Unabashed Evil

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The Kabbalistic remedy to rectify an egotistic self-serving mentality: take two birds…

This week's Torah portion begins with a discussion of the purification rites a person afflicted with tzaraat must undergo when he is cured. One of the features of this rite is that:

The priest shall take two live, ritually pure birds…. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He shall take the live bird…and dip…the live bird in the blood of the bird that has been slaughtered…. He shall then set the live bird free in the open country. (Lev. 14:4-7)

The afflication of tzaraat is not simply a medical condition, but reflects a spiritual-mental affliction, a faulty attitude in life. This attitude results from the intrusion of some form of un-G‑dly ideas or perspective into a person's way of thinking, that eventually renders him depressed, negative, anti-social or afflicted by some other negative emotion. The purification process, then, must reflect how the individual disassociates himself with these negative ways of thinking.

Egocentricity has no place in a Jew's life…

This negativity or egocentricity is unabashedly called "evil" in Kabbala. The imagery used for it is that of a "shell", a coarse, inedible husk that surrounds the fruit or meat of the nut. The image is significant on two counts: Firstly, the fact that the shell cannot be eaten, obstructs the fruit, and has to be removed indicates that egocentricity has no place in a Jew's life. Secondly, the fact that the shell serves to protect the fruit while it is ripening indicates that, in the context of self-preservation, the ego does serve a purpose. In any case, central to understanding the purification process from egocentric negativity is the Kabbala's "topology" of evil. It is this subject which will form the bulk of the passage from the Arizal's writings cited here.

chanoch adds: The word topology usually is used as a definition of relationships similar to computer concept of a network. Thus the topology of evil is describing the network of evil and how they work together or separately.

We will now discuss the subject of the kelipot associated with the four worlds, Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya. We will base this exposition on the following passage from the holy Zohar: "We have been taught that there is a certain world above; when the herald goes forth, that world trembles and shakes, and there emerge from it two birds. Their abode is under the tree wherein is the appearance of life and death. One bird flies northward, and the other southward; one at dawn and the other at dusk." (Zohar I:217b)

In order to understand this passage, we have to understand a number of other things first.

Just as there are four worlds…in the realm of holiness, so are there four impure worlds…

First of all, just as there are four worlds - Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya - in the realm of holiness, so are there four impure worlds.

The Atzilut of impurity is also known as kelipat noga, the "shiny shell", which, although not holy, is not entirely evil either. It is neutral, and whatever is part of it can be assimilated into holiness if utilized properly. The lower three worlds of impurity are the three entirely impure shells, which cannot be assimilated into holiness.

chanoch adds: HaShem created this against that. This means the highest world of the negative system is the closest world to the physical world. This is my opinion.

In the world of Atzilut, there are shells only on the back side of Zeir Anpin and its Nukva. There is thus evil at the level of Zeir Anpin and Nukva, but not at the level of Abba and Imma.

In the idealized world of Atzilut, evil cannot attack the intellect (Abba and Imma). This is because the objectivity of intellect procludes any possiblity of evil "convincing" it to succumb to its enticements. Ideally, then, a healthy intellect should be a person's first defence against evil. As long as he is thinking clearly, there is no way a person can fall into sin. Even at the level of emotions and emotional expression (Zeir Anpin and Nukva), evil can attack only from the "back". Only when the emotions are oriented improperly (i.e. towards things other than divinity) and a person begins to love, fear, etc. things other than G‑d, does he become susceptible to evil's machinations.

In the lower worlds, however, where the consciousness of G‑d is not as pervasive as it is in the world of Atzilut, we find that the shells exist on successively higher levels.

In the world of Beriya, there are shells on the back side of Imma besides those opposite the backs of Zeir Anpin and its Nukva.

In the world of Yetzira, there are shells on the back side of Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin and Nukva.

In the world of Asiya, there are shells relating to all five partzufim: Arich Anpin, Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin, and Nukva.

Thus, in the world of Asiya, all facets of the personality are susceptible to the inroads of evil.

As we have explained elsewhere, there are five partzufim in each of the four worlds of the realm of holiness. Every partzuf has associated with it seven palaces, in which exist the ten sefirot of that partzuf.

A "palace" is, in this context, simply a setting in which the sefirot may operate.

Furthermore, we have also explained that these palaces are in fact twice seven: seven male palaces and seven female palaces. Just as the female's full stature extends only as high as the male's chest, so are the [male and female] palaces like this: the female palaces begin at the level of the male's chest and extend downward to the level of his feet. This applies to all the four worlds.

As we have explained previously, the dichotomization of reality into male and female was necessary in order to give full play to two necessary but divergent focuses in achieving the purpose of Creation.

The male "needs" the female in order to actualize its abstract inspiration…

The male is the abstract awareness of creation's source [G‑d]; the female is the drive to manifest that source in the reality. The male "needs" the female in order to actualize its abstract inspiration; the female "needs" the male to inspire and sustain the direction of its drive toward actualization.

