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Does G-d regret creating suffering and the exile?
(Based on Likkutei Sichos Parshas Ki Savo Vol. 24 Sicha 2)
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, ninety-eight curses are recorded which will befall the Jewish people as a result of sinful behavior. These curses can make the hair of any human being stand in fright, especially in light of the fact that after historical analyzation, one can see that all these evil curses indeed have occurred, as explained in the Mefarshim. This leads to a discussion as to whether evil, and the ensuing exile which comes as its result, is a good or bad thing for the Jewish people? When you look into the sources, there is an apparent contradiction in this matter. From some sources it is apparent that the existence of evil is beneficial for the Jewish people and is similar to a bitter medicine which is given to cure an illness. However, from other sources it seems that it is completely abhorrent, and that G-d regrets its existence every single day. In this talk the Rebbe compares notes between the Jerusalem versus the Babylonian Talmud in this regard. Both Talmuds state that G-d regrets creating the evil inclination although only one of them states that he regrets creating the exile. What is the reason for this discrepancy and do some opinions really believe that the exile was worth being created? The Rebbe offers several answers for the discrepancy through which we discover various perspectives on exile and evil, which provide us with the proper ammunition of life perspective to deal with the challenges of the exile, so we can more speedily usher the final redemption.
| Explorations of the Sicha:
1. The curses listed in the Torah and their purpose:
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, there are a total of 98 evil curses that Moshe writes will befall the Jewish people as a result of sinful behavior. After historical analyzation, one can see that these evil curses have all indeed occurred, as explained in the Mefarshim. What indeed is the purpose of these curses and of the horrific punishments? What does G-d want from us? There are three viewpoints on this matter: the first being the simplistic and pre-Chassidic perspective. The second being the perspective proliferated by the Baal Shem Tov and the Chassidic teachings, and the third being a novel perspective mentioned in this Sicha of the Rebbe.
- The simple perspective-Criminal justice: The perspective that some people have regarding these punishments is very simplistic, comparing it to the generally accepted concept of retribution and punishment found in the judicial system of every country in the world. A society creates laws for the benefit of the society and the protection of its inhabitants. If the laws have no way of being enforced, then they are in essence irrelevant, and are not worth the paper that they are written on, and do not benefit the society of which they govern. Thus, every government creates a criminal justice system and legislates punishments that are due to those citizens who transgress the laws that they have imposed. When such a citizen commits a felony and receives jail time or capital punishment, society views this very simplistically; as a way to a) bring suffering and retribution to the perpetrator for his crimes and help the victims see some closure, and b) to deter future people from committing such felonies, after they see that such crimes are duly prosecuted and that they cannot escape judgment. According to this perspective, the entire purpose of the punishment is solely to benefit the general society and is not there in any way to benefit the perpetrator. From his perspective, he has completely lost out, and is now paying the cost for his bad decisions. Some view the Torah’s punishments in the same light; that they are there in order to deter the Jewish people from transgressing G-d’s will, and to bring retribution and suffering to the transgressors. However, from the perspective of the transgressor, there is no benefit in it for him, and he is now destined for doom due to his serious offences against G-d. This view was the proliferated perspective of many members of world Jewry, prior to the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov.
- The deeper perspective-A doctor’s treatment of an injury: A deeper perspective into the purpose of punishment and retribution mentioned in the Torah is as follows: The purpose of the punishment is not just to deter future people from sinning, and is certainly not there solely in order to give pain to the transgressor and seek vengeance for the sake of quenching G-d’s anger. Rather the punishments are given as a form of cleansing for the soul of the perpetrator. Rather than viewing punishment through the eyes of the criminal justice system enacted by governments, we should view it as a doctor’s remedy for a sick patient to get better. For example, if an individual did not handle a piece of glass properly according to instructions, which resulted in lacerations all over his hand, no one would view the doctor’s actions to sterilize the wounds using alcohol and subsequent stitching as a punishment that the doctor is giving to the person for doing what he did. The doctor is simply treating and helping cure the injuries of the person. It is the same with the punishments mentioned in Torah. Their purpose is to help heal and cleanse the soul of the individual, and the interest of the Doctor who administrates them [i.e., G-d] is truly for the benefit of his patient and not to make him feel pain or get retribution. This perspective is capsulized in the statement of Rashi who states that the purpose of the punishments and curses is to help establish the Jewish people and solidify their stance before G-d, similar to a doctor who is there to heal. This perspective is the view that was spread by the Baal Shem Tov and his students and has been proliferated by the Chassidic teachings.
