Letters & Thoughts
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Good vs. Evil
Reader: Hi Rabbi, Either way you look at it, the bottom line is that Esav hates Jacob. No matter what Jacob does, Esav hates him. If Jacob appeases him, gives him gifts, acts towards him like the brother he is, Esav hates him even more. Why does Esav hate Jacob? But first we should ask: Why does Esav exist at all? Why is there evil in our world? Why is there hatred and darkness? What would be wrong with a world consisting only of goodness, love and light?
Evil exists because it is so much more powerful than good. Is there a lover in the world who loves with the intensity that a hater hates? Is there a light as bright as darkness is black? Has there ever been an act of kindness unleashed with the force and vigor contained in an act of cruelty?
Rabbi: Goodness can outshine and be far greater and more powerful than evil. This is because what is rooted in truth and reality is undeniable, and gains man's 100% conviction. The mind is far stronger than the emotions. This explains why God can command man to follow his mind and control his emotions. God does not ask man for something that is impossible.
Evil is due to fluctuating emotions that have no basis in reality. Perhaps the reason there is such vigor and intensity in evil is due to man's unconscious knowledge of the fallacy of evil. As his emotions find satisfaction in hate, and his mind tells him he is wrong, he must suppress his mind with the greatest emotional intensity. This explains why when Esav sold his birthright, that he “got up and left and despised it” (Gen. 25:34). Due to Esav’s recognition of the birthright’s great value and his error in selling it, he could not live with himself, so he had to render the birthright something despicable as a justification for his sale. Similarly, after Amnon raped his sister Tamar, his previous infatuation with her turned into a burning hatred towards her. As Rabbi Chait explained, this was because he displaced his own intolerable self blame and projected his self-hate onto Tamar (Sam. II, 13:15).
But once that person is exposed to reality, he can no longer deny it, and he clings to it, just as he clings to the reality that the sun is shining, and cannot deny that either. Of course, this must be preempted by his ability to accept error, and then change his emotions.
The Self vs. God
Dani Roth: At the beginning of Lech Lecha, God told Avram (Abraham) to leave his country, birthplace, and the house of his father. So there must be importance to each of them as it mentioned all 3.
Rabbi: I think Rabbi Chait said that each word refers to another psychological identification. A person has an identity with 1) his current country, 2) his birthplace, and 3) and his father's house. The question is how to define each one’s unique significance.
A country refers to one's specific culture; one identifies with one’s family and neighbors, and lacks identification with other cultures and countries. We naturally value and like what is common; it’s a natural psychological truth. God designed us this way as this fosters local peace.
We also give great importance to our birthday—our existence—and where our birth took place. People feel they're the most important person on the planet; they attribute great importance to the date and place of their birth. And finally, we identify with our parents.
God instructed Avram to detach himself from these three sources of identification, because there is no importance to the accidental place of your upbringing, what place you were born or who was your father. What was important for Abraham and God's plan, was the spread of monotheism and where Avram was living currently, was not suitable for this goal. For in all three identifications, one’s focus is the self: “Where I grew up, where I was born, and my father.” But God's plan for Avram was not that he remain in central focus, for one who pursues God views himself as dust: “[Avram said] I am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). Leaving a land where one retains identification with the self, and relocating to a new unfamiliar location, allowed Avram to abandon his self-focus, to gain greater focus on God, and to teach monotheism.
Why Blessings are Needed
Rabbi: We see that God desired the blessings from Isaac to Jacob, as God provided Rebecca with clues and elements to orchestrate her plan to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob. (Esav was abnormally hairy to facilitate Rebecca's deceit of her husband Isaac, and Jacob clutched Esav’s heel to facilitate Rebecca with the knowledge that Jacob can contend with his brother to steal the birthright [Gen. 25:25,26]). Because God can bless who he wants without man's blessings, the need for the blessings is for the world to learn of God's desire that Israel is the lineage of Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, and not to the other sons.
Why God is Just
Rabbi: As God is the author of Justice, He cannot be unjust. Similarly, Henry Ford cannot incorrectly create the Ford. This is because there's no prior model of a Ford that Henry Ford needs to match. So too there's no prior model of justice that God would have to match. God is the author of justice.
What is God?
Rabbi: Maimonides teaches that we cannot give any positive description of God; we can only remove negative connotations. Since God's righteousness is not equal to man's righteousness, all we can say is that He is not corrupt. Since God's kindness is not like human kindness, all we can say is that God is not the opposite, which means cruel. All we can say is that God is not imperfect, as any imperfection comes from ignorance, and God is omniscient.