I’ve seen the new Star Wars movie twice, not as many as some, more than others. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give anything away, although nothing comes with a spoiler alert on the internet. I liked the movie for many reasons, it returned to the same sort of campy action and dialogue as the first, it featured gender and racial inclusivity, it brought back some of our favorite characters all grown up, and it offered a continuation of the mythology and philosophy of the “The Force” which I’ve found compelling all these many years. Much has been made of George Lucas’s concept of the “The Force” and how it aligns or doesn’t align with Jewish theology. Mostly, I think it’s a pretty good fit.
Most people begin with a Kabbalistic notion of their existing in our lives, in our very souls, the yetzer ha-tov, an inclination to do good, and the yetzer ha-rah, our inclination to do evil. Similarly, in Star Wars, there is a light side of the Force and a dark side. On the other hand the Jewish notion of the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-rah might seem even more dichotomized because they don’t seem to be described as both part of one something or someone.
Actually, though, the mystical way of describing God is precisely as One and the relationship between the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-rah is closer and more symbiotic than one might imagine.
Nachman said in R. Sh’muel’s name: BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD refers to the Good Desire; AND BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD, to the Evil Desire. Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary!
Were it not for the Evil Desire, however, no person would build a house, marry and beget children; and thus said Solomon: Again, I considered all labor and all excelling in work, that it is a person’s rivalry with one’s neighbor (Eccl. IV, 4). Bereishit Rabbah 9:7 (The Soncino Talmud comments: It is the Evil Desire which in the first place inspires this rivalry which leads to great efforts.–One may triumph over his human failings by turning even them to noble purposes.)
The first thing we notice is that the Evil Desire, the yetzer ha-rah is much more important in this Jewish system of thought than we would have anticipated. It’s almost as though the Good Desire takes a back seat! This whole notion is based on a classic Jewish folk tale:
Soon after the return from Babylonian exile, the Jewish people again returned to sin. Fearful of another national catastrophe, Ezra and the other leaders prayed to God to erase the evil inclination from every heart in Israel.
“Although it is good for us to triumph over our evil inclination,” they said, “it is better to have no evil inclination at all, so that we receive neither punishment nor reward.”
In response to their prayers, a note fluttered down from heaven with a single word written upon it: “Truth.” And they knew that their prayers had been answered.
For three days and nights they fasted. Then the Evil Inclination came charging out of the Holy of Holies like a fiery lion.
“This is the Evil!” cried the prophet Zechariah.
They tried to seize the beast but only managed to grasp a single hair and pull it out. The creature bellowed so loudly that its cry was heard a thousand miles away.
“How shall we capture this monster?” asked the frightened people.
“Place it in a lead pot,” said Zechariah. “But take care not to destroy it, or the entire world will perish.”
For three days they held it captive in the lead pot. But during this time, the chickens stopped laying eggs, for sexual desire had vanished from the world. Not one egg could be found for the sick in all of Palestine.
“What shall we do?” the people cried. “If we kill this evil creature, disaster will befall us, but if we keep it captive, we shall no longer have eggs. And we cannot ask God to rob it of half its power, for God does not do things by halves.”
So they lifted the lid of the pot and blinded the creature and set it free. And it once again roamed the world, but its power was greatly diminished. No longer did hearts incline to such evil deeds as in earlier times.
What’s the lesson here? It is not the abolition of evil that we seek, it’s better choices. It is the tension between good and evil, in every one of us all the time, that makes life possible. Without the possibility of doing evil and choosing not to, life ceases. There are no fresh eggs. There is no music. There are no books. No paintings. No invention. No discovery. No exploration. No love.
May we awaken the Force, the Oneness-of-All, within us and may we choose “the light”, goodness, kindness, creativity, reconciliation, cooperation, love and peace.