- An even deeper perspective-A doctors regiment for greater strength: An even deeper approach can be galvanized from the words of the Abarbanel and other Mefarshim who state that “One should know that the purpose of the curses mentioned in the Parsha are not a threat to scare people, but rather a holy prophecy to inform us of what will be in the future.” From these words it is implied that the curses contain some intrinsic benefit irrelevant to sinful behavior. In other words, that they’re not just coming to cure a self-obtained injury [i.e., sin], but are there to help boost one’s spiritual state and closeness to G-d, even an absence of sin. This is similar to a doctor prescribing a regiment of vitamins and pills for a healthy person, so he be even healthier and stronger and be capable of doing even more than he was capable of doing prior. A similar idea to this perspective can be found in the Talmudic statement that, “Three good presents were given to the Jewish people, and all were given through suffering,” from which we can learn that sometimes suffering does not come as a punishment or even cure of spiritual injury, but rather as a prelude to a gift from G-d. In another Talmudic statement in that same source, it says that just as a covenant was given regarding salt so too a covenant was given with suffering and justice, and just as salt sweetens, so too suffering cleanses. Meaning, that suffering is like a spice added to food, and just as spices are added to healthy foods so too suffering may come even to the spiritually healthy as an enhancement to their spiritual level. It is according to this perspective that the following Talmudic statement seems most puzzling, as explained next.
Summary-The purpose of Yissurim, the before and after effect of the Chassidic teachings:
Above, we explained three levels of understanding the purpose of suffering and the curses mentioned in Torah. From the viewpoint of the first simplistic perspective, suffering plays no benefit for the victim who is suffering, and it is done simply to teach the rest of society a lesson, and act as a future deterrent, and also to punish the person and give him pain as retribution for his actions. In this perspective, G-d is viewed as an angry father who in His state of anger desires for his son who rebelled against Him to feel pain for his actions, and punish him so that no one else in the family learn from his example. It is thus being done to benefit the father and not the son. In the second perspective, we explained that when G-d causes suffering, G-d is like a doctor trying to heal an injury of the individual. From this perspective, the suffering is done solely for the benefit of the individual who sinned, and it is specifically due to G-d’s love for the individual that he desires to heal him. Nonetheless, even from this perspective the entire concept of suffering is negative and simply done to heal a wound that should have never happened to begin with. However, in the third perspective suffering is viewed as a necessary component for a person’s continued growth in his relationship with G-d and is G-d’s way of helping the individual to reach an even higher state in their relationship.
Why would G-d create suffering as a means for growth in our relationship with him?
The third perspective brought above, in addition to having challenges from Talmudic statements which simply contradict its notion, as will be explained next, also raises the major philosophical and moral question as to why G-d would choose suffering as a means of growing in a relationship even if one has not sinned against Him. Perhaps we can provide an extraordinary parable of the Maharal of Prague to answer this question.
A Mashal of the Maharal-Hashem loves broken vessels:
The Maharal in his Sefer Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Hateshuvah 1, writes the following parable to explain why Hashem agrees to accept Teshuvah for a sinner, as opposed to the levels of “Chochmah, Nevuah, Torah,” of which the Midrash states then upon being asked they did not reply that Teshuvah is an option for the sinner. The Mashal is as follows: A certain King owned a most precious vase of which is craftsmanship was one of a kind and considered priceless. a certain servant in the King’s Palace accidentally broke the vase and was stricken with panic and fear as to what he can do to remedy his situation. He visited a number of people and advisers to the King who told him that there’s really no remedy and he will have to suffer the consequences of his actions, which will surely be death. He visited the original craftsman who told him that it would be impossible to repair it to the same level that it was originally, and that even this would take years to do. Therefore, he advised him to go to the King himself and confess to him what he is done and perhaps the King will have mercy. The servant followed this advice and went to have an audience with the King. He came before the King broken hearted, and poured out his heart before him, confessing to him for his negligent actions which led to the breaking of this most precious vessel, and begging him to have mercy on him. The King looked at his subject who was so sincere and honest, and told him that he had nothing to worry about, as it is precisely the broken vessels that he most desires.
This parable of the Maharal is most profound and is coming to explain how a Baal Teshuvah can be beloved by G-d even more than a Tzadik, as Chazal state that in an area that a Baal Teshuvah stands even a Tzadik Gamur cannot stand. The explanation is, that G-d specifically wants and desires those who are broken hearted, and naturally one who has sinned and has now repented is more broken hearted than the righteous. In the Nimshal, we can say that the precious vessel of the King is similar to the G-dly soul of a Jew, and when one sins, he breaks the soul and causes it to be damaged. When he then repents, He comes before G-d with a broken soul, and it is specifically this type of soul that G-d desires. Why? As the entire purpose of the Jewish religion and the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos is to become nullified to G-d, to become submissive to Him, and to cleave to Him.
