Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

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Note: The following is the way I understood and applied Rav Yitzchok Hutner's words and ideas, it is not meant as a translation or definition of his works.

Permeating the works of Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) was the idea of the struggle between Good and Evil that takes on different forms over time but is essentially the same struggle over and over and over again. The original antecedents of this struggle are the good Adam HaRishon (Adam the First Man) versus his arch-rival and nemesis the evil Nachash HaKadmoni (Primordial Serpent). While the Torah describes the origins of Adam and his wife Chava, it does not tell us anything about the origins of the Serpent who tricks Adam and Eve to eat from the Etz Hada'as Tov Vara (Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) from which God had forbidden them to eat on pain of death, as stated in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.

It is shocking for modern minds to hear that a genuine Torah thought system actually believes in the notion of so-called "original sin" but Rav Hutner emphasized over and and over again that the struggle between the striving for goodness of humankind and the evil nature of the primordial serpent will continue until the end of time when the so-called natural order of the world will be reversed with the defeat of all Evil by the forces of Good. Evil is a multi-pronged monster that manifests itself in many ways: It is the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) that lurks inside every human being. It is the Satan (Accuser) that accuses people of their sins and sentences them to die. It is the Malach Hamaves (Angel of Death) who executes humans and kills them ending their lives and it is the Accusing Angel that confronts the departed in the Next World when they face their Yom Hadin (Day of Judgment).

Once Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they imbibed and internalized evil so that their entire system was contaminated. Most of humanity is enveloped in this evil that is connected to Death because God warned Adam and Eve that on the day they eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they will surely die. Evil, suffering and death all go together. It becomes the task of the Jewish People and of Righteous Gentiles to work on themselves to remove Evil from themselves by cleansing themselves spiritually through prayer and Torah study and physically by practicing the Mitzvos (Commandments) and doing acts of Chesed (Loving Kindness).

Not all people suffer from evil in the same way and hence they have different routes to follow in cleansing themselves of it. Some people have a natural clear-cut compartmentalization of good from evil within themselves and they can therefore accordingly clearly identify and remove that evil. Others have a mixed together combination of good and evil within themselves and it is a much harder job for them to work on identifying the evil within themselves and ridding themselves of it. Some are very righteous and do not have any real hard core evil in their system so that their job is more rarefied to find the minutest threads of evil in their characters and personalities that are only dormant but nevertheless still need work, or sometimes simply suffering for no apparent reason, to be removed.

This touches on the existential dilemma of "Tzadik Vera Lo, Rasha Vetov Lo" that of the "Righteous who suffers, and the Wicked who flourishes" that goes into a domain that exhausts the capacities of human minds to comprehend. For example, the death by torture of Rebbi Akiva is questioned by the heavenly angels themselves but God tells them to be silent because it is the Divine Will. Basically it is when the Middas Hachesed (Divine Attribute of Mercy) is cast aside and in its place the Middas Hadin (Divine Attribute of Judgment) kicks in as the standard by which some of the righteous are judged so as to remove any last blemish or thread of any possible remnant of Evil that is to be expunged by the flames of fire much like a food vessel is made kosher when exposed to white hot heat.

When the Nachash Hakadmoni (primordial serpent) seduced Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil he infected her and all mankind subsequently with his "Zuhama" (Evil Spirit) and in fact Humankind was mostly sick with Evil until the birth and appearance of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, Rochel and Leah who start to bring true Good into the world by creation of the Children of Israel.

The Nachash (serpent) does not disappear from the stage of human history after he is punished and banished from the Garden of Evil, on the contrary he is ever-present both above and below the surface in the form of the "evil that lurks in the hearts of men" as well as the evil that prowls the surface of the Earth in all its forms. The Tikkun (rectification) of the Chet (sin) of Adam and Eve who had disobeyed the one commandment that God gave them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good Evil truly begins with Abraham being subjected to Ten Tests, the last of which is the Akeida (The binding of Isaac) when God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar and Abraham was willing to obey this command. In the end God stops Abraham from slaughtering his son and in return Abraham is rewarded with God's blessings. This willingness to do the ultimate sacrifice will be a merit for the Children of Israel until the end of time.

Isaac was tested with the birth of twin sons Esau and Jacob. Esau is called Esav Harasha (Esau the Wicked) who is an embodiment of an evil "anti-Adam" that is a manifestation of the Serpent's evil nature, while Jacob is the Bechir Shebeavos (best of the [Jewish] forefathers) embodying human perfection and total goodness. The trickery that Jacob uses and that Isaac's wife Rebecca uses is to counter the evil Esau which is not so apparent to Isaac. This is a Midda Keneged Midda (measure for measure) against the evil serpent's hidden ways who used trickery to originally entice Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jacob goes on to father the twelve Shevatim (tribes) that form the founding nucleus of the Children of Israel that are also called "Yud Beis Shivtei Kah" -- the "twelve tribes of God", so to speak..

