By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
We will continue this week to explain the second of the 13 Principles of Jewish belief, as you requested:
Maimonides writes, “The second principle involves the Unity of God. We believe that the Cause of everything is One.”
“He is not one, however, like a member of a pair or species. He is furthermore not like a single object, which can be divided into a number of elements. He is not even like the simplest physical entity, which is still infinitely divisible. God is One in a unique way. There is no other unity like His.”
“The Torah teaches us this second principle when is says ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’ ” (The Shema; Deut. 6:4).
This principle, the Oneness of God, seems simple on the surface, but encompasses some of the most profound insights on the workings of the universe and everything that exists within it. It also defines many of the distinct differences existing between Judaism and Christianity, hence debunking the myth of a “Judeo-Christian” belief system.
One example is the understanding of the concept of the “devil.” It is true that both in Judaism and Christianity there exists a notion of the “devil.” In Christianity, however, like in Greek mythology, the “devil” is a manifestation of evil, which stands up to God and attempts to challenge Him and works against Him. It is a separate, independent power that God needs to contend with, a sort of anti-God. This is possible because in Christianity God’s Oneness and power are not absolute and complete.
Through the Jewish principle, however, we learn that Judaism is diametrically opposed to the Christian notion of the “devil.” In Torah thought, the “devil” which is called in Hebrew the satan, is also referred to as the yetzer hara, or “evil inclination.”
The Talmud explains this as an inclination endowed by God within us, which enables the internal struggle between good and evil. This is the foundation for free will that is at the core of our creation “in the image of God,” and is the underpinnings of our obligation and purpose of tikkun olam.
The rabbis teach that this power of evil is totally under God’s jurisdiction. In fact, our belief is that in Messianic times, we will no longer have a need for that struggle of good against evil, since the “evil inclination” will have already served its purpose. It will be eradicated from our hearts by God. This is a corollary of the principle of the Oneness of God; that no powers exist outside of Him or contrary to Him or His will.
The Kabbalistic masters take this a step further. The Oneness of God includes the belief that even the most evil of actions will, eventually, be revealed to somehow fit into God’s master plan. This is not to say that God in any way condones or desires these events or actions. If and when they are performed, it was only by way of man’s free will to choose to do things which are completely evil. The perpetrators of evil are fully responsible for their misdeeds.
What the Kabbalists mean to say, however, is that no power, including that of evil, is outside the jurisdiction of God. The positive side, the “silver lining” of evil’s existence will be revealed at the time all truth is revealed. In Messianic times, when God will play back the reel of history on the screen viewed by all of mankind, it will become apparent how the Oneness of God includes even those actions and events which were, in this world, contrary to His will.
The Kabbalists explain that the role of evil is as follows: When one is in an artificially lit room, the sight of real sunlight doesn’t have much of an effect. The darker the room, the greater effect the sunlight will have when opening the blinds. The greater the evil, the more the revelation the eventual radiant Messianic light will have upon all who will behold it and have it illuminate their souls. In this way, the darkness of evil fits into God’s master plan and fits into His Oneness.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.