וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ
"And just a little bit more, and the rasha is not here, and you shall gaze upon his place and he is not there."
The Likutei Moharan connects this to the concept of Azamra [I will sing praise and thanksgiving], of finding a good quality in even the worst person.
The power of Azamra ignites such a powerful and positive spiritual effect within the other person—even if that person is totally evil—it can actually propel that person to do teshuvah.
This idea of digging for the spark of light amid all the darkness is not something that Rebbe Nachman invented; it is a core Jewish concept elucidated on by the Kli Yakar nearly a century before the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chassidus) was even born and 163 years before Rebbe Nachman came into the world.
(For the Kli Yakar’s elucidation, please see How to Avoid being a Pathological Pollyanna, especially down toward the end.)
Also, contrary to what a lot of Torah classes unfortunately promote, being dan l’kaf zechut—finding a favorable quality or merit in someone or in their deeds—does not mean that we justify or excuse behavior the Torah clearly condemns as wrong or harmful.
Yes, it's true that:
- Someone may truly not be aware of the extent their behavior hurts others.
- They may feel incapable of controlling themselves.
- They may truly feel a warped justification in behaving a certain way.
That doesn’t make their behavior “okay,” nor does it make it okay for them to behave this way.
Likewise, swooning with pity and compassion for that person’s unenlightened state (and insisting that all that person’s victims swoon along with you) is not the ideal response (despite what you might hear from friends or from a rebbetzin or rabbi). Understanding and forgiving the person isn’t necessary either.
(“Understanding” is overrated and forgiveness can be a long and arduous journey that isn’t always possible or necessary; some people’s actions are unforgivable.)
It’s worth noting that both the Kli Yakar and Likutei Moharan discuss finding a meritorious quality regarding a rasha—an intentionally evil person. They don’t mince words. According to the word's definition, the rasha means to do harm and doesn’t care about the consequences or who he hurts. It’s not a label our Sages use lightly.
Not “misguided” or “means well” or “just doesn’t know!” or “nebbuch” or “never had the chance to learn Torah” or “had a bad childhood”…
He is truly bad news.
There is still some flicker of light in all his murky darkness.
And if you can find it and name it, you can stir him to do teshuvah.
Let’s look at a modern-day example of someone who could use your spark-seeking ability:
Let’s take a teenage Leftist who thinks that Rabin and Peres are heroes and that Arab squatters are victims of Jews settling their Divinely bequeathed Homeland.
Saying, “Well, he doesn’t really know any better” about a teenage Leftist does not make his Peace Now activities “okay.”
Yes, it’s true that he doesn’t know any better, considering the environment in which he grew up.
And yes, it’s also true that he is causing profound damage to good and innocent Jews while granting power and influence to truly horrible people, both Erev Rav Jews and Jihadis. Not to mention the damage his actions causes in the spiritual realms.
It’s all true.
What I got out of this passage of Likutei Moharan is that you need to spot a quality that is actually good.
Sure, “He doesn’t know any better” is a merit in his favor—at least he doesn’t mean to harm and thinks he’s doing the right thing.
But the quality to focus on is that he has a desire to do the right thing—even if that desire is disturbingly misused.
“He doesn’t know any better” is an excuse, a dismissal.
“He wants to do the right thing and is ready to make the effort to do it” is an actual good quality that leads to:
“So Hashem, please guide him to use this quality for true good. May this young man fight the good fight on Your Side, and not the Other Side (the Sitra Achra).”
And THAT is exactly what can change our hapless Leftist from a Jihadi's lackey to a passionate Torah Jew.
Interestingly, the passage in Likutei Moharan also addresses the reader, too.
YOU must find at least one good quality in yourself.
With the American culture's emphasis on self-promotion and physical activism ("Get out there and do it!"), it’s easy to forget that the most powerful and effective way to effect change is in your own mind.
Revenge, slander, confrontations, and lawsuits grant a certain amount of satisfaction and even restitution for wrongs done. But they don’t really change the dysfunctional person or the situation. It doesn’t prevent the abuse or harm from happening again.
And even if you make yourself so confident and project a persona of “It-Sure-Ain’t-Worth-It-to-Mess-with-Me!” that the baddies are deterred from starting up with you, you’re only helping yourself and not protecting anyone else.
Azamra! Search out the spark of good in someone else and then sing that spark’s praise to Hashem. (Don’t worry; you don’t have to literally sing if you don’t want to. Just saying it is good, too.)
That’s the real way to kindle change in another person, even if that person is yourself.
No excuses or justifications for bad and hurtful behavior.
Just the real honest truth.
Even when there’s mostly darkness, there is also still some small spark of light.
Find it and ignite real positive change.