ESSAY: The Soul of Evil
The secret that terrified Moses and liberated the soul
THE WRITTEN WORD: The Rebbe on the
As early as 1963, the Rebbe offered this analysis of the
return to roots movement and proposed a plan of
A TELLING STORY: Publicity
Its nice to sound your horn, but remember to save
some of your breath for the task at hand
The Soul of Evil
And G-d said to Moses: Come to Pharaoh; for I have
hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants in order
that I might show My signs in their midst...
Why does it say, Come to Pharaoh? It should
have said, Go to Pharaoh .... But G-d brought
Moses into a chamber within a chamber, to the... supernal
and mighty serpent from which many levels evolve...which Moses
feared to approach himself...
Zohar, part II, 34a
Among the fifty-three sections of the Torah, several stand
out as milestones in its narrative of the history of humanity
and of the people of Israel. The section of Bereishit
recounts G-ds creation of the world in six days and
Adams banishment from Eden; Lech Lecha
describes Abrahams journeys to bring the truth of the
One G-d to a pagan world; Yitro includes the revelation
at Sinai and the giving of the Torah to Israel; and so on.
A list of pivotal Torah sections would certainly include
the section of Bo (Exodus 1013), which tells
of the exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt.
The Exodus marked our birth as a people,
and we are enjoined to "Remember the day that you went
out of Egypt, all the days of your life."
Indeed, when G-d revealed Himself to us at Sinai, He introduced
Himself not as the Creator of heaven and earth, but as ...your
G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt!
For the defining element of our relationship with G-d is not
that we are beings created by Him (of which there are many
others in G-ds world), but that we are free beingsbeings
in whom He has invested of His own infinity and eternity,
beings empowered by Him to transcend the constraints of the
material world and the limits of their own natures.
Bo means come. The name derives from the
sections opening verse, in which G-d instructs Moses
to come to Pharaoh to warn him of the seventh
plague (the plague of locusts) and once again deliver the
divine demand that the ruler of Egypt set free the children
The Torah considers the name of a thing to be the articulation
of its essence;
certainly, such is the case with the Torahs own names
for itself and its components. The name of a Torah section
always conveys its primary message and the common theme of
all its subsections and narratives.
One would therefore expect the section of the Exodus to be
called Exodus, Freedom, or some other
name that expresses the significance of this defining event
in the history of Israel. Instead, it derives its name from
Moses coming to Pharaohan event that seems but
a preliminary to the Exodus. Indeed, the concept of the leader
of Israel coming to Pharaohs palace to petition him
to let the Jewish people goimplying that the Jews are
still subservient to Egypt and its rulerseems the very
antithesis of the Exodus!
The phrase Come to Pharaoh also evokes much discussion
in the commentaries. Why does G-d tell Moses to come
to Pharaoh? Would it not have been more appropriate to say,
Go to Pharaoh?
The Zohar explains that Moses feared confronting Pharaoh
inside his palace, at the hub of his power. (On earlier occasions,
Moses had been directed to meet Pharaoh in other places, such
as on the kings morning excursions to the Nile). So G-d promised Moses that He Himself would
accompany him to Pharaoh. The word come is thus
to be understood in the sense of come with me;
G-d is saying to Moses, Come with Me to Pharaoh.
The Zohar goes on to say that Moses is being invited by G-d
to meet with the innermost essence of Egypts ruler and
god. Thus we have another meaning of the phrase Come
to Pharaohcome in the sense of enter
within. To liberate the people of Israel from the great
and mighty serpent, it was not enough to merely go to
Pharaoh; Moses had to enter into the core of Pharaoh, into
the very root of his power.
Who is Pharaoh and what does he represent? What is his innermost
essence? Why did Moses dread confronting Pharaoh in
his palace if G-d Himself had sent him there? And how does
coming into Pharaoh hold the key for the Exodus
from Egypt and the liberation of the soul of man?
The prophet Ezekiel describes Pharaoh as the great
serpent who couches in the midst of his streams, who says:
My river is my own, and I have made myself. In other words, the evil of Pharaoh is not defined by the promiscuity
that characterized the pagan cults of Egypt; not by his enslavement
and torture of millions; not by his bathing in the blood of
slaughtered children; but by his egocentrism, by his regarding
his own self as the source and standard for everything.
For this is the root of all evil. Self-centeredness might
seem a benign sin compared to the acts of cruelty and depravity
to which man can sink, but it is the source and essence of
them all. When a person considers the self and its needs to
be the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, his moralityand
he might initially be the most moral of menis devoid
of significance. Such a person is ultimately capable of committing
any act, should he regard it as crucial to himself or to his
self-defined vision of reality.
Ultimately, every good deed is an act of self-abnegation,
and every evil deed is an act of self-deification. When a
person does a good deedwhether it involves contributing
a single coin to charity or devoting an entire lifetime to
a G-dly causehe is saying: there is something greater
than myself to which I am committed. When a person violates
the divine willwhether with a minor transgression or
with the most heinous of crimeshe is saying: My
river is my own, and I have made myself; good is what
is good to me, evil is what is contrary to my will; I am the
master of my reality, I am god.
So is the ego evil? Is this fundamental component of our
soul an alien implant that must be uprooted and discarded
in our quest for goodness and truth?
In the final analysis, it is not. For the cardinal law of
reality is that There is none else besides Himthat nothing is contrary to,
or even separate from, the Creator and Source of all. The
ego, the sense of self with which we are born, also derives
from G-d; indeed, it is a reflection of the divine ego.
Because G-d knows Himself as the only true existence, we,
who were created in His image, possess an intimation of His
sense of self in the form of our own concept of
the self as the core of all existence.