Purpose of suffering is so we become submissive to G-d:
Ego and Gaava is the antitheses of Kedusha and as the Talmud states in Miseches Sota that “I and him cannot live together.” Meaning, that even if a Jew is very righteous and scholarly, and fulfills all the details of the Torah religiously, it is possible for his ego and arrogance to prevent any true and meaningful relationship with Hashem. His ego prevents him from being properly submissive to G-d. He is similar to a wealthy and successful career wife who is unable to be submissive to her not so successful husband who can’t seem to hold a job. So too, one’s ego may make him so full of himself that he can miss recognizing G-d’s greatness which demands his submissiveness. It is for this reason that a Baal Teshuvah who is naturally broken hearted due to his sins has an advantage over the successful servant of Hashem, known as a Tzadik, as he, the Baal Teshuvah, excels in being more submissive to Hashem. Perhaps, one can suggest similarly, that the purpose of suffering is to help the person become more submissive to G-d and bring him to broken heartedness which will then lead to an even greater relationship between him and Hashem. Thus, suffering is not just for the sinful, and as retribution, or as a medicinal cure, for an injury of sin, but is also meant for the righteous so he can be brought to a higher level of Bittul to Hashem.
2. G-d regrets creating the evil inclination, and the exile:
Based on the above perspective, suffering and punishment serve a purpose of refining the soul, the following Talmudic statement seems puzzling: The Talmud states: There are four matters that G-d [daily] regrets creating:
- The exile.
- The Casdian people [i.e., Persians, referring to the Babylonian exile]
- The Yishmaelim [referring to the current exile]
- The evil inclination.
From the above it can be understood that the exile, and all of the ensuing punishments that it consists of, is not a benefit to the Jewish people, as if it were of benefit, why then would G-d regret creating it?
3. The version of the Jerusalem Talmud versus the Babylonian Talmud:
Indeed, in the Jerusalem Talmud we find that when it lists the above matters that G-d regrets, it only lists three of the matters found in the Babylonian Talmud and omits listing the exile. From here it would seem, that according to the Jerusalem Talmud, G-d does not regret creating the exile as in truth it contains a benefit, as stated above. However, according to the Babylonian Talmud which does list it, it appears that they take the first perspective brought above in 1, that punishment and exile is simply retribution for sin and part of criminal justice, and therefore G-d regrets having created it being that they are essentially evil. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accept this as the solution between the discrepancies of the two Talmud’s, due to the following general difficulty that the statements found in both Talmud’s contain.
4. How could G-d regret something that He created?
The famous Mishneh in Avos states: “Everything that G-d has created in his world, was created only for his honor.” If so, it is evident that also the Casdian, Yishmaeilim, and Yetzer Hara were created for a good purpose, for the glory of G-d. In some Sefarim, this is explicitly stated regarding the evil inclination that it was created for G-d’s glory. Hence, how can the Talmud state that G-d regretted creating these matters, when they serve Him a purpose and are for His glory. The same question would likewise apply towards the inclusion of G-d regretting the exile according to the Babylonian Talmud, as how can G-d regret something that was created for His glory.
5. Regret by G-d means that it is only temporarily desired:
The above question can be answered by redefining the concept of regret as it applies to G-d. Normally, regret refers to that one completely regrets having made the choice to begin with, and if he would be given the choice again, he would choose differently. However, by G-d, this is not the definition of His regret, as everything that He has created has a purpose and function which benefits Him and His glory, some through positive creations, such as the Torah and the Jewish people, and some through negative actions, such as the evil inclination. Rather, regret in the G-dly sense refers to a negative aspect within the creation that is only there for temporary purposes to help shine G-d’s glory, and when that purpose is exhausted the creation no longer has a reason to exist. In other words, when G-d says that he regrets something he is in essence telling us that the matter will not exist forever due to its negative connotation, and that its existence is only temporarily desired. Thus, there is no contradiction between our conclusion above that the purpose of suffering and exile is to refine and benefit the Jew, and the fact that the Talmud states that G-d regrets creating it, being that this is not a true regret, but simply a statement that it will not last forever. Based on this explanation we can now understand the discrepancies between the Babylonian versus the Jerusalem Talmud’s.
6. The Babylonian Talmud is more detailed while the Jerusalem Talmud is more general:
In truth, one can explain that there is no contradiction at all between the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud regarding if G-d regrets creating the exile, as according to both Talmuds He certainly does. Just as G-d regrets creating the evil inclination, as list both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud, so too he regrets the exile which is a result of the evil inclination. The reason that the Jerusalem Talmud does not explicitly state this, is because the Jerusalem Talmud in general does not go into so much detail, and since it can be understood from its listing of the evil inclination, therefore it was not explicitly stated. However, the Babylonian Talmud does list all the details of a subject even if they can be inferred on their own, and therefore it explicitly lists that G-d also regretted the exile.
