Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Lech Lecha-The divine providence found even in sin-Turning your failures and shortcomings into your ladder of growth

Izbitz, Carlabach, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the paradox of Divine providence regarding sins. Explained and analyzed. In this lesson, the question of Hashgacha Pratis versus Bechira Chafshis is discussed. Does a person have free choice to choose good or evil? Can Hasgacha Pratis also apply when we make mistakes and sin? A fascinating analysis on this subject based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

P.S. To note, the word predestined was mispronounced throughout this lesson, and has been brought to our attention. Our apologies.

Parshas Lech Licha

The divine providence found even in sin-Turning your failures and shortcomings into your ladder of growth

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 5 1st Sicha)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Lech Licha, we learn of the journey of our forefather Avraham who traveled at age 75 from the city of his birthplace to the land of Israel, and how he then made a round-trip journey from Israel to Egypt, in order to escape a famine. As Scripture describes, the journey was both arduous and dangerous, putting both Abraham’s and his wife’s lives in danger, causing him to temporarily lose his wife to the hands of the Pharaoh of Egypt. If that was not enough, as soon as he arrived in the holy land, it became stricken with famine and created a great desecration of G-d’s name. The commentators explain furthermore that Avraham actually had a spiritual dissent during these journeys, becoming more involved in the physical world and its lusts, and failed challenges that G-d placed before him. The Rebbe questions how all of these negative events can possibly connect to the title by which the Parsha is known as, which is Lech Licha, and refers to both a physical and spiritual elevation to greater prosperity. This question provokes the contemplation of a deep and fundamental concept in Judaism and Hasidism vis a vis divine Providence, and the belief that everything that happens to a person is not only from G-d but is for a purpose of elevation and advancement. The discussion reaches a boiling point when it turns to analyzing whether the concept of divine Providence applies even to sin and sinful behavior, and if so, then what is left of freedom of choice, and punishment and reward for making those choices. The conclusion and consequential lesson that the Rebbe derives from this talk is as thought-provoking as it is encouraging, and gives even the greatest of sinners hope of return, and removes them from despair. The Rebbe’s connection of sinful behavior with divine Providence touches upon one of the rarest, and most controversial, discussions brought in Jewish and Hasidic thought, which few have even dared of contemplating due to its seeming absurdity and contradiction of basic tenants of Judaism and religion. Even fewer have ever ventured to express such a connection in their writings or speeches, and those who have done so have come under fierce opposition and attack for what is claimed to be a heretical belief. The great novel teaching in this talk, can, and unfortunately has been, misunderstood by some readers in a way that it contradicts other fundamentals of our faith, and has left some of the greatest scholars puzzled as to its proper understanding. In truth, after a careful study of the talk, the revolutionary novelty and lesson that is derived by the Rebbe, not only does not contradict any tenets of our faith, but on the contrary compliments them.

 

Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      How all the episodes discussed in the weekly Parsha are hinted to in its name.

2.      How Avraham’s challenges and failures were really part of his physical and spiritual advancement.

3.      The relationship between divine providence and freedom of choice and G-d’s unity.

4.      How even sin contains an element of divine Providence, and how even the greatest of sinners are guided by G-d in their journey down and their potential journey back up.

 

1. The name of the weekly Parsha summarizes its events:

The names of the weekly portions have biblical status: It’s been explained on numerous occasions, that although the famously known names of the Parshiyos are not of biblical origin, and perhaps not even of Talmudic origin[1], historically having been first documented from about a thousand years prior[2], nonetheless, they are considered the authentic names of the Parshiyos, and are treated as if they contain biblical status. This can be understood from the fact that according to Jewish law[3], the name of an individual becomes his legal name after it is used for 30 days. If so, even more so in our case that the names of the Torah portions have been used for over a thousand years, and have been used by the greatest scholars and rabbis, are they certainly considered the legal names of the Torah portions.

The names of the weekly portions express their inner message: From the above it is understood that the inner meaning behind each weekly portion is hinted in its name. Meaning, that although the name of the weekly portion is normally taken from its first words, since it is the name of the entire Parsha one must say that it expresses the content and message of the entire Parsha. Accordingly, we can conclude that the Parsha of Lech Licha has a main theme surrounding the idea of travel.