It is not the ego that is evil, but the divorcing of the
ego from its source. When we recognize our own ego as a reflection
of G-ds ego and make it subservient to His,
it becomes the driving force in our efforts to make the world
a better, more G-dly place. But the same ego, severed from
its divine moorings, begets the most monstrous of evils.
When G-d commanded Moses to Come to Pharaoh,
Moses had already been going to Pharaoh for many months. But
he had been dealing with Pharaoh in his various manifestations:
Pharaoh the pagan, Pharaoh the oppressor of Israel, Pharaoh
the self-styled god. Now he was being told to enter into the
essence of Pharaoh, into the soul of evil. Now he was being
told to penetrate beyond the evil of Pharaoh, beyond the mega-ego
that insists I have created Myself, to confront
Pharaohs quintessence: the naked I that
stems from the very self of G-d.
Moses did not fear the evil of Pharaoh. If G-d had sent him,
G-d would protect him. But when G-d told him to enter into
the essence of Pharaoh, he was terrified. How can a human
being behold such a pure manifestation of the divine truth?
A manifestation so sublime that it transcends good and evil
and is equally the source of both?
Said G-d to Moses: Come to Pharaoh. Come with
Me, and together we will enter the great serpents palace.
Together we will penetrate the self-worship that is the heart
of evil. Together we will discover that there is neither substance
nor reality to evilthat all it is, is the misappropriation
of the divine in man.
If this truth is too terrifying for a human being to confront
on his own, come with Me, and I will guide you. I will take
you into the innermost chamber of Pharaohs soul, until
you come face to face with evils most zealously guarded
secret: that it does not, in truth, exist.
When you learn this secret, no evil will ever defeat you.
When you learn this secret, you and your people will be free.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Bo, 5752 (January
The Rebbe on the 60s
The following is a freely-translated excerpt from a letter
the Rebbe wrote in the summer of 1963 to a leading American
...Every generation has its particular quality, unique to
In our generation, particularly in the last few years, we
are witnessing a spiritual awakening, which is being calledthough
those who have called it so are unaware of the true significance
of the term they have coineda return to roots.
Regardless of how it is being currently understood, the quest
to return to roots is, in essence, the souls
quest for teshuvah, for reunion with its source in
We are seeing this awakening primarily among the youth, who
experience everything with a greater depth and a greater intensity.
Young people also have no fear of changing their lifestyle,
as long as they are convinced that they are being given the
truth, without compromise and equivocation.
This is particularly the case with the youth of our country.
In other countries, there is a double hurdle to be overcome:
first one must uproot the false ideologies that have become
ingrained in certain circles also among the younger generation,
and only afterward is it possible to implant the proper ideas
in their minds. This is not the case in this country, where
the youth is virgin soil, if only they are given the truth
in its purity. We have witnessed in actuality that those who
are not intimidated and present the truth without equivocation,
have been met with a true response among the youth.
I dont want to be critical, but I am forced to note
that, to our great misfortune, this awakening has not been
utilized, thus far, by those who purport to be the leaders
and spiritual guides of their communities, certainly not to
the extent that it could have been utilized.
Our sages have taught that The deed is the primary
thing. It therefore goes without saying
that the purpose of my writing all this is not for the sake
of discussion, but in the hope that you and your colleagues
will launch a broad and spirited effort to encourage this
awakening andmost importantlyto have it translate
into concrete changes in the day-to-day life of all those
to whom this call can reach.
This is a matter of spiritual life and death. So one is obliged
to do all that is in ones power, even if one sees but
a small chance at success.
May the Almighty grant that our efforts should reveal and
awaken the inner core of the soul within each of our brethren,
which is ever faithful to G-d and is always desirous to fulfill
His will. When we will each do all that is dependent
upon us, with the confidence that we are acting as emissaries
of the Almightyand sound our call with words coming
from the heart, which are guaranteed to enter the heart and
have their desired effectwe are certain to succeed...
Whenever he heard of yet another eager disciple of the Advertising
Ages doctrine of self-promotion, the chassid Rabbi Moshe
Rubin would smile and tell his steamboat story:
A new steamboat was being launched. The crowd waiting at
the pier was much impressed by the sonorous blasts being emitted
by its steam horn. Again and again it blew, each blast a resounding
testimony to the tremendous power of its engine.
But when the time came for it to begin moving through the
water, the boat could only drift listlessly. All its steam
had been spent sounding its horn.
from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Ezekiel 16. Cf. Mechilta, Beshalach 14:30; Midrash
Tehillim 107:4; Yalkut Shimoni on Deuteronomy 4:34; et
. Deuteronomy 16:3a commandment we fulfill
by reciting the third section of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41)
every morning and evening (see Passover Haggadah, s.v. Amar
Rabbi Elazar; see also Talmud, Pesachim 116b).
. The first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:2.
. See Genesis 2:19; Midrashim and commentaries on
verse; Tanya, part II, ch. 1.
. Often, the name of a Torah section seems to merely
derive from its opening verses, with little visible connection
to its overall contents. For example, Chayei Sarah
(The Life of Sarah) actually begins with Sarahs
death and burial, and goes on to recount events occurring
after her demise. But an in-depth examination and analysis
of a sections contents always reveal that its common
theme and axial principle are expressed by its name (see
Likkutei Sichot, vol. V, p. 57ff.; vol. XV, p. 145ff.; vol.
XVI, p. 200ff.; et al. See also The Human Story
in Twelve Words, WIR, vol. IX, no. 15).
. Cf. Exodus 7:15, 8:17, et al.
. Sefer HaSichot 5752, vol. I, pp. 280ff.
. Ethics of the Fathers 1:17.
. Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce 2:20.
. Igrot Kodesh, vol. XXII, pp. 472-473.
. The Albany Haggadah, p. 10.