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I realize this is a very common question, but the problem of evil is an important one, and as far as I can tell, has not been asked here.

In short, why does G-d allow evil to exist?

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Take a look at this answer and at the answers to this question. –  Isaac Moses Jul 31 '11 at 5:46
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I believe this question needs more definition to be useful. We could have a series of questions, "Why does Gd allow X to exist?" X can be ants, spiders, planets, stars, evil, happiness, stress, health, change, entropy, gravity, etc etc etc. Meaning, what would make one think that Gd should not allow evil to exist? –  avi Jul 31 '11 at 8:10
    
I agree with the idea that this question needs more quantification. Do you mean the Yetzer Hara? Evil as an entity unto itself (which I don't think Judaism believes in)? Evil people? or something else? –  Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 13:34
    
@Adam The Tanakh seems to make very clear the distinction between a righteous man and a wicked (i.e. evil) man, righteous things and wicked things. That evil, or wickedness, is what I am asking about. –  Peter Olson Aug 2 '11 at 15:05
    
It proves God's existence - smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2837 –  user2110 Dec 27 '12 at 15:25
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5 Answers 5

I would say that an answer on the simplest level would be to give us בחירה - choice. If there was no evil (and no "evil inclination"), there would not be much meaning to doing "good" and fulfilling the Torah. If everything was good and clear-cut, we would not really have free choice.

On a deeper level, this question could probably fill books (and likely does)

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Evil exists because Gd desires for it to exist. Just as gravity exists, planets, entropy, time, space, animals etc. Everything in the world has it's purpose and one can find positive reasons for all things, and negative consequences of all things. For example, if gravity didn't exist, people would not be able to stay on the planet, however because of gravity, people get hurt when they run and fall, and bridge construction causes people to die.

Evil, has its own positive consequences as well.

  1. People work together to get rid of evil.
  2. People feel accomplished when evil is overcome.
  3. Evil often causes changes which would not otherwise come about. For example, we have the internet because the U.S. government was afraid of the evils of Nuclear war, and built redundant networks to overcome that possiblity.
  4. Evil helps people appreciate Good.
  5. Evil provides people with choice.
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G-d created good and evil, says both the Torah and Isaiah (Deut. 30:15-20; Isa. 45:7). One reason for having both is explained at Deut. 30:15-20 -- with Free Will, G-d had to give us choices, both good and bad, and the inclination to pursue evil as well as the competing inclination to pursue good. Without these inclinations fighting each other, our election of one over the other would be a foregone conclusion just like the last Egyptian election. Secondly, he created other kinds of evil -- natural disasters, still-born babies, birth defects, diseases, poor people -- to teach us His mida of compassion. Without a communal need that people give of themselves, we would lack community.

Of course, good and evil in this world are completely relative. What is good for the butcher is an evil for the animal to be slaughtered. We see this very much in the institution of karbonot (sacrifices) of which the Torah spends much time discussing even though animal offerings have only been an active part of our religion for a relatively short period (about 1400 years). As I heard brought down from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, we brought animal offerings for unintentional or unwitnessed sins in order to appreciate that but for certain factors, our own fate might be the same as this poor animal. It is ironic that we should learn compassion through the suffering of others, but how else would we learn it?

For more thoughts on this, see Rabbi Benjamin Blech's book, "If G-d is Good, Why is the World So Bad?", Simcha Press 2003.

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The Ramchal in Da'as Tevunos gives several reasons for the creation of evil:

Siman 40:

הרע שברא הוא ית' להודיע אמתת יחודו ולנסות בו את האדם

...the evil that He created in order to make known His true Oneness and to test man with it

and later (Siman 118):

ונמצא כלל הרע, אשר הוא ית' השיב אחור ימינו מהנהגת עולמו, וינהגהו בכבדות, תוקף חשך סתרו, ושם בטבע הלז כל הפסדי הטוב, הלא המה כל מדות בית דין, להביא במשפט על כל נעלם ורשעים

(Paraphrased) Evil was created to bring punishment upon the evildoers.

As for the Evil Inclination, Da'as Tevunos cites the Zohar (Siman 78):

כמאמרם ז"ל (זוהר ח"א, קו ע"ב), לא נברא יצה"ר אלא לנסות בו את בני האד"

The Evil Inclination was only created to test man. says that evil was created in order to have a mechanism for punishing the wicked:

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The Tanya at the end of Chapter 9 bring a parable from the zohar illustrating the role of evil.

אך נפש הבהמית שמהקליפה, רצונה להפך ממש

But the animal soul derived from kelipah desires the very opposite; it desires that the body be pervaded with its faculties and its thought, speech and action.

לטובת האדם, שיתגבר עליה וינצחנה, כמשל הזונה שבזהר הקדוש

But the animal soul desires this for man’s benefit, in order that he prevail over her and vanquish her, as in the parable of the harlot [related] in the holy Zohar.19

The parable: A king desired to test the moral strength of his only son. He had a most charming and clever woman brought before him. Explaining to her the purpose of the test, he ordered her to exert every effort to seduce the crown prince. For the test to be valid, the supposed harlot had to use all her charms and guile, without betraying her mission in the slightest way. Any imperfection on her part would mean disobedience, and the failure of her mission. However, while she uses all her seductive powers, she inwardly desires that the prince should not succumb to them.

So too in our case: The kelipah itself desires that man overcome it and not permit himself to be led astray. The entire stratagem is solely for man’s benefit.

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