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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is no reality in which absolute perfection can be realized.”

The downfall of Elisha b. Avuya, known as “Aher” (“Other”), was partially a result of his inability to come to terms with the world’s intrinsic imperfection.

A person encounters such a reality, he falls, he descends, and there is no remedy for him, because he cannot reconcile himself with the imperfect reality.

On the verse, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (tov meod)” (Gen. 1:31), the Midrash expounds, “‘Good’ refers to life; ‘very good’ refers to the Angel of Death.

‘Good’ refers to the good inclination; ‘very good’ refers to the evil inclination” (Yalkut Shimoni 1 :i6).

Elsewhere, the Midrash relates that Rabbi Meir had written in his personal Torah scroll that “‘And behold, it was very (meod) good’ means ‘And behold, death (mavet) is good’” (Genesis Rabba 9).

The evil inclination emphasizes “very good” so strongly that it negates all of existence.

Ordinary existence is almost never “very good”; hence, “very good” refers to the Angel of Death.

The Angel of Death espouses the philosophy of perfection because there is no reality in which absolute perfection can be realized, leading a person to frustration and despair.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz