From Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, Meor Einayim, Parshat Vaetchanan.
And you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that the L!RD is G!d in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else. Deuteronomy 4:39
Our sages taught that the verse “You shall love the L!RD your G!d with all your heart” means with both our inclinations: the good and the bad, the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara (1). But what does it mean to serve G!d with your evil inclination?
Everything that G!d created in this world has an aspect of light and an aspect of darkness, just as every day contains both dark and light. First comes the darkness and then the light, and even though they are opposites, together they are considered one complete day [as in “There was evening and there was morning, one day” (2)], and G!d makes peace between them, as we say in the morning prayer, “You fashion light and create darkness, and make peace…” It is the same with people, for we are each a microcosm of the world: within us there is an aspect of darkness and night, the yetzer hara, and an aspect of light and day, the yetzer hatov, and just as in the world, in us darkness comes first, until the light of learning overcomes it (3).
We are made in such a way in order to give us freewill to choose the good over the bad, to subsume our physical selves within our spiritual selves, the left within the right, judgment within mercy, and to join all aspects of ourselves together into “one day” (4). Then “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (5), and you will understand that even the darkness is an aspect of G!d, and you will return the divinity bound within the darkness to its source in G!d’s infinite light.
It is so in our innermost selves and also in our outer deeds. So if you see some aspect of divinity bound up within your work or some other physical need, then grab hold of it and lift it up to G!d. If you are not sure how to do so, then pray to G!d for help. In this way you will lift up the aspect of divinity called Elohim, the L!RD, the Divine Judge, to that aspect called YHVH, G!d, the Merciful One (6). When you unite within you the good and the bad, the day and the night, then you effect unity in the worlds above as well, for “awakening below brings about awakening above” (7). Truly, unity above depends on our own deeds below, for G!d has turned over to us the task of directing and uniting all the worlds. Through that task we even unite G!d’s own names, joining YHVH and Elohim and bringing divine life into this world below.
This is the meaning of our verse, you shall know this day… “Knowing” means joining and union [as in the verse “Adam knew his wife” (8)], for we unite the two aspects of existence found in us and in the world, Judgment and Mercy, into one single “day.” This comes about because we have considered within our heart both inclinations, the good and the bad, and from the divinity bound up within nature, called Elohim, the L!RD, you have revealed YHVH, G!d, the Merciful One, in heaven above, for you have effected unity in the divine worlds above, and upon the earth below, in your own life.
It is impossible to maintain this unity at all times, however. After attaining it you must at times return to this world of multiplicity, so that you can once again strive to bring unity. Thus our sages said “prayer accomplishes half” (9) — it can never accomplish all that it aims for, because if it were completely successful then there would be no need to pray again, and then G!d would be bereft of our prayers. This is why “G!d desires the prayers of the righteous” (10), for they constantly descend to the world of division and lift it up to unity, joining the darkness within themselves and the world with the light that is also within them. This is why it is necessary to feel the brokenness of this world, even to feel far from G!d, so that we continually strive to unite the world and G!d and bring joy to our Creator.
1) The yetzer ha tov and yetzer hara, often translated literally as “the good inclination” and “the bad inclination,” are better translated as “the selfless” and “the selfish inclination,” the tendency to see ourselves as part of a greater whole, or to see the greater whole as only a means to our own ends. Our yetzer hara is not bad per se, but it can get us into trouble when it goes unchecked; thus, this whole teaching is about how to check it and channel it for good. The rabbinic teaching that “with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5) means “with both inclinations” comes from the unusual spelling of the word heart –לבבך levavcha, with two bets, instead of ליבך libecha — which they take to mean both hearts or inclinations. (Berachot 54a, according to the Re’ah. Rabbeinu Yonah reads the doubled word to mean both “strict judgment” and “freeflowing mercy,” which will especially fit this teaching from the Meor Einayim.) 2) Genesis 1:5 3) “Learning” here includes, obviously, Torah learning, but learning is also a metaphor for spiritual ascent, whether talking about people or entire worlds. Click here for an example. 4) The left side of the sefirotic Tree of Life represents strict judgment and constriction, while the right side represents boundless love and expansion; so “judgment” and “mercy” here represent not only these attributes within the person but also within the cosmos. For a related teaching on G!d’s creating evil so that we can choose the good, click here. 5) Psalm 139:12 6) These associations go back to the earliest rabbinic and mystical sources; both names are used in our opening verse. 7) Zohar I 77b 8) Genesis 4:1 9) Vayikra Rabbah 10:5 10) Yevamot 64a
For another teaching on serving G!d with your “bad side,” click here.