“O low sleeping ones, close-eyed, awake! Who among you turns darkness into light, bitterness into sweetness before arriving here?” (Zohar I:4a).
PART I: A BRIBE FOR THE FERRYMAN
“And the goat [Sa’ir] shall bear upon him all their iniquities [avonotam]” (Lv 16:22).
The Midrash (Bereshith Rabbah 65:15) explains here that the word “sa’ir”— “goat”— can be interpreted as “the hairy one” — which is the description of Esav, as it is written: “But Esav my brother is a Se’ir” (Gn 21:11). ‘Avonotam‘ (their iniquities) can be broken down into ‘avonot tam’ the sins of an upright (‘Tam’ being a reference to Yakov, as it is written: “And Yakov was an upright [tam] man” [Gn 25:27]). In other words: Esav shall bear upon him the iniquities of Yakov [i.e. Israel]. Just like the two goats are equal (Yoma 62a), the two brothers are equal, but only one enters the Father’s room to receive a blessing; the other is finally sent away.
The parallel between the twin brothers and the two Yom Kippur goats is well developed by our sages, but the interesting part is that after Isaac blessed Yakov, Esav becomes the scapegoat. In his struggle with Esav’s angelical force, Yakov finds “he cannot overcome him” (Gn 32:26) and he sets him free. Yakov must make amends, and he does so when he recognizes the need to pacify Esav and offer him gifts.
According to the Zohar, the goat which was designated to Azazel, was given for the purpose of appeasing the Other Side (the forces of impurity), so as to prevent it from interfering with the holiness of the day (Yom Kippur).
Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (46) says in a Midrash that we offer a bribe to Samael on Yom Kippur day, in the form of Azazel; a se’ir chatat (a sin-offering goat), as it’s written: “One lot for HaShem and other lot for Azazel” (Lv 16:8). Satan will be placated and act as an advocate.
Satan is bribed with a gift, which he accepts, thereby becoming a defender of Israel instead of acting as prosecutor (cf. Rabbenu Behaya 25:28; cf. Pirk. Eliez. 46). That gift is actually the sins of Israel, loaded up on the goat. The gift is a goat “adorned” with sin — very attractive to Satan, the angel of Esav. This is an act of obedience and Kidush HaShem and in no way it is perceived for one second as some kind of Worship to Satan, Khas veKhalilah.
Bribing Satan? What does the Midrash intend to say actually? Obviously Satan represents evil. The Zohar makes clear that failing to give a portion to the “other side” only increases the powers of evil and destruction. The Other Side (the forces of impurity, the egoistic needs, the Sitra Akhra) also need to be fed. In order to understand this we may consider that human beings have urges, and although they may come from the side of impurity, there’s a reason for them to exist. For now, we cannot expect to be angels living in a different world. If we deny food to our body, eventually we die of starvation, don’t we? If we suppress anger all the time, eventually we have cardiovascular diseases. Giving a “portion” to the Other Side is necessary in order to keep it from harming us.
This is also the case with the holiest soul that may come to Earth. Messiah is such a lofty soul that he cannot be brought to this world without first bribing Satan. Messiah’s coming must be shrouded in the mists of impropriety. That’s the reason that Messiah’s ancestry comes from Moab, from Tamar (who acted as a prostitute) or from king David (who was considered a bastard), or that in his coming he may be perceived as ‘not-fitting’ for the position (just like Moses was when he killed the Egyptian). They did things that may appear to onlookers as improper, but those were bribes to the keep the forces of the Other Side busy, as they considered such behavior their victory.
(cf. Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky; Shaar haGilgulim almost at the end of ch. 38).
The Zohar explains that evil also conceals holiness (Rah beKedusha; literally: evil in holiness). In fact Yov’s mistake was to deny the existence of this holiness in what is perceived as “evil”. By offering only Ascent-offerings, which the Other Side was not able to enjoy, he denied a portion to the “evil realm” (which is the evil inclination). As he treated good and evil in entirely separated ways, so he was given all-good first and then all-bad. Only at the end, all the bad turned into good (cf. Zohar 2:33a and 34a, in Parashat Bo. I’ll provide below an Apendix with the entire portion).
PART II: EVIL TURNED INTO GOOD
“Depart from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15 ).
In Hebrew: “Sur meRah, vaAsei Tov“. The Baal Shem Tov interprets here: “Turn the evil and make [it] good”.
In the Hassidic philosophy, good and bad serve the same master. Bad would not exist if not for the sake of good. Even the wicked man is from God, as it’s written: “This is the portion of a wicked man from God” (Yov 20:29).
There’s holiness concealed in “evil”. haRav Ginsbourgh explains that one of the principles of Hassidut is ‘the positive re-interpretation’ (cf. Transforming darkness into light: Kabbalah and psychology, pp. 60-62).
We are taught that for anything to exist, including the worst evil, there must be a Spark of Holiness in it; an element of God’s will, whether visible or concealed. The ‘Spark’ is held captive in a “shell”. By rejecting the evil, we reveal the inner Spark concealed in it.
The Zohar illustrates the double nature of evil with a parable:
“A king had an only son whom he dearly loved. He therefore warned him not to be enticed by immoral women, and told him that anyone so defiled was not worthy to enter into the king’s chamber. The king wanted to test his son, so called for a beautiful prostitute to seduce him. The prostitute tried her best to seduce him but the son refused her, and the king was greatly pleased. Who caused the son to receive such honor? the prostitute!” (Zohar 2:163a).
We can do more than merely ‘breaking the shell’. Through ‘Positive-reinterpretation’ we can actually utilize the Holy Spark to transform whatever is possible of the evil itself into good.
Even the ‘Shell’ that conceals a fruit can be edible and contain nutrients. We can turn darkness into Light. There’s nothing greater than extracting and elevating all the Sparks of holiness and transforming the shells that concealed them into the service of Heaven!
This is the secret in the verse: When you go out to wage war against your enemy [The Other Side] you will capture his captives” (Dt 21:10).
When the son in the parable rejected the prostitute, he broke the “shell” and revealed the Spark of holiness within. But also, the prostitute’s natural talent for seduction was used, not for evil, but for a good purpose, to fulfill the King’s command. The “Shell” has been transformed into good. In everything that is bad there’s a core of good. Once we identify it, we can use it to enhance spirituality. The Zohar calls this: “Transforming darkness into light and bitterness into sweetness” (Zohar I:4a).
Furthermore! the bigger the darkness, the greater the good concealed within!
Of course, the implications of this teaching on a psychological level are uber beneficial. Imagine if you could turn your sin into goodness, your old evil tendencies into meritorious acts. You can, indeed.
But the implications of this teaching go beyond the psychological level. We are encouraged to see the good in the root of evil, and then transform the root of evil into good. In the level of Torah interpretation this is something peculiar: The darkest and most wicked things do actually conceal the biggest Lights of redemption. No need to mention that the “Snake” that caused the fall of Adam conceals the secret of Messiah.
Nakhash (Snake) = 358, which is Mashiakh (Messiah) in Gematria.
נחש = משיח
PART III: TIKKUN OLAM
How many times have you heard the expression “Tikkun Olam”? In the Talmud this expression refers to establishing properly the rules and rights of the Jewish community (cf. Mishna Gittin 4:1-5:3). ‘Tikkun’ would actually be perceived as coming from the same root as “Takkanah” (a decree). The Baal Shem Tov, however, expanded the meaning of this famous expression, taking it at face value from its literal meaning (Tikkun Olam is literally: ‘Fixing the World’). For Hassidim, Tikkun Olam refers to turning the World (even secular things) into the Service of HaShem and for the Glory of Torah. This is also an aspect of transforming the “evil” into “good”.
In orthodox Judaism, Esav (who is Edom, Yakov’s twin brother and ancestor of Amalek) is interpreted in general as a dangerous enemy. In fact he receives the not-so-loving surname “the pig”. But even this can be interpreted in holiness as our sages teach that “in the future the pig will return to Israel”.
There’s a serious implication between this teaching and the religion of Edom (Christianity), as Christianity is indeed a Spark of Torah-Judaism that fell to the most profound depths of the realm of impurity. How great its re-interpretation (in holiness) and its correction will be!