2. The theme of Parshas Lech Lecha and its contradictory episodes:

The journey to spiritual heights: In general, the term Lech Licha refers to the general life journey of a Jew in fulfilling his purpose of life which is the service creator. In the Hasidic teachings it is brought that the words Lech Licha can be interpreted to mean “go into yourself.” These words which G-d instructed to Avraham were a message to him that he should travel to his essence, to the root of his soul, and become elevated to the highest of levels of spirituality.

The challenges and ordeals of Avraham’s travels: According to this, it remains to be understood how in pretty much the remainder of the Parsha, Avraham is hit with one difficulty after another. Although the very beginning of the Parsha discusses Avraham’s journey to the holy land, and from there to Jerusalem, immediately afterwards we are told of a famine hitting the land which then forced Avraham to leave the holy land and descend to the land of Egypt. How then does this episode, which is considered a great physical and spiritual descent for Avraham, fit into the theme of the Parsha which is a journey from one level to another and going higher and higher.

The famine was considered a setback for Avraham’s mission: It is not only the intrinsic journey to Egypt that was considered a descent for Avraham, but also its cause, which was due to the famine. It wasn’t just that Avraham himself was guaranteed fame and success through his travels, but that also his mission of spreading G-d’s name would likewise be successful. This, however, was not to be, as immediately upon Avraham’s arrival to the holy land, it became stricken by famine causing a great desecration of G-d’s name. Instead of the land becoming blessed with Avraham’s arrival and settlement, thus causing the inhabitants of the holy land to see the greatness of G-d, instead the land became cursed with such a severe famine that he himself was forced out of the land. If anything, it appeared to the Gentiles that being involved in Avraham’s religion was some kind of curse and that they must strengthen themselves even more in their ways of idolatry

The spiritual descent of Avraham: The descent of Avraham into Egypt was not just one of physical descent but also one of spiritual descent. The Baal Shem Tov[4] relates that prior to Avraham’s travels to Egypt, he was on such a high spiritual plane that he was not even aware of his wife’s physical beauty. His travels to Egypt, however, caused him a descent from his spiritual level, surrounded him with the air of impurity, and caused him to now be aware of the beauty of his wife. This then culminated with his wife being taken and kidnapped by the Pharaoh of Egypt for purposes of adultery, which spiritually caused divine energy to fuel the side of the impure.[5] According to all the above, it is completely puzzling that this Torah portion can be called the name Lech Licha which represents traveling to new spiritual heights, when in truth we are told of many spiritual and physical downfalls and setbacks that they experienced.

3. Avraham’s descent to Egypt paved the way for the Jewish comeback and future Exodus:

Our sages state that the actions of our forefathers are a sign for their descendants. This does not just mean to say that our forefathers serve as our Lamplighter’s to give us direction in life, or that whatever happens to our forefathers will likewise occur with us, but rather that the actions that occurred with them are direct influencers of the actions that will occur with us. For example, the Zohar[6] states that by Avraham descending to Egypt he caused the exile of the Jewish people in Egypt to occur. Likewise, by Avraham leaving Egypt with much wealth, honor and gold, he effected that his children when they leave the exile of Egypt that they will leave with tremendous wealth and respect.

Giving us moral strength: The connection becomes even deeper when we contemplate the merit for which later on the Jewish people merited to leave Egypt. One of the actions that stood for our merit in G-d’s eyes to agree have us leave Egypt was the fact that we guarded ourselves from promiscuity in Egypt. Now, who gave the Jewish people the strength to withhold from engaging in promiscuous behavior while they were there? The answer is their matriarch Sarah, as she too was in Egypt and placed in a circumstance which required her to abstain from promiscuity and remain faithful to her husband, which she succeeded to do. The willpower of Sarah to not engage in forbidden behavior with the Pharaoh of Egypt is what gave strength to her descendants, the Jewish people, to likewise control their behavior while they were in Egypt.

