Categories: Spirituality

The question of the origin and nature of evil

The question of the origin and nature of evil was one of the main driving forces of kabbalistic speculation. In the importance attributed to it is one of the fundamental differences between the Kabbalistic doctrine and Jewish philosophy, which did not give a noticeable contribution of original thought to the problem of evil. The solutions proposed by the kabbalists were different. The influence of conventional neoplatonic position, for which evil has no objective reality and is only relative. Man is incapable of receiving all the influence of the Sephiroth, and it is this inadequacy which lies at the origin of evil, which therefore has an exclusively negative reality.

The determining factor is the estrangement of things created by their source of emanation, a separation that leads to manifestations of what appears to us to be the force of evil. But the latter has no metaphysical reality, and it is difficult to believe in the existence of a separate realm of evil outside the structure of the Sephiroth. On the other hand, we find a definition of the Sephirah Gevurah as the left hand of the Blessed Sacrament, which is blessed, and as a quality whose name is evil, which has many ramifications in the forces of judgment, coercive and limiting powers in the universe. This led to the conclusion that there must necessarily be a positive root of evil and death, which was counterbalanced in the unity of the Divinity from the root of good and life.

During the process of differentiating these forces below the Sephiroth, however, evil became substantiated as a separate manifestation. Thus the theory developed that saw the source of evil in the overabundant growth of the power of judgment, made possible by the support and separation of the quality of judgment from its habitual union with the quality of love and goodness. The pure judgment, not tempered by mitigating influences, produced the other part of itself, like a container that is filled up to overflowing, and pours the superfluous liquid onto the ground. The realm of dark emanations and demonic powers, so it is no longer an organic part of the World of Holiness and Sephiroth. Although it emerged from one of the attributes of God, it cannot be an essential part of Him.

Also in the Zohar is implied that the evil in the universe originated from the remains of the worlds that were destroyed. The force of evil is compared to the bark of the emanation tree, a symbol which originated with Azriel and which became very common from the Zohar onwards. Some kabbalists call the totality of the emanation of the left the external tree. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were connected in perfect harmony until Adam came to separate them, thus giving substance to the evil, which was contained in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and now materialized in the instinct of evil. So it was Adam who activated the potential evil hidden in the Tree of Knowledge, separating the two trees and also separating the Tree of Knowledge from its fruit, now detached from its source. This event is called metaphorically the cutting of the shoots and is the archetype of all the great sins mentioned in the Bible, whose common denominator was the introduction of division into the divine unity.

The essence of Adam’s sin was that he introduced the separation above and below, in what was to be united, a separation of which every sin is fundamentally a repetition, apart from the sins concerning magic and witchcraft, which according to the kabbalists unite what should remain separate. Indeed, this conception also tends to emphasize the power of judgment contained in the Tree of Knowledge of the power of love and of piety contained in the Tree of Life. The latter pours its influence abundantly, while the former is a restrictive force, with a tendency to become autonomous; and it can do so either as a result of man’s actions or as a metaphysical process in the higher worlds.

Both conceptions appear in kabbalistic literature, without a clear distinction being made between them. The cosmic evil deriving from the internal dialectic of the process of emanation here is not differentiated from the moral evil produced by human actions.

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