G-d told Moshe, "After you lie with your fathers, this people will act
immorally and pursue the gods of the strangers of the land they are going
to. They will abandon Me, and nullify My covenant which I have made with
them." (Devarim 31:16)
We take for granted that we do not feel the Presence of G-d among us.
After having lived 2300 years without prophecy and the miracles of the
First Temple, we are accustomed to going it alone. For us, hester panim
(the hidden Presence of G-d) is a way of life - the norm. Today is August
29, 2004, and as I write, the breaking news of a new spy scandal, once
again implicating Israel certainly makes the hidden Presence of G-d feel
even more pronounced.
It is also Elul Zman, the month that speaks of an ever-increasing
closeness to G-d. This is the month, tradition teaches, that the King of
Kings approaches man in advance of Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of
Repentance. Reaching out to G-d at this time of year is supposed to be far
easier than any other time of year, at least for the person who
appreciates a close relationship with the Creator.
It is also eight weeks in advance of the next U.S. Presidential Election,
one that many feel will greatly alter the course of events of world
history in the near future, perhaps even setting up the final stage that
can bring the War of Gog and Magog to a close with a bang - a BIG bang.
Even the newspapers in the U.S. are suspicious about the timing of this
leak to the press, given its proximity to the elections and the
implications for George W. Bush and his administration.
Who says lightning doesn't hit the same place twice (1992 and 2004?)?
There is no better example of Hester Panim at work than this, which makes
the topic of Hester Panim a timely one.
(Those who are reading my series, "The Sod of Today" will recognize this
essay from two weeks ago. However, because of its relevance to this week's
parshah and the events of today, it is worth adapting for a larger
To begin with, not only is G-d's light infinite, but it is by definition,
perfectly good. Likewise, anything made from His Light, which is
everything that exists, must also be perfectly good. And thus, within this
short and simple statement lies the biggest paradox known to man: how can
evil exist in a perfectly good world?
To begin with, you have to know that what we call "evil" cannot have any
intrinsic existence of its own, otherwise it would have to exist forever,
and that, we are taught, is not the case. For, as the Talmud states, in
Yemos HaMoshiach, the yetzer hara will cease to exist (Succah 52a),
signaling the end of all of evil temptation. Likewise, as the Leshem
points out, at the same time the Malach HaMaves (Angel of Death) will also
cease to exist (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 489), another way of expressing the
In Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote the following:
We have already mentioned that as a result of the sin of Kayin and Hevel,
the souls became mixed together in the K'lipos (i.e., spiritual impurity)
and that this is called, "the mixture of good and evil." From that time
onward, the souls have been undergoing a process of "separation" from
within the K'lipos, just as silver is smelted from waste . . .
In other words, all of history is about separation, the separation of good
from evil, and the rejection of the latter. When Adam HaRishon ate from
the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he caused an intermingling of good
and evil that up until that time had been separate from each other. Tikun
is about separating them again, and once that process is complete, the
world will be perfected and the mandate for Creation will be fulfilled.
. . . This process will continue until all the souls that fell into the
248 Limbs of Adam HaBli'al are separated out from the full length of its
being, which is until the bottom of Adam d'Kedushah which overlaps with
the legs of Adam d'K'lipah. This is hinted to in the Zohar (Pekudei):
Until the legs reach the legs, as it is written, "His feet will stand on
that day" (Zechariah 14:4). Once the separation of all the souls has been
completed, Adam d'K'lipah, the spiritual "refuse" which is only removed
through deeds, will collapse on its own and be absorbed to the point
of "bal yira'eh" and "bal yimatzeh" . . .
Without going into detail, this means that Evil does not have a source of
existence of its own. Rather, as long as it has access to Good, it derives
spiritual nourishment from it and survives. Separate Good from Evil and
Evil disappears like smoke on a windy day, in the blink of an eye.
. . . For, holiness is the life that results from separating from
spiritual impurity that is called "death." Therefore, death will no longer
have any energy and will disappear like smoke, as it says, "Death will be
absorbed forever" (Yeshayahu 25:8), but not until all of the souls are
separated out. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
So, you see: Evil does really exist, right?
"I will become very angry at them on that day, and I will abandon them
and hide My face from them." (Devarim 31:17)
This is also the sod of the statement of Chazal that "all G-d does He does
for good" (Brochos 60b). It means that even that which appears exceedingly
evil to man, must at its core, be good. It only appears contrary to the
purpose of Creation and the will of G-d, but ultimately, it cannot be, for
that would imply a power other than G-d, the very basis of the concept of
idol worship and that which is forbidden to all mankind.
