Evil as part of G-d’s Revelation in the world
In the last lesson we discussed the idea of G-d’s control over all human affairs as part of His universal plan. In particular we noted that at times G-d may even manipulate the freewill decisions of man in order to fulfill the Divine plan for world redemption. This principle is one of the central themes of Passover. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander o”bm ( I meritted to hear his weakly lectures 20 years ago while I studyed in Yeshivat Hanegev in Netivot, Israel) discusses this at length in his book Siftei Chaim vol. 2.
The Torah tells us about the wicked decree of Pharaoh to kill all the baby boys who were born to the Hebrew slaves. Rashi points out that on one day he decreed that all baby boys, even those born to Egyptian parents should be tossed into the river.
Why did Pharaoh kill his own countrymen? Our sages offer the following explanation. Based upon astrological observations the advisors of Pharaoh predicted that the future redeemer of the Jewish people would be born on a certain day but they were not sure if he would be an Egyptian or a Hebrew. So in order to eliminate any chance of the birth of the future redeemer Pharaoh decreed that all baby boys including the Egyptians were to be drowned in the Nile on that day.
After hearing from his advisors; once again based upon astrological observation, that the would-be redeemer was thrown into the water Pharaoh repealed the decree.
That very same day Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh, went to the river to bathe. She found an abandoned baby in a cradle in the river. Inside the cradle was Moshe=Moses our teacher. Pharaoh was certain that the future redeemer of the Jews had already perished in the river and therefore had no suspicion that this child was destined to carry out that role.
The Ibn Ezra comments that this bizarre event was part of the Divine plan to redeem the Jewish people and give them the Torah. The Jewish people were a slave nation with a slave mentality.
How could they survive and prosper as a free nation without any preparation? They would need a leader and a skilled teacher that could quickly raise them to a level of courage and wisdom to face the challenges of a free people. What better place than the palace of the Pharaoh was there to learn the attributes of leadership?
How else other than under the tutelage of Pharaoh’s wise men could a Hebrew slave acquire a high level education and learn the pedagogic skills necessary to become the teacher of an entire nation? All of this was an essential part of G-d’s plan to redeem the Jewish people and teach them the wisdom of the Torah.
The irony of this situation is that the actions of Pharaoh to destroy any possibility of redemption for the Jewish people actually prepared the way for that to happen. Pharaoh himself raised supported and educated the redeemer and future teacher of the Jews. In addition to this it would be his task to wreak total havoc upon the wicked Egypt of Pharaoh. It was Pharaoh’s wicked decrees that facilitated all of this.
Later, when presented with the demand to free the Jewish slaves, Pharaoh was warned of the dire consequences of refusal. Miraculous deeds were performed in front of him to varify the credibility of the threat. Pharaoh chose to ignore these threats in favor of overt defiance of the Divine decree. This is evil in its most naked form.
The result of his wicked actions – an unprecedented demonstration of Divine power in the form of the ten plagues. Never before in post-deluge history had the world witnessed such an awesome display of Divine judgement. Who made this possible – Pharaoh in his defiant refusal to comply with the Divine will.
An even greater display of miracles occurred at the splitting of the sea which facilitated the escape of the Jewish people from Egypt. Again it was Pharaoh in his stubborn defiance of G-d’s warnings that paved the way for these miraculous acts. After ten devastating plagues we would have expected Pharaoh to raise his hands in defeat. Instead he incites his people to pursue an irrational chase after the Jews in order to reclaim their lost slaves. Had Pharaoh passively accepted his defeat these miracles would never have taken place.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that free will was given to man in order that we can make conscious decisions to follow good and reject evil. Only a decision based upon free will can be considered meritorious or wicked. This is the unique characteristic of man and it is our raison-d’etre.
But Rabbi Luzzato poses a strong objection to this idea. Our sages tell us that after the coming of the Messiah the faculty of free will, will cease to exist as we know it. If free will is the only purpose for our existence why will it be removed in the future?
The answer to this problem is that freewill, in and of itself, is not the final goal of creation. The ultimate goal of creation is the universal revelation of G-d to all of mankind. On that day we will be freed from all forms of oppresive evil.
That goal will be realized only after the coming of the Messiah. Free will is the tool that G-d gave us to achieve that goal, i.e. Divine revelation facilitated through the vehicle of free will decisions and actions to comply with G-d’s will. The content of that revelation will show how every event in the history of mankind played a part in the advancement of G-d’s plan for universal redemption.
It will become evident how even the most wicked men did not stand in the way of G-d’s plan. Indeed it will become as clear as day that even evil defiance of G-d’s will played a major part in the birth of the final redemption. It is our responsibility to chose to become active participants in the revelation process by choosing to do G-d’s will in the world.
If and when man chooses to defy G-d’s will the result of these actions will not interfere with the ultimate goal of G-d’s creation. Rather G-d manipulates those actions to advance the very idea that they oppose. The wicked are held accountable for their decision to interfere with Divine rule. G-d’s dominion is not compromised by those decisions.
This is perhaps one of the most important messages that the Passover holiday conveys to us. We have a choice, either to become active partners in the revelation process and be credited for it; or to serve as the obstacles that may make the final revelation all the more spectacular but leave us in criminal contempt of G-d’s will.
Passover is the holiday of our freedom. Freedom has a price to it – accountability. Accountability implies responsibility and that is the real nature of our freedom, to choose to participate through adherence to G-d’s law or hinder G-d’s plan for the redemption of all of mankind. In the final analysis G-d’s plan will succeed. Our choice effects only ourselves not G-d.
Iyov, due to the intensity of his suffering lost sight of this. He could not see the forest because of the trees. Lost in his own world of misery and confusion he rejected the notion that his suffering was part of the ‘bigger plan’ that is revealed only at the end of days.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.