Why did the Babylonian exile have to happen?
The Bablyonian exile occurred in order to fix an absence of true fear of, and love for, Hashem. Am Yisrael repeatedly stumbled with this throughout the whole First Temple period. Let’s explore a little what that actually means. The main plank of the yetzer hara’s war against us is to drop us into fallen loves and fallen fears.
‘Fallen love’ occurs when we start to love this lowly world, and to get stuck in and attracted to it. But we should make a very important point here, that we are talking about loving this world when we are in a state of being separated and distant from Hashem. Sometimes, the Torah itself commands us to enjoy this world, and to take pleasure from this world.
Even though this is also a type of ‘love’ for materialism, this is coming from the side of holiness.
Does something bring you closer to G-d, or take you further away?
The point is not whether something is ‘materialistic’ or ‘spiritual’, but whether that love is sourced in trying to come closer to G-d, or not. This is a crucially important distinction. A person can be sat in front of two delicious cream cakes, richly decorated in exactly the same way. The only difference between them is that this one bears a kosher certification, and that one doesn’t.
If you say the appropriate blessing beforehand, and the correct blessing afterwards, and you eat with the proper intentions, that kosher cream cake can bring you closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. But even if you make a blessing with full intention over the non-kosher cream cake, it won’t bring you closer to Hashem, and it will probably take you much, much further away.
Because that non-kosher cake is giving you a pleasure, an enjoyment, that’s rooted in the unholy side, and regardless of how many blessings you recite over it, it will pull you in that direction.
So much of the Torah has to do with rectifying our fallen fears and loves
So many of the Torah’s secrets revolve around trying to rectify all our fallen fears and fallen loves. In his book Mesillat Yesharim, the Ramchal writes that “a man was only created for the enjoyment”. (In his book, the Ramchal actually completes that sentence by saying ‘of Hashem’, but we deliberately stopped in the middle, because this sentence contains a great many deep secrets.)
The Ramchal is telling us that Hashem created us in a such a way that we are always going to be in a state of ‘lacking’.
And even if the ‘lack’ is fulfilled, after two or three hours, a person will return to that state of ‘lacking’ again. Why is a person continually returning to a state of hunger? Because that is the reality of creation, that the whole world always finds itself in a state of ‘lacking’.
We’re all busy trying to find new ways to fill our lacks, and to meet our needs. The example with eating is just one of the many material ‘lacks’ we have, but we can also lack energy, happiness, contentment and enjoyment, to name but a few.
All of us feel that we ‘lack’ something
We should know that regardless of whether we’re talking about the greatest person of the generation, or the smallest, man or woman, everyone is busy trying to find a way to renew their strength and their life-force and their joy, and their contentment and their pleasure. If that’s the case, it begs the question: So then how are we meant to be clarifying all this?
The answer is that we clarify our fallen loves by choosing how we’re going to try to fulfill our ‘lack’ and meet our needs. G-d wants us to choose between good and evil in this world. In essence, there are two pipes fuelling the world, one from the side of holiness and one from the side of the forces of tumah (spiritual impurity / evil).
The question is which pipe we’re going to choose to connect to, and this is where our free choice comes into play. If a person tells you that he doesn’t need to get his life-force from anywhere, and that he doesn’t need any enjoyment in life, know that you’re dealing with a very confused individual. In reality, no such person exists.
We all have this need to enjoy things, and it’s rooted deep into our very Nefesh (animal soul). This is how G-d created us.
So the only real choice and clarification to be had here is whether we are going to choose to receive our life-force and our pleasures from the right, good side. This is one aspect of the issue. Now, let’s take a look at another.
Why would a Jewish person choose to get their enjoyment from the dark side?
G-d created all of our reality, including the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and the forces of evil and spiritual impurity. But what possible reason does a Jewish person have for going to the side of evil for their pleasures? What is enticing us over there?
The yetzer hara has to have some life-force and some pleasure to give us, in order to maintain free choice and to be able to do the job that G-d created it to do. If it didn’t have some enjoyment to give us, then we wouldn’t have anything to do with it, and no-one would go anywhere near it. The whole subject of ‘pleasure’ is actually directly related to where a person gets their life-force, and this is the deeper meaning behind the Ramchal’s words.
In order for us to do our work and to have the challenges we need to face, and to have the choices we need to make, we have to be able to get pleasure from the holy side. But if the side of spiritual impurity didn’t also have some enjoyment to give us, no-one would touch it with a barge-pole. Which brings us neatly to another big question:
What is this enjoyment that we get from the side of tumah, exactly?
To be continued….
Translated from Rav Ofer Erez’s writings in the Ohr HaDaat newsletter, #117.