KESER SHEM TOV
Anthology of the Teachings of the Baal Shem Tov
The Baal Shem Tov taught:
Since the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) encompasses all worlds – the inanimate, the plant, the animal, and the human worlds – including all types of creatures, good and evil alike. And since the Shechinah is the Absolute Unity, how can two utterly opposite entities exist in one thing? This is particularly a conondrum because good and evil are complete antitheses, while the Shechinah is an Undifferentiated One.
However, evil is actually a vehicle of good. An example is when Pharaoh pursued the Israelites to the Red Sea, regarding which the verse says that, “Pharaoh came close” 1 – literally, brought them close. 2 Another example is when one sees how the wicked behave, and then one is grateful that one is not that way, in which case, the evil brings him the pleasure and satisfaction of being righteous. In fact, evil is virtually elevated in this way, only that as soon as the evil is thus elevated, its evilness is dissipated. 3 An evil thought is also a vehicle in this fashion. 4
Also, sometimes a soul descends from the world of Atzilut [the one closest to G-d] into the world of Asiyah [representing the physical world] and sees how people are not respecting the honor of the King of world. This soul is greatly distressed by this lack of respect for the King’s honor, but then he has pleasure that he is not among those people.
This explains the verse, “G-d said to Abram” 5 (Abram symbolizes the soul, as stated in the Zohar6 ), “Go away from your homeland,” that is, from the world of Atzilut to the world of Beriah [the world immediately below Atzilut], “and from your birthplace,” that is, from the world of Beriah to the world of Yetzirah [the world below Beriah, “and from your father’s house,” that is, from Yetzirah to Asiyah, which is, “the land that I will show you.” That is, there you will see how the people of the world of Asiyah disrespect G-d’s honor, and you should rebuke them.
1 Exodus 14:10
2 By causing the Israelites to fear for their lives and to cry to G-d, Pharaoh was thus responsible for bringing them closer to G-d.
3 Toldot Yaakov Yoseph, Lekh Lekha 1. This teaching can be understood within the context of the teaching that everything that G-d created is good – including the evil inclination (Midrash), and the existence of evil in this world is actually only from our perspective. Hence, when one reaches this realization, and uses “evil” for its true purpose of being a vehicle in various ways for reaching G-d, its evilness dissipates.
4 That is, if one realizes that the thought was only sent to him for the purpose of his realizing that it was sent from G-d, this very realization brings him closer to G-d.
5 Genesis 12:1
6 Zohar I 80b
Translation and commentary by Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett.
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