The tug of war between good and evil

Dear Rabbi,
I have a question, which was assigned to my class by my religious-school teacher to research. Please answer with exact references. He said that it says in the Talmud that when Messiah comes God will slaughter the Satan. What does this mean? Why would God do this? Is Satan doing something wrong?

Dear Anna,
The quote from the Talmud is not precise, but it is basically correct, nevertheless. What I mean is that the Talmud (Tractate Sukkah, 52a) mentions that the “yetzer hara,” or “evil inclination,” will be killed by God in Messianic times. The Talmud in a different section says that the “Satan” is, indeed, the yetzer hara or evil inclination, (Talmud, Bava Basra 16a). Putting the two statements together will bring us to the conclusion that “Satan” will be killed in Messianic times. This indeed needs understanding and explanation.
The answer to your question is that “Satan” is truly not doing anything wrong. Jews do not believe, as do some other religions, that Satan is some self-sustaining evil force which battles against God. On the contrary, it was put into this world by God Himself for a very distinct, important purpose, one that it is doing well.
The understanding lies in the above Talmudic statement that the “Satan is the yetzer hara.” This means there is an inclination within us to perform acts of evil. This propensity is the antagonist to the inclination we all have to do good. This dichotomy creates an inner struggle, at times escalating into a tug of war, between these two deeply ingrained inner forces.
This struggle is not merely some secondary tension; it is, in fact, the stuff of life itself! Our purpose in this world, as human beings, is to emerge victorious from our internal struggle between good and evil.
If we would have only an inclination toward good — then we would not be human beings — but angels. We would not deserve reward for our good deeds, as we would be performing them as robots, programmed to do only good. Recompense is in order only if some difficulty was incurred through which, or despite which, the positive deed was achieved.
This goes a step deeper, to the very way God created the world. The Kabbalah teaches us that the world was created imperfectly. God, Who is perfect, could have created a perfect world. He chose to do otherwise, in order to give mankind a way to become His partners in the creation and perfection of the world.
This is the meaning of the term “tikkun olam,” perfecting the world. It is the way that we become partners in perfecting God’s world, thereby earning our stripes as human beings. Because through that partnership we fulfill our purpose in creation. The types of acts which are considered tikkun olam are deeds which are performed out of the struggle between good and evil.
The yetzer hara or Satan, representing the evil pull within us, provides that struggle. This is what enables us to fulfill our purpose as human beings and become partners with the Almighty in perfecting the world.
This answers your question that not only is “Satan” not doing anything wrong; God’s plan for the world could not be carried out without it!
That leads us to your first question: If “Satan” is doing nothing wrong why kill it?!
Imagine a child born crippled and could not walk without crutches, who after many years of struggle and physical therapy, joyously gives up his crutches. Someone approaches him and asks how can he give up his trusty, beloved crutches? They were so much a part of him for so many years, he couldn’t get around without them; he should still stay with them! The young man answers that, true, they were an integral part of his existence for the former part of his life; now he has entered a new state of being; one in which the crutches are, happily, superfluous.
The world we live in now is the world of the struggle, the tug of war; a state of existence which we could not experience without the “Satan” or yetzer hara. The messianic times are times of reward, in which we receive recompense for the years of struggle; at that time the struggle is over.
The Talmud compares Messianic times to that of Shabbat by saying “one who toils on Erev Shabbat (Friday) will eat on Shabbat.” This means that in Messianic times we no longer experience the struggle, but “eat” the reward of the struggle of old.
The Torah says of that time “He will circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Nachmanides (Ramban, 13th century) explains this to be the “circumcision” of the yetzer hara from our hearts in Messianic times.
With that will commence a new time of eternal Shabbat, a time of bliss and joy to eat the fruit of our efforts during the time we plowed, planted and harvested with great effort.

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