I came back home from my golus in
the day before Shabbos parshas Maasey. I had spent the last two weeks (out of five) there, in the west, with my younger son and a couple of his friends. Utah
Usually I give my kids the opportunity to release their energy on all kinds of things that would be rather “unorthodox” for the community in which we belong; activities from moderate mountain climbing through water sports, ending with horseback riding, for example.
This time however, for the first time, we were there during the time we call the Three Weeks. I therefore restricted the boys to walking on the ground, even if sometimes it was thousands of feet up on a cliff, but still feet on the ground.
When the boys asked the reason for this limitation, when other times there were no such restrictions, my answer was a bit complicated, but even 17-year-old boys who were raised in a Torah environment could understand the basic ideas.
What is nature of Evil and why there is more Evil during the Three Weeks than during the rest of the year?
We cannot understand the essence of our Creator, neither can we grasp — with our limited intellect — his reasons and ways. However this great gift from Him of intellect can carry us to heights where the intellectual borders with the spiritual. We can ascend to awareness that is above our three-dimensional realm and beyond the time.
Chazal tries to take us there with all the possible tools that human language has. Our Sages, of blessed memory, put into words ideas — seeds — that can grow like huge sequoias, reaching, crowning, heaven.
Chazal gave us words of enlightenment, that our physical existence serves only one purpose — to create, amplify, and maintain our mental attachment to the Giver of Life. We do this by submitting our physicality to His Law and our psyche to what He revealed to us.
All of the writings of the Jewish Sages serve this purpose — to help us to achieve this goal and reach the heights of humanity. In its legal aspect, Torah is a primary vehicle for us to serve the Creator, but Torah is much more than simply law. It gives us limitations — due to the nature of our physicality, knowledge, and understanding of spiritual matters — though in rather esoteric and secretive way. Chazal, in their exceptional ways, are trying to bring forth this knowledge and understanding by extracting it and making more accessible to such plain believers like us (or me rather).
We are created from nothing. Yesh mi’ayin – Creatio ex ni
This is what Jews contributed to the language of Theology and Philosophy. Jews revealed this to the world but only a person learning Torah and performing the mitzvos of the Torah can grasp this knowledge deeper.
It is not G-d who “fills up” the Universe; only His “Presence” does that. Before He created the Universe, He had to make “a space” for it. This is expressed by the kabbalistic term of “tzimtzum,” which is usually translated as “withdraw.” HaKadosh Baruch Hu “withdrew” in order to give a “space” for nothingness; nothingness in turn is the building material for not only the physical universe, but also our spiritual existence. However higher echelons of spiritual matter originated in the Divine.
The Ramchal explains this process as the series of hesturos. The term “hester punim” is known to the broad public. Especially after the Holocaust, the term was used not only by Jewish people, but by all of monotheistic theologians and philosophers, to explain the ultimate Evil — the descent of humanity to allow for systematic killing of Jewish people. The only thought that came to the mind of these believing thinkers was that G-d had turned His Face away.
This is how hester punim is usually translated: turning —covering His Face.
For Jews this is not a new idea; we received the idea of G-d turning His Face away already at Har Sinai.
The Ramchal tells us that without this withdrawal of His Presence, without tzimtzum, creation of independent beings with the gift of bechirah (freedom) would not be possible for the Almighty G-d. However, paradoxically as the last sentence sounds, this is how we understand it.
The whole of Creation is the system of different hesturos, where every such withdrawal creates the vacuum to be filled up with and by the Creation. Different kinds or “amounts” of hester punim were used to create various kinds of spiritual beings. Different kinds of hestar punim were used to give the space for the physical universe. In Kabbalah this “building material” is also called clippah (shell), which divides/separates different levels of spirituality and physicality.
One of the most important levels of the hesturos is the vacuum created for our moral choice, to give us the opportunity to decide by ourselves with what will we fill up these voids.
The Creator gave humanity seven categories of such voids — seven commandments for Bnei Noach. These categories can be deduced solely by the power of human intellect, as Rav Hirsch assures us in his commentary on the Torah.
Man can choose to fill up the given void with submission to the will of the Creator, i.e., good, or has the freedom to do evil. Jews, because of their special mission as a moral and spiritual leadership of humanity, received 613 categories of good and evil.
Every time we choose to fulfill the will of our Creator — we do a mitzvah — it is good for Unity. Since HaKadosh Baruch Hu is indivisible, our doing mitzvos is confirmation to us of this Unity, more than submission would be.
In a similar, but opposite, vein, when we chose disobedience and rebellion against our Creator by doing aveiros (sinning), we creating something that is not Divine. This cannot be in unity with the One. By the decision of our Creator, we humans are able to create an alternative “being,” the secondary, the other side — the Sitra Achra. One more time, it is we who fill the void that was given to us as an opportunity to chose — we can fill it with evil. Without this possibility of making the wrong choice, the sense of our creation would be lost. By possessing the opportunity to choose evil, our autonomy — our bechirah — becomes reality. However it is most important to say that by choosing Evil we succumb to Evil’s nature and we become slaves of it. We lose our freedom. A slave is not free by definition.