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The Will to Evil

A few weeks back, my weekly roundup contained a link to a post titled Greed Is Good – Or Is It? What Jesus Would Say to Gordon Gekko. I recalled a passage I had once read that seemed applicable to this question, and I found it:

“And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31)
Rav Nahman said in the name of Rav Shmuel:
“Behold, it was very good”–that is the will to evil. But is the will to evil good? That is astonishing!
Yet were it not for the will to evil, men would not build homes, or take wives, or propagate, or engage in business.
And Solomon said the same:
“I considered all labor and all excelling in work,
that it is a man’s rivalry with his neighbor” (Eccles. 4:4)

… They said:
This being a time of good will, let us pray and ask for the will to evil.
They prayed and the will to evil was delivered to them.
The prophet said to them:
Know, if you destroy this one, the world will come to an end.
They imprisoned it for three days:
then they sought a new-laid egg in all the land of Israel,
and not one could be found.
(Gen Rabbah, 9:9; BT Yoma 69b–Glatzer trans.)

Note, this is a quote from the Talmud, and without opening up too deep a religious debate, let’s just look at what’s proposed by this passage. Solomon suggests that all labor is a form of rivalry with one’s neighbor. Taken in its entirety, this reading tells us that without (the word that translates to) Evil the world would quickly end, that even another egg would not be laid. I’ll surmise that translation instead of “evil” might be “Human nature” or “ambition,” but I find it interesting that even that long ago, there was a debate going on about man’s motivation and whether one could separate his dark side from that which makes him have a will to survive.


  • Jason @ Redeeming Riches June 24, 2010, 9:29 am

    Joe – I respect the angle you’re taking – let me throw something out there.

    Genesis 1:28 (before sin entered the world) – God tells Adam & Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it”

    Man would propogate and would develop because that is what God told them to do.

    The term “subdue”, which in Hebrew is “kabash” means “to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it”

    The idea is that man is to work the land, develop it and bring it to a point of being useful and beneficial to themselves and to mankind.

    This command calls for proper development of the land and for work for their own benefit.

    Here’s we would differ – the evil uses and motivations for these things come as a result of Genesis 3 – or the Fall of Man, when Adam & Eve give in to Satan’s lies and bring sin into the world.

    Good post.

  • JOE June 25, 2010, 7:35 am

    I usually don’t post regarding religious topics, although any time the good/evil question comes into play, there’s no avoiding it. I think that in most of our lives there’s a balance, the drive to procreate is good which I confine my actions to a willing spouse, anything outside of both willing and spouse crosses a line. Remember, the Talmud is not the Torah (Old Testament) but an exhaustive commentary on it. Kind of like looking on while scholars debate.

  • Roshawn @ Watson Inc June 29, 2010, 7:48 pm

    It’s funny, but we often do debate the same questions over and over throughout eternity. The debaters change, time change, even the “unique” circumstances change; the questions remain.

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