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Root Causes of Evil

As of this writing, the country is still reeling from the devastating terror attack at the Boston Marathon that claimed countless victims. One killer is dead and the other is in custody, but their motives are still shrouded in mystery. What possessed them to wreak such havoc, cause such carnage? Even before the perpetrators were identified, there were calls by politicians to “consider the root causes” that may have impelled them to perform these horrific acts.

What could the root cause of such evil be? Is there any grievance, any form of mistreatment that could ever justify lashing out at innocents with such barbarity? Is there any benefit to exploring the root causes of this attack – perhaps to prevent them from ever occurring again?

We find an analysis of the “root causes” of evil in the first Chassidic discourse of the Previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson. In the discourse “Amalek Is the First Among Nations,” the Rebbe explores the nature of evil and how it will finally be eradicated. The spiritual root of all evil is Amalek, the nation that we are commanded to wipe out and leave no trace.

One of the characteristics of Amalek is its brazenness – the sheer outrageousness of its evil. It has no inner content, no motivation or organizing principle. Amalek is evil for the sake of evil; violence for the sake of violence. And this type of kelipah (evil) can never be modified or elevated. It can only be destroyed. This evil cannot be removed through understanding or analysis.

What, then, can be done to be rid of such evil? A verse in Job (23:3) states, “He has set a limit to darkness.” Evil exists only because G-d allows it to exist, because He provides it with life-force, without which no creation could sustain itself. But G-d has set a limit to darkness, and has limited the time during which kelipah can derive nourishment from holiness. Once that time expires, the evil will cease to exist, as if it never was.

G-d will put an end to evil with the coming of Moshiach. However, there are two ways that Moshiach can come: Either he will come at a predetermined time that G-d decided, or, if we are especially worthy, G-d will hasten his arrival.

The same is true of the end to evil. If the Redemption comes at the predetermined time, evil will simply vanish from the face of this earth. If it is hastened, however, evil will be eradicated through transformation. The qualities of evil will be applied to holy purposes.

The word darkness in Hebrew, Choshech, has three letters, chet, shin, and kof. The word can be thought of as an acronym for three animals: a donkey (chamor), ox (shor), and dog (kelev). These animals are associated with negative traits: a donkey is dull and stubborn, an ox is destructive, and a dog is shameless and insolent. Yet each of these traits can be harnessed to positive ends. One can use the persistence of the donkey to apply oneself to Torah study; the “goring” of an ox is a metaphor for debate and parry by Torah scholars; and the impetuousness of the dog can be channeled to be hasty in the fulfillment of mitzvot.

The way to win the battle against evil is not by assiduously studying it to find the “root causes.” The only way to drive away darkness is to increase light. That will bring an end to all sorrow and pain, with the full revelation of Moshiach.


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