There's a famous Talmudic dictum that explains that after a person dies, Heaven shows him all the things he went through, and how it could have all turned out so differently.
If the person is a tzaddik, or righteous person, they show him all the times that his evil inclination was trying to trip him up, and get in the way of him serving Hashem - and it appears to him like a mountain.
'How on earth did I ever manage to climb that?' the tzaddik wonders, amazed. It's even more amazing that he doesn't just climb that Mount Everest once - he does it hundreds and thousands of times.
Then, there's the rasha, or evil person. They show him that all the times he got 'stuck' listening to his evil inclination, and how all it would have taken for him to overcome it was the same effort required to move a hair out of the way. Nothing. Half a second and it's gone. It's not big, it's not heavy, it's not 'impossible'.
The rasha can't believe it. 'How is it that I never once managed to kushta that hair out of the way, to do the right thing?' And now look. Look at all the people they hurt (including themselves). Look at all the terrible mess they made (that they are going to have to pay for, one way or another). Look at all the spiritual opportunities for good and growth and building the world, that they wasted. And worse, not only did they not build, they destroyed everything and everyone around them - their souls, their spouses, their kids, their siblings, their friends and co-workers.
So now, here's the question: how can this evil inclination appear so big to the righteous - who actually overcome it - but so small to the evil people, who never once take up the fight to do and be and think and speak good?
I was pondering this when I received (yet another) poisonous email, yesterday morning. The first time I got a poisonous email from this person was a few months' back, around Chanuka time.
That first one shocked me to my core. I felt physically sick and shaken up and 'bad' for weeks and weeks and weeks afterwards. My personal prayer was the only thing that got me through the 'evil email' onslaught, and by Purim, even that was starting to falter. So I ran off to Uman, and I got a bit more spiritual strength to keep slogging up the massive mountain that that horrible email represented.
Let's just say, it was very hard work, and more than once I felt like collapsing on the slope and giving up. My evil inclination kept whispering at me to just write something stoic and 'final' for the Breslev Israel website, and then be like a spiritual Scot of the Antartic.
Dr Zev Ballen, who writes many wonderful things here and also on his Emuna Therapy blog, explains that confusion and doubt are the most toxic mental states a person can experience.
We'll do anything to 'get away' from confusion and doubt, including lying to ourselves, self-medicating, lying to other people, and even, jumping off tall bridges.
Thank G-d, none of those options were available to me, so for months and months, I just kept trudging up that mountain, wondering every single day if me and my husband really were bad, and evil, and twisted, and mentally ill - and all the other horrible things we were being accused of.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. G-d, in His kindness, has given me a lot of clarity, and caused a lot of things to happen to clear up nearly all of the remaining confusion and doubt.
One of my many amazing insights from the last few months is that we are all 'bad', and all perfectly 'good' at one and the same time. It's not either / or. It's both. All the time. And all we have to do to really accept ourselves and each other and to live happy, blame-free, emuna-dik lives is to understand that, and internalize it.
Something else I realized is that sometimes, even though it looks so bad on the outside, the inside is pure gold - and vice-versa. Can a person really speak evilly of their fellow, with only pure intentions in their heart? Yes. Can a person really, apparently, only say 'nice' things - and those things can be the most poisonous, twisted, hurtful things you've ever heard in your life? Yes.
In the time of the three weeks, when everyone is yelling at you about sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, can you really decide to cut people out of your life, and know that it's the only way to do something genuinely positive and helpful for them? Yes. Can words and efforts to promote 'harmony' and 'peace' and 'making up' be bad and damaging and wrong? Yes.
And the only way you'll ever know what's really going on, on the inside, where it really counts, is if you believe in our holy people, and you're trying to connect to them, and to G-d. They are the shortcut to clarity. They are the answer to all the confusion and doubt that the evil inclination stuffs everyone's heads full of.
Yesterday, when I read the latest in the big collection of poisonous emails we've received over the last few months, I braced for another day of terrible self-doubt, anxiety and confusion over what was really 'good' and what was really 'bad'.
But it didn't happen. G-d did a miracle for me, and for the first time ever, I came away from one of 'those' emails feeling calm, relieved and even cleansed.
Because all the doubt had disappeared. All the air had come out of the 'self-righteous' balloon, and I could see the email exactly for what it was: another spiteful attempt to hurt me and my husband; another attempt to shift the blame; another stab at trying to make us believe lies that were so big, and so warped, and so obvious, that I no longer needed to waste any effort to counter them, even silently, to myself.
The mountain of confusion was gone; replaced by a hair.
Me? I know I climbed Mount Everest - repeatedly. I know what me and my husband were up against. Them? They have no idea how easy it was, ultimately, to see what was true, and what was false. All their words, all their accusations, that mountain of evil, arrogant, self-righteousness - it all boils down to a hair. A hair that they could so easily have kushta'd out of the way, to see truth and G-d.
They are right: I am bad. I do a lot of bad things, repeatedly. But I'm also right: they (and me) are good; fundamentally good, Divine sparks of G-d. And if they could have got their mountain of evil and lies and recriminations out of the way, they would have seen that.
And things would be so different.