Question:

You've probably gotten that question a million times, "Rabbi, why do good people suffer in this world?" Well, to tell you the truth, that's not what's really bothering me. What peeves me to no end is all the prestige, power, pleasure and downright fun that goes to the rotten, nasty and mean low-lifes of this planet.

Sure, I've heard all the answers. But none of them satisfy me.

I've been told, "How do you know he's really so happy? Maybe all those wild parties are his way of escaping the gnawing guilt that doesn't allow him to enjoy life in a normal fashion?"

I've been told, "How do you know he's really so bad? Maybe he sneaks out of bed at night and clandestinely delivers turkey dinners to orphans and widows."

And finally, "Look at the big picture. In the end, all the good people will be rewarded. But the bad guys, they're gonna get it, and get it real bad."

Not good enough, I say. If this world is the craftsmanship of a G‑d who desires good and kindness, then what on earth is all this wormwood doing in His world? If someone goes against the rules of the game and hurts someone else, he should be immediately zapped out of existence. A truly good G‑d shouldn't tolerate crummy bad guys. And us good guys, since we're on His side, we should be getting all the fun that those creeps are having!

Answer:

You're right, it shouldn't work that way. The world was not designed this way. All those answers are secondary. The real answer is quite simple. The real answer is: They've hacked the system.

You know all about hackers — the dark side of cyberspace. For instance, you've been through those online MUDs (multi-user domain games) where users enter a shared simulated world, choose characters (called avatars) to represent them and then go about wheeling and dealing, stockpiling virtual arsenal and blowing up other avatars and anything else they fancy — including the code.

In case you're thinking of bankrolling one of those projects, keep this in mind: 10% of your budget will go towards development, testing, servers, marketing, etc.. The other 90% goes toward maintenance. Why? Because in the middle of the night, when gaming programmers charge triple-time their already top-of-the-industry rates, some hacker will discover that if he goes over there and kicks here and then hits that real fast and types in some code, his avatar becomes invisible/all-powerful/duplicated/filthy-rich or whatever else is of use in this game. And then he lets all his friends know. And then he goes onto Ebay to auction off all the new virtual weapons he's acquired — for non-virtual money. And while they're at it and your bleary-eyed programmers are struggling to patch that hack without shutting down the whole ^!@&* game for all those innocent players who just want to play by the rules — because if they shut it down every time this happened the game would be more down than up — someone else finds another hack, and then another, and your whole MUD is wallowing in its namesake.

Well, game designers, be consoled. You are not alone. The Grand Creator of the ultimate MUD of all MUDs has been dealing with just the same issue for 5,763 years. Only that He asked for it.

Look, if you have an unavoidable weak point in your system, where are you going to put it? Will you put neon signs pointing to it, reading, "Don't go here! This will mess up everything!" You know human nature better than that, don't you? You know there's nothing more tempting for a human being than the forbidden, the dangerous and the outright destructive.

(Actually, it's not just human beings. Half the critters out there have the same quirky dispositions. Like those squirrels just waiting for a car to come by so they can show off to their friends how they run across the street and just barely get missed — most of the time. And birds that do the same with your windshield — leaving their autograph behind. Gazelles in Africa are known to stop, jump straight up in the air and then keep running when chased by a lion — just to put some thrill into the affair. Human beings aren't so peculiar, after all.)

So here He goes putting a tree in the middle — yes, the middle — of the Garden. Then He tells His very first two users, "See that pretty, juicy tree over there in the middle of the garden? Please don't go eating from it, okay? 'Cause then you could mess up things real bad."

And Adam says, "Hey, Eve! Whadyuknow, there's a tree over here we're not supposed to eat from! Hey, I wonder what it tastes like, eh?"

Hacked & Re-Hacked

Gives you the idea that the very first hack was a set-up job, doesn't it?

We're not going to go there right now. Let's first look at the consequences of that first hack: Most significantly, more hacks. Each hack had a similar effect: To chase out any trace of G‑d's presence in the scheme of things, to mess up the system of rules and order, and to provide lots of goodies for those who made the mess. After a while, it became easier to play the hacks than to play by the rules.

This is how the Zohar describes the effects of Adam's first sin: The world was like a fruit, the meat of the fruit surrounded by a shell and a husk. By eating from that tree, Adam effectively mashed together the fruit and the shell. Consequent hacks further stirred and ground up the mess until it became impossible to find a piece of fruit without husk and shell mixed in. We all know what that tastes like. Like the confusion of the world we live in.

Let me put this in game-design terms: You realize that in order to have a world, you need both background and foreground. White on white doesn't communicate too well. In the foreground of the world are the things that matter, the things that communicate information, the events that bring Divine purpose and delight. The background is the stuff that has to just be there as a stage for all that drama to occur.

With background, the rule is, the quieter the better. Like a clean blackboard for drawing a diagram. Like the silence of the hall in which you play music. Like the dark sky for which you must wait before lighting it up with fireworks.

The background isn't bad. It's necessary so that there can be meaningful content. But it has to know its place: That it's only a container. That it's only the accompaniment and not the soloist. That the best thing it can do is to take a back seat and keep its mouth zipped.

Imagine, now, that the background and the foreground become completely confused. The whole painting is lost. Communication is garbled and rendered meaningless. Well, that's just what Adam and subsequent hackers did: They took all the meaning out of the world by mixing the foreground and the background.

The most nefarious effect of mixing foreground and background is not so much that the foreground loses meaning. Worse: The background pretends that it also has meaning. It takes on a life of its own, as though the entire painting was made for it.

That is how evil came into our world. Evil is the background sprung to life, nurturing off of its relationship with the foreground — the sparks of holiness that have become lost within it.