The implication of this is that each facet, male and female, is given a personality (or in Kabbalistic terms: a sefirotic makeup) tailored to its focus. The female is therefore depicted as having its head on the level of the male's heart; in other words, the female intellect is a priori oriented toward thinking of ways to actualize what the male has already emotionally reacted to. Were the female's head to be on the same level as the male's (i.e. that of abstract inspiration), it could not focus on its intended goal. (This also explains why women are generally shorter than men.)

The palaces of the shells of the four worlds are similarly structured, there being two sets of 7 palaces [for each partzuf]. We might therefore assume that the seven palaces of the Zeir Anpin of the shells would be opposite the seven palaces of Zeir Anpin of holiness, but this is not the case. The reason is that the shells do not touch the three first sefirot of any partzuf. Therefore, it follows that the full stature of all seven impure palaces of the evil Zeir Anpin reaches only as high as that of the six lower palaces of the holy Zeir Anpin. There is no shell opposite the seventh, highest palace of the holy Zeir Anpin, i.e. [the palace associated with] its first triad of sefirot. The same is true of all the evil palaces in each of the four worlds.

The partzufim of evil are also shorter than the partzufim of holiness, although for an entirely different reason.

Abstract, unbiased intellect cannot but acknowledge the existence and omni-relevance of G‑d…

Here, the shorter stature (for both male and female evil partzufim) indicates that evil is, as we said, unable to attack intellect. Although the evil partzufim, of course, possess their own intellect (since by definition a partzuf is a full array of sefirot), their intellect is not abstract. It is a priori biased towards evil, that is, towards denial or at least de-emphasizing divinity and/or its significance. Were evil to possess abstract intellect, it would not be evil, since abstract, unbiased intellect cannot but acknowledge the existence and omni-relevance of G‑d.

The first triad of sefirot, chochma-bina-daat is that of the intellect.

Still, it should be kept in mind that even though the shells of the world of Beriya cannot ascend to the level of the first sefirotic triad of Beriya, the evil palaces of the world of Atzilut can prevail and be manifest from their exalted height [down into the world of Beriya]. The same is true of the other worlds.

Just as all the holy partzufim possess intellect, so do all the impure partzufim, both male and female. The difference, however, is this: the male and female evil partzufim possess only two "brains" [i.e. chochma and bina], while the male holy partzufim possess three: chochma, bina, and daat. The holy female partzufim also only possess two "brains" [i.e. chochma and bina], for, as we are taught, "Women's daat is light." (Shabbat 33b)

Chochma is the flash of insight that pierces through the veil of the sub- or super-conscious into the conscious mind. It is an ephemeral experience, since by its very nature an insight is foreign to the mental structure into which it is introduced. As a foreign entity, if it is not in some way integrated into the mind, it will simply disappear and be forgotten.

Therefore, the task of bina is to integrate this new insight into the mental structures and thought patterns the individual already possesses. This is a process of translation and evaluation: translating the insight into familiar terms and evaluating the existing mental structures and ideas in terms of the new insight. Does this new insight confirm or contradict what I already know and believe, and if so, to what extent? And so on. Bina thus distinguishes between [in Hebrew, "bein"] reality as reflected in the insight and as conceived of prior to the insight, and reconstructs [in Hebrew, "boneh"] the person's mentality in the wake of the insight.

The drive of holy intellect is always to seek the relevance of insight…

Still, all this is abstract mental activity. It is the function of the third component of the intellect, daat, to make this new picture of reality relevant and meaningful in the person's day-to-day life. Now that I understand reality in a new, higher way, how does this apply to the way I live my life?

We now begin to see the essential difference between good and evil, or more precisely, holiness and mundanity. The drive of holy intellect is always to seek the relevance of insight, understanding, and knowledge.

The intellect of evil has no such drive. It is entirely content to focus on the experience of the insight, the "wow" or "high" without "polluting" it with moral concerns or relevance. For it, life is a succession of sterile experiences, titillating in and of themselves, but which produce no lasting fruit or change in the individual's or society's life.

Women are also not granted a priori this third component of intellect, since as we said, their innate intellect is already fully "subjectified" and oriented towards translating abstractness into relevance. Women acquire daat fully when they marry, and can then combine their own intellects with and fully benefit from their husbands' more abstract intellects.

This concept is alluded to in the Zohar: "the 'other god' [i.e. evil] is emasculated, and has no desire to procreate; it does not multiply or bear fruit, for were it to bear fruit, it would turn the whole world into chaos." (Zohar II:103a) The explanation of this is in accordance with the verse Ephraim shall say, "What more have I to do with idols? When I respond and look to Him, I become like a leafy cypress." Your fruit is provided by Me. (Hosea 14:9)

Forsaking idolatry, the evil orientation, is thus associated with fecundity.

