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Shiur #28: From Pesach to Shavuot, From Matza to Chametz (3)

  • Rav Uriel Eitam
 
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IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Jeffrey Paul Friedman
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
לע"נ 
יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב 
ת.נ.צ.ב.ה
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The Holiday of Shavuot:
A Revelation of the Root Hidden in Chametz
 
 
III
Chametz as a Mitzva on Shavuot (Continuation)
The Evil Inclination
 
 
II. “And that it was desirable to the eyes”
The evil inclination
 
The factor that leads Adam and Chava to sin is following after their evil inclination. The Torah emphasizes the desire stirred up in the wake of seeing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which leads to the sin of eating (Bereishit 3:6): "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was desirable to the eyes, and a tree pleasing to make one wise, she took of its fruit, and did eat…"
 
We have discussed the parallel element among the mitzvot of Pesach earlier, and we will briefly review it now. The appearance of bread, which is enhanced when the dough rises, operates through the sense of sight and arouses man's passions. It is understandable, then, why the Sages refer to the evil inclination as "the yeast in dough” — a phrase we will delve into at the end of this shiur.
 
What does the evil inclination do to man? The evil inclination brings a person to sin and detaches one from God. It blinds one’s eyes from seeing the wretchedness of the material world, and immerses one in it. It deceives one into seeing that which leads to death as something which grants life. The evil inclination takes control of a person and removes one’s freedom. This subjugation grows stronger and distances the person from his or her purpose in the world.
 
The battle against chametz reflects the war that must be waged against the evil inclination. Overcoming that inclination is the basis for liberating a person from the wretchedness of materiality, rescuing one from falling into its grip, and it is the gateway to one’s freedom and spiritual growth. It is difficult to underestimate the value of this task: subjugating the inclination and eradicating it from the world are among the central goals of the Pesach-related mitzvot; instead of eating out of desire, this focus establishes eating whose sole purpose is to receive life from God.
 
According to this, the following question again arises: What is the meaning of the mitzva of the two loaves, the offering which is brought on Shavuot specifically from chametz? What is the good point in the evil inclination? How is it included in the worship of God?[1]
 
 
The evil inclination as the focus of contention
 
It seems that we may identify a fundamental role that the evil inclination plays in the worship of God. This inclination presents man with an alternative to God's will and draws each person to it. It puts man to the test, by forcing man to choose. Choosing between fulfilling the will of God and following after the evil inclination stands at the heart of Divine service, since the prelapsarian days of Adam and Chava.
 
From a Torah perspective, throughout the year, the Jewish people relate to the evil inclination as an enemy that is trying to divert them from the service of God, but once a year they relate to it as a Divine messenger whose task it is to present them with the negative alternative, in order to turn their choosing the will of God into service that they ourselves perform. In this way they themselves build their own stature and their cleaving to God.[2]
 
Chazal express a deeper dimension of the positive role played by the evil inclination when they state that it is only by virtue of the evil inclination within the people of Israel that the nation merits receiving the Torah:
 
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said:
 
When Moshe ascended on high, the ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe! What business has one born of woman among us?
 
He said to them: He has come to receive the Torah.
 
They said to Him: That secret treasure, which has been hidden by You for nine hundred and seventy-four generations before the world was created — You desire to give to flesh and blood! "What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You visit him?" (Tehillim 8:5); "O Lord our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! Who has set Your glory [the Torah] upon the Heavens" (ibid. v. 2).
 
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: Give them an answer.
 
He said to Him: Master of the Universe! The Torah which You give me, what is written therein?… Again, What is written therein? "You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal" (Shemot 20:12). Is there jealousy among you? Is the evil inclination among you?
Straightway they conceded to the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is stated: "O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth" (Tehillim 8:8), but “Who has set Your glory upon the Heavens” is not repeated. (BT Shabbat 88b-89a)
 
Surprisingly, Israel's most important asset on this occasion is the evil inclination within them. The argument, "Is the evil inclination among you?" is what clinches Moshe's victory over the angels, allowing Israel to receive the Torah.
 
