The venom of the African black mamba snake is one of the deadliest poisons known to man. The bite feels at first like a slight sting, then a tingling. Within minutes the central nervous system begins to shut down, culminating in paralysis, convulsions and a suffocating death.

Researchers have recently discovered that this deadly venom also contains two potent painkillers, known as mambalgins, which are as effective as morphine. Moreover, unlike morphine, One of the deadliest poisons known to manmambalgins do not lead to tolerance or addiction, and have no dangerous side effects. The same snake that causes horrible death also holds the key to incredible relief.

Similarly, in this week’s Torah portion, when the Jewish people were struck by poisonous snakes, G‑d told Moses to fashion a snake out of copper and display it in the camp. All those who looked upon the snake would be healed. (This is the source of the well-known medical sign of a snake on a pole.)

How does the agent of destruction become the agent of healing?

Because there is no absolute evil. Every evil has hidden within it the potential for good. A prime example of this is that the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for “snake,” nachash, is equivalent to the value of the word Moshiach. Moshiach will bring an end to exile and repair the damage done to the world through the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, which was caused by a snake.

“That’s nice,” you may say, “but I don’t see it. I see a world filled with evil and pain. Why would G‑d create evil just for the potential for good?”

I could argue that suffering ennobles us, I could argue that suffering ennobles usmakes us more compassionate and sensitive to the suffering of others. I could contend that suffering provides the contrast which allows us to appreciate the good. I could maintain that we need to go down in order to go up. And I could even assert that suffering is actually a sublime, hidden form of good.

But you wouldn’t be satisfied. “G‑d is the master of the universe,” you’d say. “He designed this world and everything in it. He could have allowed us to achieve the ascent without the descent, the refinement without the suffering, the redemption without the exile. It was His choice to create evil, or at least that which we perceive as evil. He created the venom, and He created the antidote.”

And I could not answer you.

When the the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, discussed this concept during a chassidic gathering, his voice choked up with tears: “Why must we have this distress . . . the Shechinah in exile . . . Moshiach in exile . . . every single Jew in exile, with no end in sight?”

The Rebbe concluded that we cannot understand pain because G‑d does not want us to understand it. He does not want us in any way to accept, justify or rationalize it. He wants us to protest against it and work to put an end to it. And if we were to understand pain, even in the slightest way, it would reduce our motivation to eliminate it.

It is written in the book of Isaiah that when Moshiach comes we will say, “Thank You, G‑d, for You have been angry with me.”1 In other words, we will realize then that the painful events we have experienced, the manifestations of G‑d’s anger, were actually supreme good.

But it is too early now for It is too early now for appreciationappreciation. As long as the suffering is ongoing, as long as there is any creature alive in pain or in exile, we are not ready to thank G‑d for the pain. Only when the exile is over will we have the luxury to look back and thank G‑d for all the hidden blessings. For now, we can only demand of G‑d to fulfill His promise to “swallow up death forever, and wipe away the tears off every face.”2

(Based on a talk of the Rebbe, Hoshana Rabbah 5744.)