In other words, the supernal coupling of the holy Zeir Anpin and its Nukva produces fruits, i.e. the souls of Israel. The Nefesh issues from the Nukva directly. The levels of Neshama and Ruach, however, originate in the male [Zeir Anpin], which couples with the Nukva. The seminal drop transferred through intercourse comes from the brain of daat, for it is this brain that reconciles and bridges the males' other two brains, chochma and bina. No coupling is possible without daat. This is why the Bible refers to intercourse as daat ["knowledge"], as in the verses: "And Elkanah knew his wife Hanna" (Samuel I 1:19), "No man had known her" (Gen. 24:16) and many such others. The reason is because without daat there can be no intercourse at all.

As we said, daat is the subjectification of the intellect. This is the element of the female within the male, i.e., the aspect of his intellect that propels him toward making his abstractness relevant and concrete. It is therefore the point in his mind that allows him to "get out of himself" and be sensitive to his other half, or spouse, and particularly to develop an appreciation for her innate drive towards actualization and concretization of divinity in the real world.

In the realm of evil, however, there is no daat, even in the male. They possess the other two brains [chochma and bina], but they lack the third brain, daat. There is therefore no concept of coupling, and they are, as it were, emasculated, unable to procreate.

It is known that the term "other god" refers to the male aspect of evil, as is clear from the usage of the Zohar in many passages, particularly on the verse "You shall possess no foreign god." (Psalms 81:10; see Zohar 2:243a) That is why it calls evil "the 'other god', emasculated, having no desire to procreate." The female shell obviously cannot be called "emasculated", but only "frigid", as our sages said with regard to the great serpents. (Baba Batra 74b; see Zohar 2:273)

It is said that G‑d castrated the male primordial sea-creature, the Leviathan, and killed the female in order to prevent them from procreating and their species overrunning the world. In contrast, when faced with the same problem regarding the primordial beast, the Behemoth, He castrated the male but only made the female frigid. The reason why he had to kill the female Leviathan and not simply make it frigid, the Talmud states, is because fish mate even when they are cool.

In any case, it follows from this that the Jewish People derive their souls from the realm of holiness. Their Nefesh originates from malchut directly; their Ruach and Neshama from the male, which possesses daat. Non-Jews, however, possess only the level of Nefesh, and theirs originates in the Nukva of the shells. They possess no Ruach or Neshama from the male side, for the male shell is emasculated, i.e. possesses no daat-brain through which it could couple with the female and produce a Ruach or Neshama. This is the meaning of "the 'other god' is emasculated, and produces no fruit," i.e. no Ruach or Neshama originating in the male.

The fundamental difference between Jews and non-Jews is that the non-Jew is charged with keeping the world running smoothly, civilizing it, populating it, and cultivating it, while the Jew is intended to provide the proper divine direction and inspiration for humanity. Therefore, the non-Jew's intellect is inherently this-world oriented. For this reason as well, non-Jewish culture is inherently "sterile", i.e. oriented towards diversion and stimulation rather than moral advancement or holiness.

The [non-Jewish] Nefesh, in contrast issues directly from the evil Nukva. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Also the absence of daat makes a Nefesh that is not good." (Proverbs 19:2) The souls of the gentiles, which originate in the shells, which are called "evil" or "not good", are produced without the aid of daat, which is why they also do not possess a Ruach or Neshama.

This is also the inner meaning of our Sages' statement: "It is forbidden to pity someone who possesses no daat." (Berachot 33a) Someone who possesses no daat is rooted in the shells [which possess no daat]. If someone pities such a person, he causes G‑d's attribute of mercy to extend over evil [which possesses no daat].

Now, all these different brains in the realm of evil are identified by name in the book Adam Yashar. The two brains of the evil Zeir Anpin of Atzilut are termed the "two spies" (Joshua 2), as mentioned in the Zohar (II:178b, 3:60b). The two brains of the evil Nukva of Atzilut are called "the two birds". We see that the Hebrew word for bird ["tzipor"] is considered feminine in many places in the Bible (see Deut. 14:11, Lev. 14:7)….

As the Arizal goes on to discuss, the purification rites of the individual afflicted with tzaraat involves the ritual of the two birds because these two birds signify the mentality of female evil. This egocentric self-serving mentality, that of orientation away from G‑dliness and making relevance into the end-all and be-all of life, living life only for the high, the experience, is the root of tzaraat. Our sages tell us that tzaraat afflicts a person because he has indulged in slander, a vicious indication that his egocentricity has so overtaken him that he is ready to make another person into a mere subject of conversation, without regard for his feelings or reputation. He must therefore be ostracized, sent out of the camp, until his condition passes. As part of his purification he must take two birds, the chirping personifications of pointless and self-serving indulgence, and kill one and set the other free. In this way he utterly dissociates himself from this evil, and is ready to begin his life anew in the image of holiness.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Eitz Chaim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard.