This week's parsha
The Good, the Evil and Transforming the Bad
The approaching festival of Passover makes us confront issues concerning good battling against evil, escape from enslavement by enemies, the triumph of light over darkness. There are such battles on a national level, and they also exist within a person in the form of the struggle of the Good Desire against the Evil Desire, and escape from the enslavement to inner narcissism and negativity.
Jewish teaching recognizes that very often we are engaged in such conflicts in order that we should survive. The battle is often not only on our own behalf as Jews, but a battle for civilization as a whole, for the universal ideal of belief in G-d and the ethical behavior which should result from that belief. When the Bible condemns the idolatry of the ancient Canaanites it condemns their depravity: "for also their sons and daughters they burn in fire" (Deuteronomy 12:31).
But is this simple victory of good over evil the final goal of Jewish teaching? Chassidic thought presents a higher ideal: transformation of evil into good, of darkness into light. On the national level, the enemy becomes a friend; on the inner personal level, the Evil Desire is transformed to good, and now works energetically in service of G-d. This is the ultimate of Teshuva (repentance), when the error of the past is transformed into a state of goodness and holiness.
An example of such transformation is seen in our Torah reading, Tzav (Leviticus chapters 6-8). In terms of world history, the key initial error was the fact that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The Divine Presence had dwelt with them in the Garden of Eden, but this tragic mistake caused it to depart.
Our Parshah describes the seven days of dedication of the Sanctuary, through which this error is finally redeemed. The purpose of the Sanctuary is that the Divine Presence should again dwell in the world. Further, the Sages tell us that the seven days in the Parshah represent a return to the purity of the seven days of Creation, before Adam and Eve sinned.
This Shabbat before Passover, called the Great Shabbat (Shabbat HaGadol) also expresses the idea of transformation of bad to good.
The ancient Egyptians had enslaved and tortured the Jews. When Moses came with the Divine mission to bring the Jews to freedom, working one miracle after another, Pharaoh continued to resist. Yet on the Shabbat before the Exodus, commemorated by this Shabbat today, the Egyptian firstborn began to side with Moses, actively attacking their own government.
The Sages tell us that the attack was a response to the idea that the final plague, which had been forecast by Moses, would mean death for the firstborn. We might see it as no more than a reaction to personal fear. However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that it was more than that. It was a transformation of the inner spiritual nature of existence. Ancient Egypt represented the depths of evil, implacably opposed to holiness, as indeed we see in the figure of Pharaoh himself. Yet on that Shabbat, what the Sages term a "great miracle" took place. Within Egypt itself, in fact the firstborn of Egypt - meaning the future leaders - began a movement on behalf of the Jewish people.
True, Pharaoh and the Egyptian authorities were not transformed at that point, and the tenth plague and then the Splitting of the Sea, destroying the Egyptian forces, had to follow. But the rebellion of the firstborn was a taste of the transformations of the future, when all darkness will be changed to light, and all violent evil to good.
Thus we say at the end of the Passover Seder: "Next Year in Jerusalem!" meaning in the rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, in the time of the Messiah, when humanity will be united in recognition of goodness together, transformed.