You're probably itching for an example by now, so here's one: The rabbis of the Talmud tell us that gold was created only to be used in the Temple of the Divine Presence in Jerusalem. But humanity hijacked gold for self-serving purposes. Some even built palaces full of gold to glorify themselves. Gold leaked out to the world and was prostituted.

G‑d created the potential for beautiful music in the world. It was meant as a way of reaching towards Him and expressing a sense of oneness in His world. It wasn't meant for the glorification of human beings, idolatry, violence, war, unbridled sensuousness and the coffers of the music moguls.

Electronic games don't exist so that we can turn our kids into twitch-machines and immunize teenagers to the horrors of killing and war. E-games exist to give us beautiful metaphors to understand the Creator and creation.

All things good, exciting and fun were created for the purpose of attaining higher consciousness and manifesting the essential oneness in the cosmos. That was the original game. By now, the game has been warped into a mindless race to stockpile the most toys, achieve the most sensory stimulation and crash down the most walls.

Hand Over the Code

Things got so bad, the Administration had to make a clean wipe of all input data, taking the system down for an entire year while holding only a single set of characters (animals included) in PRAM. The next iteration (the "rainbow release") was promised to be more resilient. In truth, there hasn't been a system-wide crash since. However, this was at the cost of significant reductions in avatar life-spans. And when the entire user-base attempted to bypass the OS through a conspiratorial action, multiple languages had to be introduced to inhibit the degree of user-to-user interaction.

Strangely, it took a long time for the Eternal Game Master to wake up His programmers and hand over the code. To patch all those hacks and build some resilience into the system, you need the original, annotated source code. You also need a good sense of the original concept and design. So you'll want to see that very first concept paper as well as the design document. There's no doubt that's what Torah is all about. That's how the greatest of the Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the "Ari") describes the process of a mitzvah. He calls it "picking out the sparks."

The sparks are the Divine lights that fell from the shattering of the world of Tohu (we'll have to do that one in another letter, sorry). They were initially waiting for their redemption, protected within the shells of this world. Adam was placed in the garden for just that purpose. That was the original game play.

Then, as mentioned, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil affair made a tzimmes out of the apple pie — as we explained above. So along comes Torah with the secret recipes to identify, detect and rescue those poor lost sparks and bring them back to their proper home — each time an object or event of this world is used for a mitzvah.

Aside from rescuing sparks, Torah also provides the formula for cutting off the supply lines to those nefarious hackers. Those are all the no-do's. Once all the forbidden lines are abandoned, the dark side simply starves into oblivion.

Then there are the guidelines for dealing with the "permissible realm" — all the matters of the outside world. How you are supposed to eat, sleep, work honestly and conduct your personal relations with others — all with Divine purpose. In this way, everything falls back in place and the MUD returns to order. In a certain way, permissible matters do more to rescue those sparks than mitzvahs.

Occasionally, there are even cases where the darkness itself is transformed into light. Sort of like enhancing the game thanks to the hackers' discoveries. To do this, however, is extremely risky business. Often it is accomplished by one of those hackers who has handed him/herself in and now works for the good side.

But all is with the power of Torah. Because Torah, as the ancient Midrash tells us, contains the blueprint, the concept paper and the design document of the entire OS of this world. That's where G‑d Himself looked when He built this place.

More Hijackings

Mitzvahs are powerful, but they also bring new risks and hazards. As we explained, all the nurture of evil comes through that hijacked foreground, a.k.a. "good". In the original design scheme, the background had very limited energy source. The foreground resource protocol, on the other hand, is dynamic: more activity = greater supply. Once Torah enters the scene, resources and energy from way beyond the system begin to flow in. In simple terms, good brings more light into the world. And evil knows that. And it pants and cries for some of that light.

So what does the background-come-to-life-as-evil conspire to do? As soon as it detects a source of more light entering the world, it strives to funnel it in its direction. It does whatever it can to trip up whoever is doing those good and wonderful things and thereby spill all the goods over to it. And then it expands its empire even further.

That is why, as the Talmud tells us, "Whoever is greater than his fellow, his temptations are also greater." The dark side is not interested in wimps who live normal lives. The dark side is not interested in hijacking bicycles. The dark side is interested in 747s — people and communities that are plugged into purposeful lives.

Now you understand why wherever there is the greatest good, there you will find the thickest shmutz.

Do You Actually Like This Answer?

A lot of people don't like this answer. It gets them upset. It's not like one of those nice answers that make you feel gooey and warm inside because you can say, "Oh, now I see things aren't so terrible after all." On the contrary, thinking about this answer may even create a sense of outrage.

That's good. We're not supposed to be pacified by answers. We're supposed to be outraged. That's part of the healing process. To be revolted with the way things are and be driven to change it.

As you can see, the act of repairing the game itself becomes the new game. A much deeper game. Requiring a much deeper set of skills.

This is what the second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dov Ber (1773-1827) explains to us in his Torat Chayim: When the world was created, it was created with Wisdom. (The ancient Targum of Yonatan ben Uziel translates "In the beginning G‑d created…" as "With Wisdom, G‑d created…") Because the beginning of all beginnings is Wisdom — the wisdom to create an amazing world out of 0s and 1s.

But then there is a deeper wisdom. A beginning before the beginning. The wisdom that precedes Creation. Which wisdom is that? The wisdom to heal that which is broken — without taking the whole system down. The wisdom to transform darkness into light, to make hackers into quality assurance staff and hacks into resilient code. And that is the wisdom of Torah.

By now, those patches fill the entire globe. But the hardest levels are just before the win. By all indications, we are on the verge.

And now you know why He set us up to hack it in the first place.