However, this answer does not suffice as in truth, even according to the Babylonian Talmud there is no need to explicitly mention the exile if it is totally the result of the evil inclination which is already regretted by G-d, and hence the fact that it mentions it explicitly must be to negate something that the Jerusalem Talmud does not agree with.
7. Did G-d truly create the exile?
The above can be understood through first introducing another question on the above Talmudic statement. It says that G-d regretted creating the exile, however, in truth He did not create it, and its entire existence is dependent on how the Jewish people behave. The exile was created as a result of our sins. Why then does it say that G-d regrets creating it?
To answer the above we must conclude that the regret of G-d is not of the fact that He created punishment in general, which is something that we have created due to our sin, but rather that he has created exile as an option of punishment. There are many punishments available before G-d and it was not necessary for him to specifically create exile as a punishment for sin and he could’ve created other punishments in its place. This then is the intent of the Babylonian Talmud in its statement that G-d regretted creating the exile, and it is for this reason that it had to explicitly mention it, as it is not obvious that G-d regretted creating the option of exile as rectification for sinful activity. According to this it ends up that the Jerusalem Talmud holds that G-d does not regret creating the exile as a form of punishment for sin, but simply regrets creating the inclination which can cause one to sin.
However, in truth we can offer a deeper perspective as to the debate between the two Talmud’s.
8. The exile contains a positive and negative aspect:
Earlier we explained that when we speak of G-d regretting having created certain things, it is not in the literal sense that He regrets having ever done it, but rather that its existence is only temporarily necessary. This means that in truth even the things that G-d “regrets” having made, contain an aspect of goodness within them, for which purpose he made them. Now, although we stated that all items that G-d regrets creating will only last temporarily and be eradicated in the future era, this only refers to its evil aspects and connotations, however it’s good aspects will remain forever. It is regarding this respect that the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud argue. The Babylonian Talmud lists all items which contain evil aspects and connotations which will not be around in the future. This remains true of all the four matters that the Babylonian Talmud listed, including the exile, as all four of them contain negative aspects and these negative aspects will not be around in the future.
However, the Jerusalem Talmud lists only those items that contain also a good aspect that will last forever, and for this reason omits listing the exile being that it will not be around in the future at all in any way. However, the Casdians, and Yishmaelim, and evil inclination will be around in the future and thus are listed by the Jerusalem Talmud. The evil aspect of all these matters will become extinct and hence the Casdians and Yishmaelim will no longer harm the Jewish people, and on the contrary will become their friends and benefit them. The same applies regarding the evil inclination, in the future it is only the evil of the inclination that will be nullified, while its essential energy will remain and be channeled for good. However, the exile will be completely eradicated in the future era and therefore the Jerusalem Talmud does not list it with the other three of which the emphasis is on their eternal good aspect.
9. The lesson: The exile will be nullified
The Divine lessons that can be derived from all of this are as follows:
- First and foremost, one must be aware that the exile is something that G-d regrets creating. G-d does not desire heaven forbid that the Jewish people remain in the exile, and it is important that we know this information so that we do not remain complacent to the exile. Rather, one is to despise the exile and desire its end. When a Jew feels G-d forbid, that the exile is an ideal state for the Jewish people, he is saying the opposite of the will of G-d, being that G-d Himself regrets making the exile, and the exile is simply a result of sinful activity.
- On the other hand, one must beware from falling into despair due to the exile. Rather, one is not to be intimidated by it and know that very soon it will become nullified.
- One should not be intimidated from the Gentile nations who oppose and challenge them, as their entire existence is not permanent and true, as they are also regretted and will have at least their evil aspects completely eradicated in the future. Accordingly, one should boldly step up and face the Gentiles regarding all matters relating to the Jewish religion, and not be intimidated by them.
 See Ramban Ki Savo 28:42 and Bechukosaiy 26:16 that the curses of Parshas Bechokosaiy were fulfilled during the first Temple era and its ensuing exile, while the curses of Parshas Ki Savo have been fulfilled by the second Temple era and throughout our current exile; See also Abarbanel Ki Savo 28:15 and Akeida Ki Savo Shaar 98
 This perspective is explained in Likkutei Sichos 23:114. The novelty of the Sicha in Ki Savo is the perspective that follows
 Abarbanel Ki Savo 28:15 and onwards
 See Ramban Ki Savo 28:42; Akeida Ki Savo Shaar 98
 Brachos 5a
 Sukkah 52b
 Dikdukei Sofrim ibid
 See Ramban, brought in Rikanti Bechukosaiy
 Taanis 3:4
 Avos Chapter 6