4. When a descent occurs in order to then catalyze a greater ascent, it is really an ascent the entire time:

Based on all the above, it is understood that the descent of Avraham to Egypt was not a true descent, as its purpose was to bring a much higher ascent which would occur when they left Egypt. This ascent from Egypt was not just one of gathering physical wealth through staying there, but also one of spiritual wealth, as it states that when the Jewish people left Egypt, they left with refining many of the sparks of Tohu that had fallen into the world and were centralized in Egypt.

A parable from the Babylonian versus the Jerusalem Talmud: This can be similarly compared to the difference between the Babylonian versus the Jerusalem Talmud. While the Babylonian Talmud contains many questions and proofs and disproves and rebuttals on any given statement, the Jerusalem Talmud is clearer and more straightforward. Nonetheless, we specifically find that we rule like the Babylonian Talmud versus the Jerusalem Talmud due to this reason alone, as the many challenges which every statement faces in the Babylonian Talmud achieves clarification of the correct law, and ends up refining it. Hence, the confusion that is sowed by the Babylonian Talmud in all of its questions and rebuttals is a merely temporary tactic for gaining absolute clarity of the law. The same applies regarding the descent of Avraham into Egypt, that although externally it appears as a true descent in level, in truth it is all part of the process of going higher and higher in both spiritual and physical gain.

The exile sows the rewards that we will reap in the redemption: The above concept holds true also regarding our final exile, that although it appears like a great concealment and descent in spirituality and G-dliness, it’s purpose is to bring the Jewish people to a much greater level than they were ever found in even prior to the destruction of the temple. Accordingly, one should not look at all of the troubles and spiritual challenges and failures of our generation, and come to despair that we are lost case, as in truth, this descent is all part of the great ascent that G-d has in mind for us in the future. Thus, one must also conclude that G-d gives one the proper strength to overcome these challenges, as in truth the challenges themselves are all part of the journey towards the final redemption.

5. How can sin which is committed with one’s own freedom of choice be part of G-d’s plan of constant ascent:

While it is known that all of man’s steps are with absolute divine providence and guided by G-d in heaven, this is only in reference to matters that do not relate to right versus wrong and to his freedom of choice. However, regarding all matters relating to fear of heaven and right versus wrong, since man has freedom of choice to choose to do evil or good, it ends up that when man makes evil choices it cannot possibly be in accordance to divine Providence, and on the contrary is against His will. Accordingly, it is not possible to state that spiritual and physical descents that were caused by man’s own bad decisions, are part of the divine plan of constant elevation, a descent for the sake of an ascent, and on the contrary they actually interfere with the divine plan for that individual, as G-d certainly did not want him to sin and go through the path that he is taking.

Avraham sinned when he made the choice to descend to Egypt during the times of the famine: According to the commentary of the Ramban[7], the famine that occurred in the land of Israel was actually a challenge from G-d to see if Avraham would nonetheless trust in Him and remain in the holy land. As we know, Avraham in the end made the decision to go to Egypt to sustain himself and his family during the famine. The Ramban therefore writes that by doing so he actually “sinned,” and made the wrong decision, and was punished for doing so by having Sarah taken captive and having his descendants eventually exiled into Egypt. Now, according to this opinion that Avraham actually sinned, how do we explain this event to be part of the general theme of “Lech Licha,” in which one goes from one level to a higher level, and that even the descents are for the sake of an ascent, if the descent to Egypt was against G-d’s will and a result of Avraham’s mistaken choice? Now, although one can argue and explain that the Ramban does not literally mean that Avraham had sinned, but rather that simply for the level of Avraham it was considered a spiritual lacking which can be considered similar to a sin, nonetheless, from the fact that the Torah tells us this story and makes it appear as if it was an actual sin, we must conclude that there is a connection between even descents which are the result of sin and the constant elevations expressed in the words “Lech Licha.”

6. Even sinful behavior contains an element of divine providence:

The explanation to the above dilemma is that in truth, even though all matters are in the hands of heaven except for matters of fear of heaven which are within the jurisdiction of man and his freedom of choice, there is an element of divine providence even within sin. Therefore, even when one goes through a physical or spiritual decline and demotion due to the results of his own bad choices and sinful behavior, he is in truth inwardly always going and heading towards a higher and higher level, even during the time of the sin itself. How is this possible? How is it possible at the same time that one is actively going against G-d’s will, that we also consider it that G-d is directing him through the sin, and that not only is it not causing him a spiritual decline but that actually it is all part of his journey upwards to spirituality?

