The time is late; less than two weeks to Rosh Hashanna and many of us are trying to fix our ways and prepare for the important festivals that lie ahead of us. After much painful introspection one is perhaps left with the question, why does G-d allow evil to exist? Why didn’t G-d make us like angels?
I wish to shed some light on this issue from a different angle entirely. From a perspective that deals with the very conception of the Jewish people.
G-d promised our Forefather Avraham that his children will be subjected to a painful exile, (Beraishit 13:15) before acquiring the land of Israel. Many Jewish philosophers over the years have asked why did this need to happen? Could G-d not have given us the Holy land immediately without the pain and suffering that pursued? The Zohar offers us an illuminating answer, one that touches on many realms of life. The people of Israel are like a rose that ultimately only grows amongst thorns. There and only there does the rose receive the sustenance it needs to flourish. So too Am Yisrael could only grow spiritually among the thorns of Egypt. It was only in this climate that our nation could install the lessons of eternity into her inner fabric.
One is still left with the question – why is this so?
Rav Soloveichik answers profoundly. It is because sometimes one can only appreciate good after one has come into contact with evil. In order to recognize and be sensitive to sanctity, one needs first to taste profanity.
The Jewish People were only able to appreciate the redeeming Torah they were about to receive because they had tasted life as servants in Egypt.
This idea is illustrated in the story of Yosef and his brothers. It seems obvious to us that murder, malicious talk and hatred are abhorrent. There is not a parent who would purposely educate his children in such a way. I am certain that Yaakov was no exception. How is it then that Yosef spoke evilly of his brothers and that they in turn hated him and considered murdering their own brother? How did they not heed the words of Yaakov?
The text gives a clear answer, it was only after the painful ordeal that Yosef and his brothers suffered in Egypt, that they recognized the eternity of Yaakov’s Torah. The Egyptian experience sensitized them to receive that which they had already known to be true.
It seems the same is true with many of us. Unfortunately, we do not always recognize the beauty and eternity of Torah. We often feel that we can find ourselves elsewhere. However, many times it is in those foreign fields that we find ourselves that we rediscover the profundity of the Torah and its lessons it has to offer. Painfully we discover that sin has taken us off our desired path and the goals it led us to were vain and false. The evils of sin themselves are often the catalyst that returns us to the heritage of the Fathers where we find true redemption.
And so at this late hour, closing in on Rosh HaShana, we begin to regret the sins that we have committed. However, sometimes it is only through this feeling and those terrible actions that we internalize the spiritual world that we had lost. In so doing, we elevate the sin and repatriate ourselves.