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THE PARADOX OF THE WICKED: DEAD OR ALIVE?

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

"We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men." --Isaiah 59:10 * On Tanya for 21 Tammuz.

by ChatGPT and Bing AI

In today's Tanya lesson, Igeret HaTeshuva, Chapter 7, we are confronted with a surprising notion: the intense desires of the wicked, which they relentlessly pursue, are likened to a state of death. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive and even perplexing. After all, we often witness the wicked displaying a vibrant sense of vitality and fervor as they engage in the pursuit of their forbidden desires.


It is in this context that the paradox of the wicked being compared to the spiritually dead comes to light. The Tanya teaches us that the pursuit of forbidden pleasures, although accompanied by temporary excitement and gratification, ultimately leads to spiritual emptiness and disconnection from the Divine source of life. The wicked, while seemingly alive and driven by their intense desires, are, in fact, disconnected from the wellspring of true life—holiness.


This paradox can be understood in light of classic Torah sources that compare the wicked to the dead. For example, in the Talmud (Berakhot 18b), it is written: "Our Rabbis taught: The wicked, even during their lifetime, are called dead." This statement is based on several verses in the Bible. One such verse is Isaiah 59:10, which says: "We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men."


Another verse that supports this idea is Proverbs 21:16, which says: "The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead." These verses suggest that a person who is disconnected from G-d and His ways is considered to be spiritually dead, even while physically alive.


Thus, while the wicked may appear vibrant and driven on the surface, when we delve beneath the surface we find a spiritual death—a disconnection from the very source that grants true and eternal life. Their intense desires become a barrier, clouding their perception and preventing them from experiencing the profound joy that comes from a genuine connection with the Divine.


The beauty of these teachings lies in their call for introspection and self-reflection. They encourage us to evaluate our own desires, to scrutinize the motivations behind our actions. By contemplating how our actions have the potential to uproot our souls from their Divine Source, we gain a deeper understanding of the consequences of our choices. We become aware that the pursuit of forbidden desires, while momentarily enticing, ultimately leads to spiritual death.


In recognizing this surprising truth, we are inspired to seek a different path. We are called to nourish our souls with the vitality and fulfillment found in holiness. By aligning our desires with the Divine will and embarking on a journey that leads to genuine life—a life imbued with purpose, connection, and everlasting joy—we hasten the coming of Moshiach.


According to Jewish tradition (Maimonides), teshuvah (repentance) is a prerequisite to redemption. When Moshiach comes, even the Tzaddik (righteous person) will see that even though he never intentionally sinned, his service was somewhat lacking in fervor and he too will have the yearning of the Baal Teshuvah (one who returns to G-d through repentance).

May we have the strength to break free from the allure of forbidden desires and choose the path that leads to true and vibrant life.

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