The spiritual decline is predestined by G-d, the way to get there is left to the hands of man: The explanation to the above paradox is as follows: Although man contains complete freedom of choice in all of his decisions between right and wrong, permitted versus forbidden, command versus transgression, and therefore he must be rightfully punished and refined when he makes wrong choices, nonetheless, the results of his choices follow the path that G-d has destined for him, which is all part of the divine plan of bringing him to a much higher level. The actual action of sin, and decision to do so, is contrary to the will of G-d. G-d, does not want people to sin against Him and transgress His commands, and he certainly does not predestine, or force people to make their bad decisions. However, the result of the sin, which is a spiritual descent of the world and the individual who committed it, is predestined by G-d, and is not contrary to His will, as it is all part of the divine plan for this individual’s eventual rise to holiness. Therefore, it is not considered a true descent, and is a necessary step for the person’s eventual spiritual elevation. [In other words, in all cases that one has sinned due to his own freedom of choice, while it was his decision to reach his spiritual downfall through sin, he would’ve anyways had a spiritual downfall as decided by G-d. Now, if G-d in truth does not want this spiritual downfall to occur to the person, then in truth the person will be unsuccessful in doing the sin, as we see daily that many sinners who would like to perform a certain sin, are prevented from doing so due to technical obstacles. Likewise, perhaps G-d would not even enter the contemplation of a certain sin into one’s heart, if indeed its spiritual downfall has not been destined for him already by G-d. Accordingly, if one was successful in acting out his freely chosen sin, it is a sign that G-d had already agreed that this spiritual downfall take place.]

Finding a similar concept regarding one who was purposely injured by another: The above-mentioned concept of divine Providence even in sin finds a source in the belief that we all share in Judaism that whatever damage or injury that happens to an individual, even if it occurred in the hands of another individual, is with divine providence. Now, how does this belief stand true with the belief of freedom of choice that the perpetrator had? If we believe in freedom of choice, then one should be able to choose to damage or injure someone even if in heaven they did not decree for it to happen, and if you believe in the concept of divine providence in the injury or damage than what choice did the perpetrator have in this matter? The answer to this is that if damage or injury happens to an individual, it is because that damage or injury was already decreed in heaven to occur to him, and if in truth it was not decreed in heaven for it to occur to him, then G-d would not have allowed the perpetrator to be successful in doing his actions. Furthermore, even in the case that the damage or injury was already decreed upon him, G-d never decreed that the perpetrator should choose to do so on His behalf, as G-d has many emissaries and methods of accomplishing what he wants. [For example, if it was decided in heaven that one’s eyeglasses would be broken, G-d does not need to have an assailant come along and purposely remove them from his face and break them, as He can find another method of breaking them, such as through the individual himself accidentally stepping on his own eyeglasses. Thus, if an individual does come along and decides to break them, then he will be punished for his choice, being that G-d prohibits individuals from doing so, and did not want it to be broken through the bad choice of an assailant. Now, these same concepts can be applied regarding the sinner and assailant himself. Although G-d did not want him to choose to sin and break his friend’s eyeglasses, the spiritual descent and damage that now results from his sin was already decided in heaven for it to occur to him, and it would have occurred to him regardless even if he would have chosen not to sin.]

What now remains to be understood, is the basis for this belief system that the results of the sin are already predestined by G-d in heaven.

