A Cosmic Game of Tug of War

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


The following is a based on a radical teaching of Reb Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin.[1] In this dissertation he explains, that in a certain sense, when Jewish people sin, they actually bring Moshiach. It is important to preface however, that in order to fully appreciate this teaching, one must realize that it is merely a snippet of Reb Tzadok’s general thought process concerning mitzvos and sin:

Disclaimer: One may—G-d forbid—get the erroneous impression from this article that Reb Tzadok is advocating sinning, this is clearly not Reb Tzadok’s intention. Throughout his book, it is replete with statements of how dreadfully awful sin is. On the other hand, because there is no place devoid of G-d and a Jew is intrinsically bound to Him, all his actions connect to G-d—including sin. 

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) there is an interesting statement concerning the era in which the Moshiach will come: “R. Yochanan said: The son of Dovid will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.”

The notion that the Moshiach will come in a generation which is righteous is understandable, but why would the Moshiach come in a generation that is evil?!

This can be appreciated through the following explanation:

The Torah uses the analogy of a rope to describe the connection that the Jewish people have to each other and to G-d. This existential connection is expressed in the verse (Devarim 32:9), “Because the Lord’s portion is His people Yaakov, the lot (chevel) of His inheritance.” While generally the word “chevel” is translated as “lot” in the context of inheritance, the term can mean “rope” as well.

Essentially, the verse expresses that the Jewish People are similar to a rope. Just as a rope is made up of numerous strings, the rope of the Jewish people is woven from the various Jewish souls.

A Cosmic Game of Tug of War

Being that there is an inter-inclusion between souls, a tug of war is created, with some souls pulling the rope upwards and others pulling downwards. When a Jew does a mitzvah, he draws the rope upwards and when he sins, the rope is pulled downwards.

Just as in a tug of war of equal strengths, the final tug will jerk the entire other side to be drawn to the end which gives the last yank, so too, it is often one sin or one mitzvah that has the power to affect the fate of the whole world.

This is expressed in the Talmudic adage (Kiddushin 40b), “the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority [of deeds, good or bad]; If he performs one good deed, happy is he for turning the scale both for himself and for the whole world on the side of merit.”

While there are many sins on one side and mitzvos on the other, one action has the power to affect the entire world. One action can tip the cosmic scale and one yank can pull this celestial rope.

Stretching the Rope

Now, just as when two people are pulling at opposite sides of a rope, the rope stretches as the threads untangle, so too, the same occurs in the spiritual game of tug of war. The more a Jew sins, the more the rope of Jewish souls is broken apart—splintering into many smaller souls.

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 5a) states, “Come let us render gratitude to our forebears, for had they not sinned, we would not have come to the world.” The Talmud articulates, that were it not for the sins of previous generations, our generation would not have existed.

This is expressive of the above thought: When the Jewish People sin, the rope of Jewish souls becomes taut and eventually some threads break apart. The result is that this “soul-rope” of the Jewish people becomes splintered into additional pieces, and thus creating more smaller souls.

Numerous Like Sand

This concept allows one to make sense of a strange juxtaposition of chapters in the book of Hoshea:

In the first chapter, G-d instructs Hoshea to marry a harlot. He does so and she bares him children. G-d then instructs Hoshea to name his children derogatory terms, which express their evil and the punishments that G-d will bring upon the Jewish people.

Curiously, the second chapter follows with the opening verse, “And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which shall neither be measured nor counted; and it shall come to pass that, instead of saying to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘The children of the living G-d.’”

Immediately following the verses that express their evil, the Torah relates that the Jewish People will be numerous like the sand. How can we understand this contrast of the greatest blessings directly following the most terrible of curses?!

The reason for this in a spiritual sense,[2] is as explained above. Through sinning, the souls of the Jewish People, likened to a rope, becomes stretched, until the point that their numbers are uncountable on account of their many sins. Hence, it is actually because the Jewish people sinned in a way that is beyond measure, that they “shall be as the sand of the sea, which shall neither be measured nor counted.”

Winning the Game

Nonetheless, when the rope of Jewish souls has been strained to its maximum capacity—eventually all the souls that can possibly enter this world are born.[3] At this point arises the ultimate test of the soul-rope and of G-d’s connection with the Jewish People.

Will the rope—being unable to stretch anymore—snap, severing the Jewish People from G-d, or will it remain intact and the Jewish people be able to give the winning tug, thus drawing G-d towards His people?

Reb Tzadok explains, that in this cosmic game of tug of war, the Jewish People will ultimately be the victor. When the rope of the Jewish souls becomes so taut that it cannot be stretched anymore, it will not be severed—as the connection that the Jewish People have with G-d can never cease. Instead, G-d will be dragged towards His people.

At that point, G-d, who holds the end of the rope, will be pulled along with the rope and be revealed to His people.

When G-d is revealed and stands together with the Jewish People, instead of being previously distant at the other end of the rope, the times of Moshiach will arrive. The game of tug of war will be over and the Jewish people will have beaten G-d in this cosmic game.

This is expressed by the prophet Zecharia (Zecharia 14:4-5): “On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem from the east… And the Lord, my G-d, shall come; all holy ones with you.”

The time of Moshiach is expressed in the above verse as the Jewish People standing side by side G-d—as in a game of tug of war, where eventually the “loser” is yanked to stand next to the victor.

No longer will G-d be withdrawn and hidden from the Jewish People, for our sins will eventually draw Him towards us to be revealed, heralding in the messianic era.

The Positive Side of Sin

Paradoxically therefore, it is ultimately our sins that will cause G-d to be drawn close to us and reveal Himself.

Accordingly it is understood why it is possible for the Moshiach to come when the Jewish people are “altogether wicked”—as that moment will be the final tug that causes G-d to be revealed.

Reb Tzadok asserts that strangely enough then, there is something positive occurring[4] when a Jew sins, as each sin may be the final sin that causes us to win this existential game of tug of war with G-d and be the catalyst to bring Moshiach.

While sinning is indeed terrible, as it separates a Jew from the Almighty, it is important to realize that being that there is “no place devoid of Him,” and everything ultimately expresses G-dliness, even within sin, a kernel of goodness can be found. This path of sinning bringing moshiach is only to be understood that there can be positive in sinning, not that one should sin towards that goal—G-d forbid. When one sins they take the the head of G-d and place it in the lowest and dirtiest of places. The greatest offense that a Jew can do to G-d is to sin.

[1] Tzidkas HaTzadik #163.

[2] See Talmud, Pesachim 87b for an additional reason.

[3] See Talmud, Avoda Zara, 5a: “The Son of Dovid will only come when all the souls destined to [inhabit earthly] bodies will be exhausted.”

[4] This explains the words of the Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 42:1) that state: “Wherever the words ‘And it came to pass” (ויהי) occurs, it denotes trouble… wherever ‘And it will be’ (והיה) is stated, it denotes joy.” This is strange though, because in the rebuke from G-d to the Jewish People (Devarim 28:15) the verse states, “And it will be (והיה), if you do not obey the Lord, your G-d, to observe to fulfill all His commandments and statutes which I am commanding you this day, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” Why does the verse use a wording that connotes joy when it speaks of sin? Yet, the reason is as stated, that sin as well ultimately serves to express G-d and therefore has within it an element of joy.

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