Evil, therefore, is man's perception of reality when the light of good is
hidden from him, what the Torah in this week's parshah refers to as hester
panim (the hiding of G-d's Face). Hiding implies that it really remains,
just out of eyeshot of people. Until now, we have spoken about the
constriction of light as if the light itself was held back, and therefore
absent. However, the very concept of hester panim implies otherwise, that
the light in fact is there, but only covered over. The only question is,
what is capable of hiding the Light of G-d?
Thus, Kabbalah speaks of two primary lights: Chesed and Gevurah, whose
natures are complete opposites. Chesed (Kindness) is compared to water
which flows without boundary, though it is considered to be quiet and
peaceful. Gevurah (Strength), on the other hand, is compared to fire and
the source of tzimtzum, the constriction of G-d's light, like the glass
that contains and gives shape to water. It is always considered to be in
motion and noisy.
Thus, it is the role of Gevurah to contain Chesed, and for Chesed to
temper Gevurah. When this is achieved, the harmony is called Tifferes,
which means beautiful, because that is the ultimate beauty within
Creation. Thus Ya'akov Avinu, who represented the trait of Tifferes, was
the third of the Forefathers, the first two being Avraham Avinu,
associated with the trait of Chesed, and Yitzchak Avinu, associated with
the trait of Gevurah.
Though one might think that Gevurah is just the state of Creation when the
light of Chesed is absent, it is not true. Like Chesed, Gevurah is also a
light, a dark light that when present has the ability to block the light
of Chesed or to mitigate it (and vice versa). The Zohar HaKadosh alludes
to this unique reality when it says that the Torah was written with "black
fire upon white fire" (Zohar 3:132a), the white fire being the light of
Chesed and the black fire being the light of Gevurah.
Likewise, Chesed is the source of Divine mercy in the world, and Gevurah
is the source of Divine judgment. Thus, the following dialogue is really
about the lights of Chesed and of Gevurah:
Rebi Yishmael ben Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of
the Sanctuary] to offer incense, and I saw . . . the Lord of Hosts, seated
upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: 'Yishmael my son, bless
Me!' I replied, 'Will that Your mercy may suppress Your anger and prevail
over Your other attributes, so that You may deal with Your children
according to the attribute of mercy and may You, on their behalf, stop
short of the limit of strict justice!' And He nodded to me with His head.
Thus, hester panim, the hiding of G-d's face, is really the light of
Gevurah overtaking the light of Chesed. The light of Chesed cannot be
eliminated any more than the Light of Ain Sof can be, for that is its
source, and anywhere the Light of Ain Sof is removed, that part of
Creation ceases to be. Rather, the light of Chesed becomes spiritually
blocked from our mind's eye just as the light of the sun is blocked from
our physical view by a cloud. The light of the sun remains unaffected;
only our ability to view it is reduced.
They will be devoured, and plagued by many evils that will distress
them, and will say, 'Do we not suffer because G-d has left us?' " (Devarim
If these two different kinds of lights exist, then this must be reflected
in the Sefiros as well, and indeed it is: the Ten Sefiros are divided into
two groups, those belonging to the side of Chesed, and those belonging to
the side of Gevurah. For example, lining up under the banner of Chesed is
Keser, Chochmah, Chesed, and Netzach; on the side of Gevurah are the
sefiros of Binah, Gevurah, Hod, and Malchus. The other two sefiros,
Tifferes and Yesod, being balanced between Chesed and Gevurah possess the
potential to be pulled in either direction, depending upon circumstance
and the needs of Creation.
Technically speaking, the side of Chesed is called the "Right Side," and
the side of Gevurah is called the "Left Side." Thus, the Talmud teaches:
. . . The left should push away, but the right should bring close. (Sotah
Being associated with Gevurah, the Left Side creates the impression of
distance and the breakdown of relationship. Thus, when a parent punishes a
child for the good of the child, the mood is one of coldness and dislike.
When G-d allows the Jewish people to suffer, the sense is one of
abandonment . . .
'Do we not suffer because G-d has left us?' " (Devarim 31:17)
. . . even though the suffering is for the ULTIMATE good of the Jewish
Thus, in order for free-will to exist, the main purpose of Creation,
Gevurah has to exist. If the light of Chesed is allowed to (permanently)
dominate, it is impossible to deny the reality of G-d on any level, and
therefore sin becomes an impossible choice (as was the case when the Torah
had been given, and as will be the case when Moshiach arrives and finally
brings world peace). In a very real sense, it is Gevurah that makes
possible the existence of the yetzer hara (man's inclination to do evil).
On the other hand, if Gevurah is allowed to dominate for too long, then
death and destruction, what the Torah refers to as Tohu (Null) results.
First, fear of sin disappears, and this is followed by a corrosion of
morality, as we have witnessed countless times throughout history. This,
in time, leads to extreme selfishness and wars amongst the nations,
terrible destruction, and eventually a desire to return back to the side
Thus, world history has been a story of pendulum swings between Chesed on
the right and Gevurah on the left (although it seems as if the pendulum
often became stuck on the side of Gevurah, remaining there for a period of
time). Each light in its extreme form can produce evil, either by denying
mercy or by showing it at the wrong time and in the wrong measure, and
history is replete with examples of both.
Hence, it is the balance between the two extremes that needs to be
achieved, and this is why Torah was given to man. For, the Talmud states
that G-d said:
"I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as its spice."
That is, I created the light of Gevurah, and I created the Torah to act as
the vehicle to channel its energy in a positive and fulfilling manner.
For example, the light of Gevurah can push a person to sin by keeping the
light of Chesed away from him, or it can hold him back from doing a good
deed, like a weight attached to his leg. As a result of the intellectual
clarity possible through Torah, and the mitzvah as a positive objective to
be achieved, the light of Gevurah can be used to energize the body to
withstand temptation, or to perform a positive deed. When the latter
occurs, it is called Mituk HaGevuros (Sweetening of the Gevuros) and is,
according to Kabbalah, the source of one's reward in the World-to-Come.
This is the sod of the Akeidah, which had Avraham (Chesed) binding and
preparing to slaughter Yitzchak (Gevurah). Therefore, it was this tenth
and last test of Avraham Avinu that represented our commitment to the
process of Mituk HaGevuros, and which also put into us our ability to do
It is not difficult to figure out which light is most dominant during a
particular period of history, since the Torah has taught us what is
objectively right and wrong. When knowledge of G-d is at a premium, when
wars plague mankind, when social norms break down, and when the Jewish
people cease to be a light unto nations, the light of Gevurah is ruling
history. When a so-called decent people can accept what the Torah itself
rejects as a part of life, Gevurah has blocked the light of Chesed.
Likewise, when the light of Torah is allowed to shine and morality is the
accepted norm, the light of Chesed is dominant. Thus, the End-of-Days,
after the War of Gog and Magog has occurred, is described in the following
After, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will take His revenge against them, as
spoken about in Yechezkel, and the Jewish people will dwell in their land
in security and much good, Da'as (G-dly understanding) will greatly
increase, as will wisdom and purity. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 491)
Later, when Yitzchak was old and his eyesight was poor, he called Eisav
his eldest son and said, "My son." He answered, "I am here." He said, "I
have grown old and I don't know when I will die. Please take your weapons,
take your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt some wild
game for me. Make me some tasty food the way I like it. Then bring it to
me and I will eat it so my soul can bless you before I die." (Bereishis
It is important to point out that as much as Gevurah is instrumental in
creating the reality that can result in what the Torah calls "evil,"
especially at its source from above, it is pure good like the light of
Chesed. In many respects, Yitzchak Avinu was the most righteous of all the
Forefathers, considered to be living without a yetzer hara, and living
with the status of a Burnt Offering. Indeed, according to the Talmud it is
Yitzchak Avinu who successfully pleads our case before G-d, Who will
consider to destroy us because of our many sins (Shabbos 89b).
On the other hand, Eisav, his own son and ancestor of Amalek, the very
symbol of evil and the nemesis of the Jewish people, was also pure
Gevurah. However, Eisav was what the pure light of Gevurah looks like when
it is projected downward, to the bottom of Creation without mituk
(rectification). However, Yitzchak knowing the source of Eisav, also saw
his potential to be a tremendous tzaddik, with the proper influence and
the proper mituk.
This is why he was prepared to give Eisav the blessings of the firstborn,
but only after he had performed the mitzvah of honoring his father by
preparing a meal for him. Yitzchak had plenty of places from which to
order a meal, most of them with a better hashgochah kashrus than that of
his son Eisav. And, being blind wouldn't help Yitzchak see what his son
was really serving him.
However, just as his own father had performed a mituk, a sweetening of his
own Gevurah through the Akeidah, Yitzchak had tried to sweeten the Gevurah
of his son Eisav, and he would have succeeded had Heaven not gotten in the
way, making it impossible to catch a kosher animal. Apparently history had
not been ready for a righteous Edom at the time, otherwise Eisav would
have succeeded, prepared the proper meal for his father, been affected
positively and ready to receive the blessing to lead the future Jewish
On the other hand, sometimes history is ready for mituk but Creation lacks
sufficient individuals to bring it about: there just aren't enough Jews
doing what they should do in order to sweeten the Gevuros. This is a
problem, because then Heaven takes over, and Hester Panim is its most
effective tool for bringing about mituk without lessening free-will. And,
if you want to understand what THAT amounts to, just take a good look at
the events of history in the last year, and then prepare yourself for what
will come next.