The two loaves brought as chametz teach that once a year the Jewish people may look at the evil inclination from a different, unconventional perspective. Instead of seeing it as the enemy whose presence in the world they regret and whose existence they would gladly give up on, it turns out that it is precisely because of it that the nation of Israel merits to receive the Torah. This "friendship" with the evil inclination may not be good throughout the year, and it may lead to a blurring of the sharp struggle against it. Once a year, however, it clarifies for the Jewish people that behind the scenes the evil inclination plays an important role, that it comes to enable the nation of Israel to fulfill its mission. This special perspective on Shavuot has the strength to pull the carpet out from under the claims of the evil inclination. After recognizing the positive role played by the evil inclination, one may respond to its claims with the internal thinking which declares: Your whole role is that I should do the opposite of what you say. This thinking is fundamental for building a life of completely cleaving to God.
 
The role of the evil inclination is an expression of a more fundamental fact, that the evil inclination itself is the handiwork of God. Regarding the verse, "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Bereishit 1:31), the Midrash states:
 
Rabbi Nachman bar Shemuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rav Shemuel bar Nachman: "Behold, it was very good" — this is the good inclination; "And, behold, it was very good" — this is the evil inclination. (Bereishit Rabba 9, 7)
 
The evil inclination is included in everything that God makes during the process of Creation. Even though we do not ordinarily relate to it as one of the good things in the world, and therefore we say "'Behold, it was very good' — this is the good inclination," when we consider the matter from a deeper perspective, we see that it too is included among the good things in the world: "'And, behold, it was very good' — this is evil inclination."
 
The recognition that the evil inclination was created by God reflects an even more fundamental conceptualization regarding the very existence of evil alongside the good in God's world. This conceptualization of the Torah teaches that all the forces of evil, which at first glance fight against the kingdom of God, were created by God, and cannot nullify His plan or evade his control. Chametz itself may be understood as representing the forces of evil in the world in general, as preceding Pesach it must be totally destroyed and removed from existence.
 
The first mention of evil in the world involves the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; and in this aspect, that tree is distinguished from all the other trees in the Garden of Eden. How are we to relate to the existence of this evil? The serpent presents the tree as having an independent character that allows setting up an alternative to God: "For in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (Bereishit 3:5).
 
The Torah, however, presents the entire garden, including the Tree of Knowledge, as the handiwork of God: "And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Bereishit 2:9). With this, the Torah teaches that the evil in the world does not stem from some other source the nature of which is evil, but rather from the same Divine source which bestows good. It is God who places before the people "life and good, and death and evil" (Devarim 30:15). This principle also underlies the Torah's command that chametz be brought once a year to the Sanctuary.
 
 
The evil inclination as the focal point of life
 
In addition to all of this, even deeper layers of meaning may be identified in the idea of including the evil inclination in the Jewish people’s worship of God. It seems that the role of the evil inclination does not exhaust itself in the creation of a challenge that must be overcome, even if in fact this is its most prevalent role.
 
Chazal derive the command to include the evil inclination in the worship of God from the Torah, from the first parasha of Keriat Shema, which is the foundational passage for accepting God's kingdom and the yoke of His commandments. It turns out that it is precisely the foundational passage of the service of God that includes the command that man's evil inclination be included in the worship of God: "'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart' (Devarim 6:5) — with both inclinations, with the good inclination and with the evil inclination" (Berakhot 54a; Sifrei Va'etchanan 7). Then in what way is the evil inclination itself — and not only contending with it and overcoming it — included in the service of God?
 
Chazal's view of the creation of the evil inclination attribute vitally important aspects to its very existence:
 
Rabbi Nachman bar Shemuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rav Shemuel bar Nachman: "Behold, it was very good" — this is the good inclination. "And, behold, it was very good" — this is the evil inclination.
 
Is the evil inclination very good? That would be extraordinary! Rather, were it not for the evil inclination, no man would build a house, take a wife, beget children or engage in commerce. (Bereishit Rabba 9:7)
 
According to this midrash, the building of the family, with its various components, is of necessity conditioned on the existence of the evil inclination. If we remember that the family system builds the continuity of life, and through it "one generation passes away, and another generation comes, and the earth abides forever" (Kohelet 1:4), that is to say, life on earth continues forever, it turns out the survival of life depends on the evil inclination. The sex drive is generally perceived, with a great deal of justification, as a dangerous force, concerning which no guardian may be relied upon and which may at times lead to the destruction of the world, or at least parts of it;[3] yet it turns out here to be the fundamental glue of the family, and the driving force of life, life that God desires and for which He has created the world.
 
