Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
In the beginning of Parashat Bechukotai, as the Torah describes the ideal of Am Yisrael residing in Eretz Yisrael, it says, “ I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land”. (Vayikra 26:6)
Our sages, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon disagree on the proper explanation of these words. Rabbi Yehudah explains, “they will be withdrawn from the world means that vicious animals will no longer exist.” Rabbi Shimon explains, “there ability to cause harm will be withdrawn”, i.e. vicious animals will exist but they will not harm man.
The great commentator, Ramban expands on the difference of opinion between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon. “According to Rabbi Yehudah who said that He will remove them from the world [entirely, the verse] is [to be understood] in its plain sense – the evil beasts will not come into their Land. For since their will be plentitude and abundance of blessing, and the cities will be full of people, [wild] beasts will not come into inhabited places. And according to Rabbi Shimon who says that He will cause them to cease from causing harm . . . this is the correct interpretation for when Israel observes the commandments, the Land of Israel will be like the world was at its beginning, before the sin of the first man, when no beast or creeping thing would kill a man . . . for dangerous beasts only prey [on human beings] on account of the sin of man . . . and now that the Land of Israel is in a state of perfection, the ways [of the beasts] will be withdrawn and they will return to the primal state from the time of their creation.”
It seems that the disagreement between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon is relevant not only to the wild beasts, but is a fundamental divergence of opinion on the issue of the existence of evil in the world. Will Tikkun Olam bring about, as Rabbi Yehudah teaches, the total eradication of evil from the world or will the evil be elevated to a state of goodness, as Rabbi Shimon teaches?
Possibly, we can say as is often the cases in disagreement between our sages, “these and those are words of the living God” and both of these opinion are based on the notion that Redemption will come in two stages. During the first stage we must battle evil and try to eradicate it and in the second stage, evil will transform into a more idyllic state in which goodness will be seen in it.
We must remember that we cannot reach the second stage without the battles of the first stage. Only after we combat evil can we reach the stage when we attempt to discover the goodness hidden within it.
In our generation, this idea is most poignant. On the one hand, Am Yisrael finds itself in a daily struggle with our enemies who attempt to kill us and remove us from Eretz Yisrael. We have no choice but to fight. On the other hand, we aspire to true peace and a time in peaceful relations with our neighbors. We must remember though, that in order to reach true peace, we must first combat evil. We must not let our dreams of peace for the future impact our ability to fight in the present. The vision of a world living in peace demands that we battle our enemies without compromise.
Yehi Ratzon – May we live to see the fulfillment of the promise to withdraw the wild beasts from the land.