Monday, Jun 24, 2024

The True Meaning of Evil

One of the most powerful moments depicted in Megillas Esther is when Esther comes before King Achashveirosh to plead for the salvation of her nation. When Mordechai tells her of the need to ask Achashveirosh to remove the decree of “lehashmid lahaarog ule’abeid,” the decree that would chalilah represent the absolute total destruction of Klal Yisroel, Mordechai tells her, “And who knows if it was for just such a time as this that you attained royalty!” (Esther 4:14). Esther replied, “Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day; I together with my maids will fast. Then I will go to the King though it’s unlawful (asher lo kados), and if I perish, I perish”

Esther referred to her coming before the King as “lo kados,” because one was not permitted to go to the King if they weren’t called.

The Sefas Emes explained these words in a different fashion, and through his words we can come to understand what the Yom Tov of Purim portrays within the structure of Klal Yisroel’s march to Acharis Hayomim.

Haman, the descendant of the nation of Amaleik who personified the absolute evil of Eisav, attempted to destroy the Bnei Yisroel through using King Achashveirosh as his personal tool. His antagonism against the Jewish nation was focused and directed against Mordechai, the tzaddik who represents the spiritual koach of Yaakov. This is part of the continuous battle between Yaakov and Eisav that won’t cease until the End of Days, when Hashem and His Name will be known as One and the nation of Amaleik will be destroyed.

Haman went to Achashveirosh to present him with an interesting request. He wanted to hang Mordechai on a tree that was chamishim amos, fifty cubits tall. Why exactly fifty amos? This specific request reveals that here lies the core of Haman and Amaleik’s distorted perception of what they truly represent in Hashem’s world. The Vilna Gaon, in his peirush on Mishlei, discusses a truly profound yesod through which we can perhaps begin to understand this point.

The posuk in Sefer Mishlei (16:4) says, “Everything (Kol) Hashem made for His sake, even (vegam) the evildoer for the day of retribution.” The Vilna Gaon explains that the gematria of the word vegam (vov, gimmel and mem) is forty-nine. This reveals to us that the rasha is able to reach the forty-ninth level of ra, but that is as far as that evil can develop. The gematria of the word kol is fifty to teach us that the level of fifty solely belongs to Hashem. The levels of understanding up to and including that of the forty-ninth can be presented both in terms of ra as well as tov, but the level of chamishim belongs solely to Hashem. This means that the dimension of evil could never reach the level to truly challenge the shoresh of tov. Thus, Hashem will ultimately dominate, for He represents the absolute dargah of nun, fifty.

The Maharal in Ohr Chodosh adds the following.

Haman had desired to hang Mordechai on a tree of fifty amos to proclaim that since he theoretically had reached the absolute dimension of fifty in terms of ra, he surely would be able to prevail over Mordechai and the level that he was able to attain in terms of tov.

The Maharal says that this is reflected in the name of Haman. The gematria of the hey and mem of Haman is forty-five, similar to the forty-five of the word adam, man. He was a mere man, yet he attempted to place himself in the shaar nun, the fiftieth gate, reflected in the letter nun at the end of his name. Haman attempted to establish his dominance over Klal Yisroel in his alleged acquisition of the dargah of nun in terms of evil. But this cannot be. As the posuk reveals, it is Hashem who represents the ultimate state of nun, and as the Vilna Gaon explains, that supreme level belongs solely to Him. In that exalted realm, all is clear and only tov exists. Thus, Haman himself was hanged on that tree of fifty. In the battle that Klal Yisroel wages with Amaleik, the Bnei Yisroel are representing Hashem.

The posuk at the end of Parshas Beshalach states, “For the hand is on the Throne of G-d; Hashem maintains a war with Amaleik from generation to generation.” Amaleik attacked Klal Yisroel directly after their geulah from Mitzrayim. The Bnei Yisroel possessed no land and weren’t a threat to the nation of Amaleik. Yet, the Amaleikim attacked, for their battle wasn’t so much in terms of Klal Yisroel, but rather against Hashem Himself. Thus, it was Hashem as the Shoresh of all Who will destroy Amaleik. In order to appreciate this most profound point, we are commanded a most interesting avodah on this holy day.

The Gemara in Maseches Megilah (7b) establishes that we are obligated libsumei b’Puria, to become intoxicated with wine on Purim, until one does not know the difference between arur Haman, cursed is Haman, and boruch Mordechai, blessed is Mordechai. It would seem somewhat difficult to understand how the goal of this holy day is to come to a point to bless the evil Haman, who wanted to annihilate the entire Jewish nation. The Sefas Emes writes that the gematria of boruch Mordechai is five hundred and two, exactly that of the gematria of arur Haman. Within that framework, it would seem that they are alike in the sense that seemingly they both served. The Sefas Emes adds that the yesod of Purim is based upon the words of the Chiddushei Harim, and the way that we could relate to our avodah lies within the way the Sefas Emes explains the profound words of his grandfather.

