I pray for the vision of Rabbi Shimon and for the sanctification of every aspect of our lives and our nature.
What kind of world will exist “at the end of the days,” the period of the Messiah and human redemption?
The opening of the Torah portion harkens the messianic dream, the goal of human history. God promises the Israelites that if they maintain His laws and commandments, their physical needs will be taken care of. “I will cause evil beasts to cease (v’hishbati) from the land; neither shall the sword go through your land.”
How are we to understand “cause to cease”? Rabbi Yehuda defines v’hishbati as God causing these “evil beasts” to disappear from the world, that God will destroy them. However, Rabbi Shimon interprets the word to mean that God will cause their evil nature to be destroyed.
How does Judaism deal with the problem of evil in the world? Is it an objective force which must be destroyed, or can even evil be uplifted and redeemed if we perceive the positive essence of every aspect of creation and utilize it for good? Rabbi Shimon truly believes that the task of the individual is to sanctify everything; he maintains virtually everything can be brought within the domain of the sacred.
On the other hand, Rabbi Yehuda is not so optimistic and recognizes evil. Hence he emphasizes the biblical command “and you shall burn out the evil from their midst.”
The period between Passover and Shavuot is the count of days between the physical and incomplete redemption of the broken matzah and our advancement to the spiritual, all-embracing redemption of the Torah we received at Sinai. The cĥametz (leavening) is the symbol of raw emotions and physical instincts; it “ceases to exist” by destruction on Passover.
On Shavuot, however, it will be sanctified. What was evil seven weeks ago has now been redeemed. If anything, Shavuot is a manifestation of the redemption of evil, of our vision of the possibility of dedicating every aspect of our existence to God.
Rabbi Yehuda insists on a time when all that is evil will be obliterated from the Earth; Rabbi Shimon maintains the fundamental nature of the world will not change, wild animals will still roam the forests, but their force and vigor will be utilized positively.
Rabbi Yehuda sees the millennium as devoid of Amalek, the nation bent on the destruction of Israel; our Bible commands us to “destroy the memory of Amalek.” Perhaps Rabbi Shimon would see the millennium as being devoid of the memory of the ancient Amalek, for Amalek at that time will repent and convert to Judaism.
Does our Talmud not record that the grandchildren of Haman (the Amalekite) taught Torah in Bnei Brak? I pray for the vision of Rabbi Shimon and for the sanctification of every aspect of our lives and our nature.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.