It's All About Redemptions Part IV
The Price of Limits - The Destruction of Evil
There was but one, and only barely so.
In all of Sodom and Gomorrah only Lot was deemed worthy of saving. Had
they listened, his other children would have also been saved; but in the
end, only Lot, his wife, and their two daughters accepted G-d's decree and
the inevitability of destruction. They fled from the conflagration of
Sodom, but even so Lot's wife did not escape.
Lot and his daughters understood that salvation was the gift of a second
chance at goodness and life; however, the gift demanded that evil be left
behind. It demanded that they recognize evil for what it is and flee from
it without looking back. They had to flee without regret for the evil
Lot's wife could not do so. She had to look back. She could not leave it
behind. Therefore, she too was destroyed.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction is the story of human choice
and the extremes of free will. It is the story of wasted potential and the
inevitability of evil's destruction. Where good (Teshuvah - repentance)
will no longer exist there can only be destruction. It is inevitable.
G-d will not sustain evil. G-d gives humankind enough rope with which to
hang themselves, but His universe will not sustain evil. Evil will end as
definitively as the passage of time, the movements of the cosmos, and the
ebb and flow of life. It is built into the inviolate laws of nature.
(Bereshis 8:22) "The days of the earth shall be forever… summer and
winter, day and night shall never cease."
(Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch) "…Moreover, these more pronounced and rapid
changes in the conditions of life resulted in a shortening of the human
life span which, very soon after the Flood, declined to the level at which
it has since remained constant…
This curtailment of the human life span was an effective means of making
certain that evil will never again gain the upper hand for an indefinite
period. Not even the mightiest of despots can wield his scepter for much
longer than fifty years. The shorter human life span has served to
emphasize the verity that G-d can build His kingdom even upon the
perceptions voiced by young children. "Out of the mouths of children and
sucklings You have fashioned invincible might." He has founded His
kingdom not upon the cleverness of the old but upon the purity and
innocence with which children enter the world…
As long as evil men were able to live on earth for seven and eight
centuries, this younger, better, generation never had an opportunity to
come into its own. But now, having curtailed the ordinary human life span,
G-d can have one generation die off quickly and allow a new, better
generation to take its place…”
This theme is clearly evidenced elsewhere in the Torah: a) The Mabul. b)
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah c) Moshe killed the Egyptian
overseer because he knew that no good would come from him. d) The Ben
Sorer U'Moreh (rebellious son) who is executed because of what he will
become. e) The command to destroy Amalek.
Built into the natural and moral laws of the universe is the inevitable
destruction of potential that will only produce evil. Whether an
individual overseer determined to kill his charge so that his immorality
and rebellion not be exposed, or a generation of near immortals that
squandered their unimaginable potential of living in Paradise - the
destruction was inevitable.
In contrast were Yishmael and Eisav. First Yishmael. An angel appeared to
Hagar in this week's Parsha and saved Yishmael from death. Rashi (21:16)
relates the Medresh that the angels wanted Yishmael to die. "Why are you
giving water to the one (Yishmael) whose children will kill your children
with thirst?" Better Yishmael should die now at the age of 17 and never
realize the potential for evil that will emanate from him? G-d did not
listen to them. Why?
Soon enough we will revisit Eisav's hatred for Yakov. Chazal understood
that Eisav and his descendents (the Romans) were responsible for the many
centuries of church persecution and anti-Semitism. Why didn't G-d nip it
all in the bud? Why allow for such evil to arise. If evil was inevitable
so too should have been its destruction!
I would like to suggest that the fact that G-d did not destroy Yishmael
and Eisav from the outset is because they did not and do not represent
unrepentable evil. With Yishmael Rashi recorded G-d's answer to the
angels. "What is Yishmael now? Is he evil or good?" The angels
responded, "good." G-d said, "Therefore I judge him as he is, not as he
will do." That also means that G-d judged Yishmael as he was and not by
who will emanate from him.
Inevitable destruction of evil assumes that repentance will not
happen. "We (the Torah) know that this child (the rebellious son) will
eventually stand at the crossroads and kill travelers for their money. It
is better that the rebellious son die now while yet innocent than be
executed in the future as a murderer."
Moshe witnessed the Egyptian overseer beating a Jewish slave who knew that
he (the overseer) had gone against Pharaoh's explicit instructions to not
cohabit with the Jewish slave women. Fearing for his own life the Egyptian
decided to kill the witness, the woman's husband. Moshe looked into the
future (Shemos 2:12, Rashi) and knew that no good would come from him. He
deserved to be destroyed.
The prediluvium world lived for 1656 years before G-d sealed the decree of
its destruction. In that time they proved their singular determination to
serve themselves at the expense of all and everything. "And G-d saw that
the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth... I will blot out Man whom
I created from the face of the earth…" There was no hope. Humankind had
chosen evil over good and death over life. The destruction was inevitable.
Not so with Yishmael and Eisav.
(17:5) "Your name shall… be Avraham because I have made you the father of
a multitude of nations." Yishmael, Yitzchak / Yakov, and Eisav - the core
of the monotheistic world emanates from Avraham and Sarah. All of them
(Yishmael and Eisav included) will be part of, "the families of the earth
shall bless themselves by you."
Blessing is the potential for good. The greatest good is believing in G-d
and teaching others to do believe in Him. It is therefore the greatest
Monotheism dominates our world because of the three great historic
religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Granted, there are
significant differences in their practices and theologies; however, their
shared fundamental monotheism has spread the world over through the
efforts of Avraham's children. G-d did not snuff out the lives of Yishmael
and Eisav because their potential was and remains good. Only unrepentable
evil must be destroyed. Regardless of then or now, Yishmael and Eisav have
the potential for great good.
The bottom line is that G-d will not sustain the total loss of goodness.
So long as goodness is possible G-d provides the chance for its
expression. If goodness is no longer possible (Mabul, Mitzri, Amalek,
Rebellious Son) destruction is inevitable.
At what price? What was the cost of wiring the universe so that it will
not sustain continuous and unrepentable evil? Rav Hirsch explained that by
altering the physiology of the world after the Mabul (or during the Mabul)
G-d shortened the life span of the human and the ability to perpetuate and
perpetrate generations of evil. However, along the way He also shortened
the ability to perpetuate and perpetrate generations of goodness. Avraham
died when he was 175. Yitzchak died at 180. Yakov died at 147. Even Moshe
died at the tender age of 120. The price of curtailing evil was the
curtailing of good. Clearly, G-d decided that it was worth limiting the
potential for good in exchange for limiting the potential for evil.
Our overriding concern was and remains the destruction of evil. We stand
at the threshold of very great happenings. The battle between good and
evil is fought on every front. Do not underestimate the strategies of
evil. It attempts to reach inside and convince us that good is evil and
evil is good. It attempts to confuse us with human failings,
inconsistencies and mistakes. It wishes us to believe that such humanness
is evil. Granted, no one is perfect and to be human is to make mistakes;
however, do not allow the exposure of our humanness to hide our focus on
goodness and the destruction of evil. All evil like Sodom and Gomorrah
must end in its time. The Sadams and Arafats of the world deserve to die
and do die. The evil they perpetrated will also be destroyed. That
part of Yishmael is like Amalek and is unrepentable. That part must be
destroyed. How and when it happens will be determined by the will of G-d.
As simple and simplistic as it may sound, I have siad before that I am
proud that my country and President have chosen to serve Hashem's will.
The cost is often greater than first assumed, and as a nation we suffer
those losses together. In my mind all other concerns are secondary. G-d
and His universe will not sustain evil.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.