The sex drive is not the only driving force of life. Every passion is a powerful inner engine which drives one of the cycles of life. If we return to the passion for eating, against which the main confrontation of the holiday of Pesach takes place, there too, upon closer examination, we may see the positive side described above. Just as the sex drive is the basic engine of family life, so too the passion for eating is the inner engine of the life of the individual. Without the deep physical sensations associated with eating, the feeling of hunger, appetite, taste and the other senses, it would be difficult for a person to persevere in eating and one might eventually die.[4] The evil inclination, with its various branches, instills in a person an urge that obliges one to take care of the most important elements that allow life to continue, inextricably connecting one to it. The passionate connection to life is extremely powerful, the primal guarantor of the continuity of life.
 
Even before we draw conclusions from these principles as to how the evil inclination serves in the worship of God, the following question must be considered: What is the meaning of the daily battle fought against the evil inclination; moreover, what is the meaning of the all-out offensive that takes place around Pesach and brings about its total eradication?
 
We will answer this in light of another derasha of Chazal dealing with leaven. The baraita states: "Our Rabbis taught: There are three things of which one may easily have too much, while a little is good" (BT Berakhot 34a).[5]
 
The first thing that Chazal note in the continuation of the baraita as something of which “a little is good” is yeast. Yeast in the appropriate measure causes dough to rise in the proper manner, thereby improving it, but in excessive measure, yeast ruins the dough, rather than enhancing it.
 
This definition is appropriate also for "the yeast in the dough" of passion. Passionate forces are present in man in great intensity; by their nature, they exist at a level that is above the appropriate measure. They conquer man, blind man and take control of man’s consciousness. This nature of man's passions is what brings about destruction. The measured amount, precise choice, and exact use of the power of passion toward the circles that build life, establish it and make it stable, secure and continuous, are the “little [which] is good” in the context of passion.
 
This minority of the evil inclination joins the majority and enriches it. Let us take, for example, eating, which is addressed in the mitzvot of Pesach. Eating, for the most part, finds its primary objective focused on the very receiving of life from God. Nevertheless, good taste and appearance, in limited quantity, is appropriate, because through them the urge to eat which is implanted in man becomes connected to the act of eating. Eating ought to be directed toward receiving life from God, but it is not exclusively a conscious and deliberate act born out of man's choice. It is also an act to which a person is connected from the depths of human nature. The impulse to survive, the impulse to eat and the impulse to engage in sexual activity express man's deep connection to the life that God gave man. When on top of this connection there lies man's spiritual consciousness and full connection to God, one’s instinctual impulse is refined of its contradictions, released from its violence and freed from its egocentricity. Without that refinement, this impulse would focus a person on himself or herself, cutting one off from those around him or her. When refined, the evil inclination can receive its precise place. At this level, man's life contains two qualities: the supreme spiritual quality, which directs its actions upward and seeks to connect its life to God and to receive life from Him; and the lower natural and obligatory life, which inspires man with a deep and natural connection to eating, as a simple and natural act of life that fills a person.[6]
 
If so, one of the main points which characterize the evil inclination is the deep connection that it creates in man and the immense driving force that it has. This deep connection, which captures man's entire consciousness and motivates one with immense power to realize one’s desires, is a special quality. Bringing to the Sanctuary the two loaves, whose flour is sifted with twelve sieves (BT Menachot 76b), transports the essence of the force that is found in the evil inclination into the world of the Holy.
 
If bringing chametz to the Sanctuary teaches us about the realms that belong to the physical world, such as eating and procreation, surely it can also teach us about those realms that belong to the Holy. Indeed, the Zohar teaches about the importance of the place of the evil inclination within Torah study itself:
 
Rabbi Yitzchak bar Rabbi Yosei was coming from Cappadocia to Lod, when he was met by Rabbi Yehuda.
 
Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: Say that our colleagues the Sages of the Mishna were stirred up by this matter, that the evil inclination should be forgotten from the world, except for at the time of conjugal relations.
 
