Genesis of Evil

One of the more enigmatic statements of Chazal asks, from Masechet Chulin 139b, “where do we find Haman mentioned in the Torah?”And the Gemara cites G-d’s statements to Adam after he was exposed in the Garden of Eden: “Hamin ha’etz…” – “did you eat from the tree from which you were expressly commanded not to eat?” “Hamin ha’etz…”  is like… Haman. One need not be a deep analytical thinker to ask: what in the world is the connection between this verse and Haman? It’s not even Haman, it’s Hamin?

Why did our Sages root Haman’s presence in the Torah in that verse, and why was it necessary to find a source for Haman in the Torah altogether? After all, the story of Purim occurred during the late Biblical period, between the era of the two Temples, and long after the Torah was given. The question itself is anachronistic. Rashi says it is the juxtaposition of Haman and ha’etz – Haman was hanged on a tree – but there must be more to it.

Haman’s existence, and that of Amalek and all evildoers down to and including our day, raise the most troubling questions. How do human beings become so evil, so corrupt, so depraved, as to decide to dedicate their lives to destroying other lives? It is one of the great dilemmas of history – starting from the first such villain – Nimrod – until today. How do human beings continue to produce evil people – who can murder in the millions? Or, in just a cursory look around the world today – scoundrels like Assad, the Castro brothers, Mugabe and others – people who kill and incarcerate their own; or an Ahmadinejad and his cohorts, people who are actively and overtly plotting to destroy another nation. How does all this evil endure, and where does it end?

And there is smaller evil as well, that affects not millions or thousands, but cruelty to even one other person that is inexplicable. How can we comprehend people who will willingly and eagerly destroy their own lives for the dubious “pleasure” of destroying someone else’s life – a spouse, a child, a co-worker, or an employee – regardless of the rationalizations they use and the emotional illnesses from which they suffer?

In a sentence, “where do we find Haman mentioned in the Torah?” Where do we find the roots of evil in the Torah?

And Chazal answered quite cogently and brilliantly – it all started in the Garden of Eden, with the stumbling of Adam and the collapse of the pristine, ideal Paradise. Rav Eli Horowitz, hy”d, quoted Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook that the cardinal sin in Eden was “peirud”- separation or estrangement – separation of man from G-d for sure, but especially separation of the Tree of Knowledge from the tree of life. When knowledge is used properly, it promotes life, prosperity and happiness. But when knowledge and life become separate and distinct, they become antagonistic as well, and there will be those who use their knowledge for malevolence, for wickedness, for absolute evil.

Evil results from estrangement from G-d. Obviously, that is the source of the evil of atheists (like Stalin, Mao and others) but also is the source of the evil of those with a false conception of G-d. And even Jews who otherwise practice many mitzvot but are cruel and heartless to others are ultimately estranged from G-d.

What a question: Hamin ha’etz… ?! “Did you eat from the tree from which you were expressly commanded not to eat?” What is the genesis of inv and all his imitators? All the world’s troubles stem from this sin – the tension between men and women, the tension between man and his environment, and the tension between man and G-d – and especially the disconnect between man and the way he is supposed to live – capable of living – and the way he actually lives. All evil is still rooted in that first sin. And its offspring lives – either the seed of Amalek or the spirit of Amalek, and sometimes both.

How then do we remedy the world’s troubles and diminish the lingering effects of Amalek and Haman? Well, certainly by remembering Amalek and celebrating Purim, but also by restoring the state of Eden as best we can – by reconnecting with the Torah in all aspects of our lives, by not despairing when we see bad Jews or bad people, by rededicating ourselves to the  mandate of Gan Eden – to serve and to preserve. To paraphrase Rav Kook, we can curse the darkness or we can light a candle. It is better to light a candle.

The Gemara sounds inscrutable – “whence do we know Haman from the Torah?” – but in fact Chazal here elucidate one of the most complex and troublesome issues of our world. It is all part of the divine system – even the potential for failure and especially the opportunity to rectify it and elevate it, to eradicate evil one bit at a time. Therein lies our purpose, and the gift of eternity awarded to us in the words of the prophet Shmuel, that the Eternal One of Israel does not lie – in His promises, His guarantees, or in His assurance that as He did for our ancestors miracles and wonders for them at this time’ so will He for us.

Happy Purim to all !

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