Joseph is Jacob's favorite son and he is sold into slavery by his own brothers. In Egypt Joseph rises to greatness but is tested to see if he would sin with the wife of Potifar. Joseph flees from his intended seductress and earns the title of Yosef Hatzadik (Joseph the Righteous) because he did not submit to his Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) and this tendency to righteousness becomes the hallmark of the Jewish People who fight to resist the temptations of immorality whose source emanates from the power of the corrupt Serpent.

The fight between Good and Evil moves to the next stage with Pharaoh as the incarnation of the Serpent versus Moses as the divinely appointed emissary of God Himself. The Ten Plagues is a showdown between Pharaoh as head of Egypt and Moses as the leader of the Children of Israel. At Mount Sinai when the Children of Israel received the Ten Commandments and said Na'aseh Venishma (we will do and we will hear) Evil in the world has finally been defeated but while waiting for Moshe Rabbeinu to come down from Mount Sinai with the Luchos Rishonos (the first set of Ten Commandments) the Eiruv Rav (mixed multitude) entices the Children of Israel to worship the Egel Hazahav (Golden Calf) that is the equivalent of the Serpent tricking Eve and Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The rest of Jewish and world history until the final coming of the true Jewish Messiah is dedicated to getting mankind back to the level of Adam HaRishon before he sinned and to the level of Bnai Yisrael at Kabbolas HaTorah (receiving the Torah) before they sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf. Every stage of Jewish history, in particular every specific exile known as "Shibud Daled Malchuyos" -- the subjugation of the Jewish People to Four Kingdoms, namely that of Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome who collectively are the manifestation of Evil's struggle against the Jewish People is at its deepest level a manifestation of the evil of the Serpent in its struggle to bring down, destroy and defeat the "Atem Keruyim Adam" -- "you, Israel, are called 'Adam'" that is Jewish People which God will never allow to happen because ultimately good, represented and embodied by the Jewish People, will not only triumph over evil but will eradicate it from the world forever bringing the world to its ultimate perfection with the arrival of the true Jewish Messiah when Olam Hazeh (this world) will merge with and into the Olam Haba (future world), may it happen speedily in our days!

It is important to note that Rav Hutner often stated that "ein lanu esek benistaros", that we have no business (so to speak) in trying to fathom the deeper mysteries of the Torah. One should approach the teachings of the Torah in the way of "tamim tiheye im Hashem elokecha" (Deuteronomy 18:13), of "be innocent and accepting in your dealings with your God" and don't try to be "ibberklug" (too clever for your own good.) This was his way of saying that people should not try to figure out the inner secrets of the Torah based on the mysticism of Kabbalah that should be left to the select initiated elite Torah scholars.

Rav Hutner never directly spoke about things like "sefiros" and other Kababalistic notions, rather he preferred to go in the way of his beloved role model in teaching mystical Torah, the MAHARAL of Prague who taught about "Nistar (the hidden Torah of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, Hasidism) belashon (in the language and style of) nigleh (the revealed Torah such as Talmud, Midrashim, Mussar)". Rav Hutner presented his Ma'amarim (Torah discourses) in a rational logical manner in the classical rabbinic style of Talmudic "lomdus" and analysis but usually within an emotionally filled and charged atmosphere, often with singing and long pauses between his profound and penetrating words.

On a biographical note, the fact that Rav Hutner chose to come to America in the early 1930s and leave behind his life in Europe shows that he understood the nature of the extreme evil of the looming Nazi threat to European Jewry and sadly both of Rav Hutner's parents were murdered in the Holocaust. In a personal way Rav Hutner already had brushes with death and evil in 1929 when as a student of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Hebron he happened to be away at the time of the massacre when many Jewish residents of Hebron including a number of the Slabodka students and Rav Hutner's friends were murdered by rioting Arab mobs.

He also came face to face with evil in 1970 when together with his family and other hostages they were hijacked by the Arab terrorist Black September group and were then caught in the crossfire of the war that broke out between the Jordanian army that battled against the Palestinian terrorists in a civil war between warring Arabs with hostages from the hijackings, including Rav Hutner, caught in the middle and escaping the gunfire around them.

Supposedly when the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994) was told that Rav Hutner was one of the hostages taken captive by the Black September Arab terrorists he reportedly said that "the merit of the MAHARAL [of Prague] will save him" since Rav Hutner had spent a good part of his life opening up and spreading the teachings of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1512–1609), known as the MAHARAL of Prague, and it was Rav Hutner who was known in the Torah world as a foremost authority on the MAHARAL's works and teachings. Mercifully Rav Hutner and his family were released by the terrorists after weeks of negotiations at the highest government levels in 1970. Rav Yitzchok Hutner passed away in 1980 in Jerusalem, Israel where he was laid to rest.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudominwas born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at [email protected]