Does G-d regret creating punishment and the exile?
[Based on Likkutei Sichos Parshas Ki Savo Vol. 24 Sicha 2]
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, we read in Shishi of 98 evil curses that Moshe writes 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 it is beneficial for the Jewish people and a 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 delves into the various perspectives on exile and evil, and provides 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. Are the curses a punishment or a cleansing?
2. Does G-d regret evil and the exile?
3. The contradiction the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud in the above matter.
4. The difference of perspective between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.
5. The Divine lessons that can be learned from the above in dealing with exile.
The curses listed in the Torah and their purpose:
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, we read in Shishi of 98 evil curses that Moshe writes 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. What indeed is the purpose of these curses and horrific punishments? What does God want from us?
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 doctors 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 the 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.
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 states 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 that 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 with salt so to 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 state. This perspective is the view that was spread by the Baal Shem Tov and his students and has been proliferated by the Chassidic teachings. It is according to this perspective that the following Talmudic statement seems most puzzling.
G-d regrets creating the evil inclination, and the exile:
- The exile.
- The Casdian people [i.e. Persians, referring to the Babylonian exile]
- The Yishmaeilim [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 a benefit that without it the benefit could not be attained, why then would G-d regret it?
The version of the Jerusalem Talmud:
Indeed, in the Jerusalem Talmud we find that when it lists the above matters that G-d regrets, it only lists three matters found in the list in the Babylonian Talmud, and omits the listing of 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, it would appear that they take the first perspective that punishment an exile is simply retribution and part of criminal justice, and therefore G-d regrets having created them being that they are essentially evil. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accept this as the solution between the discrepancies of the two Talmuds, due to the following general difficulty that the statements found in both Talmuds have.
How could G-d regret something that He created?
The famous Mishneh in Avos states: “Everything that God is 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.
 See also Likkutei Sichos 23:114
 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
 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