Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The basic inclinations of man—good and evil—are identical.”


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

As one of its first principles, Chasidism emphasized its strenuous opposition to both the theory and practice of asceticism and denounced this experience of self-renunciation and the “contempt” for the sensual, which the earlier ascetics developed.

It strove to exalt and not destroy all things, including the material world, asserting that the reason for asceticism’s failure to attain its goal was that the attempt to suppress drives does not result in their cessation, but leads to their taking root in deeper levels of the soul. 

Chasidism followed a different course—the path of sublimation—by assuming (and this is a cardinal principle in its ethics) that the difference between good and evil is not a qualitative one, but a difference of object.

The basic inclinations of man—good and evil—are identical.

But man can change the direction of his inclinations, and by reorienting them toward the good, attain to saintliness.

Since the difference between good and evil lies in direction it is quite obvious that Chasidism should conclude that the more profoundly an individual experiences his various desires, the greater his opportunity (after redirecting these drives) of becoming a saintly individual. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Chasidism and Psychoanalysis” in The Strife of the Spirit

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