He said to him: By your life, the evil inclination is needed by the world like rain, for were it not for the evil inclination, there would be no joy in study.[7] (Midrash Ha-ne'elam, Zohar, I, 138a)
 
The Zohar finds a place in Torah study for the evil inclination in the joy of study. The experience of the joy of learning, which motivates the learners, can be perceived as contemptible, since it involves personal pleasure, and therefore the study is not for its own sake. The words of the Zohar make it clear that the joy of study is in fact the evil inclination's positive contribution to Torah study. Study that is accompanied by joy is study in which a person becomes involved with all of one’s inner powers, study that animates and fills the person who is involved in it. This study is more complete study, and not study in which the person finds oneself uninvolved, because one has purified oneself from any emotional contact with it.[8]
 
If we take another look at the passage in which Chazal refer to the evil inclination as the "yeast in the dough," we can better explain the benefit of chametz. The Gemara reports:
 
Rabbi Alexandri on concluding his prayer added the following: Master of the Universe, it is known full well to You that our will is to perform Your will, and what prevents us? The yeast in the dough and the subjugation by foreign powers. (BT Berakhot 17a)
 
Normally, the yeast in the dough inhibits man’s desire to adhere to the will of God. When the Jewish people eradicate the evil inclination on Pesach, this yeast no longer hinders their service of God. When they bring the chametz to the Sanctuary, the yeast with its immense power becomes an aid in the nation’s worship of God, in that they are deeply and of necessity connected to it, and full of desire to engage in it. At this level, the service of God becomes as necessary for man as air to breathe, as water for the thirsty and as bread for the hungry.
 
However, if the main problem with the evil inclination lies in its excessive measure, and if it has such an important and powerful role, the opposite question arises: Why on Pesach are the Jewish people required to completely eradicate it? Why shouldn't they already then use it in appropriate measure? Why do they have to first pass through the Pesach service, and not go immediately to the Shavuot service?
 
It is true that restricting the evil inclination to a diminished size and its precise role allows its inclusion in the proper service of God; but this diminution of the evil inclination is contrary to its very nature. We have already seen that the instinct appears as an impulse whose nature is to be larger than its appropriate measure. It acts as a conquering and controlling force that is unable to accept the burden of constriction and proportionality, and can only cast its yoke on the person within which it resides and subjugate that individual. The combination of these two traits leads to the familiar image of the evil inclination, which controls man against one’s own will and brings one to sin against God's Torah and even one’s very nature.
 
It is man's mission to include in the forces of one’s life and one’s service of God the energies that lie in one’s evil inclination and in the depth of the connection that it generates, without giving it the possibility of taking control and enslaving him or her. To do this, a person must go through a stage of complete detachment from the evil inclination, which frees him or her from all subjugation to it.
 
This liberation takes place on the holiday of Pesach, when the Jewish people eradicate the leaven itself through the mitzva of biur chametz, and cleanse their inner being from any connection to it when they nullify it and consider it in their consciousness as the dust of the earth.
 
After the mine of bondage has been defused, as the Jewish people live with a neutralization of the evil inclination through all of Pesach, they can now make new contact with it, with a reversal of the roles of who is controlling and who is being controlled. The unrepaired impulse, whose nature it is to take control of man, becomes in its refinement a strong inner attachment that fills a person, but does not rule that individual.
 
In this way, the person may contain the immense energy and connection of the evil inclination, without paying the price of subjugation to it and of the excessive measure in which it naturally appears. Now the road is open to include the evil inclination in the worship of God, and instead of it subjugating man to taste and appearance, bringing man to sin, it has the capacity to strengthen man's connection to God.
 
