In this sicha the Rebbe addresses how even the darkest points in our lives– as individuals and as a whole– have the greatest potential for good. Although the Rebbe touches on free will, it isn’t explained, I believe, because it isn’t as relevant to the discussion at hand.
The Ba’al Shem Tov (1) teaches us that the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert on the way to Eretz Yisroel have parallel in the life of every Jew. Leaving Egypt corresponds to birth, followed by remaining journeys until arriving in Eretz Yisroel— which is the Higher Eretz HaChayim, Land of Life.
Among those journeys in the desert, there were those which involved going against the Will of on High. If we’re saying that the 42 journeys in the desert correspond to the life of every Jew, are we implying that there is the necessity to go against the Will of on High?
The answer lies in what the Ba’al Shem Tov taught us: that the journeys themselves are holy. The journeys themselves are holy, but we have free will to make them not holy. However, if the will of a person is the way it’s meant to be, “And you shall choose life,” then, all a person’s life journeys will ascents rom strength to strength. (“And you shall choose life,” is in itself the help and power granted from Hashem through Torah to make the right decisions.)
The Ba’al Shem Tov brings an example from the journey of Kivros HaTa’ava, where, “The nation of mit’avim (cravers) were buried.” In holiness, this is a state of refinement where craving no longer exists. Not only is there no longer an active craving, but the craving was buried—it no longer exists. At that point, there is no longer any relevance to the concept of a craving. It’s only as a result of the Other Side that is mixed within physicality, that there was a mistake in the first place, but not as a result of the journeys. That was the general idea in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s explanation.
The way the 42 journeys apply to the life of every Jew:
When it comes to the life-journeys we’ve had until now, we know which ones have been positive and which ones have been the opposite (having in mind that the un-positivity is dependent on us). However, from now on, the journeys we have yet to travel, we have the ability to choose where we’re headed. We can choose that all our journeys should be positive ones and holy ones.
More specifically, when it comes to, “And you shall choose life,” the tree of Life, the Inner dimension of Torah (Chassidus), which reveals the goodness of every aspect of life, even the parts of life which are not good—become transformed to a medication of healing.
The same is true regarding the period we’re in—Bein HaMeitzorim, between the straights of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Menachem Ov (during which the parsha read is Mas’ei).(2) The events which led to the state of Bein HaMeitzorim were only because of the Other Side which is present on physicality. These negative events however, can be used as opportunities to achieve the highest quality in holiness.(3)
The sin of the Golden Calf, the Cheit HoEigel, the source for all future sin, for example came as a result of the contemplation the Jews at that time had had.(4) They meditated on the merkova (the chariot) and specifically on the face of the ox on the merkova. It follows thereby, that such an event (contemplating the merkova), that can lead to such a great sin—the cheit ho’eigel—can be used as an opportunity for good, if one “chooses life.” Not only does “choosing life” divert any negativity that can come as a result, but the event itself can lead to holiness! When one “chooses life,” we can contemplate greater heights than what Yechezkel ben Buzi saw.(5)
Similarly, we see in the gemara, that whenever an example is needed for, “One who sins and causes others to sin,” it’s Yerovom ben Nevot. Nvertheless, the gemara says about him (6), he learned 150 facets of Toras Kohanim: “…and he was cloaked in a new robe, and they were alone in the field.” Yerovom ben nevot learned with the prophet Achiyah HaShiloni and they made innovations in Torah only they could have. (7) However, because of the Other Side mixed into the spiritual makeup of Yerovom ben Nevot, he ended up in the furthest extreme from holiness (the letter value of 150 is eigel, calf). If he had used his tremendous power in learning Torah to “choose life,” he would have achieved the loftiest heights in holiness.
The same applies now, bein hameitzorim: the events which led to our present state, isolated from the Other Side, the negativity involved, is a tremendous opportunity to achieve the loftiest heights. Thereafter, when the negativity is , “the past sins which were done on purpose become merits.” T’shuva is the direct method of achieving the geula, redemption, the complete redemption when these days will be transformed into days of glee and joy. The bein hameitzorim itself, being between the straights, we’ll be led to the nachla bli meitzorim, the portion free of limitation. It will be revealed soon through Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
1. Sefer Deggel Machane Efrayim, Parshas Mas’ei
2. Likkutei Sichos vol. 4 p. 1075 footnote 21, there the Rebbe brings a Shalo”h from the beginning of Parshas VaYeishev: “The periods of time throughout the year…they are all connected to the parsha read that week.” See Shalo”h, Torah SheBeKsav beginning of Parshas Matos.
3. As would be understood from the intensity of the “fall.”
4. Sh’mos Rabbah chapter 42, p. 5a
5. See Yalkut Shim’oni, Yisro, 247 286 at the beginning.
6. Sanhedrin 102a. Yerovom ben Nevot was one of the wicked kings of Yehuda who began following an avoda zora involving golden calves. Not only did Yerovom ben Nevot follow paganism, but he managed to get the prophet Achiyah HaShiloni to sign allegiance to him, thus implying that Achiyah HaShiloni approved of the avoda zora. Yerovom ben Nevot also blocked the roads leading to Yerushalaim so that Jews traveling for the reggel (pilgrimage festivals) would be prevented from arriving. Not only that, but the Jews who did attempt to circumvent the road blocks were put to death. This and other things led to the mizbei’ach falling into disuse.
7. Sanhedrin 103b