Thursday 17 July 2014

028) Is it Bad to Sin?

Of course it is. It’s also bad to eat white bread and drink fizzy drinks. A deeper question would be; Is it evil to sin?

To a casual reader this may seem like a silly distinction. ‘Bad’ and ‘evil’ are only different in semantics. However the literature is full of fascinating debate as to the actual difference between these two concepts.

In classical Kabbalah, every time a person sins he causes a spiritual separation to take place between two G-dly ‘components’ (the Shechina and the Ein Sof). Only Teshuva (repentance or literally ‘return’) can bring them back together again.

In other writings, sin is equated to the very essence of impurity and evil. It is even said to have almost ‘demonic’ characteristics. (See Quest for Authenticity by R Michael Rosen)

However, in the teachings of the three generations of Peshischa, including the Rebbe of Kotzk, sin takes on none of these aforementioned nuances. Sin (while obviously not condoned) loses its esoteric status and becomes something far more human. In Kotzk there is nothing mystical or spiritual about sin. It is simply the natural consequence of human failing and frailty.

In Kotzk sin is not evil.

The Kotzker’s teacher, R Simcha Bunim writes:
Man [Adam], is still referred to as Man, even after his sin. As is Woman [Eve], still called Woman, even after being expelled from the garden.
(Ramatayim Tzofim 1,1)

In Torah literature, many people’s names and certainly statuses change as a direct result of their actions. Yet even with the fundamental and archetypical sin of the first man and woman, they remained essentially the same and unchanged, before and after.

It is interesting that in today’s world, we unknowingly continue to act out both sides of this debate: Some are quite accepting of people who may come from difficult and different backgrounds. They may not condone lifestyles antithetical to that of the Torah way of life but they move on and see what could be, not what was. They don’t dwell in the past. The Kotzker’s brother-in-law, the Chidushei HaRim says:
If you think about dirt you remain in the dirt.
(Chidushei HaRim 261)

Others, possibly from a sense of superiority or fear, can only look disapprovingly down, not ahead. At best their relationship with such people is coldly condescending and painfully patronizing. They seem to believe that there is something almost ‘demonic’ and ‘spiritually alien’ in these souls, and do not want to become contaminated.

These two attitudes are quite prevalent today. My personal belief is that practically there is only one choice that can save us from spiritual extinction. I’m with Kotzk on this one. You can only become contaminated if you believe that sin is evil. But if it’s only bad, perhaps you can ‘contaminate’ them with good.

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