The Chiddushei Harim writes that the goal of our avodah on this day is to soar beyond the daas, the knowledge, of the Eitz Hadaas and to attain the level of the Eitz Hachaim, the Tree of Life. In our terms, the world we live in is subject to the presence of ra. Hashem created man to live in just such an imperfect world, where his bechirah b’tov, his freedom of choosing good over evil, earns him his right to exist in the realm of s’char of Olam Haba. Amaleik attacked in Parshas Beshalach, and in Shushan through Haman, because the Bnei Yisroel were seemingly lost in the hester of Olam Hazeh and weren’t able to perceive the Presence of Hashem in their midst. They went to Achashveirosh’s 180-day party, depicted at the beginning of the Megillah, establishing, at least to themselves, that their connection to Hashem was chalilah over. The prevalent thought process was that the Bais Hamikdosh had been destroyed and the majesty of the world was transferred to another system of belief. It was mistakenly believed that Klal Yisroel had failed and now it was someone else’s chance.

We are still seemingly contained within the hester of this world. How are we to rise above it?

In our world, it looks like there are things that are contrary to the Presence of Hashem, but, in truth, they aren’t. Everything in our world that is seemingly against His will is meant to provide the foundation of bechirah housed within that which externally seems to be contrary to the ratzon Hashem.

The avodah of ad delo yoda is not meant to cause one to lose his daas. Rather, it should be elevated a profound notch, seeing with the clarity that only yayin of sod can reveal.

The posuk in Parshas Bereishis (2:10) states, “Venahar yotzei m’Eiden… A river issues forth from Eiden to water the garden, and from there it is divided and becomes four headwaters.” In our terms, Eiden is the shoresh, the source, and represents Olam Haba. Our world of Olam Hazeh is nourished and exists as a result of the fact that it serves to feed our existence in Olam Haba through bechirah. There, all is clearly one, and there is but one river shoresh, but when it enters our world, which contains the system of bechirah, it becomes four seemingly distinct entities.

During the course of the year, our daas provides us with the tools to negotiate our world, but yayin has the capacity to increase dimyon, the koach of the imagination to break down barriers and give reality to those things that aren’t necessarily perceived as such. The greatest distortion that the dimyon of man provides is that the physical world of Olam Hazeh is real and its pursuits should serve as the true meaning of one’s life. This represents the credo of Amaleik.

The koach of dimyon is meant to serve in the avodah of a Yid as well. In the seeming reality of the world of asiyah, the purely physical, it seems that Olam Haba doesn’t exist, yet we are commanded to believe that it does and dedicate our lives to attaining it. Sof maaseh b’machshavah techilah, that which will be revealed in the end was the true purpose intended from the beginning. Thus, through yayin, the blinders are removed and our dimyon can legitimately give reality to the presence of Olam Haba that is locked up within the very world we live in. In such a world, everything is ratzon Hashem, for everything ultimately serves Him. Thus, Haman’s role as someone of seemingly pure evil is meant to bring the Bnei Yisroel to teshuvah, whatever his personal sense of delusion brought him to believe.

It is this point that the gematria of boruch Mordechai and arur Haman reveal in that they are identical. Generally, in our world, it is hidden, but on Purim, all becomes clear, because we are able to soar beyond the limitations of our minds through daas, gleaning the positive adaptation of the koach hadimyon to recognize that which exists in shoresh. It is there, in the Eitz Hachaim, that which is totally connected to Hashem, and not merely that of the Eitz Hadaas, that depicts the world that we see before us. Haman attempted to hang Mordechai on a tree of fifty amos, but in the end, he was hanged on that very tree. Mankind is ultimately privy to the 49 levels of understanding, but the Shaar Nun, the fiftieth level, belongs to the Creator, and there, the truth of evil is perceived as solely to be the vehicle to reveal tov in the midst of a world to provide bechirah.

The Sefas Emes explains that this is represented in Esther’s words to Mordechai.

Chazal in Esther Rabbah reveal that the word “Melech” in the Megillah without the name Achashveirosh together with it refers to Hashem as well as Achashveirosh to teach us that it was Hashem Who was truly manipulating all of the king’s actions. When Esther said, “Then I will go to the King asher lo kados,” she meant that now, if she must, she will bring about the revealing of tov in the briah not through the direct championing of tov, but rather, through the destruction of ra, tov will ultimately be revealed.

An adam gadol frequently said, “Altz ligt in shoresh,” and the tachlis of our avodah on Purim is to perceive the one river that emanates from Eiden, to “taste” the realm of absolute achdus. It is only with the exalted dimension of daas provided by the yayin that we could be zoche to truly live on the Yom Kadosh of Purim in Shoresh.

Ah freilichen Purim.

Rabbi Rapps can be reached at




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated