The creation of so much evil was no mistake
Ultimate goodness is the goodness achieved through choice and it therefore requires the possibility for evil. Goodness that isn’t chosen is not complete goodness. If we didn’t choose goodness — if we were just naturally good, or if goodness was the only option available — how could that be the highest expression of goodness?
I know a fellow that has dozens of guests over at his home every weekend. When I complimented him on his hospitality, he said, “What are you talking about? It comes naturally to me. It’s not a struggle for me. I love to do this!”
Is he really choosing goodness? If it comes naturally, is it complete goodness? Goodness that wasn’t chosen is not the greatest good. Only after you struggle with evil and chose goodness will you accomplish true and complete goodness.
Our service to G-d is to choose goodness. That’s why we’re in a world so full of allurements to do evil — so that we can rise to the challenge and choose good. That’s our service to G-d. G-d wants us to choose good. But in order for there to be choice, evil has to be pretty attractive. There is no choice if we’re not interested in one of the alternatives. In other words, if somebody puts in front of me a gorgeous, delicious meal, and next to it a plate of (forgive me) vomit, would it be a tremendous choice that I opted for the meal and not the vomit?
Therefore, in order for there to be the optimal opportunity to choose goodness, evil has to be extremely attractive. People think the Devil is an independent character who has a red ugly face, horns on his head, and a pitchfork in his hand. Kabbalah teaches that the forces of evil were created by G-d and the strongest ones are a counterfeit of good. They look just like goodness. That’s why they present such a great challenge. Evil and good are not always like black and white. High-grade, superclassy evil looks just like good, but it’s counterfeit nevertheless. Counterfeit means that it looks like the real thing but isn’t.
I walk into a store. I hand the cashier a bill. The cashier says, “Thank you, sir. Oh, wait a second! … Sir, I’m sorry, this hundred-dollar bill is worthless; it’s counterfeit.”
I then begin to argue, “What are you talking about? This is a hundred-dollar bill! Do you see the number 100 in the corner?”
The cashier shrugs. “No, I’m sorry, sir, this bill is a worthless piece of paper. President Washington’s right eyeball is slightly off.”
“No, no, this is one hundred dollars. What’s an eyeball got to do with it?”
“Sir, just because it looks, smells, and feels like a hundred-dollar bill doesn’t make it a hundred-dollar bill. Unless it’s printed at the U.S. Mint, it’s worthless.”
So, too, the choices for goodness in real life are often much more subtle than most people recognize. There is a subtle but real difference between “looking good” and “being good.”
The Good in Evil
Torah and Kabbalah teach that G-d created the world in order to facilitate the possibility for ultimate goodness, which means goodness that has been chosen. Our service to G-d is to choose goodness and express our love for Him through choice.
Once you understand this, you will appreciate how central a role evil plays in this world. What’s so good about this world is the evil in it. This world offers the opportunity to beat evil and choose good.
In other words, Kabbalah is teaching that the main feature and advantage of this world is the evil in it. This world was not created for what is already good in it. This world was created to be a forum for a new and higher kind of goodness — the goodness born out of overcoming evil and choosing to do good.
Imagine you walk into a factory and you see them trucking in tons and tons of garbage. You then find out that they actually buy this garbage and that it is their most valued raw material. This all sounds crazy to you until you find out that this factory is actually a recycling plant. They take garbage and turn it into usable products. Welcome to World, Inc.!
Yes, this world is really a recycling plant. This is why it is filled with so much garbage. All the trash around us and within us is here for us to recycle into usable products — lessons and realizations, growth and accomplishments. Before I learned this lesson from Kabbalah, I always wondered why there was so much evil in the world. However, after this secret was revealed to me, I asked: Why isn’t there more evil in this world? The answer, of course, is that there is less evil because we are working so hard and succeeding in our mission on earth to choose good.
During the times of the Tabernacle in the desert and when the Temple in Jerusalem still stood, a very strange sacrificial service was performed on Yom Kippur that today seems to us the very antithesis of Judaism. Two identical goats were brought before the High Priest and lots were drawn. One goat was designated for G-d and the other for the Azazel — the satanic force.
The High Priest would confess the wrongdoings of the people, symbolically place all their transgressions upon the goat destined for Azazel and send it off into the wilderness.
Let’s take a look at the Torah’s description of how the first high priest of Israel, Aaron, would do the sacrificial scapegoat service of the sa’ir l’Azazel (the goat for Azazel) on the Day of Atonement:
He shall take two goats, and stand them before G-d at the communion tent entrance. Aaron shall place two lots on the two goats, one lot (marked) for G-d and one (marked) “for Azazel.” Aaron shall bring the goat that has the lot of G-d, and offer it as a sin offering. The goat that has the lot for Azazel shall remain alive before G-d, so that [Aaron] will [later] be able to make atonement on it and send it to Azazel in the desert…Aaron will then press both his hands on the live goat’s head [i.e. the one for Azazel] and he shall confess on it all the sins of the Israelites, rebellious acts and inadvertent misdeeds. When he has placed them on the goat’s head, he shall send it to the desert with a specially prepared man. The goat will thus carry all their sins away to a desolate area when it is sent to the desert … all this will be an eternal law for you ..… before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins.
What is Azazel? According to many opinions Azazel refers to the evil and demonic forces of the universe. Therefore, this goat was an offering to these forces.
Any other time of the year this would be considered a terrible violation of the fundamentals of Judaism, however on Yom Kippur it is a mitzvah (religious duty). In fact, soon after the Torah commands us to offer “the goat to Azazel” it warns, “They shall no more offer their sacrifices to the demons, after whom they stray; this shall be an eternal law for them for all generations.”
In other words, even though we have a mitzvah to bring an offering to Azazel on Yom Kippur that does not means that sacrifices to the forces of evil are permitted in general.
How is it that an act which is considered a sin on any other day of the year, be considered a mitzvah and a holy service on the Day of Atonement?
The magnum corpus of Kabbalah, the Zohar, explains:
…all is needed both good and evil. Therefore, it is on this Day (of Atonement) we throw the dog (the evil forces) a bone (the goat for Azazel) so that while it is busy dragging it away, he who is meant to enter the chamber of the King can enter and no one will stop him, the dog will later even wag his tail.
The goat for Azazel is really like throwing a dog a bone. While evil (analogous to a vicious dog) is busy gnawing away at his bone and celebrating his victory over us, we slip by him to enter the private chamber of the King and get forgiveness and atonement.
In other words, this offering to Azazel is Israel’s gift of acknowledgement and appreciation to the forces of evil. The forces of evil mistakenly think this means that Israel has submitted to evil and has surrendered to a life of sin. However, this is not the case. This is all really a clever ploy to divert evil’s attention. This gift actually expresses Israel’s surrender to G-d and shows appreciation for the challenge evil provides which is necessary for there to be any loving service of G-d at all.
When the high priest sends an offering to Azazel he demonstrates on behalf of Israel that we accept that service and love of G-d is possible only because evil and rebellion against G-d is possible. On the Day of Atonement, Israel acknowledges and appreciates how the temptations of evil, sin and selfishness are really part of achieving love and selfless service to G-d.
Without the possibility and inclination for evil we would naturally do G-d’s will like angels. We would automatically serve G-d but never experience the joy of choosing goodness and loving G-d through choice.