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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5779

Ein Ayah: In Which Order Do we Light?

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:49)

Gemara: [The Torah records twice that Moshe relayed how Bnei Yisrael responded to Hashem in preparation to the giving of the Torah.] It says: “Moshe responded (vayashev) with the words of the nation to Hashem” (Shemot 19:8), and it says, “Moshe told (vayaged) to Hashem the words of the nation” (ibid. 9). What did Hashem tell Moshe, what did Israel tell Moshe, and with what did Moshe respond to Hashem? … Rebbe said: First he spelled out the punishment [for violating the Torah], as it says “vayashev Moshe” – things that are meshabev (weaken the interest of) a person. At the end, it says, “vayaged Moshe” – things that attract the heart of a person like aggada (homiletic sections of the Torah). Some [have an opposite version]: first he spelled out the reward [for keeping mitzvot] as the pasuk says: “vayashev Moshe” – things that restore one’s attitude, and at the end he spelled out the punishment [for violating the mitzvot], as it says, “vayaged Moshe” – things that are hard as sinews.         


Ein Ayah: If one wants to light up the light of the soul with purity, so that it will be able to reach its goal of elevated life, one needs to first wage war against the blind power that dwells within a person, i.e., the power of physical evil. This power is liable to spread through the whole world of creations. When he uproots the power of darkness and prevents it from taking its normal actions, as a person removes his interests from bad things because he realizes how they are detrimental, he is ready for change. Then, when the flame of holiness comes to illuminate and the light of Torah brings life to the world, life becomes complete without the Satan and other dangerous things impeding the light’s clarity. According to this educational approach, first one has to attack the power of evil to uproot and weaken it, and then the spirit with the sanctity of Torah and knowledge of the divine comes to enlighten. The advantage of this system is that when the spiritual clarity comes forth, it is clean and refined.  

However, there is also another approach, according to which one strives to use even the power of evil for the purpose of the lofty divine goal. Thereby, he does not go forth to first uproot the power of evil, but to try to light the soul with a complete light of sanctity. If there are pieces of impurity within the life of evil, it does not prevent the light from being absorbed. Rather it increases the positive when even the powers of evil are harnessed for good. Only if at the end there are elements of evil that cannot be purified by the great light, then the person has to turn to those remnants and eradicate them.

According to the first approach, Hashem first told the people about the punishment for sin, to shock them into removing the evil tendency to sin so that the venom of evil will not ruin the light and goodness. Only afterward did Hashem share the elements of reward for good actions. But according to the second approach, Hashem first told about the reward and only later went on to the punishment for evil actions. That is because the power of life is so great that it can purify that which is bad and enslave it to the service of good. Only in regard to that which remained of the evil there was later a discussion of the punishment for bad actions. These are matters that are as hard as sinews. Finally, the power of good is complete, powerful, and pure.
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