When we view all the diverse forces within the creation – including forces which seem to be opposite of each other – we are to remember the One and Unifying Source of all creation. This higher consciousness is expressed in the following Divine message:
“I am the One Who forms light and creates darkness; Who makes shalom and creates evil; I am Hashem, Maker of all these.” (Isaiah 45:7)
“Who makes shalom and creates evil” – The Hebrew word for evil is rah, and as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches, it is related to the Hebrew word rah’u’ah – broken, shattered (commentary to Genesis 2:9). Rabbi Hirsch explains that evil appears as something broken, when the moral harmony of the universe is disturbed, and when the whole is no longer ruled by a unifying purpose. The Unifying One Who made “shalom” – harmony, wholeness, and peace – also created the potential for rah which enables human beings to develop a “broken” world. Our prophets and sages indicate that there are profound and mystical reasons why this potential for rah exists. As human history demonstrates – beginning with the sin of Adam and Eve – human beings have the ability to actualize this potential for evil; nevertheless, deep within their souls, human beings have the potential and the power to do a tikun – fixing – of our broken world through rediscovering and actualizing the unifying Divine plan for the world.
In this letter we shall discuss a teaching about two morning prayers which use an euphemism for the word rah. The prayers within the Siddur – classical Prayer Book – were written by prophets and leading sages who also understood the deeper mystical meaning of each word; thus, I do not claim to know all the reasons why they chose to use an euphemism for rah within these morning prayers. I will, however, suggest two possible reasons:
1. The morning, with the rising of the sun, conveys a message of hope and rebirth – a message which is also expressed in the uplifting morning prayers. In order to preserve this hopeful and uplifting mood, an euphemism was used for the word rah within these morning prayers.
2. Our task is to eradicate rah from the world; thus, the use of an euphemism for rah alludes to the eventual disappearance of evil from the world.
We shall continue our discussion of the poetic song, Adon Olam. The next verse states:
“After all has ceased to be, the Awesome One will reign alone.”
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was a leading sage of the late 19th century and early 20th century who lived in Jerusalem, and he asked the following question regarding the above verse: If all ceases to exist, over what will God reign? By definition, “reigning” presupposes the existence of subjects over whom one rules!
Rabbi Sonnenfeld therefore explains that the verse does not literally mean that “all” will cease to exist, for within rabbinic literature, the word “all” is also used as an euphemism for evil; thus, the verse really means, “After evil has ceased to be.” The source for this explanation, says Rabbi Sonnenfeld, is in the Talmud (Brochos 11b). The Talmud discusses another verse from our morning prayers which describes Hashem as the One “Who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all.” The Talmud points out that this verse is based on the biblical verse, “I am the One Who forms light and creates darkness; Who makes peaces and creates evil” (Isaiah 45:7). The only difference between the verse in our prayers and the biblical verse is that the verse in our prayers replaces the word “evil” with “all.” The reason for this substitution, the Talmud briefly explains, is to avoid in this prayer the use of the pessimistic, negative-sounding word “evil.” The word “all” includes evil along with everything else in the universe, so that Hashem’s creation of evil can be insinuated through this word without mentioning it explicitly.
Rabbi Sonnenfeld concludes: Here too, in the Adon Olam, when the poet says, “After all has ceased to be,” he does not mean “all” literally, but rather uses it as an euphemism for evil. After evil has ceased to be, the Awesome One will reign alone.
How will the challenge of evil be eliminated? The beginning of an answer can be found in the following prophecy concerning the messianic age of universal enlightenment when the knowledge of the Compassionate and Life-Giving One will fill the earth:
“The earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed” (Isaiah 11:9).
In this age of universal enlightenment, all human beings will finally realize that they were created to serve the compassionate and life-giving Divine purpose; thus, “They will all proclaim the Name of Hashem and serve Him with a united resolve” (Zephaniah 3:9). Through this universal higher consciousness, evil will cease to be, and “the Awesome One will reign alone.” In this spirit, we say at the conclusion of each prayer service:
“Hashem will be the Sovereign over all the earth; on that day Hashem will be One and His Name One” (Zechariah 14:9).
At the dawn of this new age, when the Compassionate and Life-Giving One is recognized as the Sovereign of the earth, human arrogance and tyranny will cease; however, life on earth will not cease. In fact, the following prophecy reveals that life on earth will flourish in this new age, for humankind, together with all creatures, will once again experience the harmony and shalom of the Garden of Eden:
“The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper’s hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder’s lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
In the spirit of the above prophecy, we chant the following words during the prayers of Shabbos afternoon: “Human and animal You will save, Hashem” (Psalm 36:7).
Have a Good and Uplifting Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. On Shabbos and the Festivals, many Jewish communities sing Adon Olam at the end of the morning service.
2. The above teaching from Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld is found in a collection of his teachings on the weekly Torah portion titled: “Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld on the Parashah.” It was compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld and published by ArtScroll: www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home
The author of the above book also wrote a fascinating and inspiring biography of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld: “Guardian of Jerusalem.” Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld was a leading sage and community activist who was part of the Torah-observant community within the Land of Israel that preceded the secular Zionist movement. Rabbi Sonnenfeld felt that the secular Zionist ideology which viewed “nationalism” as the purpose of the Promised Land was an ideology that contributed to the “brokenness” of our people and the world. He therefore stressed that the unifying spiritual vision of the Torah serves as the purpose of the Land, which he described as, “the Holy Land to which G-d affords special supervision, from which blessing emanates to the rest of the world, and in which God’s prophets foresaw the future happiness of all humanity.” He urged Jewish men and women to rebuild the Land and work the Land with this sacred vision in mind; moreover, he himself was actively involved in expanding Jerusalem by building new neighborhoods outside the Old City walls, and he also was involved in the establishment of new agricultural settlements. The vision stressed by this sage is a vision of tikun which we all need, which may be why people from diverse Jewish communities have thanked me for recommending this book! The following is a direct link for additional information: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/GUAH