 

A deeper look:

In every sin that one transgresses, and in every command that one does not fulfill, there exist two aspects, the first being the rebellion against G-d and the second being the spiritual damage that it causes to himself and to the world. G-d never predestines for a person to rebel against Him and certainly does not want anyone to do so, and He can’t be blamed for their wrong decisions. Nonetheless, the spiritual damage that occurs to him as a result of his sin, G-d predestine to occur. Now, how would this spiritual descent occur without him sinning? The answer is, that he can end up sinning by mistake, or due to no fault of his own, in which case although he certainly has not rebelled against G-d, the damage has been done. We find an example of this idea within the laws of Pikuach Nefesh, that one is required to transgress Shabbos, eat nonkosher, and eat on Yom Kippur if necessary to save one’s life. Notwithstanding that one is actually commanded by the Torah to transgress these commands, the spiritual damage of transgressing Shabbos and eating non kosher and eating on Yom Kippur still occurs. In the wording of the Rambam[8], “Shabbos Dechuyah Hi Eitzel Pikuach Nefesh” and that this is similar to a doctor who needs to perform an amputation to an arm or leg of an individual in order to save their life. Obviously, the doctor is doing a great mitzvah in performing this amputation and we force the patient to agree to do so, although nonetheless, the fact is that the patient will still now have an amputated limb. Now, the same way that this applies with a physical defect so too it applies with a spiritual defect, that it is possible for one to receive a spiritual defect without being considered to have sinned, if in the end of the day the sinful activity was forced to take place.

7. The religious duty in believing that even sinful activity has an element of divine providence:

One of the main foundations of our faith even according to the revealed aspects of Torah, is that G-d is the one and only ruler of the world, and aside for Him no one holds any power of decision-making in how the world is run and what occurs in it. All of the stars and constellations and even angels through whom the world functions, are merely like in ax in the hand of the wood chopper, which is G-d, and they act only according to His wishes. One who believes that stars and constellations or angels have some independent power, even though they ultimately believe that it was given to them by G-d, is considered to be harboring heretical beliefs, being that it contradicts G-d’s unity and ultimate and sole power of ruling the world. Accordingly, one must also conclude, in order so it does not contradict G-d’s unity and sovereignty, that even the free choices that man has in this world regarding Torah and mitzvah’s, are in accordance to the divine providence, as explained above. Meaning, that while certainly it is man’s choice to choose how he reaches a certain destination of spiritual descent, and whether it is through sin or through the hands of G-d, the fact is that irrelevant of his choice he will inevitably reach that destination one way or another. Hence, it ends up that even the freedom of choice that one certainly enjoys in all matters relating to religion, is simply a freedom of choice and not really a freedom of results, as the results were ready decided by G-d and cannot be circumvented. Hence, G-d contains total control of everything in the world, and man’s freedom of choice cannot change anything of his decisions. [In other words, in all cases that one has sinned due to his own freedom of choice, while it was his decision to reach his spiritual downfall through sin, he would’ve anyways had a spiritual downfall as decided by G-d. Now, if G-d in truth does not want this spiritual downfall to occur to the person, then in truth the person will be unsuccessful in doing the sin, as we see daily that many sinners who would like to perform a certain sin, are prevented from doing so due to technical obstacles. Likewise, perhaps G-d would not even enter the contemplation of a certain sin into one’s heart, if indeed it’s spiritual downfall has not been destined for him already by G-d.]

8. What spiritual elevation is accomplished through the downfall of sin?

There remains one element in the above philosophy that still requires explanation, and that is regarding what exactly is the spiritual elevation that is eventually accomplished through the resultant descent of a sin, for which G-d therefore actually desired its descent. What can possibly be good and positive about spiritual failures that even G-d desires them? The answer to this question is, Teshuvah, repentance. [The Talmud[9] states that a Baal Teshuvah stands even higher than a righteous man. There are various advantages of a Baal Teshuvah versus one who has never sinned. First of all, as often occurs, a person who sinned and was then drawn to repentance, is often motivated to be more scrupulous in his observance than an individual who never sinned and never went through a spiritual “midlife crisis” to really motivate him to change for the better.[10] Furthermore, a person who has stumbled on sin and done Teshuvah, will often harbor feelings of humility, that the righteous are not able to reach. Likewise, often Baalei Teshuvah contain much more enthusiasm in their service of G-d, serving Him with true love and fear, and an explosion of emotions, which the righteous who have never sinned have never been stimulated to feel.[11]] Furthermore, in Kabbalah we find that a Baal Teshuvah is able to accomplish the refining and elevation of divine sparks from the lowest of spiritual levels of which the righteous have no access to elevate.[12] One who follows everything according to the book and never transgresses, is only able to elevate the Divine sparks that fell into Kelipas Nogah. However, one who has sinned and has then come back and done Teshuvah, is able to elevate the Divine sparks that are found in the three completely unclean Kelipos. Hence, in the eyes of G-d, one who has sinned is actually on a Divine mission sent out by Him, which was not afforded to Tzadikim, to elevate those lost divine sparks that are found in the depths of impurity, through him eventually doing Teshuvah. On this the sages state that through repentance one turns his “Zedonos, iniquities” into “Zechuyos, merit,” as he actually causes the sin and spiritual downfall to become the catalyst for better behavior and greater spiritual accomplishments.[13]

Does everyone actually end up doing Teshuvah? [According to the above, it ends up that the eventual spiritual elevation that comes as the result of the downfall of sin is dependent on one properly repenting for it. This aggravates the following questions: What happens if an individual does not repent for his sin? Does that mean that G-d got it wrong, and although G-d had good intentions in His decision to make this person go through a spiritual decline for the sake of a greater return on His investment, in the end of the day since this sinner has not repented it is an investment that has gone bad, and has given Him no returns? So, potentially, one can explain that this analysis is exactly correct, and is no different than any investment that one does in a business, which he does for the sake and hope of earning greater profit, but takes a risk of losing his initial investment altogether. So too, perhaps, one can argue that although G-d certainly is the one who is in charge of all of man’s spiritual descents, and has predestined them, nonetheless, He is not in charge of whether or not this spiritual descent will eventually bring back a greater spiritual return, as the Mitzvah of Teshuvah is within the freedom of choice for every sinner to choose to perform or not. If the sinner chooses to perform it, then G-d will receive a profit on his investment, although if the sinner does not choose to repent, then G-d so to say has lost on His investment, and it ends up that the descent was a real spiritual descent without elevation, despite G-d’s wishes and anticipation. The problem, however, with accepting this understanding is that we already explained that everything that happens to man, including its spiritual downfalls, is always part of his ladder up, and that nothing in this world happens without G-d’s control and decision due to His absolute unity and sovereignty. Now, if one believes that man can choose not to repent, then that means that he can choose to ruin G-d’s plan, and take the control and decision away from Him, and cause His desired investment to be completely ruined. This completely contradicts G-d’s unity and sovereignty, just as we initially stated regarding the entire concept of man being able to choose his own spiritual destiny.]

Everyone will eventually repent: The explanation to the above paradox, is that in truth, every sinner will eventually repent, as the verse states “Ki Lo Yidach Mimenu Nidach.” The question simply is, when he will choose to do so, and it is only the timing of the repentance that he has freedom of choice to choose, but the repentance itself is a done deal that G-d has predestined for every sinner. Even if one dies without repentance, he can end up coming back in a future incarnation, and end up repenting then. [Likewise, even if he does not repent at all in the future incarnation, or does not merit to be reincarnated, perhaps the process of purgatory and Kaf Hakela can accomplish a refinement of his soul which although is not equivalent to real repentance, is still considered a return on G-d’s investment. A similar idea to this concept can be found in that which it is stated that the Divine sparks found in the three completely unclean Kelipos, will eventually become elevated in the future even if the sinner did not end up elevating it through repentance. This philosophy also explains why every single Jew, even the greatest sinner, has a portion in the world to come, and even those listed to have lost their portion, will nonetheless merit to have their souls come back in different bodies.[14] Since every single Jew is guaranteed to eventually do Teshuvah, or receive refinement for his sins, therefore, every Jewish soul will merit a portion in the world to come.]

8. The lesson:

The lesson that we can all learn from the above novel conclusion is that no matter the spiritual state that an individual finds himself in, even the lowest of the low, and even if it had occurred due to his actions, due to his bad choices of choosing evil, nonetheless, he should never give up hope and think that he is spiritually a lost case. Since his current spiritual state was predestined by G-d irrelevant of his bad decisions, it is all part of His divine plan for that individual. Accordingly, while he must certainly repent, and cry with remorse for his bad decision-making and actions of rebellion, he must know that he has a path forward which was arranged by G-d, and that that path forward could only be accomplished through his spiritual downfall. [In detail, there are two great lessons that can be learned from the above conclusion, one relating to making a positive outcome from the failure, and the second relating to at least avoiding a greater downfall of depression.]

 

Turning a failure into a revolution:

Many of the founders of positive world initiatives, who end up bringing healing and revolutions to the world, their communities, and families, were originally people who suffered the most from the matter that they came to fix. Becoming an advocate for helping oneself and others in fixing the spiritual failure that one experienced, is itself the ladder up that G-d may have intended you to take from your downfall to begin with, and is the profit from G-d’s investment. Thus, even the greatest of sins can lead to an elevation through a person revolutionizing ways of helping others who may have similar struggles. A practical example of the application of this philosophy can be taken from Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, the late and famous author of the book “Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa,” who revolutionized the acquiring of knowledge of the laws of Shabbos for world Jewry in our recent generation. As he himself writes, his motivating factor of authoring this work was from an event that happened in his life back in Europe in which he was forced to transgress Shabbos. As a result of this transgression, he resolved to publishing a work on the laws of Shabbos that would be of benefit to the public.

Avoiding depression and feelings of worthlessness:

A famous statement attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and his students[15] is that more than the evil inclination desires for one to transgress a given sin, he desires the melancholiness and depression that comes as a result of the sin and the impact it has on the Jewish conscience of the transgressor. In other words, the evil inclination views a transgression of a single sin as a mere win of a single skirmish or battle, within the general context of war, however, the war is far from over. However, if he manages to cause the person to enter into depression due to the sin, and give up hope in future battles, then in essence he has won the war. It often happens that when a Jew transgresses a most severe transgression [i.e. adultery, forbidden relations, breaking of Shabbos, eating of non-kosher, etc. etc.] which is overwhelming on his conscience and heart, that it can lead him to simply give up being observant altogether, as he views himself as a lost case and as someone un-befitting of G-d’s presence and love. This is precisely the goal of the evil inclination who convinced him to commit the sin to begin with, to then cause him to lose morale to continue fighting. From the above teaching, one can gain strength to overcome this sly tactic of the evil inclination, and not allow his guilty Jewish conscience to destroy his spiritual morale and make him give up hope. Rather, he will be imbued with a new and fresh energy of service of G-d, knowing that not only can he overcome his grave sin and failure, but that he can even turn it into something positive, for which reason to begin with G-d predestined him to experience the result of the failure.

 

Q&A

According to the above talk, why does a sinner need to get punished?

As we already explained above, the decision to perform the sin is against G-d’s will and is considered a rebellion against Him. G-d never desires that man choose to sin, but rather simply at times desires the gains that can result from the spiritual decline due to the sin, which can be accomplished in ways other than the person choosing to transgress them, as explained above.

According to the above talk, why does a sinner need to repent?

As we explained above, if the sinner does not repent, then it causes G-d’s investment to fail, and causes the persons greater spiritual elevation that G-d intended to occur due to the sin, to never become actualized. Now, although we explained that one is guaranteed to eventually repent and cause G-d’s investment to eventually reap profit, nonetheless, it is in the sinner’s hands to choose the timing of this profit, and if it will occur at an earlier date with a greater quality return, or at a later date in which it will occur inevitably, with a much smaller return. In other words, the quality of return that G-d will see in his investment, and the quality of spiritual elevation that will occur as a result of the sin, is truly dependent on us, and our quality and timing of repentance.

 

According to the above talk, why not just go ahead and attempt to give in to all your sinful lusts and desires, and if successful, you can rest assured that it is all part of G-d’s plan?

The above very thought-provoking and hairsplitting philosophical ideas and beliefs may leave one with a very crooked conclusion, which is that perhaps sinning is not so bad after all, and perhaps one should even do so for the sake of repenting later on and then earn the rewards of greater spiritual elevation. So, the answer to this is, as already stated above, that G-d prohibits one from making this investment decision, and the decision may only be made by Him alone. Furthermore, even when a spiritual decline has been decided by Him to occur to an individual, it may only be accomplished through His methods and means, in legal ways, as opposed to being accomplished through illegal activity by a sinner. Furthermore, one who chooses to sin for the sake of then repenting, loses divine assistance in helping him repent, and hence the quality of the intended return that G-d had in mind for this person sin, may be compromised due to him having chosen to do the sin rather than having G-d arrange it for him.[16]

 

 

The teachings of Izhbitz & the Carlebach adaption:

The above philosophy delineated by the Rebbe in the above talk finds direct source and root in the teachings of the first Rebbe of Izhbitz, known as Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, who founded the Hasidic group of Izhbitza-Radzhin, and authored the famous work named “Mei Shiloach.” In this magnum opus he makes mention in several areas of this philosophy. For example: In Parshas Vayeira of his commentary he writes that “everything is in the hands of having even fear of heaven…. As even fear of heaven is in His hands, and even all the sins of the Jewish people are with divine providence, as through them G-d’s name becomes great and sanctified. Understand, as this matter is very very deep.” Likewise, in Parshas Pinchas he writes, “Do not believe heaven forbid that Zimri was an adulterer G-d forbid…..Rather, when he saw that he could not control himself he understood that it was the will of G-d that he be with her as she is his destined mate. Pinchas did not understand this great secret that she was really his destined mate from the six days of creation, and therefore is referred to in the verse as a mere child.” These cryptic statements have been taken by some Jewish preachers of today and used as the basis for preaching to the masses, and especially the irreligious, that their sins are not really their fault, and it was all destined by G-d. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach brought this philosophy to the masses, and it was one of his most fundamental ideas that he preached of the public, and perhaps earned him such fame and success in his Kiruv movement. In the above talk of the Rebbe, we find the proper understanding and qualifications of these statements, and that it is not meant to be understood that when man sins he does not really have freedom of choice since it is G-d’s doing, as it is only the results of the sin that contains divine providence and not the sin itself. Unfortunately, however, some have interpreted these statements contrary to their intent and mistakenly learn that the sins themselves are with divine providence, and that there therefore isn’t really such a concept of freedom of choice. This is clearly a grave error in understanding, and contradicts the greatest of the foundations of Judaism and religion, which is that man was given freedom of choice to do right and wrong and therefore be rewarded or punished accordingly. To quote of the danger of such a philosophy from the words of the Mei Shiloach himself in his commentary on Parshas Beshalach, “Amaleik is considered a Jewish heretic. The reason for this is because he attributes all of his actions to G-d, as he says that all the bad that he has done is the will of G-d, as without the will of G-d he wouldn’t have been able to do it… On this the Talmud states regarding Ravkasha that he was a Jewish heretic because he also attributed all of his evil actions to G-d.”

 

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[1] See Megillah 29b “Veatah Tetzaveh….Ki Sisa,” 31a “Vezos Habracha”; Rashi Sotah 40b

[2] See Siddur Harasag; Seder Tefilos of Rambam; Rashi Al Hatorah Vayigash 47:2; Yisro 19:11; Teruma 25:7

[3] Michaber C.M. 49:63; Rama E.H. 120:3; Bava Kama 167b

[4] Maor Eiynayim end of Parshas Shemos

[5] See Or Hatorah Lech Licha [beginning]

[6] Zohar Lech Licha

[7] Ramban 12:10

[8] See Rambam Shabbos 2:1; Mamrim 2:4

[9] Rebbe Avahu in Brachos 34b; Rambam Teshuvah 7:4; See Tanya Chapter 7

[10] See Gittin 43a “A man does not become established in a Halacha until he first stumbles over it.”

[11] See Tanya Chapter 7

[12] See Tanya Chapter 7

[13] See Tanya Chapter 7

[14] See Igros Kodesh Vol. 1

[15] See Sefer Baal Shem Tov Al Hatorah Bereishis 153 and Tzivas Harivash; Beis Aaron Seder Hayom 4b [of Rav Aaron Hagadol Mikarlin] “Depression is not a sin, but the insensitivity that it causes is worse than the insensitivities of all sins”; Imrei Noam of Ziditchav Parshas Metzora 1 in name of the Chozeh Milublin “The Yetzer Hara is more interested in the depression that comes as a result of the sin than the sin itself is good.”

[16] See Tanya Igeres Hateshuvah chapter 11

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