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On Good and Evil

by the Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer)

(With Intepretive Comments by Yakov Leib Hakohain)

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(1.) The indwelling Glory prevails from above to below unto the rim of all rungs. That is the mystery of the word, "And you animate them all."  Even when man does a sin, then too the Glory is clothed in it, for without it he would not have the strength to move a limb. And this is the exile of God's Glory.

[INTERPRETATION: Here the BeSHT states that the Holy Sparks which fell from the Shevirit HaKelim ("Shattering of the Vessels") at the creation of the world, fell in all things, both good and evil. Therefore to make Tikkun -- to repair the Face of God which no longer dwells in unity --
mankind must raise up the Holy Sparks by embracing not only that which is "good," but also that which is "evil." This alludes to the ancient Talmudic doctrine of fulfilling a Mitzvah (Torah Commandment) by breaking it, or "Holiness through Sin" -- a doctrine we see in the Libertine Sect of early Christianity, as well as the teachings of the Russian holy man, Rasputin.]

(2) In the story of creation it says, "Indeed, it was very good." But in the exhortation of Moses it says, "See, I have placed before you this day life and good, death and evil." But from where has evil come? The answer: evil, too, is good; it is the lowest rung of perfect goodness. If one does good, then evil too becomes good; but if one sins, then it becomes really evil

[INTERPRETATION: God is the creator of all things, and in all things is trapped a Holy Spark, yearning to return to its unity with Him. As with the Tao -- in which there is Yin in Yang, and Yang in Yin -- there is good in evil and evil in good, and only the preponderance of one over the other differentiates them. Therefore, one cannot perform a "good" act without liberating from it the "evil" it also contains; similarly, one cannot turn from evil without liberating the good trapped within it.]

(3) As the Glory embraces all worlds, good and evil, so were they enclosed in Moses. When God called to Moses the first time, he did not answer, "Here am I," because he was lost in astonishment: How then can the unification take place? For when God revealed Himself in the thorn bush -- that is, in evil, as in the lowest rung -- all the fountains of fire opened themselves, from the highest unto the depths, but the thorn bush did not burn up, the evil was not consumed. How could that happen?  Because God called a second time: "Moses!" -- then the lowest rung bound itself to the highest in Moses himself, and he said, "Here am I."

[INTERPRETATION: One is given the opportunity to perform the Tikkun Olam, Repair of the World, not only on a cosmic scale, but also in one's own person. God calls each of us twice to this task: first to get our attention, and then to reveal Himself as the "Holy Name" (YHVH) surrounded by the "Klipoth of Fire" (sin) -- this to teach us that we must unite the "lower" and "upper" rungs of His creation within ourselves by rescuing from the evil of our passions the good of His holiness.
Baal Shem Tov  
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(Meditations on the 
Raising of the Sparks)
On the Holy Sparks and their Redemption


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page uploaded 30 October 1998