and death. This is difficult.
It is even more difficult when we are somehow having a higher awareness of the temporality of this world. It is difficult, because if what people call reality is not real, pain and suffering is real. But so is happiness and love.
Last week we concluded the period of what we call the Three Weeks. If you still remember, my dear reader, I started this two-part essay with a question about the nature of this period. Why there is more Evil happening to the chosen people of G-d than during the rest of the year?
The answer is described in last week’s essay. It is not more Evil coming from our Creator, chas v’shulem, but as a result of our collective sin of meraglim (spies) and cheit ha’eigel (the Golden Calf). ‘Space’ for more Evil became part of the fabric of the Creation; we are more exposed to the Evil. This was a cosmic adjustment in the very nature of the time, in which we became more vulnerable.
One sin happened on the 17th of Tammuz and other sin we did on the 9th of Av, according to our tradition. There are three weeks in between these days. Until the Geula — the final Redemption — this is a time, a part of our reality, when our Father in Heaven turn His Face away yet a little bit more. It is we who fill up this “additional void” with Evil, simply by not following His Will. We are vulnerable to ourselves and others like us. This is also cost of our freedom.
Last week we also passed the shloishim — thirty days — since our child was taken away from us, since Leiby z”l was taken from his parents and grandparents.
Can we understand what happened on that night month ago? No. We can not comprehend the fact that human being could be able to do such horrible thing. We cannot accept that someone raised with the values that make most of us better human beings, rejected these values and chose to do almost ultimate Evil. Evil where the pain will linger in the hearts of the family and community, perhaps till Moshiach will come. Like the stories we read in Megillas Eichah last Tuesday about mothers cooking their children to eat them, in the besieged
. This pain is too great. It is the pain of our liberty. Holy City
But last Shabbos we read the Haftorah, a chapter of Yeshayahu Hanuvi – prophet Isaiah called Nachmu.
There is hope, there is the shearis Yisruel — the remaining holy people — who stay strong, like these seven thousand men whom Hashem is informing Eliyahu Hanuvi about.
There are people like Leiby’s father who, like his ancestor Avraham, gave his son back to the Giver of existence, knowing that there is more than we see. There are people like his grandfather, Reb Yitzchok, who walked out of Leiby’s house with his head up, like the greatest of his ancestors, taking what Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives without questioning, with perfect faith.
I have the great privilege to be a friend of this man, Reb Yitzchok. We use to sit next to each other for seven years in the same beis medrash. I never told Reb Yitzchok how important a role he played in my life.
I was a stranger from different country and from a hostile nation and I came and sat down next to him. While others often hesitated to have even eye contact with me, it was Reb Yitzchok, with his love of his fellow Jew, who opened the door of friendship for me — this neophyte. This is how Reb Yitzchok is. Thanks to this man — and others like him — there is hope that the Geula (Redemtion) is closer. He is someone who, with his family, gives example of emunah to all of us because he chose to fill the void given to him with Good.