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] Several sources imply that the evil inclination is nullified on the holiday of Shavuot. The Zohar (III, 97b) and Rabbeinu Bachya (Bamidbar 28:26) find an allusion to this in the verses themselves, in the fact that with respect to the goat brought on Shavuot there is no mention of the word "sin-offering" (instead Bamidbar 28:30 merely says “one goat to atone for you”) which does appear in connection to the other festivals (e.g. ibid. v. 22, “one goat as a sin-offering to atone for you”). This idea is cited by various rabbis (see, for example, Peri Tzadik, Metzora 1; Sefat Emet, Acharei Mot 5649, s.v. Ba-pasuk).
According to this approach, the question raised earlier would seem to disappear. Bringing chametz as an offering in the Sanctuary does not mark some positve side to the evil inclination, but rather its total destruction, as the Sefat Emet writes: "Because of Shavuot, which emodies the light of the Torah, there is no foreign contact, and the chametz is burned and nullified, as we find that it involves a nullification of the evil inclination."
This approach, however, is difficult to accept, because it is precisely on Pesach that the chametz is destroyed, and the two loaves brought on Shavuot are not made to smoke and burn on the altar, but rather they are waved and eaten by the priests.
In other places in the writings of Rav Tzadok Ha-kohen and in the Sefat Emet, we see that these authors in fact understand the two loaves on Shavuot as being built on the positive aspect of the evil inclination, and the nullification of the inclination means cancellation of the evil in it. See below.
[2] The Ramchal expands upon this idea in several places (see Mesilat Yesharim, Introduction, and Derekh Hashem, I, Chapters 2-4).
[3] As in the days of the flood. See, for example, Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishit 6:12) regarding the Generation of the Flood.
[4] This is evident in cases of severe illness, when a person loses appetite and the senses of taste and smell. In such situations, it is sometimes difficult to bring a person to continue eating in a consistent manner over an extended period of time.
[5] Rav Tzadok Ha-kohen of Lublin uses this statement in several places in his writings, when he deals with the issue of the evil inclination.
[6] In another midrash, the forces of life and the feelings of pleasure are described as a goal, and the Torah is presented as protection that allows them to manifest without causing harm:
Our Rabbis taught: “Vesamtem” (Devarim 11:18) — a perfect remedy (sam tam). The Torah is compared to a life-giving remedy.
This may be likened to a man who strikes his son a strong blow, and then puts a plaster on his wound, saying to him: My son! As long as this plaster is on your wound you can eat and drink at will, and bathe in hot or cold water, without fear. But if you remove it, it will break out into sores.
Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: My children! I created the evil inclination, but I [also] created the Torah, as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand, for it is stated: “If you do well, shall you not be exalted” (Bereishit 4:7). But if you do not occupy yourselves with the Torah, you shall be delivered into its hand, for it is written (ibid.): “Sin crouches at the door.” (BT Kiddushin 30b).
This midrash assigns sort of a measure to the evil inclination, implying that when it is in a diminished state, it is good.
[7] This idea occupies a central place in the writings of Rav Tzadok Ha-kohen of Lublin. It appears dozens of times in his work, Peri Tzadik. Rav Tzadok explains that the repair of the evil inclination is accomplished through its being totally directed toward the study of Torah, to which end it was created in the first place.
For essentially the evil inclination was created for the joy of Torah study, as it is stated: “Keep this forever, even the imagination (yetzer) of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You” (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:18). It is only that man makes it evil by using it for the joy of the vanities of this world. Therefore on Shavuot, we offer the two loaves of chametz, because at the time of the Giving of the Torah the joy of Torah enters the soul of Israel, and then the yeast becomes good for the soul. (Peri Tzadik, Pesach 4)
According to what we have written, even in other realms of life there is room for the diminished and repaired role of the evil inclination, which reflects the deep and necessary connection to life that God, who is the source of life, implanted within us. Of course, even according to what we have said, the connection to God's Torah fills the highest and most important place in life.
[8] The Eglei Tal writes about this in the introduction to his book:
I have heard people straying from the path of reason with respect to the study of Torah. They say that if one learns Torah and offers novel insights and enjoys and delights in his study, this is not Torah study that is fully for its own sake, as it would be if he learned simply without enjoyment and only for the sake of the mitzva; but if one studies Torah and delights in his learning, his own pleasure becomes intermingled in his study.
In truth, this is a common misconception. On the contrary, this is the primary mitzva of Torah study, to be happy and joyful and delighted in one's study. Then the words of the Torah become absorbed in one’s blood. Since one enjoys the words of the Torah, he becomes attached to the Torah… One who studies Torah and delights in his learning — this is study for its own sake and entirely holy, for the delight is also a mitzva.