The Upside of Evil (Tetzave)
Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table. -W. H. Auden
In describing the construction plans of the Holy Tabernacle, the Torah adds a short line about the fuel needed to light the Menorah, the golden candelabrum, which was one of the special fixtures of the Tabernacle. It states as follows:
“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:22
The Berdichever focuses on the choice of words of “beating” the olive to get light. He compares the olive in this case to one’s evil inclination. The evil inclination is constantly enticing us to follow our base desires, to indulge in what is forbidden and to separate us from spiritual and divine service.
The solution is to “beat” that desire and then elevate that very same desire, to channel it into divine service. To use that passion, that interest, that energy, in holy ventures. We need to consider that if we have some physical yearning, how much stronger should our yearning be for the infinite, for God? If we have some physical fear, how much stronger should our fear and awe of the divine be?
When we’ve managed to convert that evil inclination, those base desires into spiritual energy, into holy actions, then that evil has become a base, a powerful springboard for good.
This is one of the reasons God has created some distance, some obfuscation between us and Him. For if we constantly, diligently served him without fail, with pure clarity and devotion, then God would not have the same level of satisfaction from our efforts, from our struggle to overcome our evil inclination, by our conquest of our animalistic instincts and converting ourselves into more spiritual beings. A state of constant bliss is not really bliss. Us mortals need the ups and downs. We need the encounter with our evil inclination to appreciate good, to fight for good, to conquer evil on a regular basis, predominantly in ourselves.
When circumstances have us at a spiritual distance from God and we then “beat” the evil inclination, break the masks that hide us from God and cleave to divine service, God is overjoyed, and it causes a divine light to spread forth.
May we always overcome our negative natural impulses and turn our inner demons into radiant light.
To Rabbi Asher Brander and the Link Kollel of LA for a wonderful welcome.